Wizards of the Coast announces Monday it is working on a new edition of Dungeons and Dragons.
But what’s this mean for you as a GM?
Other than speculation about what kind of game will be developed, what considerations should you be making now, before Wizards makes its first limited unveiling at the D&D Experience in February?
Some might be content to wait until 2013 (or later) for the game to show up in a shiny box or book (or digital format, as also is likely). Others want to take part in the latest thing.
First, talk to your gaming group. Do the folks at your gaming table want to participate in the playtest/feedback process that Mike Mearls promised in his Legends and Lore column will be a crucial part of the new edition’s development?
I think the impulsive answer from many groups is “Yes!” It’s a natural reaction. Even if you aren’t an early adopter of such things, nearly everyone wants to be in on the know. And if the drafts of the early design work gets distributed at various conventions, then many players are going to want to be first in line to look at them and offer their opinions.
But before committing to be playtesters, you and your group should consider want this means to your normal game. Ask yourself: Do you want to sacrifice your current game to playtest one in development?
Being a playtester is a tough road. It means that if you have a particular ax to grind, then you have to leave it behind. The designers are looking for honest, objective feedback. If you want your input to be valued, you have to be prepared to give it without bias, especially if it’s to a previous edition of D&D.
Playtesting often requires running scenarios and encounters outside your comfort zone. It means setting aside what you want to do in favor of the material that the designers are interested in.
It also means that you have to have an understanding that during any given playtest session, you run the likelihood of having your play experience “spoiled.” If the game mechanics and rules are under development, then their effect on play is not fully known.
Discovering clunky mechanics can be fun and rewarding on its own, but if your group is not prepared to have its play session shortchanged by a wayward rule, perhaps playtesting isn’t for you.
As someone who observed the massive playtest done for Pathfinder and its various rules supplements at Paizo, I can tell you one important truth: “Armchair” observations — those made by experienced players looking at the rules and extrapolating without actually rolling the dice in actual play — just won’t make the cut. And I can assure you, the designers who will be evaluating your input are going to be able to determine if your observations are born of actual play.
Now the purpose of this post isn’t to discourage anyone from taking part in something that is likely the model for game development in years to come. I think Paizo demonstrated with Pathfinder that having a massive playtest version of the game smoothed its introduction to those who might be wary of adopting it. And truth be told, Wizards is asking for input, regardless of your play experience or devotion to a particular rules system.
And for many, development of a game has a satisfaction all its own.
Just be sure, as a GM, that your group is just as willing to go down this road with you. Introducing a playtest can be just as disruptive as any other change. Keep those lines of communication open, and be prepared to adjust as the situation merits.