There has been some discussion in the D&D Twitter community over the past several days regarding The Escapist’s The State of Dungeons and Dragons: Present article.
Although the Escapist interviewed Mike Mearls for a followup article, I don’t think that either article properly addressed the state of D&D as it exists in December 2011.
So, here is my take on the current State of Dungeons & Dragons.
In a nutshell, D&D started off the year in a state of confusion and concern, but has ended the year fairly strong. WotC is looking towards the future and D&D’s torch holders have done much to improve relations with their customers.
Significant Changes to the Publication Schedule: Quality Over Quantity
2011 started off on a sour note when WotC announced that several titles that had previously been revealed had been cancelled, leaving some fairly large gaps in the schedule over the first six months of the year. However, there was a silver lining: the focus for publication was going to be producing fewer but higher quality products. I believe that the success of DDI had something to do with this change in strategy. Many (if not most) people are now consuming their “crunch” electronically rather than purchasing hardcover books.
In the end, I think this change in publication was a success. All of the products that have been released since that announcement have been of high quality, and the fluff to crunch ratio has improved, even in what used to be nearly 100% crunch products.
Madness at Gardmore Abbey has the potential to become the first “classic” 4e adventure. Monster Vault: Threats to Nentir Vale revealed a style of monster book that almost combines a campaign setting with the monster blocks. The Neverwinter Campaign Setting showed a different way to produce that type of book, focusing on one Tier of adventuring, integrating Themes with the setting and concentrating on a small geographic area. (Though I do hope that they don’t focus on this style to the detriment of other settings- I still want Mystara, Spelljammer and the like). Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium brought back the “magic” to magic items, continuing a trend seen with the Essentials products of dialing back some of the changes in 4e to something more satisfactory to older players.
Branching Out With Board Games
Although Castle Ravenloft had been released by Christmas of 2010, two more releases in the Adventure Game series came out in 2011: Wrath of Ashardalon and the Legend of Drizzt. The designers continued to work on the system and both of these games are excellent and fun. Conquest of Nerath, an Axis & Allies-like board game featuring the 4e D&D world came out in the summer. A “euro-style” game, Lords of Waterdeep was announced at Gencon. All of these games feature new ways to explore the game, and although many might prefer more RPG products, the fact is that non-RPG products have been driving a large part of D&D revenue for a long time. The quality vs. quantity focus also hit the board game line as Dungeon of Dread, a game previously announced that was not up to the new standards so was canceled.
Increasing Communication with the Customers
It was promised at DDXP last year that WotC would be making more efforts to communicate with their customers and they followed through by introducing three new columns in DDI: the Rule of Three, Legends & Lore, and the Dungeon Master Experience. Legends & Lore in particular triggered weekly discussions (to put it mildly) amongst members of the D&D . WotC also polled the opinions of D&D players on their opinions and preferences regarding different aspects of the game. Although there were some growing pains regarding poll questions and focus, I think that these three columns have been very successful.
Changing of the Guard
There were major changes in the staff of the roleplaying side of Wizards of the Coast in 2011. Bill Slavicsek left the company after 20-odd years in June, leaving Mike Mearls to take over. Monte Cook was hired back into R&D and just finished moving to Seattle. Finally long time employees Rich Baker and Steve Winter were laid off just recently. The ramification of these changes are still to be seen although the major impact has been…
Rumors of 5e
Rumors of the development of a new edition of D&D started as the Legends and Lore articles were published, but really started cranking when Mike Mearls took over from Bill Slavicsek and Monte Cook was hired. Although a post on another RPG company’s forum added fuel to the 5e fire, I don’t think anyone would be surprised if WotC announced they were working on it. You don’t hire Monte Cook and move him to Seattle to work on DDI.
The Return of D&D Miniatures
At GenCon, WotC announced that they were brining back D&D Miniatures, this time in “theme packs” of about 12 miniatures each. This was also announced in conjunction with a new miniature skirmish game, which had a public playtest in the fall.
Changes to D&D Insider
Several changes were made to DDI this year.
- Pitches for DDI articles would be submitted in two 2-month windows and all pitches would be responded to and with feedback.
- Several D&D bloggers became new DDI authors including: Tracy Hurley (Sarah Darkmagic), Mike Shea (Sly Flourish), and Critical Hits’ own Dave Chalker and Philippe-Antoine Menard (Chatty DM).
- The format for adventures changed from the “delve format” to one much more freeform. Not coincidentally, I think that the quality of those adventures has improved.
- The Character Builder and Monster Builder continued to improve, although admittedly they’ve only now regained most of the function of the offline apps. The Virtual Table continues to be beta tested, and now allows non-DDI players to play in a game run by a DM who is a subscriber.
Control of D&D Video Game Rights Returns to WotC
The announcement that control of video games based off of the D&D brand had returned to Hasbro/WotC was a bit under the radar, but I think this will have a major impact in the future.
Encounters and Lair Assault
Encounters continued to be an apparent success for WotC. Not only did they apply the change in adventure philosophy (i.e. less combat) to the Encounters program but anecdotally it continues to be a major source of new players. WotC also introduced Lair Assault, which focused on the more experienced D&D player.
D&D Isn’t Just Done By Wizards of the Coast
None of this doesn’t even touch the contributions to ‘D&D’ from other companies, including Paizo. Paizo also produces lots of quality product from the Adventure Paths, to their own campaign setting of Golarion, the new Pathfinder Beginner Box and Pathfinder miniatures. Even then, this doesn’t include contributions from excellent companies and products like Kobold Quarterly/Open Design and Fourthcore.
In all, most of the things that happened in the D&D universe in 2011 were positive. I wasn’t too sure at the beginning of the year, but I’m looking foward to what will be coming out in 2012.