Saturday, July 5, 2014


This morning's post on the newly released 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons AKA D&D Next AKA The Basic Rules for D&D drew a lot of interest and at least a little ire. Here's the gist: I said that the free PDF ain't a game, despite what WotC is marketing. People who commented felt that I'm off-base, that WotC is not marketing the Basic Rules as a complete game, that they have been forthcoming that it is a work in progress, that there is no impetus to mislead folks about the fact that you require other products in order to make use of the game.

Sorry, folks...I'm going to have to call bullshit.

Here are the news items I found for Wizards of the Coast since the release July 3rd:

Of these, only The Escapist mentions that additional material is needed to actually play the game of Dungeons & Dragons using "The Basic Rules."

[The Outhouse does say, "Sadly, no monsters" but fails to mention everything else that is missing]

But maybe WotC didn't actually release any kind of press release on the thing. Maybe these are just fanboys posting to web pages and forgetting to mention the missing bits in the slobberyness of their enthusiasm.  So what does WotC itself say?

Here's what their latest news posting (7/3) states:

As Mike Mearls explained in Legends & Lore: The Basic Rules for Dungeons & Dragons is a PDF (over 100 pages, in fact) that covers the core of the game. It runs from levels 1 to 20 and covers the cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard, presenting what we view as the essential subclass for each. It also provides the dwarf, elf, halfling, and human as race options; in addition, the rules contain 120 spells, 5 backgrounds, and character sheets. 
But the best part? The Basic Rules is a free PDF. Anyone can download it from our website. We want to put D&D in as many hands as possible, and a free, digital file is the best way to do that.

This tells me it covers "the core" of the game. It references Mike Mearls earlier post (5/27) in which he writes the following, specifically with regard to Basic D&D:
Basic D&D is a PDF that covers the core of the game. It’s the equivalent of the old D&D Rules Cyclopedia, though it doesn’t have quite the same scope (for example, it won’t go into detail on a setting). It runs from levels 1 to 20 and covers the cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard, presenting what we view as the essential subclass for each. It also provides the dwarf, elf, halfling, and human as race options. 
But the best part? Basic D&D is a free PDF. Anyone can download it from our website. We want to put D&D in as many hands as possible, and a free, digital file is the best way to do that. 
If Basic D&D is the equivalent of the classic Rules Cyclopedia, then the three core rulebooks are analogous to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Want more character options? Pick up a Player’s Handbook. Looking for more critters for your campaign? The Monster Manual has you covered. Want to sculpt a unique campaign? Pick up the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Still, Basic D&D is the true heart of the game and could easily provide a lifetime of gaming.
See, the way I read that is Basic D&D covers the core of the game, the equivalent of the D&D Rules Cyclopedia (for those who missed this back in the day, the RC was a standalone game that compiled the BECM of Mentzer's BECMI series into a single book, plus additional material from the Mystarra Gazeteers, including "skills," plus appendixes like the Mystarra world setting and "how to convert characters between D&D and AD&D). The way I read this, I'd expect the soon-to-be-forthcoming core rulebooks (the Player's Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master's Guide) to be the equivalent of the AD&D (1st and 2nd edition) game which was mainly compiled into three books with similar titles. The way I read this, the "Basic D&D" rules does not require any of these core books (just as the RC did not require AD&D books) because it is the true heard of the game and has the potential to easily provide a lifetime of gaming...just without a detailed setting like Mystarra.

The reason I infer this is because that's what it fucking well says.

But let's just look at the WotC web site. Oh's a button marked "New to D&D." Let's pretend I am because, you know, maybe someone who's never played will have heard of this thing and want to try it out. It has four sections: 
  • What is D&D?
  • What to Buy?
  • Learn to Play
  • Find a Game
Great! Let's get started!

The first section gives a nice paragraph or two on what is role-playing. Okay, since I'm new I'll just sign off on the assumption they know what they're talking about. Clear and concise.

The second section (what to buy) lists Basic Rules for Dungeons & Dragons (with the exact same press release) as its first product. Hell, if I didn't know better, I'd think Basic Rules for D&D is the core of the game and everything you need for a new DM "to jump into tabletop RPG play." Because that's what Mearls says it is:
Basic D&D makes it easier than ever for new players and DMs to jump into tabletop RPG play. We’re involved in the greatest gaming hobby ever invented. It’s time to bring that hobby to everyone who wants to take part.
Yes, there's a bit that says:
As we introduce new storylines like Tyranny of Dragons, we’ll also make available free PDFs that provide all the rules and stats missing from Basic D&D needed to run the adventures tied into the story. The adventures released as part of Tyranny of Dragons are playable without requiring any of the core rulebooks or the Starter Set. With just the Basic Dungeons & Dragonsrules, you can play D&D for years.
But that makes it sound like Tyranny of Dragons is going to have rules and stats that are missing from Basic D&D...things like monsters unique to the storyline, unique treasures, etc that are needed to run adventures tied to the story. Not the basic rules needed for creating and running adventures in general. I infer from Mearls post that you can play D&D for years with just the Basic Dungeons & Dragons rules. Probably because that's what he says.

