Welcome back for part two of the character generation process. If you haven’t read part 1, hop back to the previous post. This series of posts are developed in conjunction with Ryndaria.com. So jump over there to see the different
Lots of people are talking about 5th Edition, D&D Next, or just simply “Dungeons & Dragons” per WoTC, which is utterly confusing for a brand that has put out different editions and variations of the same product. Anyway, if you were somehow unaware, the newest iteration of Dungeons and Dragons is live. The free basic rules are available as a PDF from Wizards of the Coast. The Starter Set is also available for purchase ($20). The perennial triumvirate of core rule books will not start their staggered release until August (PHB).
So I wanted to do the summary first and then speak about the specifics from the free basic rules.
It’s vanilla ice cream. It’s a solid rules system, but that’s about it. The newest edition will allow you to play enjoyable sessions. It does nothing poorly thus far, but conversely it does nothing great either. In the end I’ll play it, but I’m always going to listen to the full list of rules system alternatives before deciding on it.
Trying to describe the new rules I would say it fits somewhere between 2nd & 3rd edition with some retooling of the mechanics with smart RPG design from the last two decades, D&D and otherwise.
What Once Was Will Be Again
It’s interesting to see the cyclical nature of D&D development reach arguably full circle. The development of third edition was greatly tied to the fan base wanting a more specialized, more intricate game. Enter feats, a robust skill system, and a big jump in rules minutiae. It allowed its players to cover almost any situation that came up. It was also a candy land for power gamers.
I think two major points spurred the development for 4e.
Aging fan base: New blood was absent from the hobby, video games and especially MMOs were/are stealing the young demographic
Time: People did not like how long it took to play a lot of third edition. Fans complained about how long it took to do combat, and that’s without difficult rules quandaries like grappling.
Streamlined: faster to play and lowered the barrier of entry by using mechanics more similar to video games. The classes were also similar so fighters were as interesting to play at level 10 as wizards. In addition the system was designed with DM’s in mind. Often a thankless job, 4e even with all its problems, is a breeze to run behind the screen.
Problems arose with 4e of course and a lot of valid finger pointing can be done to a lot of different responsible parties. Upper tier game play was an absolute mess most easily summed up as option and feature overload.
So 5th edition, D&D Next. Two plus years of R&D, extensive play testing from the public, and now it’s live. It’s a return to roots, a prodigal design that scours through the life of the brand to distil the quintessential when people think of D&D. Unfortunately I think this is an idea borne of the edition wars, that a rules system either can or cannot be D&D enough. But there’s no measuring board and D&D has mutated, changed subjectively for better and worse over four decades. It’s like saying Cherry Coke isn’t Coca-Cola enough. Of course this is the same thinking that upsets people when Final Fantasy games aren’t Final Fantasy enough.
But from the development history of D&D I find myself wondering if there’s not a reason to return to the D&D Basic and AD&D framework. There are two polarizing factions. One faction of the target audience wants simpler rules and fast play. The success of things like Savage Worlds, FATE, OSR, Fate, and others show that pretty clearly. On the other end of the spectrum you still have a significant audience who loves the complexity and ‘crunch’ of 3.X, Pathfinder, and other systems. So why not do that, support two separate lines? Right out of the box you almost double your supplements and thus revenue opportunities as a developer. I think it also may be able to save some of the vitriol that’s so pervasive in the hobby’s community.
But for anything like that to happen WoTC needs to make some changes. First and foremost I feel like they need to find someone with a plan to actually run the brand. Let’s look at their management history real quick:
1997 – Purchases D&D brand
2000 – Releases D&D 3rd Edition w/ OGL
2003 – Releases D&D 3.5
2005 – Begins development of 4e
2008 – Releases 4e, Drops support of all prior editions, no OGL (thanks Pathfinder)
2010 – Releases D&D Essentials
2012 – Begins D&D Next development, Re-releases prior D&D edition materials from the Disney Vault back catalog, Kills all 4e/Essentials future supplements
2014 – Releases D&D (D&D Next, and I believe no OGL)
WoTC does an about-face with the D&D Brand every 2-3 years, hard ones. Like doing a jibe when sailing and not telling your friend and laughing as the boom swings around and violently hits him in the head and knocks him out of the boat. Hard not to be a disgruntled consumer considering the treatment we’ve collectively received.
