Many bloggers have posted on the topic of what features they hope to see in Wizards of the Coast’s next edition of D&D; the act of reading them tends to lead viewers to consider their own opinions about what they would like to see, based on their gaming experiences from prior editions. Fortunately, it isn’t necessary to wait for D&D Next if a dungeon master wants to create a better game now; the challenge is found in importing those game elements or mechanics and making them work within whatever version of D&D a given DM may be running.
What follows is my own completely unscientific list of old-school D&D features or aspects that seem to be missing from the current edition, which I’m toying with to see if they may have a part in my next game, whenever that might start.
1. Put the ‘secret’ back in secret doors. This concept is geared toward moving from single-roll resolution mechanics to old-fashioned guesswork connected with role-playing. Older gamers - or younger OSR exponents - will note that prior to the skill rolls introduced in D&D 3e, the mechanics behind finding a secret door or compartment were pretty basic: a 1 in 6 chance for just about everyone but elves, whose chances were 1 in 3. Of course, finding a secret door didn’t imply that it was automatically open; opening the door usually required players to engage in the setting by describing exactly how and where the heroes were searching for a trigger to the door. My players were always seeking hidden studs, loose or false stones, pivoting torch sconces, pressure plates and such, any of which could be manipulated individually or in combination to open the door. Proponents of the 4e mantra of “getting to the fun” seemed to have replaced that part of game play with a not-so-engaging Spot or Perception roll. For us, though, it was fun to guess at how villains would conceal these secret entrances and compartments, and the happiness players experienced after out-smarting the villains was worth the time we “wasted” while role-playing the search.