D&D 5E D&D and who it's aimed at

Composer99

Adventurer
Apropos of swords-and-sorcery-and-sandwiches I mean, dystopia:
I daresay that dystopia as a genre has room for both doomed and redeemable dystopias. What makes a story a work of dystopian fiction, to my mind, is the centrality of the dystopia to the story. The dystopia not only sets up the central conflict of the story (if there is one), but in a sense the dystopian society is a character, in and of itself, in the story.

I would not say that swords-and-sorcery is not or cannot be dystopian or include elements of dystopia. Say rather that unlike the dystopian genre, if such elements appear in a swords-and-sorcery work, they are part of the setting backdrop. The fact that a great city or civilisation is "decayed" or "decadent" - which has a ring of dystopia to it to my mind - might help set up the conflict between the protagonist and antagonist (especially if the antagonist is a fell sorcerer-king or some such), but it doesn't strike me as being a central element in swords-and-sorcery. (Genre mashup notwithstanding, of course.)

Apropos of the thread topic:
I think this hits the nail on the head.

The shift/evolution of D&D, as WotC is headed, has come really into its stride within the last couple of years. The fans that liked material like in ToA and Rime (whatever we are calling it) are feeling like the game they enjoy is moving on without them when the company that created the game stops publishing material they like.

One of the great things about the 2e/3e publishing days (problematic content aside) was there was something for everyone. Not every book, adventure, setting, etc. had to be for the largest possible market. I would love to see WotC publish material that supports, and is for, various playstyles and settings.

And yes there is a ton of old and 3rd party products to support a variety of playstyles and settings, but we are talking about the direction that WotC is taking in this thread.

Edit: grammar
Where I think people reasonably disagree with that take is that, given the slow pace of 5e publishing (relative to past editions of D&D), it does not follow of necessity that a lack of recent publications in a given style means that style has been "abandoned" by WotC or that the game is "moving on without" people who enjoyed content such as ToA etc. (*)

If anything, the majority of content published during the early 5e life cycle was aimed at the sort of person who enjoyed either ToA/Rime-style content or late-80s/90s-style AD&D. It's only fair to give other market segments their due.

What's more, it's abundantly clear that WotC is publishing material that "supports, and is for, various playstyles and settings" - Strixhaven, Ravenloft, Ravinca, Theros, Eberron, Spelljammer (soon) and Dragonlance (soon) each support and reflect a particular "flavour of fantasy" (as described in the DMG). This claim of yours seems bizarre, even kind of ridiculous, in light of the materials hat have actually been and are soon to be published. I also rather doubt that Ravinca or Strixhaven, say, are designed only with "be[ing] for the largest possible market" in mind.

(*) Up to a point. I don't feel WotC has any particular obligation to cater to the gameplay preferences of, say, the Justin LaNasas of the gaming world.
 
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Mercurius

Legend
I think the term "dystopia" is being used in a very broad sense, to such a degree that it loses its original meaning, at least in the context of literature (and by extension, RPGs).

Dystopia is basically a counter-utopia. Where a utopia is an author's attempt to present an idealized society, a dystopia is the opposite: a society that is antithetical to the author's values. Furthermore, dystopias were often written as social commentary on contemporary society, even warnings.

The archetypal dystopia stories are 1984 and Brave New World, although technically We preceded both. And of course there are many other variations, as well as "quasi-dystopias": future societies that have major dystopian elements, but aren't necessarily as oppressive as 1984.

In that sense, Conan's Hyboria is not a dystopia. It could be post-apocalyptic, but that isn't the same thing (even if sometimes crossing over). Furthermore, as far as I understand it, Robert E Howard wasn't deliberately writing allegorically - whereas most/all dystopias are strongly allegorical. In fact, I think this is a key component of sword and sorcery and adventure/pulp fiction in general: the point of the story is the adventure itself, and any allegory or deeper meaning is secondary and largely a matter of the reader's discretion, if present at all.

Now if we use the word as dystopian, then the umbrella broadens to the point at which the word loses its central meaning. Just about anything can be dystopian, or have dystopian elements, but I think it is key that dystopian doesn't simply mean "dark" or "not good."
 


