The Alphastream Game Design Blog
Wizards has had a tough time defining what One D&D is, and why it is desirable. In the last session of the day, Jeremy Crawford and Chris Perkins answered questions and showed how the future of 5E can be exciting and desirable. This is my fifth and final blog on the D&D Summit. Part 1 (Overview), Part 2 (Community Rises), Part 3 (VTT), Part 4 (D&D Beyond).
Back when I interviewed Kyle Brink, the team was thinking of One D&D as 5.5. That was likely meant to calm folks, but compatibility is tricky. And the team is racing against deadlines, without the freedom D&D Next enjoyed to work through several iterations before releasing 5E. Whether it is a self-imposed mindset that 2024 and the 50th anniversary must be the year for the revision, or a corporate mandate to boost sales, the team seems unwavering in their commitment to the final deadline… even as playtest packets miss deadlines. (The latest playtest packet will now release on 4/26.)
At the D&D Summit the team communicated that the placeholder term of One D&D is no more. In its stead is the name… 5E. What they mean by this is that the 2024 release is no longer a 5.5 and is not a 6E. It is the same edition, improved.
To underscore this, Jeremy Crawford shared that during the 3E days, he had a freelance job converting monsters from 3E to 3.5E. He says he knows that for all intents and purposes, these were different enough and conversion hard enough that they should be considered different editions. I’m glad to hear that the D&D team understands the problems of compatibility and is focusing on ways to minimize issues.
Assuming the team does achieve this, it is likely that the community will adopt the terms 2024 for the new “update” and that 2014 will be used for the original release. I will use that convention for now.
The team says that for 2024 to remain compatible , elements with numbers such as levels will not change. For example, if a monster’s CR is 12, that monster’s CR won’t change even if it is updated. This way, you can use either version. Yes, the new one will be better, but either should work within reason. If a spell is changed, it will still have the same level. This way, you can run an older adventure and should not need much conversion.
There will always be some conversion. For example, if a 2014 adventure mentions a dwarf’s stonecunning applies, and the 2024 stonecunning is all about fighting in the dark instead of the knowledge of underground stonework… that’s a conversion. Here is what the team is thinking won’t need conversions:
Tasha’s and Xanathar’s Converted: The team did say that they are taking many ideas from Tasha’s and Xanathar’s and incorporating them into the 2024 rules. Because of that, those two books are going to be updated to new versions. The team does not plan on converting other books at this time.
This is a reasonable stance for the team to take. No perfect path exists. While I personally would rather the team create a very minor polish update for 2024 and then create an actual 6E for 2026, that isn’t what everyone wants. No one thing is what everyone wants. A full edition risks alienating and losing lots of players.
To pull this off, the team will need to really work hard to keep changes from requiring conversion. They can’t revise encounter building whole cloth. They can only make minor adjustments. That’s the price of delivering on this promise. Each of us will feel differently about this. If you want major innovations to the encounter building system, changes to skills, changes to monster math… you will have to wait for 6E.
Jeremy says the team wants to have in-person conversations on where the game is headed. They will have a session at Gen Con, and would like to meet with people who are working on their own content and discuss how third-party creators integrate their current efforts with the 2024 rules.
Action Item – Better Management of Attendees and Agenda: Future conversations should tailor the attendees to the agenda, and make sure the agenda is clear. If the conversation is focused on third-party designers, the attendees should be experienced and able to provide good feedback. Similarly, if the conversation is applicable to actual-play streamers, attendees should reflect that and be experienced enough to provide useful experience to Wizards. Conversations need to be valuable for both the community and Wizards.
Recent WotC YouTube videos have had an improved tone compared to earlier videos. More conversational and less professorial/dictatorial. More indications that the team is listening to feedback, and fewer excuses or avoidance of feedback disagreeing with their direction.
However, playtest feedback still seems to come from DMs and players heavily invested in 5E. The team doesn’t seem to be widening the reach of the playtest to bring in stores, conventions, and new/casual players as the D&D Next playtest did. That’s a serious limitation. More than half of current players started with 5E. Crafting 5E so it was easy for new players to get started was a huge key to its success. The question remains: how do you get feedback from the new and casual players who are just getting started, so Wizards creates a 2024 5E that will grow our hobby even further?
