D&D5: Dates & Details

WotC has finally revealed more information on Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. The dates and prices for the Player Handbook and Starter Set match those leaked by Barnes & Noble a few months back. And, in a bit of a surprise, the PHB will be ready for GenCon!

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This does beg the question: why delay the announcement? If they knew the dates for the Starter Set and PHB  so long ago why wait until now? Possibly, they were not finished the Monster Manual and Dungeon Master’s Guide, and didn’t want to just announce one book until they could announce all three. That’s my theory anyway.

Products

We got a big list of products covering five months (and beyond).

Starter Set 

July 15th

Price: $19.99; C$22.95

This will have pregens but include character creation. There will be a 32-page player’s book, a 64-page DM’s book, and have content from levels 1-5. And dice.

I’m a little cynical of Starter Sets, as they seldom have enough content for the price compared to just buying the PHB: $20 for a weekend of play versus $40-50 for years. And once you have the PHB, the Starter Set tends to have little use.

Personally, I think a really solid web experience is the best way to introduce people to the game. Have a site that does character generation to create a character, with downloadable documents and videos of play. However, a Starter Set does make a good giftable product, something people can give to relatives curious about the hobby without sinking $50 into the game. So there might be some advantage to a cheap physical product, especially if supplemented with web content. But if the product is designed less to be a product purchased by new players and more by older relatives, the price could be a little higher and content more robust.

Players Handbook 

August 19th

Price: $49.95; C$57.00

Like all the core books it will be 320-pages.

For what they need to do with the PHB, the page-count seems a little small. The player content in the playtest was a good 200-pages, which will likely balloon to 250 pages with art. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for more subclasses, more backgrounds, more feats, missing spells, and the like. Let alone the much hyped rules modules that are the centerpiece of the edition. I was also hoping the PHB would have a few monsters and the rules for running the game (but not DM advice) making it more of an all-in-one Core Rulebook like the Rules Cyclopedia.  This seems very unlikely at 320-pages.

Despite having a store date of the day after GenCon, WotC has said the PHB will be available at Convention. They have not confirmed if this will be all retailers, permitted to break the street date, or just specific retail partners.

 

Hoard of the Dragon Queen 

August 19th

Price: $29.95/C$35.00

A 96-page adventure, first in the Tyranny of Dragons event for 2014. The first part of the “multimedia” event including a Neverwinter expansion, some minis, tokens, maps, comics, and likely a few other bells and whistles.

I’m not certain if they can cram player rules into this book as previously implied.

Monster Manual

September 30th

Price: $49.95; C$57.00

Reported to include all classic D&D monsters. This book is about the same size as the 3.5e MM, so claiming to have all the classic monsters is bold, especially as D&D5 continues the 4e tradition of multiple monsters of the same type. Even the 3.5e book missed some noteworthy monsters, putting them in the MM2. Furthermore, the 3e MM only squished in as many monsters as it did by overlapping monsters, fitting multiple creatures on each page.

But with some carefully editing, cunning layouts, and the like, it might be possible to have a surprising amount of foes in the Monster Manual. And there’s less need for supplementary material and the end, such as monster feats and the like.

The Rise of Tiamat 

October 21st

Price: $29.95/C$35.00

The second Tyranny of Dragons adventure. Looks like this is the same size as the previous adventure. Both adventures seem to be written by the “Kobold Quarterly” team, which is odd as it suggests WotC is outsourcing their adventures. (edit: FAQ from Kobold Press)

The cover image of this book has been released elsewhere revealing the image extends far beyond the single cover, suggesting a wrap-around image. Neat but this could have been framed a little more nicely, so all of Tiamat’s heads would be featured. Regardless, this is one Bad-A picture. I want this as a desktop wallpaper.

Dungeon Master’s Guide

November 19th

Price: $49.95; C$57.00

The big book of optional rules, DM tips, and magic items.

This book is significantly larger than the 4e DMG, so I’m hopeful it is crammed with rules modules, optional rules, and the like. Plus magic items, as we need a lot of those. However, it’s the same size as the 3.5e DMG, so it’s not an inconceivable amount of information.

Mike Mearls has also said several times that he’d like to move the “how-to-be-a-good-DM” advice from the DMG to an online database, which makes sense as that’s really the purview of gaming blogs now. We don’t *need* to buy a book to learn DMing tips and tricks any more, and the information in past DMGs is fairly edition neutral in that regard. Omitting that information would leave more room for rules and optional modules.

Deluxe DM Screen, January 20th

We know nothing about this. But it’s a DM Screen. There’s not a lot else that needs to be said.

Dates

The delay between books sucks. Experienced DMs can run without the DMG, but the month between the PHB and MM hurts. Running without monsters is not easy. And yet… I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Getting three 320 page books out in a six-month period is hard. That’s a heck of a lot of work even from a layout perspective, let alone writing and balancing. Getting the same books out in three-months is harder still. Three books in a one-month means quality slips dramatically, and *really* just means you’re sitting on two books until you can finish the third.

