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This series of articles was published before D&D Next was announced in early 2012, telling the story of how the respected brand began with The Ghost of D&D Past and continues with speculation on The State of D&D: Future.
In the mid 2000s, tabletop roleplaying games enjoyed a resurgence in popularity not seen since the original Dungeons & Dragons rules were published by Gary Gygax in the 70s. The 3rd edition of those rules, and the Open Gaming License (OGL) that opened them up for public use, cemented D&D as the leader of the roleplaying game world, while simultaneously encouraging competitors to advance the design of roleplaying games. But as result of Hasbro's desire to turn D&D into a $100 million business, and the success of fantasy MMO videogames like World of Warcraft, the release of the 4th edition in 2008 changed more of the game than many fans were comfortable with and despoiled the goodwill Wizards of the Coast had built over the last decade. The Ghost of D&D Present still haunts the industry.
The young designers working at Wizards wanted to stretch their design muscles to make a new game - something that they could call their edition.
Andy Collins worked under 4E Lead Designer Rob Heinsoo at Wizards of the Coast and eventually became Design & Development Manager around the release of 4th edition. Collins told The Escapist back in 2010 that the changes he and Heinsoo implemented in D&D were meant to catch the game up with the way that people played modern games. Collins believed players have a short attention span, and were, perhaps, "less likely [to be] interested in reading the rules of the game before playing." "I'm not just talking about younger players now, but anybody. We've been working to adapt to that, the changing expectations of the new gamer."
The young designers working at Wizards wanted to stretch their design muscles to make a new game - something that they could call their edition. "Designing new editions is the work of younger, more energetic folks," said Collins. While 4th edition offered elegant tactical combat and an equanimity between classes never seen before in the game, many of the people who played Gygax's Dungeons & Dragons in the 70s and 80s didn't understand why concepts they held to be sacred were axed.
"I started playing D&D when I was 10 years old in 1979. I thought they made some curious choices [in 4E] regarding what was central to the property," said Chris Pramas, President of Green Ronin Publishing. "They added new core races and created a different cosmology, and that was totally fine for the new campaign setting they were releasing. It just seemed strange to me that that all the old settings had to have that stuff shoehorned into them."
"I don't know why you call an elf an eladrin and I don't know why tieflings are there when they haven't been there all along. I do have some problems with it as a writer," said R.A. Salvatore, who writes novels set in D&D's Forgotten Realms. Salvatore has written more than thirty novels starring the dark elf Drizzt Do'Urden, many of them NY Times Bestsellers, arguably giving Salvatore the distinction of creating the world's most valuable D&D character. "4th edition [D&D] is more like a card game. It's a strategy game and there are a lot of things in there for the reason of class balancing, so from a mechanical standpoint, it's a fabulous game. From a roleplaying standpoint, by that I mean a writing standpoint, it's much harder."
"I think, at least from my initial observations, that 4E put too much emphasis on the battle grid and not enough emphasis on the world outside of combat. That, in combination with the sacred cow-killing, made it feel like a whole different game to a lot of people, including me," added Erik Mona, publisher at Paizo, creators of Pathfinder.