Last week, Wizards of the Coast announced its plans for what the world’s most popular roleplaying game, Dungeons & Dragons, will look like in the next few years. Alongside a refresh of the rules (which Wizards promises will be fully compatible with every fifth edition book that’s been published previously), some long-neglected, fan-favorite settings are finally making a return. What’s more, a new digital toolset that uses Unreal Engine 5 to render maps and miniatures will do all of the imagining, and maybe the math, for you. New rules will get debated and can always be cast aside in favor of house rules, so that doesn’t concern me. A push for a more complex set of 3D tools, however, I think runs the risk of altering not just the game, but potentially the hobby itself.
The last major update to the core rules of Dungeons & Dragons arrived in 2014 after the “D&D Next” playtest eased the transition out of the divisive fourth edition set of rules. Fifth edition, which could be described as a kind of “greatest hits” of various rules from previous editions, has been something of a neo-Golden Age for the game. But instead of moving on to a new edition, Wizards states that upcoming changes to the game will simply fall under the umbrella of its new “One D&D” initiative. That initiative will see a backwards-compatible refresh of the current rules (undergoing public playtesting right now) along with a variety of official digital tools, facilitated by Wizards parent company Hasbro’s recent acquisition of D&D Beyond, a platform with a suite of digital resources such as purchasable rules expansions and virtual character sheets.
The presentation—a “direct to fan virtual event” called Wizards Presents 2022—revealed that the company wants to move away from the concept of “editions” entirely. Wizards will instead update the rules to represent “where the game is presently” for the upcoming books in 2024. What lies beyond that isn’t entirely clear, but the new “One D&D” concept seems to be a departure from the standard, giant rules reformatting that we’ve seen in the past, with numbered editions representing what are essentially wildly different games under the same name.
If you were along for the ride during the days of D&D Next, or have taken part in other playtests, such as TTRPG publisher Paizo’s playtests for the second edition of the fantasy RPG Pathfinder, then this process is familiar to you. Similar to what we see with public beta tests for video games, the playtest materials aim to assess how functional and popular the upcoming changes are. During this process, it should be safe to assume that nothing is permanent until the three updated core books start shipping in 2024. And even then, hey, it’s a TTRPG; we can house-rule it anyway we want.