The Dark Elf is out of the bag…
The next version of D&D is coming! The folks over at Wizards of the Coast are working on the next version of Dungeons & Dragons. An official name has not been decided, but most are calling it “5e,” and the Wizards are calling it “D&D Next.” If you’re not the D&D type, you may not be aware of what is known as the “Edition Wars.” There are currently six different flavors of the official game, starting from 1977, and there are a list of spin-offs so long it makes the scroll intro on Star Wars read like a Haiku.
Regardless of your taste, you can find a D&D to satiate it. While variety can sometimes be good, all of the different editions can create fierce rivalries between edition purists and regular players. Take any beloved game, break it into multiple different versions with a contingent of frothing fans for each, summon forth the Internets, blend said ingredients on puree and BOOM – the web is full of lovers and haters screaming across a multifaceted battlefield in all caps.
These Edition Wars have had another effect outside the entertainment value: A fractured D&D market. You can Google the various articles and blogs decrying WOTC’s mishandling of 4e (or 3.5…), and the rise and success of Paizo Publishing’s Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, to get a strong glimpse of the problem. Less people are buying into the new version of D&D than was expected. Sales are not up to par. People are recreating older versions and playing those or looking to other games.
Based on the new announcement from WOTC, they hope to pull these various factions together under the banner of a new game. One that begins with a basic game harkening back to the bygone days of yesteryear, then creating “modular” add-ons that will allow players to fine-tune D&D to taste. They basically want you to start with a core that is the essence of D&D, then allow you to customize from there. Will this unite the factions into “one edition to rule them all?” Many don’t believe it will. Most don’t think it’s even possible. Personally, I think creating a unified D&D is possible.
I have been Dungeon Mastering D&D since 1981. I was enticed by a commercial from Toys ‘R’ Us showcasing the Red Box in all it’s imaginative glory, and never looked back. I’ve DMed or played each edition change from 2e to 2e Revised to 3e to 3.5 to 4e, and even Pathfinder to several Old School re-creations of various flavors. I have some personal favorites and other pet peeves regarding these changes. I don’t think I stand alone in my preferences regarding the game. Some people like these parts, others hate those parts. It’s subjective to each person and group. This is true across each version and within the various elements that have been dropped or added over the years.
Despite our differences, most will agree that we have tweaked and/or modified D&D at some point to meet our needs. The Interwebs is full of posts from avid D&Ders on changes they have made to their preferred version. One could argue that a bunch of RPGs were designed as answers to the question, “What would I do to make a better D&D.” With the advent of the Open Gaming License*, a veritable army of 3rd-party-publisher supplements and derivative games using the core system of 3e have been produced. Some of these simplified the game while others took it in completely new directions. Paizo’s Pathfinder is a refinement of the core 3.5 engine some call 3.75. The various Old School clones have been produced using the OGL and extrapolating the previous editions from the 3.x core.
So one might ask, “Why does all this matter?” Because, given the ability to take a basic game and “by the rules” modify it to taste, I think this version of D&D could be the holy grail of D&Ds. It would be a D&D that appeals to how most of us currently use D&D anyway. It wouldn’t be difficult to refine the essence of D&D into a basic game then create modular add-ons, putting back in every sub-system, change, or removal from editions before. If the game focuses on a core, and the modular add-ons don’t break the math of the game, the various tweaks one could make to the game would not break compatibility with how others are playing it. This could standardized the conversation. We could be talking about how we play D&D instead of what version we prefer.
A 3PP could produce an adventure module with suggested add-ons so a group could find adventures that appeal to their preferred approach. One could even design supplements and adventures to take advantage of different add-ons and give DMs options in tailoring it to their game. It could open up the playing field while allowing all comers to play with a unified set of rules.
Though it rests behind a fog of uncertainty, before us is a realm of possibility. WOTC has the future of D&D in their court. I remain hopeful; only the coming months will truly tell. For now I will look fondly on my old Red Box, let my mind wander in tales of great adventure, and hope for the best. After all, that’s what adventurers do. Godspeed 5e, I can’t wait to see what’s Next.
*The OGL (or Open Gaming License) originally created by WOTC allowed 3rd-party publishers to use the core mechanics of d20 and produce their own supplements and games. There is some debate on the success of this model, but most agree that the release of D&D 3e and the OGL created an unprecedented boom in the RPG industry during it’s tenure.