I was intrigued by Joseph Goodman's "My Opinion on D&D 4E", in particular the idea that D&D has gone through different "generational peaks": first in 1982 with the boom of 1ED, then in 2001 with the explosion of 3E. This also resonates personally because I first got into D&D in the early 80s and played semi-regularly up until the early-to-mid 90s, then went through half a decade of light interest until I was caught up in the excitement in 1999 with the imminent arrival of 3E (and when I began reading Eric Noah's old 3E website...was that really ten years ago?!).

I also enjoyed, as always, Ryan Dancey's comments on RPGPundit's site, which leaven Goodman's view with his ominous concluding comment:

As to 4E and how it relates, I almost don't think it matters. The forces that are tearing apart the tabletop RPG player networks are utterly outside of Wizards' control, and it's become a true apples v. oranges comparison which means its really not fair to speculate much, so I just won't.
There have been numerous discussion as to what these "forces that are tearing apart" table top RPGs are; the general view is a combination of the continuing evolution of computer games, the "grayification" of the RPG community, and of course the bickering or "Nerd Skirmishes" that said community is prone to. But it seems that the basic, core, obstacle is that the hobby isn't growing all that much; I don't know numbers, but I would guess that the "trickle in" (to the hobby) is about equally balanced by the "trickle out." As a hobby community, this is sustainable for the time being--even decades--but as a corporate-run business it is not, at least not in the long-term.

As mentioned, according to Goodman's idea of generational peaks, the RPG industry experienced two peak years, one in 1982 and then one in 2001, with a gap of 19 years. If we shave a few years off due to the nature of increased (and increasing) information flow, another peak would be due sometime between 2012 and 2020--11 to 19 years after the last one. The first peak came a few years after the publication of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1977-79, according to Wikipedia); the second, the year after 3E was first published (2000). Obviously there is a correlation and one would think the next peak would occur along with the publication of 5E.

It may be that editions of D&D are similar to Star Trek movies in that every other movie was a good one, or in the case of D&D, smashingly successful (that is, 2ed and 4ed were and are successful but not as "ground-breaking" as 1E and 3E in terms of solidifying and expanding the fan base). But here is the rub: If the pattern holds we'll see another peak with 5E, but I don't think it is a guarantee but rather more of a window of opportunity. Again, in a similar sense that while Star Trek 2, 4, 6, and 8 were all good, 10 wasn't so good...which lead to the "death" (and later rebirth) of the franchise. In other words, you can have one dud in a row, but not two--or one plateau but not two, but you need a new peak to bring it up a level.

The point being, 5E HAS to be good, has to be wildly successful, has to break new ground and expand or--at the very least--re-invigorate the existing fan base and semi-retired fans. So a couple questions to ponder:

1) WHEN is the right time for 5E?


I would use the metaphor of surfing: if you jump on the wave too soon you'll just peeter out, if you wait too long you'll miss it; the timing has to be just right (and you have to be able to handle the size of the wave you ride in on!). Obviously, with 4E only a year old, it is too soon to tell. But we can safely say it will be anywhere from 4 to about 10 years from now, my guess is in the 5-6 year range (again, taking into account the increased flow of information; the gap between 2E and 3E was 11 years, 3E and 4E 8 years, 4E to 5E 5-7 years?).

So I'm thinking 2013 at the very earliest--a gap of only five years, which isn't as short as you think if there is no 4.5E and the publication schedule remains relatively tight and focused--and 2016 at the latest, a gap of eight years, with 2014-2015 being the most likely time.

But much could change in the next five years, especially considering the evolution of technology and the most notable new 4E item to the D&D ouevre, D&D Insider. Which leads to the next question...

2) WHAT sort of game should 5E be?

Obviously it has to take advantage of computer technologies--D&D Insider is likely just the beginning, the awkward prototype. But I would suggest that if D&D relies too much on technology and gadgetry, it is not only in danger of losing what makes it D&D and not something else--namely, a game of imagination--but that it may be able to be successful because it isn't techno-focused, because it is a "throwback" to pre-pixelated entertainment. In other words, 5E should remain firmly a tabletop RPG (From a design perspective, I would hope that it would be modular, with different degrees of complexity depending how an individual group would want to play the game. But that is a little outside the purview of this discussion).

In terms of technology, it is not either/or: Either you are traditional and don't budge from your luddite roots, or you embrace everything modern technology has to offer. A combination of both is ideal, in my opinion. The technology should not, cannot, replace human imagination and the pure enjoyment of sitting around a table rolling dice with your buddies; what it can do is augment it, which is what it should do--and nothing more. This is a microcosm of what we face as a culture, and that I face as an educator: How can we utilize technology to augment human intelligence and creativity rather than replace it? It might sound very scifi, but it is a very, very serious question.

So what do you think? The floor is yours