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?