The New York Times published an article this morning about the much talked about 5e for AD&D. It was an interesting article, particularly as it attempted to educate readers, who likely know nothing of the edition wars that have peppered blogs in recent years, or the issues that have emerged within the industry.
The NYT illustrated the problem with a sports analogy:
When the N.B.A. adopted the 3-point shot in 1979, purists cried foul at rules changes, just as many D&D devotees dismissed the rules of the game’s fourth edition as dumbed down, overeager to mimic multiplayer online games like Warcraft — and favoring killing over the role-playing and storytelling roots of Dungeons & Dragons. Some began playing other role-playing games like Pathfinder, which won over disgruntled players.
It winds up highlighting a number of the key complaints heard on blogs for the last few years. Mike Mearls posted an announcement following the article, stating that:
We want a game that rises above differences of play styles, campaign settings, and editions, one that takes the fundamental essence of D&D and brings it to the forefront of the game. In short, we want a game that is as simple or complex as you please, its action focused on combat, intrigue, and exploration as you desire. We want a game that is unmistakably D&D, but one that can easily become your D&D, the game that you want to run and play.
I think this is a fantastic sentiment; and yet, I have no idea how you construct a game that accomplishes such a feat. Furthermore, I wonder if you should even attempt such a thing, as everyone’s tastes are different.
For example, I agree with much of the arguments against 4e but that doesn’t mean that I’m only interested in “old school” games. I appreciate games from various decades (OD&D, Savage Worlds, Star Wars d6, etc.) and all of them have one overriding trait in common: they are all rules light. I’m not certain how you create a game that would entertain people like me as well as the hardcore crunch players who like all the fiddly bits you find in a 4e campaign.
The only solution would seem to be the “options” method. If you start with a basic core set of rules that are lightweight and easy to use, you can then add options to the system in order to increase the level of detail as desired by the game master. Ironically, that’s sort of what TSR produced with 2e, before the game began to fork uncontrollably.