If you don’t follow the Legends and Lore articles on Wizards of the Coast (and you missed Patrick’s post a month ago), you might not be aware of two important developments for Dungeons & Dragons. The first is that Monte Cook, a name with a lot of caché among those who played AD&D the game’s second edition, is once again on the Wizards of the Coast payroll to “explore options” for the company’s R&D department and to take over the Legends and Lore series on game philosophy and meta-design. He took over the job from Mike Mearls (a name probably more familiar to younger players) and with his debut article said that there were big parts of the game that he didn’t like.
This leads to the second important development: the community is abuzz with talk of Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition. There has been no official word from Wizards that this is on the horizon, but from the tone of article series like Legends and Lore it seems like it could be really soon. I hope that most of our readers are familiar with this possibility and have seen other musings on it so I won’t bore you with more. If it is coming, the mission of Legends and Lore to hearken back to the game’s original core is a good idea. However, the latest article by Monte Cook leaves a lot to be desired.
Monte Cook’s tone is usually blunt and he doesn’t seem afraid to say flat-out that he doesn’t like something. This article cross over into the dangerous territories of “scathing” and “dismissive” but even that we can forgive him on. Monte worked for TSR and then Wizards of the Coast through AD&D and then co-authored the 3e and 3.5e rulebooks. Then he left and made his own company, Malhavoc Press to make d20 SRD-compatible materials including a set of alternate core rulebooks (Arcana Unearthed and Arcana Evolved) and two settings (Diamond Throne and the absolutely massive Ptolus). I have no idea how amicable or otherwise Monte’s leaving was, but given that he is now back at the company without issue, but the two companies’ products definitely went in different directions. All of Malhavoc’s products pushed d20 in new directions and made it a little more involved and detailed, changes that were really different from the changes made to turn 3.5e into 4e. So now he’s back and of course there are heads to crack.
An Immovable Object and An Unstoppable Forcefield
A lot of what Monte’s written I like, including his desire to have skills be a campaign tool and not a way to overcome the DM and thinking of ways to encourage players to think beyond their class and feats. In the most recent post, however, I tend to agree with the comments posted at the bottom more than the article itself. When did players using the framework of the rules to succeed become an issue? And how is looking for a lever in a room with a forcefield roleplaying while making some Arcana checks to wrack a character’s brain and assess what rituals and powers the party has some minimalist failure?
I’m surprised to hear this from Monte and chalk it up to being outside of WotC for a while. He doesn’t know the party line on the rules, and in this case I think the party line includes a lot of consideration about just this sort of thing. I can see where he’s coming from and this is definitely a Planescape trope but if every enemy is the Lady of Pain (nope, can’t fight her, you’re dead) and every realm is Carceri (nope, can’t leave, just impossible) then I think players are justified in asking why they spent an hour or more making the character. I really appreciate the “nobody should feel useless” philosophy of 4e and the effort to include all player types (not everyone is gaming to win an Emmy), and I hope this article reflects Monte’s views and not a new direction for D&D, either 4e or 5e. Monte Cook might be a great designer and this newly transparent look at the future of the game is great, but this feels like a step backwards.
What do you guys think? If Wizards of the Coast changes the game to involve fewer rules and rely more on clever ideas would you be happy or sad?