Improvement Area – Widen the Playtest: There is a real danger that only the most hardcore will fill out the incredibly long surveys. I have to confess… I was too busy to fill out the last one myself… despite very much wanting to. Efforts should be made to make the surveys easier to take, and to bring in more new and casual players. 2024 will be a great product if it can get representative feedback, and if the team will listen to it. But this is hard. Asking the right questions, in the right ways, to the right folks… it took a lot of work for D&D Next to pull this off. It’s getting close to a year from when 2024 books will be printed, and we’ve seen very little of the game.
The team is working to improve the Player’s Handbook to make it easier to get to the fun. The order of the book will change so the reader will get an overview of the rules first, then make a character. There will be ready-to-use ability arrays, and a rules glossary at the end of the book (similar to the UA playtest packets).
Staggered Releases: The core books will be released one after the other, not at the same time.
Art and Size: All three core books should have some all-new art, with the PH being all-new art. All three books will have a slightly larger typeface for accessibility. Partly due to typeface and more art, each book will be longer. The PH will be 32 or 64 pages longer.
Inclusivity: There is an even greater focus on inclusivity, reflecting how the game and players have changed. The monk will have some non-Asian wording, with changes to show that it is not just an Asian stereotype. Similarly, other classes will have more diverse examples, to show that all classes have a home in a wide variety of cultural backgrounds. (The monk will also be improved from a damage output perspective.)
Species: The term Species is still being examined (it was originally Lineage) and feedback listened to. There are 9 species in the PH, with the Goliath being added and no half-orc or half-elf. Jeremy says the half races have long been problematic for the team, and while the rules can always be used by someone to play one (either using the 2014 version or by using custom lineage options), those two options won’t be in 2024. You can hear my perspective on the Mastering Dungeons podcast.
Backgrounds and Feats: There will be new backgrounds. The rules will emphasize build-your-own, and also provide sample ones. The emphasis on level 1 feats is to be simple to use.
Cleric/Wizard Subclasses: Because each class will have 4 subclasses, this means the cleric and wizard classes will have fewer than in 2014.
Spell Exclusivity: Some spells, such as find steed, will be exclusive to a class. In this case, only the paladin can use it.
The team plans to also add new content they feel is exciting. An example shared at the Summit was Weapon Mastery.
As you can see in the upcoming 4/26 playtest, the weapon tables in the PH will have a new column showing a linked Weapon Mastery feature. Most characters won’t get this benefit, but martial characters will have class features to gain a weapon mastery. Fighters will gain multiple masteries, and the ability to do special things with them, such as taking a mastery feature from one weapon and applying it to another.
Some of the weapon masteries shared at the summit: Slow, Nick, Push, Puncture, Sap, Flex, Graze, Topple, Push, Cleave. If a character gained push, for example, then using a weapon with that feature would allow them to push their foe. A character that instead learns Flex can use a weapon that is Versatile and has the Flex feature and do the higher versatile damage one-handed.
These features are an interesting twist on previous edition rules, particularly 2E. Folks at the summit found them very exciting, and we will all see them in a UA playtest packet “soon.”
Jeremy also shared that the musket and pistol are now ranged martial weapons, reflecting that most settings include them in some way.
The team recognizes that changing subclasses to start at 3rd level impacts the cleric, sorcerer, and warlock more than other classes. They also see it as overwhelming for new players to pick a subclass at level one. Design-wise, the cleric has a strong enough identity due to channel divinity and spells, but the sorcerer and warlock need a new core baseline to unify the class.
The sorcerer will embrace chaos more closely by being able to manipulate the randomness of their spells, and warlocks will get a sort of introductory pact. The classes will now work to establish that baseline and then later you refine it when you chose the subclass.
Caution Area – Incomplete Picture: Overall, the PH changes sound really good. At the same time, the game is more than the sum of its parts. There is a lot yet to be seen. I still really wish we had a playtest that let us play the game. Imagine if instead of seeing a full class build, we could get the first three levels of each class and run them through a scenario with the new encounter building rules and using revised monsters?