Particulars of Dungeons & Dragons (seriously, it needs some sort of identifier)
Things I Like:
- Proficiencies, I like the across the board flat bonus.
- Exploration & Social Interaction Mechanics, Finally some reference on how to run/resolve the other 2/3 of the game that’s not combat.
- Multiclassing, I like 4e but it’s multiclassing was useless.
- Gain a Feat OR Ability Increase, Options for how to run your games and how players can develop their characters that actually involves a tradeoff. Also +1 to 2 or +2 to 1 ability makes ability increases always useful.
- Human Racial Benefit, Viable mechanical benefit to play a human, it even offers a variant!
- One-Size-Fits-All Shield, Shield or no shield, there is no buckler (…yet)
- Advantage/Disadvantage, Who doesn’t like to roll more dice?
- Attack of Opportunity, Only provokes when moving away from an enemy
Things I Dislike:
- Vancian Casting, It’s improved but you can only varnish a turd so much
- Too Many Situational and Too Few General Purpose Spells, A cornerstone of Vancian casting systems so you can play the ‘guess what kind of trouble you’ll get into today’ mini game with your DM.
- Healing Spell Preparation, I think you should always be able to default cast a heal spell without wasting a prepped spell selection on it
- Sneak Attack, I want one devastating alpha strike, after that leave all the fighting glory to the FIGHTER
- 3×3 Alignment, Silly vestigial trope. Alignment only matters for divine classes and even then it can be replaced by common sense
- No Reflex Bonus From Shield!
- No 4e Disease Framework, Hopefully shows up in the DMG
- Inspiration, Feels tacked on. I wish it had beneficial options other than just granting advantage
So yeah, it’s good; not great, but good. I think there are better options depending on the specifics of the campaign you’re trying to evoke, but it’s a solid entry for the brand and should be pretty easy for new players and veterans alike to pick up and enjoy.
Enjoy it now, you may only have 2-3 years before WoTC completely ruins it.
This past Friday I rolled up the short adventure series I was running for my weekly gaming group. It went well. Brick killed a guy, with a trident. I did get to K.O. a PC, which is always amusing. And then I decided a coup de grace was in order. Within my gaming circle I am known for beating PCs black and blue. A reputation earned but regularly over exaggerated.
The latest adventure series was a stop gap, filler between the end of another DM’s adventure and returning to our main campaign set in the world of Ryndaria. You can find out about the campaign world and its DM over at his blog, Ryndaria.com. Due to the nature of the latest series I used it as a way to explore some techniques and ideas I’ve been mulling over for some time. I employed the static bad guys elucidated in a prior post, played some more with D&D Next, used the Story Forge Cards I reviewed to determine some elements, and decided to roll up some random gear for the wayward adventurers.
I’m going to speak more about that last point. Gear is always a fun thing for me to tweak. Most players, myself included, show up to the first session of a new campaign with gear. Some characters are even built around specific gear. I know what’s in the PC’s pack, his armor, weapons, and even how much coinage he has remaining. Now think about any survival movie you have ever seen, whether it is zombie oriented or natural disaster oriented. The story about the guy whose bunker is stocked for a decade of the apocalypse is really boring. Great stories are about surmounting challenges, beating all the odds. I have a tendency in my games to strip that away and gear is a good and quick way to do it. In the first hour of an adventure you can place people in an uncomfortable place and that engages them.
Because I’m not utterly cruel I did not make them bare knuckle brawl for every bit of their gear. Beforehand I found a random gear table and rolled on it for every player and created a number of backpacks to be picked up by the PCs. I was even nice enough to balance it so there would be useful gear for all the players. In addition I found another rolling table of random items and rolled on it to provide each pack with a different signature item. These items ended up being a wooden pen with runes carved along its length, a silver box decorated with stars and moons, a metal bracelet of intertwined serpents in blue and red, and a silver flask engraved with the initials S.K. These items are mundane but worth a little bit of coin. Worst case scenario from the idea is the party sells the items at the first town they come across. I otherwise did no planning for what the items would do or what their importance might be.
