D&D 5E We're Getting Old - and is WotC Accounting For That?

Mercurius

Legend
As I was reading through various threads talking about D&D Next, I was once again struck by what a finicky bunch we D&D players are - we want our game just right, and unfortunately we all have different variations on the general theme of "What Is D&D To Me." Now if you go back to the original design goals of D&D Next, it was to cater to that sort of customization - and it seemed that Mearls & Co were fully aware (probably painfully so) what a finicky and, dare I say, difficult bunch of folks we D&D fans are.

But as I was reading through these threads, shaking my head with a sense of bemusement and, in a way, pity for WotC--because gamers are very, very difficult to please--a new thought struck me: The D&D populace is getting old. I've thought about that before, the "graying" of D&D, but what was new was wondering whether Mearls & Co are accounting for this in their design.

Think about it: D&D was at its peak in the 1980s, with the somewhat mythical number of "25 million" D&D players active. Now whether or not this is true, I don't know. For the vast majority of those folks it was a passing fad, something you and your friends did in middle school before you discovered girls. But a smaller--but still sizeable--group survived puberty and continued on into the 90s (This wasn't the first generation of D&D players, mind you, but it was the biggest - the first being the true Graybeards that cut their teeth on OD&D and B/X in the 70s).

The Graybeards of the 70s are now in their 50s and 60s and probably a relatively small, if faithful, group. But many of these folks aren't interested in new editions, except perhaps in terms of historical interest or as a spectacle. But the "Graying Beards" of the 80s are now in their 40s, or close to it. There's a sizeable younger generation that began in the early Aughties with 3e, but even they are approaching 30 or so. It may also be that this generation is more focused on career and starting to form families and don't have time for D&D, while the 80s group has already established a career and family life style, and has the time and space for a hobby.

Let me use my gaming group as an example. I realize that anecdotal evidence isn't really evidence, but I think my group is a good example for WotC to think about. We're a group of 5-6 men, all in our late 30s to mid-40s. We started three years ago and played regularly for the first two, but sporadically since. We're thinking about starting up again in January with the D&D Next playtest rules.

When we started out, I was the only one who had played D&D since the 90s. A couple of them had played in college, but most hadn't played since high school in the 80s - AD&D 1e or 2e (two of them were players in my high school 2e campaign during the late 80s and early 90s). Speaking for myself, I was a life-long player, although during the 90s and 00s would go years without playing, with about a five-year hiatus in the late 90s. But I always stayed in touch with the game, experiencing a resurgence of interest for 3e (I was here at the original Eric Noah Unofficial 3e News). I played 3e during the early 00s but then stopped around the time 3.5 came out and went on another hiatus until rumors of 4e sparked my interest.

My group generally enjoyed 4e, but mainly because it was D&D, not necessarily because of anything specific about 4e (although the most cut-throat member of the group loved it for the tactics he could employ with his rogue). The reason we haven't played much in the last year is that I'm the only one who really has the interest (or, to be frank, ability) to DM well, and I've been busy with Life & Other Stuff, so just haven't been able to pull off planning a campaign - in addition to work (teacher), family (married with two kids), other interests (writing), not to mention going back to school (grad degree in psych).

Yet Next is making me rethink a bit. It seems to re-capture some of what I felt was lost with 4e - a free-wheeling style of play that relies more on imagination than battlemats, for which the "powers" are based upon player ingenuity and described action, not a little card that can be played like Magic: The Gathering. Don't get me wrong - 4e is a fun game and we enjoyed it, but it veered a bit too far out of the zone of traditional RPGs by incorporating elements of Magic and video games that, rather than augmenting the RPG-experienced, ended up taking away from it. In my opinion, of course.

Anyhow, I think my group would enjoy Next. I think it will facilitate a loose, imaginative style of play. But I'm also thinking about aging and time. And for me, this is where WotC can really sell me: Can they provide the support for Next that will allow me to live my busy life and not need to spend hours of preparation before each session?

In that regard, two things come to mind: campaign design tools, like encounter builders, adventure builders, etc, and simply pre-published adventures and adventure paths. My guess is that many of my generation would love to play, but can't or won't because of all the preparation it takes. But we want to play "real D&D," not a hybrid RPG/board/card/video game.

Pardon my ramble. I wasn't intending to go this far afield from the initial inquiry, but there you have it: the rambling mind of an aging D&D player.
 

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MarkB

Legend
I don't know about the D&D playing population specifically, but my own experience, based upon our local gaming club and the couple of conventions I attend each year, is that the tabletop RPG crowd as a whole covers a wide demographic, with newer, younger players coming into the hobby at a steady rate.

