A few weeks ago, one of my Sunday game players was in the local game shop to pick up his son who was playing in a MtG tournament. While waiting for his son to finish up, he talked to a potential gamer who had read about D&D Next and was looking for a copy. He had been told it wasn’t out yet and pointed to Pathfinder and 4e as what was available now. He took one look at the size of the books flipped through them and decided he wasn’t that interested in D&D after all.
When the clerk abandoned him for another customer (at least the local store has enough customers for this to happen), My friend suggested he might try getting the B/X pdfs from DriveThru as they were a complete and much simpler D&D game in 128 pages. The guy was reluctant because what he really wanted was this D&D Next game he had read about. They talked a bit longer and discovered that he had that Sunday free — a Sunday we’d have two missing players, so I got a phone call asking if he could bring a new guy for a one-time session. I agreed.
To make a long story short, our “D&D Next” guy showed up, created a new character with a bit of help in about 10 minutes, played and had a great time. He went home with a copy of Microlite81 I printed for him and a couple of free modules off the web that we helped him pick.
I got an email from him yesterday. He wanted to know if I had updated the Microlite81 draft. He said he had got several friends together and they had already played 4 times and that his daughter had started playing over lunch at school with some of her friends. He had bought B/X pdfs but decided he preferred Microlite81 because it was “easier”. All of these people are new to the tabletop RPG hobby.
While I personally don’t believe Microlite81 is easier than B/X, that’s really in the eye of the beholder. This incident does illustrate why I think it is important to have very simple and very low cost versions of D&D in available. In most cases, it is easier for a new person to learn and find players for less complex versions of D&D. Too many people are simply put off by the size of something like PF/3.x and 4e and will never try them. Complex versions of D&D with lots of options and rules may be exactly what most (or at least most vocal) current players want, but they are not doing anything to help getting new players into the hobby.
D&D is the best known (to the general public) tabletop RPG. It needs to have an edition that a new player can pick up and start playing without having to study a college course worth of text to do so. The lack of such an edition hurts both D&D and the hobby — especially in the long term. D&D Next is already getting attention from new people, I just hope that its core will remain a low complexity, low page count system so that it will be a game for new players instead of another edition only for current players.