So what happened is we played. The players got their bags, and went through their gear trading with each other allowing for some nice in character role play I was able to sit back and let them talk only speaking to answer questions about specific items or to clarify my bad handwriting on the gear lists I gave them. At this point I’ve already accomplished all I wanted. The players are offset by the loss of their gear so they’re actually engrossed with what’s happening in the game because you know… they want gear. Very quickly they’re already developing an in-character dialogue and a better foundation of who these brand new PCs are.
Throwing in some random signature items can give you tools to help integrate your story and fill some gaps with a bit of improvisation. Right away the spell caster in the group was lacking a staff or wand to cast. So I drew on the runic pen, now it’s a wand that has been discretely disguised as a pen. Hiccup avoided. The halfling thief stored all his meager wealth in the silver box (its existence he kept secret from the rest of the party). After inadvertently rescuing a party of dwarves at a new construction worksite the party, suffering some rare fit of competency and lucidity, decided to ask them about the other special items in their possession. They knew nothing of the strange serpent bracelet. The silver box exploded with a flutter of notes upon opening. The money within gone it was stuffed with small bits of paper with scribbled messages asking about someone named Mathias. Shared storage spaces are one of my favorite items in the D&D universe so I decided on a whim to make the box a shared storage box between a wizard and his apprentice (going with the whole moon and stars motif). As for the flask, suddenly it was the flask of one of the dwarves, a missing member who had left for the nearest town to buy supplies.
Building in extra stories is a great way to improve/riff on what is going on in the game. Now the players have quests seeds that could spin the game off on whole new adventures. Staggering adventure seeds will also make your games feel less segmented where one adventure ends and there’s a lull before the next arc begins. You can also run small side adventures while writing up the next major arc.
Pro Tip: Repurpose published adventures for side quests to keep your creative energy to use on the main plot.
I then set up a spot where the party was traveling from the dwarves to the kobold lair. On the way they could try to stop in the nearby town or potentially come across the wizard looking for his apprentice on the road. Neither happened but the thief did stay in contact with the wizard for the rest of the short plot. One of the fighters realized now that the serpent bracelet was returning to his wrist while he slept. I did not develop anything for the serpent bracelet until the end of the plot where the party faced off against the BBEG. Due to poor rolls they never were able to make the connection that the BBEG had the same sort of symbol on his neck, the intertwined serpents. With one PC downed to death, and the bad guy defeated they realized too late his body was gone. The villain escaped, but the dead PC came back to life as his companions busied themselves looting his body.
Overall it was a fun adventure and a pretty simple affair to run. I definitely encourage everyone to try out some random items. A quick search on the internet will find copious lists for rolling items and equipment. Really try to feed off the energy of your players. If they’re interested in the item make it important if they don’t give it a second look, let them sell it off at the nearest trinkets dealer.
First off I would like to apologize for the lack of update last week. The time I had slated to sit down and write ended up vaporized by the unruly and downright rude demands of mundane life. Knock off a day for American Thanksgiving and next thing you know here we are. If the fates allow I’ll try to sneak in a catch up, so be on the look out for that. Without further ado let’s into the breach once more.
“What do you do?” One of the oldest bits of Pen & Paper RPG lore out there. I can only glint the periphery of how this has effected my gaming and my time behind the screen. With four short words the burden of what comes next is lifted from the game master and place squarely on the shoulders of the players. The field is open, your decision may spell certain victory or certain doom for not only your character but the entire party. And that decision, well it can be just about anything you want. Magic and future tech in settings means we are not even relegated in our decisions to even make choices that would work in reality.
The good of it? Well it seems to be one of the largest draws of the medium itself, anything you can imagine goes. The limitation is the limitation of your mind. This seems to be the same underlying concept that has made the video game Scribblenauts so successful. When the limitation is your mind you can play however you want.
