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

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
Exactly. Not worth existing as subclass. Culture can easily be integrated in (hopefully a bit enhanced) backgrounds.

I think basic armor and weapon proficiency belongs to the soldier background. I could also see cultural/background feats to be taken at level 1.

Edit: I mean, a mountain dwarf born on an isolated Island should really not be trained in armor proficiencies.
That's the problem. They can't enhance backgrounds, as they all provide the same amount of material and they don't want to be incompatible. Cultural stuff from WotC is just...gone now.
 

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HammerMan

Legend
Third one was spells and magic IIRC.
I always forget that one... I don't know why that name just doesn't stick like combat and tactics and skills and powers
thank you
We didn't call it 3e, because when I started with ADnD, I did not know anything about editions. I realized it far later that there were other D&D's.
At some point I noticed the 2nd edition tag, and then we played the game "Stronghold" and were irritated by race = class. Later I found the Rules Cyclopedia in a shop.
I guess sometimes ignorance is bliss, because we never thought ADnD2e was lacking in any way, we liked the player options (but carefully decided what to use and what not - > we tried everything but often went back to vanilla, because the game often got more complicated and not better).
We also were never irritated by baatezu and Tanari, it was just what lawful and chaotic fiends were called.
I didn't understand that 2nd edition meant a different game when I got it either... me and becky reading the book just assumed it was like a school book (8th edition algebra book is mostly the same as 7th or 5th just with some minor tweeks). It might have been 5 or 6 years of playing before someone told me how different 1e was.
 

Nebulous

Legend
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.
Huh. Swapping the bonus for a reaction. Never considered that. I wonder how that would affect gameplay? It would certainly influence OA the most. Is there a feat that gives you extra reactions?
 



It would be easy, but it would be completely new content that you would need to use to maintain parity with 2014 characters, and they can't do that without messing with compatibility.

No. That is a minor upgrade. As I said, there are already feats to add at level 1. So just telling everyone, they can chose an appropriate feat(ure) like militia training when taking an old background would work and be compatible enough.

Actually, you just need to allow soldiers to replace their gaming set proficiency and vehicle land with light armor and simple weapon proficiency.
 


HammerMan

Legend
That's the problem. They can't enhance backgrounds, as they all provide the same amount of material and they don't want to be incompatible. Cultural stuff from WotC is just...gone now.
Not necessarily. There already are backgrounds that grant feats. It is easy to add another layer.
It would be easy, but it would be completely new content that you would need to use to maintain parity with 2014 characters, and they can't do that without messing with compatibility.
No. That is a minor upgrade. As I said, there are already feats to add at level 1. So just telling everyone, they can chose an appropriate feat(ure) like militia training when taking an old background would work and be compatible enough.
I want a 100% overhaul of class/race/background in 2024... I most likely wont get it.

I want to see race broken into heritage/bloodline and culture but the culture slipping into background. make the background meater... let one give you some weapon and armor prof, another a cantrip, another a feat (pre picked not any feat) and all of them still give the skills and features but maybe balance the features a bit more.

in this perfect world all classes would break down similar to (doesn't have to be exact) warlock and have 1 subclass choice at 1st level another at 3rd and make them mix and matchable (a tome/fey is different then a chain/fey both are diffrent then a tome/fiend or chain/fiend) with min feat class features for each class to choose from and mix and match (like invocations). I would also want a more generic subclass chosen at higher level (I would called them prestige class not subclass) like at 11th but they would be intermixable between classes...


imagine chooseing human as bloodline fey raised soldier as background/culture fighter as class and swift warrior as 1st subclass.... then at 3rd level chooseing duilest as 2nd subclass and along the way picking up second wind and action surge as options.

now imagine how different a dwarf blood line under mountain solder as background/culture fighter as class champion as 1st subclass and knight as 3rd subclass still pickup second wind but instead of action surge grabing sentinal or a mark feature...

a third player chooses half elf bloodline orphin city as background/culture fighter as class with battle master as subclass... but at 3rd level still takes duilest like the 1st one... along way they did get action surge but a parry ability instead of second wind.
 

Rabulias

the Incomparably Shrewd and Clever
Huh. Swapping the bonus for a reaction. Never considered that. I wonder how that would affect gameplay? It would certainly influence OA the most. Is there a feat that gives you extra reactions?
It would require some reworking of the Rogue class (among others). Cunning Action (bonus action) and Uncanny Dodge (reaction) are such integral aspects of Rogues, IMO, that making them choose between them is not really fair. They would need something in return to compensate.

IMO, bonus actions are fine. <anecdote>Not even my most optimizing players have searched for a use for a bonus action.</anecdote>
 


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