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Dungeons and Dragons (and yet another edition)


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Players Roll the Dice for Dungeons & Dragons Remake





True believers have lost faith. Factions squabble. The enemies are not only massed at the gates of the kingdom, but they have also broken through.

This may sound like the back story for an epic trilogy. Instead, it’s the situation faced by the makers of Dungeons & Dragons, the venerable fantasy role-playing game many consider to be the grandfather of the video game industry. Gamers bicker over Dungeons & Dragons rules. Some have left childhood pursuits behind. And others have spurned an old-fashioned, tabletop fantasy role-playing game for shiny electronic competitors like World of Warcraft and the Elder Scrolls.

But there might yet be hope for Dungeons & Dragons, known as D&D. On Monday, Wizards of the Coast, the Hasbro subsidiary that owns the game, announced that a new edition is under development, the first overhaul of the rules since the contentious fourth edition was released in 2008. And Dungeons & Dragons’ designers are also planning to undertake an exceedingly rare effort for the gaming industry over the next few months: asking hundreds of thousands of fans to tell them how exactly they should reboot the franchise.

The game “is a unique entertainment experience because it’s crafted by the players at the table, and every gaming session is different,” said Liz Schuh, who directs publishing and licensing for Dungeons & Dragons. “We want to take that idea of the players crafting that experience to the next level and say: ‘Help us craft the rules. Help us craft how this game is played.’ ”

Dungeons & Dragons, created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, was the first commercially published role-playing game when it came out in 1974. In the game imagination is the playscape, assisted by graph-paper maps, miniature figurines of orcs and hobbits and a referee called a “dungeon master” who moderates an improvised story with a pretend fellowship of wizards, warriors and rogues. Players toss polyhedral dice and consult tomes of rules to determine outcomes. It has shades of the “Lord of the Rings,” except that in the game players assembled around a table get to be the characters.

“There is something fundamental to the D&D role-playing game that answers a need for people,” said Mike Mearls, senior manager of Dungeons & Dragons research and development — that need being telling your own heroic story.

Throughout the 1970s and ’80s Dungeons & Dragons grew from a cult sensation into something more, surviving, even thriving, after unfounded accusations that it led teenagers to practice black magic and commit suicide. Since the game’s birth an estimated 20 million people have played it and spent $1 billion on its products. Many computer coders once dabbled in the hobby, which explains why so many video games today use a “run through a dungeon and kill monsters” premise, and borrow concepts — avatars, levels, open-ended stories, cooperative game play — pioneered by Dungeons & Dragons. The nerdy pastime has even become a badge of honor for hipsters and artists, with the likes of the film director Jon Favreau, the comedian Stephen Colbert, the N.B.A. star Tim Duncan and the actor Vin Diesel professing their love of the game, and the NBC comedy “Community” using it as a plot point in a recent episode.

But Dungeons & Dragons has slumped, buffeted by forces external and internal. The company does not release sales figures, but analysts and gaming experts agree that sales of the game, and all tabletop role-playing ones, have been dwindling for years. Ryan Scott Dancey, chief executive of the game company Goblinworks and a former vice president at Wizards of the Coast, said the overall market peaked between 1999 and 2003 and has been in steady decline since 2005. “My instincts are it’s slower than ever,” he said.

Electronic games have done the most damage, as entries like World of Warcraft and the currently hot-selling Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim let players (represented by tricked-out avatars) conquer acres of fantastically rendered digital landscapes without the need for hours of time spent writing the story line and sketching Middle Earth-like maps.

“If all you’re looking for is fulfillment of your wish to be an idealized projection of yourself who gains in wealth and power by overcoming monsters, there are lots of ways to do that nowadays,” said Tavis Allison, a game designer in New York who has made his own role-playing game, Adventurer Conqueror King. “In the ’70s Dungeons & Dragons was the only game in town.”

Edition wars have also wounded the game. Various rules systems have been released over Dungeons & Dragons’ 38-year history: Basic, Advanced, Advanced 2nd edition, 3.0, 3.5, 4.0. Devotion to particular rules can be fanatical. Hostilities about how to best play the game — for example, how a sorcerer casts spells — flare up among the core fan base.

A result, said David M. Ewalt, a senior editor at Forbes and the author of a forthcoming history of Dungeons & Dragons, has been a fractured fan base. The game is a group activity, he said, and playing together is tricky when players use different rules. “Imagine trying to organize a basketball team, if the point guard adheres to modern league rules, but the center only knows how to play ancient Mayan handball.”

When the N.B.A. adopted the 3-point shot in 1979, purists cried foul at rules changes, just as many D&D devotees dismissed the rules of the game’s fourth edition as dumbed down, overeager to mimic multiplayer online games like Warcraft — and favoring killing over the role-playing and storytelling roots of Dungeons & Dragons. Some began playing other role-playing games like Pathfinder, which won over disgruntled players. Miniature war games like Warhammer or Wizards of the Coast’s own trading-card game Magic: The Gathering have also diluted Dungeons & Dragons’ dominance.

