On D&D 5th Edition

Wizards of the Coast recently announced that they were getting started on a fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons, the old grand-daddy of a classic of tabletop role playing games.

For what it’s worth, I was excited for about five seconds. Then I thought of all the books that I already own. I have four shelves of gaming books and a full two are assorted Dungeons & Dragons. I have stuff from almost every edition, Going backwards from 4th ed, to 3rd ed, to 2nd ed, to plain old Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and good old vanilla D&D before that. Here’s a picture of what’s probably the oldest gaming book I own, and it’s as old as I am:

4th Edition seems to have been a bit of a failure. Sure, it sold, but given that it only came out about three years ago, something must be wrong for Wizards to be jumping the gun on a new edition. The last one seemed to be an attempt either to lure PC and online gamers into the fold, since character progression was very close to what you’d find in World of Warcraft or another such game, or it was an attempt to create a set of rules which would be portable to a PC or console gaming platform in order to provide a seamless transition for players who wanted to do both.

3rd Edition was a big change from the previous edition, but as it grew the bugs became apparent and eventually a 3.5 came out. It fixed a lot of what was wrong in the earlier version, and provided a better platform that what they’d had before, because its open license allowed other vendors to get in on the action with supplements (as Paizo is still doing with its Pathfinder series of books). It was so succesful that more people seem interested in 3.5 or Pathfinder than I’ve ever seen show interest in 4th Edition, so 4th Edition is basically competing against 3.5 for popularity, but the money for 3.5 isn’t going to Wizards. It would be funny if they weren’t on the verge of breaking the whole thing again…

I think they realize that 3.5 is something that they haven’t successfully been able to improve on, but without the ability to go back to that system they have to abandon 4th edition completely and try again to reinvent the rules set. I’m curious to see what they come up with, but I’m not excited. At this point, given the amount of gaming I’ve already done in more systems than I can remember offhand, I don’t think they’re going to create a D&D that’s better than an existing D&D, and I don’t think they’re going to be able to create something more interesting than what’s already out there, as made by other people.

In the end, I don’t think D&D needs a fifth edition. I think what they need is to abandon the brand and start fresh, create something completely new with none of the old D&D trappings, though that might be more than Hasbro is willing to let them do. They’re asking for help from fans as well, which I think is a bit of a mistake. Fans are, by definition, people who enjoy what you are doing or what you’ve already done. As enthusiastic as some of these fans can be, I expect the only thing they’ll really do, en masse, is steer Wizards toward their favourite components of existing games. So fifth edition, with fan input, will probably be a mishmash of old D&D rules, with a few new interesting mechanics thrown in. I don’t see a fan effort as something which will support a complete rules overhaul. The fifth edition needs to be something that brings the game forward in a different direction, something that makes people sit up and take notice, not something that will make people nostalgic for their old books. If you make me nostalgic for old-fashioned AD&D, I’ll just dust off my AD&D books and play that, I won’t spend money on new ones. Case in point, I’ll be starting a D&D game with some friends later this month, and we won’t be using 4th edition rules…

2012 Resolution Progress:
16263/1,000,000 words written (1.63%)
10/10 days blogged (Target: 366/366)

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2 responses to “On D&D 5th Edition

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