Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University.  This week, Thorne looks at what it will take for Dungeons & Dragons to regain the #1 spot in the RPG market.

The recent announcement by Wizards of the Coast that the first release for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, or D&D Next as the company keeps calling it, Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle, would only be available for pre-order for sale at this year's Gen-Con, got me thinking about what to expect when D&D 5th Edition, or Next, finally releases, probably in 2014.  Can Dungeons & Dragons regain the top position it ceded to Pathfinder when WotC released 4th Edition to a market that has strongly demonstrated it doesn't want the game?  Yes, 4th Edition still sells, but when you go from market leader to Pathfinder outselling you by a margin of three to one (and that is probably a bit generous in my estimate), it is a pretty strong indication that your customers do not want your product that much.
As I said, I expect D&D 5th Edition to launch summer of 2014.  I also expect Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast to really push within the next few months to get the movie rights back to the Dungeons & Dragons name, as releasing a movie with the Dungeons & Dragons name could do nothing but help publicize the launch of the new edition.  However, though I am no expert, it seems a year is not much time to complete a feature film for theatrical release.  IT could be released on SyFy perhaps, as with the second D&D movie, but not to the theaters.
Anyhow, D&D has lost the dominant position it held in the RPG market for over two decades to Pathfinder for two reasons.  First, there is the perception among many players that D&D 3.5, and hence Pathfinder, is a superior system to 4th Edition D&D. (Whether that is true is a discussion for an online forum someplace.  I regularly run into people who swear that 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons still outshines any edition produced since then.)  Second, Pathfinder offers a superior organized play experience.  While WotC offers two fine OP opportunities, D&D Campaigns and Lair Assault, they offer little of the flexibility and opportunities to advance to participants that Paizo Publishing's Pathfinder Society does.
Every Wednesday night, players across the country know they can find a D&D 4th Edition game at any participating store.  However, they also know that it will be the exact same scenario of the exact same campaign and that characters created and played in it have proscribed levels of growth and are limited in lifespan to the length of the Encounters campaign.  Compare this to Pathfinder Society, which bears a strong resemblance to WotC's late RPGA Living OP program, which, while it does not offer the regularity of the D&D Encounters program, does offer a wider selection of scenarios, a wider venue in which to play them, and greater flexibility in character design and advancement.  So popular is Pathfinder Society among its players that I have seen a resistance to purchasing non-PS approved books, much as I did during the RPGA heyday.
Can D&D 5th/Next take back its crown from Pathfinder?  Difficult but possible.  It is D&D, so that gives it huge brand awareness within the market.  I expect to see a large percentage of the market sample the game rules when they first come out.  Whether they adopt them in preference to either 4th Edition or Pathfinder depends on how well they improve on D&D 3.5, since that, it appears, is what the vast majority of players want.  Due to his work on the original 3.0 and 3.5 editions, Monte Cook's departure from the development team last year has me worried about that.
WotC will also need a strong OP program for the game, hopefully one that launches either concurrently with or soon after the release of the new edition.  The importance of OP to the success of Magic, as well as Pathfinder, should indicate to the company the necessity of having an OP program ready to involve players with the new edition.  I have not heard of one currently in development, but hopefully there is a group at WotC working on this in the background.  The company has a year or better to look at what worked for the RPGA and what is working for Magic and Pathfinder and to build a program incorporating what players like from all of them.  There are some pretty smart people at WotC, so I am expecting they will.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of