Big news yesterday - release dates and covers for the newest edition of Dungeons & Dragons are all over the internet. Plenty of peers in the OSR blogosphere have been posting the news. I'm a bit conflicted about the news!
The largest issue I'm having is that the covers belie an approach to anime fantasy that sits far outside my desired game experience. I want a game inspired by fantasy literature, not wuxia inspired fantasy super heroes flying through the air and bashing monsters on the noggin. The new covers scream out that the monsters are bigger and more ferocious than ever, and the heroes fly! Is that what D&D has become?
On the other hand, I'm going to reserve judgment on the actual game play - the playtest reviews have been generally positive and folks that follow the words of the Mearls have reported the new edition is meant to support a range of play-styles - including old school sensibilities. The buy-in for the starter set is fairly inexpensive and there's no reason not to sample the game when it comes out.
Here’s the important part: the mass market opportunities inherent in a successful boxed set trumps everything. Consider my neighborhood. Our street is infested with children. Last count, there's like 18 kids ages 7-13 in our section of the block alone. My oldest (a 12 year old) runs a backyard game of Traveller on the picnic table for a group of kids that grew up on HALO style video games. When last I checked, they were exploring a derelict ship where space spiders and venom zombies battled pirates and the survivors. However, the parents of these kids aren't going to seek out an obscure game shop and buy a massive tome of Pathfinder or order a Traveller hard cover online. They are the kind of parents that will buy their kid a $20 D&D boxed set if it's in the games section of Target or Walmart. If this thing is successful, I could see our entire block playing D&D by summer's end with a half dozen copies of the boxed set in the hands of kids. Whatever RPG throne Paizo assumed with the death of 4E, it appears to be short lived - no offense meant, Pathfinder fans.
I'm cautiously optimistic about the new WOTC game. A rising tide raises all ships and helps all RPGs. I hope the new edition is a smashing success and would like to see the game line do well. I'll take it a step further and say, despite the awful covers, that I also hope this is a game I'll enjoy playing. Why not? It has the potential to be Dungeons & Dragons again, and inspire a new generation of kids that missed out on the heyday of the early 80's. Heck, while we're tossing gold pieces in the wishing well, I'm even going to hope for an OGL type of agreement to allow folks to make compatible works.
In the meantime, I'll continue to pay attention to bloggers more passionate about WOTC than myself who are reporting on every word of the Mearls and the minions. It's going to be an interesting couple of months, right? C'mon, WOTC, we're pulling for you to get it right. Now if I can just stop judging books by their covers...