Why D&D Next is important to all of us

From the movie "Mazes and Monsters" (1982) I don’t play any recent edition of D&D right now and I am pretty skeptical about the upcoming next edition. You could come to believe I couldn’t care less about what Wizards of the Coast is doing. But even if we are not caring one bit about the current or future edition of D&D, we can not ignore it.

Dungeons & Dragons is probably one of the few if not the only pen & paper roleplaying game that’s known to non-gamers. It also is the game that a majority of gamers will have played at least once during their “career” and it’s probably the game most people will pick up when they want to give roleplaying games a try.

Even though some of us may wish this wasn’t the case, we have to accept the realities. D&D is still the most influential roleplaying game out there. And how non-gamers see our hobby has a lot to do with how they perceive Dungeons & Dragons.

For the last couple of years D&D 4th Edition shaped how new players and the general populace viewed our hobby and in the near future this role will probably be taken up by 5th Edition or whatever Wizards of the Coast will end up calling it.

Although I have to admit the impact on new gamers and D&D fans will be much larger than on the general populace. If you ask a random person about tabletop roleplaying games they probably know a bit about the basic D&D tropes, tell you something about funky dice and miniatures and socially awkward gamers living in their parents’ basements.

We can all try to change that view on the hobby but the biggest impact on the people’s perception of gaming will always come from D&D in whatever shape or form it takes in the future. It would be a great achievement for the community to change this, but we’re not there yet.

We all know that the hobby is much more diverse, D&D is not the only game out there and there’s more then one way to enjoy tabletop roleplaying games. If we ever want to move gaming more towards mainstream we have to break the misconception that tabletop RPGs = D&D. But until that happens, we can’t just ignore the 800-pound gorilla.

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

11 thoughts on “Why D&D Next is important to all of us”

  1. I tend to agree with you here on this mate. As much as many of us “long time grognards” would like, if it wasn’t for D&D (of any flavour), I don’t think many of us would be in this hobby.

    I think though, with the introduction of many well known Licences in the past few years (The One Ring, Doctor Who, Dresden Files) – newer generations of gamers are being introduced using something other than the 800lb gorilla. Slowly but surely the hobby’s reliance on D&D is fading.

  2. The interesting thing about the hobby is that when someone discovers it, they’re bound to look at whatever else is there. Every other RPG out there stands to gain from D&D’s success. I think that the designers of D&D Next know this, and it’s quite a lot of pressure.

    I’m hoping that they pull off something spectacular, so that the hobby receives a new surge of popularity among the younger demographic.

  3. Of course sometimes we are our own worst enemies when it comes to promoting rpgs.

    The ideal situation for anyone is that a new player picks up the most prolific/visible rpg, D&D, and then they move onto and support the rpg of our own choice, whether it is OSR, Pathfinder, Shadowrun, etc.
    However, if all they see and hear is how horrible of D&D is, then they will likely not move past it and will not stay in our little niche of the universe.
    Every bash is perceived by new players as a bash on rpgs in general. We are in effect telling new players that rpgs are lame and we should not waste our time on them.

  4. I agree with the concept that D&D is the gateway game into role-playing games, and yes I tell people I play role-playing games (as I did last night in class) and when I see a blank stare I say, “like D&D!” and people usually nod or even say, “I tried it in high school/college.”
    I hope the best for the new iteration of D&D, would love to playtest, and will take a look at it when it comes out. I agree with Callin that we could frame our discussion of rules and systems in a more positive light overall, or at least discuss in civilized manner, not here in the blog but in the online community as a whole.
    I think the influence of the pen and paper RPGs in electronic RPGs means we have people learning of the hobby with other systems than D&D, slowly but surely. As much as D&D 4th ed was maligned for being “too much like an MMO” I think Dragon Age got it right by adapting a popular electronic property into its very own system.
    Now I wonder, would adapting or licensing popular games like Skyrim and Mass Effect (I may just loose one of my regular players for a while as she submerges into the game) attract gamers who are interested in telling stories in those settings in another way? I don’t think companies should replicate the feel of the game, but capitalize on the strengths of RPGs, information about the setting, telling your own stories, bringing the universe to other mediums (board games, card games) and offering the interested a part of it. Of course this would be a different market, not a line to publish all year, or just to release around or following the release of the game…
    Ok I am ranting now, out of here!

