RPG Evolution: The Dragons Come Home to Roost

D&D has long striven to be more than a game, but a brand. Thanks to the game's surge in popularity, those plans are coming to fruition.

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Hasbro’s Strategy​

Hasbro’s association with the movie industry has long been a mutually beneficial relationship, in which toy sales surge with each new movie. Star Wars and Transformers are both examples of how Hasbro’s bottom line is impacted by the release of the latest film. Unfortunately, this strategy means Hasbro is reliant on third party schedules to produce revenue, and the pandemic highlighted just how much can go wrong with the complicated process of releasing a movie. No wonder the company wants its own intellectual property that it can monetize for movies and streaming.

This is why Hasbro's strategy has moved well beyond just producing toys and games. Hasbro divides their new approach into four quadrants: Toys & Games, Digital Gaming, Licensed Consumer Products, and Media (TV, Film, Digital Shorts, Emerging Media). Hasbro previously announced plans to execute on this four quadrant strategy with all of its licenses, including My Little Pony, Transformers, Magic: The Gathering, and Dungeons & Dragons. Some of those Media plans have been easier to execute than others, with Transformer movies running out of steam, the My Little Pony series winding down, and a Magic: The Gathering series yet to launch on streaming. That leaves D&D.

WOTC’s Strategy​

Wizards of the Coast has always struggled to justify its revenue goals for Dungeons & Dragons amidst high revenue brands like Magic: The Gathering. At one point, each division was given a goal of $100 million in annual sales, a number that was not reachable through tabletop gaming channels.

The solution was digital gaming. D&D tried several times to mimic the Massive Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) space, which it inadvertently spawned dating all the way back to Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs) and Interactive Fiction (IF). The idea was that if the company could own a slice of that digital engagement dedicated to off-brand D&D, they could reach at least $50 million.

It didn’t work. WOTC never had enough resources, the right partners, or the technical know-how to effectively launch a digital ecosystem that would last longer than a few years. Then something surprising happened: D&D became more popular than all the other Hasbro brands combined.
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The Dragons Take Over​

The passing of the previous Hasbro CEO created a power vacuum quickly filled by the staff shepherding D&D into the new age. The twin factors of the pandemic and streaming made D&D uniquely suited to a much wider audience, and it didn’t take long before WOTC was responsible for 72% of Hasbro’s total operating profit. In a very short period of time, WOTC went from a barely-mentioned division on Hasbro investor calls to the darling of the company, with CEO Chris Cocks taking the reins as Hasbro’s CEO in February 2022.

So what’s next? Sure enough, WOTC is executing on Hasbro's four quadrant plan for D&D. Let’s break it down:
  • Media: The juggernaut most likely to influence the other three quadrants is the upcoming D&D movie. There have been many attempts at making D&D movies that have all been commercial failures. This time around feels different, if only because there was a legal battle waged through proxies on behalf of movie-making behemoths (Universal Studios vs. Warner Bros.) for D&D’s film rights. It’s clear they think there’s a lot of money to be made with a D&D movie. Unlike other movie launches, Hasbro is supporting the movie with the full force of its license. For an example of what this might look like, see the above picture of the D&D Advent Calendar. Speaking of which...
  • Licensed Consumer Products: Advent calendars are interesting products because they can contain just about anything, but that thing has to be small. They also require a lot of creativity to produce, as 25 different items is a lot to put into one package. If the D&D advent calendar is any indication, we’re going to see a lot more of beholders, displacer beasts, mimics, owlbears, and gelatinous cubes. There are stylized, iconic images of each monster repeated across everything that’s in the calendar, including stickers, gift tags, pencils, and ornaments.
  • Toys & Games: D&D is a game first and foremost, so the release of the next edition (an edition that requires playtesting but holds out the promise for backwards compatibility) is the obvious prime mover in this space. In addition to the aforementioned licenses, D&D toys are starting to show up in the wild. Egg Embry wrote an overview of just some of the D&D action figures available. We can expect a slew of monster toys too.
  • Digital Gaming: The big news here is One D&D, which uses D&D Beyond as its base. With 13 million registered users, WOTC is banking on D&D Beyond as a base for propagating One D&D to the masses. For better or worse, this includes changes to the OGL with the likely plan to defragment any digital content that currently resides on third-party platforms. There has been several failed attempts at establishing a digital home base for D&D, so it’s really important they get this right.
Cocks has never hidden his digital ambitions for D&D, and now with the company’s full resources at his disposal, we’re about to see a four quadrant D&D plan in action. Hasbro and WOTC are all in on this plan, with the future edition of D&D, the D&D movie, and its reinvigorated digital platform all unified in an attempt to make D&D not just a game, but a brand expression.

