With a new edition of D&D in the works, I’m thinking about what my sacred cows are. What are the things without which D&D isn’t being what I want it to be?
Reliable but limited magic: I don’t mind magical mishaps being in the game, but it should be the exception rather the the rule. Merlin didn’t get his rep by failing to levitate a Stonehenge megalith 20% of the times he tried and failing spectacularly 5% of the time. But when the Sorcerer’s Apprentice goes messing with stuff he’s not ready for, he might suffer some consequences.
But I don’t want reliable to become unlimited. I’ll take the 3e crossbow sorcerer over the 4e raygun wizard every time.
From what I know about D&D next so far, I don’t expect this to be a problem.
Thief skills: This is an area where my opinion has definitely changed. I used to think of thief skills as general skills, so I wanted a general skill system instead. Now, I see thief skills as special, and I prefer not having a general skill system. (See On thief skills in classic D&D)
And I’ve actually come to like the AD&D secondary skills.
Possibly the one thing that keeps me from declaring Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-playing my “go to” version of D&D is the skill system. (Even though it is pretty “old school” for such.)
3e lost the special rogue skills in favor of its general skill system, which made the rogue less interesting a class to me. It is also an example of the lack of modularity in 3e. The rogue was built on the skill system, and the fighter was built on the feat system, which means you have to think harder before ignoring either subsystem.
It will be interesting to see how D&D next handles this. In any case, there may be a very simple workaround. I think I could be happy just dropping the thief/rogue/specialist class altogether.
Less systemized magic: When stepping up from Expert D&D to Advanced, spells got a bit more systemized. There were more details filled in for you, and there were more spells. For the most part, though, I find the AD&D spells brought a lot of inspiration and less systemization.
2e started systemizing even more. And not the kind of “let’s give every spell a casting time” sort of systemization. More like, “Shouldn’t there be a spell with an effect between these two?” And, “We have fire and water versions, so we should add earth and air versions as well.”
3e continued with both 1e and 2e kinds of systemizations.
I prefer the classic D&D spells. I can work with the 1e spells. Past that, though, and I get less happy. I’m really interested in whether D&D next will address this at all.
(Actually, I really like the Coda system Lord of the Rings spells, but haven’t gotten around to trying to adapt them into D&D.)
Of course, I’ll be perfectly happy to skip D&D next if I’d find it harder to bend to my will than sticking with classic D&D.