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My dream for the 2024 D&D edition

Bring back modularity

5e absolutely nailed being a “modular” game. It did. It has a tight core (the flimsy booklet in the starter set is pretty much the real rules) exandable by a lot of options in different directions. Fans speculated about this modularity being presented in-your-face with maybe different frames for the various “modules” (sorta like the pulp/purist paths in Trail of Cthulhu) but I think they nailed it.

But they’ve been increasing coupling as later releases come out, an illustrative (albeit small) example being ditching the “Make a Dexterity (Stealth) check” framing that was compatible with the ability check proficiency variant in the DMG.

No more scripted, bottlenecky, and handwavy adventures

I want my adventures to be living locations for the player characters to engage with and explore freely. Phandelver and CoS nailed it! Then what happened? I don’t want all this illusionist stuff on my side of the screen.

A consolidated spell list (that we can add to)

To make a character, we look in the PHB then look in XGE to see what’s been added (expanded spell lists and such) and then look in TCE to see what’s been added to that. I know other editions had this bookjuggling problem even worse, but, I still hate it! Patches upon patches!

(And, add to that our own houserules on many spells and abilities, and third party sources—D&D being an open source game is a vital part of its appeal, so don’t change that of course!)

Hands off my three pillars

So D&D has these three pillars: exploration, fighting, and talking. Fighting has been covered well by the rules since Chainmail, but I see people wanting to codify the other two pillars as well. This can be done as interesting subgames (like Fate or Burning Wheel) or poorly (like, ok, I like a lot of what GURPS and PF2e has to offer but not here. The PF2e “make a request” system kills all fun).

My philosophy is that these two pillars shouldn’t live on the character sheet, but in the modules and in the DMG’s toolbox for creating homebrew adventures. Awesome social interaction comes from NPCs with desires, plans, secrets, relationship webs, and resources. Awesome exploration comes from fantastic locations filled with wonderful things to find, and the time pressure that comes from a rich encounter table.

Stop drowning in resources

Please, be more stingy with darkvision, light cantrips, endless resources for food and water and bags of holding at low levels. Don’t hand these out as candy thinking they’re subclass ribbons. You wreck the exploration layer of the game with these handouts. It’s more appropriate at higher levels.

Stop assuming roleplay outcomes

Similarly, for the social layer, if you write a module that’s like “The PCs will get the directions from such-and-such NPC after completing their fetch quest”, is that really a meaningful social interaction? What made Curse of Strahd’s interaction with it’s equivalent of Victor Frankenstein so loaded was that there was no presumed outcome. Here was this twisted guy and his messed up idea of a bride and the players could talk to him and if there’s a fight, there’s a fight (they have stats) or all kinds of other things could’ve happened. Same goes for the intrigues and cults in the town of Vallachi. Amazing!

In Witchlight, it’s so obvi that the writers have a specific outcome in mind. “Find this guy, join up with him, he has a plan…” how about no?

So many groups have the shared experience of the Mission: Impossble style heist over I’jin’s tomb in ToA, yet the seeds to that experience were planted with the lightest of touches.

Cherry-Pick Nostalgia

4E Essentials, and 5e early on, was steeped in nostalgia and retro. A focus on classic art (the Red Box saw a return for Essentials), the original four classes, and remakes of classic adventures like Ravenloft.

These days, we have a new and vibrant fandom, like Critical Role and so much more. The game isn’t only a museum piece, your childhood fears preserved in amber. It’s also a living, breathing thing for a new generation of dreamers.

I’m happy that the social and political aspects of fantasy as a genre are getting attention. If I seem nostalgic, it’s not for wanting a return to tribe-bashing or gender stereotypes.

Instead, what I do want to preserve is a functional approach to

Encounter tables are fantastic. The “scripters” who love to create cool moments? Seed the moments on the encounter table instead! The floating cup in Castle Ravenloft…? Chills! Whenever I’m running a location (a landscape, a town, a city, or, yes, a dungeon) that doesn’t have an encounter table… well, that sucks! Time loses all meaning and they can just nova everything.

Part of why Curse of Strahd is an awesome adventure (and yeah, I removed the Vistani back in our 2016 run, instead inserting “planar pirates”) was how functional it was as a game piece. The map had hexes, and was amazingly well designed with roads and mountains. There were amazing encounter tables with very clear encounter rates. There was this absolutely perfect castle map with a vibrant encounter table of its own. There was intrigue and secrets and plots and it was a perfect “powder keg” as OSR nerds like to call it.

We haven’t really seen anything like it since. Tomb of Annihilation was almost as perfect but marred by some needles-eyes and some agency-ruining scripting (“You’ve got to get the cubes back from Ras Nsi!”). Witchlight, which I’m running now, has subsandboxes “roll on the encounter table when you, DM, kinda… feel like it?” and only like eight entries.

Scarlet Citadel (Kobold Press) is such a fantastic location with so much history and weird levels yet it fails as a game piece with its heavy lean on handwaving and buckpassing to the DM: “restock after your own whim”, “have some undead show up, you decide which types and how many”. That’s not what I wanna do as DM, you guys!

This is what the OSR does so right.♥

And obviously

Keep it open source♥

One of the reasons D&D is such a special game is the community content.