Will it work? Perhaps the more relevant question for current D&D fans is ... what if it does?
 
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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

Remathilis

Legend
The Fighter was happy that when he hit something it generally died, and visa versa.. HP bloat and tons of healing have made fights take longer. He also expressed that he preferred one saving throw over say 3 saving throws. Why try to turn anyone to stone when they got 3 chances to avoid it?

He went from a player in 5E who kicked in a door or tripped a trap because he was never worried about actual consequences. His character would live more often than not.

Now in 2E, he lets the Thief do her job. He uses strategy. He's even switched to playing a Wizard and comes up with creative ways to use his limited spells. He recently defeated a Chimera by using illusions (and the monster failed it's ONE save) to scare it off.

The Thief (our usual sneaky type player) likes that she's actually useful. Traps actually need to be found and dealt with. Listening at doors is a life saver. Scouting ahead. Picking locks. Sneaking is its either working or its not, which she really liked. No perception checks.

Of the 5 players, 4 of them like the old school difficulty that swings both ways. One save can make a combat. One swing of an axe can turn the tide of battle. AC actually matters! And they love getting XP. A small reward every session!

The only hick up is of course the different ways to do skills and another to do saves and another for combat etc etc. After like 4 months I still don't think they have a grasp on THAC0, but hey that's what charts are for. And the one who always plays a Druid now feels really under powered. A few magic items helped her out though but she'd still rather be playing 5E.
Good for them. The things they called out are exactly what I didn't like about 2e (one chance skill rolls, save or die, magic being an "I win" button, etc) but if that makes them happy, do you bliss.

I will agree that the 2e druid is weak in the PHB. I highly recommend possibly looking into the sphere rebalancing in PO: Spells and Magic or at least some of the options from the Complete Druids Handbook. The 2e priest classes were seriously badly balanced.
 

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The 2e priest classes were seriously badly balanced.
Yeah for some bizarre reason some TSR writers decided the entire concept of a Speciality Priest was OP-as-hell, and Druids were the poster boy Speciality Priest, so they limited them in a fairly ridiculous fashion, esp. given the generic Cleric was no slouch.

Given that Forgotten Realms Adventures came out like six months later, and was full of Speciality Priests who were extremely powerful, it was a particularly bizarre decision, only made more bizarre as time went on, when a generalized god-book for 2E came out (I forget the title), and was full of weak Speciality Priests, but then several more FR-specific god-books came out with incredibly powerful Speciality Priests.
 

Clint_L

Hero
I've personally felt that each edition of D&D has been slightly better than the previous, with the exception of 4e (and that was not a bad game, it just sort of took a left turn towards World of Warcraft - which is another great game, but not D&D). One thing I will aver as someone who teaches D&D to beginners a whole lot, is that 5e is by far the easiest version to teach. In my experience, of course.

I don't want to get into the "which generation of players is better" discussion except to say that...they mostly aren't that different. I've spent decades teaching teenagers and while the culture changes and evolves, folks that age remain...kind of amazing! Sure, they can be a pain in the butt sometimes, but who can't? Most of them learn fast, tend to be open-minded, and want to do well. And before we go throwing stones, let's remember how older folks characterized our own cohorts, back in the day. Complaining about the kids is kind of a tradition for older folks.

The great thing about this game is that you can still play any version of it that you like, and make whatever changes that you want. Every generation gets its own D&D.

For the branding thing that started this discussion, it doesn't bother me. I think that games in general, and RPGs in particular (emphatically including D&D as the #1 RPG) are a huge force for good in the world, so I'm for anything that keeps the word out there and gets more people invested in them. As brands go, I'll take D&D over just about anything else, any day of the week!
 

Remathilis

Legend
Yeah for some bizarre reason some TSR writers decided the entire concept of a Speciality Priest was OP-as-hell, and Druids were the poster boy Speciality Priest, so they limited them in a fairly ridiculous fashion, esp. given the generic Cleric was no slouch.

Given that Forgotten Realms Adventures came out like six months later, and was full of Speciality Priests who were extremely powerful, it was a particularly bizarre decision, only made more bizarre as time went on, when a generalized god-book for 2E came out (I forget the title), and was full of weak Speciality Priests, but then several more FR-specific god-books came out with incredibly powerful Speciality Priests.
There were three general levels of specialty priests over 2e's years.

