I stopped playing D&D a long time ago. Too many other great indie games out there for one, and two, the environment passed me by. My best years of D&D were in the early to mid 90s, when I was running these strange, multi-character campaigns across the land of “Merrick,” a fantasy world we all built together for years. When third came along, I fell in love with the tight nature of the rules language, but quickly tired of all the third party deluge.
By the time 3.5 hit and 4th hit, I was well into my indie writing days and I had given up on writing fantasy campaigns for someone else’s product.
Note: I still wrote published material for other people, but I haven’t really played D&D in about 15 years.
I did run three sessions of 5th edition — having not read the rules — at a convention recently, and I found that people play it like Last Airbender more than people play it as Vance’s Dying Earth. The shift in tone doesn’t affect or concern me, but it does change my perception of what I can write for it.
Nevertheless, the following are the changes I would make to 6th edition if someone was stupid enough to give me that option.
Let’s start with the stats. Charisma and Intelligence are gone. Wisdom is replaced with Wits. You roleplay now charming and smart you are. Wits becomes a rogue’s most important stat.
Attribute values are gone, replaced with bonuses. Each attribute is ranked –5 to +whatever. PCs start in a range of –1 to +4. No more derived information leading to more derived information. It’s not 1974 anymore and we are not cavemen trying to eke out a game from clay pots and cuneiform.
Alignment. Gone. Gone, gone, gone. Gone so fast, that it snaps the time-continuum. Everyone sees themselves as the hero, regardless of their ethics and morality. Who cares what Lawful Good is? It’s all relative.
Equipment lists. So long and extensive, they snap the binding of the book, but equipment NEVER NEVER replaces your character. All damage is based on your class. Carry whatever weapon you want. It’s all flavor. Same goes for gold pieces and the like. Immediately replaced with a resources system. Only more complicated than vampire’s.
World Specific Information
This is a biggie.
A great deal of D&D’s early charm was that everyone understood the limited source material in 1974. You had Sword and Sorcery and you had Tolkien-esque fantasy. And that was about it. Certainly there was Pern and other High Fantasy schlock. But the source material for D&D was old school sword and sorcery. Fire and Ice (the cartoon), and Beastmaster (the movie) certainly informed my sense of fantasy long before Tolkien did.
But now, anime, comic books, and movies have split the audience focus. No two people agree on what is fantasy, so the milieu is a contextless grabbag of anything goes. And while that’s all well and good for people who like grabbags, the core rule book cannot be a receptacle for all fantasy any longer. The core book should just be rules. As such, things like Race/Species/Heritage/Class whatever is only found in world books. Each game setting has its own options. Not every mollusk that ever wormed its way out of a wizard’s laboratory is a playable species and my version of 6th edition would stop promoting this sort of thing as ‘official.’ Let DMs and PCs play whatever they want, but game worlds lack tone and context when every stupid idea can be turned into a PC. A soul-damned half-dwarven centaur sentinel-artificer-nomad comes to mind as a mindless array of templates someone chooses for effect and not theme/tone.
Limited lists of options focuses game play. This is the job of world books which provide the bevy of options players love, while providing a grounded tone to the setting. Half-formorian kobolds don’t appear in every game world. Put them in the books they belong in.
In the meantime, the core book has maybe six class options and that’s it just to get people going for that first intro adventure.
My sixth edition would focus the rules on rules and allow setting to dictate tone.
The same goes for spell lists.
Clerics need the most work and probably won’t even appear in the core book, except maybe to create some super-generic healing cleric dedicated to the goddess of mediocrity. I have so many theories on clerics, it would take too long to talk about them here.
Turn Undead. I’ve always hated this was implemented. I would use my rules from d20 Secrets, which involved pure damage to all undead within a certain radius (based on level).
Combat rules probably need the least amount of work. People have been playing this game for 500 years now. The amount of tinkering to every little nugget of the game is exhausting. Some rule advocacy has to go back to the GM.
Monsters need less information. Not more. Additional books on the ecology of certain monsters are expansion material. GMs need basic stats, tactics, and some general ideas on how to use them. No monster should be longer than half a page, except dragons and core species. I don’t need to know where an owlbear craps, I just need its AC and hit points.
Dungeon Master’s Guide
I would put advice, dungeon construction, and adventure planning into the DMG. Examples of play that inspire need to return. Remember the example of play in first edition with the guy looking for a secret door? Damn. That was rich with ideas.
Treasure needs its own book. Magic too.
Skill lists would be reduced to 10 or so, with most stuff being folded into classes. Rogues would have the greatest edit since most of their abilities are useful outside of combat.
Sneak attack becomes overly simplified as guaranteed (minor) damage each round.
Fighters can take skill points in specific weapons to do extra damage.
Unfortunately, this is D&D, so the Vancian magic isn’t going away, because if it did, people would riot. Less damage-dealing spells, however (after a while they are all the same to me).
Each cleric class is unique to the deity it serves.
There’s a ton more to cover, but I’ve reached my patience with this list. I’m not going to make 6th ed, anyway. But maybe I’ll make my own clone someday. It will be much, much shorter than 5e.