Hey—Wizards of the Coast are the ones who codenamed the playtest One D&D. I just happened to point out the coincidence and cues with that and the hit by Queen.
So, I apologize for the video-heavy post, but it does give the base information that I’m referring to. And noting that, here’s the official announcement of the upcoming major update to Dungeons & Dragons that will coincide with the 50th anniversary (and soon after, my own 50th birthday. Damn, I’m getting old.)
In essence, it’s apt to call it 5.5 edition, since it’s backwards compatible with the current 5th edition. And, the current edition is effectively just getting service updates instead of a rehaul because the company, and also many of the player base, feel like it’s hit the right combination of mechanics in general. (Of course, there’s those who won’t be satisfied unless it goes absolutely into their mental concept of D&D because that’s what’s “right” for the game, and those folks are scattered all along the rules-light to rules-intense spectrum, and many other metrics of gameplay. That’s what customization and homebrew is for.) As such, the game is dropping the concept of editions entirely, and more or less expanding on what a fair number of folks see as a “good thing.”
There’s already a playtest document released on D&D Beyond, and it deals with character origins: the stuff that shapes a character before they leap into adventuring, such as race and background. The term “race” is a tricky one, and in fantasy contexts is more apt to describe “species,” but I digress. There’s a genuine effort to show what comes from where, and noting that certain things are due to culture and background while others are genetic. As such, things like ability score modifiers are now linked to a character’s background rather than their race. It’s no longer that all orcs are strong because fantasy genetics, but rather one might have encountered a lot of strong orcs because those orcs were soldiers or laborers or others who have grown up doing a lot of strength-based activities in their developing lives. Along the same lines, elves and gnomes aren’t smarter on average because fantasy genetics, but because one may have mostly encountered elves and gnomes who focused on education and learning in their developing lives.
While two of my favorite core races of prior editions are absent from this playtest: the half-elf and the half-orc, they actually aren’t gone from the game. One of the biggest challenges has been considering all of the possible combinations that players may wish to have as a character option, like a dwarf/orc crossbreed, a gnome/kender mix, a human/elf mix, and so on. Well, per these new rules, that option is simply to select one of the parent races for the mechanical in-game abilities, but appearance-wise, use whatever mix & match of traits from both parents the plaer wishes. This makes things easier to resolve rather than literally building every single possible combination there is. It also seems to be the approach that franchises like Star Wars have taken when dealing with children of interspecies romance, where such pairings are possible. (And though I’m not versed in it, it seems like the viable approach for similar characters in the Star Trek franchise, like Mr. Spock and K’Ehleyr.)
I won’t delve too much into absolutely everything covered in the document or the video, as champing at the bit as I am to do so, but I will note that this approach to mixed heritage characters goes along with one of the core foundational approached with the game: simple while effective. The advantage and disadvantage system in the game does this: instead of a big equation of positive and negative modifiers from multiple sources adjusting a result from a die roll, just roll 2 dice: with advantage, take the better roll; with disadvantage, take the worse roll. Boom. Done; resolved; no math headache or argument on how the equation was determined or any number of things that can drag down and make the gaming experience unenjoyable for a fair number of players. (If one likes arguing over math equations, may I suggest a career in academia?)
And really, I think that this is a big thing for the game. There’s going to be a paired-down, free-for-all version per the System Reference Document, then the full bells-and-whistles version including iconic IP like beholders and mind flayers and other stuff that’s up for purchase, and then there’ll be the additional options readily available out there for those who want them. This game has persisted longer than its original creators, and it seems that there’s a genuine interest in making the game a legacy that isn’t susceptible to endless change, revision, edition, and the like, unless it’s necessary to better the game. In essence, I think there’s an effort to codify the base rules so that any generation from here on out can just jump in and play the game once those rules are learned, like one might do when playing chess, checkers, Texas hold ’em, or any other well-established game.