The bad? Analysis Paralysis. It’s an actual a thing, go look it up if you haven’t heard it before. Understanding this concept will actually help you have a better role playing experience. Some times our vision gets so fixated on how we try to accomplish something the actual accomplishing becomes secondary. If you have ever been shopping and stared down a wall of salad dressing, peanut butter, soft drinks, snack foods, and so on, you understand this concept. We trick ourselves into thinking there is a definitive right way, or right’er way, and that is how you win. Make the wrong choice and you’ll regret that peanut butter for the rest of your life. We push to the side the actual goal of it all, say making a PB&J. This is the specific and official reason why my wife does not enjoy tabletop games (there is of course the whole geeky fantasy/sci fi thing as well). That infinite solutions exist to a problem and each is roughly as valid is the next if agonizing for her. She needs a defined and obvious right’er way to measure her success. It’s not bad some people are just like that.
This has really been dragged up to the forefront in my weekly gaming group since one of the players is a young boy. While others think and mince over how, he does. Granted this is not always the best idea but everyone has probably been in a group where everyone is paralyzed with how to proceed next. Usually it is because they don’t know enough about the upcoming trials to determine one course of action from another as better. Our youngest player with all the subtlety of the battleaxe takes things straight ahead. Perhaps the most brilliant twist of whimsy is in an adventure all about kobolds he plays the only character able to understand and converse in their native language. He has then proceeded to put the entire party’s feet in his mouth at every diplomatic opportunity. I continue to give him rope to hang himself with in these situations because it is entertaining for everyone and tends to resolve the situations much more succinctly and with more participation than they might otherwise.
Often times it seems like we get hung up as adults on failing. But with RPGs failing does not always mean losing. If your PC dies does that mean you lost? Does getting beat in a fight mean you lost? Life in general is just a series of failures strung together. Experience is the positive result of failure. It’s granulated in RPGs. And while it is an abstract concept it is hard to say it doesn’t do its job. If you’re smash mouth fighter who always goes toe to toe and generally you win encounters some might say you don’t particularly learn anything from it. But at level up the PC earns feats, powers, abilities, stunts, more HP, better gear to do the things he already does. We attune the PC to accentuate our play style. It’s a natural thing to do. But within the narrative you can say the PC got better at what he does by doing it over and over again. I have said it before but I think Green Ronin’s pen and paper RPG, Dragon Age, has the most novel approach to experience. You gain XP determined by how difficult the situation was to overcome. If XP equals learning it is easy to see how you might not learn anything from a low level encounter the party steamrolls. The point is success and failure each hold beneficial effects and that unless a PC actually dies you didn’t particularly lose. At worst the situation’s goal changes. Heck, it might be more interesting and fun than the previous situation. Defusing a bomb with four hours left on the timer isn’t as thrilling as four seconds.
My advice is to not get lost in the how. The best way in my experience is to keep presence of mind to the goal of the situation. What you are trying to accomplish should dictate your strategy and tactics pretty easily. Unless you’re goal is butcher every sentient being in a dungeon fighting room to room is just as valid as negotiating or infiltrating. Seriously, next time you run a dungeon try not to fight anything. ANYTHING. If you really want to play the role of an adventurer remember people have a general aversion to getting dead. Drawing weapons is generally a last resort and even then the result 90% of the time would be one side fleeing. It doesn’t mean your PC is a coward, just that he enjoys living and not being beaten, stabbed, and flayed open within an inch of his life on a regular basis. Pfft, ridiculous right? How dare we desire imaginary people to think and act like not-imaginary people.
Two bits I also try to remember personally when adventuring.
1. A Wrong Decision Is Worse Than Indecision
2. Fortune Favors The Bold
Number one basically boils down to this. If you feel a lull of indecision in the party and analyzing no longer seems to be productive just do something. It’s what our battleaxe wielding PC would do. If it doesn’t seem obviously stupid and suicidal, do it. Experience shows this fairs surprisingly better than I usually imagine. At least by doing something you will get new information that if nothing else will help you analyze the situation better. Generally though you will begin its resolution with that single step forward. Otherwise you might waste another 10 – 30 minutes over maybes.
