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D&D has a messaging problem that goes beyond the OGL controversy

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Dungeons & Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast started 2023 with a series of troubling controversies. The leak of an early draft of its Open Gaming License (OGL) in January, an order meant to impose new restrictions on third-party content, led to an open rebellion from its most vocal fans. Then, in April, it was revealed that its parent company, Hasbro, has a longstanding relationship with the Pinkertons, a private security company that has a history of violence. As a result, consumer sentiment has taken a dive, damaging a decade’s worth of hard-earned goodwill for the often maligned tabletop role-playing game.

Turns out that D&D’s mistakes go back even further. The team unceremoniously slated the next edition of their seminal role-playing game, OneD&D, in August 2022. It also debuted a new logo which was introduced with a stunning video. But One D&D was never meant to be a new name for the franchise, representatives pointed out. It’s still called “Dungeons & Dragons,” and earlier this month during a private press briefing in Seattle (for which Hasbro’s offer of travel and accommodations was declined) marketers and developers Tried to equally course-correct.

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The logo for One D&D, lightly faded and digitized to mark its analog roots.

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Get ready to see very little of this logo.
Image: Wizards of the Coast

,[The design] The team never said it. […] They have codenames,” Nathan Stewart, vice president of marketing, said in a group interview. “And so from our point of view [One D&D represented] what they were doing, as well as it were things that we were seeing the D&D Beyond team doing for access and accessibility related to digital being more integrated than physical [as well as the in-development virtual tabletop],

Stewart was referencing parent company Hasbro’s recent acquisition of D&D Beyond, the officially licensed digital toolset for 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Since it was brought into the fold a little over a year ago, it has effectively become the primary point of contact for consumers who want to learn more about the D&D brand. It also slowly helps consumers accustomed to buying physical books get their new monsters and magical items digitally. The One D&D branding was intended to ease that transition.

“If it’s a book, if it’s a virtual tabletop, if it’s a digital download, we don’t care,” Stewart said. “All of them should center the player and think about things from the player’s point of view. […] One D&D was really a marching cry towards that.

So what about ‘6th Edition D&D’?

Part of the reason for the confusion over the One D&D branding is that for the better part of two years now, the company has been casting for what has been called the next “iteration” of Dungeons & Dragons — a revision that officially was teased. in early 2022, and which is now slated for release in 2024.

Since its inception, Dungeons & Dragons has been released in a new edition every few years – 1st ed, 2nd ed, 3rd, then 3.5, 4th ed and in 2014, 5th. Those new editions traditionally include new editions of the game’s three main rulebooks – the player’s handbookThe dungeon master guideAnd this monster manual, Wizards confirmed that next year fans will get new updated versions of those three books as well.

What they won’t be getting is D&D 6th Edition.

A warrior dressed in fur leggings and carrying a magic wand leaps towards a giant wearing a giant skull for a helmet.  This is the cover of the Player's Handbook, first published in 2014

your existing player’s handbook (2014) 5th Edition will continue to work with D&D into 2024 and beyond, but the new edition will be heavily revised and updated.
Image: Wizards of the Coast

“One of the reasons the word ‘edition’ is loaded is because it currently has two different meanings,” said Jeremy Crawford, Wizards’ game design architect, at the event. “In mass publishing, edition is a very neutral term meaning ‘a new edition of a book.’ Now, in D&D this term has gained a lot of weight over the years, as the term has also come to mean a newer version of the game.

They version – those new versions D&D’s — have always been volatile to the larger D&D community. People like to stick to the rules they’re familiar with, and with each new edition of the game, Wizards has retained a significant portion of its player base. For a ready-made example, look no further than the transition to fourth edition in the early 2000s. The transition from D&D 3.5 to 4th edition was a clear break in which almost nothing but knowledge was shared between the two systems. That major change largely scattered the player base, giving rise to Paijo. stitcher and other new competitors. The fact that 4th edition played more like a tabletop miniatures game than a traditional RPG didn’t help at all, but the damage done to the big brand wasn’t fully undone until 5 It wasn’t long before the COVID-19 pandemic that there was an incredible surge in the popularity of th edition.

For those reasons, Wizards said, 5th edition is here to stay… even though its core rulebooks are changing.

“We are releasing new versions of booksCrawford insisted. “We are not releasing a new version of Play, And so, I think, there’s a really important distinction — that it’s still 5th edition, but yes, we’re releasing revised editions of books that would be called new editions elsewhere in the publishing world.

The proposed solution, then, to differentiate between 5th edition and what comes next? Adding the year of publication to the end of the names of the original rulebooks. In this way, said the wizards, going forward one would player’s handbook (2014) and there will be one player’s handbook (2024). Crawford said that, while they are fundamentally different books, they can both be used to play the same game. And, most importantly, they’ll both be compatible with every other 5th edition book that comes before it.

“The other books aren’t changing,” Crawford said. “These are new editions of these three books. It’s the same game.

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