D&D Next Will Be The Most Expensive Edition Yet

…and it might just save the brand from a slow and ignoble death. 


First, before I start editorializing, some quotes from the horse’s mouth, lifted from the ENWorld 5E Info Page.

“The new edition is being conceived of as a modular, flexible system, easily customized to individual preferences. Just like a player makes his character, the Dungeon Master can make his ruleset. He might say ‘I’m going to run a military campaign, it’s going to be a lot of fighting’… so he’d use the combat chapter, drop in miniatures rules, and include the martial arts optional rules.”–Mike Mearls

This tells me that while the new edition’s ruleset may START very basic and simple, there will be a lot of rules additions as the years (hopefully more than 4) of D&D Next’s life-cycle progress.

“Now imagine that the game offered you modular, optional add-ons that allow you to create the character you want to play while letting the Dungeon Master create the game he or she wants to run. Like simple rules for your story-driven game? You’re good to go. Like tactical combats and complex encounters? You can have that too. Like ultra-customized character creation? It’s all there.”–Monte Cook

Again– modular rules, MORE rules, and optional additions that can be added to your game with possible ease.

“”Players can pick their own style and complexity within a class. Think of it kind of like having a $10 budget to spend on lunch. Some people will go to a restaurant and buy a $10 lunch special. Someone else might spend that $10 by ordering a few different things off the menu, rather than a special. Someone else might take that $10 and go to the grocery store to buy all the ingredients for a recipe they like. The idea is to put everyone on the same scale, but then allow people to burrow into the level of detail they want. DMs have a similar process they can go through, adding optional rules to flesh out their campaigns. Those options can range from creating a unique list of races or classes for a setting, to adding in special rules for things like managing a kingdom or waging a war.”–Mike Mearls

And again, reinforcing my point that the rules are going to start out simple and focused–likely with a box set or starter package–and then as time goes on, more and more…and MORE rules are going to be added. And how do we get the rules content for D&D?

BOOKS.  Lots, and lots and LOTS of books. 


What This Means For Your Game

...now just image all these books being from the same edition...and compatible with each other...

In a very literal way, the core design of 5E seems to be intentionally designed additions to the ruleset. To put it another way, they are putting “rules bloat” in a different package and re-marketing it as a good thing. And by saying in the playtest, design-and-change phase and saying it as loudly and as up-front as possible, they have the marketing of saying “Hey, all these other rulebooks are Modules. They’re completely optional. Don’t buy them, don’t use them if you don’t want to.”

What does this mean? It means that we are going to see a MASSIVE amount of books put out for this edition over a long, LONG period of time. Each discrete addition to the rules– which I’ll call a Module– can be its own book, and have its own place in the release schedule. We joked in 4th Edition about how nobody would buy the “Complete Fighter” anymore, but you know what? If you include more RULES for the fighter in that book, we will, because the player who wants the fighter rules will buy the fighter book–and the GM then wants to keep up with the player of the fighter.

From a marketing and profit standpoint, this is pure freaking genius. By specifically saying that all the Modules are optional and allowing PLAYERS to customize their characters regardless of what the GM’s preferred complexity may be, SUDDENLY PLAYERS ARE BUYING LOTS OF GAME BOOKS. Typically, the vast majority of people buying game books are the guys running the game– a lot of groups only have one or two sets of core books that the GM has been the one to pony up for.

If modular rules means that suddenly a player can pick the rules he wants his character to play by, that puts the onus of responsibility for his “rules happiness” on the player, not the GM who might have the rulebook and allow/disallow stuff in it. As far as sales goes, this is an unbelievably smart idea, because then the GM wants to have that same book to make sure he knows the rules that his player wants to use. That’s TWO copies of the same book, likely in the same gaming group. Profit for sure.

Then multiply that concept and let it get exponential.

Psionics? Module.

Elemental Power? Module.

Complete Fighter (2E title)? Module.