Number two, you get nothing from doing nothing. Notice it says favors the BOLD, not the STUPID. Be brave, not reckless. Make your PC the next spokesperson for Nike and just do it. Nothing gets your DM/GM’s blood pumping like a character stepping up to the challenge and being genuinely heroic. It happens less than you realize, until it actually happens. The downside is occasionally this is going to blow up in your face. But that’s all right, you know why? -points to number one- And never, ever underestimate the significance of going first. Doing so means you set the tempo and situation. It allows you to be active and not just reactive. It’s maybe a little meta, but so is any actual discussion of tactics during play.
So just make a choice and do something. The truth is you’re going to pick the wrong thing a lot of the time. From behind the screen I feel like any time I give players and option they take the most obtuse and roundabout way possible. That’s just how things are I guess. Luckily most RPGs are created with a mind to make PCs especially resilient. A single mistake is rarely ever going to get you killed in an RPG assuming your DM/GM isn’t actively trying to exterminate you. And if so, well it’s going to happen no matter what you do. So if you can’t go with your head go with your gut. Or just leave it to chance and roll a die to make the decision, who cares as long as you’re playing instead of talking about playing.
The trope starting point for any fantasy RPG campaign. A cloaked man at a dimly-lit table in the corner of the tavern motions you over and speaks in whispers about a job and a hefty purse of gold for its completion. Never mind the average fantasy tavern has more dark corners than a star fort under the new moon.
It’s a poor beginning for an RPG adventure and it’s unfortunately the template. As a beginning it suffers some serious drawbacks. First it’s boring. A bunch of tight-lipped strangers sitting behind tankards not talking to each other. They are complete strangers or vague acquaintances, no bosom buddies or even first name basis friendliness. It’s a passive beginning that relies on the players to make the first move, something even experienced players are reluctant to do in a brand new campaign setting. If you want your players to do something, give them something to do. Sitting in a tavern leaves very little room for interpretation on how to do that, or what might be of interest. Let’s be honest you probably didn’t even come up for a reason these adventurers are sitting on their rumps in the middle of the day, shouldn’t they have jobs or at least be looking for work?
In some ways running a game from behind the screen is like helping a kid learn to ride a bike. To start out you provide the push and training wheels to keep them on the straight and narrow but slowly pull back the control and safeguards. If there is ever a time to be a heavy-handed GM it’s at the start, before the players get their feet up under themselves and even begin to know who their characters are. But before that happens it’s just a bundle of stats sitting around a table waiting for ‘the game’ to start.
Dive into action. Just like the adage ‘a wrong decision is better than indecision,’ sparking any sort of fire in the beginning will get your players involved and get them doing at least something. A few years back I did start a campaign in a tavern. The city was divided over a labor issue, the barge drivers guild up in arms over the construction of a new bridge that would severely cut into their work contracts. Things were really heating up with the barge drivers guild sabotaging bridge construction during the night. So the next step was then hiring an assassination attempt on the barge drivers guild headmaster. An attempt that brazenly took place during the day, in a tavern, with PCs around, under the cloak of a tavern brawl over the aforementioned labor issue.
By the end of the scene the PCs have saved an NPC who becomes an ally and patron. The natural first assignment being get to the bottom of the assassination attempt and who’s behind it. There were hiccups of course. Someone was carted of by the local authorities for committing blatant murder with lots of witnesses, others dragged into the affair by refusing to answer questions, flee the scene, and generally because the constables don’t like the way their face looked.
While not the classical definition of in medias res, start your games smack in the middle of something happening. Battlefield, sure; storm aboard a ship, absolutely; bread riots, sounds solid. Starting with action will immediately let your players know what the crucial issues are. Then you can begin to unfold the narrative’s past and future. The adventurers survived their wind-whipped night of a storm aboard ship, Mazel tov! Now tell them about the ship, why they’re on it, where it’s going and the objective. This is also a great way to give your players something to build upon as a back story. With a few well-defined points the blank sheet of a character back story becomes much easier to write. You begin to know what questions need to be answered, what events needed to happen to put this character with these skills in this position at this time.
