A few years ago in 2012, before the release of 5th edition, I made a couple of posts about the failings of Wizards of the Coast to satisfy its’ market needs or wants, and the opportunity missed in sitting on the most important brand in tabletop RPGs. Then the strangest thing happened. I felt like the powers that be at Wizards were actually reading my blog. The new edition has been released, and the company policy and strategy seems to have re-aligned to tackle pretty much every criticism I made.
The 5th edition has been with us now for 2 years, and I have been surprised. Rarely does a company correct itself, particularly in matters of corporate culture (of which which I think scale and ambition is a crucial component). Wizards has satisfied itself with only the three core rule books in terms of game-crunch product releases. Those rule books (especially the Players Handbook) are probably the best and deepest ever released for Dungeons & Dragons, although the rules are noticeably streamlined from earlier editions. What is most significant, is the non-release of “splat” books. No “Player’s Handbook II”, or “Arcane Power”. What has been released are adventure campaigns, each with a specific theme. We have had Tyranny of Dragons line with Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat (Q4 2014), Elemental Evil with Princes of the Apocalypse and the Player’s Companion (Q2 2015), Rages of Demons with Out of the Abyss (Q3 2015), and Ravenloft with Curse of Strahd (Q1 2016).
The only “crunch” book since launch is the setting specific Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide (Q4 2015), which is mostly fluff about the Forgotten Realms (bringing the data up to date with the latest events), and adding FR details such as factions, a few new class variations (such as Bladesinger, Purple Dragon Knights) and some spells.
This release structure is radically different from past editions. WotC has clearly changed strategy here, and has focused on a powerful core, and supporting ongoing play with professional adventures concentrated on one main setting. The RPGA has been reset as the Adventurer’s League with much success. Control of the adventurer’s league has been vested even more in its volunteers and players. WotC has also published an SRD, allowing 3rd party publishers to create accessories for the game under well understood rules. Another sign of their increased openness is the release of a “Fan Site kit”, allowing fan sites to use D&D logos and imagery to emblazon their web sites.
The rules themselves represent a more modern, streamlined game yet with all the old elements present, and a dialling back of the somewhat colourful mechanics and power creep of 4th edition. Something called “bounded accuracy” shrinks the power scale down to a fraction of past editions to offer a strong likelihood of meaningful adventuring at the game’s highest levels. The sacred cows have been resurrected (or preserved), whereas the more troubling mechanics have been streamlined or sidestepped.
I personally have had no trouble introducing the new game to newcomers, and veterans or returning gamers. The new two hour format of adventurer’s league games allows for even more casual play at game stores. I have noticed an attitude amongst hardcore pathfinder players of “I’ll just wait until they release some more splatbooks before I commit”, or “I don’t like what they did with X class”. However, those gamers who have always been flexible (“I’ll play whatever the DM is running”) have jumped in with enthusiasm. It is definitely recognisable as the same old Dungeons & Dragons, and it has definitely benefited from a face-lift.
I like the new Dungeons and Dragons. In fact I think it is the best release ever. I give it 5 stars. I take back my earlier predictions of doom and gloom for it. Wizards of the Coast themselves have adjusted – evolved even, and turned the tide with a product that may be well on its way to re-uniting the fractured strands of the community.