One D&D – the roadmap unveiled yesterday

As I’m sure many of you are aware by now, yesterday on the DnDBeyond Twitch stream, Wizards of the Coast made a major announcement about the future of D&D. You can rewatch the stream here.

Following the acquisition of D&D Beyond by Wizards of the Coast, it was clear from the start that this was a Wizards stream, not a D&D Beyond stream. It started off talking about new stuff coming for Magic the Gathering, and kept switching back and forth between MTG and D&D.

To be honest, this felt insensitive and jarring. The pre-show advertising which brought me there was focussed on the big D&D announcement, and this was the D&D Beyond Twitch channel. I was only there for D&D (as were many others, judging by the comments in the stream), so to have MTG the first thing talked about, and to continually switch to something I wasn’t interested in felt like an abuse of my time.

But enough of that. So what was the big D&D announcement?

Wizards are working on the future of D&D, and they are calling it One D&D. One D&D everywhere, for everyone, provided by Wizards. Physical publications, electronic publications, VTT; multi-culture, gender and need sensitive (this seems to be particularly in the artwork).

They were keen to stress that this was evolution not revolution, and that the changes would be compatible with everything since 5e started in 2014; what little they have released so far does tend to support this. It looks like, as previously reported, this is all aiming towards the 50th anniversary of D&D in 2024, which nicely also hits ten years since 5e was released.

One D&D

What does One D&D involve?

First, a revision of the core rulesets. This is already in progress, and they released the first section to playtest a couple of hours after the stream, via D&D Beyond. See below for more detail.

It also involves something which sounds great, and is enabled by their purchase of D&D Beyond – combined physical and digital purchases. People have been complaining ever since D&D Beyond started about how they’re buying the same content twice, so this should address that. However…

They have just released pre-orders for the new converted DragonLance setting Shadow of the Dragon Queen (out in December). The combined bundle comes in at $59.94, (or £59.99 in the UK; note Google reckons $59.94 = £50.77 just now…), and is only (at present) available from dndstore.wizards.com at £6 shipping (I think it was about $12). The book without D&D Beyond is currently £40.92 on Amazon, shipping free with Amazon Prime, and with my D&D Beyond Legendary Bundle discount (which I can’t use for the bundle), is $25.49, or £21.58. So actually at the moment I’m slightly better off buying separately. If I didn’t have the Legendary Bundle, it would probably work out about the same once shipping was factored in. YMMV…

Updated Rules

The updated rules are going to be beta-tested via D&D Beyond. You can sign up to the beta-test here, and for now that gives you access to the new Character Origins options. This is available as a PDF for download (under usual Unearthed Arcana rules, so available for home use only, may change, not valid for Adventurers League), and they say there will be a feedback questionnaire available from 1st September.

From skimming through this, it does confirm the “evolution, not revolution” claim. It covers races, backgrounds and feats, and clearly effort has gone into making these balanced.

Races

Races covers roughly the same as the 2014 edition, with some tweaks.

There are no half-races (half-elf, half-orc), but instead a somewhat vague instruction on how to combine two different parents which reads to me as “take the stats of one race and add visual traits from the other”. Maybe I’m missing something, but that’s less than I would expect, and doesn’t give the same effect as a half-elf or half-orc.

In general what you get from a race seems to have been trimmed. There are no ability score bonuses at all, no languages (this is now part of the background, plus everyone gets another language as well as Common), and no combat proficiencies, and it feels like less in general (some of this has moved to the backgrounds). All races, even dwarves, gnomes and halflings, have a base speed of 30′, which just feels wrong to me.

Humans have been given inspiration every day (on completing a long rest), a skill and an additional feat.

Dragonborn appear pretty much unchanged, apart from losing the ability score increase and language.

Dwarves still have darkvision, resilience to poison, and instead of a CON bonus have a +1 to hp. They also have an affinity for working with stone or metal, which manifests as Tool proficiency with two sets of appropriate tools. Interestingly, their stonecunning gives them the ability to use tremorsense up 60′ when touching stone as a bonus action, usable for 10 minutes and a number of times per Long Rest up to their Proficiency bonus.

Elves keep darkvision, the advantage against Charm, immunity to sleep magic, and 4-hour Long Rest. All elves have Proficiency in Perception, and gain a spell at first, third and fifth level (though it’s not clear if these are additional to other spells from their class; presumably, but the wording is ambiguous since it says “you can cast the Spell using any Spell Slots you have of the appropriate level”).

Gnomes keep darkvision, and gain advantage on Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma saving throws. They also get a couple of cantrips; Forest Gnomes Speak with Animals becomes an explicit spell, as does the Rock Gnome’s clockwork device (it is explicitly a use of Prestidigitation).

Halflings are Brave, Nimble, Lucky and have Proficiency in Stealth. I.e. they are all now Lightfoot halflings.

Tieflings are now explicitly descended from something fiendish, but no longer necessarily Infernal – their legacy could be Abyssal (Chaotic Evil) or Chthonic (Neutral Evil) as well as Infernal, which is now listed as Lawful Evil. They get darkvision, the Thaumaturgy cantrip, a resistance (depending on the ancestry) and gain a spell at first, third and fifth level.

The only two additional playable races which have been added are Aardlings and Orcs.

Aardlings are added, replacing Aasimar. These have angelic ancestry, an ability to fly briefly, resistance to radiant damage, and spells at first, third and fifth level. They also have an animal head.

Orcs are lifted straight from the new Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse: Adrenaline Rush (Dash as a bonus action and gain temporary hit points), darkvision, powerful build and relentless endurance (drop to 1hp instead of 0 once per long rest).