The Complete Priest's Handbook featured generic rules for specialty priests that were so weak as to be unplayable. It even had the audacity to say the cleric was too powerful and should be weakened. This book was, as it should have been, utterly ignored.

Legends and Lore (alongside Monster Mythology) created a medium baseline. They weren't always great, but they were generally usable. From the Ashes and Forgotten Realms Adventures were close to this power level, but again there was a lot of leeway between top and bottom.

Faiths and Avatars (and its two subsequent sequel volumes) were the hella OP clerics that broke any semblance of balance. Lots of magic, free spells (that became the basis for 3e's domain system) and abilities poached liberally from other classes. They were broken in every possible sense of the word.

The final tier isn't quite the same, but worth mentioning. When Player's Options: Spells and Magic came out, a large part of that book was used to try to fix the problems the original sphere system created (like spells no longer belonging to proper classes: clerics could cast reincarnate but druids can't) by redoing the spheres. They also added several generic "priest" classes from F&A (crusader; a warrior-cleric, monk; a mix of martial artist and caster, and shaman; a primal spirits caster) who were far better balanced than the old specialty priests above, but at the cost of deity uniqueness. The problem was it was far too late by the time they tried this fix, and few people bothered.

While conceptually the idea of each priest for each deity being unique added a lot of flavor, it also added a lot of headache. I'm actually far happier with the domain system from 3e (and 5e's domain as subclass) for sake of balance and design.
 

Legends and Lore (alongside Monster Mythology) created a medium baseline. They weren't always great, but they were generally usable. From the Ashes and Forgotten Realms Adventures were close to this power level, but again there was a lot of leeway between top and bottom.
I would agree with everything except the suggestion that the FRA SPs were close in power to the Legends and Lore ones. I think there was a sizeable gap myself. It's more like, the about 20-40% of the FRA ones were so-so, being about as good as most of the LL ones , with 60-80% being very near to or on-par with the Cleric, maybe even some ahead, and about 10% of the L&L ones were on-par with the Cleric, and none ahead. The lesser ones were "usable", but it was kind of insulting to put them next to a Cleric.

Also re: Faiths and Avatars and sequels, I don't think we can say all or maybe even most of them were "hella broken", but there were plenty that were, and the ones which were broken were often VERY broken (SP of Clangeddin being a prime example).

Good summary though.
 

Azzy

ᚳᚣᚾᛖᚹᚢᛚᚠ
You are just as much of a problem as he is, ready to judge/scream and a reading apprehension of 'not much' (if you think I'm writing apologia for him). Maybe put down that lance, get of that high horse and stop angling for those windmills... ;)
Sure, sure. Whatever you say. 🙄
 

And like, even though I like details, I don't, for example, want to go back to ultra-detailed equipment lists, say, so instead I'm finding I'm happy for players to establish they have equipment as and when needed, within reason (may insist on a check or just say no if they're pushing it).
For me, having to worry about resource management for me isn’t a bug. It’s a key feature - it makes logistics part of the game (adhering to its war gaming roots), and makes logistics magic items and spells powerful.

For the players in my more experienced group, spells like Create Food & Water or Sending and magic items like a Portable Hole are game changers. In an early session (decades ago now, very slow campaign, I had a snowstorm hit and made them scramble to survive as only some had packed tents and winter blankets.

Two sessions ago my less experienced group has plenty of rope but no way to attach it. I reminded a player she had pitons in her saddlebags, so they retreated from the dungeon and tried again, while one PC was stranded alone on the far side of a collapsing floor trap. No one really hurt, but I hope a lesson learned. The last session at the beginning, the youngest player called out the lesson learned 2 sessions ago: always bring mountain climbing gear to a dungeon!

Perhaps I should explain that “The Things They Carried”, by Tim O’Brien about infantry in the Vietnam War is one of my favorite books, and the title isn’t just a metaphor.
 
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For me, having to worry about resource management for me isn’t a bug. It’s a key feature - it makes logistics part of the game (adhering to its war gaming roots), and makes logistics magic items and spells powerful.

For the players in my more experienced group, spells like Create Food & Water or Sending and magic items like a Portable Hole are game changers. In an early session (decades ago now, very slow campaign, I had a snowstorm hit and made them scramble to survive as only some had packed tents and winter blankets.

Two sessions ago my less experienced group has plenty of rope but no way to attach it. I reminded a player she had pitons in her saddlebags, so they retreated from the dungeon and tried again, while one PC was stranded alone on the far side of a collapsing floor trap. No one really hurt, but I hope a lesson learned. The last session at the beginning, the youngest player called out the lesson learned 2 sessions ago: always bring mountain climbing gear to a dungeon!

