The Alphastream Game Design Blog
Wizards of the Coast held D&D Direct, announcing a number of books and products, including classic campaign settings. Find out exactly what was announced… and what might be announced next.
Hear Shawn Merwin and I discuss the D&D Direct announcements on the Mastering Dungeons Podcast!
Spelljammer: Adventures in Space (the same name as the 1989 boxed set, which I review in this Twitter thread) will allow your PCs to fly through space and across campaign worlds in ships called Spelljammers, powered by magical helms. (For more on Spelljammer, see What a 5E Spelljammer Campaign Setting Might Look Like and 5E Dungeons & Dragons Is Replete With Spelljammer References)
For 5E, the $70 product will be a set of three books packaged in a slipcase, along with a double-sided poster map of the Rock of Bral asteroid base and a DM screen. Each book is a 64-page hardback, which is an unusual format. (Perhaps WotC sees this as a better alternative to a boxed set.)
The Astral Adventurer’s Guide:
Boo’s Astral Menagerie:
Light of Xaryxis:
On both (recently acquired by WotC) D&D Beyond and through the D&D web site, WotC released the Monstrous Compendium Volume One: Spelljammer Creatures for free! It contains ten monsters “from across the D&D multiverse.” These seem to be Spelljammer creatures, though one is the nightmare beast from Dark Sun! (This is interesting, because Dark Sun has in the past been mostly inaccessible to other settings.) The ten monsters here are apparently not in the adventure, so these are extra monsters we can use for fun.
We also learned that Spelljammer Academy will be released for free in July. This is a preview pdf adventure. Perkins called it a “friendly introduction to the concept of Spelljamming” – it explains what the setting is, how to run a campaign, and can take you from 1st to 5th level… making it ideal as a lead to the 5th-level adventure in the main set.
You can’t yet write for the Spelljammer setting on the DMsGuild, but it is expected to be available after the set releases. There will be a Dungeoncraft program for Spelljammer (as there was with Witchlight) to help authors write for the setting. There will also be a space story arc in the Dreams of the Red Wizards AL campaign.
D&D Direct and later interviews confirm several changes. In AD&D, the Spelljammer helm was powered by a spellcaster who sat in the helm… and lost all their spells. The new version requires attunement and you keep your spells. Yay!
In the original version, each campaign world (Greyhawk, Krynn, Forgotten Realms) was a set of planets in a “crystal sphere.” All the spheres floated in a flammable substance called phlogiston, and rivers wove through the phlogiston weaving the worlds together. Those ideas are largely gone. When you leave a planet you enter Wildspace, and if you go far enough you shift to the Astral plane. Through the Astral you can reach other worlds (solar systems). I generally like these changes, even if I enjoyed aspects of the prior system.
It should be obvious that we also have to get less than we had before. As I explain in this thread, AD&D had multiple boxed sets, adventures, supplements, novels, and even a video game. It was a ruinous financial strategy back then, so we can’t expect it again. If you want to read about how the original Spelljammer was designed, this blog post by designer Jeff Grubb is excellent. And if you want to laugh/cry, this old and terrible 1990s Wildspace trailer is for a Spelljammer board game that was fully designed but never released.
WizKids is creating a plethora of sets to support the setting. Most come in October.
There is a lot to note here. First, there is clearly support for spelljammer battles on a tactical map. We get both a gargantuan astral dreadnaught and a “ship scale” version. You can have a space battle with a giant gelatinous cube, an enemy mind flayer nautiloid ship, and a dragon. Or, if you close to normal range, you can have a battle in normal scale with your PC minis and the gargantuan astral dreadnaught. You can’t imagine how stunned I was to see two more Dark Sun creatures in these minis! The lizard-folk ssuran and the rhino-like braxat have until now only been in the desert setting. Now they are Spelljammer minis? We also see a thri-kreen mini, though those creatures appear in several settings. Still… could the Dark Sun setting be in development? Unconfirmed.
Another classic setting! Developed independently from the new upcoming Dragonlance novels, and concurrent with the original novel trilogy but not intruding upon it, will be a new Dragonlance campaign. Releasing in November 2022, Shadow of the Dragon Queen allows a new generation of heroes to experience the War of the Lance. We have very few details, but it will take place in a less-explored part of the main continent and will not require any prior knowledge of the setting (this is good as Wikipedia says there are… wow… 190 novels for Dragonlance?).
The theme of the setting was summed up as war, and to support this there will be a board game, Warriors of Krynn. You can play the board game on its own, and you can play the 5E adventure on its own, but you can also use the board game to play out battles in the 5E adventure! (That is really cool… now… I do kind of wish we had a Spelljammer ship battle game!)
The board game was designed by top designers Stephen Baker (HeroQuest, Battle Masters) and Rob Daviau (Risk Legacy, Restoration Games). It is said to have strong narrative elements and Ray Winninger says, “one of the interesting things about that game is that it has a lot of narrative elements, just like a role-playing game. It’s a board game, but you’re asked to narrate what’s happening and whatnot. If you choose, while you’re playing the role-playing campaign when major sort of battles break out in the story you can break out the board game and start playing the board game. Your characters from the RPG import into the board game. You keep playing your characters in the board game, and you can learn what amazing, incredible, heroic things they do in these battles. But that experience is entirely optional.”
