Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, September 14, 2022
Dungeons & Dragons in 2024

Dungeons & Dragons was first published in 1974, so in 2024 it will celebrate its 50th anniversary. By that time it will also be renamed from 5th edition to "One D&D". While there is some serious doubt that the announced backward compatibility to 5th edition will actually be real, I don't think a change to what might be called 6th edition rules is actually changing all that much. Nor does all the added political correctness change Dungeons & Dragons fundamentally, even if I will miss the more interesting races. However, I do believe that Dungeons & Dragons in its second 50 years will be a very different game from the first 50 years because of the announced platform changes.

I play D&D mostly on Roll20 these days. The solution imposed itself because of Covid, and then stuck because of people moving away. It is nice to be able to play with friends that can't assemble around an actual table. But Roll20 isn't a unique platform. There are other virtual tabletop programs. And if you look at the public face of D&D, people playing D&D on YouTube or Twitch with a large following, you see a variety of different platforms: Some groups play around a table, other use virtual tabletops, and still other use what is basically a Zoom call to play D&D. Sitting around a real table and rolling real dice is still considered the core version, and virtual tabletops are mostly just providing a simulation of that.

The announced One D&D virtual tabletop will dramatically change that. It will not stop people who like pen & paper roleplaying games to actually involve real pens and real paper to sit around a table. But it is easy to see how the official One D&D VTT will replace existing VTT solutions. And if that One D&D VTT has video chat (which it definitively should for a program to be released in 2024), every game is just one click away from being streamed. It will become the new normal to see a D&D game on whatever is the hottest streaming platform in the future done on the official One D&D VTT, while you will see a lot less of other VTT solutions or people sitting around a table, unless that table is actually in a studio of a production like Critical Role.

Changing the public face of D&D will over time change the perception of what D&D is. The VTT will become the core version. And that will change how the game is ultimately played. Any platform imposes restrictions. Certain things will be easily possible on the One D&D VTT, while other things won't be. Some of those restrictions are technical, others are psychological: If you don't see a chandelier displayed, you won't ask your DM whether you can swing from the chandelier. In a theatre of the mind style of gameplay, and even if you play on battlemats with miniatures, you know that what you see isn't all there is. But videogames trained us to believe that the virtual environment we see on our screen is all we get to interact with in that game.

Everybody playing on the same virtual platform also changes the way people find others to play with. Dungeon Masters for hire will become more of a thing, because DMs are usually the limiting factor in playing a tabletop RPG. And the reality of playing with strangers at a distance instead of friends at home will dramatically change the way people behave and how the game feels. The "Matt Mercer effect", the realization that a game of D&D played by normal people differs from Critical Role in the same way that a school play differs from a play in a real theater with professional actors, will become more pronounced. Expectations change. Today different groups play D&D is very different ways, but that will become more difficult as the changing expectations impose more of a standard. And that will also be to the detriment of other pen & paper roleplaying systems, who will have a hard time keeping up with a sleek online platform. It won't be all bad, but it sure will make D&D feel a lot different in the future.


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