Wizards of the Coast have been working away on a new edition of the iconic tabletop pencil-and-paper roleplaying game Dungeons and Dragons for some time. It’s prompted much speculation on the net over direction the new edition might take.
The previous 4th edition had radically changed many aspects of the game, and had rather divided the fanbase. To make things worst, they open-sourced the rules for the previous third edition, which resulted in them competing with several rival versions of the game, from Paizo’s well-supported Pathfinder RPG based on the superseded Third Edition, to a slew of small-press games under the loose banner of the “Old School Renaissance”, all based on much earlier editions.
With the new edition, they announced ambitious plans to reunify the whole thing, a seeming impossible task of reconciling different groups of fans who really want to play what had in effect become several completely different games. One wonders whether such a thing is even possible, let alone desirable.
When the lead designer quits mid-project, it’s a sign things are not going well.
On Monte Cook’s Livejournal:
Last week I decided that I would leave my contract position with Wizards of the Coast. I am no longer working on Dungeons & Dragons, although I may provide occasional consultation in the future. My decision is one based on differences of opinion with the company. However, I want to take this time to stress that my differences were not with my fellow designers, Rob Schwalb and Bruce Cordell. I enjoyed every moment of working with them over the past year. I have faith that they’ll create a fun game. I’m rooting for them.
Due to my non-disclosure agreement, as well as a desire to keep things on a professional level, I have no intention of going into further detail at this time. (Mostly, I just hate drama, and would rather talk about more interesting things.)
The net is awash with talk of the whole thing going horribly pear-shaped. Now, I know nothing about the direction the game was supposed to be taking, and haven’t played much D&D since 1st/2nd edition (I’m that old!). But it does sound a bit like an archetypal failed large-scale IT project, doomed from the start by over-ambitious and contradictory requirements. Add a few egos and some corporate politics, and it’s easy to see how easily such a project might run into trouble.
It’s worth noting that Dungeons and Dragons is relatively unusual in that the entire game has changed almost out of all recognition between editions, and other games which had done similar things had unhappy histories. Call of Chulhu, for example is still recognisably the same game as it was back in the early 1980s, while Traveller, after a complicated and somewhat messy history has now reverted to something looking a lot like the classic late 70s rules, under the stewardship of Mongoose games.
I don’t really have a dog in this fight, since my tastes have moved away from the rules-heavy combat-centric approach of D&D to more lightweight games that emphasise story and setting. But it will be very interesting to see how this all pans out.