D&D General Does D&D Have an Identity Crisis?

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
I would suggest the tone of D&D 5e books are more than likely mostly established by the 5e team and what they want, rather than marketing; that would explain the difference in MTG and D&D's tone re: Strixhaven.

It would also explain why the film and BG3 have a very different tone; not the same writers or team.

Outside looking in, I don't think D&D has an identity crisis as a game or system. But the differences in tone, themes, and seriousness is going to result when 5e products are not tied to a particular setting or style. Though, I am saying this being unfamiliar with past editions.

Did previous editions have a similiar 'identity crisis'?
You think the 5e designers  wanted Strixhaven to come out the way it did? Disturbing thought.

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The issue is, contrary to this, that 5E is actually pushing in a particular direction - and it's a very G/PG-rated one.

Obviously you can be too all-over-the-place, TSR were - 2E was by far the largest church D&D has ever had, and ultimately the weight of putting out a million different things in different directions helped sink TSR (albeit Dragon Dice really got 'em).

But 3E represented a pretty broad church, and whilst 4E didn't mechanically, tonally it was certainly a lot broader than what seems to be happening now. Early 5E also wasn't particularly narrow, but as D&D has become this mega-hit, corporate have become interested, and as corporate often does, they've seemingly decreed that the large possible single audience be targeted, and corporate believes that's the G/PG-oriented one, which includes both kids and adults.

My issue is, I'm not sure they're right, and even if they are, I think it's a short-term plan, which will make a lot of kids grow up enjoying D&D, only to not the find kind of support edgier, more thoughtful or simply just darker stuff as they hit teens and twenties, and will thus see D&D as a "game for kids", and what's sad is, D&D is so dominant, they probably won't go to other RPGs, they'll probably just stop playing RPGs.

This isn't a doom for D&D in the longer arc of history of course. I suspect if this does happen there will be an EDGY AS HELL 7th or 8th edition in like 10-20 years.
Well I am cutting off now. I do suspect more saccharine to come.

My response is to playstyles in 5e. As I reread things I see this is “D&D” in general.

I increasingly dislike the art direction and the fiction. I am ok up to Tasha’s and even like a lot of that. But this is where I think I pull back overall with buying in.

So I think the game has remained malleable. The extra game stuff I have been on the outs for a long while.


As I said in an other thread:

If you take a guy whose idea of the fantasy genre is game of thrones and berserk, a guy whose idea of the fantasy genre is discworld and earthsea, and a guy whose idea of the fantasy genre is skyrim and dragon age, and you sit them down to play the game made by people whose idea of the fantasy genre was conan and lord of the rings and dying earth, and you aren't constantly talking to each other about what your genre, setting, and tone expectations are, you're going to have a bad time playing your fantasy roleplaying game.


My take on it is that D&D is intentionally designed as an incomplete game, and a major part of that is leaving the tone and content to be determined differently at different tables. Or by different publishers, via 3PP being allowed to use the basic game rules. That said, I find the tone of WotC's own publications to be fairly consistent (and fairly consistently PG, as well).

So I don't think there's an identity crisis at all; I think there's a game that expects the user to have final say on what the game's identity will be, at least as far as the user is concerned. I think that is arguably D&D's greatest strength and the source of its enduring popularity.

To me, this is kind of like asking if Lego has an identity crisis.

Did previous editions have a similiar 'identity crisis'?
I would say no, 2E has a dissimilar identity crisis, in that it took a "Let a thousand flowers bloom" approach to settings, and thus put them out in a pretty scattershot way, but this approach did land them some direct hits (notably the first Dark Sun and Planescape, but also things like Ravenloft 2E and Birthright), for the relatively small sales of the era. Tonally, they weren't as scattered as they might be - all generally had a slightly "teen and up" tone, whereas D&D, which was still being made, was aimed more at younger kids (rather ineffectually, admittedly).

3E didn't have an identity crisis apart from in it's clumsy, failed, attempts to "bring back Greyhawk" (which nowhere near enough people wanted to actually happen). Otherwise tonally and in terms of output they were pretty together, and it continued to be very much "teen and up".

4E created a weird crisis for itself by doing the reverse of having an identity crisis, and picking a very specific identity with new lore for the entire D&D universe, which never quite worked out but gave us a lot of great stuff (not least the Shadowfell and Feywild). Tonally it was probably more together than any other edition. Again teen and up.

5E started out as an "apology edition" and was initially taking a "Let a small and safe number of flowers bloom exactly once" approach with a slow, steady release cadence and zero support for settings beyond the main book or mostly Forgotten Realms-ish adventures. The inevitable WotC attempt to bring back Greyhawk inevitably completely failed (guys, no-one cares about Greyhawk! Sorry to the three people who do!). Tonally it was barely different until it started getting bigger, and since then we've seen the shift towards increasingly child-friendly content.
You think the 5e designers  wanted Strixhaven to come out the way it did? Disturbing thought.
I don't think this decision was made at the level of the designers.

I think this decision was made at the corporate level. I think WotC had deluded themselves into thinking that, if they made Strixhaven child-friendly and soft enough, it'd do amazing and bring in a ton of Harry Potter-ish players and so on. Because that's what HP fans are looking for, right, a soft, comfortable setting where nothing bad happens? That sure describes Harry Potter's horror show of a life...

But the resultant settingventure was a bit of a nothing. All the cool ideas got given up on, and it was neither HP enough to attract that crowd (who are, in fact, mostly in their 20s and older at this point - some are about 40, not kids), not much like the MtG setting.

Also WotC clearly lost confidence in it if they ever had any, because it wasn't aggressively advertised, and it really should have been. I know a bunch of HP fans who play D&D, and not a bloody one of them had heard of Strixhaven from anyone but me.


As I follow the argument, the claim is DnD is becoming more saccharine.

Umm. The ending of Light of Laryxis is very much not Pg. Heck, the ending of Candlekeep Mysteries is very much not PG.

I would argue that 5E is providing a very big tent. They just aren’t forcing everyone who plays to play the same way.

Which seems to be what people want WotC to do. If I play BG3 I must play in a pg-13 world. I have no choice.

If I play in a DND game, the rating is only limited by what that table wants.

Not seeing an identity crisis at all. What I am seeing is a whole bunch of badwrongfun posts bemoaning how WotC isn’t forcing everyone else to play in single way.

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