Big news from Wizards: there’s not a new edition of D&D. There’s just One D&D.
Before I dive into my hot take, I want to disclaim my extreme ignorance. I honestly haven’t kept up with either a broader D&D community nor have I even really incorporated more recent rulebooks into my game. My only game right now is limited to the three core rulebooks and a bit of Xanathar’s Guide for my reference.
Not 5.5e, not 6e
The history of D&D versions is very weird. I won’t bother trying to explain it and will instead point to wikipedia.
The choice to go not with a new edition but just an evolving base is aggressive but not unprecedented. One of the big changes in gaming in the past decade or so is that many popular games don’t have sequels: they just keep changing. League of Legends or Minecraft are just continuing to patch. Even Overwatch 2 is a strange marketing hybrid.
It makes sense for D&D as well to try to simplify down to just One. I’m not sure how long it will last: maybe economics or significant changes will require a future reset. However, it’s comforting that Wizards is conceptually committed to staying the same.
I have briefly taken a look at the first playtest rules focused on character creation. To greatly simplify, they have moved rules from racial traits to backgrounds.
I believe that 5e was moving in this direction with some variant rules in Tasha’s where Ability Score improvements could be moved around regardless of your choice of race.
One thing I really like about this rule change is that I think lets players create the characters they want without feeling like they’re giving up some mechanical advantage. With the 5e racial benefits, it turns out that some races are just better at better classes than others: if you want to play a Half-Orc, then it’s good to play a Fighter but bad to play a Wizard. This encourages players to make surprisingly similar characters.
I also like that backgrounds might matter a little more. Players often forget that they even have a background because it barely matters to the rules.
I am somewhat sad that I own 3 copies of the Player’s Handbook: one physical copy, one roll20 copy, and one D&D Beyond copy. I can see why they didn’t have the bundles before, but now that Wizards is integrating the experience, I will be happy not to repurchase the same content.
That being said, Wizards is pushing physical/digital integration in the game. I once encouraged players to have dndbeyond up during games, but I have swung back in the other direction and would prefer not to have any devices around. However, I still have my players maintain their characters on dndbeyond and print out character sheets for sessions. It’s just so much easier for players to use dndbeyond, and I can be more confident that they are managing their characters right.
On that note, I also don’t mind getting a new set of core rulebooks for this edition. At least in my style of game, I don’t really need to keep adding more rules to run a game. However, having a streamlined base would make it much easier to run games.
In the launch video, Wizards showed pre-alpha footage of a digital tabletop version of D&D. It doesn’t look like a video game D&D: it looks like physical miniatures just on a screen.
I think that’s the right direction, but I also don’t feel like I would use it much. Excluding pre-existing circumstances, I would much prefer not to be playing D&D virtually. It’s been a wonderful opportunity for so many more players to join the game, and streaming games have really changed the landscape.
It’s just not what I’m looking for in the game right now.
Effect on the landscape
I can see why Wizards acquired dndbeyond. I can see why Wizards is making D&D Digital. However, I can’t help but wonder what the future of the landscape is.
dndbeyond is great, but I think it’s really swallowed up what was previously an impressive scene of third party tools, like Kobold Fight Club or Game Master 5th Edition. They’re still around, but I presume they haven’t grown as much as D&D itself.
There isn’t a lot of information on D&D Digital yet, but I suspect that it will significantly affect roll20, Fantasy Grounds, and other virtual tabletops.
I don’t think a lot of these tools are going away anytime soon, and I presume that Wizards, if asked, would point to how they have integrated with these tools and want to support them. However, they are still simultaneously competing.
Optimistically, I hope that the pond is big enough for these to co-exist. As a positive example, D&D publishes first party adventures, and yet drivethrurpg and the DMs Guild still has plenty of content.
5e has its quirks. There is significant errata, and Wizards has made plenty of positive changes in subsequent rulebooks.
And yet, I think there’s more brilliance in the core rulebooks than many DMs and players recognize. I’m always surprised by how short the Combat section of the Player’s Handbook through clever design and writing. There are very specific rules about how to handle Identifying items. The biggest issue is that many of us don’t read carefully enough and come up with less optimal house rules.
So I’m very optimistic about One D&D. Given almost a decade of further thoughts and development in the scene, I would be surprised if Wizards made a major mistake in any changes.
D&D remains by far the largest RPG out there, and I like to take a positive perspective in how it can be a gateway for new players. I hope that it only gets more accessible.