I imagine the developers will begin their preliminary work on 5th Edition any month now. Itâ€™s a scary thought.
It takes a few years to finish an edition, and theyâ€™ve started the next edition faster and faster. 3e came out in 2000 and 3.5 quickly followed three-years later, with work on 4e starting in 2005 to release in 2008.
4e still has some life left, but theyâ€™ll run-out of pre-established dragons and power sources and planes sometime in 2011 or 2012. While Iâ€™m sure they can start the experimental and concept testing books then, but we can probably expect 5e sometime in 2013 or 2014. With three years of development we can expect them to start initial planning as soon as next year. My personal guess is a 2011 start with 2014 being a solid release date, it being the 40th anniversary of D&D and all.
So what would 5e look like?
Much of 4e is going through and fixing the â€śflawsâ€ť of 3e, so thatâ€™s a good starting block.
One of the obvious problems is races. The +2/-2 of stats in earlier editions lead people to discount race/class combinations, so 4e instead has +2 to two stats. However, all this has done is shift peopleâ€™s perspective so if a race doesnâ€™t boost a primary stat that race/class combination is less preferred. 5e races might just have powers or non-stat based bonuses so all races are equally good at all classes.
Powers are also a problem. 4e makes every class a sorcerer with dozens of spells, so suddenly every new class has spells that need to be balanced against every other classâ€™ spells and abilities. There are always going to be optimal and sub-optimal choices and thinking of new and different spells that still do roughly the same thing is draining. Thatâ€™s time that could be spent elsewhere.
I also imagine that now the basics of the power sources have been established they might work harder to make them more integral to how classes work and make them more than just a thematic base to loosely design powers around. With six-years of playing 4e to base classes on, they might have different power recharge mechanics for each class or power source.
How powers and attacks work will also likely change. Thereâ€™s a well-read blog post about how 5e will likely eliminate missing. I doubt missing will be entirely eliminated, but I can see a greater emphasis on powers/abilities that always do something. There might also be a glancing blow/ partial block mechanic where you do a minimal amount of damage on a lesser hit and you only miss on a â€ś1â€ť.
The common theory is the game will have a greater reliance on computers, but I very much doubt this. An appeal of the game is its offline nature. And I hope WotC will have learned their lesson from the DDI release fiasco and simply focus on upgrading the existing tools rather than risk digital integration which might delay the gameâ€™s playability until the software was finished.
If anything, 5e might have a renewed paper focus.
This might change if 4eâ€™s digital initiatives end-up a success on the long-term and the team rebounds from the glacial pace of release new software release. Widespread digital applications could revolutionise the game such as iPhone/ Smartphone applications (dice rollers, character sheets/managers, etc). Considering DDI does not even accommodate Macs this would be the denizen of fans and hobbyists (if the GSL allowed software).
Although, personally, Iâ€™d like to see 5e take a step-back away from the game-trumps-reality vibe and the miniature-combat attitude and move to more of a reality simulator and customizable sandbox game. A modular D&D where you can opt for the heroic fantasy style or just as easily go for grim-and-gritty.Â