Tuesday, May 20, 2014

D&D 5E Revelations & Coverage Beyond the Covers

Okay, by now everybody knows about the revelations WotC released regarding the D&D 5E books, right? So, no need to rehash it here. Instead, I want to get all "meta" about the discussion burning across the roleplaying blogosphere. I want to weigh in on what D&D still means to the roleplaying world, if I can, and what the new edition might mean for both the veterans and new gamers alike.

Alright, the current buzz is primarily focused on the cover art, right?

Some people - specifically older gamers who were young when the earlier editions of the game were in print - are complaining that the new D&D covers "don't do it for them." In other words, they personally are not inspired by them, like they were inspired by the covers from their OOP edition of choice.

Oh well. Too bad for you.

Do I, personally, like the new covers all that much? Nah, not really. Why? Because, like the other uninspired veterans, they won't replace within me the feelings I get when I see the covers and other illustrations from 1st Edition and especially 2nd Edition. Those were the editions I played the most as a kid.

The art of 2E from the likes of Elmore, Parkinson, and Caldwell are what I experienced as a youth. The work of those artists became the lens through which I viewed the game, and since I encountered their work at an early and impressionable age, they were burned into my mind and heart and soul. Their association within me is nigh irrevocable. In short, those 2E images MEAN D&D TO ME.

But does that mean the art used to illustrate subsequent editions is pure junk? No. Could the 5E covers be a bit more subtle and evocative? Sure they could. But that doesn't mean they have no artistic or inspirational value at all.

The new covers are not D&D to me, but nor are they terrible abominations. I think this sentiment is most pervasive amongst the bloggers I've read. But for those who are veritably dry-heaving over the art...get over it.

Why should they get over it? To paraphrase JFK (probably in poor taste on my part): "Ask not what the covers do for you. Ask what the covers do for the next generation."

Clearly, WotC has had a tall order for themselves with this latest edition. They're trying to include disparate demographics in their bid for "one edition to rule them all." They're trying to appeal to the youth of today, who have been exposed to a much different graphic aesthetic (thus the style chosen for the cover art) and conception of what it means to play a game. At the same time, WotC is also trying to appeal to older gamers and their love for the earlier versions of the game.

I'm not sure how successful WotC will be in their ambitions, but I give them props for making the attempt. And I wish them good luck, because I for one like seeing a game called D&D in print.

The young gamers today have experienced the legacy of D&D mostly through video games. They don't know that the terms hit points and armor class and such came from D&D.

So let's teach them about that legacy, and so much more.

To once again paraphrase JFK: "Ask not what the covers can do for the hobby. Ask what YOU can do for the hobby!"

This comes back, once again, to my impatience for the doomsayers who cyclically come out of the rotted woodwork to declare that the end is nigh for D&D, if not roleplaying in general. Funnily enough, it is the rare doomsayer who actually states the following sentiment: "It seems that roleplaying as a hobby is dying. Therefore, I'm going to go out and do something about it!"

That's my biggest frustration with my fellow veteran gamers: they'll sit around and bemoan the fate of the hobby, BUT THEY WON'T GET OFF THEIR ASSES AND BE PART OF THE SOLUTION. Even if roleplaying is fated for extinction, didn't you guys learn anything from all the heroic fantasy you've read? Didn't all that reading teach you that HEROES FIGHT NO MATTER THE FACT THAT DOOM IS CERTAIN. One must still fight, even in the face of "assured defeat."

Because you know what? Quite often, what we thought was assured defeat is not really the case at all.

Rather than sit back and see whether or not freaking roleplaying book cover illustrations can  entice a new generation to play, perhaps we as veteran gamers should go out and actively help young, potential gamers discover the game. Let's be more active and not passive. Let's help the kids discover what makes these books really cool: the contents, and the history behind the contents. Let's teach them there's more to these books than cool covers. Let's teach them the value of stepping away from the console and to the table-top.

And once the young players of today are at the table, we have the chance to say, "yeah, this new D&D edition is pretty cool, but let me tell you about this other version..."

To wrap this rant up, here's a final thought: the release of 5th Edition is a chance to open up the dialogue about the hobby to a more mainstream audience. In conjunction with the 40th birthday of D&D, we have an opportunity to maybe, just maybe, do something to keep the hobby alive once us old-heads are gone.

I'm doing my part to spread the good word of the previous versions of D&D, with my own children as well as with kids at the FLGS when I can.

What are YOU doing?


  1. I am playing, and promoting, DCC RPG, including running World Tour events. The new D&D covers do not "do it" for me, although I think the Starter Set cover is the best of the grouping, and the DMG cover is not too bad.

    In my neck of the woods, rpgs are not dying at all. I personally find the multiple covers of the DCC RPG to be evocative, although I like the red "fire" cover the best. The interior art not only has energy, but strongly implies story.

    (And I do not mean "character building" or "railroad" by "story"; I mean a sequence of events that might happen in the game, or in a good pulp fantasy story.)

    There are a lot of RPG materials that inspire me, and that I enjoy. I do not feel a need to pander to WotC's current iteration in order to "do something" for the hobby.

    1. Right, the "story" unfolds over the course of many game sessions. It is the result of the interaction of DM and players, and is slowly revealed through the process of play. There is no pre-determined story established before a campaign begins, to which the players must adhere. Exactly.

      No, you don't need to pander to 5E. That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that, if we're smart, those of us playing the old versions of the game, or retroclones or second-generation clones (like DCC RPG), we can jump onto the hype machine wave of WotC and say "Psst, hey kid, if you think that game is cool, come check THIS out." That's when you show them C&C, or DCC RPG, or Labyrinth Lord, or S&W, etc.

