RPG Evolution: The Half-Edition Shuffle

The next edition of Dungeons & Dragons is finally on the horizon, but it's not here just yet. So when do publishers makes the shift?

The next edition of Dungeons & Dragons is finally on the horizon, but it's not here just yet. So when do publishers makes the shift?

thehalfeditionshuffle.png

A Historical Model​

D&D has been through several editions in recent memory, but few match the recent transition between two compatible editions. Although backwards compatibility is often promised, it's rarely delivered. And there's also the consideration of the thousands of small press publishers created through the Open Game License movement, which didn't exist before Third Edition. Of all the edition shifts, the 3.0 to 3.5 transition seems closest to what D&D is going through right now, so it's a good place to start this thought experiment.

Compatible, Sort Of​

Fifth Edition's transition to Sixth involves tweaks to the game. Those tweaks seemed largely cosmetic, at first. With the release of Mordenkainen's Monsters of the Multiverse, it's clear that the spellcasting section of monsters is going to be significantly changed. In short, while players may find their characters compatible with the latest edition of D&D, DMs may find their monsters aren't. And that's a problem for publishers. But mechanically, all of these issues can be addressed. What really matters is what customers think. And that's often shaped by branding.

What a Half-Edition Means​

The transition between Third Edition and 3.5 was more significant than many publishers were expecting. You can see a list on RPG Stack Exchange, which shows just how much the new edition changed the game.

This did not go unnoticed by consumers. The OGL movement was still developing but it caught many publishers by surprise, including the company I wrote for at the time, Monkeygod Publishing (they're no longer in business). When we released my hardcover book Frost & Fur, the only identifier was the D20 System logo. Little did we know that it was imperative to identify the book as 3.5-compatible (which it was), because stores wouldn't carry it and consumers wouldn't buy it if it wasn't.

There wasn't nearly as much communication from WIzards of the Coast back then as to how to prepare for the edition change, much less columns from the company explaining their strategy. More communication about the upcoming edition may mitigate its impact on third-party publishers.

Between the DM's Guild and DriveThruRPG, there is now an ecosystem that can more readily update itself without taking up shelf space or clogging up inventory. Digital products can be changed, covers can be rebranded, and newsletters can announce the update. Wizards of the Coast has also given considerable lead time on the coming changes by announcing the edition well in advance and updating books piecemeal so developers can see what changed. But there's still one important piece of the puzzle.

What Do Consumers Think?​

One of the ongoing concerns for supporting publishers of Third Edition was how the Open Game License would be updated and, at least as important, how to identify that compatibility.

Updating the OGL enables publishers to ensure their products are compatible. The OGL doesn't specify stat block structure, so it may not even be necessary to update the license much if at all.

Identifying compatibility will be even more critical. At some point, publishers will start identifying their products as Sixth Edition compatible. And that will happen when consumers shift their spending habits.

The Changeover​

But first, WOTC has to declare that Sixth Edition has officially arrived. Wizards was hesitant to put a number on Fifth Edition, preferring instead to indicate it was simply D&D to potentially head off edition controversy. Failure to do that in a timely fashion (or worse, failure to recognize a new edition at all and continue calling it Fifth Edition) will cause potential confusion in the marketplace, with both consumers and publishers.

At some point the tide will turn and consumers will expect compatibility with the new edition. That change is complicated by the fact that Sixth Edition should be largely compatible with Fifth Edition. But only consumers can decide that for sure; if they don't feel it is, there will be a sharp drop off in Fifth Edition buying habits. For smaller publishers, they'll stay close to the market to determine when that shift is happening and how to transition smoothly without harming their business model.

Getting it right can be lucrative. Getting it wrong can sink a company. The market convulsed massively when 3.5 came out, wiping out publishers and game store stock that were unprepared for the change. Here's hoping with enough foresight and planning, we don't have a repeat of the 3.0 transition.
 

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

Jaeger

That someone better
"Staggering and going largely unnoticed" might be more accurate?
They made some good design decisions, but ultimately it's too complex for me and the groups I've run. It's staggeringly complicated to bring in casual and new gamers (I've tried).
If TTRPGs were staying a niche hobby for wargamers, I think PF2 could rise to the top. However, I don't think it appeals to many new players, and most of us old guard who would've appreciated it 15 years ago are in much different life situations.
Some common complaints (though not universal):
1) Low quality Adventure Paths
2) Thousands of feats that provide only minuscule, forgettable bonuses.
3) Nearly 100 conditions to put on your character in combat
4) Diagonal movement is counted differently (pet peeve of mine)
5) Getting rid of most opportunity attacks
6) Paizo corporate issues concern some
7) Bad implementation on Roll20 (that is one of mine)
8) Not backward compatible with PF1
9) Taking20's "Illusion of Choice" (search YouTube)
10) Healing being way too easy (skill check outside of combat, get to 100% strength before each fight as a rule)

Not surprising unfortunately.

In my opinion:

PF2 was introduced into a bad position to begin with because Pazio never cleaned up the underlying issues of 3.5 with PF1e. And IMHO, PF1 was the wrong design direction to go in from day one.

They doubled down on the design elements that were making 3.5 increasingly unwieldly in play. And pazio is known for hitting the splat treadmill HARD. They painted themselves into a design corner that would only service a subset of fantasy RPG fans once WotC reacted with 5e.

Of course all of this is 20/20 hindsight. To go another direction would have meant Pazio taking a real risk that they just weren't going to do when they rolled the dice on Pathfinder when 4e dropped.


