I cancelled my DnDI subscription this week. It felt kind of sad, a more official end to the long journey I had with WotC through the fourth edition of DnD. Now, we're parting ways - they are going on with their 'next' edition (come on, let's all just call it 5e, we all know that's what it is!), whilst I'm happy hanging back with the wealth of information and adventures left with 4e.
That's not to say we're going to continue playing as-written - we weren't really doing that anyway. That's one of the great things about DnD, adapting and mutating it as your group sees fit. And that's going to happen moreso now, as we're left without the tools that many, especially myself, feel have become a stable part of the game. But sadly, they have failed - whilst the online compendium certainly made games easier to run (I look back with horror at the many years I tried to run online games of 3e DnD, with only the SRD online, and everything else in a book on a shelf nearby - how hard it was to look up a power, a feat, or a spell! The compendium, and great sites like iplay4e, helped look up and understand rules so simply), they never fully delivered on their promises. The virtual table never surfaced, the character portrait vanished without a trace, and even those tools that made it through were sickly and malnourished (Monster builder? Encounter builder?). The Character Builder, arguably the best part of the package, is still slow and sluggy, in need of updating, and capped at an embarrassing 20 characters. I have over 400 saved character files, and even though some are doubles (characters at various levels), the majority are unique characters.
And so it is that I have made the decision to stop my many years of my DnDI subscription. Of course, it helped that they have stopped the Dragon and Dungeon magazines (and had many months of irrelevant content beforehand), and that no new books or information have come into the compendium for some time. Much of what was offered has not been given, and a lot of the rest is sorely missing. I can only assume that will get worse once 5e is finally released officially. I would hope that they open the compendium up to the "few" folk remaining behind in DnD (at least, that seems to be WotC's take - not enough to merit continuing to support the product, not enough to shape the coming 5e?), or failing that, allow it to be downloaded and used at home. The latter would save them server costs and allow fans to update it as needed. But whatever they choose, the simple fact is that a whole lot of 4e games will need to start running without it, or pay an exorbitant fee for a fraction of what was originally promised them.
The big question is then, how do you run 4e without those tools? Well, maybe you don't ask yourself that. I do. I wonder how I will keep track of character powers without having to pour through books continuously. How to look up rules when needed. How to know which errata has been applied, and what the correct reading of that particular feature is. Strangely, my engineering mind wants to simplify the game...at least, a little. And so, over my home games this year, my group will be taking in some big houserules adapted from another adaptation from (or take on, or houserules for) DnD: 13th Age.
Simply, we are shortening character levels (by a third) to soften maths, but keeping the power level the same. Less feats, more base damage. Less powers, but the powers remaining are more impressive, being built up and strengthened. Our aim is to have characters that are still of the same power level (or perhaps a little tougher), but are simpler to play, are quicker to run, and have less rules-baggage dragging behind them. Now all that is left is to see how effective the change are!