Backgrounds

Several of the features which were previously part of the races have moved to the backgrounds, and they have set out explicitly what a background gives you (which also allows you to create your own background, or tweak any of the backgrounds to match your taste). A background gives you:

  • Ability score increases: either increase one ability score by 2 and another by 1 or increase three ability scores by 1
  • Proficiencies: each character gains two skill proficiencies and one tool proficiency
  • Language: each character also gains a language
  • Feat: each background gives a first-level feat; presumably this is additional to the human’s racial feat
  • Equipment: each background gives a certain level of starting equipment; it looks like it has all been costed to 50gp, based on the “build your background” rules.

They have sample backgrounds built using these. These include (where * indicates a new background) Acolyte, Artisan (it’s lost its Guild), Charlatan, Criminal (which seems to be Thief), Cultist*, Entertainer, Farmer*, Gladiator*, Guard*, Guide (reskin of Outlander), Hermit, Labourer* (seems to be specifically a mason), Noble, Pilgrim*, Sage, Sailor, Soldier, Urchin.

One thing that strikes me about this is the loss of the Background Feature which gives the player some sort of social contact they can call on. This feels like a surprising omission, but I suppose is tricky to build into a generic set of background rules.

Feats

Some notable additions here: each feat is listed with a level, a prerequisite (even if “None”) and whether it is Repeatable. This suggests there will be feats only accessible at higher levels, and opens up Feat Trees, where one feat depends on already having another. The only repeatable feat listed is Magic Initiate, with the specification that you choose from a different spell list each time.

All feats listed so far are first-level feats without prerequisite, suitable for creating a new character. It lists Alert, Crafter*, Healer, Lucky, Magic Initiate, Musician*, Savage Attacker, Skilled, Tavern Brawler and Touch. This is significantly reduced from the PHB!

Note the comment on Magic Initiate, that each spell must be from a different spell list. Spells are now split into Arcane (Bards, Sorcerers, Warlocks, Wizards and Artificers), Divine (Clerics and Paladins) and Primal (Druids and Rangers), although some spells appear on multiple lists – Message is Arcane and Primal, Guidance is Divine and Primal, and Detect Magic appears on all three lists.

D&D Digital Play

The other thing they trailed during the presentation is the new D&D Digital Play. There was only a small snippet of pre-alpha video shown. From this it appears to be effectively a 3D VTT based on the Unreal Engine.

First thoughts: it looks gorgeous. Someone has obviously spent a good amount of time getting the graphics stunning. It also has moveable characters (as you’d hope) and a nice ruler showing how far you’ve moved.

But what struck me was that this misses the fundamental point of D&D – it’s a game of the imagination. This is turning D&D into a video game, and a video game where you can only play what you have the 3D models for. They say they will be providing the tools for people to develop their own models, and presumably there will be a market for third-party developers and models, but it felt pretty ironic that this was the point they named-checked the “Lazy DM” when it goes so far from Sly Flourish’s Theatre of the Mind.

To me, a VTT is a tool to allow me to play with people I can’t get together with physically. I need a way of communicating the map and some form of token placement. I do like FoundryVTT because it allows me to upload my own maps and draw walls, manage fog of war and initiative, but everything else is overkill. I feel a 3D version would actually make it harder to visualise what’s going on, and push even more of a “measure out the grid perfectly” mindset, along with a tendency towards “you can only use what you can see”.

Maybe it will surprise me when it comes. I’ll certainly give it a go. But I did notice they were careful not to include this in any dates they committed…

Future publications

That was all I saw before they switched back to Magic the Gathering for the third time, and I decided I had better uses of my time than listening to adverts for a game I have no interest in. It appears (according to the summary) they did come back to D&D, and announce a publication schedule for the next year.

First we have Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen on 6th December, as previously mentioned. This will come with a new Dragonlance story and a board game!

The 2023 publication schedule is listed as follows:

BookDescriptionExpected Release
Keys from the Golden VaultGrab your thieves’ tools and your favorite dark cloak, because each of the adventures in this book has a nail-biting heist at the center of it!Winter 2023*
Bigby Presents: Glory of the GiantsYour definitive guide for giant gameplay in D&D!Spring 2023
Phandelver CampaignThe classic Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure is being expanded into a full campaign!Summer 2023
The Book of Many ThingsThis book takes the deck of many things and uses it to explore new player and DM options.Summer 2023
PlanescapeReady to explore Sigil and the multiverse beyond? This book has everything you need to do just that!Fall 2023

* I wonder whether this is a typo and Keys from the Golden Vault will be Winter 2022 along with Dragonlance, or whether this is misplaced and should be at the end… The fact that it’s not yet findable on Amazon makes me think the latter. Or maybe “Winter 2023” is the period January to March.

Conclusions

What do I think? Overall, it seems to be going the right way. It does feel like evolution rather than revolution, and it is great that they’re already starting the play-testing. There are some interesting clues in the Feats, and the split between races, backgrounds and feats does feel well thought-through to introduce balance.

I do think the loss of the Background social features diminishes them, and I hope they will restore the colour to the backgrounds (suggested ideals, etc) as well – these may be considered limiting, but actually I feel they can be useful inspiration. In fact there was no mention of the Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws at all or anything about backstory. It will be interesting to see how this pans out in the future evolution.

I’m not convinced by the new 3D VTT and the video-gaming ethos it feels like it’s moving towards. I hope they will also give time to theatre of the mind and encourage play that doesn’t worry about the minutiae of the mechanics.

But overall, I’m intrigued to see what’s coming.

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