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5E The Last Edition of D&D?

Changes in Dungeons & Dragons' various editions have ranged from the incremental to the epic, shaking up the game's sales along with its playerbase. There is evidence that Wizards of the Coast is following a new model in which there are no more editions, just updates and backwards compatibility. It's a model long touted by the software industry, and for an idea what the future might hold we can look to the future of video game consoles.

Edition History
To put Fifth Edition's longevity in perspective, it's worth looking back at the lifespan of the earlier editions. These editions lived long after the debut of later editions (and will live on in perpetuity on the Internet):

[EDIT: Alzrius did a much better job of summarizing editions, so I've replaced my timeline with his here, thanks Alzrius!)
  • Original Dungeons & Dragons: 1974 (woodgrain boxed set) through 1976 (Swords & Spells) - 2 years
  • Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st Edition): 1977-1979 (depending on whether you could it as beginning with the release of the Monster Manual in 1977, the Players Handbook in 1978, or the Dungeon Masters Guide in 1979) through 1988 (DL16 World of Krynn) - 11 years
  • Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (2nd Edition): 1989 (Player's Handbook) through 2000 (Die Vecna Die!) - 11 years
  • Basic Dungeons & Dragons (Holmes): 1978 (the Holmes Basic set) through 1979 (B2 The Keep on the Borderlands) - 2 years
  • Basic Dungeons & Dragons (B/X): 1981 (the Moldvay Basic Set to 1983 (X5 Temple of Death) - 2 years
  • Basic Dungeons & Dragons (BECMI): 1983 (the Mentzer Basic Set to 1993 (Champions of Mystara: Heroes of the Princess Ark) - 10 years
  • Dungeons & Dragons (3.0 Edition): 2000 (Player's Handbook) through 2003 (Ghostwalk) - 3 years
  • Dungeons & Dragons (3.5 Edition): 2003 (Player's Handbook) through 2008 (City of Stormreach) - 5 years
  • Dungeons & Dragons (4th Edition): 2008 (Player's Handbook) through 2012 (Into the Unknown: The Dungeons Survival Handbook) - 4 years
  • Dungeons & Dragons (4th Edition Essentials): 2010 (Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set) through 2011 (Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentir Vale) - 1 year
  • Dungeons & Dragons (Next): 2013 (Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle through 2014 (Legacy of the Crystal Shard) - 1 year
  • Dungeons & Dragons (5th Edition): 2014 (Starter Set) through Present (Mythic Odysseys of Theros) - 6 years+
Looking at these averages, the lifespan of an edition ranges from as low as a few years to as long as 11 years. At 6 years old, Fifth Edition is now at the beginning of when it might be considered old enough to warrant a new edition—Fourth Edition lasted just four years (if we count Essentials).

No More Editions?
Mike Mearls had this to say about a hypothetical sixth edition:

We’re nowhere near 6th edition D&D, but if we get there this is how I’d like it to play out. Zero disruption to what you’re already doing, just new toys to make your game better.

In an Ask Me Anything on Reddit, Mearls clarified in response to a question about modeling D&D's roll-out after Microsoft's roll-out of Windows 10:

Is the goal of 5e to get all D&D players onto one edition and then to support it for a long time, much like what Microsoft is doing with Windows 10? Should we expect 5e to last longer than the 5-6 year lifespan of the previous several editions?

I think we'd do a new edition only when the warts of the current one are bothersome enough that people want them excised.

The much-touted Microsoft model, itself inspired by the iPhone model, comes up frequently because it minimizes disruption to consumers while ensuring they still benefit from systemic improvements. And there's a good reason for customers and developers looking for another way: A platform change can be devastating to a game's market.

Damaged Edition
As D&D has become more embedded in the Internet ecosystem, it has become increasingly difficult for it to pivot. The Open Game License (OGL) era ushered in by Third Edition, in which many third parties flourished in support of the new game, came to a hard stop with the debut of Fourth Edition. Two planned hardcover supplements I wrote never saw the light of day because the rumors of a new edition spooked the publisher from producing new material. The hint of a new edition was enough to make third party developers change their tactics, and for good reason.

