The D&D Business; Or The Impossible Art of Trying to Make Everyone Happy

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AngerBy Paco Garcia Jaen

One of my most admired RPG writers and players of all time is Monte Cook. Monte’s  understanding of setting, intrigue, balance and the relationship with the player is pretty amazing. His ability to actually come up with new ideas that can be brought to fruition is also pretty staggering.

With all that talent and a no less impressive career, I feel terribly sorry for him. I’ll explain why in a sec.

As you might know. I mean, as you know unless you have been playing under a stone for the last month, Monte Cook has gone back to Wizards of the Coast and is playing a pivotal role once again in D&D. I don’t care what people think, the statements from WotC or whatever anyone says. I believe this is the first step to get out D&D 5th Edition.

The latest article he wrote kind of helps me believe my own prediction even more. Monte challenged the community with a bold proposition: Rules should become more complex as the level of the character advances.

To me, in a game like D&D, that is a given. Any character that goes up levels will have its complexity increased by definition. A wizard will have more spells to think about and therefore more ways to use them. A fighter will have more skills to use as and when they are necessary… Pretty obvious.

However he also took the proposition further in suggesting that some rules should remain “hidden” until the party has a level that will allow them to support those additional rules. The attack of opportunity rule was the example used in the article, since it was, and still is, pretty controversial.

The responses have been pretty amazing. And pretty polarised too!

Some people have gone all the way to say “nooooo… we want all the rules complexity from the start! That way we already know the stuff we need to know when things become really complex!”. Some other people went for the “Yes please! newbies to the game will appreciate that!”.

Funnily enough I didn’t read any suggestion as to how to offer a more approachable rule-set to beginners without detracting from the complexities that more experienced players and GMs crave. You know, for being a pretty clever crowd, we players sometimes are so deep up our own arses that we forget the game doesn’t revolve around us alone.

So this is why I feel sorry for Monte Cook. He has inherited the job of coming up with stuff that will make everybody, or at least as many people as possible, happy. A totally impossible task that I bet my bottom dollar he’s loving with a passion.

My feeling is that we are about to behold (with “about” I mean as soon as 5th Ed is announced in the future) the creation of another chasm in the D&D “fanhood”. Monte, and thus WotC, will come up with something new. Something different that will add a lot to an already great game. Some people will love it, some people will hate it, and some people will decide to ignore it because they’ll think they don’t need it.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be in that position. And I wouldn’t want to be. Players can be very ungrateful when you try to change their game.

So what do I think Monte will come up with? Dragon Age.

There is only one way to decrease complexity at lower levels and leave the whole rule set intact so you can go into whatever you want. Divide the rule-sets. Just as in the 80’s, create three box sets. One for the lower levels, one for higher levels and one for epic levels.

However, don’t release them staggered. Release them all at the same time and have a good price for bundles. That way you kill several birds with one stone (poor birds!).

  1. Firstly you are providing with everything the players and GM’s need in one go.
  2. Secondly you’re providing with an alternative for those who don’t want to spend all the money in one go.
  3. Thirdly you’re making people happier because they get the freedom to choose what level of complexity they want to use. Although this might sound silly, in a group where the players and GMs have different levels of experience, it would help if they can define from the moment go “this is the set of rules we’re using” and avoid controversy if a less experienced GM wants to leave some rules behind.

In a nutshell, players and GMs need freedom to choose not what sort of game they want to play, but how they want to play that game.

Now, why am I not surprised to hear you say that’s easier said than done?


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