Another tactic I commonly use is taking away character items and giving them something else, or nothing at all depending on the situation. In the recent adventure arc I’m running the players escaped a large travel camp with the clothes on their back and a satchel they grabbed running out. I pre-made the satchels with some general supplies based on the character types involved. In addition I added one personal trinket to each bundle.
Randomly they drew the bundles so received bundles not immediately useful to their PC for the most part. This gave them the opportunity to really scour their character sheets to learn the ins and outs while trading items back and forth. The trinkets have been fun as well, creating something of interest from strange items. A wooden pen scribed with runes becomes the druid’s spell casting wand. A strange serpent bracelet continues to find its way back around the human fighter’s wrist. The dragonborn has a silver flask engraved with the initials S.K., and the halfling thief is being very tight-lipped about his box with its strange ornamentation.
The other nice thing about playing with PC items is not only you can determine what they have, and can plant items on their person, you can also make level one’s looting actually important. Mundane weapons and armor of the enemy might actually be better than the adventurers in this scenario. They can also scrounge up general adventuring supplies.
Hopefully this will help you get a little more bang at the start of your game and get it going in the right direction sooner.
Looking through my blog feed and I stumbled across this post over as Confessions of A Geek Queen.
I was at first moved to comment, but realized the amount I wished to write would be abysmally long for a comment box. That being said everything I say is obviously my opinion and my intent is to offer a even-keeled and non-inflammatory counterpoint. So go have a gander at the article above over at Confessions.
The first thing to strike me was the title (obviously right?). The notion of D&D failing as a brand would destroy Wizards of the Coast is excitable but not very accurate. D&D is not even WoTC’s flagship, cash cow product, much less Hasbro. To see this illustrated very succinctly head over to the Hasbro web site. The sidebar showing their products has WoTC but of the only 12 products listed under the affiliate none are D&D related.
Burying D&D would hurt Wizards but it’s no death knell. They have a game called Magic The Gathering, which essentially is a money printing machine. D&D failing hurts only its faithful and those D&D dedicated employees working for Wizards.
I feel the comments regarding Spelljammer do the article harm. I think it’s a marginalizing statement. Spelljammer is a pretty niche interest for D&D enthusiasts. There are even people who are pretty vocal about their disdain for it. Personally I don’t care. Wizards in space really isn’t what I want for my D&D experience but neither do I believe it should not exist. I think that is probably what baffles me most about the opinions expressed in the original article. Fourth edition is nothing more than a money grab, it is not able to support noteworthy campaigns, it is stupid and not the right way to RPG?
There is admission to originally resisting 3rd Edition, but eventually converting and coming to love it. No words are spent concerning the 3.5 revision. Despite being a pretty passionate argument in favor of it being a money grab stunt. It is not difficult to argue 3.0 had problems that were in need of revision. Heck, even 3.5 was served a facelift with Pathfinder. But pale are the transgresses of yesterday when faced with new problems. Edition wars are pretty silly. Obviously we prefer one rules set, and since we play it, it is obviously the best. Difficult is it to convince someone their favorite of a group is not the best option and they should have a new favorite. So… good luck with that Mount Everest of an endeavor. It would be different if someone were just ignorant of the other system, and thus not already decreed judgment on it but everyone in edition wars has so the entire escapade is nothing more than white noise. To have D&D enthusiasts reply “it’s not so bad” to tirades I think is more a credit to a system of rules able to adjudicate actions actually being capable than a group having their collective spirit crushed.