WotC certainly have good demographic data upon their customer base, and if it is indeed getting older, I'm sure they're accounting for it.

Hopefully they're accounting for it by aiming their products and marketing to capture a wider audience than just the older D&D die-hards. That would certainly be the sensible way to go - after all, an ageing customer base is, in the longer term, a dying customer base.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him) 🇺🇦🇵🇸🏳️‍⚧️
It is an interesting question and I'd be interested to see where the demographic bulges in the D&D-playing community are. Whether that significantly affects the game that the market prefers is unclear but if there is a bulge in the 40+ range (recruited in the heyday of the D&D fad) and D&D Next successfully taps into a vein that does well among that demographic, then we could see it do better than the nay-sayers predict... as long as it doesn't do worse in younger demographics as a result.
 

My current D&D group was founded at university, and pretty much every new member (but two) were recruited from the "Facebook pool" of people we knew back then. (We didn't actually use Facebook to recruit them though.) A couple of members came from another group that used Meetup to get together.

Most of use are in our early 30s and most started with 3rd Edition. (I'm an older member, though still in my 30s, and started with 2e in high school.)

In that regard, two things come to mind: campaign design tools, like encounter builders, adventure builders, etc, and simply pre-published adventures and adventure paths. My guess is that many of my generation would love to play, but can't or won't because of all the preparation it takes. But we want to play "real D&D," not a hybrid RPG/board/card/video game.

Playing doesn't take a whole lot of prep, or at least it shouldn't. (I blame the glut of splatbooks, and enablers such as Character Builders, for why some players think this. I can play 4e without a Character Builder.)

But I agree that DMing takes a lot of prep. As a result, most players don't want to be DMs, and many that do get burned out due to prep. I got burned out of 3rd Edition about 7 years ago (I ran about two years of d20 Modern), and a DM more enthusiastic got burned out by Pathfinder pretty recently, and is now thinking of running 13th Age instead. I wonder how many groups either didn't start, or fell apart, due to a lack of DMs.

A loose style doesn't suit our group. Quite a few members of the group are not aware of this. I groan and avoid all attempts at sandboxes now, because we just aren't able to handle it. Too much free wheeling (say, in combat) at the table simply satisfies the more argumentative players over other players. D&D Next wouldn't suit us, and neither would an OSR game, at least not without clear rules to put a stop to arguments.

I've never seen a D&D mentoring program. I'm pretty sure I've been the oldest member, or tied with that, in every D&D group I've ever been in. Even the very first one, we were all in the same grade.

WotC certainly have good demographic data upon their customer base, and if it is indeed getting older, I'm sure they're accounting for it.

I doubt that. I haven't seen a WotC survey in ages. I fairly recently bought Heroes of the F(whichever was the first of them) and both Monster Vaults and didn't see any surveys in them. (If there was a stub saying "email your thoughts to here" then I blatantly didn't see them).

Lots of people (even in my group) use the offline Character Builder, and while we have core rules (PH1, Rules Compendium, Essentials 1) I doubt anyone who isn't DMing 4e in my group has ever looked at them. WotC has no idea who these players are, how old they are, what they really want from a game, etc.

For Pathfinder (when we had a DM running it) we just had one copy of the Pathfinder core rules. I used the PSRD, and by the end several players were using the Pathfinder character builder. I doubt Paizo knows how many players we have, or even the age of the DM.
 
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Mercurius

Legend
I don't know about the D&D playing population specifically, but my own experience, based upon our local gaming club and the couple of conventions I attend each year, is that the tabletop RPG crowd as a whole covers a wide demographic, with newer, younger players coming into the hobby at a steady rate.

I hope you're right! I am, admittedly, cut off from a larger community of D&D players. I know my own group, and then there are students at the school I teach at. But it is a very small private high school (~120 students). Over the last few years there has been a smallish group of boys--maybe about half a dozen, plus or minus a few depending up the year--that play sporadically. Interestingly enough, they have all played 3.5.

WotC certainly have good demographic data upon their customer base, and if it is indeed getting older, I'm sure they're accounting for it.

Hopefully they're accounting for it by aiming their products and marketing to capture a wider audience than just the older D&D die-hards. That would certainly be the sensible way to go - after all, an ageing customer base is, in the longer term, a dying customer base.

I agree, but with a caveat. Part of the mistake WotC made with 4e, in my opinion, is that they paid too much attention to the hypothetical "two birds in the bush" and not enough to the "bird in hand." What ended up happening is that the two birds in the bush ended up being only one bird, and the bird in hand died, had two babies, only one of which stayed.

