In this high-tech age where gaming is at its peak, we see a 40 year old game coming back with a 5th edition to its name; Dungeons and Dragons. Take a peek into the board gaming genre’ and you shall see that it is a billion dollar industry, with games such as Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride under its hood. Gaming itself has become a science and if this so-called legend-of-a-game “program” is making its re-entry, then it must be something to look forward too.
Whether it’s a collectable card game like Magic the gathering, or a MMORPG like World of Warcraft and Yahoo Fantasy Football, these games have entered into an era where elements inherent to role-playing are a “must-have” for a game. In short: characters are modified to an extent where you have to become a part of the game as a character of the game, and this somehow gives the game a more “natural-feel”.
However looking back, Dungeons and Dragons; your quintessential board game, has been stumbling over the years. The last release of this game .i.e. the fourth edition saw itself leaving barely a mark upon the buyers. It was highly criticised and did not do well among the masses.
D&D team seemingly has their fingers crossed for the fifth version, whose name they’ve reduced to only Dungeons and Dragons without any number, which seems quite conceited I must say.
Apparently they took their customers reactions quite seriously, refined the rough edges, cutting the game down, keeping it simple, complexities cleared and playing safe. This edition has a set of flexible rules and a universal storyline, which gives this game a magnitude. D&D’s Brand director Nathan Stewart explains the ideology behind the game saying that the creators are first and foremost “storytellers”. “Our main goal is for people to enjoy and share their experiences of the stories that we have created, keeping the platform a little towards the side.” He added.
D&D taking turns over the years:
While going through the pages of the latest D&D starter set rulebook, I was trying to find some hard numbers, but to my dismay, couldn’t find anything on it.
Surprisingly though, while doing some research on it, I realised that this limited approach is actually something with which this edition seems to remind us of the original game rule book, released in 1974 by Gray Gygax and Dave Arneson. Later on I went through the scans in PDF, and I felt awe struck by the basic, fresh feel they emit. The illustrations of witches and ghouls reminded me of a drawing by some school going child, accompanied by elaborated explanations of conceptual gaming, ranging from experience points to magic item buffs.
On the other hand, the original D&D rule book wasn’t complete. The first D&D served a completely different purpose; it was merely an extension to a game called Chainmail, giving the story more depth and length. Gygax and Arneson were two friends always looking for innovation by giving different things a “mix and match”.
D&D was not only a game but also a whirlpool of collaborative imagination, making it a safe place for children to go hay-wire.
Second edition of D&D was a game which was complete with all of its rules. It was an elaborated and defined version taking care of the knick knacks. Let’s say, you roll the dice and use the tables to decide your fate, not only this, but you would be able to decide whether your 75 year old elf encountering a blind king, could contract his parasite in accordance to which area of the body it would affect, making it undergo a chronic or an acute problem, and how long will it last.
We saw the third edition as a game which was completely revised, giving an impression that the simpler version of D&D never even existed. Moreover it was renamed from Advanced Dungeons and Dragons to Dungeons and Dragons.
The fourth version had major loopholes. The characters of this game are arranged in accordance to their fighting abilities. D&D upgraded the idea but while doing that it ignored various parts of the characters for example their 9 to 5 jobs and their locus of control on the pre-defined roles and abilities within a battle grid. The duration of the combat increased, while each player was limited to fulfilling a particular Job in the battle.
“People playing the third edition really admired the combat. They wanted character customisation so that they could use those abilities to fight. That’s why fourth edition was more specific in terms of miniatures and dungeon titles,” Mike Mearls illustrated, who is the current head of D&D rule development. “People with proficient use of minis loved the game. But our observation showed that the other lot just could not connect to the game and found it difficult to play”
Now, Mearl agrees that D&D 4’s combat approach was ill timed for 2008, as it came face to face with MMO’s World of Warcraft; a game many people think D&D 4’s character system was majorly inspired from, along with the growing market for the smartphone gaming and free for everyone MMO’s, which included options like customizable characters, casting spells, swinging swords, and bringing to one’s use several other weapons.