Perhaps I should explain that “The Things They Carried”, by Tim O’Brien about infantry in the Vietnam War is one of my favorite books, and the title isn’t just a metaphor.
Sure, but I'm still feeling like you would probably not straight up kill a PC for the sin of their player having assumed gloves were part of their outfit in a game with sells vaguely described outfits, not individual pieces of clothing. I mean the fancy clothing doesn't include a hat for goodness sake, and how fancy can one even be without a dapper hat?
 


DarkCrisis

Reeks of Jedi
What! Your party doesn't have a 10-foot pole!?!? Make a saving throw vs. Death this instant! FAILED! Start rolling new characters and LEARN from this! ;)
More like, your thief didnt find/deactivate the trap and it goes off. Make a save vs death as this is a high level dungeon and it was a magic glyph trap since it can automatically kill you and everyone around you with a death save.
 


Sure, but I'm still feeling like you would probably not straight up kill a PC for the sin of their player having assumed gloves were part of their outfit in a game with sells vaguely described outfits, not individual pieces of clothing. I mean the fancy clothing doesn't include a hat for goodness sake, and how fancy can one even be without a dapper hat?
I DM 3.5e, and its PHB mentions gloves (and hat and scarf) in the description for an Explorer’s Outfit, but not the other outfits. Some of my players list their exact clothing items; most don’t. Gloves haven’t come up.

What has come up is whether they had scarves, as an attempt to get past spores. I didn’t allow those without them listed to just have them by fiat, but I let them cut up a winter blanket to make scarves.

About the “I have gloves I didn’t specifically list, so I’m immune to contact poison”, I would not change the DC on the trap. If they did specifically list gloves, I wouldn’t ignore the trap - doesn’t seem like it should give immunity - but maybe I would give a +2 on the save (perhaps advantage in 5e). And maybe -2 default (perhaps disadvantage in 5e) to future Disable Device checks if they don’t mention taking OFF their “poison proof” gloves.
 



MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I have no problems with them branching out into VTT's, minis, board games, themed notebooks, artbooks, novels and movies - but when they start selling D&D socks and blankets, that's a bridge too far.
As a father of two boys, I would have loved to have the option of getting my kids D&D themed socks and blankets. They've outgrown that kind of stuff, but this old man wouldn't mind a pair of mimic socks!
 

Carlsen Chris

Explorer
Like many others, i am tired of the "new" version that is "compatible" with the "new" version so they can repackage the books in a slightly better or worse version of the game. The 5e was the last straw for me, and with the new generation of players who i have tried to DM, i have no interest in bending to accommodate their lack of intelligence, mind you a slim portion is not bad, but the bulk of them are. Also, the stuff they are releasing has very few rules or crunch and does little to help me as a DM. Now it is about collectable covers, and dividing the stuff up between many different areas so you can't just buy one book and be done.
If you take your nap now, you will be awake in time for Matlock.
 




Warpiglet-7

Cry havoc! And let slip the pigs of war!
Like many others, i am tired of the "new" version that is "compatible" with the "new" version so they can repackage the books in a slightly better or worse version of the game. The 5e was the last straw for me, and with the new generation of players who i have tried to DM, i have no interest in bending to accommodate their lack of intelligence, mind you a slim portion is not bad, but the bulk of them are. Also, the stuff they are releasing has very few rules or crunch and does little to help me as a DM. Now it is about collectable covers, and dividing the stuff up between many different areas so you can't just buy one book and be done.
I am no 5e apologist. At all. In fact, I am not going to get monetized. I come from a generation that was working fast food to get through college and scrape a few bucks together for a concert ticket! We gloated about only needing books paper and pencil to have tons of fun!

My group is older, 100% college educated (if we are being weirdly elitist and focused on intellectual ability or grit?) and many of us have more than one graduate degree. We just played 5e last night and had a blast.

It’s a different game than 1e for sure, but the product is not packaged in any predatory way. The core 3 books are sufficient. If you want to buy “unearthed arcana and the wilderness survival guide” go ahead or don’t.

I only say this to distinguish normal marketing and products to what is to come (sounding more like what you are referencing).

But let’s deal with THAT when it comes to fruition and not throw eachother (potential allies) under the bus with overgenerlaizations.

Fwiw, we had a teenager playing with us and all of us were laughing and high fiving.

Now when WOTC starts charging us per laugh and high five in the digital landscape, then we need to tell THEM to get bent and not our fellow players.
 

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