first Legends & Lore article of the year Mearls sheds some light on a couple of guiding principles behind Dungeons & Dragons. Well...kind of.
There is not a lot of concrete information here, though this is just the first of who knows how many related articles, and he promise that next week we will delve more deeply into them.
So, with that said, let us look at what he does have to say about the pair of guiding goals for D&D Next.
Create a version of D&D that embraces the enduring, core elements of the game.
Beyond "the rules have changed over time", I am not sure what he is trying to get across, here. What ability scores impart to your character (and even their number), the number and type of alignments (as well as their meaning), hit points, monster stat block format and complexity, skills, how often initiative is rolled (as well as which die and if high or low is good), weapons and weapon complexity, and more have meant has changed quite a bit over the editions.
For example Armor Class used to be descending. You started at 10 and wanted to get as low as possible, going into a negative value (I forgot if it went to below -5). Now it starts at 10 and goes up, which seems more logical given that you want to roll as high as you can on your 20-sider. On a similar note, your class and level determined your THAC0, which you used to eventually figure out what you had to roll in order to hit a monster. Now? You roll, add bonuses, and if that meets-or-beats the monsters Armor Class you hit.
Given that I—and many others—have had the frustrating experience of trying to explain how Armor Class and THAC0 work to new players, I was happy with both changes. The idea of rolling a d20 with some—large precalculated—bonuses on top and comparing the total against an—again, largely pre-calculated—number made so much sense that I was surprised it took so long. However AC as it was has been around for, what, twice as long?
So which is more enduring? Which is seen as a stronger element?
I like to think that what Mearls means is that they are taking a good, close look at each iteration of each rules element of past editions to find out which one works the best for what they are trying to do, and ideally scrapping the stuff that does not. I also hope that in addition they are considering alternatives for things that are not good for the game, even if they are enduring or the best out of what we have seen thus far.
Create a set of rules that allows a smooth transition from a simple game to a complex one.
This I can get behind in theory. Having played every edition of Dungeons & Dragons, I have to say that I really like the extra widgets that let me tweak a character in an interesting direction (and mechanically back it up). This has given rise to thematic-yet-functional characters that we had not seen before in our D&D games, like halfling fighters, goliath bards, minotaur rogues, and more (though, part of what made them work was the lack of racial penalties).
We have recently started playing Dungeon World, and I can see where a simple set of core rules has its appeal, especially for newer players or groups that want to get the ball rolling faster. If this is executed properly I think it will be great for players that want to get into the game without having to learn a lot of rules, discovering their own "sweet spot" over time.
The downside is the unused pages. If groups just want a simple game, then who knows how many pages of rules that they will not be using (which would theoretically grow over time as more supplements come out). I do not think that it will affect me much, especially given that in past editions I cannot count how many feats, monsters, prestige classes, spells, and magic items I never used, but I know that many will complain about that sort of thing.
One thing that would be nice is an intro product, like what we got with Star Wars: Edge of the Empire: it could gradually introduce new rules, but also give you instructions or tips on how to handle situations without having to utilize more complex rules. For example, if you do not want to use skills, then it could explain how to make ability checks with DCs that account for no skill dice.