According to wikipedia:
"Since its inception, many attempts have been made to provide a precise definition of "sword and sorcery". Although many have debated the finer points, the consensus characterizes it with a bias toward fast-paced, action-rich tales set in a quasi-mythical or fantastical framework. Unlike high fantasy, the stakes in sword and sorcery tend to be personal, the danger confined to the moment of telling. Settings are typically exotic, and protagonists often morally compromise"
Sword and sorcery - Wikipedia
<Moved the section of the wikipedia article slightly. >
Is it too hard to make a movie out of a novelette or short story?

Anyway, it's amazing how slim some of the appendix N books, books I read in K-12, and classic detective stories are! (Or if they're thick, they're a collection or omnibus). Do you think those authors would have written that way if they didn't have to appeal to the magazines and/or papers that published or serialized them?
Strangely, the most recent IP to capture all these criteria that I've most recently seen is a Dreamworks talking-animal kids movie. And that, to me, raises the point that the thing that Conan stories have, that classic detective stories had, that Westerns (another disappearing genre) had, that lots of stuff I also read in K-12 had, were lower stakes. Conan sees a tower and decides to loot it? Worked for Howard, don't see a lot of it now. Poirot/Marple/Holmes solves a case of a single murder by poison -- Might have worked for Murder She Wrote but most CSI episodes need more twist. There's not much specific I can point to in Game of Thrones that doesn't fit sword and sorcery except that they are fighting over control of a continent. It certainly isn't definitive, but it sure seems like there isn't a lot all that definitive to the genres.
 

AcererakTriple6

Autistic DM (he/him)
You know, I often find myself wondering "if this classic TSR product were released today instead of 30-40 years ago, would it be as popular now as it was back then?"

I also wonder the inverse "if this modern D&D product was released 30-40 years ago instead of today, would it be as popular and classic as many of the older TSR products?"

Like . . . if Eberron was released in TSR-era D&D, would it have been popular? Or Nentir Vale/Exandria? Or Descent into Avernus, Rime of the Frostmaiden, the adventures from Candlekeep Mysteries, or Storm King's Thunder?

Or, if White Plume Mountain, Against the Cult of the Reptile God, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, Spelljammer, Planescape, Greyhawk, Ravenloft, or Dragonlance were released for the first time ever today, would the same people that cherish these classic adventures and settings actually hate them?
 

You know, I often find myself wondering "if this classic TSR product were released today instead of 30-40 years ago, would it be as popular now as it was back then?"

I also wonder the inverse "if this modern D&D product was released 30-40 years ago instead of today, would it be as popular and classic as many of the older TSR products?"

Like . . . if Eberron was released in TSR-era D&D, would it have been popular? Or Nentir Vale/Exandria? Or Descent into Avernus, Rime of the Frostmaiden, the adventures from Candlekeep Mysteries, or Storm King's Thunder?

Or, if White Plume Mountain, Against the Cult of the Reptile God, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, Spelljammer, Planescape, Greyhawk, Ravenloft, or Dragonlance were released for the first time ever today, would the same people that cherish these classic adventures and settings actually hate them?
I hae asked similar quastions...

what would Gary and his table think of Strixhaven? What would I in 1993 have thought of wild beyond the witchlight?

Would Strahd be the famus vampire if Curse of Strahd was the first book in the 80's?

I think about it alot. I almost always come away remembering each one is a product of it's time and would NOT do well out of it.
 

Mercurius

Legend
You know, I often find myself wondering "if this classic TSR product were released today instead of 30-40 years ago, would it be as popular now as it was back then?"

I also wonder the inverse "if this modern D&D product was released 30-40 years ago instead of today, would it be as popular and classic as many of the older TSR products?"

Like . . . if Eberron was released in TSR-era D&D, would it have been popular? Or Nentir Vale/Exandria? Or Descent into Avernus, Rime of the Frostmaiden, the adventures from Candlekeep Mysteries, or Storm King's Thunder?

Or, if White Plume Mountain, Against the Cult of the Reptile God, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, Spelljammer, Planescape, Greyhawk, Ravenloft, or Dragonlance were released for the first time ever today, would the same people that cherish these classic adventures and settings actually hate them?
I think the answer is "probably not, but maybe" in all cases. But it really is a complex matter, sort of like imagining how good Babe Ruth would be in 2022...are we time-traveling back and kidnapping the Babe from the 1920s and having him face Jacob DeGrom, or is it the same genetic human being raised in the contemporary world, with all that entails?

