Lately, we’ve been talking about One D&D and analyzing both what is inside and what it means for the whole of the gaming community. Previously, I shared my first impressions, discussed the races, and talked about why I believe the OGL will be going away after the new edition launches. Today we’re talking about One D&D’s promise of compatibility and what it might look like.
When someone says a gaming product is compatible with another, my default assumption is that you can use that product with something else without a hiccup. This is the flavor of compatibility another publisher strives for when making products for another’s game, such as my own company. This kind of compatibility is best for a single edition of a game. All parts are designed to work together with a minimum of issues. If customers experience issues with a “compatible product” they start to associate the company that produced the product with negative feelings, which never helps sales. A seamless product is what I call 100% compatibility.
All of those assumptions go out the window when you are talking about a different edition from the same company. When you are talking about a new edition, your biggest competition is your own past products. Wizards has to show that the new edition is superior while being familiar. That is a very delicate tightrope to walk. Here, being slightly different—or 90% compatible, as I think of it—has real advantages for the company producing the game. By being highly recognizable, using the same basic game engine with some tweaks, means that customers are familiar with it so there is less of a sense of having to learn a whole new game. This means the hurdle of selling a different game to the same customers is easier to pass. But by saying that the more problematic areas of the game have been smoothed over demonstrates its superiority. These are the hurdles the new edition has to meet.
From this level of compatibility, you can expect to use monster books and adventures with little difficulty. Some of the skills may be changed, expanded, or consolidated, or some numbers are tweeked. Maybe a Con skill of Endurance will be added. Maybe Nature will be changed to Primal. Maybe Athletics and Acrobatics will be consolidated. Maybe the proficiency bonus will be changed from +2 through +6 to +1 through +5. Who knows. Either way, you know that you can just look at the book and still use it, even if you have to make some minor changes. As such, selling the new edition becomes a matter of convenience more than anything else. It uses all the new skills and the new numbers without an issue. This is the level of compatibility of D&D 3.0 and 3.5.
At an 80% compatibility level, you start to add new systems to the game. Maybe the game adds a way for all characters (not just those with certain class abilities) to just pick up some sand and throw it in the monster’s eyes to blind them for a round or to use a flying kick to knock someone prone. Here, you can still look at the monster stat blocks and use it, but you are going to be missing some key details. The differences will be noticible. Also, this is where customers start to have a valid argument that the new edition is not as compatible as they were promised while still being very familiar. This is the level of compatibility of D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder 1e.
Anything below 80% compatibility is what I call “flavor compatible.” Here, you can use the plot of the adventure or the description of the location but not much else. This is the level of compatibility between D&D 1e and 3e and 4e; from a system point of view, they are not compatible at all. However, you can still use the same adventures, as long as you have the current monster book and take the time to change over the traps and anything other bit of system used.
Where do I expect Wizards to go with 6e? Well, I believe Wizards learned their mistake with 4e to not remake a popular system from the ground up, and the first playtest document is largely similar to the current edition. So I would expect to see something between 80-90% compatibility during the playtest and something very close to 90% compatible as a final version. It is far easier to decide some change went too far and pull it back than it is to determine that you did not go far enough.
So do not worry about the change in edition. I expect it will be a good process with a solid final version when it is done.