Heroes of Battle (war rules, 3.x title)? Module.

Story-based rules in the Vein of FATE or Mouse Guard? Module.

Adventures? Not a module in the rules-sense, but still a viable profit source. And if they are smart, they’ll produce rules-compatible versions of all the old materials from previous editions, too. Not as books, but as .pdfs.

Heroes of Shadow, Adventurer’s Vault, Complete (Race, Class, Villain, etc), Spell Compendium, Arms & Equipment Guide, Martial Power, Ghostwalk, Magic of Incarnum… the list of Modules for previous editions goes on an on. But instead of just putting out rules and letting the books “float”, I think we’ll see bits and pieces of rules in all these books, thus putting incentive on the player to buy the rules he wants to use for his character, and also on the GM to buy the books to keep up with his players.

In a very real way, it might bring back the days of 3.X when a player buys a splatbook from a 3PP and brought it to his GM saying, “I just bought this book and now I want to use it in your game.”– which was the one thing (other than taking 3hrs and a calculus degree to build high level characters and monsters) that I absolutely, positively, DESPISED about 3.X. Suddenly the GM feels pressured by the player to allow these rules that he may not like or want in his game, just because the player bought the book.

However, by building the game from the ground up as a series of optional, modular rules, the GM can feel vastly less pressure that he MUST use the rules because the player bought them. I like both aspects of that– I can use as much complexity as I want, the players can do so as well with my approval, and I’m not being guilted into doing something I don’t want to for my game because the players have the EXPLICIT declaration that all rules modules are 100% Optional and must be approved by GM before use.

What This Means For Your Wallet

I predict that we're going to need a lot of this to keep up with the rules for D&D Next.

I foresee a LOT of books coming out for D&D Next. I see smaller, individual books for each niche ruleset that they decide they want to support. And people are going to buy them, for lots of reasons… and I will likely buy nearly all of them because I’m a hardcore geek and a collector (like a lot of you reading this right now).

In fact, I can see so many products coming out that WotC devises a Subscription system in emulation of Paizo. That means an ensured, sustainable flow of incoming cash– both from the modules and DDI in whatever format that get implemented as. In addition, I’m sure that Wizards will continue making tiles, maps, miniatures and other sale-able items. They’re profit centers, and the company wants to make money, period.

I also think that this means WotC is setting up D&D Next to be “the” edition for at least the next decade. Think about it– WotC did the same thing with the 4E, with the basic books coming out first and all the expansions after that. THIS IS THE EXACT SAME THING WITH DIFFERENT MARKETING. But this time I think it’s going to work far, far better because it appears that they have learned from their competitors and from the 4E marketing debacle. If they produce a solid, likeable Core ruleset that appeals to lots of people, they can continue to pump out Modules (which we used to call splatbooks) at the rate of one a month ad infinitum, because not everybody will be buying everything, but by making the Modules explicitly optional, it ensures that lots of people will be buying just about everything they put out, because they can tap a different niche market for the rules with every Module put out. And some idiots like me will buy pretty much everything simply because it’s D&D, and I love the game and want to support my hobby.

All in all, my prediction is that D&D Next will hit our wallets harder than previous editions. However, I think that the investment will take place over a long period of time– hopefully a decade or more. If WotC does this right, they will have a cash cow that they can put out Modules for and keep milking that cow for a long, long time. And to me, that means that my favorite hobby and one of the things I love to do most in the world will ALSO be a living, breathing, viable game for a long, long time.


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8 Responses to D&D Next Will Be The Most Expensive Edition Yet

  1. Alric says:

    I concur with everything here. Especially the part about putting the decision about what rules to use in the hands of players – a recipe for splitting groups, that.

    One thing you’ve not speculated upon is the role that online resources will play. My guess is that WoTC will offer online content to players (at first) in much the same way, thereby pressuring DMs to subscribe to those content sources and use them during play. At least, that’s how I’d seal the coffin if I were in charge.

