Between 2021 D&D Celebration, and 2022 D&D Direct, we have seen a lot of updates on the Future of D&D. We will soon even be getting new Core Rulebooks, which many fans are calling 5.5e.
Before we talk about 5.5, let’s take a look at 3.5. In 2000, the 3rd Edition was released, and it was fairly popular, but three years later, it got a slight update, and 3.5 was released. This was the most popular version of the game there had ever been (before 5e), and it brought D&D into the 21st Century. Classes got stat changes, updated spell lists, and ability adjustments. No new classes were added, nor races. Some spells were removed, and new ones added. Unnecessary specifications were removed, like Wilderness Lore into Survival. This slight update gave D&D the platform to become huge.
Now, we are in 2021. D&D 5e is the single most popular the game has ever been, and TtRPGs are rising with the tide. A non-insignificant reason for the success has to do with Live Streaming and Actual Play shows, such as Critical Role, and the hundreds of followers. This has done something truly significant for Wizards of the Coast, the company that makes D&D. They can see, in real time, how people are playing this game. What parts do they like, what do they skip over, what stories are they most interested in telling? They are able to get the best Market Research, straight from their customers.
One of the things that has been on our minds for several years now, as a result of the popularity of streamed games combined actually with the tidal wave of new people coming to D&D, is the need to have bite-size adventure content.
So you’ll notice that around the time we came out with the Essentials Kit and then continued on with a lot of our adventure content—even when it’s a large, epic campaign, like last year’s Rime of the Frostmaiden—they’re much easier to divide up into digestible segments that where … if the DM wants to just read a part of this big book, or just run one of these little quests, we’re making that easier to do. Not only to make things less arduous for a brand new Dungeon Master, and with new groups of players coming to D&D for the first time, but also because of that format of play, also suits streamed games better.Jeremy Crawford, Principal Designer of D&D 5e
So there are probably some design elements that are going to change.
However, D&D, along with literally every other major community in the US, has been put under the spotlight in the past two years, asking whether or not things are socially acceptable still, or “woke.” A lot of things back in 1974, when the game was originally released, were different. Calling Dwarves and Elves “races” made sense, because they weren’t the “Human Race.” Having trans-inclusivity, or even gender equality, were not part of the conversation. The idea of intentionally having your character be disabled went against the traditional idea of the Power Fantasy that D&D is catering to. Now, we are in 2021, and these ideas are not only being talked about, but D&D attracts traditionally marginalized groups, who want to have their own Power Fantasy, that isn’t cishet white male non-disabled neurotypical.
So the game can refer to people as “they” instead of the assumed “he,” or even progressive “she.” Changing “Races” to “Ancestry” keeps the same idea, without the real world implications of “Race War.” Also, in 5e, if you play a Dwarf you have a +2 to your Constitution, whereas Elves get a +2 to Dexterity, making broad generalizations about an entire demographic. While it makes sense where these ideas came from, in the modern day saying “those people are tough” is just uncomfortable. So instead, we can give these ability score improvements based on your Background, how you were raised before you became an adventurer.
Let’s see what the 5e expansion books say, that we can potentially pull into the new 5.5!
Current Rules Expansions
The biggest change for players, is the amount of character creation options there are.
For reference, the core Player’s Handbook has 9 races, 9 subraces, 12 classes, 40 subclasses, and 13 Backgrounds, to create your character with. However, there are a number of rulebooks for 5e that all add more to that list.
- Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide
- Curse of Strahd
- Xanathar’s Guide to Everything
- Tomb of Annihilation
- Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica
- Eberron: Rising from the Last War
- Ghosts of Saltmarsh
- Descent into Avernus
- Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything
- Mythic Odysseys of Theros
- Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft
- The Wild Beyond the Witchlight
- Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos
- Fizbans’s Treasury of Dragons
There are now an additional:
- 20 Races
- 12 Subraces
- 1 Class
- 81 Subclasses
- 29 Backgrounds
- 7 New Features
- This Is Your Life – A guide to creating your backstory
- Character Debts and Regrets – This is in addition to the Personality Traits, Ideal, Bonds, and Flaws, where now you have more negative aspects of your character, things you wish weren’t present, which gives the DM more angles to create storylines that you’ll be personally invested in.
