Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Blind Thoughts on D&D "5th Edition"

(I always start my blog posts with something like "Hey, I haven't updated this in awhile. Here's some real content!")

Hey, I haven't updated this in awhile. Here's some real content!

So there has been a buzz for the last couple of years about "D&D Next", "Fifth Edition", or whatever you want to call it.
And the other day, an official release announcement was made.

I know very little about this new version of D&D. There are only 2 mechanical differences that I know about so far:
  • Critical hits are a lot more straightforward. Crit on a 20, and damage is "full damage for the weapon, plus an additional die" rather than x2/x3/x4/x2+x2=x3 stuff.
  • In place of a lot of bonuses/penalties, you instead have an "Advantage" (roll 2d20 and take the higher value) or "Disadvantage" (roll 2d20 and take the lower value).
I'm sure there are plenty more minor differences from 3.5 like this one.

And here is the major question on everyone's minds:


When D&D 3rd Edition came out, and especially relevant to 3.5, Wizards of the Coast released the rules and other non-setting-specific minutiae under the OGL.
The intent of the OGL, as far as I understand it, was to create 3.x-compatible content. Supplements, Settings, Adventures, etc. And in that, it was successful.

But then came Pathfinder

And everything changed.
Paizo, the minds behind Pathfinder, took the OGL to its extreme, which (I think) WotC did not expect.
Pathfinder was not only a concerted effort to streamline and improve some maligned D&D 3.5 rules, but the rules were kept entirely "open".
With Pathfinder, the entire rules -- and some of the setting -- are available for free (legally), online. Physical core books for Pathfinder are "nice to have", but they are not necessary to play the game. This makes the game a lot more accessible to players. 

So then came Fourth Edition

Disclaimer: I have never played D&D 4E. 
In what I believe to be a gut-reaction to this "technically legal abuse" of the OGL, Wizards of the Coast had a drastic response. Fourth Edition rules barely resemble Third Edition. They are a completely different game, and not under any sort of open license.
The specific rules of D&D 4E have not been extremely popular with experienced roleplayers; die-hard D&D Nerds stick with older editions, or Pathfinder.

Where does "Fifth Edition" Fit?

Wizards of the Coast are not calling the new edition of D&D "Fifth Edition". They're not calling it "Next". It's just "Dungeons & Dragons".
From what I understand of it, it resembles 3.5E a lot more than it does 4E. But is just different enough that it can be legally separate from the OGL.
But then the question is obvious: Even if the rules are better than 3.5 in some way, why should I pay $150 for the core books of D&D when I can play Pathfinder for free?
That isn't to say $150 is a lot of money. I think it is a very reasonable price for a game that doesn't expire and has infinite possibilities.
But $150 is still > $0. And Pathfinder's not bad (it still has some flaws, but it's built on a lot of good optimization ideas).

So the only logical conclusion is...

Marketing and Support

Despite the flood of games out there on the market, "Dungeons and Dragons" is still the name you think of when you think of fantasy RPGs. Even Pathfinder players will say they're playing D&D.
That's one major advantage Wizards has in the space. 
They also have Hasbro behind them, which I'm sure is happy to assist in selling more books.

But even then, 5E has to stand out over the other options. Wizards has to use their massive budget and name to supply the community with extras they can get nowhere else: Online tools. High quality miniatures. Accessories galore. Sponsored events. Whatever you can think of.

If Wizards can not pull this off, then 5E will be a failure. Sure they will sell some books. Sure there will be enough player word-of-mouth to say "hey, this system is really good". But unless they can do something that really pushes the nerds back to WotC as strongly as Paizo pulled them away from 3.5, this new edition will simply never take off.