Or to be more specific to your question, are we talking about just randomly publishing the original Tomb of Horrors in 2023 without any previous history (as if it never existed), or imagining a current D&D game that had more such adventures? Similarly, are we imagining sending the Eberron documents back to 1979 and publishing it then?

And what sort of editing or adaptation? In what format and production value? Etc.

I think what you are asking is whether or not the basic idea would work within a different context than which it arose. We may find that out when Spelljammer is published, because it was very much a product of its time - and in some ways, a throwback to the science fantasy of the 1970s. Planescape was very 90s - in some sense, TSR's answer to the popularity of White Wolf's World of Darkness, with quasi-gothic stylings and such.

The other factor is that "later" includes everything "earlier," but it gets re-framed and presented differently. Postmodernism, and all! For example, Stranger Things is very nostalgic for the 80s and its films, yet created by Millenials who never consciously experienced the 80s. Will Planescape be a Zennial re-envisioning of the very Gen-X Planescape? Etc.

Furthermore, ever notice how some things seem dated just a few years later, while others feel classic for many decades?

I don't mean to overly complicate your question, but I think it is hard to address it without considering a variety of such factors. But an interesting question, nonetheless.
 


AcererakTriple6

Autistic DM (he/him)
I think the answer is "probably not, but maybe" in all cases. But it really is a complex matter, sort of like imagining how good Babe Ruth would be in 2022...are we time-traveling back and kidnapping the Babe from the 1920s and having him face Jacob DeGrom, or is it the same genetic human being raised in the contemporary world, with all that entails?

Or to be more specific to your question, are we talking about just randomly publishing the original Tomb of Horrors in 2023 without any previous history (as if it never existed), or imagining a current D&D game that had more such adventures? Similarly, are we imagining sending the Eberron documents back to 1979 and publishing it then?

And what sort of editing or adaptation? In what format and production value? Etc.

I think what you are asking is whether or not the basic idea would work within a different context than which it arose. We may find that out when Spelljammer is published, because it was very much a product of its time - and in some ways, a throwback to the science fantasy of the 1970s. Planescape was very 90s - in some sense, TSR's answer to the popularity of White Wolf's World of Darkness, with quasi-gothic stylings and such.

The other factor is that "later" includes everything "earlier," but it gets re-framed and presented differently. Postmodernism, and all! For example, Stranger Things is very nostalgic for the 80s and its films, yet created by Millenials who never consciously experienced the 80s. Will Planescape be a Zennial re-envisioning of the very Gen-X Planescape? Etc.

Furthermore, ever notice how some things seem dated just a few years later, while others feel classic for many decades?

I don't mean to overly complicate your question, but I think it is hard to address it without considering a variety of such factors. But an interesting question, nonetheless.
I was more thinking "taking all of the same ideas, but originally published in a different time period and system". So, Eberron wouldn't be published in the 90s with 3.5e mechanics, but instead would have AD&D 2e versions for all of the same main concepts. Maybe something like the Mystara gazetteers or Forgotten Realms box set. Or Tomb of Horrors/Expedition to the Barrier Peaks would be first published in a 5e-style Adventure anthology, like Tales from the Yawning Portal or Candlekeep Mysteries.

As I said, this question is impossible to answer. It was just something I was pondering. Would Spelljammer get as much of a cult following as it currently has if it had never been published in 2e, but was published now as the Spelljammer: Adventures in Space 5e book set? Or would most people just dismiss it as too goofy and absolute nonsense that has no place in D&D? If Curse of Strahd and Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft were the first Ravenloft products ever in the history of D&D, would the same people that love the Ravenloft of 2e/3e actually enjoy the 5e version?
 

Mercurius

Legend
I was more thinking "taking all of the same ideas, but originally published in a different time period and system". So, Eberron wouldn't be published in the 90s with 3.5e mechanics, but instead would have AD&D 2e versions for all of the same main concepts. Maybe something like the Mystara gazetteers or Forgotten Realms box set. Or Tomb of Horrors/Expedition to the Barrier Peaks would be first published in a 5e-style Adventure anthology, like Tales from the Yawning Portal or Candlekeep Mysteries.

