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D&D 5E Asking for a bit of recent D&D history

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Guest 6948803

Guest
I gave up on D&D and switched to playing other rpgs right before 3.5. I gave 4th ed hard pass (not my jam, like at all) and I came back to D&D in 2018 (after learning about Critical Role). So, I missed whole Pathfinder and first 4 (or so) years of 5e. Can anyone tell me how it started? Was there much enthusiasm in the fanbase? Did it took off quickly, or there was slow reception? If you've been there and then, did it progressed as expected, or were you surprised about direction WotC was taking?
 

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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I gave up on D&D and switched to playing other rpgs right before 3.5. I gave 4th ed hard pass (not my jam, like at all) and I came back to D&D in 2018 (after learning about Critical Role). So, I missed whole Pathfinder and first 4 (or so) years of 5e. Can anyone tell me how it started? Was there much enthusiasm in the fanbase? Did it took off quickly, or there was slow reception? If you've been there and then, did it progressed as expected, or were you surprised about direction WotC was taking?
5e started with a massive public playtest. The divide between the 3e/Pathfinder fans and the 4e fans (often referred to as the edition war) was so stark, it was seriously hurting the brand, and the OSR also sprang up around that time. So, the 5e open playtest was something of a publicity stunt, and also a way to try and reassure a fractured player base that their voices would be heard in the creation of the new edition. The playtest was met with cautious optimism by fans from all sides of the edition war, and by the end of the open playtest process, it seemed a wide variety of players were quite satisfied with the results. The game was quite successful upon its final release, though not nearly as successful as it would eventually become thanks to the explosion of streaming games, especially Critical Role.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
My version?

With 4E not selling well (IMHO it was pushed out before it was ready), they tried to fix it with the Essentials books in 2010 but it was too little too late.

In 2012 they announced a new version and launched one of the biggest playtests for a TTRPG which lasted for a little over a year. The initial playtest was a fairly small subset of people but it was soon opened to the public. They gathered feedback from he playtest and adjusted the rules accordingly.

In the summer of 2014, they release the basic rules PDF followed shortly thereafter by the starter kit. The MM was released in September and the DMG in December of 2014.

From the beginning it sold quite well and quickly regained it's top sales spot from Pathfinder, which had become the best selling TTRPG for a short period of time. They continue to do playtests and surveys of new rules with their UA series.

Release of new rule books has been a relative trickle, but most continue to sell quite well on Amazon. Each year since it's release has had double digit growth. Streaming shows like Critical Role have certainly helped with the growth, but most people I play with think it's simply a better version (I used to organize a couple of game days in a major metro area).
 

Reynard

Legend
In 2012 they announced a new version and launched one of the biggest playtests for a TTRPG which lasted for a little over a year. The initial playtest was a fairly small subset of people but it was soon opened to the public. They gathered feedback from he playtest and adjusted the rules accordingly.
Not disputing, just curious: do we know the relative sizes of the Pathfinder and 5E playtests? Like, do we know how many participants each had?
 

ardoughter

Adventurer
Supporter
Ok Pathfinder kicked off as soon as Paizo decided that the $e license was not an acceptable basis for doing business. I can't say that I blame them. WoTC was a bit high handed with regard to OGL players at the time. Not it took what a year or so for Pathfinder to emerge and as I did not like 3.x as that point and loved 4e, took the 4 e road and cannot comment much on Pathfinder.

Now my own personal theory (which does not have a lot of traction around here) was that 4e was not meant to rely on splat book sales as its business model. It was meant to transition the playerbase in to a subscription model based on online tools and Gleemax. This was dead on arrival for diverse reasons but mainly WoTC inexperience/naivety in managing software projects.
So splat books it was and boy did they churn them out.
It was clearly unsustainable, the playerbase was exhausted and the people that really like the splats were gone to Pathfinder anyway. So with a paired to bone staff WoTC announced D&D next the playtest for 5e. This was a massive public beta and is still the heart of how 5e evolves. Most new stuff (aside from settings) get previews on Unearthed Arcana and if it gets enough support it makes it to the light of day.

