I'm on the road to GenCon 2014. In seven hours I'll be in Indianapolis, rendezvousing with friends, checking into the hotel, picking up my registration pack ... and getting reading to roll some dice. As I wrote a few months ago, this is my first trip to GenCon since 2007. A lot has changed since then -- from what I've heard, the convention has gotten even bigger than it was then (and it was hella big then, having outgrown Milwaukee a few years earlier).
After seven years away, I'm going back to GenCon. It's been far too long since I was last there, and even longer since the late 1990s when GenCon was an annual pilgrimage for my gaming group. I'm looking forward to going back.
After braving the rings of fire, the digital quicksand, and the firewall of eternity, I managed to download a copy of the D&D Next playtest. Unpacking the zip file and looking over the files, I had to smile. There was the cleric of Pelor. And a cleric of Moradin. A high elf wizard. A dungeon called "Caves of Chaos".
A strong wave of nostalgia hit me, bringing with it memories of cracking open an ancient Red Boxed set and finding a module called "B2 Keep of the Borderlands" inside. A thousand memories of my Greyhawk campaign came rushing forward, carrying names like Kalib, Scrappy, Merwyn, Tanevier, Obsidian Bay and the Cult of Death Undying.
And all that was without opening the PDFs.
Skills are a hot button subject for my gaming group. Most of the guys in my group loved D&D 3.x's approach to skills, which allowed a high degree of granularity and focus in such mundane concerns as crafting and professions. When the D&D 4th Edition dismissed Craft and Profession as un-fun skills, half our group saw red. They still fume about that given time. Others liked 4th Edition's condensed skill list, and focus on adventuring applications over crafting arrows or performing songs.
Naturally D&D Next is concerned about skills, and based on a recent blog post they are clearly looking to retain the customization options that 3.x offers, while making things more streamlined. First, they're talking about making a lot of your day to day "skill checks" using the ability scores. So instead of making a "Climb check", you'd presumably make a Strength check. Second, they also explicitly state they want to retain true skills so that they have a meaningful impact on the game and allow the sort of customization that we saw in 3E (and to a certain extent, 4E).
Mike Mearls talks about the concept of a one-hour D&D game in his latest Legends & Lore post. The goal here isn't to boil all D&D games down to 1-hour, but rather to benchmark what you can actually do in an hour. No doubt inspired by his lunchtime D&D sessions, Mearls envisions a game in which you can get in a role-playing encounter, a few quick encounters with traps and/or enemies, and a boss fight.
Wizards of the Coast has announced D&D Next, the successor to D&D 4th Edition aimed squarely at unifying the game's fractured fan base. My gaming group is practically a case study for 5th Edition -- we played 2nd Edition, 3rd Edition (both flavors), and 4th Edition, but finally gave up on the game when the group couldn't agree on which version to play. 60% of the group wanted to play D&D 3x or the Pathfinder Beta, 40% wanted to play D&D 4th Edition. We split the difference and played Star Wars: Saga Edition, which addressed many of our issues with both systems, and gave us a much needed break from the fantasy genre.
We've since returned to fantasy ... but not D&D. Instead we're playing the Pathfinder RPG and Paizo's Second Darkness adventure path. I can't speculate on what it would take to bring the Blackrazor Guild back to D&D -- we simply haven't talked about it enough -- but I know that I am looking for.