There will also be Adventurers League support, to be detailed at a later time. Finally, the Unearthed Arcana article for Dragonlance: Heroes of Krynn has been updated, with various changes you may or may not like. There is already a survey up for it. What do you think about every PC having a non-optional feat at levels 1 and 4, and the small menu of feat choices? What do you think of the Kender losing its pocket ability? To the survey!
The only new information for the movie was the reveal of the title. We also had confirmation of the cast and that the city of Neverwinter is involved. There is a new Twitter account for the movie.
An EN World member provided a review the following week, when roughly 30 seconds of footage was shared at CinemaCon. I really loved hearing this: “I will say that the overall look was absolutely amazing for being this far out. Easily on par with what you would expect from a Marvel theatrical release. Costumes all looked good, sets all looked good.”
July 19th will bring two cases for DMs. The first has 64 customizable round plastic discs, upon which you place reusable clings with images of monsters. It’s a clever idea! The second set uses the same concept, this time with interlocking terrain tiles (one side is outdoors, the other dungeon) and you can add features via the clings (campfire, tree, etc.).
D&D continues to work on translating books into French, Italian, German, and Spanish translations (aimed at Europe). Dates were provided for the new Starter Set (Oct 4th), Tasha’s (July 12), Mordenkainen’s (Sept), and Curse of Strahd (Oct). The digital tools will also be translated. No news on how this works for the rest of the world, including other countries (say, all of Latin America) that speak the languages.
D&D Onslaught will be a new two-player skirmish game releasing in September via WizKids. One player plays the Harpers, the other the Zhentarim. You get 21 fully-painted miniatures, a double-sided game board, d20s, dial cards, various cards and tokens and terrain elements. It has a price point of $140.
WotC is revising its intro boxed set a third time, this time as the D&D Starter Set – Dragons of Stormwreck Isle for $20. It releases exclusively at Target stores on August 1 and then more widely in October. It is designed for new DMs, parents looking to introduce D&D to their kids, and players looking to become DMs. The cover features Sheila and Hank from the ‘80s cartoon, but the adventure itself does not deal with the cartoon.
The boxed set is redesigned with QR-code links to upcoming digital tools. This includes videos and other material providing lessons and on-ramps. An interactive demo experience will teach the fundamentals in just 15 minutes. Topics include how to read a stat block, how to run an encounter, how to handle branching narrative and a collaborative story, increasing comfort with collaboration and improve, and other topics. This will be part of the new Player Hub on the D&D site.
The site will also provide a relaunch of the DID After School Club Kits. Separate kits for grades 4-6 and 7-12 will be available with everything needed to launch and sustain a school D&D club. This includes posters to advertise it and the material underscores the emotional benefits of cooperative play and storytelling. It is initially only in the US.
Ajit George and the WotC team provided details and art for several of the adventures in the book, which releases June 21. The adventures draw heavily from the cultures of the authors, which is really cool. The art is amazing, with vibrant warm colors that WotC art doesn’t tap into very often. One of the adventures, Orchids of the Invisible Mountain, crosses the Feywild and travels into the Far Realm, which should be an interesting challenge for 14th level adventurers.
(For more on the design and all-PoC approach in this book, check out my interview with project lead Ajit George on Mastering Dungeons!)
The only video game news was that Baldur’s Gate would finally see release in 2023 (it has been in early access for a long time) and may be expanding. The Neverwinter MMO’s next “module” will be another dragon-themed one, updating various aspects of current dragon content and adding some additional lairs and dragon hunts. While we know additional new video games are being worked on, none were announced.
More importantly, nothing was said about the looming new edition update coming in 2024 other than to say that all the products “should play nice” with the 2024 revisions.
A PR fact sheet provided some numbers (50 million D&D players worldwide, 2021 again the best year ever and 9th year of consecutive growth). It stated that “Introductory D&D products continued to reach new audiences with more total sales in 2021 than when they first released in 2014.” This suggests that 5E, after 8 years, is still managing to avoid declining sales on the core products. That is an incredible (and never before in our industry) accomplishment. Similarly, they said that it took Curse of Strahd years to sell as many copies as Wild Beyond the Witchlight sold in September 2021.
But I had hoped to hear more about the way D&D Beyond figured into WotC plans, and indeed to hear more about the grand nature of those plans. I also thought they might announce the retirement of Dragon+, incorporating that magazine into D&D Beyond’s already strong video and article offerings.
I still think that WotC and Hasbro, now coordinating more closely than ever before, will launch a platform that pulls together all of the entertainment offerings: movies, TV shows, D&D Beyond, a VTT (for both RPGs and board games), news and articles, live streams, and more. That kind of offering could be bolstered by the D&D Beyond acquisition, would be stock earnings gold, and could also be something customers actually want… all without lessening the importance of a sound 5E (or 5.5E).
See Why No RPG Company Truly Competes with Wizards of the Coast and The Real Competition for D&D and Wizards of the Coast for why entertainment is WotC’s actual goal, rather than competing in the RPG space. At some point, WotC should want to begin to pull together that vision and begin enticing us towards a subscription model.
Don’t get me wrong. I think D&D Direct was very impressive… for RPG offerings. But I think more is coming on a grander scale that can catapult D&D into new areas.