The thing is that the public playtest had drawn the attention of anyone that was interest from the get go and all could see the way things were heading in terms of mechanics and so forth before final publication.

So while I really liked 4e my players did not and had rejected it before the playtest was announced. I would not switch to Pathfinder, 5e is an excellent compromise and we have stuck to it.
So in my opinion it was a success out of the door but its continuing growth is somewhat astonishing.
 
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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Now my own personal theory (which does not have a lot of traction around here) was that 4e was not meant to rely on splat book sales as its business model. It was meant to transition the playerbase in to a subscription model based on online tools and Gleemax. This was dead on arrival or diverse reasons but mainly WoTC inexperience/naivety in managing software projects.
I’m pretty sure this is explicitly the case. 4e was pitched to Hazbro as being designed to be used with a proprietary virtual tabletop and online tools. The tabletop was never finished though, due to the tragic suicide of the guy who had been building it.
 

Mannahnin

Adventurer
Murder/suicide, right?

Yeah, the online tools component was a huge portion. My group at the time was super enthused, and one of our players (who was pretty flush) talked about buying a whole set of laptops for us to use and play together with, so we'd all be able to see from our character's over the shoulder perspective, using all the light tools, etc.

The concept of integrating it fully with a 3D graphical VTT was a good one. Their plan to allow people to play across the country and the world, help people "get the band back together" with old friends and gaming buddies who no longer lived close to each other, etc., was a great one. It's kind of ironic that Covid has brought this more to reality, though without the 3D graphics and obviously not on a proprietary platform. That vision 13+ years ago was ahead of its time.

But we only got a fraction of the online tools we were supposed to. The Character Builder was pretty excellent, and many people preferred using it to the books. The Monster Builder was pretty darn useful for DMs. The online version of Dragon Magazine was fine. Nothing else really came through.
 

ardoughter

Adventurer
Supporter
I’m pretty sure this is explicitly the case. 4e was pitched to Hazbro as being designed to be used with a proprietary virtual tabletop and online tools. The tabletop was never finished though, due to the tragic suicide of the guy who had been building it.
I thought that the guy that committed suicide was brought in later. That the online tools were being developed by a local small software house that sold WoTC a pig in a poke and Gleemax was also not fit for purpose.
I think the plan was ok but ambitious but WoTC could not recruit good software people for love or money.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Yeah, a lot of things went wrong with the launch of 4E. Gleemax was largely vaporware, the VTT looked awesome but never came to fruition. I think it was just that it was also simply pushed out the door too quickly, powers were never intended to be the base structure for every class and so on. Then they did things like not release basic things initially with the sole purpose of forcing people to buy the second MM if they wanted the metallic (good) dragons.

Probably the best part of 4E was the gnome going "I'm a monster rawr!"

But anyway isn't this thread supposed to be about why 5E is succeeding? :unsure:
 

aco175

Legend
My own thought was that 4e came about because of the 3.x OGL and the rise of 3PP, 3rd party publishers which one of the biggest grew into Paizo. The cash was not going to Wizards and was falling to the 3PPs so a new edition that could curb that was formed. 4e numbers were not what they wanted either so 5e was formed and they did take the time to make it better and listened for the most part.

I cannot blame Wizards for changing editions to keep money or change editions again to attract players back. I liked 4e and 5e for what they are and I played both fine. There is plenty of speculation on 6e and more now that Hasbro split them into a new division. Will 6e eventually come and be ok to play- most likely.
 

ardoughter

Adventurer
Supporter
Yeah, a lot of things went wrong with the launch of 4E. Gleemax was largely vaporware, the VTT looked awesome but never came to fruition. I think it was just that it was also simply pushed out the door too quickly, powers were never intended to be the base structure for every class and so on. Then they did things like not release basic things initially with the sole purpose of forcing people to buy the second MM if they wanted the metallic (good) dragons.