  5. I always have a split second of confusion when someone talks about Fourth as if it was Dungeons & Dragons.

  6. Hmm…I dunno. I think that if D&D dies out, something else will just step into its place as the new gateway norm for the next generation. Perhaps in 30 years or so, people will be saying, “You know…it’s like Pathfinder,” and everyone will then nod. (Personally, I’d rather it be “It’s like Burning Wheel,” but I know that’s never going to happen.)

    1. I disagree. People are lazy and in general terms reluctant to let go of convenient labels and preconceived notions. Thus, we still talk of Hoovers or Electroluxes when describing a vacuum cleaner regardless of brand, a Chesterfield has become the generic term for a sofa, taking a ride on a Greyhound is a stand-in for any make of highway bus, etc.

      I believe that “Dungeons & Dragons” has become the generic term for RPGs and even if the D&D brand were to disappear and everyone was playing “Phlumph: The Levitating” RPG instead we would still find ourselves explaining RPGs to non-players and have them ask, “So, it’s like Dungeons & Dragons? Do you light candles and wear funny hats?” 🙂

  7. My main thought about 5th edition is:

    So far, the editions I’ve really gotten into are 1st and 3rd. It’s like the opposite of Star Trek Movies, I guess. So I’m sorta hoping 5th is going to be good enough to suck me in (4th was not; but that was as much about the lack of OGL as anything else).

    3e had enough promise, as a system (even without the OGL) that I actually walked away from Fudge for a while. I still think of it as an almost lingua franca for gamers. Not perfect, but accessible and common. But, right now, I’m very much back into leaning toward minimalism, DIY, and indie games, which is what I like about most OSR games (a return to minimalism and not needing to enumerate every little thing), and things like WRM.

    I doubt 5e will hit either of my big agendas (minimalism in the mechanics, OGL in the openness), but those are what it’ll take for me to actually care about it.

    Will 5e be important? to some extent, for the reasons you say, yes. But, then again, that’s like telling a car gear-head “you have to care what Detroit puts out every year”. No, they really don’t. It matters, but a real gear-head is probably building his cars from junk heaps, and maintaining them themselves. They might view some of the current “leading edge” developments as interesting technologies, but their way of handling transportation doesn’t require that they follow (nor buy) the latest and greatest in car models.

    I think that’s how I see the game industry. Does it matter what the big publishers are doing? in the bigger picture, sure. For the mainstream game/gamer? sure. But, in terms of what I might run, as a game or setting, next? not one iota. I will run what I run, and that will be true no matter what 5e looks like. In that regard, 5e has to care more about courting me, than I do about courting 5e. And, for the DIY or indie gamer, the “big publishers” are like The Westminster Dog Show — it doesn’t really have any relevance when you’re picking a dog at the pound. We will play what we play, and the big publishers are just one of our groups of choices.

    (not that I’m so egotistical that I think the 5e designers will actually seek me out and court me, I’m just saying, the default is not that I will buy 5e, unlike some other gamers who act as though you have to justify why you wont buy it — not saying that’s you, just saying I’ve encountered that attitude)

  8. I’m not sold on the importance of the next edition of D&D to ALL of us. I do recognize the impact, influence, and cultural significance of the brand, but as far as being important to me? I’d disagree (previous editions excluded).

    Frankly, it’s too early to tell whether or not D&D 5th Edition will have a place at my table, but I am very certain that if the brand died today, and there would never be another edition, it would have no impact on my hobby.

    At this stage of my gaming hobby, I no longer require commercial products as I’m actually writing my own. I do keep tabs on Pathfinder, but that’s because I don’t want to abandon support on Venture Captain.

    D&D 5e could be the best thing since the original and become so successful that more people have copies of D&D than iPhones while still not measuring a single lick of importance to me.

    Note: I’m not trying to be a hater, as I hope D&D is everything WotC is promising; I’m just saying I won’t need it.

  9. I’m sick of all the hype personally. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that it’s not being sprung on us from nowhere like 3.5 was, but on the other hand we’ve yet to hear any concrete information, and what we do hear is a bit worrying (like boss fights taking 5 minutes…)

    You’re absolutely right about D&D being the only recognizable game for non RPGers though, whenever someone asks me what roleplay is my default answer is “You know D&D? It’s like that”, if they haven’t played the table top game they’ve probably played a computer game, watched a terrible cartoon or movie, read a terrible novel or at least seen it on community!

    I don’t think the game will ever go away either, but I do think we’ll see Hasbro/WotC doing increasingly bizarre things to increase its revenue streams.

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