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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.

brokenbooks.jpg

Picture courtesy of Unsplash.
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.
 
Last edited:
Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

Maybe usual roleplayers aren't interested into videogame adaptations, but theses could be the hook for gamers. Of course the TTRPGs have to offer something can be dony by the DM and PCs but not yet by the software of the videoconsole.

Videogames are making a lot of money. Publishing videogame adaptations isn't to be sold for true roleplayers, but collector fandom, in the same way lot of people is buying Funko figures of famous franchises, and we know Funko figures aren't toys, aren't created to be played by little children, but they are pieces for collectors.

Game designers try to find the right power balance to avoid possible abuses by munchkins, but it's harder in the videogame industry, and worse when they are plans for profesional e-sports. I bet gamers can be really hard munchkings when it's about to find the best combo.

Other evolution of the TTRPGs will be simple rules, for parents playing with children (with enough knowledge about maths and like this). Some future boardgames could be solo mode, with an app in your mobile or tablet as AI of enemies, nPC and all that matter about hidden traps and secret doors.
 

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Urriak Uruk

Debate fuels my Fire
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.

If I've learned anything these past few years, is that TTRPGs only need Kickstarter to keep pumping out products. Sure a good video game can make a TTRPG more popular, but you're acting like TTRPGs will die off without video games. That's like saying the Harry Potter movies saved the Harry Potter books...
 


Stormonu

Legend
Other evolution of the TTRPGs will be simple rules, for parents playing with children (with enough knowledge about maths and like this). Some future boardgames could be solo mode, with an app in your mobile or tablet as AI of enemies, nPC and all that matter about hidden traps and secret doors.

Actually, that's already here. I play Warhammer Quest on my iPad on occassion, and it handles the enemy AI. FFG has done a hybrid approach for some of its board games (we used one for Imperial Assault at a con this spring, they also have apps for Descent and other games), that acts like the DM/gamemaster. Then there's the XCOM boardgame that is just an Evil, Sadistic(TM) DM.
 

We know there were links between the comics and classic literature, and there is between comics and movies. Why not to say there are between videogames and TTRPGs when both are part of the industry of speculative fiction?

Some franchises are famous in the no-English-speaker public thanks movies. Batman was only known by the "frikis"(geeks/fanboys) in Spain until the first Tim Burton movie.

And some roleplayers like to use videogames as source of inspiration. To say a crossover Transformers-Horizon Zero: dawn is a crazy idea, but some DMs would dare.

A good strategy always has to allow new doors, alternative options. I see and I wish a great future for D&D, but WotC should get ready for a future with a saturation of medieval fantasy and they will need other genres as space opera, gothic horror or wuxia. WotC has to work in the design of a ultimate d20 to be used for all the different genres, even superheroes, and enough confortable to be used by the 3PPs.

* Today WotC doesn't worry about to publish new classes. Why when these can be created by 3PPs? If someone becomes very popular I guess then WotC will add it to the official crunch.

* Harry Potter saga could be ended without the movies, but these helped to sell more books. We can see how the releasing of the comingsoon movie of Artemis Fowl the books be sold more than before. (Isn't it curious. The videogames of Harry Potter shows the evolution of the hardware among the different generations of consoles.

* The lore of D&D should be ready if Hasbro has future plans about partnership and intercompany crossovers. After a D&D-Stranger Things and a D&D - Rick & Morty, why not other franchises? maybe some videogame.
 

Hoffmand

Explorer
I have had zero problem playing becmi, ad&d, or 3.x well into the upper 30th levels. 3.x even higher. Now becmi couldn’t go higher than 36th level because the immortal rules really sucked. (Sorry Mentzer, love ya, but not the immortal rules.
 

Hoffmand

Explorer
People keep thinking in terms of new book sales for competition in the gaming market.

The problem is, when you create a new edition, you get a lot of fans of the current edition that just stop buying at all.

