On the slow release schedule of Dungeons & Dragons

There’s been a lot of discussion recently on a series of tweets by Mike Mearls on challenges as a publisher of producing Dungeons & Dragons.

My own experiences with 5E are unusual mainly because I was responsible for converting the Book of Lost Spells by Necromancer Games into 5E (in addition to all the games I’ve been running). So, speaking as a developer…

It’s hard writing good 5E rules material. The core game is really, really good, thanks largely to the extensive playtest it received. Adding new class material that doesn’t distort the game is difficult. It’s not impossible, but it really needs the designers to be familiar with the system – and (hopefully) go through a good run of playtesting first. I’m sure the “missing” supplement book that we expected to come out with Princes of the Apocalypse fell prey to that: the material really wasn’t ready for prime time.

Another thing that the managers have been grappling with is the effect of a front-loaded release schedule. There’s a *lot* of options in the core books. If we had a full set of Complete books at this point, would players have explored them all? Individual groups have likely not explored all of the PHB! My opinion is that we didn’t need a lot of extra options in the first year. However, as we move into the second and third year, these option books will become more important.

If the books all come out in the first year, then what of Year 2? Year 3? Mike specifically says in his tweets that “in terms of a business model, the biggest challenge of 5e will be years 3 – 5.” In 3E, the game got the 3.5E revamp in year 3! It was too soon (originally the plan was for Year 5), but it displays the trouble that RPG lines have. By reducing the rate at which we get new material, there seems to be the hope that it will prolong the lifespan of the edition. If you only get one or two books of new options a year, which makes those books a big event.

Of course, this probably also explains some of the hold-ups with the Open Gaming License that the WotC people have occasionally hinted at; if an 5E-specific OGL were currently available, then we’d probably see a flood of 3rd-party supplements. As it stands, there are very few. (There are probably two other major hold-ups: the first is that Wizards as a corporation is still unsure of whether the OGL is a benefit for them specifically, and the second is due to the disruption caused by jury duty).

My expectation for the future is that we will see option books, and at a greater rate than we’re seeing at present. (Not hard, since the current rate is practically zero!) However, the current time sees Mike and the other people at Wizards paying attention to fan reaction and trying to work out the best plan going forward… and then adjusting that further given our reaction to that!

Slowly but surely? That’s my impression of it at any rate.

One comment

  1. Mark Hart

    Enjoyed reading this piece; it mirrors some thoughts and questions that I’ve had. On the one hand, I would enjoy some more options for 5th (deity domains being one of the biggest), but at the same time I agree that most groups probably haven’t exhausted just what is in the PHB yet. Also, I have no interest in the two book per month release rate that seemed the norm during the 3.5 and 4th editions of the game. (Which really only left me with bookshelves stuffed with books I never really read in-depth.)


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