Finally I come to the REAL section I need: the Learn to Play section. 'Cause, you know, right now I'm stuck in Asuncion for a year and the only people I'm going to be playing with are American ex-pats who don't know how to play (in other words, the "Find a Game" section's not going to help). Here's what it says:
To play the D&D Roleplaying Game, you need a Dungeon Master (DM) to present challenges, adjudicate the rules, and narrate the adventure. 
You also need players to run heroic characters, an adventure (one you may have created on your own, or a premade adventure), and dice. 
A character is a player’s interface with the world of D&D. Like the hero of a novel or the star of a movie, the player characters (PCs) are at the center of the action. But there’s no script to follow—the course of every adventure is determined through the actions the players take. And each character grows and improves as the game goes on. 
Basic Rules for Dungeons & Dragons 
The Basic Rules for Dungeons & Dragons is a PDF that covers the core of the game. It runs from levels 1 to 20 and covers the cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard, presenting what we view as the essential subclass for each. It also provides the dwarf, elf, halfling, and human as race options; in addition, the rules contain 120 spells, 5 backgrounds, and character sheets. 
But the best part? The Basic Rules is a free PDF. Anyone can download it from our website. We want to put D&D in as many hands as possible, and a free, digital file is the best way to do that.

It does not say you need additional material. It does not say the thing is incomplete. WotC tries to pass off Basic D&D as all you need to learn to play the game...a complete game, in other words, and one that is available for free! How can you beat that?

Well, half a game is just as good as no game, folks. At least if you're "new to D&D." 

So, hey, sorry to piss all over your Basic D&D Rules that everyone is loving (I guess it's a good thing I'm not going to Montevideo with my wife next week; The RPG Pundit will never let me into his game now!). I realize that D& any form...isn't a "new" thing to MY readers. But as a game designer, I've chosen to write my games in a way that's accessible to even folks from "outside the fold" of the gaming community. Newbies and such. And 5E is a jab in the eye to people without an assumed amount of gaming experience. Despite saying they want to bring new folks into the D&D fold, I can't help but see this as WotC trying nothing more than to "win back" once-loyal customers who've turned away from their brand. The same aging, dwindling community.

Pretty lame, in my opinion.

Okay, that's all the time I really want to devote to this subject. I really, really doubt that I'll be paying $$ for the D&D Starter set (or any of the new, "core" books) anytime soon, but I'll probably follow the future developments of 5E...if only to see if anyone else is willing to call the Emperor on his nakedness.

In the meantime, I'm starting to think I really need to offer a free product or two to people myself. Seriously...I almost considered knocking down the cost of the 5AK PDFs, but I didn't think that would be fair to the folks who already paid full price (maybe offer them a discount on a soon-to-be-released PDF? If only I could figure out how to do "coupons" on Drive-Thru RPG).


  1. You are really off base on this. Mearls never said it was the complete rules released July 3. They are going to release it in stages along with the other major releases this year.

    As an owner of your B/X Companion and a OSR fan, I think your anger is very misplaced. It seems to me that 5e is an olive branch back to the gamers that forged the hobby. It is a very nice core D&D that "supports" a classic style of play better than most.

    I think you're going to look back on this post and be embarassed.

    1. @ Mikkelibob:

      I'm often embarrassed by what I've written (especially the typos). On the other hand, rereading my old posts does give me a time capsule snapshot of my perspective/feelings at the time, which is me, anyway.

      Sure, there's a lot to like in the's not ALL filler, after all. I just think it should be (better) represented as what it is. I mean, what's the point of releasing an INCOMPLETE GAME at this time? Because it's going to take people till August (with the release of Tyranny) to read the rules?

      Really...what's the justification here?

  2. JB, I think that overall you are correct. What is offered is not a complete game, and far from sufficient for a newbie to grab and actually game with. I think there is a lot to like about 5e so far rules wise, but these basic rules do not provide enough to play the game on their own.

    That said, do you think that if you had a veteran DM that had access to the full rules, that these would be sufficient for the new player in that game, who does not want to put any money into the game yet? I tend to think that it is, not sure if that is their intent or not, and if it is, this should have been marketed as a white flag to get old disenchanted players a way to see what they are offering, and perhaps get a few back into the fold.

    The person that puts the work into building adventures in order to DM/Referee is ultimately the person who picks the system. Some are very particular about their system, some do not care at all, and some just look for new pieces to graft onto their own franken-system.

    Regardless of your feelings on the viability of the free PDF, I would be interested (as always) in hearing what (if any) bits you would consider adding into your own DnD-Mine.

  3. @ Harv:

    Hmmm...the last question is a good one. Looking it over, I actually get the feeling their ripping off some of MY stuff.
    ; )

    Let me take a closer look and get back to you on that.

