More reactions to D&D5e

The Known World of early D&D

Mystara, an early D&D world

As I noted yesterday, the big news in fantasy role-playing was the announcement of Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition and even early playtesting. I hope that gaming can still thrive, albeit with fewer fans than in the 1980s or early 2000s. Technology, rules systems, and playing styles have evolved, and I've enjoyed the social side of the hobby for almost 30 years.

My groups have been speculating about D&D5e for a few months now, and initial reactions among them and various bloggers were wary. Some people, who like D&D3.x and Pathfinder, hope that Wizards of the Coast can return to something like the D20 Open Game License rather than D&D4e's more restrictive Game System License. We debated whether WotC should try to widen its audience and pursue younger gamers or whether it needs to win back lapsed role-players and those who stuck with earlier editions. It should try to do both as the industry leader.

Others, who like how D&D4e tried to be more balanced and streamlined, hope for a more modular approach to the complexity level of the rules as characters and monsters advance. I'd like D&D5e to offer more support for role-playing, world-building, and pickup and one-shot games. German designers and Lego have been successful with board games that are potential entry points into the hobby. Dungeons that you can drop a random group of players and characters into, evocative settings, and the potential for long-term story and character development are all important.

I think an introductory D&D5e boxed set is likely, with more focus on pregenerated elements and online character management. Tactical combat will continue to be important, but I think the "fantasy punk" flavor will be dialed back in an attempt to win back some people alienated by the massively multiplayer online (MMO) style of D&D4e. As I said yesterday, WotC will still need to prove that D&D5e is better than already available prior editions and competitors such as Pathfinder.

In addition to the rivalry among fans of D&D4e vs. those of Pathfinder, I'm also still following the development and debates around rules-light and retro-clone (or "old-school Renaissance") games. I may not have minded memorizing the AD&D1 Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide about 25 years ago, but I now want to spend less time worrying about rules and be able to run fun games easily. For example, based on the success of the "Broken Chains" scenario during Byron's visit, some of us are considering using FATE 3e Legends of Anglerre instead of Pathfinder for telecom fantasy games.

3 Responses to More reactions to D&D5e

  1. >D&D5e!?! I'm not sure if I should be glad that the powers that be have decided to continue investing in the game, if I should be appalled that there is yet another version in the works, or if I should be glad that the game's authors are trying to improve (and not "improve") the game. We'll have to wait and see… -Hans C.H.

    >>Hans, I hope this e-mail finds you well. What games are you running or playing in Virginia? Wizards of the Coast's announcement of D&D5e (which may end up having a different edition name) didn't come as a huge surprise, since Mike Mearls and Monte Cook have been hinting at it in their editorials for a few months.

    It is a tacit admission of D&D4e's failures in terms of market share, but note that it's still the No. 2 most-popular tabletop role-playing game right now, right behind Pathfinder. Lots of people prefer D&D4e's balanced character options, tactical combat rules, and convention support. Pathfinder and other retro-clones are popular, but they have issues with compatibility, name recognition, and complexity.

    After the D20 boom of the early 2000s, the RPG market has fragmented and faltered in the face of ongoing competition from other entertainment media. As I told my face-to-face group last night, another challenge facing WotC is that it has fewer resources after several rounds of Hasbro layoffs than it did during development of D&D3.0/D20. Open playtesting may also be self-selecting among rules lawyers rather than other types of gamers.

    As one of the sites I linked to in my blog entry noted, if you count ".5" editions, Dungeons & Dragons has been revised about every five years. I started with the Basic boxed set in 1982, moved to AD&D1 in high school, AD&D2 in college, drifted to GURPS 3e and Storyteller in the 1990s, and came back with D&D3.0 and 3.5. I ran D&D4e for a year, but most of my group ended up preferring other systems, so I'm now running Pathfinder and FATE 3e.

    I certainly understand that WotC is in the business of publishing and selling gaming books, but I hope that the next D&D edition helps grow the hobby and suits my style as a Dungeon Master more closely than some of its predecessors.

  2. I'll be watching with interest, but (A)D&D (and the great majority of d20 systems) haven't been in my core sphere of interest since I migrated to GURPS more than two decades ago (now GURPS appears to have run its course, too).

    The one thing D&D has had historically in its favor, and which it has lost, is a huge amount of support for different settings and rules options. I think it's not about the rulesystem but about the (quantity and quality) of supported materials.

    Maybe I'm mis-remembering, but I think the OGL was born out of desperation as the D&D brand was foundering in the late 1990s. Maybe the D&D brand needs another crisis before it can come up with a move bold enough that it might restore its leadership position. But people will also need to tire of Paizo's D&D "3.75"…

    I still hold out hope that D&D5e will grab from WotC's Star Wars d20 for ruleset inspiration. But somehow I don't think that'll happen.

  3. Brian, I agree that one of the best things about D&D3.x/D20 was the ability of WotC and third-party publishers to create mostly compatible books in multiple genres — from high fantasy and sword and sorcery to steampunk, superheroes, horror, and science fiction — and in multiple styles and power levels.

    I think we'll probably see something less restrictive than the D&D4e GSL, but we're unlikely to return to the heady boom of the D20 OGL. It was a smart move after WotC took over from TSR's AD&D2.5. I also liked the D20 Star Wars: Saga Edition, but since it was mostly a transitional test bed between D&D3.5 and 4e, I doubt talent trees or that particular (and clean) rules presentation will be used again in D&D5e.

    I agree that the complexity level and style of Paizo's Pathfinder aren't for everyone, but that game was explicitly designed to be backward-compatible with D&D3.5. The retro-clone and rules-light movements among indie publishers are a niche market, but they represent good alternatives to the "big tent" of D&D.