Basic D&D (D&D 5) Will Be Free

According to WotC / Hasbro Senior Manager for Research, D&D Mike Mearls, Basic Dungeons & Dragons will be free in PDF format. This makes a whole lot of sense.  A great number of games including Paizo Publishing’s Pathfinder RPG have versions you can download in PDF format or access for free online, as well as the many great retro-clones of D&D.

D&D 5 (WotC wants to strip away the “5” for marketing purposes, but we need to know what version we are talking about), is due later 2014 with the release of the D&D Starter Set, Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual and Dungeon Master’s Guide.

D&D Next Competes with All Previous Incarnations of D&D

Mike Mearl’s This Week in D&D: Feats and Skills and Options, Oh My! takes an interesting look at how D&D 5 / D&D Next works. I have recapped his bullet points of the system here with some edits for clarity:

  • All characters gain a +1 bonus to an ability score of their choice at various levels, depending on the class.
  • You can trade a +1 bonus to an ability score for a feat if your group uses feats.

In other words, Feats are optional and don’t appear in the basic game.

  • Skills are an optional system that your DM might want to use.
  • Skills are optional and don’t appear in the basic game.

Skills therefore go hand in hand with Feats.

  • Backgrounds give out a combination of areas of knowledge, proficiencies with tools and objects, and special benefits.
  • An area of knowledge is a situational, +10 bonus to Intelligence checks.
  • A proficiency indicates you know how to use an item.
  • The unique benefits are social connections, tricks, and other abilities.

Backgrounds do appear separate from Classes, and seem to fill in what might have previously been a sub-class in previous incarnations of D&D. If I am reading this correctly though, backgrounds by their nature of what they cover subsume the need for separate Skill and Feat systems.

So the competition here is quite interesting. This is how I see it:

  • Basic D&D maps to the new Basic Game – Backgrounds – Races as Classes
  • AD&D 1st Edition & early AD&D 2nd Edition maps to the Basic Game + Backgrounds (for effective sub-classing, weapon proficiencies)
  • Later AD&D 2nd Edition (Skills Option Era) & D&D 3.x map to the full rules set with Skills and Feats

This is a fascinating way to update the game, since it effectively provides a great way to scale your existing game to a new version of the system without that much work – just what Old School type players would want.

There are some interesting threads on this topic over on TheRPGSite as well.