The current D&D ecosystem has only grown larger thanks to the new OGL and the DMs Guild. All the video streamers who are currently buoying interest in the game, the D&D-related Kickstarters launched every week, and market expectations for the brand’s IP as a transmedia franchise suggests that the investment in D&D goes beyond customers and includes small business owners too.

Before a new edition comes out, the existing edition takes a hit: D&D gradually lost market share to Pathfinder, dipping to third place according to ICv2 in 2012 (when Fifth Edition was announced). The drop was not solely attributable to D&D's edition change of course. The issues with Fourth Edition and Pathfinder's popularity certainly had something to do with the shift in positions, but it seems likely the steep drop to third place was accelerated by the edition announcement. We have further data that bears this out in Pathfinder's Second Edition launch, in which Pathfinder First Edition slipped to fifth place in Spring 2019, just before the Summer launch of the new edition.

There's a parallel between an edition of a tabletop game and a video game console, which can have limited backwards compatibility with the games before it. Like the tabletop game industry, the video game industry convulses every six to eight years when a major game development platform (Xbox and Playstation) announces a new system. Developers change their schedules to accommodate and gamers stop buying the current platform as they wait for the new one to debut. This cycle grinds sales of video games to a halt; it can be so devastating that the current down cycle threatens to wipe out GameStop, one of the few remaining brick-and-mortar video game resellers in the United States (GameStop's desperation was on full display during the pandemic).

Something Has to Give
Increasingly, publishers are realizing that although this model produces an uptick in sales and expenditures in the short-term, it's damaging to the wider gaming ecosystem. This is why console producers are moving away from the existing model to one in which continual upgrades are possible while still guaranteeing backwards compatibility. They do this by building in compatibility from the start so that the console can easily run older games, while at the same time releasing more powerful products that consumers can opt-into as they see fit. In a similar fashion, one of Fifth Edition's goals was to be backwards compatible with the editions that came before it.

A longer market window to sell D&D has had some interesting side-effects, most notably that it creates an opportunity for luxury, high-end products. These products wouldn’t be able to flourish in a market where a potential high-end consumer would balk at investing a significant amount of money on something that wouldn’t compatible in a year.

There’s also signs that the old model no longer makes sense. D&D’s older editions never went away—Pathfinder’s success is an important reminder of this fact—and any new edition would have to compete with the five editions before it for digital attention. In the video game industry, downloadable content allows games and platforms to incorporate feedback and update themselves in real time—just like D&D is now doing with its Unearthed Arcana content and surveys.

Will we ever get a new edition of D&D? With Ray Winniger replacing Mearls as head of the D&D team, there may well be a declaration of a Sixth Edition in the near term, but it seems the game will always be backwards compatible … in which case an edition change is more a branding update than a radical change in the game’s rules.
 
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Michael Tresca

Comments

Parmandur

Legend
Yeah, the new format seems to be a little something for everyone. The AP, some mechanics, some player options, and a leavening of new monsters and magic. If there's a little something for everyone, then everyone will want to buy it.
At least a significant enough percentage of everyone to make the ROI better for WotC than doing a bunch of focused books.
 

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Dausuul

Legend
Yeah, it's not a lot, but there's a value proposition that some people are going to have problems getting themselves past. Also, as someone who plays some, I'm reluctant to buy adventure books in case someone else wants to run one. I'm hard enough to get through an adventure path as it is--I can't help but think it'd be worse if I knew the logic-holes before we started.
Yeah, I'm in much the same boat. I bought one adventure path, but I found it very hard to wrap my head around it when just reading it - I assume it works better when you're actually running the adventure. And I'd prefer to leave the APs unspoiled just in case I someday end up playing one of them.