- Character Secrets – Your character has something that they’d rather the party not know, but it will almost certainly put you in a position where you have to make a decision you’d rather not make.
- Group Patrons – The idea here is that you have someone more powerful than the group, who is a continual quest giver, or job picker. You work for someone else, and it helps tie individual adventures into a campaign. It also can be inspiration for the types of jobs you get.
- Supernatural Gifts – Adventurers are a special type of people, and those people might have a specific ability that isn’t because of who they are, but how they are treated by the gods or fate.
- Diabolical Deals with Devils – At some point you might have made a deal with a devil (perhaps causing you to be a Warlock in the first place), and it has narrative and mechanical affects on your character.
- Dark Gifts – Similar to Diabolical Deals or Supernatural Gifts, these are specialty abilities based on your history.
So while I’m sure that only a few of these will be going into the new Player’s Handbook, I’m sure that the way to make your character will change to include at least some of these.
It was also recently announced that Wizards of the Coast bought the website DnDBeyond.com, which previously was a source to buy the books and have digital character sheets, encounter builders, homebrew builders, and a bunch of rules across all the sourcebooks. Now that they own the site, I feel the next step will be very obvious. D&D is going to become a subscription company.
I think @RobertGReeve on Twitter explained it brilliantly in the tweet below, but let me summarize, in an order that I think will be business savy.
5- Subscription Model
Just imagine, for a few dollars a month, you can have access to EVERY 5e sourcebook at your fingertips, able to share them with your players, and be able to tap into a massive stream of content. If they are smart, they are going to price it out so that it would almost seem foolish NOT to do this. The majority of the people that spend money on D&D are Dungeon Masters, so to have so much available for the DMs to get, without spending the $25-$50 it costs to get these either on DnDBeyond or in print. Now, you can spend, let’s say, $6/month and get ALL of them, on a platform that allows you to drop monsters in to encounter builders, spells to customize, and collect your players character sheets to make prep so much easier.
4- DM-less experience
While Robert talks about a completely computer run game, I think it’s more likely that part of your DnDBeyond subscription will include Adventurer’s League content to play at home. Now people could DM with much less prep as they can trust the game will come out every week, simple enough to run with some light reading, and know that they’ll be able to talk to other DMs about how they ran it. Everything will be much more streamlined. You log on the morning of your game session, read through it, and you’re ready to run the session that evening.
2- Open Homebrew
Allowing more people to not only create homebrew, but import it into DnDBeyond would help the community grow, as people find new ways to change the game. Robert compares it to the Skyrim Mod community, which is ensuring that people are going to be buying Skyrim again for the PS5, even though the game is over a decade old at this point, because they want to keep playing in that Mod Sandbox.
3- DungeonMaster’s Guild
That website that lets people sell their Homebrew, well if D&D just buys it outright, then people can still purchase Homebrew, so creators still get the content, but then not only does D&D get the revenue from it directly, but it also allows them to port it over much easier. It’s such a huge platform already, it makes sense to bring it into the fold.
1- Virtual Tabletop
Lastly, instead of letting Roll20, FantasyGrounds, or Foundry take it all, to have a VTT that is dedicated to 5e would be super successful, especially if it connects to your DnDBeyond character sheet and encounter builder. So you open up your Adventurer’s League adventure for the week, import the included map for the VTT and related tokens, and you’re off.
Overall while I think this is the business smart move, it would ultimately be bad for the hobby. In my opinion, D&D is a creative game, where you can make stories with your friends. Now, if it follows this path, you’ll instead be just watching a tv show, through the lens of a roleplay game, and you can’t change near as much because it’s all preplanned without you. Unfortunately, we all know that the lack of DMs is the biggest thing stopping D&D from growing even more than it already is, and by lowering the barrier to entry even more you’d theoretically open up the pool of potential DMs tenfold. It makes sense for the business, it would grow the hobby, but I’m afraid it would have a Mercer-Effect like impact on the hobby, where everyone expects the game to be the same everywhere, as opposed to a unique creation that each group at each table can make together.