Last night I came across a thread in the D&D Next forums which led me to a blog (writer.hudsonweb.net/ for those interested) tht had a post based on some of Monte Cook's speculation in this article : www.wizards.com/dnd/Article.aspx?x=dnd/4....
To summarize, the idea is that the next edition of D&D will have an element of Layered complexity. From a "Core" mechanic which is simple and easy to learn to an "Advanced" mechanic that is built on the Core, but offers a great deal of customization and flexibility. The concept has me a bit excited, so D&D Game Design Team, if you're reading this, I'd like you to puruse this direction .
Waking up this morning, I had the thought of how to incorporate the 4th ed concept of Power Sources into this model. "Power Sources" (for those of you unfamiliar with the term) is a way of describing the special abilities possessed by classes. They're not unique to 4th ed, and have been around in one form or another in all editions of D&D. Power Sources are the reason that Wizard Magic and Cleric Magic are two different flavors of spellcasting for example. 4th ed just formalized the distinction.
In 4th ed, there are 5 (so far) such Power Sources;
Martial (abilities and powers gained from skill and training)
Arcane (abilities and powers gained from Wizardly magic)
Divine (abilities and powers gained from Priestly magic, or granted by the Gods)
Primal (abilities and powers gained from Nature or connections with Wild Places)
Psionic (abilities and powers gained from the Mind)
I think these power sources could, if made complete, be very useful in adding modularity to the system. They can be DM tools for customizing setting, and a common terminology to help players communicate across gaps in experience and game knowledge.
In the "Core" layer of game, these Power Sources could be static and tied to character classes. Fighters, for example would be Martial characters, Druids, Primal, Wizards, Arcane, etc. The way the classes are built for the Core Layer would reflect the Power Source in an almost Iconic fashion. This would ease play and lay the foundation of learning the deeper system when greater complexity is desired.
When that greater complexity is employed, the game can break the Character Class and the Power Source into seperate elements, allowing players to design and customize characters to their own imaginations, while still keeping the core character builds competative with the highly customized advanced characters.
(I realize, gamers being who we are, there will be a great amount of optimization with the advanced customization options. I'm going to avoid using the "B" word, because I'm not looking for perfect parity here. The goal with the overall design of the system is to keep it fun for players who prefer a simple character and the player who prefers their characters to be super-customized. We've all seen those super-efficient character builds in every iteration of Dungeons and Dragons, I think it would be folly to try to eliminate that factor. ESPECIALLY since there is a large element of us that enjoy playing the game with the best, most maximized build we can design. They should be supported by the game too.)
So, in the Core game we could have a Wizard Class. In the more Advanced layers of rules, that *SAME* Wizard Class can be described as an Arcane Wizard. Perhaps in yet a more advanced layer, that Core Wizard class could be described as a Wizard (Arcane Striker Sage). This way if the Core player sits at the table with the player using all the layered rules. Their characters would still be compatable in the adventure. The dice roll bonuses, resources and abilities could be similar to one another, as a whole.