Priests gather around the husk of a fallen warrior, as do his companions and friends. A brush with darkness left him all but dust and bone. Someone steps into the circle of solemn onlookers and places a diamond over the corpse’s heart. The sun rises, and the ritual begins . . . .
Yeah, you’re right. That’s an overwrought way to reintroduce myself to the Critical Hits community. I mean, I’ve been away from blogging here for four years and some change (pun intended). That’s a little less time than my first daughter has been alive. She did have a little something to do with my departure in 2011, among other issues, including work on a two editions of the D&D game. I won’t bore you with the details on the former, unless you ask to hear them.
In fact, I hope not to bore you at all.
To shore up my hopes, I’ll repeat what I said when I first started here six years ago: I want to write what you want to read. Again, I’m open to your questions and suggestions. Perhaps I should start my own version of “Sage Advice” to answer your gaming questions. Maybe “Charlatan’s Counsel” works, or “Questions and Quackery”? See, I’m no Jeremy Crawford or source for official D&D answers, but as some can attest, I can help with your game, even if it isn’t about the dungeons or the dragons. I’m versed in a bunch of entertainment-type things, and I’m steeped in the knowledge I managed to glean in over a decade of making games, and thrice that long running and playing them, as well as being nerdy about all sorts of diversions. (What I don’t know, I can make up . . . or research. Research is probably better.)
Speaking of my experience, part of it was helping with Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition. It reminds me of the mindset I was in last time I started here at Critical Hits. Fourth edition was in full swing, much like fifth edition is now, but it had a much different start and production cycle. It lacked a well-realized entry-level product, even though a starter set had come out in 2008. My first post from back then tells the story as I saw it, if you want to travel back in time to read it.
Fifth edition’s D&D Starter Set did a better job of introducing the game and its concepts to new players. One of the best aspects of the set was that it was released before the game’s massive rule books hit shelves. You could use it to become comfortable with some of the game’s core concepts before taking a deeper plunge with the Player’s Handbook. The nearly simultaneous release of the D&D Basic Rules as a free download was also a smart way to make sure would-be players could put their eyes on the D&D rules. That the Basic Rules were expanded as the D&D game grew with the release of new rule books was as much a boon for the brand as it was for players. (It might have been better if the OGL and SRD were out then, too, but that’s another topic. And they are out now.)
I faulted fourth edition (among other games) for attempting to give players as much as possible right out of the gate, rather than moving in steps, starting with the simple and expanding to the complex. Fifth edition did the same, essentially, even though in a perfect world, it shouldn’t have had to. (See, data still indicate most players consume content slowly, and most D&D campaigns start and end at lower levels.) The reasoning behind the presentation choice is complicated, as it always is in business, but the short story is that the RPG team had to release the newest version of the game into the wild as complete as possible. Perceived risk had to be mitigated, since some in higher management saw the game as a big one. Those people, in fact most of us, didn’t and perhaps couldn’t predict the amazing success the game would ultimately have.
I believe fifth edition’s success owes much to a studied return to the roots of the D&D game, along with the calculated inclusion of fan favorites from all editions. Fifth edition designers are indebted to audience feedback included in the design process, as well as the positive responses fans created and still create in the marketplace. I can tell you, as a developer on the game, we took the criticism very, very seriously, and considered it, along with every previous D&D edition, to arrive at the design you see today. Some of you might be able to point at the wording in a spell or the function of a rule and smile, knowing you influenced the direction of the game.
In the face of a great launch and ongoing existence for fifth edition’s release, I still maintain the fantasy I asserted in my first post here. I like to imagine the game could have been constructed and released in smaller, modular increments that supported learning and mastery, as well as the way data say the game is actually played. That would have been better for players and designers, I still pretend. But like any wishful thinking about creative endeavors, the realities of the game as part of a commercial enterprise have to be acknowledged. The desires of our audience members must not only be accepted, but also pushed to the fore. More than a few cool design ideas ended up on the cutting-room floor because the R&D team intended to create a game not for itself but for the wider fandom. (And that’s not wrong. Besides, we R&D team members can customize the game for ourselves if we want. Not that most of us do.)
I’m proud to have been and still be a part of the game that is Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition, as well as my contributions to other editions. Working on games isn’t easy, but it is satisfying. What I’ve gained from the work in knowledge, joy, and camaraderie has made all the labor more than worth it. I hope I can continue to spread those virtues here and elsewhere. Help me out, will you? (See the fourth paragraph!)