Mearl confirms that the Market at that time was not right for the style of game which was created. The original freshness of the game has been compromised over the years giving it a much more digitized and commoditized feeling.
A modular rule set in the making:
The process was highly publicised when Mearls took over the Rules development for the new D&D. Early releases were tested by over 170000 play testers and as a result, feedback was taken from them to further improve the game.
The chances of this game getting a bad reception are slightly less since the core receivers of this game are already there to test and experience this game and to add to its development, making it more interesting to play, for example, lack of a proper skill system was seen by the fans, which is a way for the characters to master various talents, so the designers added one.
Another complaint made by the fans was the game’s lack of intricate rules, which was not agreed to by the designers, and furthermore this restrain sort of defines much of the new D&D.
Getting started with D&D5:
You can start with the D&D 5 by buying the starter set, which costs less than 15$. The box consists of a thin brochure, which is basically a 31 page rulebook. The Rulebook has a lot of information about the history of D&D fantasy world, and tips for role playing. Now interestingly, this is just a speck of a grander D&D rules formation, was designed in a vague way and tries to grasp ones attention by involving them in stories about goblins, elves and dragons.
Now for those who want to have slight complexity added to the game, designers have developed a system by the name of Basic Rules, which is 110 pages long and allows the fans to go into further details of the game making it all the more interesting for them. These rules are available free for downloading as a PDF. In addition to this, for ardent gamers there are further systems added, like Players handbook, Dungeon Master’s guide and a Monster manual which is expected by next year, making the game further more systematic and adding more rules to it.
Mearl explains this technique by saying that one does not need to know the complete rules of basketball to play basketball. If you like the game, you start by dribbling and shooting it in the hoop. “The major purpose of the top game is the social interaction it leads to. This strategy was very deliberate on our part to make the dungeon master more comfortable with the game, on whatever level he stands. Connect to the game, sit back, relax and play as a DM.
Pushing the rules aside:
I was going through the game, and while observing the rules I observed that if I wanted, there is a deeper rule set, modular in nature, available online as well and it can be downloaded. So we can say that if you are not the sort of player who wants to roll the dice in lieu of learning which specific disease affects which part of the body, then you don’t necessarily have to do it.
“We can provide you a mechanic and give you a few settings for it at the same time, we explain to you what will happen if you are going to turn the mechanic up, and what will happen if you turn it down”, said the game’s current head developer. he explained.
In short, the new D&D caters to all sorts of players, on all levels. Whether you want to play on the basic level, keeping the game to its original form, or you want to go on a complex level, with advance strategies.
What’s in future for D&D:
The point under discussion all these years for D&D has been its adjustment with the rules. Now that they have been taken care of, we do wonder what’s next for D&D. Will this game turn out to be something more than just a tabletop dice game? What strategies should this company use to re-establish its name as a lucrative, licensable franchise as it was in the 1980’s or in the late 90s and early 2000s.
This is majorly Stewart’s job, who has been in the gaming industry for over 20 years, to sort out how will they go about it. “The turnout of D&D 4 stimulated us into a direction where we had to think and work on how to create a strong and stable rule system, which would cater to all sorts of players”
The motive of D&D team is to tell one big story each year, across each medium that D&D turns to. In 2014, the name of the story is Tyranny of dragons, in which the queen of evil dragons, Tiamat, has been caged in nine hells for about a span of 1000 years. My guess is, she breaks free from it and that is how the quest starts; joining all forces of good to stop her from her evilness.
It’s slightly difficult to imagine because of the technicalities, but let’s say a level-six gnome warrior named Finnegan Brown buckle playing through the game’s The Lost Mine Of Phandelver campaign, has the same appeal as Robert Downey Jr’s Iron man. It’s a fact that entertainment dons of today rule many mediums. D&D has plans to make it big.
Stewart plans on taking the game further by adding on not just one story to unify the world of D&D but he has dubbed “ubiquitous gameplay”. It’s a way in which you can take your custom character from table top game, to an Xbox game or an IPad game. He calls this big step “the dream” and is quite conscious while he explains it, almost as if it’s his baby.