Please Note: Ben wrote this for Geek Native weeks and weeks ago (I have got a bank of Genre Police articles I use to give me some weekend time off), and since then, the OGL drama hit.
This article follows Approaching Death, on D&D’s death saves, but it might feel somewhat out-of-date in today’s light of day! Perhaps D&D made a saving throw of it’s own? – Girdy
So, I thought I should talk about change. It’s coming, if we want it or not. D&D One is around the corner and for better or worse, the game we play won’t be the same again.
They’re currently playtesting it, taking things we know and updating and adapting them, rejigging races and classes to run differently. They’ve restated a concentration on virtual tabletops with DLC content.
Why does this matter?
Well, I have loved every edition of D&D in some way or another. But whatever I thought about them, and however much I don’t or don’t play them nowadays, the conversation in the zeitgeist is always about the latest edition.
So I thought I’d take a moment to talk about edition change in a way I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone talk about it before. I’m not going to look at it from a position of inspecting every new published rule. I’m going to just talk about feelings and opinions about where the fanbase might change in the future.
It’s not my usual generic ‘help’ article – this is totally about one game and is more a collection of thoughts, an opinion piece, but I think it’s worth a column to think about. Feel free to share your opinions with me.
I don’t know if it’s the same with your groups, but no one seems excited by the idea of a new edition. Everyone I know seems to view it as something we are going to have to tolerate. And it made me think about 5e as a whole.
How I sort of view it as still having a lot of potential. The amount released for other editions of the game compared to the relaxed schedule of 5e, combined with the relative lack of actual rules in each supplement, they’d got about another thirty years of releases to have the same amount of options and such to be as out of ideas as late stage third edition was. It seems like a weird place to cut.
So if that’s the case, why are we changing edition? Well, the prevailing thought in the community is that it’s the drive to deliver a digital tabletop and move us to a subscription model for D&D Beyond-based play. And I totally understand why the company think this is a good move – it assures that only Wizards can produce the best quality maps and locks in a sustainable business model without having to make books focused on players all the time.
But it’s a risky business.
It won’t be for everyone. Paying more to play a game we all already play is not a way to keep your existing fanbase invested. At worse, it will splinter. We could be back to the days of the 4th or late 2nd edition, where the fanbase is very divided and all playing different games.
But who knows? Feedback on the playtest of the new version of the game is very positive. Perhaps it will be a great version of the game. But even if it’s popular and takes off…I can’t shake the feeling that something will have changed, be different somehow.
I keep gazing back at my third-edition books and wonder if they’d agree that Goliaths should have spell-like abilities. Or if anyone else feels like the ‘class groupings’ that the playtest documents talk about are just 4th edition roles all over again and worry the game is going back to being about defined roles rather than widening options. And I realise that they announced every edition of D&D is a new continuity. And I suddenly understand that this is the edition where the game is going to finally not be what I want from an RPG. I’m the problem. I’m too set in my ideas about what this game should be. Maybe you are, too. What do we do?
Well, hopefully, remain civil. We don’t want another edition war. I’m not sure I can take another one.
All Aren’t One
So, what do I do? Well, option one is to get over it. Buy the new stuff and play it, pretending this is the direction for the game that I enjoy. This is made more complex for me by being a professional GM and sometimes having to run what my players want, but if we ignore that, then I can maybe learn to love a new edition.
Maybe I can. Maybe you can too.
After all, it’s about who we play with, isn’t it? Not about what game we are playing. This could be the route we all take. In five years, fifth edition is remembered fondly, but we are all on this new thing.
Or, maybe I can keep playing 5e until everyone I know is done with it. It’s a much-loved edition. There’s enough third-party stuff released I could probably play this until 2050, just dining out on all the good stuff from Ghostfire Gaming, Kobold Press, Acheron Games, Onyx Path and Paradigm Concepts etc released.
I’m getting the feel that at least all of the games I am running right now won’t peter out with a change of edition. I wonder how many people are going to do this. A vast amount of people during fourth edition just never stopped playing third. This is perhaps the most damaging thing that can happen to the scene as a whole, a clear divide down the middle of what being released and what we are playing.
It’ll be fine for individual games, but we will be back to that a place where new players to the hobby are having to find out which rulesets are being used at every table and learning differing versions of the game. Still, it’s likely to be the course many will take.
A New Dawn
Of course, there’s another side to this. Perhaps there is a moment here for a hopeful diaspora of players who don’t leave the hobby but take this moment to try out new things. With 5e finishing, maybe we’ll see what happened during 4th edition, where people try out other RPGs and find things they enjoy more.
I for one, would love to see a world where people don’t just think of D&D when they think of RPGS. This could be a new dawn where people end up playing more Call Of Cthulhu, or Pathfinder or Don’t Rest Your Head or some other system.
I want to take a moment here to say to you that if you don’t like the new edition, please don’t leave the hobby. You have so many options and people to play with, so many choices, so many stories to tell.
There are millions of ideas out there and you can sample as many as you like to find what really drives your brain. I’d hate to think how much less bright my life and friendship groups would be if I’d have given up after my first RPG game went the way of the dodo. How many people I’d have never met. And this hobby is really about the people and the stories, rules just facilitate those things interacting.
So stay with us, maybe you’ll find something exciting and new.
I’ll see you around the corner, whatever shape that takes.
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