I can wait. It’s not a big deal. I’d rather have the PHB in August than delay it to November so it’s out in the same month as the DMG, or rush the DMG out the door for a September release.

Still, it would be really nice to have some monsters and DMing rules early, either in a 3e-style SRD or lengthy preview articles.

Covers

The new covers simply do not wow me.

The layout is clean. The title of the individual books is prominent and stands out without a lot of other details. They’re similar without being samey. The art’s excellent, and this really seems to be the focus of the books. “Hey, look at our art budget! Wall-to-wall art with no border.”

There’s also the double branding at work, with the “D&D” above the book title as well as the red smear with the logo below that.

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I worry that the lower logo will vanish on a lot of shelving, that might not offer a full cover view of books. But the top D&D is pretty unmistakable and makes it pretty clear what you’re buying without drawing attention away from the individual title of the book. The double branding also allows  WotC to easily replace one or the other with a setting logo, such as Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk while keeping either “D&D” or “Dungeons & Dragons” visible. Plus, the red smear logo is easy to add over other products and packaging, such as minis or video games. It looks like a logo designed to identify the “Dungeons & Dragons” brand.

Back to the covers themselves. The covers of the Big Three are frankly rather average. The Monster Manual looks excellent with the beholder being large and imposing. As an iconic monster unique to D&D,  the beholder really emphasises this is a D&D monster book and not a 13th Age or even Pathfinder monster book.

The Dungeon Master Guide is… adequate. There’s a big scary lich thing representing the DM sucking the life out of an adventurer. While dynamic and action-based this doesn’t convey “Dungeon Master” to me; this cover would work interchangeably with the cover of the Monster Manual. If the lich were looking over a magic mirror or crystal ball it would be so much better. The DMG needs less of a monster and more of a mastermind.

The Player’s Handbook cover is just plain bad. It’s a lone hero versus a curiously dressed fire giant. I’m not sure what’s going on in the bottom-right half of the image: is that the giant’s arm, or another monster? It doesn’t convey party dynamics or teamwork. There’s nothing that emphasises this is for players and is the book about heroes. It doesn’t stand out as the image of a core book launching an entire product line. Really, it looks like an unfortunately cropped image, a portion of a larger piece that doesn’t quite work without the rest.

Pricing

$50 for a 320-page book is a little high. At $150 for all three core rulebooks, even adjusted for inflation this is the costliest it’s been to get into D&D:

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The 3.5e DMG cost $29.95, which equates with around $40 in today’s money, and the 4e DMG cost $34.96 which equates with around $45. $50 is a sizable jump

This is very problematic as D&D is no longer the dominant RPG. This is not just a Pathfinder issue; lumping those two together, D&D still might have slipped from the majority to the largest minority. There are simply a lot of other games in the marketplace. The industry has dramatically changed with Kickstarter, which rose to prominence at exactly the wrong time for WotC, as D&D had ceased releasing product and was doing the public playtest.

With no competition from D&D, other smaller games had a chance to take the spotlight and gamers had a chance to explore other game systems. Many of these new games were even done by past WotC employees, who were laid off or moved on from the Hasbro environment.

There’s Dungeon World, Fate Core, Numenera, O.L.D. and N.E.W., 13th Age, etc. Plus all the old favourites like Call of Cthulhu, Shadowrun, or the World of Darkness. And the continued licensed properties like Doctor Who and Star Wars.

It’s going to be hard for WotC to make inroads and win back fans. Unlike during the launch of 4e, when D&D held a firm grip over the industry, WotC cannot just release a new edition and expect everyone to buy: sales have to be earned.

Price is a big part of that. When you look at the $150 it will cost to get all three D&D books versus the $90 for Pathfinder, $50 for 13th Age, $70 for a couple Fate products and dice, or $100 to get a couple Star Wars books, then D&D looks pricey. Especially since their biggest rival for gamer’s dollars, Paizo, is charging $40 for the same amount of content (320-pages).

Even more frustrating is the unnecessary Canadian price. The USD/CAD has fluctuated dramatically over the last decade, with the Canadian Dollar occasionally being worth more than the US Dollar. I’m not sure why WotC clings to the 1990s mentality of adding a secondary price, especially one at $1.14. The last time the Canadian Dollar was that low was 2009, five full years ago, and that was during a ten-month spike in pricing. The D&D5 PHB will be in store shelves for the next decade, and we have no idea what the CAD is going to do during that time.

Logo

WotC seems really proud of the new D&D logo, even have an article elsewhere discussing it. Capture

I like this ampersand design, which harkens back to the classic ampersand from the ’80s and much of the ’90s.
The ampersand is a big part of the new look, both being on the mini packaging and the spines of the books.

Except… the game isn’t “&”. It’s “D&D”. The Ds should be just as prominent as the ampersand. Instead, the Ds are the same font and the same size as “-ungeons” and “-ragons”. Especially with “D&D” being so prominent above the titles of the books, the Ds seem less important.