Hopefully my point is clear, but I'll spell it out a bit. That "graying" group from the 80s is now 35-50 (or so) and theoretically has two decades or more of healthy hobbying. Sure, some of us will die off in another 10-20 years, and all of us will die off eventually (unless Ray Kurzweil is right). But the point is, WotC shoudn't discount the importance of current 40 year olds who would be happy playing D&D for years to come. It seems that they've got this in mind with Next, which seems to be an attempt to find a sweet spot between varying demographics and playing styles.

In other words, if they can do the following with Next I think they've got the Holy Grail of D&D: A simple core game that plays similarly to OD&D or BECMI in terms of being imagination based and overall rules simplicity (but with an updated and streamlined rule set), but also has the modularity to allow for 4E-esque tactics and/or 3E-esque customization. That seems to still be the plan. I hope!

It is an interesting question and I'd be interested to see where the demographic bulges in the D&D-playing community are. Whether that significantly affects the game that the market prefers is unclear but if there is a bulge in the 40+ range (recruited in the heyday of the D&D fad) and D&D Next successfully taps into a vein that does well among that demographic, then we could see it do better than the nay-sayers predict... as long as it doesn't do worse in younger demographics as a result.

I'm not sure if that's a technical term, but "demographic bulges" is a good way of putting it. I'd love to see a graph as, in the end, I have no idea. But again, if they can accomplish the "Holy Grail of D&D" - the Trifecta, if you will, as I described above, then I think they've hit the sweetspot and all kinds of demographics open up.

But I agree that DMing takes a lot of prep. As a result, most players don't want to be DMs, and many that do get burned out due to prep. I got burned out of 3rd Edition about 7 years ago (I ran about two years of d20 Modern), and a DM more enthusiastic got burned out by Pathfinder pretty recently, and is now thinking of running 13th Age instead. I wonder how many groups either didn't start, or fell apart, due to a lack of DMs.

That's a good point. This is why I'd like to see more emphasis with electronic tools on DMing and not (only) character building. MasterPlan is a good example of this, but I'd also like to see builders for the following and more: encounters, adventures, and campaigns.

A loose style doesn't suit our group. Quite a few members of the group are not aware of this. I groan and avoid all attempts at sandboxes now, because we just aren't able to handle it. Too much free wheeling (say, in combat) at the table simply satisfies the more argumentative players over other players. D&D Next wouldn't suit us, and neither would an OSR game, at least not without clear rules to put a stop to arguments.

A good reminder. Again, see my Holy Grail/Trifecta above. If they can accomplish that they please a lot of folks.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
And for me, this is where WotC can really sell me: Can they provide the support for Next that will allow me to live my busy life and not need to spend hours of preparation before each session?

In that regard, two things come to mind: campaign design tools, like encounter builders, adventure builders, etc, and simply pre-published adventures and adventure paths. My guess is that many of my generation would love to play, but can't or won't because of all the preparation it takes. But we want to play "real D&D," not a hybrid RPG/board/card/video game.

Same here!
 

Aloïsius

First Post
I wonder if older people would mean different adventures too... Kill the ogre, loot its stuff and save the princess is certainly OK when you are a teen, but maybe older gamers are looking for something else ? More plots, more intrigues, more subtlety build into the adventures.
It's also about the look and feel of D&d books. I never liked flashy, gaudy looking books. Stuff like chainmail bikinis, muscled warriors with big swords and ugly hulking monsters crammed on a cover has always been a negative for me, but I am more and more intolerant about it as I age.
Basically, if D&D next is marketed for teenagers with hormonal surges, I won't buy it.
 

Mercurius

Legend
I wonder if older people would mean different adventures too... Kill the ogre, loot its stuff and save the princess is certainly OK when you are a teen, but maybe older gamers are looking for something else ? More plots, more intrigues, more subtlety build into the adventures.
It's also about the look and feel of D&d books. I never liked flashy, gaudy looking books. Stuff like chainmail bikinis, muscled warriors with big swords and ugly hulking monsters crammed on a cover has always been a negative for me, but I am more and more intolerant about it as I age.
Basically, if D&D next is marketed for teenagers with hormonal surges, I won't buy it.

Another good point. You know, I saw Man of Steel the other day and while I enjoyed it overall, I found myself bored with the endless action sequences and waiting for them to end. The same thought crossed my mind as I considered seeing Pacific Rim - I haven't seen it, but I'm guessing I'd find it rather tedious after the first hour or so. It used to be an automatic for me that I'd watch big budget science fiction and comic book movies, but now I'm finding myself bored with the action. It just seems that with such movies, there's about half an hour of setting the scene, half an hour of build-up, and then the rest of the movie is all action, all fighting. I enjoy the first half, but the second half gets tedious after 10 minutes or so of action.

