Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast announced on Monday that they are hard at work on a new edition of the venerable Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. This will be the fifth major edition of the game since it was originally released in 1974 and comes only four years after the release of the fourth edition rule set.
The news was first broke in the New York Times with a follow up announcement coming directly from Wizards of the Coast later in the day. Part of what makes the announcement so exciting (or maybe frightening) is that Wizards will be calling on fans to help with the playtesting of the new edition and will be taking player suggestions into account when creating the new system.
According to an article published on Forbes.com, the goal of the new system is to create a “universal rule set” that will take elements from all previous editions to create a single system that will unite players from across the entire history of the game, and hopefully open their pocketbooks to buy the new rulebooks. The goal of the new system is to allow gamemasters to choose which sets of rules they want to use, thereby customizing the game to their specific groups desires. If this is indeed where the system goes (it’s still in the very early stages of testing), I can see where this can unite players and excite the audience. However…
I JUST BOUGHT FOURTH EDITION FOUR YEARS AGO!!!! And they just released the essential line (which was basically 4.5 edition) less than two years ago! I, as an admitted fairly new D&D player (at least on a regular basis), am more than a little angry to find out that the books I purchased will no longer see any support, and that if I want new modules or books, I will probably have to buy this new edition. And I know as I type this that I am complaining about a very trivial matter in the big scheme of things, but this is something that Wizards of the Coast has been doing since they took over the D&D brand, and I want to raise my voice for other gamers out there who are being fleeced into buying product they don’t want and that Wizards will see less and less people playing the game until it is no longer a viable brand.
I know that Wizards is facing an uphill battle these days when it comes to selling a tabletop RPG. As more and more people spend their gaming time online in World of Warcraft or the plethora of other online RPGs, less money is being spent on Wizards bread and butter. I can understand why Wizards is looking to get as much money out of their core audience as they can. It is the same model that comics companies have used for years, and you can see the diminishing returns from both industries. For me, this feels like a bad move on Wizards of the Coasts part. I don’t see why gamers are going to be eager to buy fifth edition when they just witnessed the short amount of time that Wizards supported the previous edition.
All of this comes before you even question the wisdom of letting the inmates run the asylum. If Wizards is being truthful in letting players of the game affect the new edition (and I have no reason to think they won’t), I have to already question what the game will look like. Anyone who spends time online knows that the people most likely to respond to Wizards call will be the most opinionated and that their opinions may not match the desires of the vast majority of gamers, or at least the more causal players. The people who respond to this and have an impact will be the hardest of the hardcore gamers. Many of them will be looking for a specific set of options that they feel has been missing from the game, and those aspects may not reflect the other 90 percent of people who are looking to play D&D. With this move (depending on how much input they take from the customers) Wizards risks alienating the casual gamers they were looking to entice into picking up the game with fourth edition. As someone who played fourth edition, I think they did a great job with this. I think the fourth edition rules are more streamlined and are great for getting people into the game who may be put off by the complicated rules of previous editions.
If I was in charge of things, I would go back to offering some support for the fourth edition set, at least as a way to placate those who poured their money into the set. If there was new material for that edition, I would still buy it, because I still play it. I’m going to be very reluctant to put any of my money down for a system that I may not enjoy as much, and that may only be supported for a few years. And I want the new edition to be good, and I hope it succeeds where fourth edition apparently failed to bring in the new audience that Wizards was hoping for. The last thing I want to see is for Dungeons & Dragons to go away, but at this point I have to take a real wait and see attitude towards the new edition, and will have to see what others think before even thinking about buying it. And I don’t think I’ll be alone.
[Source: New York Times | Wizards of the Coast]