Yes, D&D 4e is different than its predecessors as is each new edition. It is also a departure from some of the commonly associated designs and mechanics of its forbears. The design is not arbitrary, as stated in the original article its design is heavily influenced by video games and MMOs in particular. During its infancy D&D brought most of its players and mechanics from tabletop war gaming and that is reflected in the system’s mechanics. So reflected to the point that originally to play the game you almost needed the Chainmail rules as a necessity. Fourth edition was released in a very different climate than its predecessors. Table top role playing games in recent decades have taken a dive in interest. The competition of PC and console games, then online games, and then MMOs on the surface there is simply more to offer in these options and they’re easier to access.
The audience for traditional role playing games is getting smaller and older. Older editions of D&D were not bringing in new blood to the hobby and gamers who cut their teeth on video games looking for a new option have a difficult time relating to some of the antiquated mechanics and design. Tactics heavy combat with clearly defined party roles make sense to the new audience. Cool down/recharge makes more sense than Vancian Casting and serpentine strings of combat feats, or obtuse grappling rules.
It’s an easier entrance point into the hobby and a more streamlined system of rules. Table top RPGs by their nature are not something someone picks up casually, an offhand way to pass some time. Having an easy to introduce system makes a big difference in bringing new people into the hobby. It’s the difference between handing someone a handful of dice, four power cards illustrating actions they can do in combat and being able to play and slapping down a near 600 page Pathfinder Core Rulebook and telling them they need to read it through. The first is going to get someone playing and the latter is going to push someone away from the hobby perhaps permanently. Even for an experienced RPG player 3.X/PF can be a cumbersome and deep system to wrangle. On the other hand 4e is relatively simple and by far the easiest edition to run as a DM. And if there is something the hobby is always desperately in need of it is more DM/GMs.
To assert 4e was created to make money is self-evident. To point it out makes it seem like other published products and supplements with a price tag were somehow not created with the exclusive intent to amass profit for its creators. That is a nonsensical notion. These are brands and products owned and licensed by corporate entities that exist solely to make money.
The simple fact is 4e was created differently to appeal to a different audience. The current D&D audience and market is shrinking rather than expanding in face of more competition and enticing alternatives than ever before. The reason we see D&D moving at all with D&D Next is because of Pathfinder. Paizo immediately swooped down and picked up 3.X veterans and gave them an option not to convert when it was announced WoTC would not be publishing any more 3.X material. The OSR movement has stolen away those loyalist still playing earlier editions.
This is unfortunately what worries me the most about the latest and iteration of the D&D Next Play Test. Large bits of it are a compromise of prior editions; very safe and familiar. Unfortunately if the last decade of D&D has taught us anything it’s that safe and familiar isn’t paying the bills. On paper the play test sounds like a good idea but in reality only a small portion of those playing DDN report anything to WoTC. The course of DDN is being navigated by a very vocal minority. Personally I don’t believe DDN will pull a significant segment of the market back from Paizo or OSR converts and they have already alienated what new audience they built with 4e. They have placed themselves in a solitary corner and heeding the criticism of people who have already found preferred alternatives to a current/new D&D seems like a poor strategy. I think trying something really new would be a better choice as at this point D&D as a brand is running out of things to lose by the attempt. Of course this is predicated on the assumption that WoTC/Hasbro is taking any stock in play test commentary. To be honest given their past dealings with the brand and its community I would say listening to the community is on the list but it’s not the top bullet.
As for the comments on Forgotten Realms, I think they’re pretty accurate. I’m not the right person to ask about Forgotten Realms specifics as I don’t particularly like Faerun. Though I believe it takes a certain ridiculousness to call a place Forgotten Realms when every square inch of the setting has half a century of world building lore behind it. It should have been considered finished a while back. Repackage it with new stats for each new edition sure, but don’t keep ripping it apart and stitching it back together in an effort to keep the setting fresh.
Conclusion: That which does not grow dies. An attempt was made to grow D&D with 4e and after the initial plunge the brand has done nothing but backpedaled, looking behind rather than forward. Like the saying “if you chase two rabbits you will lose them both.” At this point I would have some confidence saying if the D&D brand is still around in ten years it won’t be owned by WoTC/Hasbro. I think the only way to avoid that is for DDN next to show the table top RPG community something great (not just good or passable) they haven’t seen before.