I have been a player of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) for over twenty five years. I have countless characters, dozens of hand-written adventures, blueprints for massive catacombs -- even an entire world that I created so that my gaming groups would have an endless array of new places to explore. I can explain to you what THAC0 was (To Hit AC 0), how Player's Options worked, and why the Monk class was one of the most interesting to play (can anyone say Flurry of Blows).
I can min/max a character like there is no tomorrow, and still remember coloring in my first set of dice with the wax crayon that was provided in the Basic Set.
I am a designer and an illustrator largely because of my time with D&D. The game, and the social interaction that came with playing, taught me many life skills that I use on a daily basis: Problem solving, creative and critical thinking, writing, and even social skills like teamwork and negotiation.
I am still best friends with my very first DM (Dungeon Master).
I started playing D&D with the original Basic Set (the red box), and quickly moved through the Expert, Companion, Master and Immortals sets as they were released. Then came Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st and 2nd editions), the latter of which was IMHO a near-perfect game.
Even through the "handoff" of D&D from TSR to Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) I stuck with the game. 3rd edition became the norm for my gaming groups, and this lasted for almost a decade (including 3.5, which arguably was a bit more complicated, but still a solid system).
This was in part because D&D meant so much to me, and in part because WOTC initially did a great job of advancing and evolving the system. They maintained the level of trust that I had for the game, which developed over the many years I played.
Everything was good until 4th edition was released about six years ago. Initially, I was optimistic. My friends and I played it for about a year, trying to find some way to make it work -- but it didn't.
It wasn't so much that it didn't feel like D&D, but rather that it did feel like the system was broken, or perhaps rushed. In many places the mechanics did not make any sense or the rules conflicted, and the uniqueness of characters was completely lost -- at a high enough level it became almost impossible to differentiate one character from another because every class had abilities that let them exceed the bounds of their original class. Mages could wield weapons with expert skill, warriors had powers that made their weapon attacks seem like spells, and just about everyone could heal or figure out a way to sneak enough that they could survive even if they didn't have a cleric or rogue in their party.
Add to this the fact that the books were getting more expensive (not surprising unto itself), the player support by WOTC seemed to be waning, and the "living" adventures at conventions were not nearly as interesting as they once were, and it became more and more difficult to see the value in playing the game. WOTC seemed less concerned about the players -- they were more invested in expanding the brand into other channels, providing digital supplements for the game, or making sure they had our DCI numbers so that they could keep track of some arbitrary metric that had nothing to do with how much we actually enjoyed playing the adventures they put in front of us.
The trust that they had worked so hard to maintain was eroding. And now I'm afraid it is all but gone.
I played a few rounds of 5th edition at GENCON Indy last week, and I can safely say that it feels like WOTC threw out 4th edition almost entirely, and went back to a 3.5 variant -- a set of rules they never should have left in the first place. Spells work like spells, characters feel more unique, there is more room for creativity and overall it felt like a return to something a bit more normal.
All of this is good, but I don't know if issuing a new set of rules is enough. More than six years have passed, and I have moved on to other things -- as (I think) has the community in general.
The excitement in the room that WOTC was running at GENCON paled in comparison to the thrum of energy that seemed to be coming out of the Pathfinder crowd. And a host of new RPGs have sprung up to fill in the gap left behind by the d20, Open Gaming License, and 4th edition failures.
More importantly, nothing that WOTC is doing leads me to believe that they are interested in gaining back the trust that they have lost over the past six years. They continue to promote the same quantity-over-quality strategy that they employed back when 4th edition was around. It was the reason they started losing us in the first place, and a new rule system will not fix this problem.
I literally had one of the DMs at GENCON tell me that they would get in trouble if they did not accurately capture all of the player's DCI numbers -- and yet when it came time to provide feedback about the adventure we just played through I received the standard "circle 1-5 form" that I could choose to return if I really wanted to offer additional comments. They seemed much more interested in capturing the number of players, rather than knowing if the players actually had a good time and this suggests to me that they have not learned from their mistakes.
It sounds silly, but it makes me sad to think that I might not play D&D again -- that I don't want to play it anymore. It was the game that I had hoped to teach my kids, to have them create characters all their own and come on adventures with me so that they could feel the excitement that I felt when I was their age.
D&D was (in no small part) the glue that held our gaming group together. We tried going back to 3.5 for a bit, we even tried Pathfinder for awhile (sacrilege!), but eventually we moved on to other things. I found Warmachine, a bunch of us started playing WoW... But it has never really been the same.
I hope I am wrong, and I hope that WOTC is really trying to turn things around for Dungeons & Dragons (as this Verge article suggests). The game still means a lot to me, and I want to find a reason to play. But I hope they eventually realize that it is largely a matter of trust.