Probably the best part of 4E was the gnome going "I'm a monster rawr!"

But anyway isn't this thread supposed to be about why 5E is succeeding? :unsure:
Well 5e succeeded in part because 4e failed. ;)
 

jgsugden

Legend
  • 3.5 was coming to an end, and they announced a bit of the approach to 4E.
  • The Pathfinder people thought it was a mistake, and thought they could get a foothold by making a new evolution of 3.5 rather than going back to the drawing board as 4E attempted to do.
  • The old D&D player base split between 4E and Pathfinder, with a portion playing both.
  • 4E did ok, but it was clear from feedback that a "return to basic" would be welcomed over continuing down the same path.
  • 5E was released and had popular support, pulling back some gamers that had switched to Pathfinder and reducing that marketshare while simultaneously, due to things like CR, seeing an expansion into new player groups.
  • 5E didn't flood the market with products, so there was an eagerness for each new release, which has assisted with keeping interest high.

    4E ran for 6 years. 3 and 3.5 ran for 8 years collectively. 5E has run for about 7 years and looks to have several more years of growth before they release a new edition. I believe that they have a task force starting on 6E, already, but that taskforce is not the group that will oversee 6E. They usually go through a massive personnel change for a new edition, and I expect that when we see that change is when the push to 6E is actually going to start.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
Ok Pathfinder kicked off as soon as Paizo decided that the $e license was not an acceptable basis for doing business. I can't say that I blame them. WoTC was a bit high handed with regard to OGL players at the time. Not it took what a year or so for Pathfinder to emerge and as I did not like 3.x as that point and loved 4e, took the 4 e road and cannot comment much on Pathfinder.
The whole license change thing was a debacle at WotC - it cost them Paizo support as well as one of their biggest cheerleaders in the 3pp community at the time - Necromancer Games's Clark Peterson.

The license was announced, they even had an early adopter benefit (in return for cash) so that 3pp stuff could be in place for 4e's launch - but the license just wasn't coming out and the reasonable deadlines for producing anything were fast approaching. So Paizo, which had made its name on licenses - particularly ones from WotC - and had been dependent on them, decided they had to forge a separate path and went with OGL-based Pathfinder which they could control because that license couldn't be revoked or terminated. Scott Peterson stayed optimistic but when the first version of the GSL came out, being a lawyer and carefully reviewing the terms, he didn't find the license acceptable. WotC revised them and Scott ended up declaring that he still couldn't submit to them and, just like that, WotC had lost its two historically most enthusiastic 3pp allies to Pathfinder.

I've seen rumors around the internet that the license issue may have been a pretty storm affair among some circles at WotC. I'd love to see an insider account or post-mortem on the whole thing.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
I think one of the reasons 5e did so well at initial launch is because WotC undertook an effort to mend fences. They took a lot of criticism of their 4e marketing as well as the breadth and depth of the changes to the D&D-verse that 4e presented. There were, of course, massive changes to the feel of the game and its play that were obvious on the surface that a lot of contemporary players didn't like (vocally) but there were also a lot of lore content changes all over that rankled contemporary players as well. The marketing efforts, probably in an attempt to be wry and edgy, took sarcastic jabs at 3e and critics, which didn't seem to help. Developer/designer essays, in many cases, just seemed to dig the hole deeper.
So the 5e playtest period took some steps back toward getting back to basics and sorting things from there with a lot of surveys and seeking broad input and expressing fewer assumptions about what the players wanted. Whether people look at those as smoke and mirrors or actually useful may vary, but I think they definitely had the impact of quelling critics and I think it helped a lot of 4e critics approach 5e with an open mind.
 


