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?

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

HammerMan

Legend
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.
I have been saying this since the announcement, but with the new books changing things already and the surveys indicating everything is on the table... I keep being told "it's not a new edition" and I think that way of thinking will hurt WotC in the long run (and our hobby)
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.
my biggest fear is what I refer to as "standing in the middle of the road, and getting hit by cars going both ways" that they will make enough changes to make it a new edition but try to hold back major overhauls needed. In doing so they will not make people who want 100% backwards compatible happy, and people that want major change wont be happy either.
 

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Von Ether

Legend
I'm not sure if backwards compability even matters. While you could have quite simply used 3.0 Material with 3.5 or 3.5 for Pathfinder, I personally never witnessed someone actually mixing them.

As soon as we started a new Edition, we used the Sourcebook from the new one exclusively. Even old Settingbooks (which are quite universal) are usually ignoried if a Book for the new Edition comes out.
And if you chat with some of the people running RPGA at the time, many of those 3.5 changes came from the living game scene who demanded more rules vs rulings at the table. (Druid animal companions being an example) Otherwise 3.0 worked fine.

In some ways, 3.0 vs 3.5 was Basic vs AD&D all over again. If you really wanted to play the "right way" you had to use the latest set, 3.5.

I still have my 3.0 Eberron stuff because I love that pulpy, comic book vibe. I just wish I could pull out all the 3.x mechanics and rebind the books I could just keep the evergreen fluff in a nice hardcover.

I don't know how successful it was, but Green Ronin had the Pirates Guide to Freeport as a system agnostic hardback with high quality PDFs sold for different game system rules for character creation and monster stats. They offered up 3e, 4e, 5e, Savage Worlds, Fate, Castle and Crusades, Fantasy Age, and Pathfinder 1.
 
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Mezuka

Hero
10 years is a long time for an edition of D&D. The longest duration so far.

With TSR I never had major problems adapting Basic, AD&D1e and AD&2 material from one to the other versions of the game. If 5.5 allows that with 5e material, go for it.
 

Osgood

Adventurer
I hear the consternation about not putting an edition label on the cover for D&D, but look back at your rulebooks... 3rd and 4th, like 5th, didn't have an edition denoted on the cover, only 2nd and 3.5 (and Essentials if you count that as a half edition). I'm not sure about Basic D&D products, but based on what I see, I don't think slapping an edition label on the cover is required, or even standard practice.
I think the 2E branding was so prominent, it got burned into the psyche of gamers of a certain age!
 

ART!

Legend
I think the changes that are coming in 5.5 (or whatever it will end up being called) will be less significant than the changes that happened between 3.0 and 3.5. So far it's been what, some lore and cultural changes regarding demi-human races and how they're writing a part of the monster stat blocks? If it remains like that I very much doubt 3PP have much to worry about. I think the whole reason we're getting a new 5.5 edition is because somebody higher up decided that the game's been out since 2014. So it's time to get people to buy core rulebooks again. Which, is fine. But doesn't mean that the changes will be particularly significant if you're working back from that decision.
Agreed. It seems like the 50th anniversary has presented them with a good reason to re-release the core books with some system-wide tweaks, nudges, and adjustments that have probably been on their minds for a while. I doubt they will brand it as 6E, just because 5E has so much cache.
 

Ghost2020

Adventurer
People seem to get very emotional and upset\elated when a new edition comes out.

Those that get mad seem to forget the whole publishing model. It applies to RPGs. Product needs to keep coming out or these companies will die off.

I don't get to play all the games that I own, and buying a new edition, for me, isn't worth it. I've barely scratched the dozens and dozens of supplements that I have.

I'm glad the demand is there though, means the hobby is alive and has a lot of activity.

I'm slowly falling into my handful of core systems, and I'll probably stay with that. Some weird sense of relief that I don't have to pursue new editions, etc. As I reach my mid 50's, it's more about getting time to play than it is new books and rules.
 

UngainlyTitan

Legend
Supporter
Depends on the value they put on third party support. It's not incumbent, no; it might be wise. Or not, depending, as I said, on the value they put on third party support.

A question which many will also ask is what happens to all those thousands and thousands of DMs Guild products? Even if they are technically compatible, it's the perception which matters. It would suck if you're a DMsG publisher who has invested years of work and money into your products and building up an extensive catalogue, and folks stopped buying them.
Personally I do not buy 3rd party stuff because it is compatible, I buy it to flesh out ideas for something I am preparing. As long as I have an up to date MM I should be ok.
 

MatthewJHanson

Registered Ninja
Publisher
Things that I'm pretty sure we're going to see include changes to race/lineage, and changes in monster formatting. I also think incorporating some of the class "options" from Tasha's seems likely, maybe reshuffling which sub-classes are in the PHB, dropping some unpopular ones and adding some from other books.

Those seem to be pretty minor and backwards compatible.

The recent spell and feat surveys have me a little more concerned. If it's tweaking one or two spells (like true strike), that's fine, but I too much overhauling would put me off.
 

I'm betting it will be released as "Dungeons & Dragons: The 50th Anniversary Edition" and they will be cheerfully ignoring the question of whether it is 5th, 5.5 or 6th. Why fight an Edition War you can avoid?

If they genuinely cared about "backward compatibility" they would also release a single hardback book (normal price) or online PDF containing just the changed content for all previously released books. A Super Errata, if you will. I would absolutely buy that. Would I buy all the core books again? I'm doubting it.
 


J-H

Hero
I'm not ready for 6E, but I've known it will come sooner or later. Back in the '90s, 2E was kept around for too long and got long in the tooth, looking archaic compared to other, new systems that were coming out at the time (like WoD, GURPS and others). We got the player's options for that version, but it was too little, too late - by the late '90s the system was really showing its age, and the game was buried in junk supplements.