People acted like 4e's main competition was Pathfinder. . .it was just as much 3.5e. How many fans really just stopped buying new D&D books when 4e came out and kept playing 3.5? They didn't rush to abandon 3.5 for Pathfinder just because Pathfinder was now in print and 3.5 wasn't.

I know of more than one gaming group that just stopped buying D&D books when AD&D 2e came out, and kept playing 1e for many years like that.

D&D editions indeed never do go away. . .especially 3e, thanks to the OGL it can essentially be reproduced infinitely and legally.
To be honest when an edition ends i just looked at it as closed canon. I knew i Didn’t have to worry about new books coming out and changing the rules anymore for the current edition. I still bounce back and forth between becmi, ad&d, and 3.x depending on how my group feels. Note: becmi is great at high levels for us kingdom builders.
 

Ilbranteloth

Explorer
I know this is an old thread but...

A big driving factor is sales. As the game continues to sell strongly, there's little reason to make a drastic change like a new edition. The growth in this era is very different from the growth in the earlier eras. The closest analogy would be the OD&D to mid-2e/BECMI period because it was a growth game and growth industry that then started to plateau. But now D&D is cool, nostalgia is driving it in an older RPG generation plus the first adult generations that grew up in the video game era has created an entirely different type of market. New Editions were once a way to boost flagging sales (at least for a few years). That's not an issue now, and may not be for some time to come.

Combine that with the fact that they learned a lot from how complex and unwieldy 3.5e became, they can avoid the need to replace the current edition as a 'do-over' to fix a bunch of design mistakes.

While there are a lot of things that I would like to see different in 5e, they wisely designed it in a way that casual gamers, video gamers, and MtG-type gamers can pick up and start playing in an afternoon. I'm not a fan of the mechanical focus of the rules, where players want more options to design their character. In our day, the character was who the PC was, and while their race/class/alignment helped define that, most of what made the character a character was role playing and non-mechanical. But the mechanical approach makes it easier for the mass market/casual gamer to pick up and run with. It shares a lot of traits with building a MtG deck, for example, in that you are looking to combine a collection of mechanical traits into something unique and that represents your vision.

So they ignored the path I would have taken, and instead designed something that allows a group of more casual gamers to buy a PHB and AP, pick a DM and play a game for a few weeks/months. Then they pick up another AP, pick a DM and do it again. I don't see it generating long-term campaigns like ours (running since '87), instead it's a bunch of stand-alone adventures in a loosely defined universe much like a very popular series of movies.

So they've designed a system that allows them to focus on content (APs) which obviously won't need any new edition to work. The PHB/MM/DMG is the console to the APs games. But they are also a company that has all those years of experience in adding additional crunch in MtG without having to release MtG Second Edition.

So I don't really see any reason why 5e won't continue on this trajectory indefinitely, with the only real probable time that they might consider a new edition is if sales start flagging significantly.
 

It is a good time, to revive this thread as there were debates about the timeline in a more recent one.
It is a nice thing, that 5e will stay for a while. I think Tasha's cauldron of everything is an answer to how they implement changes to what they consider design mistakes and welcome additions, without invalidating the core books.
It could however already matk the start of a transition from 5e to 5.1:
A little rules update that combines the most recent well received options and the PHB into a new one.
The old one is still 95% valid. You just get a better selection of subclasses and maybe feats and species.
 

My theory is someday will work with a different d20 system and this will use two different pillars of leveling-up: kratos and sophia. Kratos would be the power, more hit-points and bonus for attacks and save checks, and sophia would be all the learnt things, skills and knownledge. Using the terms of Eclipse Phase the Kratos would be like the morph, and the Sophia the Ego. This would allow high-school superheroes where the PCs can't improve their kratos level so easily, but learning more things to improve their sophia.

Other theory by me is the 5.5 Ed will not be D&D but a d20 game with a different brand, for example Gamma World. The goal would be to create the ultimate d20 system to can play all the different genres without worrying about the power balance when PCs can use firearms, modern tech or special gifts.

And some videogame using variant rules fro d20 system, for example a different list of abilite scores to test.
 

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