Since the announcement of D&D Next, there has been a somewhat resounding “Meh” from many in the OSR movement. Mostly it appears that much of the OSR has written off Wizards of the Coast as a loss, and are perfectly happy to stick with their versions of D&D and don’t care one whit about what they do with D&D the brand. However, there are some that view WotC with more than just indifference, bordering on downright loathing. I can certainly understand a cynical view of WotC and their handling and management of D&D. The 4e release was more or less botched and it’s life time has been filled with its share of blunders and what appear to be blatant cash grabs. But it is my understanding (not having been in the hobby at the time) that TSR had plenty of their own blunders and cash grab attempts, so this should be nothing new to those of us in the hobby. On the other side of the spectrum there are plenty of fans of the current 4th edition that seem to have an almost irrational fear that WotC (and more specifically Monte Cook personally) are going to gut the entirety of everything 4th edition, all of the lessons that the RPG industry has learned over the years and throw all “balance” out the window. The fear seems to be that D&D next will usher in a new old age bringing back all the worst hits of D&D. Of course the same argument I’m sure they issued to the OSR folks (no one is taking away your books), applies equally well to them.
From both ends, all of this seems rather irrational. From the standpoint of the OSR (and I admit, I don’t much care for 4e), people should certainly be interested in what WotC is doing with D&D Next. In addition to the fact that in the end, we’re all connected by a love of D&D and the games it inspired, D&D Next has the potential to add new ideas and inspirations to the community just as much as any new OSR game or retro-clone. Every mechanic, every idea and every twist of this hobby has not yet been explored. To entirely reject D&D Next out of hatred of the mishandling of 4th edition, and this general hatred of them for the snubbing they gave the old editions, to me is simply irrational. WotC is making peace offerings to the OSR community with the reprints of the 1e manuals, bringing Monte Cook aboard, and just listening to the complaints in general, trying to take what we have said about our discontent with 4e seriously. Certainly they can’t make things right if we’re not willing to give them a chance.
From the standpoint of the 4e fans, D&D Next is a chance for WotC to correct even the issues that they have with the system, but more importantly to bring more people into the fold. Further, I see no indications that WotC in general or Monte Cook specifically have any intentions of destroying the “balance” that D&D has obtained, nor a desire to bring back the bad things the D&D has left behind. Yes, they have talked a lot about the previous versions of D&D, but that’s because D&D existed before 4e, and to try to bind all the play styles and options that D&D has encompassed over the years, they are going to have to talk about those previous versions. That however is not a reason to think WotC intends on trying to fracture the community even further than it has, or plans on ruining the game.
D&D Next is exciting to me. I really hope they succeed at creating a version of D&D that integrates the old and new styles. Bright minds in the OSR (like Zack) have shown that it is perfectly possible to have the rules sit side by side and integrate. Some have even made the attempt, running one system behind the scenes while their players use an entirely different one on their side. If WotC can pull it off, D&D next could be fantastic. A chance to bring all D&D fans back together under one banner. They may not all play at the same table all the time, but the idea that they could, the idea that you could bring all these people with different play styles and different parts of the game they like, and run them together with a rosetta stone like system is incredible. I won’t stop buying or playing OSR products, and I won’t stop playing in the 4e campaigns that I have (excepting of course a switch to 5e by the DM), and there’s no reason why I would or should have to. Nothing before the OSR stopped people from buying both D&D and GURPS and Traveller books, so why should D&D next prevent anyone from buying OSR or 4e? Especially if WotC succeeds, there’s even a great chance that D&D Next will spur and drive sales of other products. After all, if you could buy an OSR adventure, and run it while your buddies are buying Pathfinder supplements and 4e power cards, and bring them all together at the same table, how is that not a win for everyone?
The future may be uncertain, but I certainly hope the D&D Next succeeds at the stated goals, it could very well be one of the best things to happen to D&D, and the hobby as a whole.