Wizards of the Coast released their new edition of Dungeons & Dragons this summer. It’s been play tested by fans for a few years now and it’s finally available. But with all the specialty games out there and various indie titles, is D&D really relevant anymore?
D&D has been around for a long time. I’ve personally been playing since 2nd edition. I have fond memories of glorious min-maxing: “Why would I pick anything but the bastard sword? It does the most damage!” And players wanting to be their favorite heroes from the books: “No you can’t all be duel wielding Drow rangers!” I took a break from it in college and played White Wolf horror game titles such as Vampire: The Masquerade, but we don’t talk about that dark time. Recently I got back into D&D with 4th edition and it was a lot of fun for the first 10 levels.
D&D has had a tumultuous evolution from its 70’s roots to its current incarnation. It seems that while I was in my emo-gaming phase I missed most of the edition wars. While 3.5 was lauded as a cash grab because it was too similar to 3rd edition, 4th edition was picked apart for deviating too far from the roleplaying model. In all honesty, 4th edition was much more MMO-esque than the storytelling standard that D&D had become.
During this time Paizo’s Pathfinder, which used 3.5’s rules under the Open Game License, gained in popularity. Having played it I can see why; it’s tight. The door was also opened to indie titles. Amazing fantasy games like Dungeon World, Torchbearer, and 13th Age were able to exist thanks to crowd funding through Kickstarter. Every kind of game you can think of is now out there, some as specific as telling the story of feudal Japanese romance or religious exploration in 18th century North America. If your idea for a world hasn’t been developed, there are super generic systems such as Fate Core and Savage Worlds which encourage and support the creation of your own setting. With so many overwhelming choices in games now, how can D&D still be relevant?
Any game that has been around for 40 years has a vast history which extends beyond the concept of editions. I’m talking about lore – D&D is one huge story. When 5th edition released, it chose the Forgotten Realms as its setting. Hardcore players will recognize it as the continent of Faerûn, part of the fictional world of Abeir-Toril. There have been source books, novels, and consistent events in this setting since 1987. Thousands of images are available to draw inspiration on, and there are even more player-stories to share. This history is something you can’t ignore.
D&D also has a unique pricing advantage. Like most games, the three main hardcover books are running around $50 each. A savvy shopper may find them for $30 on Amazon. Either way that’s a hefty investment for some DM’s and can be quite intimidating for anyone getting into the hobby. However, the Starter set is just $25 and the basic rules are available online for free! Unless you are a hardcover book hoarder, like me, then you can realistically play for free using a digital dice app. This move increases the accessibility of this already prevalent game. New players who’ve always wondered about D&D or old players who felt scorched by the edition wars, no longer have to invest their hard earned gold into a game. They can read it, try it, and judge it for themselves for free! Considering how well known the game is, it becomes very easy to justify hocking out the cash for one of their hardcover adventure books if you end up liking the game. These are $22 and run you from level 1-15, while leading you through a world-changing adventure.
With this all in mind, is D&D still a relevant game? It’s not my go-to RPG system, but reluctantly I must say yes. At the very least, it has its unmatchable history and the artwork, as always, is inspirational. The new rules are a welcoming breath of fresh air and they may even quell the edition war debates. I’ve played a few times now and I find that the background rules help flesh out a character. And unlike 4th edition, it isn’t just a combat machine, but the combat still manages to offer a brutal challenge.
Bottom line: D&D is THE gateway. Anyone who is curious about RPGs will inevitably be drawn into the D&D world. With every edition, D&D has had steady growth and with more people getting into the hobby than ever, there has never been a better time for gamers than right now. After 4th edition, D&D went back to the drawing board and came up with 5th edition as something with brand recognition that a new gamer can get into. I’m well past the gateway-stage for my gaming and have developed a preference for the smaller specialty games; however, if someone asked me to pick up my bastard sword and join them for an adventure in the Realms for an evening, I would not say no. You never forget your first love.