I know these are all my opinions. By all means, disagree!
Section 1: Things 4ed does well, I'd like see to maintained.
- Teams: In 3rd edition I rarely had to pay much attention to what my teammates were doing to be super-effective. In 4th edition, the better I know my team, the better we are because so many of our powers and abilities synergize. Keep this a design principle. Tell the people who trot this out and scream, "MMO!" to sit down, shut up, and appreciate solid game design.
- Defined Team Roles: I want to know, at a glance, what to expect from each member of my team. I'm fine with certain character classes being able to fill, depending on build, certain roles, but I want to be able to know who should be doing what. Classes should be as balanced as possible against other classes of their type.
- Easy and Intuitive DM Prep: I love creating monsters/npc combatants in 4ed. It is easy. In 3rd ed, it was a pain in the rear. Heck, in SW: Saga, Iron Heroes, and Mutants and Masterminds, it was a pain in the rear. 4th ed is the only system I've ever seen where it is fast, plain easy, and still results in fascinating and memorable encounters. This is the #1 thing that has turned me from a player and reluctant DM to a dedicated DM. This is the #1 thing I do NOT want to see changed in D&D.
- An Emphasis on Movement and Terrain: A good 4th ed fight is memorable and dynamic. First of all, because of the monsters, but second of all, because of all the interesting ways the powers can interact with terrain, movement, and obstacles. I don't want this to go away.
- Constant Updates and Erratum: I want a game that is being looked at and revised from time to time. Up until the introduction of the web-only character builder, I LOVED the fact that my game had gaming professionals offering me constant support that was easily referenced for my character. That said, I didn't love the handful of times they decided to go in a completely different direction with certain design principles (Magic Items, Tiefling racial power, and Magic Missile!). With this slow development involving open and dedicated play-testing, I hope the designers will be able to come up design paradigms and stick with them.
- Defined and Unified Power-Source Mechanics: Having a variety of ways to play DnD is awesome. 3rd ed did this pretty well (though the balance side of things was wonky), and 4ed figured this out to some small degree with Psionics and Essentials. When I heard that 4ed was doing explicit power sources I was excited. The fact that, in PHB1, all power sources looked essentially the same was a HUGE let down for me. I want martial classes that work like the Essentials martial classes: an emphasis on at-will abilities augmented with per-encounter utility, damage-add, and special-effect abilities. I want arcane classes with modified Vancian magic, able to add spells to their repertoire, their bread-and-butter in their daily abilities. I want Divine classes tied to the gods they serve with powers reflecting their Patron's portfolio, dictating or modifying their power choices. Your power source should MEAN something to HOW you play the game. This is the #1 thing I wish 4ed had done differently.
- Non-combat Abilities: Skills are a good way for characters to be able to do things out of combat, and skill powers were a neat step in the right direction for allowing some encounter application to skill training, but I don't think they went far enough. I feel like maybe most Utility powers should have been tied to either your Power Source or your Trained Skills, leaving your class itself out of the equation.
- Skill Challenges: I love the idea that there is a formalized framework in which to dictate success and failures in complicated non-combat situations. If you read this blog, you can probably tell. They should have taken this basic idea and provided expanded rules to use them in lots of ways: running a kingdom, commanding armies in mass-combat, crafting, or whatever seems like a cool thing for a PC to do in an adventure.
- Key Words: They were used. They should have been used better. I want to see Monsters, first and foremost, have keywords associated with more of their powers. I want the relationship between damage and keyword to be clear. I want there to be more powers and effects that trigger off of a larger variety of keywords. Make what each PC (and each monster) can do special. Give it as many good descriptors as you can so it can interact with things in a special way.
- Rituals: I love the idea of divorcing out-of-combat utility magic from combat magic. The way it was done was a little bit less than perfect and pretty much punished PCs for wanting to use rituals, creatively or otherwise. I want to find rituals a home somewhere between the abuses of 3ed and the worthlessness (Cost-benefit ratio) of so many 4ed rituals.
Section 3: Things 4th Edition didn't even try to do, but a new edition should.
- "Advanced" and "Basic" Options: 3rd edition had Core material and everything else. 4th edition has an everything is core mentality. Core vs. Splat made everything not in the PHB seem optional, which is a very bad business proposition. Everything Core made it hard for a DM (or players, for that matter) to customize the level of complexity they wanted in their games. Other games I've seen have their core rules, but frequently have a section for "advanced" combat rules or even advanced overall rules. I think, if the game wants to make differentiation in levels of product, this is the divide to create. D&D's wealthy, younger cousin, M:tG does it. D&D once did it too (though, not exactly in the way I am suggesting, as I understand it-before my time.) Basic-only games could be great for Encounters sessions, tournament play, or for lightweight dungeon crawl campaigns for beginners in the hobby. Advanced games would be for veteran groups that need something to spice-up a previously basic game or for those epic home campaigns that last for years, have lots of character, and that keep you coming back to the hobby. This, and all of the ideas below I have related to this, is the #1 thing I feel like D&D Next could do to bring players back to the table.
- "Needless" Symmetry in Design: I LIKE symmetry. I think 4ed could have BENEFITED from some symmetry early on. The 4ed designers called it needless, but I call it elegant. Having a symmetrical and rigid framework in which to produce classes would have prevented such mis-steps as creating classes that received almost no support because the design space to support them was filled with existing classes (I am looking at YOU Seeker and Runepriest.) Would it have been so bad to have the Ranger as a Martial Controller (which Essentials did-very well), disabling his opponents with trick shots and precise slashes of his whirling blades? Could the Druid and Ranger have not just beaten up the Seeker and taken his stuff? Why wasn't the Runepriest a Cleric build? Maybe the Arcane classes benefited from redundancy (Warlock+Sorcerer and Bard+Artificer being the big argument in favor) but I still think using a rigid framework to motivate design is a solid idea.
- Obviously Open Combat Options: Even if it's just as a list of "Advanced" options in combat. "Basic" combat rules say I can move, second wind, shift, or make a basic attack on my turn. If we are playing with "Advanced" rules, the list can expand to charge, grab, disarm, trip, whatever. Now, this shouldn't discount powers being able to do these things TOO, the same way you can grab or charge in 4ed, but you can ALSO grab or charge with a myriad of specialized powers that have better reliability, more damage, and more flair. I say give people a chance at doing cool stuff if they really want to go for it. I feel like this would solve many of the problems people had with 4ed being too "restrictive."
- Optional, Expanded, Modular Rule Sets: These could be marketed as Advanced Options that might not have a home in all D&D campaigns, but could make D&D the default for any conceivable fantasy RP campaign. Give us modular rule-sets for Kingdom Building, Mass Combat, Naval Warfare, Running a business, Crafting, whatever! For bonus points, do it within whichever Skill Challenge structure you've already created to introduce ease of learning to players who want to drop these elements into their campaigns. Can't make money off of these books? Put them all into the same book with different chapters. Market it as a DMG. Still won't work? Put it in the magazines! This is the sort of content e-Dungeon should give DMs along with a few modules a month.
There might be other things I don't even realize I love and would be heart-broken if they changed. There are things from previous editions I would be very put off by going back to that I don't even think of any more. This list may grow as I think on it, but it's a pretty comprehensive start.
What do you want in D&D Next?