Sunday 18 September 2011

What will D&D 5th edition look like? {D&D}

We're getting to that point in time now when we know that something's cooking in the Wizards of the Coast offices. From book cancellations, the new skirmish game and Mike Mearls' column; it's clear that the company is getting primed for Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition. 

The comment feed on JoeTheLawyer's latest blog post has sparked some cynical conversation about the future of the game, most notably concerning Hasbro's influence on WotC. One commenter recognises that sales can be enhanced by collectable elements, which we can see has happened with Fortune Cards to some extent. However, in my mind Wizards is going to go one of two ways.

The 'Traditional' RPG

Earlier this year Pathfinder surpassed 4e in sales. Now, to be honest this isn't too surprising considering 4e has been out longer, but it's still food for though for WotC. It's R&D department must be taking notes on what has been happening in the roleplaying community over the last year or so, with the emergence of the OSR movement and the emigration from 4e to Pathfinder. If they haven't been analysing these trends, then they have a lot to worry about.

The smart thing for Wizards to do would be to try to appease the players they've lost by going back to a more traditional game, but keeping elements that make 4e a good game. If they begin to focus more on roleplaying and storytelling than dice roll checks, but still keep the dynamic monsters, I think they would reclaim some of their 'lost souls', as it were. Perhaps dial down the emphasis on powers, so the characters have a small but focused group of At-Will, Encounter powers etc, like the recent iteration of Gamma World. Furthermore, they need to make it easy to write characters up by hand or at least type them. Not everyone is going to want a DDI subscription and having to flick back and forth through the Players' Handbook can get tiresome.

The 'Board Game' RPG

Fans are critical of WotC because of their allegiance with Hasbro, which has obvious influences on the way games are made. 5th edition could introduce more collectable elements to the game, such as card expansions to go along with campaign books. While Fortune Cards are currently entirely optional, it's entirely possible that the next edition could go down the Gamma World route and make them compulsory. Now, I don't mind the card elements in Gamma World because they add a great feature that fits in well with the gameplay style, but D&D is fine as it is without them.

A further emphasis on DDI could also emerge with 5th edition, with a deck creator and online tabletop (finally?) to create a more digitally integrated experience. Even boxed expansions could become commonplace, containing minis, cards and the adventure, along with a code for DDI to unlock hidden extras in the scenario.

In the end, WotC is a business and like any other business it needs to make money. Clearly there is more money to be made at face value with the latter approach, but winning back fans could potentially make them more.

What I want to see in 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons

I've sort of outline my feelings above, but here they are in a more concise format:

  • Less emphasis on roll playing and more on DM/ PC imagination in the mechanics
  • Keep powers but trim the fat. Go for the Gamma World approach
  • Character sheets players can write by hand without  taking half a day
  • Official adventures with less of a focus on encounters
  • Sets of miniatures dedicated to sourcebooks 
Of course, these are my opinions and I don't expect everyone to share them. I know plenty of people who love encounters and others who despise them. 5th edition won't please everyone, but the question is: will it please most? 


  1. I expect D&D to go the route of the new Gamma World. That is also what I would prefer. I think that would definitely improve it over 4E and would make a decisive break with traditional tabletop delving so that we can finally all just put WotC and their game out of our minds and get back to playing our game. Yeah.

    sorry about the 'Anonymous'... I'm at work ;)

  2. I would like to see the job of the DM get easier. Why full page monster stats? Why god awful amounts of hit points? When I was still running and playing 4E I never experienced players falling asleep at the table because it took too long for a round. Switched to Pathfinder and it's great to play but a clunky mess to run and LOTS of work for the GM. The Legends and Lore column is fishing for something but unfortunately they are only getting information from 4E players and not the community as a whole. Currently trying to get a Labyrinth Lord/AEC game going.

  3. honestly I think its too soon for a new edition 4th has only been out for 4 years now I really dont need a 4.5 or a 5th

    1. I totally agree! I just spent well over $200 for 4th edition books less then a year ago! All 5th editionn is , is another way for WoC to squeeze more money out of us gamers! I still have all my 2nd and 3.5 edition books, so think i will make up my own rules for my own version of 5th edition. Hell of alot cheaper!

  4. @aamedor: there are a lot of people who consider Essentials to be "undeclared 4.5", much as the Options (Player's Option, DM's Option) books were "undeclared 2.5" back in the 90s. Come to that, after D&D 3.5 came out the later books (Tome of Battle: Book of Nine Swords, Tome of Magic, etc.) from WotC were exploratory preparation for 4e.

    I'm prepared to believe they're starting preliminary work toward 5e.

  5. I hope they won't release a 5e. That will cause the next uproar, regardless of what they're doing. They have lost so much trust and credit during 4e, that it can't possibly work. They need to regain a part of it first. And 4e is now running pretty smoothly (relative to how it has been). So please, WotC, let us keep the nice gaming experience for some time. Just to get calm down a little.

    I can't see any hint of getting closer to Pathfinder and 3e. There's the Mike Mearls column who does nothing else than writing about the basics and simplification and he an Old School guy. Hopefully that is not the route 5e would take, but it's the only of which one can see hints.

    I wouldn't like a trip back to 3e/PF regarding rules. But regarding ideas. More roleplaying, less focus on mechanics (at least for players). The 4e mechanic is pretty high-performing, easy to handle and relatively easy to balance. Combine that with a good porting immersion/roleplaying/storytelling and I think, it may be the perfect rpg. But PF rules are so heavy and clunky... I wouldn't dm any kind of self-done adventure and official modules usually are to be used with care.

    But: Please no 5e! Give us maybe 3 to 4 years.

  6. Honestly, I don't care. D&D has been dead for me for years, and I have moved on to other systems. The occasional "old school" retro-clone does the job when I'm in the mood for dungeon-style adventuring.