Yesterday morning, Wizards of the Coast finally dropped the bombshell on the D&D Community that gamers have been anticipating – and possibly, dreading – for several months now: Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition is on the way! The announcement came from Mike Mearls in the recent installment of the Legends & Lore column, under a title of Charting the Course for D&D. However, what I think surprised many in the D&D community was an rather unexpected twist which was hinted at in the subtitle for the article – Your Voice, Your Game. It appears that for the new edition of D&D, WotC will be gathering input from gamers not only of the current edition, but from all previous editions as well!
Not unlike particle physicists seeking to create a Grand Unified Theory to combine the fundamental forces in the universe into a single concept, it appears that the Developers at Wizards of the Coast are attempting to create a sort of Grand Unified Dungeons & Dragons, which they hope will have appeal to D&D gamers of all editions, as well as to newcomers to the fantasy role-playing as well. In the recent Legends & Lore article, Mike Mearls offers up a new paradigm for what WotC hope D&D 5E will be:
We seek to build a foundation for the long-term health and growth of D&D, one rooted in the vital traits that make D&D unique and special. We want a game that rises above differences of play styles, campaign settings, and editions, one that takes the fundamental essence of D&D and brings it to the forefront of the game.
Certainly, this is a remarkable move for the Developers at Wizards of the Coast to make, and one which is not without considerable challenges. The D&D community has become increasingly fractious over the years, with gamers becoming entrenched in their favorite edition of the game, and defending (often fanatically) the virtues of their version of D&D against all other editions and iterations. Add to this the recent “Edition Wars” over D&D 4E, and the proliferation of Pathfinder as a vibrant D&D alternative, and it makes the Dungeons & Dragons Community seem more like the mythological many-headed Hydra, and that’s one monster that is going to require one heck of a heroic edition to have any chance to defeat it.
In fact, there was a great article in the New York Times yesterday as well, which covered not only the announcement from WotC about D&D 5th Edition, but went so far as to describe the history and current state of the game. In Players Roll the Dice for Dungeons & Dragons Remake, columnist Ethan Gilsdorf, who is coincidentally also the author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, discussed many of the trends which have affected the course and development of Dungeons & Dragons over the years. And more importantly, he discusses how the proliferation of editions and rules, as well as the thriving computer RPG and MMO releases, are all taking their toll on the future prospects of the world’s first role-playing game. Gilsdorf interviews not only Mike Mearls about the future of D&D, but also WotC’s director of publishing Liz Schuh, and then gets input from other gaming industry pundits such as Ryan Scott Dancey (former VP at WotC), David M. Ewalt (senior editor at Forbes and author of a book detailing the history of D&D), and Greg Tito (games editor at The Escapist). In short, the new edition of D&D, the one which Mike Mearls hopes will “…ensure that D&D enters its next 40 years as a vibrant, growing, and exciting game”, is going to have to overcome some considerable obstacles in order to achieve its goal – and one of the greatest obstacles is its own player base!
But WotC does seem to have a plan which will help, and is starting what might be called a “hearts and minds” campaign to reach out to the D&D fanbase. Over the next year, WotC is starting a playtesting strategy to get feedback from the D&D community about what gamers want to see in the next edition of Dungeons & Dragons. So regardless of whether you’re a fan of 1st Edition or 4E, whether you play 2nd, 3rd, or 3.5, or even if you play Pathfinder, WotC is seeking a create a new edition of D&D that will appeal to all D&D gamers, and they want input and ideas on how to make it work.
As Mike Mearls states in his Legend & Lore article:
For that reason, we want your participation. The goals we have set for ourselves are by no means trivial or easy. By involving you in this process, we can build a set of D&D rules that incorporate the wants and desires of D&D gamers around the world. We want to create a flexible game, rich with options for players and DMs to embrace or reject as they see fit, a game that brings D&D fans together rather than serves as one more category to splinter us apart.
And it also seems that WotC is in this playtesting mode for the long haul. Mike Mearls seems to hint that the playtesting and what would amount to “focus group” feedback from the D&D community will be done over the course of the next year at least, when he states that “the next year is going to be an exciting one.” He encourages D&D gamers to sign up to be part of the playtest, and there is a big red button at the bottom of the Legends & Lore article to garner community support!
But the big question to me about this brave new edition is this: can it really be done? Can a single edition of D&D exist which is satisfying to all fans everywhere?
I honestly don’t know for sure myself, but I certainly like to think that it is possible! As D&D gamers, regardless of our favorite edition, we all have a passion and love for this this ground-breaking fantasy role-playing game, and I like to think that we have more in common with each other than our differing stances on the “edition wars” would seem to suggest. Sure it’s going to be a lot of hard work, but if we love D&D, and want it to continue to advance long into the future of fantasy role-playing games, then it is worth giving this new paradigm a chance.
For myself, I am signing on and lending my full support to the new vision for Dungeons & Dragons that Mr. Mearls has offered the D&D community. And I must admit that I am excited to see if we really can create a Grand Unified D&D that will satisfy the gaming desires in all of us, so that we all can continue to become fantastic heroes in wondrous realms, bounded only by the limits of our imaginations!
So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!