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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

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
I honestly wish they'd have done a half edition between 4E and 5E. I absolutely love everything about 4E there is to the game, except how clunky combat was. If that edition could have been cleaned up with the smoother play, less bloat, easier use, etc of 5E. Man. That would sing. It does make me happy that WotC basically has to go back to the gods and cosmology of 4E when they work with Critical Role products.
yeah, 4e with bounded accuracy, scaling powers and one reaction per turn would have been sweet.
 

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I honestly wish they'd have done a half edition between 4E and 5E. I absolutely love everything about 4E there is to the game, except how clunky combat was. If that edition could have been cleaned up with the smoother play, less bloat, easier use, etc of 5E. Man. That would sing. It does make me happy that WotC basically has to go back to the gods and cosmology of 4E when they work with Critical Role products.
I just wish we had the 4e class list in 5e. Classes and character building in general is my main issue with this edition from a player facing end.
 



Bagpuss

Legend
I want to see what they intend to put in to replace all the "cultural" stuff they have removed from the various races, which currently means they are really bland IMHO. They really need to do something there.

While I can see a need and I'm actually interested in separating racial traits from cultural ones I've not been a huge fan how they have implemented it so far (It isn't cultural that a Goliath will on average be stronger than a halfling), so I doubt an edition that embraces these recent changes will interest me at all. Well unless they go a long way to putting back in some of the stuff they have taken out, but perhaps with more options.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
If they reigned in all the temporary modifiers a lot of the powers added, that would have helped as well there were far to many to keep track of.
Or just only tie 1-3 effects or modifiers per class so it would be the same modifers to remember all 30 levels.

Especially for the leaders and defenders.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
Epic
My biggest fear for this next half edition is that is will double down on every issue I have with 5e, while removing every bit I do like in the name of simplification. And that the edition will make just enough changes to be not actually backwards compatible, but not change enough to address any of 5e's problems.

Things like cut down and simplified classes and subclasses to remove more of the player choice. e.g. maybe rather than druids being able to pick an animal to turn into they get 3 statblocks (land, sea, sky) with every feature saying 'add prof bonus here'. Or pact boons/invocations just being rolled into subclasses rather than actually being a choice for warlock.

And the end result is every character just being an identical cookie cutter chess piece without meaningful customisation.
I don't fear it do much as expect it to the point Id be surprised if that's not the case
 

I want to see what they intend to put in to replace all the "cultural" stuff they have removed from the various races, which currently means they are really bland IMHO. They really need to do something there.

While I can see a need and I'm actually interested in separating racial traits from cultural ones I've not been a huge fan how they have implemented it so far (It isn't cultural that a Goliath will on average be stronger than a halfling), so I doubt an edition that embraces these recent changes will interest me at all. Well unless they go a long way to putting back in some of the stuff they have taken out, but perhaps with more options.
Yep I'm fine with cultural stuff being decoupled from race. It makes sense and gives players more freedom.

But it's not being decoupled. It's simply being removed altogether. Did cunning artisan from lizardfolk get turned into part of a background or feat? Nope it didn't. It just got axed.

Luckily my DM has said I can keep using that feature no matter what the books say.
 


UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
Yep I'm fine with cultural stuff being decoupled from race. It makes sense and gives players more freedom.

But it's not being decoupled. It's simply being removed altogether. Did cunning artisan from lizardfolk get turned into part of a background or feat? Nope it didn't. It just got axed.

Luckily my DM has said I can keep using that feature no matter what the books say.
They are th4e sort of things that should be available for picking over and above the current selections. I wonder are they going to start including different selections of this stuff in setting information.
 

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