D&D5: Failure to Launch

We’re really in the dark regarding the 5th Edition of AD&D. While the playtest gave everyone an extended trial of D&D5, much has likely changed, making it uncertain what the game is actually like. And so much of the edition is dependant on the promised modularity, which was never revealed or previewed.

In contrast, back in February of 2008, four months before the launch of 4th Edition, we had the ads on YouTube, the cartoons on the website, and had the two preview books. We knew all the classes and races in the PHB and had seen the cover. Heck, that month people played an almost finished version of the game at D&D Experience 2008.

Compared to that, it’s surprising how little we know.

When is it coming out? No idea.

What is the format of the core books? No idea.

What is the price point of the core books. No idea.

What’s it called? No idea.

Some of this is to be expected. According to the interviews done last week, WotC was not finished D&D5. They’re at the last stages of fine tuning, checking individual digits of monster hitpoints and the like. So they’re still not entirely sure when it will be out the door and in your hands. Okay, that’s fair.

However, at this point, it’s also very likely WotC has missed the soft deadline of GenCon. Which might be something they should let us know.

Blown Deadline?

According to an interview Mike Mearls did with the Tome Show, it takes 3-4 months after completion for a book to hit stores. As D&D5 will be a hotly anticipated new release, it will need a larger than average print run. They cannot distribute books until all stores have enough, so it will take longer to print. This means we’re looking at the 4-month mark.

It likely doesn’t need to take the whole four months to print, but four months to print and receive a print proof, check that over for errors, print the full run, send that to distributors, and then send those to stores across the continent. An extra large print run likely won’t take a full month: as books are sent to stores at the same period every month, a long print run just needs to delay shipping by a week or two.

WotC and Paizo has what is known as the GenCon Crunch, when they have to get all the books ready for GenCon deadline. GenCon can also be an extra-unforgiving deadline, as it’s often earlier in the month than the books would be in stores, so books often have to be finished even earlier than normal to be on the shelves at the con. This year, the end of the GenCon crunch for Paizo was the week of April 14-19, as mentioned by F Wesley Schneider in an interview with Know Direction (a minute or so in).

In the aforementioned WotC Live R&D QnA, it was mention that a full week after Paizo finished their crunch WotC still had not finalized D&D5.

It’s likely that WotC will be able to get some copies to preview at GenCon; at the very least they’d have the print previews. And they might be able to get copies for a partnered vendor, as they don’t need to arrange shipping to all stores, just themselves. So it might still be possible to get the Player’s Handbook (or something) from GaleForce9. But gamers not fortunate enough to be at the con will then have to wait until September.

Assuming WotC can finish the game in the next couple weeks, otherwise even the convention goers will be bookless.

Tyranny of Delays

The conspiracy theorist in me wonders if the focus on Tyranny of Dragons is because of missed deadlines. As WotC is likely not certain that D&D5 would be out for GenCon, they’ve shifted the focus to the product they will have ready: the Tyranny of Dragons adventures. This is why the latest press releases and the Pax panel have focused on the event, because WotC needed to discuss *something* at the pre-scheduled panels.

The Tyranny of Dragons event is just the latest of the annual “events” of D&D, following on the heels of the Abyssal Plague, Rise of the Underdark, and the Sundering. These storylines drove seasons of Encounters, and had tie-ins both physical multimedia. Examples of the latter include Rise of the Underdark’s quests in the Dungeons & Dragons Online MMO as well as the Heroes of Neverwinter Facebook game, and the Arena of War mobile game that ties into the Sundering.

This does suggest Tyranny of Dragons will be a psuedo-event, like the Abyssal Plague or Rise of the Underdark, where a dramatic story happens but the heroes are assumed to win, and thus disaster is averted. This ties into WotC’s promise that the Sundering will be the last Realms Shaking event (reiterated in the QnA where Mearls said they didn’t want to have to rewrite the setting every few years to accommodate the events).

This means a couple things. First, like the Rise of the Underdark and Sundering, the story of Tyranny of Dragons will be spread out over multiple products, making it difficult for one person to experience everything. Even a Realms-dedicated source like the FR Wiki has almost no information on the Rise of the Underdark story. Second, the long term effects of this event will be minor. Combined, these two points mean Tyranny of Dragons will likely have the lasting impact of an episode of Star Trek: it’s one thing to have a story that doesn’t dramatically change the world, but it’s another to have a story that just ends with a return to the status quo. This wouldn’t be horrible per se, as not every story needs to make lasting changes, but the hype Tyranny of Dragons is receiving makes it seem so much more larger and important than just the most recent event-of-the-year. Even the Sundering, the event that IS shaking the Realms didn’t receive a press release and dedicated panel at Pax.

Better Late than Broken?

Honestly, missing GenCon is not a bad thing. Three years from now, it will not matter if D&D5 came out June or October. While I know 3.0e and 4e had their premieres close to GenCon, after a few Google attempts, I couldn’t find a concrete release month for 2nd or 1st Edition. Even someone writing a history of the game could not be certain of the release of OD&D (He guessed January 25th). It really doesn’t matter.

However, the longer the delay the more the edition can be polished. Everyone who has been playing D&D for the last decade knows how 3rd Edition had to be revised into 3.5e. And anyone who was around during the short run of 4e know of its multiple math problems. I’d like D&D5 right now, but I’d much rather have a better game than one that was rushed out the door to meet an arbitrary deadline set months in advance.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m seriously irked at the idea I might not get my D&D5 at GenCon. I cannot afford to go this year, but am going anyway because it’s the GenCon on the 40th Anniversary of D&D and the expected release of D&D5. Crazy debt, hooooo! I figured WotC would go all-out and I wanted to be there. So I gambled and might have lost. If D&D5 isn’t there, if I can’t buy a copy and get it signed by the creative team, if I’m instead going just for Tyranny of Dragons… then that’s seriously disappointing. (And, honestly, I’ll likely end up spending the con playing more Pathfinder Society and trying other games than D&D5.)

I’m certain I’ll have fun at GenCon regardless of the presence D&D5 has at the Con, but there’s a difference between generic GenCon fun and once-in-a-lifetime anniversary & release fun. Oh well, maybe 2024 and 6th Edition…

I would still rather have a rock solid edition rather than something I need to patch into basic usability. While I don’t mind hacking a game system, I’d rather hack a solid system to make it match the tone I want rather than hack a broken system to make it usable (and match the tone I want).

Give Us Something

WotC might be unable to tell us the exact date of the PHB’s launch at the moment, but they could tell us *something*. Like if the first product is going to be a Player’s Handbook. Since they’re laying out the book, they should have a pretty darn good idea of its contents, so they could show us the cover and begin talking about what’s in the book. Such as the number of classes, the number of races, and the like. Start showing off some art on the website. Start building excitement rather than boredom.

Not knowing and living in suspense is always worse than bad news. Always. If the game is not going to be out at GenCon, they should just tell us that the game was delayed, rather than just shrug and say that they never actually said it would be out in August. Heck, even if they still might be able to get the books out for the con, at this point they should say it’s unlikely to happen and surprise people with the good news if the books are ready. And the sooner WotC starts breaking the bad news, the sooner people will get over their disappointment, and the better chance they’ll be over it at launch.