Tuesday, 6 September 2016

D&D's New Direction: Is It A Good Idea?

So, a recent speech (and series of tweets) have told us one of the new focuses that Wizards of the Coast is taking with 5e is to focus on Actual Play, rather than Adventure Paths and League Play (though both of those will still be major factors).

So why focus on watching how people play? Well, it provides something that APs and organized play simply don't - the actual experience of playing with friends.

If you've played an Adventure Path, you know how different running through one can be to just playing - while there's often a strong theme and a tightly woven story to follow, you kinda have to follow it - a lot of player agency and choice is either removed or subsumed into the existing plot. There's a pre-written story, and if you don't follow it, it's kinda pointless buying it, right? Don't get me wrong - there's some great materials in these adventures, and the fact that they are linked means you can get some really awesome set-pieces built off the actions that led to them, and allows new or busy DMs the chance to give players an immersive experience, with long-lasting consequences and tightly-woven plots. But it means leading players towards certain outcomes, whether through Batman Gambit levels of planning to get them to do what you want, or brutal railroading.

Organised play leagues suffer the same limitations - by ensuring that everyone who takes part gets the exact same experience, it ensures that GMs are constrained in their creativity, and players don't get the full spectrum of play that RPGs can provide. When you have ostensibly limited options masked by unlimited possibilities, you can't experience "true" freedom to play.

But now, WotC is apparently focusing on Actual Play - sharing and broadcasting live gaming, giving more focus to creativity and an open attitude towards not necessarily "pushing the brand". Sure, most of these are ostensibly using the latest D&D Adventure Path (Storm King's Thunder actually looks... pretty fun!), but their previous use of Zak S and the RPG Pundit during 5e's development, followed by Zak openly discussing how he hacks 5e apart for his game, by sponsoring podcasts with more adult humour (watch the Rooster Teeth games for an idea), and by the recent opening up of the DM's Guild for user-created content, you can see a move towards being more open and willing to see how the games are played, rather than trying to tell you how to play.

Is it a good idea? I don't know. I can see how it could be a great asset for them, and how it might allow the small team they currently have to get a better idea as to what players want, but I can also see it souring some of the types who use Adventure Paths exclusively, or who want a more organised experience.

Only time will tell how this turns out, but I'm optimistic!