I gave up on D&D and switched to playing other rpgs right before 3.5. I gave 4th ed hard pass (not my jam, like at all) and I came back to D&D in 2018 (after learning about Critical Role). So, I missed whole Pathfinder and first 4 (or so) years of 5e. Can anyone tell me how it started? Was there much enthusiasm in the fanbase? Did it took off quickly, or there was slow reception? If you've been there and then, did it progressed as expected, or were you surprised about direction WotC was taking?
3.5 lead to some really toxic play, where people played (and endlessly debated) 'builds' and not characters. The game itself became more of a side event to the required level of system mastery required to know your splatbooks inside out, and how to build some PC reliant on feats and PrCs from dozens of splatbooks that was busted next to most 'core' classes. You also needed to be able to spot 'trap' options. 'Tiers' emerged, and optimisation was the key word of the edition.

I loved it, and so did others. It sold like candy. Not despite it being busted to all hell, but because it was busted to all hell. You could create some Frankenstein monster of a PC and gloat at your system mastery to newbs.

Then 4E came out and everything went to shit. Tons of people used to the optimisation merry go round (and not liking the radical new direction of 4E) jumped ship to Pathfinder.

Pathfinder of course suffered the exact same fate of splat, bloat and insane amounts of system mastery of 3.5 needed to create an 'optimal' PC, with making a foolish decision like playing a class presented to you in the CRB (Monk, Rogue, Fighter) itself being a trap, with you only finding out when played next to an optimized PC.

4E achieved its goal of attracting the 'WOW' type of new gamer, but it also alienated a large portion of its predecessors fan base, and fractured the gaming community, with the defectors all heading over to Pathfinnder. Accordingly for the first time in history, an RPG that was NOT DnD (Pathfinder), became the top seller, overtaking DnD in sales.

5E came out with the express stated goal of being a game for everyone, and to 'unite' the fractured fan base. It's succeeded remarkably well in that goal, plus also tapping into and creating a zeitgeist where its not only re-unified the base that fractured during the so called 'edition wars' but also dragging in a whole swathe of new players who are 'non traditional' gamers.

Meanwhile Pathfinder rebooted witth PF2, ironically (and remarkably) copying many of the same mistakes 4E did with keyword soup, sameness, and items, monsters and DC's that scaled as the PCs did, arguably also contributing to the popularity of 5E.

I now look back at my love of 3.5 and Pathfinder with abject horror, and also look back on the edition wars with a sense of relief that they're over (they were really bad).

5E isnt perfect, and like it or hate it, it succeeded in its goal to re-unify the fractured fan base (arguably helped by PF2's lukewarm introduction) with tables featuring relatively happy players of 1, 2, 3, and 4 Ed (and Pathfinder) all working together.

There is friction (the 3E guys and Pathfinder dudes dont see enough optimization or options, the Grognards of 1 and 2E see too much optimization and still rail at evil Paladins, and spellcasting dwarves, the 4E guys seem to appreciate the short/long rest mechanics mirroring the AEDU system etc). It's got enough to keep everyone mostly happy however, and playing off the same sheet of music.

For mine it's the best edition yet. Best balanced, best supported, easiest to learn while retaining sufficient complexity etc. Not perfect, and there are things I would change, but it is what it is.
 

Jack Daniel

Engines & Empires
The divide between the 3e/Pathfinder fans and the 4e fans (often referred to as the edition war) was so stark, it was seriously hurting the brand, and the OSR also sprang up around that time.
Minor point of chronology. The OSR (which was always about rejecting 3e and had little if anything to do with 4e) "springing up" coincided roughly with the release of v3.5, and only happened (coincidentally, I think) to peak in popularity at around the same time as the 3e/4e Edition War and the release of 4e Essentials.
 
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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Minor correction. The OSR (which was always about rejecting 3e and had little if anything to do with 4e) "springing up" coincided roughly with the release of v3.5, and only happened (coincidentally, I think) to peak in popularity at around the same time as the 3e/4e Edition War and the release of 4e Essentials.
Gotcha, my mistake.
 

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