    2. I don't have an objection to pointing out what we like. I do have an objection to the idea that we can't criticize the covers, or that we have to "do something" for the hobby in order to do so. Or criticize WotC's policies for that matter - the annual layoffs, the move away from the OGL, the lack of SRD thus far, etc.

      If WotC comes out with a D&D that I enjoy as much as, or more than, DCC RPG, that would be great. I haven't seen anything yet related to 5e that suggests that this is the edition, though.

      Nor do I think that we need to ride WotC's hype machine wave. The concern is, I think, not whether we can make use of it, but whether or not it drowns out other voices for a period of time. I personally hope for a breakwater rather than a chance to surf.

      Even the idea that 5e is going to come out with a series of adventures that, WotC hopes, we are all going to buy into is troubling to me.

      I do think that adventures make or break a game, and the good makers of DCC RPG also created a series of adventures that they hope folks will be interested in, but the message with Goodman Games seems far more "Here are some options, but jump in and write your own!" whereas the WotC vibe seems to be more "Here is what you'll be doing! This is what D&D is about right now!"

      All of that said, though, I will be very glad if I am proven wrong. If 5e is a great game, and a game I would enjoy, AND it does really, really well, AND WotC didn't fire a bunch of designers just before the holidays, that would be really fantastic.

      But "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence", and I have become sceptical about WotC over the years.

    3. Let me try to be clearer: I'm not the infamous "D&D Taoist" that I know you've famously clashed with as well. Therefore, I would never try to tell someone not to express their opinion. That wasn't my intent. So no, I wasn't saying "if you want to criticize the 5E covers, you have to run a DCC RPG game for some local kids first." Nor would I tell anyone not to criticize WotC in general.

      My point I was trying to make is this: I've heard a lot of grumbling from the OSR about the versions of D&D still in print. I've heard a lot of cogent arguments about why in-print D&D is inferior or simply just not in the spirit of what the creators intended. AND I've heard a lot of what amounts to people just saying "different is bad, and I don't like it, no sir!"

      Personally, I'M TIRED OF THE COMPLAINING. The OSR needs to do more, in my opinion, to keep working on representing the hobby in the open, and I think that some of us are doing a noble job of it. Buuuut, some just sit back and grumble like a grognard. To them, I say "blech, stop being passive-aggressive. Take action!"

      In the end, criticizing covers seems a bit like nitpicking. I'm up to here with nitpicking from some quarters of the OSR. It's time to use that intelligence for something better: keeping the hobby alive. Use all that pent-up RPG angst for something productive.

      AND I wasn’t saying that the OSR’s only hope is riding the WotC 5E hype. No. No no no. What I was saying was “the OSR would be foolish not to capitalize on any free publicity the resurgence of the brand name D&D could give to the OSR.”

      Like it or not, D&D is a brand name. Did Community do a “Labyrinth Lord” episode? No. Did Big Bang Theory do a DCC RPG episode? No. It was D&D.

      Soooooo, here’s a thought: sneak into those game stores who are pushing D&D 5E and say “hey mister/miss game store owner…do you mind me running this OTHER in-print roleplaying game too? It’s called C&C/S&W/Labyrinth Lord/DCC RPG.” And then start having some damn good fun with those rules. And, just like I experienced at my FLGS, we had a lot of curious onlookers and a number of converts to C&C when I was running it there, right alongside D&D 4E.

      If we take action, we won’t need to worry about getting drowned out, my friend. We’ll be too damned loud to drown out.

    4. To expand on the above: if there are folks in the OSR who truly believe that the OOP editions have something to offer roleplayers that is just as good if not superior to in-print D&D, then there should be no fear in going toe-to-toe on any given game night. Like I said, my fellow C&C players and I, on many a night, generated a lot of curiousity and interest just by playing the game on the same night as D&D 4E.

      If you want to steal players from the competition, show the players that your game is worth their while. SHOW, don't tell.

    5. I have absolutely no problem with anything in either of those two posts. I appreciate the clarification to your OP, because, with the clarifications, I agree with you.

      (And we all know that Leonard, Raj, and Howard wanted to play DCC....Penny and Bernadette even agreed to play a funnel, and Amy was excited about it, but Sheldon demanded a game where there wasn't the same degree of randomness.

      "Mercurial magic? That's crazy talk! Next thing you're going to want to use critical hits and fumbles!")

    6. (And, yeah, that was an attempt to be funny.)

      I don't think DCC was what Gygax intended, and I am sure he would have some issues with parts of it. But I am also sure that, while it is different, it scratches an itch I wasn't even aware of until I played it. It is the first game since Holmes Basic that has done so.

      For me, the game really is new again.

      If 5e does that for anyone, it will be a success.

  2. I'm not a huge fan of the new covers but I do not hate them either. Like you, previous artists and artistic styles define D&D to me. I have come to accept and even like some of the new fantasy art WotC has used in 3.5 and 4ed. I'm sure the same will hold true for 5ed. Will they ever equal my love of the old masters? I doubt it. Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. But can I appreciate the new stuff? Certainly.

    As far as the inside goes, I'm rather excited about Next/5e. I can't wait to see the changes that have taken place since the last play test packet. And even if it turns out not to be my cup of tea, if it brings in new players and keeps D&D alive, then I will count the 5th edition as a success.

  3. I really liked this post so I added a link to it through my Best Reads of the Week series. I hope you don't mind.


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  5. I love the Starter Set cover so much!
    I like this way better than 3e and 4e and Pathfinder stuff.
    Is it better than something like Peter Mullen? Not sure, but it really got me fired up for 5 ed.