The Way Forward
Gabriel’s D&D group has never endured a full Edition War. There was that Essentials thing, which didn’t really touch them; even if one or two of their players might have preferred a “cleaner” system, nobody ever really knew what an Essential was. “Essentials” sounds suspiciously like less. And we are a people engineered to demand more.
We tried to force the issue with a detour into Pathfinder, but - to our surprise - they don’t see any of the problems we do with 4th Edition played at the higher levels. They don’t. This is their version, and synonymous with Dungeons and Dragons; they’re as devoted to their cards and grids as any grizzled ancient is to THAC0 or saving throws. They will argue with you about it in the parking lot when you try to take parts of it away, even when it is “obvious” that things have gone “terribly wrong.”
The Balkanization of Dungeons & Dragons is something Wizards of the Coast is devoting an entire edition to solving, and to that end they have planned a wholesale brain harvest from players at every threshold of the hobby. I guess I don’t have high hopes.
With an MMO, there is a single adjudicant dispassionately routing damage and loot and ore and whatever else to every player beneath its aegis. Tabletop games are not this way, something I believe is to their credit. When we saw people playing Warmachine at PAX East, we were scandalized by the careening miniatures and breakneck speed of play. Having only played among friends, we’re used to incredibly precise measurements, and careful placement of each wongler. That doesn’t really have a place in a public game. We all had the same books, and knew the same rules, but these games are living things. They exist in a social ecosystem. This makes them much harder to “own,” in the corporate sense.
Have you ever seen The Dungeon Masters? Try to imagine for a second that all those people are playing the same game. In a very real way, they aren’t. The old adage is that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, which is the stated goal of this project. The truth of the matter is that some combination of TSR and Wizards of the Coast actually did please all the people, it’s just that they’re each pleased with their own iteration of the system. They’ve already pleased them; they’re pleased. It’s only a problem if you’re trying to sell them something else.