When WotC decided to develop a new edition, they had quite a challenge ahead of themselves. The player base was severely fractured and they needed this new edition to pull everyone together. Only time will tell as to whether or not they succeeded. Personally I think they did an admirable job.
Start with a Stupid Name
The initial announcement proclaimed this new edition to be called “D&D Next”. Intentional or not, this name all by itself unified the player base. Everyone hated it.
We still had the mudslinging. We still had the edition wars. There were the inevitable proclamations of doom and gloom for this new edition. But all of that was overshadowed by the dislike for this stupid name.
All of this focus on the name also brought forth a sea of alternative suggestions. Some were quite good. But their ultimate decision to simply call it “Dungeons & Dragons”, with the original iconic dragon ampersand, is imo the best decision they could have made. This simple name change was a nod to the OSR and reinforced Wizard’s claim that this edition would embrace the old while also adopting the new.
When D&D Next was first announced, it claimed that it would allow players to adopt any play style they wished. Groups would select the various modules they wished to use and in this way create the type of game they wanted to play. Further, players could even use different play styles individually. A player with a 1e character could sit at the same table with a player running a 3e character and the game mechanics would envelop them both.
Obviously, this never happened and no one ever expected it to. But in the process of trying to make it work, the development team made great strides in understanding the individual components that made up each of the editions, as well as what worked and what didn’t within those versions. With that information in hand, they began to develop a comprehensive game that would incorporate the best of each edition while reworking or removing the rest.
If you ask for feedback from the entire player base, you will find proponents for every aspect of every game. If you cut anything, some faction will be upset. When you are done, some other faction will be upset with everything you left in. It must have been a nightmarish chore to try to come up with something that would make everyone happy.
What they did was, imo, an excellent solution. They included the most popular choices as the standard rules, with most of the rest offered up as “optional rules”.
I’m particularly happy because the rules feel to me like 1e with a bunch of stuff added to it. If I want to incorporate a 5e player into my group, all I have to do is tell them that certain aspects of what they are used to are omitted.
It’s actually a bit more than that, but overall I think the transition will be pretty easy. The way everything is presented, I think that will largely be the case for people who lean more towards other versions.
4e fans are probably the least represented. But if they can’t make it work, there is no reason not to simply play 4e. I guess that can be said for supporters of any edition, but for the most part I think 5e can easily be house ruled in order to make any group happy.
I’m certainly happy that they didn’t actually try to include everything. We would have ended up with another 20 races and classes on top of what’s already there not to mention many hundreds of feats and spells and who knows what all else. I think they did a wonderful job in including as much as possible without bogging us down in hundreds of pages of ridiculousness. Of course, much of this decision may have been based on budget constraints. Nonetheless, I’m happy with what they’ve included and what they’ve cut.
As little attention as I pay to the forums, I’ve still managed to hear people complain that they like 1e and this is nothing like it. I’m sure there are similar complaints for other versions. 5e is not intended to duplicate any version. Why on earth would it? It is intended to have similarities to all editions in order to bring the fractured player base back to the table in order to enjoy each other’s company while playing a game that we all enjoy.
If a group wants to play a particular edition, those rule books are readily available. (Thank you WotC for reprinting everything!). 5e is another game, different yet similar to all those others.
I’m glad they made it and I think they succeeding wonderfully in accomplishing what they set out to do. That is to create an edition that supporters of all other editions can enjoy.
I wanted to find the initial announcement about D&D Next. This was more involved than expected, as all of the older posts on the WotC website have been moved to the archives. Here is a search I did for all articles related to “next”.
The oldest relevant article I could find is titled Looking at the Past and the Future (1/16/2012). It contains a link to the original announcement. Sadly, that appears to be a dead link. After a brief search of the internet, I was not able to locate a copy of the original announcement anywhere else. If anyone has a copy (or a link) I would be very grateful if you would please send it to me!
A notable quote from “Looking at the Past and the Future” states:
Second—and this sounds so crazy that you probably won’t believe it right now—we’re designing the game so that not every player has to choose from the same set of options. Again, imagine a game where one player has a simple character sheet that has just a few things noted on it, and the player next to him has all sorts of skills, feats, and special abilities. And yet they can still play the game together and everything remains relatively balanced. Your 1E-loving friend can play in your 3E-style game and not have to deal with all the options he or she doesn’t want or need. Or vice versa. It’s all up to you to decide.
It was a noble goal but, as the author himself predicted, no one believed it.
Hereafter are a few other articles from the early development days of 5e:
D&D Next Design Considerations (4/9/2012)
News on D&D Next (4/25/2012)
D&D Next Chat – Transcript (5/14/2012)
D&D Next Chat 2 – Transcript (5/24/2012)