As I said, this question is impossible to answer. It was just something I was pondering. Would Spelljammer get as much of a cult following as it currently has if it had never been published in 2e, but was published now as the Spelljammer: Adventures in Space 5e book set? Or would most people just dismiss it as too goofy and absolute nonsense that has no place in D&D? If Curse of Strahd and Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft were the first Ravenloft products ever in the history of D&D, would the same people that love the Ravenloft of 2e/3e actually enjoy the 5e version?
This touches upon some of things that have arisen in this thread. Everything is contextual - it arises within a specific time and place. For instance, a person could write what will eventually be seen as the greatest mystery novel ever, but might not get it published because no agent thinks the market will support it. On the other hand, all kind of dross gets published or made because it fits the zeitgeist.

And of course new things emerge that shift trends, or seem at odds with the current context but find a following. So to some degree, you never know what will take hold. I think the current popularity of D&D is somewhat of a case in point. I mean, no one thought it would be this popular; I imagine that WotC only hoped that they could bring it back up to the height of 3E era.

Also, one person's cringy-silliness is another person's fun-and-campy. I was never into Modrons, and personally think that would be a bad way to introduce Planescape to a new generation, but some just loved it. And of course there are tons of things today that I have zero interest in, but wonder if I would have been more into if I had been born in, say, the late 90s or early 00s.

As for Spelljammer, it is a bit singular in the history of D&D - there really is nothing quite like it (Planescape being the closest comp). It also arose during the "Golden Age of Settings" - which I'd say runs from the publication of the Forgotten Realms Gray Box in 1987 to about 1995ish and saw the introduction of FR as a campaign setting, Spelljammer, Hollow World (an expansion of Mystara), Dark Sun, Al Qadim, Birthright, Council of Wyrms, and Planescape - plus several others. It was a very creative time in terms of settings, and each was distinctly different from the other.

In a way, Spelljammer is the disco of D&D settings, in terms of how it was a unique shining star, yet short-lived and then nova-ed and died out. But it had an influence - if mostly through more long-lasting genres like House music, as well as artists like Daft Punk and Jamiroquai. And of course the various "anthems" that live on. And there are still "disco aficionados" who love the "true" form of the late 70s.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
You know, I often find myself wondering "if this classic TSR product were released today instead of 30-40 years ago, would it be as popular now as it was back then?"

I also wonder the inverse "if this modern D&D product was released 30-40 years ago instead of today, would it be as popular and classic as many of the older TSR products?"

Like . . . if Eberron was released in TSR-era D&D, would it have been popular? Or Nentir Vale/Exandria? Or Descent into Avernus, Rime of the Frostmaiden, the adventures from Candlekeep Mysteries, or Storm King's Thunder?

Or, if White Plume Mountain, Against the Cult of the Reptile God, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, Spelljammer, Planescape, Greyhawk, Ravenloft, or Dragonlance were released for the first time ever today, would the same people that cherish these classic adventures and settings actually hate them?
The one out of all those that I'm pretty sure would have been a fairly big success if released in a different era than it was is Nentir Vale and the associated principle of a "points of light" setting. I think that would have gone over wonderfully* if released by TSR in, say, 1982 as a setting for Basic/1e; if only based on the mileage that Judges Guild (a not-well-distributed 3pp) got out of their Citys State of the Invincible Overlord/World Emperor.

* - and by that I mean significantly better than it did at its actual release.
 

Hussar

Legend
Assuming no floating ASIs here:

With 30-ish different playable species each with their own bespoke and locked-in ASI pattern, some sort of spreadsheet or chart will be needed so that players can quickly compare one species' mechanics to the next without having to flip to a lot of different pages in several different books.
Ahh, that was the part I missed. The "no floating ASI's". So, basically, the way it is now, in all the pre-Tasha's material.
 

Hussar

Legend
Yeah, I definitely don't agree with that interpretation. In REH, it's cyclical, not some kind of linear "progress": Civilizations rise out of savagery, grow corrupt and decadent, decline and fall, rinse and repeat. The Hyborians aren't "more civilized" than the Atlanteans; the Thurian Age, too, had its decadent civilizations and upstart barbarians (e.g. Kull). A second cataclysm will end the Hyborian Age and make way for our own...and the rise and fall of civilizations will continue in our history.
But cyclical rise and fall is not dystopian. Dystopian is just fall. There's no hope in a dystopian setting. That's what makes it dystopian. A cyclical setting is just... well a particular view of history.
 

Hussar

Legend
And this has really been true for 40+ years. S&S has tried to make a comeback at various times, but I don't think it's ever really been successful. More's the pity, IMO, but there it is.
There are a few glimmers of hope though. Stephen Erikson's Malazan series does scratch the itch very well, even though he writes those damn door stopper books.