The upshot is that I almost never buy APs; I sometimes buy setting books, depending on how much the setting appeals to me; and I always buy "X's Guide to Y" books.
 

S'mon

Legend
Yeah, I'm in much the same boat. I bought one adventure path, but I found it very hard to wrap my head around it when just reading it - I assume it works better when you're actually running the adventure.
I find there's a general rule that WoTC stuff plays better than it reads, while Paizo stuff plays worse than it reads. :)
 

Bohandas

Adventurer
Back in the day I had always thought that fourth edition would be the last edition of D&D. I'm still dumbfounded by the fact that it didn't kill the franchise.
 

Bohandas

Adventurer
Also, I don't think the comparison to videogame consoles is apropos. Each generation of consoles incorporates new technologies that allow them to do things that the previous generations couldn't. What do the new editions of D&D have? What defines them as being better, rather than just different, that we should shell out our money for them? It's not as if there's some new platonic solid to make a heretofore unseen die out of.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Also, I don't think the comparison to videogame consoles is apropos. Each generation of consoles incorporates new technologies that allow them to do things that the previous generations couldn't. What do the new editions of D&D have? What defines them as being better, rather than just different, that we should shell out our money for them? It's not as if there's some new platonic solid to make a heretofore unseen die out of.
There's a case to be made that designers are learning more about how games work, and that new editions can take those into account. I'd have an easier time buying it if the new editions were more like refinements/revisions than total rewrites.

I'm also not sure how well modern game design (whatever that means) fits into to the 800-pound gorilla of the TRPG world. At a minimum, there seems to be tension, if not outright conflict.
 

I think the videogames have been a great influence in the change of rules with each new edition.

5th Ed is "incomplete", not broken. A new edition is when it's broken and it can't be fixed, or at least not without a lot of changes of pieces.

My theory is WotC wants to publish TTRPGs based in famous franchises by other companies, for example videogames or games, but this needs a different d20 system. This new d20 Modern will not arrived as a paper-printed book but new videogames using variant of d20 system, even allowing themself to kill some sacred cow, for example a different list of abilities scores.
 

Urriak Uruk

Debate fuels my Fire
I think the videogames have been a great influence in the change of rules with each new edition.

5th Ed is "incomplete", not broken. A new edition is when it's broken and it can't be fixed, or at least not without a lot of changes of pieces.

My theory is WotC wants to publish TTRPGs based in famous franchises by other companies, for example videogames or games, but this needs a different d20 system. This new d20 Modern will not arrived as a paper-printed book but new videogames using variant of d20 system, even allowing themself to kill some sacred cow, for example a different list of abilities scores.
I'm pretty sure some rules designers have explicitly said that with 5E, they've aimed for the rules to not reflect video games. The basis being, don't mimic a video game because the real thing will always beat you. Instead, emphasize what is different that a video game can't do, that will bring success.

They've said the "mimic video games" was the design idea behind 4E, and... it wasn't popular.
 

My opinion is some changes in the new editions were because they notice about some things playing videogames. For example the 3.0. Edition was created to allow a easier adaptation to videogame after their experencie creating Baldruc's Gate. The at-will, encounter and daily powers in 4th Ed is because they notice the players in Newerwinter Nights after spending all spelling stopped to resting and recovering.

And with 5th Ed the strategy has been to get the best of the old editions, simple, and offering something a videogame can't do yet.

Today the future of the TTRPGs are linked with the videogames, you like it or not. More people know about Mutant Year Zero thanks the videogame than the original TTRPG.
 

Mercurius

Legend
My opinion is some changes in the new editions were because they notice about some things playing videogames. For example the 3.0. Edition was created to allow a easier adaptation to videogame after their experencie creating Baldruc's Gate. The at-will, encounter and daily powers in 4th Ed is because they notice the players in Newerwinter Nights after spending all spelling stopped to resting and recovering.

And with 5th Ed the strategy has been to get the best of the old editions, simple, and offering something a videogame can't do yet.

