I have two humble requests of the Dungeons & Dragons design team.

First, please decide what to call the release of the upcoming revised rules. Second, please define what you think “retro-compatibility” means. I don’t think we’re all on the same page, here.

Decide on a name for this thing coming in 2024, please?

2024 will see the release of all new, revised versions of the Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual. Are they just calling it, “D&D?” Okay, great. Which version? There’s B/X, BECMI, AD&D 1E. AD&D 2E, Third Edition, 3.5, 4E, 5E and now whatever this new thing is with the Virtual TableTop. If we really wanted to get technical, we could also throw in Pathfinder and a bunch of OSR retroclones. Where does the naming convention end when it comes to products that look like D&D?

I think Wizards of the Coast just needs to give in and call it 6th Edition. Why would that be so terrible? Many of us have seen the “One D&D” Unearthed Arcana Playtests. Link for those is right here. They’re even still calling it “One D&D” over on the site. Seriously, Wizards, make up your minds.

If they call it “6th Edition,” won’t that make it incompatible with 5E?

I’m betting this is the hesitation they’re having because it’s the same question that comes up with literally every edition change. Am I going to be able to roll in here with my BECMI character from 1984 and sit right down to play? “Why is everyone laughing at me? Did I forget pants again?”

“No? I’m not a crazy old man? Okay, so what gives?”

Wizards of the Coast seems to forget anything before 3E/3.5 when they talk about the game. (Unless they need to dredge up an old campaign setting so they can hang onto the IP rights.) This whole big thing they’ve started making out of the “D&D Multiverse” isn’t new.

One, they’re acting like they’re Marvel. Two, they need to use the trademarked IP every so often to still be able to claim it. I suspect that’s why they’re referring to the D&D cartoon characters and old Greyhawk villains more often. Part of me is silently hoping they leave Birthright and Kara Tur alone long enough so the rest of us can swoop in and use them.

WotC’s continued insistence that everything is going to be retro compatible seems to only extend back to 5E. Even then, there’s a lot of the playtest material that looks completely new compared to the 2014 Player’s Handbook. I can’t tell if they’re trying to be deliberately vague in order to retain customers or if they really don’t see how disconnected the two games have become.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I understand WotC is a large corporation and they want to make money.

By now, most of us have heard the WotC CEO Cynthia Williams quote about how “D&D is under-monetized.” We’ve also heard that Dungeon Masters tend to be the big spenders when it comes to game books whereas the players really don’t spend much past the PHB most of the time. Basically DMs buy anywhere from one to five D&D books per year where players might get one of them.

WotC employees have families to feed, too. WotC can’t just keep making all that merchandise for the fun of it. Hasbro wants more T-Shirt sales, Mordenkainen logo flip-flops, and Vecna toilet tissue. Merchandising- that’s how they make all that money on the movie…err D&D in this case.

They gotta sell action figures that light up, dice that transform into owlbears, and life sized gelatinous cubes. Let’s not forget the D&D video game- oh. Sorry. (Robot voice monotone) Virtual TableTop game that will be compatible with many devices. The bosses say, “It will be fun or else.”

Ahem. Have we forgotten something here? Remember that documentary that what’s-his-name is making about those old guys in 1974? You know, that thing WotC’s VTT is based on because it’s supposedly not a video game? Oh yeah… The actual TableTop RolePlaying Game. The mother of all modern TTRPGs- DUNGEONS & DRAGONS!

Let’s talk about the real, small, tinfoil elephant in the room.

WotC is totally trustworthy, right? Wink wink.

The news in the #ttrpgcommunity all over social media revolves around whatever WotC did this time. Right now it’s the story about how a Magic:the Gathering YouTuber got raided by the Pinkertons. Apparently the cards opened on the air weren’t intended for release until May 12, so WotC decided to make an example of him by sending armed thugs with mall cop badges to his house and more-or-less violated his civil rights. At least no one was physically injured.

My point here is we spend more time hearing about WotC and their shenanigans that we do about the D&D game itself. They announced this new, uh, retro- compatible, uh, not-entirely-new edition back in 2022. I’m not sure, but I think they forgot that they still had to sell old 5E product in that time. Or did they?