  4. I read all of that ahead of the release and never once thought core of the game = complete game. It's enough material to get new players into a game with a basic character. It's cool that they put it together and it's free.

    Wizards is trying to trick anyone into thinking it's a full game. It's not like you'll walk into a game store and see basic d&d on the shelf. There will be Starter Set and eventually PHB. The pdf is just a handy free accessory.

    I'd be interested in hearing what you think about the game itself.

    1. @ Fumers:

      I figured that's what you meant.
      ; )

      As I told Harv, I'll take a closer look at the Basic Rules. But I don't think I'll be getting the Starter anytime soon...I'm in Paraguay till November.

  5. It all reads like corporate bullshit to me... and my vague interest in 5e has withered in the bright glare of fanboy eyelights.
    Maybe I'll get around to looking at it next year, after the excited yammering has died down and I can critique it without being chased up a windmill by a mob with torches and pitchforks.

  6. You've missed the point. They have said that the basic pdf will be a complete playable game when it's finished. It's not finished yet.

    Even so, combined with the boxed set that was released on the same day you do have a complete game.

    To be honest I'm not that impressed with D&D5 as it seems a bit dull, but it's also not finished yet so I'm giving them a chance.

    1. @ Kelvin:

      You're right, man...I'm being deliberately obtuse here. Mearls does say in the May article that the Basic Set will be expanded in August to include "the essential monsters, magic items, and DM rules needed to run the game." I suppose I will see in August what the REAL "Basic Set" looks like (a 250 page, "printer friendly" PDF?).

      But that part is buried under a shit-ton of puffery about how you don't need anything else to play the game. It never say they're releasing an incomplete rule set. Hell, in their LEARN TO PLAY section for people NEW TO D&D this current version of "the Basic Set" is all they give you...period. And the thing ain't going to teach you how to play the least, not as a DM (which is half of learning to play).

      Nothing in their current press says, "wait till August." To me, it's irritating and (as I said) a bit disingenuous. Why don't they simply wait till August to release the Basic PDF in full? Simply to annoy people into buying their "Starter Pack" that's being released in June?

      I guess my final point is this: a free incomplete game isn't a free game. All you've got is a partial "sneak peek" of an upcoming product. But WotC is being hailed and lauded for having released 5E..."and as a free PDF!"...and aren't they swell for doing it?

      Welp, I don't see they've done anything yet.

    2. I suppose people are just excited because there's a new edition of D&D and their judgement on what is available at this time is a little coloured -- both in positive and negative ways -- by that.

      I do get what you mean about Wizards being lauded for it; I am surprised that there's so much faith in Wizards given some of the dodgy moves they've pulled in the past.

  7. First, I continue to hope upon hope that people will view dissenting opinions as opportunities for discussion instead of invitations to be a troll. Ah, the hope continues...anyway JB, I got your back as usual, my friend!

    Anyway, I bought the starter set for several reasons, mostly because I'm curious and keeping an open mind about WotC and the future of D&D specifically and the hobby in general. Also, I wanted to support the one good FLGS in South Jersey, All Things Fun, by buying the set from them. I want to make sure they stick around.

    I've been reading through the starter box rules and it seems so far like 3.5 with some different rules options added in. Not bad, but not really exciting to my sensibilities. I never really liked 3.5, you see. I need to go back and read through again, but so far it seems fairly vanilla. BUT, I am a long time roleplayer, so I can't help but put my expectations into what I read, no matter how hard I try. I just know too much about the game.

    I also guess I am wishing that there would be more of a nod to the various versions of D&D, mentioning the history of the game in the text somewhere. Just to show some love for the roots of the game and maybe give "new" players a bit of curiosity about the older versions of the game, and the mentality and play style fostered by older versions.

    I have to say that I'm not following things as close as you are with regard to whether or not the basic rules are a "complete" game or not, but I can see where you're coming from if what's online doesn't yet have monsters, etc.

    I think they're trying to drum up interest and hype, throwing out the "free" word and trying to seem like a nice bunch of folks offering the "gateway" to their game gratis. Why they couldn't just include all the monsters and junk now and call it done, I don't know. Seems strange, and I too feel a bit put off by how they're doing things.

    1. @ Anthony:

      Thanks for the kind words (here and on your own blog). Rest assured, I don't think any of the folks who've commented have been "trolls" - they're all people who've been readers for awhile (some of whom I've gamed with!), and I do value their comments and opinions...dissenting or not!
      : )

    2. Understood. I wasn't really calling the majority of the commenters on your 5E posts "trolls," just the occasional beast that wanders in to take pot shots. And what I was referring to was YOUR dissenting opinions on things, which were (and have been) attacked.

      That being said, I hope you have time to read my latest 5E Starter Set post I put up today, and give me your thoughts:

      RPG Pundit actually posted some clarification of the interrelation of the Starter box/D&D Basic PDF/the books coming out (at my urging) on his latest post (just jump to the comments):