Today the future of the TTRPGs are linked with the videogames, you like it or not. More people know about Mutant Year Zero thanks the videogame than the original TTRPG.
You seem to be implying that tabletop RPGs are inherently moving towards videogames, which would mean that the ultimate expression of both would be full immersion virtual reality--which wouldn't as much be a merging of the two, but an assimilation of TTRPGs by video game technology.

I would argue that the tabletop experience will always include elements that a videogame--even full VR--can never do. Videogames cannot "do" human imagination. They can simulate it and offer vivid sensory experiences that in some ways seem more real, or at least tangible, than the imagination, but it is always a simulation.

In a way this relates to questions around AI, and whether or not it will ever attain sentience, or merely always simply simulate it. This, of course, ties into much bigger ideas around the nature of consciousness and selfhood, and maybe not necessary for a discussion of RPGs.

I think @Urriak Uruk brought up an important point about the design goal of 4E mimicking video games, and then in contrast the "back to roots" approach of 5E which, for a variety of reasons, has proven far more popular--and I think one of those reasons is that it is more...organic. So I would suggest that while the future of videogames and TTRPGs are linked, they are really parallel streams. They are very different play experiences, and that the future of TTRPGs is not to eventually merge wth video games in full VR, but to provide a more organic experience of human imagination and interaction that can never be fully mimicked by technology.

And yes, I'm reminded of the Borg!
 

Mistwell

Legend
You seem to be implying that tabletop RPGs are inherently moving towards videogames, which would mean that the ultimate expression of both would be full immersion virtual reality--which wouldn't as much be a merging of the two, but an assimilation of TTRPGs by video game technology.
It's moving towards a combination of Hunger Games and Surrogates. You send your controlled android body into a setting controlled by a DM who can toss challenges as you with almost a thought.
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
You seem to be implying that tabletop RPGs are inherently moving towards videogames, which would mean that the ultimate expression of both would be full immersion virtual reality--which wouldn't as much be a merging of the two, but an assimilation of TTRPGs by video game technology.

I would argue that the tabletop experience will always include elements that a videogame--even full VR--can never do. Videogames cannot "do" human imagination. They can simulate it and offer vivid sensory experiences that in some ways seem more real, or at least tangible, than the imagination, but it is always a simulation.
The as-yet-inescapable problem with any sort of video game is that it's limited by its programming and-or technology. Sooner or later you hit the edge of the map, or try to do something simple that the programmers didn't foresee, or the hosting machine runs out of memory or processing capacity; and that's where a human DM will always have the edge.

A true full-immersion VR (including body movement sensors) would be more like a glorified LARP, wouldn't it?
 

Mercurius

Legend
The as-yet-inescapable problem with any sort of video game is that it's limited by its programming and-or technology. Sooner or later you hit the edge of the map, or try to do something simple that the programmers didn't foresee, or the hosting machine runs out of memory or processing capacity; and that's where a human DM will always have the edge.

A true full-immersion VR (including body movement sensors) would be more like a glorified LARP, wouldn't it?
Yeah, I think so. And as far as we know, AI is always going to be ruled by algorithms. I would argue that there is something intrinsic to "organic consciousness" that cannot be simulated by AI. I think Gene Roddenberry was playing with this idea with the Borg (I think TNG writers created the Borg, but the seed idea came from him...not sure, though). But where I find the Borg analogy useful, is that it warns us that not only is something lost in this "simulation" (assimilation) process, but the most important part. The soul. It doesn't matter what one's particular ontological outlook is--be it spiritualistic or materialistic, or some variation between--but the "soul" is the irreducible element; the part of us that cannot be quantified.

Various mystical and psychological traditions that the soul is the "sense organ" of imagination, and of course imagination is crucial to the TTRPG experience, but not at all to (most) video games.
 

Mercurius

Legend
Another thought. We see the constant development of technology in just about every aspect of civilization, but let's take music as an example. As far as recordings go, we have:

Live music (whether modified by techology or not)

Acoustic/mechanical - Phonograph, vinyl, etc
Magnetic - Cassettes (in all forms)
Digital - CDs, MP3s, etc
?

