The long rumored and eagerly awaited new iteration of the original role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons is finally at hand, and Wizards of the Coast announced today that the company “will be looking to the legions of D&D fans to help shape the game along with us.”  The prototype of the new version will be unveiled at the D&D Experience convention in late January, where WotC will conduct a playtest of ideas currently in development.  WotC will provide show attendees with a first-look draft of the new set of rules.  Then starting sometime in the spring, WotC will begin open playtesting by releasing a growing set of rules, monsters, and other materials for player study and feedback.
WotC is hoping to get feedback from fans and players of all previous editions of the game in order to mend D&D’s fractured fanbase. Dungeons & Dragons, created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in the early 1970s, is arguably one of the most influential games in history since it played a key role in the development of the entire modern gaming industry, including both paper and digital games.  Yet even as its themes and tropes are reaching more people than ever through their adoption in popular online games like World of Warcraft and video games like Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the popularity of D&D itself has been declining.
The release of Dungeons & Dragons 4.0 in 2008 split the fanbase as a sizable portion of the D&D fanbase rejected the new version claiming that it was “dumbed down” and like the online games it mimicked, emphasized killing too much while shifting away from the narrative and role-playing roots of D&D.
Writing on the WotC Website, Mike Mearls, senior manager of D&D research and development, expressed his hope that the process will yield a “flexible” game that will allow the splintered D&D fanbase to reunite: “By involving you in this process, we can build a set of D&D rules that incorporates the wants and desires of D&D gamers around the world.  We want to create a flexible game, rich with options for players and DMs to embrace or reject as they see fit, a game that brings D&D fans together rather than serves as one more category to splinter us apart.”
Will WotC’s outreach effort be successful? Even though incorporating suggestions from a disparate fanbase could be a task akin to herding cats, it certainly looks like a very sound first step, as Greg Tito of The Escapist told the New York Times: “The long open testing period for the next edition, if handled correctly, could be exactly what’s needed to make players feel invested in D&D again.”