2023 D&D Done

As 2023 begins there’s a bit of a storm-in-a-teacup regarding the Open Gaming License (OGL), leaked documents, and OneDnD. There are various conspiracy theories, “legal-isms”, and opinions. It’s going to hit a lot of those publishers who relied on 5e D&D as their income, it’s going to move the game completely online, etc. What this has done is illustrate a certain amount of dependencies many in the games publishing community have on an increasingly toxic D&D.

For me? I’m done with D&D.

Games are luxury items. As a consumer, I don’t need to play or run D&D, or have any compulsion to sling dice, despite it often being portrayed that way. I do have the luxury of not relying upon a single game system as my sole income. The truth of it is: we’re spoilt in the UK as well, in regards to RPGs and gaming in general. We bitch and moan about Kickstarters with custom dice or content failed to deliver on time thanks to supply chain issues that we essentially voted for.We have plenty of games publishers, plenty of games clubs. We can’t get the players for other games because “D&D is the <THE ONE TRUE RPG> that I can play” (it’s not!).

As a second-income freelancer (see my website at https://billheron.uk, I’d encourage any would-be RPG creators to look the same way – be diverse in your games systems: write system-agnostic until you have a system. DM’s Guild may look like a great way to make an income but if Wizards (although it actually it’s Hasbro driving this monetization) decide to change the OGL, there’s nothing stopping them changing the terms of DM’s Guild. That said, when D&D 3.5 came out, a lot of the OGL content was not… great. I can take the high ground regarding the OGL since I don’t make a living from materials using it currently.

But I’m still done with D&D.

Over the last 30+ years I’ve lots of (A)D&D games. I go all the way back to first edition (Advanced) D&D. I can remember THAC0. I also remember when I didn’t need to buy a sourcebooks just to fix the system.

There’s a lot of reasons why I’ve come to the decision to move away from D&D. Some are system-specific, others aren’t.

  • The whole ruleset is still based on the six stats, bonuses (inc. those for race which is still very 1970’s, although that recently changed) – alhough these are normally bought with a point-buy system, that’s often gamed by a player.
  • Hit Points and Level also antiquated. “You roll, you hit for X damage” is boring.
  • Players take a level of warlock to get eldritch blast, extra damage, etc.
  • Challenge Rating is often cited as a reason an encounter is “unfair”. Running away is no longer an option.
  • High level play is unrealistic. Unless a 20th-level fighter is immune to suffocation, is wearing magic armour and is completely immune to both heat and flame, there’s no way they could stand up to a Red Dragon Wyrm’s breath weapon.
  • Very little actual roleplaying. Defeating opponents is the primary way to advance with XP.
  • I’m also tired of lugging Player’s Handbooks, being the only one that has actually invested in a a physical product at the table.
  • The most animated some D&D players get is when they talk about how they min/maxed their damage abilities. Not the game, the NPCs, or the setting.

That’s just a few… then there’s the game materials. Recent iterations of 5e boxed sets are little more than a couple of pamphlets, a map, custom dice and sample character sheets. They charge ~£50 for it as a starter set or Spelljammer (which didn’t even have ship combat rules). When you compare it to the Cubicle 7 Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay starter set (same price, but much heavier!) you get a lot more in the WFRP starter set.

I don’t like Critical Role, either – or any of these “live plays”. Espcially when it is cited as a “How to play”. Its contrived and a sponsored dramatization. It also creates a lot of unreal expectation by players. CR are paid actors and the stream is monetized so I’ve little doubt they spend time rehearsing and can of course give their games materials a professional look on-screen. I’m guessing they’ll probably reach some deal with Wizards regarding sponsorship for OneD&D. Maybe they’ll have to pay a license fee, like others. If folk want to watch it like other live plays than fair enough. Not me.

The market saturation of D&D (thanks to its depiction in the media, e.g Stranger Things) also means that other RPGs are effectively sidelined (even Call of Cthulhu) by larger retailers like Waterstones or HMV. If only they did the “If you liked this RPG, why not try…” but then the larger retailers usually rely on a single distributor.

It’s pretty hard for smaller RPG publishers to even get print books into distribution – although some retailers do have someone who tends to know something about the RPGs or boardgames stock they get in (again, spoiled in the UK!). Most of these retailers are tied to a single distributor who often can’t get these small press games in stock (or so I’ve heard!). Again, supply chain issues…

Then there’s the community. There’s been so much evidence of toxic individuals in the D&D (and by extension, Pathfinder and notably OSR) community at large that you only have to wonder at what else is going on. The backlash against diversity and disability, plus allegations over certain aspects of D&D (racial essentialism, slavery, discrimination, toxic behavior) are making it increasingly unpalatable as a system to me.

Individuals on social media sites/podcasts become experts on RPGs or have an opinion that is increasingly based on hearsay and bias. All they usually have is an opinionated loud voice and enough followers it then gets shared and becones hearsay and rumour (see OGL debacle!)… They often sound like they’ve never run a game (or played a game other than D&D!).

I’m also bored of it as a system. It’s still stuck in an old system that works for 70-80’s players but compared to a system like Call of Cthulhu, it has not stood the test of time well. You roll to hit and do X damage – the same with nearly all special abilities.

There’s little or no social interaction with NPCs. TBH Tielfing rogues and warlocks with a tragic or evil background are so common you wonder why they don’t have their own society… Argh… alignment. Another dead idea. And I’ve yet to meet a 5e player who wanted to contribute to the games world for the character background for non-human races.

Unfortunately, Wizards have mired themselves firmly into the Western fantasy trope for D&D. I’d love to see some of those settings like Dark Sun and Planescape, but based on the current releases they’d be nothing than a couple of pamphlets based on the Spelljammer “boxed set”. One of the reasons I stopped writing my Oath of Shadows novel was the heavy medieval Western fantasy trope it incorporated, and it felt unimaginative – a bit like a lot of D&D sessions in the last few years where in some cases the only interaction by some of the players were doing was rolling dice for tests. Players in other games often come up with plot hooks for the GM during play, but it’s like pulling teeth in D&D.

I’ve done a few OGL things over the years, but have steered clear of the DM’s Guild since 50% of the royalty goes straight away. There’s a huge amount of material on there, and although there’s good stuff, a lot it is crap. Writing OGL stat blocks are an absolute pain in the fundament, not to mention the mess they make in layout. I’d rather keep professional artists and layout/graphic artists in business so am unlikely to ever go do the self-publishing route unless I win the Lottery or come up with a kick-arse idea for a setting or gameto crowdfund. Someone would complain that it’s not 5e I’ve no doubt of that.

So, I’m unlikely to be writing any content for 5th Ed. D&D (if ever) over the next few months while the rumour mill cranks up over the OGL and expect another “leaked” doc that will wind up the various individuals with stakes in the OGL. If the OGL basis of your revenue stream, it might be a good time to diversify.

This might cost me some freelance work, but it’s not my sole recourse of income.

I’ll play most other RPGs but I’ve lost the will to run or play D&D. I’m tired of it. I’m D&D done.

Published by Bill Heron

Wannabe game designer and would-be author. I've been playing RPGs for over 25 years and have recently started creating my own RPG called Mandragora: Ashes of Freedom. I also run a number of RPGs: Cthulhutech, Call of Cthulhu, WFRP, and D&D. I'm active in the Edinburgh RPG community at http://orcedinburgh.co.uk and regularly play RPGs.