No matter what form of technological recording comes next--whether a further refinement of digital recording or something else (bio-organic?), none of them are going to be the live, organic experience. This is not a judgement about recorded music, but just pointing out that all forms of recording are "simulative."

I would argue that tabletop RPGs are not a form of "recorded music" as far as imagination goes, but equivalent to "live music." But even if we put it into the system, it is closer to vinyl than mp3s. There is a reason why some people love, even prefer, vinyl--and why it has a kind of perennial place in society, if only as a cultural artifact. It is more kinesthetic, more organic.

Or we can look at mechanical watches vs. quartz vs. smart-watches. Etc etc.
 

I don't think there can reasonably be a "final" version of DnD until they give up on the idea of the unchanging books being timeless. If everything stayed the same except they opened themselves to digital books that can be dynamically updated being the primary product, they could finally settle on a "Last Edition".
 

Bohandas

Adventurer
TTRPGs are nor going to be assimilated by videogames. Videogames are going to be assimilated by TTRPGs, just as soon as we get the technology for an AI DM
 



Bohandas

Adventurer
No, I mean hard AI. Give it another 20 or 30 years.
Tangential to this, here's a homebrew magic item that you can use in the game

Boardy McGameface, Magical Entertainment System: Intelligent Table of Feasting (Stronghold Builder's Guidebook p.84; Heroes' Feast 3/day) Int 19, Wis 10, Cha 19; Speech, Telepathy 120 ft, Read Languages and Magic; Blindsense and Darkvision 120 feet and hearing; Lesser Powers: Prestidigitation continuously, Dancing Lights at will, Ghost Sound at will, item has 10 ranks in Diplomacy, item has 10 ranks in Perform(Oratory), item has 10 ranks in Perform(Comedy); Greater Powers: Minor Image at will; Ego 19
 

Stormonu

Legend
My opinion is some changes in the new editions were because they notice about some things playing videogames. For example the 3.0. Edition was created to allow a easier adaptation to videogame after their experencie creating Baldruc's Gate. The at-will, encounter and daily powers in 4th Ed is because they notice the players in Newerwinter Nights after spending all spelling stopped to resting and recovering.

And with 5th Ed the strategy has been to get the best of the old editions, simple, and offering something a videogame can't do yet.

Today the future of the TTRPGs are linked with the videogames, you like it or not. More people know about Mutant Year Zero thanks the videogame than the original TTRPG.
Not a negative, but I get the feeling you must do a lot of video gaming, I'm not used to such fervent support of video games leading to and influencing RPGing. Personally, I like to keep video games and TTRPG's separate. I like to be involved in TTRPG's, but have little to no interest in a video game adaption of a RPG. Often, what is popular in the video game arena offends me if ported to a RPG. I suspect I am not alone.

I do not feel the future of TTRPGs and video games are linked, but there are crossovers. Either one of the industries could die or evolve and it would have no effect on the other. Each has distinct advantages and drawbacks that don't lend themselves to one form or the other. A lot of 4E issues came from the fact they did try to model things from a MMORPG that didn't work well at a game table. Likewise, the audience for both doesn't have a one-to-one overlap. Unless things have changed in the last few years the two groups actually tend to repel each other rather than overlap (lots of people who play fantasy video games would never touch a TTRPG, and vice versa).

That said, RPGs have their own revolution/evolution, and while some of it is rule-based, for the most part changes to table top games have evolved out of cultural changes. Things like the removal of alignment (and race & gender) restrictions, streamlined "common sense" rules instead of consulting tables, math simplification to move away from simulation to move the focus to storytelling and such matters.

<Edit: I write that whole speil about staying away from computer RPG's and then find out about Pathfinder Kingmaker. Maybe it will change my mind about CRPGs and their relation with TTRPGs... >
 
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