Its the same with books. When I was a teenager Drizzt Do'Urden books were great. But I remember reading Legacy when I was in my early 20s and finding all of the fight scenes boring. The same happened with comic books - I just got tired of them, in particular the adolescent--and quite misogynist--depiction of the female body.

It isn't that now, in my "aging years," I don't like action or combat scenes in books or movies, but that I don't want it to be the focus. Now in D&D that may be different in that the combat is a tactical experience that isn't something passively watched but is actively engaged. But I still want a balance. When we were playing 4E, in a typical four hour session we might have one minor and one major combat encounter. The minor one would take about an hour, and the major one about two hours - so that left only an hour or so for other stuff. I'd at least like to get that down to 50-50, if not 40-60 or even 30-70 (combat to non-combat time ratio).
 

Warbringer

Explorer
In that regard, two things come to mind: campaign design tools, like encounter builders, adventure builders, etc, and simply pre-published adventures and adventure paths. My guess is that many of my generation would love to play, but can't or won't because of all the preparation it takes. But we want to play "real D&D," not a hybrid RPG/board/card/video game.

I wrote a much longer post in a different thread, but in essence I believe this is the target audience for D&D moving forward, and not just the RPG. There is a huge community of sleepers out there that would comeback via other transmedia exposure.

The key also is making the game much easy to prepare and play (for DM and Players respectfully). I think they've almost nailed the latter, though there are a couple of choke points left to address (but a basic game can remove those choice points). For the latter, that needs to be "Adventure Packs", simple story lines with objectives, monsters, plots, twists and reprinted rules (monster, spells, special rules) that can be played in a 4 hour session (or 2 (2hr) sessions). As I believe miniatures and setup aid the newer players and DMs I'd add tiles and monster tokens to the pack.

D&D is not a traditional boardgame (think what was n the market at the time), but it can learn from the hybrid games out there about how to accesorise the visualization (table top) of the game.
 

That's a good point. This is why I'd like to see more emphasis with electronic tools on DMing and not (only) character building. MasterPlan is a good example of this, but I'd also like to see builders for the following and more: encounters, adventures, and campaigns.

Would these tools help though? I'm running 4e right now, and my electronic tools consist of:

A laptop and key drive.

An Excel sheet giving me shorthand info (AC, defenses, passive Insight and Perception) of the PCs.

What amounts to a Word File of a DM screen I made myself. It has the skill DC and page 42 info, plus stuff I might need to know such as the Climb DC of a stone wall. (Or rather, it should. Turned out I forgot to update that last session. Oops!)

A gigantic list of monster stats that I've compiled and pasted into a Word file, which is currently 1.2 MB in size, over 900 pages, and takes forever to save whenever I edit it. (I have the Monster Builder, which I use to make new monsters, but afterward apply edits because the Monster Builder is too limited and buggy to handle some tasks. My laptop, unlike the computer I'm using now, cannot run the Monster Builder anyway.) For the battle, I open another file called "Holding Pen", which is just an empty Word file that I copy what monsters and NPCs I need, because trying to play with a 900+ page file would take too long.

And that's it! I finally bought a laptop earlier this year because carrying around seven boxes filled with index cards holding all my monster stats felt stupid. (I had five boxes, and when I needed to buy two more, it was such a pain in the behind to get more of them in Toronto that I gave up and bought a laptop instead.) I don't even use my wireless "key" at the game, leaving it in my pocket.

When it comes to actually running a battle, I simply write down on a piece of paper the initiative order, and beside monsters their hit points and defenses, plus add conditions as appropriate. (For instance slowed [player A] means this monster is slowed until the end of player A's turn.) I use one sheet every two battles. While there's software that can handle that too, I don't think I need it.

I don't need software to run a campaign either, and I'm not sure if it would help.

Another 4e DM in my group uses a few more tools. For instance, he uses Excel sheets to keep track of monster initiative, and he has a DDI account so he can look up rules pretty quickly.

Compared to when I was running 3.x (I didn't have a laptop then), I also had my collection of monster cards, but the real limitation was the difficulty of balancing monsters, building NPCs and dealing with spellcasting. All of this was taking place away from the table, between sessions. I don't think a computer can actually handle that. Even the stacks of pre-generated NPCs in, say, the NPC Codex (an amazing product, by the way) wouldn't help much, as I have little reason to believe those NPCs are optimized nearly to the extent of the PCs they would have to go up against.

An area where computer programs probably would help was treasure generation though. That sucked up so much time and energy in 3.x, and unlike 4e (inherent bonuses for the win) there was no getting away from that. (There was an inherent bonus system in 3.x, but it didn't work properly.)
 

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