With the recent announcement of Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition, D20 Source is coming out of retirement to respect a roleplaying games tradition that’s older than D&D itself: complaining about the old version of the rules.
Personally, I was a big fan of D&D third edition. It was the first version of D&D that I played a proper campaign, and there was a lot of technical consistency to the rules that I could get a grasp on and create meaningful material with. I even wrote 3e material for some major publications.
Over the years, I began finding imperfections in D&D 3e, as did a lot of long-time 3e players. High-level combat took too long without instant-kill effects. Groups needed a proper mix of class roles to succeed, and so on. When 4e was announced in 2007 I looked forward to seeing those issues addressed.
What let me down most about 4e is that it not only failed to solve the worst problems, it only codified and made them worse, while taking out some of the things I liked the most.
Take solos, for example. In 3e, one of the worst combats I ever DMed was an elder earth elemental versus two PCs, a paladin and a monk. It became what’s been nicknamed “padded sumo”, a fight where both sides have lots of hit points and just keep hitting in a boring battle of attrition. 4e didn’t solve this. It just gave lots of hit points to both PCs and solo creatures.
Slow combat in general was the number one problem that 4e failed to solve for me. I gamed online where the limits of communication slow play more than you’d expect. 4e gave PCs more hit points, more combat options and more things to fight, without any way to compensate for the way this made combat turns take longer. At least low-level 3e combat was quick and decisive!
It’s too early to tell exactly what D&D 5th edition will be, but it’s my hope that it’ll be a game that solves the problems a lot of people discovered with both previous editions, and in doing so, unifies the Dungeons & Dragons playerbase that was fragmented by the release of 4th edition. It’ll be interesting to see what the designers come up with.