Doesn't quite feel the same at the moment, I still enjoy the base game but I'm not on board with the tweaks coming out in the likes of Tasha's or the Mordy book. Feels like there is still a lot of older edition content (and new) they could still draw on without having to touch the base rules much, if at all.

Guess I'm now the one getting old and out of date, though.
I'm here too. No plans to buy any 5.5 books, or frankly much of anything after Tasha's due to the quality level in Tasha's (not just the blandification of species).
My problem is not enough time to play what we have.
 

HammerMan

Legend
I'm betting it will be released as "Dungeons & Dragons: The 50th Anniversary Edition" and they will be cheerfully ignoring the question of whether it is 5th, 5.5 or 6th. Why fight an Edition War you can avoid?
yeah I keep having to call it 5.5/6/anniversary edition because no matter what I call it someone on these boards tells me I'm wrong... even that 'catch all' of 3 names sometimes gets me told "It's just 5e stop pretending anything changed"

The Edition wars will rage no matter what... camo the fact that it is a new version wont help... I already expect that next con/game store game will have to explain "is this classic 5e or updated 5e" and even "updated 5e" might mean tasha class modification but not multiverse race...or vise versa.

the funny thing is rewind 10 years ago and this is what I wanted... dials and options... the ability to play a 5e game with the feel of 2e, or 3e, or 4e or some mix... and the DM paid lip service to it but they never realy gave us the dials... maybe they can pitch the 5.5/6/anniversary edition as "just option dials and nobs to change the game to suit your taste"
 

HammerMan

Legend
I can't imagine that GWM and Sharp Shooter will survive the change. They are discussed so often as unbalanced, so they will be tweaked in some way.
so do you expect they will be brought down in power instead of other things brought up to them?

Lucky and Magic Adept are the 2 next feats (Sometimes lucky comes before the two you mentioned) so what happens to them?
 

so do you expect they will be brought down in power instead of other things brought up to them?

Lucky and Magic Adept are the 2 next feats (Sometimes lucky comes before the two you mentioned) so what happens to them?

In some form they will be nerfed. Maybe
- prof bonus/ +2x prof bonus instead of -5/+10 as it was proposed in a few threads.

I don't think magic adept will be nerfed, instead it will get the "you can cast spells woth slots" addition.

Lucky will probably changed to add advantage to a few checks per day or apply disadvantage.
 

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
D&D seems to fall somewhere in the middle. No one NEEDS a new edition. Any given edition will serve perfectly well for a lifetime of play. But most gamers do seem to enjoy consuming/purchasing/reading new games, and enjoy some novelty in rules. A new edition of D&D is, I think for many, a chance to freshen the experience of playing our favorite RPG combined with a certain level of comfort and familiarity not present when we try to learn an entirely new game.

I definitely see different editions of D&D mostly as being variants, at this point rather than iterative improvements. Out of the nine or ten different versions of it I've played, probably my favorites are OD&D, B/X, 4E, and 5E, though each with at least a few house rules.
Just to be clear, I am speaking about RPGs in general and not just D&D. (But also DnD.) The way I see it, a new edition means significant changes to the mechanics of the system, but it is still recognizable as a brand.

Personally, I'd rather see a revised edition or supplemental options to change existing stuff rather than a whole new line of recycled products. Or find more ways to support existing rules set that still seem to be holding up pretty well. You know. Be creative. I hear adventures and settings are a good way to keep these games fresh. And up until now, that's kinda been how 5e has been going and its worked fine so far. After 6+ versions of PHBs and DMGs for the same game, its time to just pick a winner and try some new games. ;)
 

AmerginLiath

Adventurer
10 years is a long time for an edition of D&D. The longest duration so far.

With TSR I never had major problems adapting Basic, AD&D1e and AD&2 material from one to the other versions of the game. If 5.5 allows that with 5e material, go for it.
I fondly remember the days of running my older brother’s B/X and 1st Edition adventures in our 2nd Edition campaign (where a number of characters were built straight out of the UA-era Dragonlance Adventures book anyway), at most swapping in a different version of the same monster if I felt like a size or ability shift over time was cooler. Because of how much math was changed between 3.0 and 3.5 without telling us, we overestimate the incapability of running editions together on the same table (those of us who’ve run Heroes Unlimited characters in our Rifts games and vice versa can likewise attest). Pathfinder’s “rewrite the game engine but keep the branding and claim that it’s interchangeable” schtick doesn’t help as a more recent example for the younger player.
 

Voadam

Legend
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.
This is a link to the general articles page. Is there a specific article I should be checking out for their explanation of their strategy?
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
This is a link to the general articles page. Is there a specific article I should be checking out for their explanation of their strategy?
The one up at the top is the "What counts as canon?" piece, which I presume is the one the OP is referring to.
 

beancounter

(I/Me/Mine)
They really have to make it backward compatible, or the will have a lot of unhappy customers who use D&D Beyond tools.

Without backward compatibility, players would have to buy the three core books and revised/compatible supplements again
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Is it, or should it be, incumbent on Wizards to put stuff out to give 3pp updates to change their material before the final books come out. Part of me thinks that it would be hard for them to develop packets and information for other publishers.
It wouldn’t be that hard to do. There’s a gap between when the design is set and books are in customers’ hands. Even with last minute tweaks, there should be enough lead time to get something out. That’s not to suggest it would be enough time for 3PP to hit the ground running with updated materials by release day from WotC, but it’s a lot better than having to wait until the street date then starting the updates.
 

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