There’s no denying that Dungeons & Dragons isn’t just the granddaddy of roleplaying games, it’s also the most well-known and recognizable example of the genre.
But there’s never been a richer time for roleplaying games than right now. Patreon and Kickstarter are bringing new designers and storytellers to prominence, websites like DriveThruRPG give terrific visibility to creators large and small, and contenders for the throne both old (White Wolf Games) and newer (Pathfinder) continue to grab their own share of the RPG market.
Although it’s two years away, the fiftieth anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons is looming large, and some big moves are being made this year.
At the D&D Celebration 2021 event, the creative team announced that the game will be getting a major update for the first time in nearly a decade.
The current version of the rules — known as fifth edition or 5e — marked a return to form for Dungeons & Dragons after a less-than-glowing response to their fourth edition ruleset, and it has served as a game system that welcomes new players and satisfies long-time players as well.
Now, we don’t know if this is simply an update to the system to improve/tweak the rules — D&D 5.5e, you might say — or if this will be a wholesale relaunch of the core system. (Though that seems unlikely, given that 2020 was the company’s most profitable year ever.)
What they have promised is that, whatever form the update takes, EVERYTHING that they’ve released for fifth edition over the last decade will still be compatible with the new system. This is not a cash grab that will force players to shell out for all sorts of new books.
It’s an intriguing announcement that has fans already speculating, even though the update’s release isn’t due until 2024.
[In this video, long-time roleplayers The Dungeon Dudes break down their thoughts on potential 5th edition updates.]
But those big moves we mentioned above aren’t only being made by the industry leader. Some important names from D&D’s past are also contributing to the growth and variety of roleplaying games in impressive ways.
It was recently announced that Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis would be collaborating on a new setting and system based on 5e rules: Skyraiders of Abarax.
Now, if you don’t know those names, you should. The world of D&D over the last 50 years would be a lot less varied without them. Tracy and Laura Hickman were instrumental voices behind two iconic D&D settings that have endured for decades — Ravenloft and Dragonlance — and the idea that they’re creating a brand new world for players to enjoy is immensely exciting.
Not only that, but several influential creators have launched their own new world and system on Kickstarter recently: Tanares.
Folks like Skip Williams, Bruce Nesmith, Jeff Grubb (who contributed some of my favorite Star Wars RPG supplements), and the legendary Ed Greenwood — who created The Forgotten Realms, another hugely famous D&D setting — have collaborated on an immersive new world and play system.
Considering that they raised over two MILLION dollars for the project on Kickstarter, it’s fair to say that there’s a market for fresh content that fits the D&D aesthetic but takes the gameplay in exciting new directions.
Now, if you’re not familiar with roleplaying games, you may be wondering what the big deal is. Why does an updated system or a new setting matter?
New systems can be welcoming to new players and put them at ease, or end up so daunting that it scares off new players while alienating established players.
Similarly, a new setting can offer fresh gameplay opportunities and give players the chance to try different styles, genres, and characters in ways they might never have considered otherwise.
And who knows where roleplaying games will be in two years? Will indie publishers continue to thrive? Will Tanares or Skyraiders of Abarax be household brands? And what exactly do the designers behind the world’s most famous roleplaying game have in store for their loyal and lapsed players in 2024?
Only time will tell.
In the meantime, keep rolling those dice. Happy roleplaying!
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