When news came out yesterday that the D&D Next pubic playtest was coming to an end, I wasn’t necessarily surprised. All public playtests come to an end sooner or later, and this is a good time to end the Next playtest. Here’s why:
1) The playtest has been very volatile. In the year-plus that we’ve all played a part in this process, the rules have changed A LOT, especially the character classes. This is no doubt in part to the vast feedback a public playtest provides. It’s part of the benefit of such a process — throw something out there, see if it sticks, refine or reject it, rinse and repeat.
At some point, though, the devs have to say “this is what we’re going with, let’s move onto the next step.” As they’ve more or less said this about the core rules as we now see them, it’s a good time to end the public feedback phase and move into more controlled refinement. I’d rather see them close the playtest and move towards a solid release date than continue it and risk an even more prolonged development process.
2) The playtest has been very contentious. Part of the volatility in the playtest has been, of course, due to the arguments it’s generated. Gamers all have their preferred vision of what D&D should be, and when WotC told them that they would have a voice in the next edition they all started speaking up. LOUDLY.
I don’t know about you, but at this point I am tired of the edition warring, the snarky tweets, the once-more-round-the-circle arguments over Vancian magic systems. At this point, players are either happy with D&D Next or they’re not. They’ll either continue to play or they’ll go back to their preferred edition / alternate game. And I’m sure that Mike Mearls & Co. will be breathing quiet sighs of relief when they no longer feel that immediate pressure to try and please all of the people all of the time.
3) The Sundering needs a stable ruleset. When WotC stopped supporting 4E last year it left a noticeable gap in new D&D product release schedule. Well, that gap has ended. The Sundering is here. The next year in WotC’s D&D release cycle is dedicated to the Sundering. We’re getting new novels, new adventures, new seasons of Encounters, etc. This event needs a stable D&D environment to play in. Thus, this iteration of D&D Next — the one released for Gen Con and the follow-up release in September — are the quasi-official D&D rules for the next year.
You can’t put out a series of adventures and then suddenly change rules midstream, especially with an event gimmick like the Sundering is built around. People will want to play D&D in the next year so that they can be part of the event, and many of us are going to want to play the adventures in Next. The Next versions of the Sundering modules will all be developed in the current rules iteration and the Sundering adventures will therefore have a consistency that they would not have if the pubic playtest were to continue.
Besides, people who buy the Ghosts of Dragonspire Castle D&D Next preview book need to know that their $35 investment isn’t going to be wasted in a month. Until Gen Con 2014, that book is the closest thing to an “official” rulebook we’ll have. [I'm looking forward to mine. Hoping my ninja shopper at Gen Con can get me a copy!]
So, am I happy with the D&D Next public playtest ending? No! First of all, I love being part of the design process. Second of all, there are elements of the rules that aren’t there yet that I would really like to have but that I will now have to wait a year for (like a more 3.5-ish character creation module, or the return of skills).
I can see the logic in ending it now, though, and I’m happy that there’s new D&D content in the pipeline. I’ll be perfectly content playing with the interim rules for the next year while I eagerly anticipate Gen Con 2014.