My goal with these blog posts is to keep them short and focused on a single topic within the context of giving feedback to help improve Dungeons & Dragons Next. Now let's talk about errata, D&D, and the digital age.
Errata was published during the print run of Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition and v.3.5 on a semi-regular basis. There wasn't the online support from Wizards of the Coast that 4th edition has so players mostly built their characters from the D&D books they had on the shelf or shared with their gaming group. Thinking back to my games, we rarely used any of the official errata. Basically we only used rules changes if the issue being fixed was egregiously broken or if the errata improved the situation to the player's advantage and, even then, sometimes we didn't use the errata at all.
D&D 4th edition made two important changes to the errata process. One, the Dungeons & Dragons Insider (DDI) initiative gave Wizards of the Coast the Amazon Kindle-like ability to telekinetically edit monsters and player character features (feats, powers, magic items, &c) across a large swath of players. Two, the consistency of the game design made game balance more of a focus and easier to measure.
Wizards of the Coast went too far with errata in support of 4th edition. There was too much errata for 4th edition, too often, and without enough regard to the pain such changes cause. In many ways becoming more like World of Warcraft was positive but not along the lines of constant fiddling with D&D items/feats/powers in pursuit of game balance.
Once put in a print publication, like the Player's Handbook 2 or Martial Power, the standard should be very high before rules errata are published that change the impact of that game element. In order to change something that has been published it needs to be broken or game-breaking rather than just imperfect.
I have an annual subscription to DDI but I would still like to be able to read my printed D&D 4th edition rulebooks and brainstorm character builds. The current rules errata are so far away from what I own that either players won't buy print books at all (IMO, a bad business plan for Wizards of the Coast) or players will ignore errata (which factionalizes the 4th edition player base).