For shorter fiction, can I suggest Heroic Fiction Quarterly, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly | Prose. Poetry. Pulp. - a really fantastic semi-prozine.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
Like . . . if Eberron was released in TSR-era D&D, would it have been popular?
It cannot be emphasize more how Eberron shook the room when it came out. It was like Elvis had just walked onto the talk show stage for all the monocle popping that came with magitech, distant gods, dragons that weren't color coded for your convenience, whole monster nations, a whole new cosmology, etc, etc.

People were straight u saying that was the end of D&D; that we were never going to see DL or FR material again because Eberron was sooo different that it was going to skew everything that way and things were going to go straight to hell because of the 'magic robots'.

Meanwhile, I'm like 'Bet. This was what I was expecting when I started playing and I've been waiting for D&D to catch up to my homebrew.'

And 20 years later, Eberron just gets to keep quietly doing what it's doing while people are still getting to lay down their digital lives over how much they hate kender.
 

Mercurius

Legend
But cyclical rise and fall is not dystopian. Dystopian is just fall. There's no hope in a dystopian setting. That's what makes it dystopian. A cyclical setting is just... well a particular view of history.

Yeah, I definitely don't agree with that interpretation. In REH, it's cyclical, not some kind of linear "progress": Civilizations rise out of savagery, grow corrupt and decadent, decline and fall, rinse and repeat. The Hyborians aren't "more civilized" than the Atlanteans; the Thurian Age, too, had its decadent civilizations and upstart barbarians (e.g. Kull). A second cataclysm will end the Hyborian Age and make way for our own...and the rise and fall of civilizations will continue in our history.
I'm thinking that Howard was probably influenced by Madame Blavatsky and Theosophy, which included mention of Atlantis, Hyperborea, Lemuria, etc, and influenced many authors around the turn of the century and after. Furthermore, Blavatsky drew from the cyclical model of the Indian Yugas - and pretty much every premodern culture had some variation of cyclic history.

Meaning, cyclical isn't dystopian - it is premodern and/or esoteric/mythological.

But in terms of time, one quality that many dystopias have in common is a kind of "false eternal present." We see this in 1984, as Winston's job was to continually re-write history to suit whatever the current view and activity of the ruling class was. So I would say that dystopias are, for the most part at least, static in terms of time. Both utopias and dystopias are meant to be the end of a process, a final form. This is not to say that progressing or changing utopias and dystopias haven't existed, just that a lot of the more well-known ones play with this idea of "ending time," if only implicitly.
 


MGibster

Legend
People were straight u saying that was the end of D&D; that we were never going to see DL or FR material again because Eberron was sooo different that it was going to skew everything that way and things were going to go straight to hell because of the 'magic robots'.
My criticism of Eberron is that it reminds me of the Flintstones but instead of stone age technology we have magic. But Eberron is an excellent setting that's just so darned interesting that I can overlook the Flintstones aspect.
 

I was more thinking "taking all of the same ideas, but originally published in a different time period and system". So, Eberron wouldn't be published in the 90s with 3.5e mechanics, but instead would have AD&D 2e versions for all of the same main concepts. Maybe something like the Mystara gazetteers or Forgotten Realms box set. Or Tomb of Horrors/Expedition to the Barrier Peaks would be first published in a 5e-style Adventure anthology, like Tales from the Yawning Portal or Candlekeep Mysteries.

As I said, this question is impossible to answer. It was just something I was pondering. Would Spelljammer get as much of a cult following as it currently has if it had never been published in 2e, but was published now as the Spelljammer: Adventures in Space 5e book set? Or would most people just dismiss it as too goofy and absolute nonsense that has no place in D&D? If Curse of Strahd and Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft were the first Ravenloft products ever in the history of D&D, would the same people that love the Ravenloft of 2e/3e actually enjoy the 5e version?
I know I wouldn't be very excited about them. Worldbuilding matters to me, and those products don't care about it.
 

Jahydin

Explorer
The more I think about it, the more I realize my issue is mostly the character art.

I'm on board with monsters like this:
STRYX1.png


Neat environments like this:
STRYX2.png


But then the adventure party looks like:
strixhaven3.jpg


And I'm immediately turned off. There is just nothing in there that screams deadly dungeon delver. They look like they'd last about a minute in the Tomb of Horrors...
 

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