Since the big announcement, we’ve had some major design and editing flops in the game. Spelljammer was admittedly awful. Dragonlance was kinda “meh.” Most of us aren’t holding our breaths for Planescape. Even if it’s awesome, too little, too late. Plus there’s the One D&D UA playtest complete with surveys that they totally read. (wink wink.)

Not to mention that Open Game License debacle in January. Long story short, WotC attempted to basically take over the bulk of the TTRPG industry by revoking a 20+ year old legal document that allowed a lot of companies to create games that use the same mechanical base as D&D. Luckily, WotC capitulated and rolled the entire 5.1 SRD into the Creative Commons license. They would never try something like that again. (Wink wink.)

So, somewhere under all the scandals, news leaks, rumors and general hubbub, we have this actual TTRPG called Dungeons & Dragons. WotC is still working on the revised, not-brand-new, “5E” Player’s Handbook. (WINK, wink.) It’s got all of these class revisions, new spells, new feats, new weapon stats, and a brand new DMG to go with it. “But it’s not new” (WINK WINK!) There’s even going to be an expanded 500+ page Monster Manual with, um, “more” monsters in it. (Sigh, okay, that’s pretty new okay?)

I still contend, until the day I get locked up or have my personal creative license revoked, that WotC has already had this stuff mostly in the bag in terms of the physical books. The actual game has probably been ready to roll since 2022. They want the release to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of D&D. The VTT is still lagging behind, though. (See what I did there?)

Behold! The future of D&D.!
(Pic from FortNite.)

It’s never been about the physical game books.

Remember, one of the high up executive VP muckety-mucks Chris Cao (who is rumored to have never played D&D and seems to be avoiding fans like the plague) allegedly said that physical gaming books are just for nostalgia purposes. In fact D&D Executive producer Kyle Brink has told interviewers that they’re going to stick to physical books as long as that’s what it looks like the fans want. (Wink, wink.) Hasbro would never move to a completely virtual D&D product or maybe PDFs for the old people. (Wink wink.)

So, Hasbro wants the big money. Chris Cao wants to make a video game with tons of micro transactions to cash in on the billion dollar mobile, console, and computer game markets. Kyle Brink wants to say whatever Public Relations tells him to say to appease the fans. Hmm. I guess Jeremy Crawford and Chris Perkins are still working on the TTRPG in some fashion with their team, maybe?

Controversies aside, physical book costs keep going up by the month. This is due, in part, to COVID along with all of the shortages that came with it. Cost of living has gone up in many places. Materials have become more expensive. For once, it’s not something WotC did that’s driving up book prices- it’s the rest of the world. In terms of dollars and cents, PDFs, E-Pub, etc is much cheaper and easier to produce.

I would be all for TTRPG books being strictly electronic, just to keep costs down. My main issue with D&D going fully electronic is where we’re going to have to go to get said electronic publications. They won’t be on our beloved DriveThruRPG.com or DMsGuild.com. No. They will be exclusively on Hasbro/WotC’s website. It’s all about the profits.

And being inside the walled garden with the VTT just makes it that much easier for one to promote the other and vice versa. The rest of the #ttrpgindustry might be easily bought and sold by the public.My prediction is D&D will be exclusively kept and maintained by Hasbro. No pesky middlemen. And if you get caught bootlegging D&D ebooks online, hardcore rent-a-cops with guns might show up at your door. (I think that’s the message they’re sending with this M:tG mess.)

Sorry, it sounds a bit gloom and/or doom to me.

Everyone says, “Oh just switch to another game.”

The problem is, it’s not that simple for a lot of us who grew up on D&D. I’ve been in this hobby for 40+ years now. There isn’t much I can do to influence the decision making at WotC. This isn’t the good old days when I could write a letter to the editor of Dragon magazine or send a physical letter to the company itself and have a meaningful conversation with someone. I’m still waiting to hear back from the “Content Creator Team” or whatever they are.

All I can do is write about it. That’s what I’ve got. I’m not going to stop any time soon, either. This is my hobby. This is my passion. I can’t speak for all of D&D fandom. I truly wish WotC would just start LISTENING to the fans more. No, we the fans should not have input in every step of the game creation. (Ever see a product designed by a committee of thousands? Me neither.)

But, for crying out loud- Please decide what you’re gonna call the thing. And just tell us the truth about retro-compatibility? I’m already planning on having to kitbash everything together when the new books come out assuming I buy them at all. WotC, please just start being straightforward and genuine with the fans?