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Wizard’s Watch: The Quest for Grand Unified D&D?

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!

Uhh... I think I'll just stick with particle physics...

Uhh... I think I'll just stick with particle physics...

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!

About The Author

Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.


10 Responses to “Wizard’s Watch: The Quest for Grand Unified D&D?”

  1. panzerleader says:

    I am with you, brother.

  2. benensky says:

    I hope it is true but I think it is all marketing crap. They want to sell 5E without alienating people like they did with 4E. %E will be just a new different set of rules with a better spin.

  3. James Bryant says:

    I love your picture of Einstein. I think particle physics might be easier than bringing together all editions of D&D. I hope they succeed. I am looking forward to the GUDD

  4. Dave says:

    My money is on not Next Gen D&D not being able to become all things to all people. They can craft one that appeases the highest number of players but my gut feeling is that ganers over age 35 or so have different expectations and desires than the 20 something crowd based on the different gaming experiences we have had growing up.

    I’m not sure it is possible to meld the power based character system with a more tradiation spells and a few special abilities system of non 4E D&D. Sure, I have some ideas on the subjuct but I don’t expect to be able to influence the project.

    Finally, anything designed by a committee is usually flawed through appeasement to the most vocal forces. Yes, any company is wise to get customer feedback. But can you really meld the input of hundreds of thousands of people into something coherent?

    Probably won’t matter to me in the long run. I doubt here will be an OGL worth touching, and assume they will try to make money by selling accounts with game support that cuts into third party publisher acceptance anyway. Assuming they let the OGL stand for supporting 4E I will probably just support 4E for whatever fraction of the D&D players decide to stick with that flavor.

    I wish them luck though. Not that I care how much money Hasbro makes off of D&D, but that I’d hate to see a franchise I’ve grown up with fail and fade away.

  5. [...] Wizard’s Watch: The Quest for Grand Unified D&D? from NEUROGLYPH Games ( [...]

  6. Adam says:

    Benensky has the right of it. Everyone who’s fallen for this trick before and re-purchased their entire library knows that this is just another way to sell a new set of books to the diehards. At least they had the gumption to go straight to 5E instead of trying 4.5, so we can see more clearly.

  7. [...] Wizard’s Watch: The Quest for Grand Unified D&D? – an article from Neuroglyph Games. [...]

  8. Steve says:

    If they stuck with with the Standard Relativity of 0-3rd Ed instead of introducing the Quantum Mechanics of 4th, they wouldn’t need a unifying edition. Self inflicted problem.

  9. Otisburg says:

    I am from the UK(sans Scotland) and have been playing dnd for 30 years now thru all its formats. My party were sceptical (UK spelling you see) with regards to 4e but it has now become an exciting way of gaming for us – therefore, I agree with your comments that the playing of the game to its full enjoyment is the most important aspect, also making sure it is with a competent DM. Wizards are trying to throw honus of the mechanics of 5e onto the players by unifying them under one core banner to sell their products – ‘Not our fault, you designed it’…..That is business and like all things, the old must die as gracefully as possible to make way for the new breed. A new breed of gamers that could possibly be as great (size wise) as the early 1980’s. If it was my company’s P & L account, I would want that too.

    4e was handled incorrectly in my opinion – not getting it right has cast doubts on Wizard, so I suggest we take a little of this control back and embrace the 5e with as much imput as possible – It will still need tweaking which a good DM can handle but it will be created by us for us. It will stand until the next ideas come. It will hopefully bring together all gamers on forums to share universal ideas rather than having grumpy sour faced 40 somethings pulling that face which is akin to licking pi$$ off a rosebush and stating ‘Its not as good as it was in my day’…DnD has always been the bench mark. Lets keep it that way and keep the costs down!

  10. @Steve – I have to point out here that you’re engaging in a bit of revisionist history. D&D 0-3rd/3.5 was hardly Standard Relativity, as they were all quite different from each other, and caused mini-fractures in the gaming community over which was better. In particular, 2nd edition and the Skills & Powers options really got some gamers in a tizzy, while others loved it and embraced it with open arms. Unifying 0-3rd might be easier to do without adding 4th, but it would still be difficult, given the differences in those first three editions of the game.

    @Otisburg – I have to agree with you, that the release of 4E has been anything but smooth. But as you say, it was able to attract a new crop of gamers – younger and fresher blood, in fact – to a game which had already reached the end of what could be accomplished with the d20 style system. Pathfinder is definitely the heir apparent to the d20 system, and 4E represents that new breed of game reaching out to gamers who grew up playing videro games and MMOs. What 5E will accomplish in unifying the various types of D&D is exciting, but I certainly hope the devs listen to the feedback they get from the playtest, and find ways to tweak the system appropriately – and not merely use the illusion of a playtest to garner market support.

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