4e fan here.. Without wanting to be divisive, I'll admit to some schadenfreude over the last few years at seeing some of the folks who trashed 4e and trumpeted 5e as a return to the editions of their youth realise that in fact it's moving even further away in many directions.. :)

IMHO, 5e was given a lot of slack early on because it wasn't 4e. Maybe a bit too much...

And they did heavy marketing to draw back the 'old school' crowd that took one look at 4 and said "nope". Along with the people that went to pathfinder.

For the past several years people have been playing 5e, and realizing what it is and what it isn't - Along with seeing the direction WotC has decided to embrace in their changing marketing strategy post release.

Well, the honeymoon is over...


Bonus actions need to go.

Especially considering that they didn't need to be there in the first place.

When my group did the waterdeep heist - bonus actions were pants. We spend most of our time playing other systems, and we found bonus actions fit into the action economy in a goofy way.

Like Mearls said, it was: "Hacky".. What is, and isn't classified as a 'bonus action' is completely arbitrary and has no consistency other than because the designer said so...

Bonus actions could be completely excised from the game. Just classify them as something you can just do as a free action, As your regular action, or make the PC use their reaction for it to inject some tactical consideration into the choice.
 

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FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
A little bit pessimistic.
I hope youbare not proven right.

I personally think they can't screw this one up. Make a best of DMG/MM/PHB and you are fine.
I mean, music bands often sell the same tracks over and over again. Remastered best of titles work very well.
People like variations of old things, better quality and being able to get their favourite songs on a single cd. *

* if younger people read that: yes, you actually bought music on plastic discs.
A little bit pessimistic.
I hope youbare not proven right.

I personally think they can't screw this one up. Make a best of DMG/MM/PHB and you are fine.
I mean, music bands often sell the same tracks over and over again. Remastered best of titles work very well.
People like variations of old things, better quality and being able to get their favourite songs on a single cd. *

* if younger people read that: yes, you actually bought music on plastic discs.
It is pessimistic but even if right I’m confident it’ll set up for a great 7e.

Sometimes learning what doesn’t work is just as important as learning what does.
 

right before my local gameing shop closed someone (I don't know them only in passing at store that is now closed) said "5e is what 4e should have been, but 4e is what 5e should have been" I think about it alot... the jump from 3.5 to 4 was huge... I keep hopeing 6e will take more 4e.
oh wow... I never thought about it that way... 5e is a half way point between 3.5 and 4, so I kind of see where that thought comes from. I wonder if 4e (maybe more essentials based) would be better received in the aftermath of 5e.
 


SkidAce

Legend
Supporter
Yeah. They sold it to us old-timers with nostalgic member berries so we could promote it to younger generations, which was their core plan all along.
And I'm happy with that.

5e has some of the flavor and old school of 1E and 2E, with improvements learned over the years, and less of the number crunching that I thought I liked at first from 3E.

5E is can be modified and house ruled like we used to do, and the framework is more elegant.
 

SkidAce

Legend
Supporter
No but it will affect where they take the game. I think we can safely say" tight math "balanced games " is for he umpteenth time sinking back into the mud. Players like to feel powerful. 3rd e trumped 4th, 5th has done well because it's simpler, pf2e just doesn't seem to fill enough niche to chase.l
Yeah, I really like the Champions/Hero system, but getting people to play them nowadays is a no go.

Anyone ever play Star Fleet Battles with paper and pen, and a mat with little tokens? Good times....
 

SkidAce

Legend
Supporter
I find that at my tables this is only a problem with people who used to play 3e. The newer players I teach the game to don't find it weird at all that they get a bonus action if some ability gives them a bonus action but that a bonus action isn't something they always have. That's why it's a bonus.

The 3e players are also the only ones who tend to use "move action" and "standard action" as terms. New players will just talk about moving and then taking an action or vice versa (reminiscent of how we used the terms before 3e codified them now that I think of it...)
I have seen this also.
 

Retreater

Legend
PF2 was introduced into a bad position to begin with because Pazio never cleaned up the underlying issues of 3.5 with PF1e. And IMHO, PF1 was the wrong design direction to go in from day one.
PF1 was putting a Band-Aid on the problems of 3.5. At first I thought it was a real fix, because it did simplify and streamline a few things for about a year. But then, like you mentioned, the splat treadmill continued. And I don't think rules are what Paizo did the best back then - they were primarily an adventure company. And PF1 was a way to allow them to keep doing what they did well (adventures) with a system they were familiar with (3.5) that was still in print.
Of course all of this is 20/20 hindsight. To go another direction would have meant Pazio taking a real risk that they just weren't going to do when they rolled the dice on Pathfinder when 4e dropped.
When I think of the gaming culture at that time, there wasn't much else they could do. The d20/OGL movement was huge. Everything from Star Wars, to superheroes, to Call of Cthulhu went d20. It was the Rosetta Stone for gaming. And when 4e was released, it was so badly received by many gamers. (Do you remember the shirts at GenCon that said "4e killed Gary?")
IMHO, 5e was given a lot of slack early on because it wasn't 4e. Maybe a bit too much...
My group refused to even look at D&D 5e because they hated 4e so much and had moved on to Pathfinder. Even today they are just now starting to look at 5e (I think because they've decided they don't want to try PF2).
 

Rabulias

the Incomparably Shrewd and Clever
There was 12 years between 1st Ed AD&D (1977) and 2nd Ed AD&D (1989) and then 11 years until 3rd Edition

So not really the longest.
I was about to make the point about AD&D 1st edition myself. As we are talking about "half-editions" here, though, AD&D 2nd edition did have the DM Options book and the Player's Options books in 1995 and 1996, which some consider "AD&D 2.5."
 


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