Most art is new, and the book may end up with more pages than any previous Monster Manual.
Caution – Fully Formed Ideas: We heard a lot of claims prior to Monsters of the Multiverse. The design was improved, but also inconsistent and perhaps not fully formed. It would be great for the community to be able to see examples and be able to provide feedback to the team. The team is composed of incredible designers. But the community also has deep experience running monsters and desiring adjustments. Or, in the case of new players, to hear what it is like when the revisions are experienced for the first time.
Chris Perkins shared that they hear three common DMG complaints: I don’t know what’s in it, I can’t find it, and I don’t use it. The team will address these issues, making the DMG more useful and a better reference guide.
Start with Rules: The book currently begins with world-building guidance. It will shift to begin with how to run the game.
Samples and Common Situations: The new DMG will have samples to show a style of adventure writing for home games. Same with campaigns, providing guidance and examples for a home DM. The DMG will also try to do a better job addressing common DM pain points, such as when a player leaves the campaign or when a DM feels they are running out of ideas. Advice is provided, focusing on tried-and-true solutions to common problems.
Revised Encounter-Building and Monster-Building Guidelines: There will be revised encounter-building rules. And, the team recognizes that the DMG guidelines for creating monsters does not match the WotC internal tools. There will be a new paper version of their tool, or perhaps even digitally.
Incorporate Tasha’s and Xanathar’s: Session 0 and safety tool guidance, common magic items, and other advice are being brought into the DMG.
Lore: There is a glossary of lore, explaining Orcus, Waterdeep, and similar lore elements a starting DM will likely encounter. Chris said there is a lot of online misinformation. I’m not so sure. Sites like FR Wiki provide accurate information faster and better than any paper glossary. And to the extent we want DMs to make the Lore theirs, misinformation is often due to either TSR/WotC lore changes or DMs making changes for their home games. Both are totally valid to steal from.
Last week, Chris Perkins was on a video sharing how the new book is organized:
Writing a great DMG is hard. The game has increasingly taken the reasons we turned to the DMG and moved those subjects into the PH. The 2014 DMG tries to inspire, calling back to the approach of the AD&D DMG. And it does provide a number of useful tables that can be very helpful to new and old DMs. But the best DMG the game has seen was the 4E DMG. And it followed up with the DMG2, which was arguably even better. These DMGs did inspire, while having a language that spoke to DMs new and old alike. They also provided useful tools and innovated the game.
The 5E 2014 DMG has many bright spots, though in some cases the gems need polish. Downtime was a rough concept in the DMG, improved greatly in Xanathar’s. In other cases, 5E has struggled to understand what the DMG’s tools should be. Ships are an example of this. The information could be presented better in the DMG, and we see it become far more useful and innovative in Ghosts of Saltmarsh. But then the information is stripped down to again become dull in Spelljammer. And throughout all of these, siege weapons fall short of what the game desires, either mechanically or inspirationally. Will we get to playtest the 2024 version of any of these?
Caution – Striking a Balance: It is no small task creating a DMG that can balance between inspiration, guidance, and providing tools useful to new and experienced DMs. I hope the team works together to explore the ideas and find that balance. I hope the team shows us this content, or at least shows it to experienced DMs outside of WotC that can provide closed playtest feedback.
This is the last of my blog articles on the Summit. If you enjoyed the series, please share it with your friends. You can also find a summary during episode 134 of the Mastering Dungeons podcast, available as a podcast or on YouTube. I was also on the Eldritch Lorecast discussing the summit.
This week, Mastering Dungeons starts a look into the 2014 DMG, analyzing the design and identifying areas of improvement! (Episode comes out Wednesday)
Several attendees have provided their reviews of the summit. In-person, here are great video overviews from Bob Worldbuilder and Ted at Nerd Immersion. For virtual attendees, I like this quick recap by Joshua Simmons, and you may also be interested in this account by TheSpaceJamber, this video by Sly Flourish, or notes by Daniel Kwan. The WotC Community Update page can be found here. If you find other accounts, please share them in the comments!