With the new edition and the call for feedback, in a “hearts and minds” campaign, Wizards of the Coast is attempting to rally players to the cause . The strategy centers on asking them what they’d like to see in a new version and giving everyday gaming groups the chance to test new rules. “We’re really lucky that we have such passionate fans,” Ms. Schuh said, “and we anticipate they’ll roll up their sleeves and help us in this effort.”

Greg Tito, games editor for The Escapist, an online games culture magazine, will be one of them. “The long open testing period for the next edition, if handled correctly, could be exactly what’s needed to make players feel invested in D&D again,” he said.

The rule changes are part of several efforts to keep the brand relevant. Wizards of the Coast already publishes a steady stream of products set in the D&D universe: fantasy novels (by authors like R. A. Salvatore), comic books and board games. To combat the perception that the game requires hours of planning, the company organizes weekly drop-in sessions called D&D Encounters, run in game shops nationwide; they’re billed as an easy way “to fit your game in after school or work.”

Wizards of the Coast has also made previous forays into the digital realm. Dungeons & Dragons Online was released in 2006. Since becoming free to play, the game has gained over one million new players, an impressive figure for D&D but relatively insignificant compared to World of Warcraft’s 10-million-plus paid subscribers. A Facebook game called Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes of Neverwinter made its debut this fall. Also, a “virtual tabletop” product to allow Dungeons & Dragons acolytes to play online is being Beta-tested.

Still, a new edition could backfire, if the changes requested by hard-core fans can’t be reconciled or if players believe the company is merely paying lip service to their concerns. Nonetheless the company remains “absolutely committed” to the core tabletop game-play, Ms. Schuh said. “People want that face-to-face experience.”

Certainly committed players will remind you that tabletop role-playing games still outperform computer games in one key arena: improvisation. Video games have limits. Some dungeon doors can’t be opened because a programmer didn’t code them to open. Dungeons & Dragons remains a game where anything can happen.

So while Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Portal 2 may have their day in the sun, “they can’t compete with a live Dungeon Master for throwing thrills at the players,” James M. Ward, a game designer and former vice president of TSR Inc., the company that originally published D&D, wrote in an e-mail. “The fun of growing a character while your friends do the same thing around a table munching on M&M’s and other snacks is difficult to duplicate.”

Even if players increasingly bring their iPads, loaded with Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks, to the gaming table.


This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: January 9, 2012


An earlier version of this article misstated James M. Ward’s middle initial. It also gave the wrong photo credit. The photograph with the article carried an erroneous credit. The picture is by Matthew Ryan Williams, not Joshua Bright.





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Game play is different. The mechanics of spells, weapons, and skills (especially skills) have changed over the years. As have the creatures you encounter. As the years go by, and more people put out resource books, it gets cluttered and contradictory (kind of like continuity on comics). New editions are (in part) an attempt to clear the clutter and make things more simple to appeal to more players. The other part is to make more money so that the company can stay afloat.

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  • 4 months later...
  • 2 weeks later...
  • 6 years later...

So I'll be finally dipping my toes into DnD with some coworkers this week. The more I learn, the more in love with it I'm becoming. Building characters is fun as hell. I'm watching Critical Role which is fantastic and might need it's own thread (it's a bunch of voice actors playing DnD and it's mesmerizing.) I bought some dice and even some miniatures that I'm gonna paint. My first character I'm rolling is a Kenku rogue which I think will be fun\annoying (Kenkus can't talk... Only mimic what they have heard.) Who else here even plays? It's not something I see talked alot about here. Any first timers tips and resources are appreciated! 

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I dropped some cash on the most recent addition of Gamma World (the post-apocalyptic version of D&D) and Amber and I have made characters but we're the only people we know who are interested, she doesn't know the setting, and I've never played, let alone DMed so there's a bit of a learning curve there.

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On 6/11/2019 at 10:37 AM, Bindusara said:

I'm digging all the new people getting turned on to tabletop thanks to DnD....im just ready for them to want to play something that isn't dnd <.<;; so many good games out there. 

I'm not married to D&D, it's just the one that most people know.  RPGs are not cheap or easy to get into.

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On 6/12/2019 at 3:09 PM, Iambaytor said:

I'm not married to D&D, it's just the one that most people know.  RPGs are not cheap or easy to get into.

Looks at her never-played Black Cube box for Invisible Sun and a tear drips down her cheek.

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  • 3 months later...

So, as of right now I am playing in a new game with a new DM (new to the game and group) that is going.... errrr ok., but it's more fun than not. I'm a little grifter Goblin Warlock in this one. The last one kinda fell apart after our DM got burnt out/pushed to the side by another noob who decided he wanted to DM also/fired from our job for being late all the time. So yeah. 


I've also started running my own game, which I will be completely honest, is basically the reason why I've sidelined the WW stuff here.... sorry guys. I'm in deep over here and it is a lot. I can't promise when the next game here will be, and there seems to be waning interest. 


But holy crap is this fun. I'm running my wife Katherine, and two friends from work. I feel like that is a great starting number for me. It allows me keep things kind of pointed and not go crazy. So far they have defeated a vampire living in the woods and are about to embark on a journey across the plains and into a Morrowind-esque swamp to deliver some lumber. Struggling with making things challenging for them, but I think they are having fun and I'm digging it so far.

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