    • I don’t agree on the “splitting groups” part. *IF* the rules work the way they are claiming, it seems that a player who wants simple can have simple for his character and a player (like me) who wants the crunchy options can play at the same table together. If that actually works, I think it will be the most inclusive version yet.

      I DO agree with your comment that WotC will put pressure on folks to subscribe to DDI– and I’m okay with that. At the end of the day, if they don’t make money, D&D as a current, viable game dies and turns into folks playing with old books which then becomes VERY difficult to bring in new players. Simply put, they need revenue sources and profitability so that the HASBRO bean counters don’t shut the brand down and let it moulder on a shelf. Thus, so long as they are putting out GOOD content for the game, I’m totally okay with a subscription-based model. The first year of DDI was spotty on content, but they’ve done a great job of pushing the quality standard way up in the last 3.

      I actually believe that the content for DDI will go UP with 5E, because Mearls has said that the 3PP system will be changed and not nearly so strangling as the GSL. If more folks are writing stuff fr the game, then the incentive to write god stuff for DDI becomes higher–pushing the quality up even more.

  2. I still don’t see how players are going to be able to incorporate game elements their DMs are not interested in running (player – ‘I just bought the aquatic and naval combat books!’, DM – ‘OK sure, but I’m running a classic dungeon crawl campaign’), but I am cautiously optimistic about the modular nature of the game – even if it is going to cost me more money (and I think you are spot on with that).

    • Well, I think there are going to be 3 major types of Modules– 1) Adventures, which by their nature are not player material; 2) GM Modules like the naval ones you mentioned above which add rules for the GM side of the screen; 3) Player-GM Modules, which could be stuff like, “Hey Mr. GM–I picked up the Fighter Handbook yesterday and it’s got the rules for Shield Mastery (for example) in it, and I want to use those for my character.” The player buys the book because he wants to add those rules to his character, and the GM buys it because he wants to keep up with the modules his players are bringing to him. Nothing the GM does will have to change other than being aware of how the new Module interfaces with the rest of the Modules he has decided to use. Likewise, the GM has the up-front option of saying NO, and the player likewise should have no expectation of it being automatically allowed, because even during the play-test phases, ALL MODULES ARE OPTIONAL.

    • Also (2nd reply here)–
      What you are talking about is an interpersonal issue between the GM and the player, NOT an issue with the ruleset itself. It appears as though the game is being designed so that a whole swath of different playstyles are supported. If the GM and the player clash on their preferred playstyle, that has nothing to do with the rules. That has to do with the *people*.

      • That’s true; when you break it down like that it makes a lot more sense to me. Player-GM modules are going to have content that are only going to affect a character, not the whole campaign so the likelihood of the DM saying ‘no’ is a lot less (shield mastery is a good example – I doubt anyone would say no to that).

        One of the genius things about this is that even though it’s going to cost more to play the game overall, much of the added cost is going to be spread around a lot more evenly between the players and the DM, so the individual D&D player might not see the increase all that much.

      • It also means that a lot more people will be playing the SAME GAME. I really like the idea that this might help put the Edition Wars into a detente.

  3. Hawke says:

    I think we can have success if:

    1) The initial PHB has some complexity available from the outset. What I don’t want to do is buy a PHB to get the HP, Attack Bonuses, Weapons, and Rules but have to then buy something else if I want some advanced spell casting or some new moves for my fighter. If there’s less in the PHB than was in the 4E PHB, I wont be happy to feel like I have to make two purchases as a player.

    2) The complexity of character creation with the modules doesn’t make DDI a ‘requirement’ because of the character builder. I sort of feel like 4E’s proliferation of feats already makes this the case. AT the DDXP seminar say character creation is 15 minutes for a pro and 30 minutes for a newbie. I hope that’s the case and there’s more clear options rather than 3 pages of +1 feats to sift through.

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