You know, I don’t even know why I’m commenting on this. I gave up on Dungeons and Dragons back in 3.5. I liquidated my core book for the Exalted Second Edition one and I never looked back.
On the other hand the Dungeons and Dragons IP has spawned the Forgotten Realms. A universe which has earned a lot of goodwill and love. Specifically from one person I know. She’ll remain nameless. She knows who she is. Fine, it’s The Forgotten Realms Queen happy now?
Aside from that we also got a lot of great games from it including the Neverwinter Nights franchise, Baulder’s Gate, Icewind Dale and Planescape Torment.
The latter I’d enjoy more if it would STOP CRASHING!
So, it seems that our old friends Wizards of the Coast have announced that they have begun development on the Fifth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons. An announcement that was met with the reaction you can probably predict.
Anyway. Let’s give my bastardized version of events to leading up to it.
So the very first edition of Dungeons & Dragons came out in 1974. Very simple really. Affectionately known as the White Box set, the first edition was a core book with a few supplaments. That’s all she wrote. There were tons of fan content and addons created by TSR (publishers at that time) but let’s just keep moving. If I start talking about all of the addons we’ll be here forever and this will become a D&D blog. That’s just not happening.
Then came the idea that TSR would publish two sets of Dungeons & Dragons rules, a Basic set and an Advanced set.
The idea was to have a Basic rules set for beginners that was sold in toy stores and marketed to the general public and an Advanced set for hobbyist and more hardcore people.
You know, the kind of people reading this most likely.
In principle the Advanced set would have the same rules as the Basic set, just more. Simple enough, right? Well, no.
Apparently (and remember, bastardized version) there were contradictions from Basic to Advanced in terms of rules. In addition the old White Box was still being circulated because it sold well. See any problems there?
Anyway Dungeons & Dragons would go through several rules revisions before Advanced Dungeons & Dragons hit it’s second edition. Meaning in 1996 players had Second Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and Fifth Edition of regular D&D.
By this point the franchise had actually taken a revision. A lot of the devils and demonology was cut as well as any kind of evil alignment stuff worth playing. It also became more medival fantasy and mythology rather than Sword and Sorcery across different cultures. Mostly this was because the franchise was getting massive bashing from parental (read: church) groups culminating in a bad movie called Mazes and Monsters starring Tom Hanks.
And I’ll never forgive him for it.
Things boiled over in 1997 when TSR got bought by Wizards of The Coast and a decision was made to massively ratify the two divisions of D&D, streamline down the rules and create a unified core system. This was known as Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition released in year 2000.
So on the one hand we had a new ratified rule set that was easier to access. However, we also had a vastly schizmed audience across seven different editions (eight if you count the White Box) trying to get back into one. It was a bit of a hard sell.
Hell to this day I still hear purists talk about how Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition was the best.
But 3rd Edition went for being inclusive, a lot of major stuff was brought forward but not all of it. Some of the supplementary universes got the ax in the transition to Wizards and nobody was happy.
Now, if Wizards was smart they’d have kept 3rd Edition going for a while, keep releasing addons and make the d20 system the baseline for a massive multiverse to explore. So what happened instead? 3.5 Edition.
Released in 2003, a mere three years after 3rd Edition 3.5 made several (hundred) numerous changes to 3rd Edition. So what was the problem? Thankfully I don’t have to rely on the internet anymore and I can just tell you from my own history.
Well, at this point the internet was taking off and players were learning to communicate online and coordinating on a global scale new rules and ways to mod the rules were being created and the previously damned system was so streamlined it was easy to do. However, conversely, the very second 3.5 was announced internet rage responded in full as despite whatever improvements the new edition made, it meant players had to try and convert their characters to a new system and learn where changes had been made. Also you had a bunch of supplements that effectively became useless since that 3.5 label wasn’t on them. As a result, the whole thing looked like a marketing ploy since everyone asked the obvious question “Why not just make another book with the fixes in them and have the players choose?”
Keep in mind, a new revision means new corebook, dungeon masters guide, monster manual(s) etc. The costs of these books were going up. Plus thanks to internet rumors people knew 4th Edition was coming.
And it did. God how it did.
4th edition landed like a big fat egg in 2007, once again telling players that all their books and supplements were completely useless and they had to buy new ones. The already simple d20 rules were simplified further and actually tried to compete with MMOs. Yes, they actually built mechanics around gaming MMO archetypes rather then, you know, be loyal to their own style of play. This focus on combat limited a lot of the world building available to the people running games. Several rules and adventure packages were released as the 4th edition was met with critical loathing and fan revulsion.
It would still be a success, of course, and garner a fanbase but the damage was palpable.
(The Escapist has three articles on the subject of Dungeons & Dragons called past, present and future. I’ll leave them up for you to look at, but I do recommend them as they have interviews from developers that I don’t.)
Now, it’s been announced that the Fifth Edition is under development a mere four years after 4th’s run and failing. There are, however, problems out of the gate. For example Pathfinder, a system created mostly by ex-Wizards of the Coast employees is effectively buying up all of the thrice scorned ex D&D players with their adherence to the old rules system. They tackled the market by releasing all of their rules early and saying to players “Break it! Then tell us how you did it!” before releasing the core book, a tome so big you could kill a child with it. Online publishing is allowing a lot of rookie developers a chance to really break the market and systems like Rokugan, Anima, Exalted, and World of Darkness are biting out their own share.
In addition Wizards hasn’t allowed a lot of outside developers to create content for them which makes it a problem when your most innovative addon that doesn’t have a Wizards of the Coast brand on it is the Mega Dungeon. And that’s just a map! Wizards is trying to branch out with boardgames based on their most favored settings with streamlined down rules of their 4th Edition ones. Having played such a game I can say they definitively need more detail. There is a lot of grey area in the terminology. In addition a lot of rumors show Dungeons & Dragons to start trying to emulate the market success of Magic the Gathering somehow, an idea as insane as it is stupid.
As for me, well, like I said, I walked away at 3.5 and never looked back. I always found the worldly confines of the Dungeons & Dragons setting too small and the medieval fantasy limits therein forced me to re-enact what I considered to be little more then a Lord of The Rings fanfiction. Ironically enough, that’s something fantasy video gaming is getting criticized for now and yet Wizards is trying to emulate them. It wasn’t until I learned about Sigil and the Planescape setting of traveling to different worlds that I thought of some incredible fun things that could be done with the system. Then I learned how badly that world had been neutered in 4th Edition.
Who knows? Maybe the fact that Wizards actually has to work harder then ever may allow a new crop of talent to emerge that venerates the old while revitalizing it. Market competition can be a great thing and now that Dungeons & Dragons isn’t the be-all end-all of roleplaying then the industry as a whole will be better off since developers will need to craft truly remarkable, accessible and memorable content to move forward.
Me? I’m probably still going to play Scion. Mostly.
So too does this work exist.