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Wizards of the Coast Announces New Dungeons & Dragons Will Be Free!

free dnd articleSome of my Readers might have noticed that it’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog about the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons.  In fact, the last time I blogged anything regarding that new RPG dubbed “D&D Next” was back in August of 2012 – and admittedly, I was a rather outspoken critic of the project.

In the early fall of 2012, I made a conscious decision to back away from all things D&D Next, and I think I made the right decision.  The main reason I backed away is due to the fact I sensed I was becoming too emotionally invested in “edition rage”, and as we saw during the Edition Wars of 2007-2008, no real good can come of that sort of attitude.  And the other reason I avoided blogging about and participating in the playtest of D&D Next was so that I could approach the new product line as an unbiased reviewer for EN World.  I believed both then and now that the designers at WotC working on this new edition deserve a fair and honest appraisal of the project which they have invested so much hard work and skull-sweat in during these past two years.

But now that GENCON approaches, I think it’s time to start giving due attention to this new D&D edition coming over the horizon.  And this week presented a perfect opportunity to discuss this new RPG system with an article posted yesterday on the Wizards of the Coast site by Mike Mearls.

In yesterday’s new Legend & Lore article, Mr. Mearls gave us all an overview of the new line of D&D RPG products, and specifically discussed Basic Dungeons & Dragons and the D&D Starter Set to be released in mid-July.  But what I thought was a real bombshell being dropped in the article wasd the announcement that Basic D&D would be a FREE product in PDF format, downloadable from the WotC site!

To quote Mr. Mearls from the article:

We want to put D&D in as many hands as possible, and a free, digital file is the best way to do that.


With just the Basic Dungeons & Dragons rules, you can play D&D for years.

startersetcoverIn the article, Basic D&D was likened to the old Rules Cyclopedia from the early 1990s, presenting players and DMs with enough rules to create characters from Levels 1 to 20 for the four class archetypes – Fighter, Rogue, Cleric, and Wizard – along with a few race options – human, elf, dwarf, and halfling.  Although not presented as such in the article, the D&D Starter Set coming out in July looks a lot like a “red box” version of the game, containing all the rules found in the Basic D&D PDF, plus “essential monsters, magic items, and DM rules needed to run the game, along with the rules for wilderness, dungeon, and urban adventuring”.  The Starter Set apparently has in it an “included campaign” – presumably Tyranny of Dragons.

Interestingly, the Basic D&D PDF is promised to be a living document of rules and game content, if you will, with more material being added to it as other products are released.  For instance, with the Player’s Handbook is released in August, the Basic D&D PDF will have the content found in the Starter Set added to it.  And per the article, even more content will be added as new releases for the Tyranny of Dragons campaign.

Another facet of comparison came up with the core books for this new edition: the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual.  Mr. Mearls suggested that these formed the analog of the set of books that contained the rules for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.  Whether intentional or not, this was also another reference to products from the earliest editions of Dungeons & Dragons rules, evoking the principles of “old school” game design, suggesting that new D&D might well be considered part of the Old School Revolution which has been driven by Indie game publishers for a few years now.

From a marketing stand-point, it’s hard to fault WotC (or maybe Hasbro?) for a strong campaign to give gamers almost no excuse not to at least try out this new edition of Dungeons & Dragons.  Using the words FREE and GAME in the same sentence is almost guaranteed to make even the most jaded RPG fan prick up their ears with interest.  And setting the price point of the D&D Starter Set (AKA the new “red box”) at just 20 bucks is another smart move, putting what appears to be a complete game system at a fraction of the cost of a core rulebook for most other RPGs – and the Starter Set even includes dice… sheesh!

playershandbookOn the other hand, I’m a bit taken aback by both the release schedule and price points of the new core books – or, as I’m thinking of dubbing it, AD&D Reimagineered.  While the Player’s Handbook is due out in August at GENCON (are we surprised?), the Monster Manual has what amounts to an October release (September 30th), with the Dungeon Master’s Guide coming out just before Thanksgiving (November 18th).  That’s a long time to wait to get a complete set of core books for the more advanced version of this new edition of D&D.  Of course, the staggering of product release might be designed to give gamers a chance to save up for the hefty pricetags attached to these new products – $49.95 per book is a chunk of change, with the DM having to make a $150.00 investment to run an AD&D Reimagineered campaign.

Dungeon Masters (or any GM for that matter) have notoriously been in short supply within the gaming community, and I think putting such a big financial burden out there for the core rulebooks might not be a very good strategy for advancing the game.  But, of course, we’ll just have to wait and see if the books really do sell at those prices…

As a Reviewer, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the finished version of the new Dungeons & Dragons rules, finally all nice and polished after such a long and grueling playtest.  This open public playtest format has never been done to such a scale before with a tabletop role-playing game, and the only comparison I can think of is open beta for an MMORPG.  A successful launch of this new D&D edition might well start a trend for other game publishers to follow suit – and that could make the future of game design very interesting indeed over the next several years to come!

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.


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