What Is D&D Anymore?

 In a recent article I posted on this site (find it here), I posited "This isn't D&D anymore" due to a statement made by WotC staff in a video interview when discussing 1970's D&D. As stated in my article, WotC staff was referring to gaming language and player demographics and not so much the game itself (you can watch the interview here, the statement comes after minute 35). But their statement prompted me to think about their wording and so I said that, essentially, D&D 5e "isn't D&D anymore" based upon the original design intent.

Naturally, this ruffled some feathers and there were clear misinterpretations of my words and intent (no...I'm not saying your fun is bad). So now I want to carry that initial thought process a bit further and ask "what is D&D anymore?"

If we can all agree that Dungeons & Dragons has changed significantly from the original design intent of the 1970s and 1980s, then we can agree it is a completely different game now. It is, without doubt, not about all of the same elements expressed by Gygax, Arneson, Moldvay, Holmes, Cook, etc. You can see that in many elements of OSR games that are based on the foundations of Basic or Advanced D&D. This is not a value judgement, simply a statement.

So what then is D&D anymore? The moment Gary Gygax lost control of TSR and his beloved game, it moved past the original design intent. Slowly at first, since AD&D 2e is extremely similar to the previous edition. The change then hit warp speed with 3rd Edition with a clear departure from the original design intent. 4e and then 5e moved even further away from the roots (4e more so than 5e, but you get my point).

I still believe that Dungeons & Dragons from 2000 onwards is no longer D&D as it was conceived and envisioned. You can make a case that the AD&D 2e player's options books (which I don't like, despite my undying love for 2e) were the original harbingers of doom, but making the cut with 3e is easier.

Does that mean we're no longer playing Dungeons & Dragons? Yes and no. It's still D&D since that's what it says on the books. It still shares some common elements and language (even though that is being changed more and more). But when a game departs so much from its root design concepts, I see it as an entirely different game. That's neither good nor bad, but must be recognized as such.

Many of us will agree that D&D 4e is absolutely NOT a Dungeons & Dragons game. It was far too drastic a departure from any shared D&D roots. That's not to say it was a bad game. 13th Age and Pathfinder 2e have proven the concept and viability of that edition. Other TTRPGs have seen the same phenomenon happen to them, such as RuneQuest and most distinctly Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. WFRP 3e was such an extreme departure from the roots of that game's design concept that it was rejected by the majority of the player base. Only the excellent WFRP 4e has returned the game more to what the design intention was and it feels like WFRP again.

So again I ask: what is D&D anymore? Here's the beautiful answer: anything we want it to be based on our personal tastes.

I will maintain my opinion (and no you can't change that) that every edition of D&D from 2000 onwards is not "real" Dungeons & Dragons. The departure from the core game elements is too stark, too jarring. I see 3/3.5e, 4e, and 5e as different iterations more akin to what Pathfinder, 13th Age, Shadow of the Demon Lord, etc. are than "true" D&D. Those are all still great games. I have played most of them and enjoyed most of them. But I never felt that the experience was Dungeons & Dragons like I do when I play a classic edition of the game, a retro-clone (e.g., Swords & Wizardry), or a close derivative (e.g., Dolmenwood).

The beauty of the here and now is that you can play your Dungeons & Dragons that you enjoy for your tastes. My preferred vintage of D&D is classic "old-school" D&D with all of its quirks and deadliness and I will always promote this style of play here, on YouTube, and in my own game design. If you prefer the post-2000 d20 game with more powerful and heroic characters right off the bat, then you can pick that vintage instead. It's up to us, our tables, and our tastes to define what D&D is anymore...to us individually.


  1. I would like you to (perhaps in another article some time) to explain what you don't like about Player's Option.

    I will simply say that I was very, very tired of Vancian magic. I wanted magic that let the caster channel his energy into a spell construct (and they would have a small list of those). I also didn't mind the idea of spell failure and overdriving or underdriving a spell. I think I picked up this flavour from DragonQuest of about the same era.

    I wanted exhausting casting so that the fatigue for fighting and the fatigue of magic came together. I would think this would be a very appropriate OSR mechanic because it forces you to make important choices about when you are taking a bad risk in pushing on without rest.

    I also wanted the Custom Class option to build each deity's clergy significantly different - different class features (as fit the deity and the values of the deity and area of responsiblity), different hit points and AC to an extent and how much armour you can or can't wear, and (my own addition) instead of buying the spell domains, I made up a very unique spell list that fit the deity very well (and it had a single cost although the dieties that had a larger list were less able in other areas). It made every church and clergy feel very different.

    Having Combat & Tactics provide a good grid system was a godsend - no more arguments about where a player thought they were when the GM thought they were somewhere else. Picture is worth a thousand words. It also added grid tactical choices which made your battle more thoughtful, but not loading the kids of crunch that blew up later rules.

    We could run a party of 7 in the 7-9 range of levels against a bunch of very dangerous drow, summoned creatures, spiders, and a bunch of thrall soldiers in a 3D undergound environment and a fight that ended up running into the 20s of rounds still got done within about 90 minutes. Most smaller fights could be done in 30 minutes.

    We didn't want to lose lethality, we didn't want to lose choices that matter, we didn't want to lose thinking and encouraging different approaches, and we didn't want to remove mystery and exploration.

    So we all enjoyed (after a slight learning curve) the benefits of PO:Combat & Tactics and PO:Spells & Magic. We did not use High Level campaigns.

  2. My only quibble with what you said in this article was your use of "I will maintain my opinion (and no you can't change that) that every edition of D&D from 2000 onwards is not "real" Dungeons & Dragons. "

    I don't plan to change your opinion. I do entirely disagree that D&D is not real Dungeons & Dragons.

    The game of today is not 'Classic D&D' or 'Original D&D'. It is D&D. It has many of the characteristics of the game. It has Vancian casting. It has saving throws. It has Classes and multi-classing. It has hit points. It has the standard 6 stats from 3D6. There are rounds. There are turns. There is the magic of divine casters and arcane casters. D20 is still the way you hit things and save.

    It's not the same as what the early folk played. It isnt' what Gary played, but *neither* was any of the rule books TSR put out - Gary ran his own tables very differently. He was, at the base, a story teller albeit one that let the player show us the story. And Arneson and Holmes and Moldvay and others all played differently.

    I would bet that Gary's table, Dave's table, and each of the others would be very different not just in the themes, but in the play. Back in those days, it was normal for people to create the world and adjust things as they saw fit.

    Were they not playing 'true' D&D? Was Gary not? Kuntz? Arneson? Luke Gygax? Shick? Others?

    I think the whole terms of 'true' or 'real' are dodgy. It assumes a purity and truth where those that don't exactly walk in the same way are somehow lesser.

    For you, Classic D&D may be the best version of D&D and the one you value the most. I know people who (shiver) loved 4E. Their version is what they value most and may see your version as lesser. So all this becomes is an argument around purity and bestness.

    It's more inflammatory to use Classic D&D or Original D&D perhaps. Just a thought.

    It is entirely accurate to say that D&D today is the true D&D because it is the version being produced. That's not untruthful. And it is real.

    My issue is more with the language than anything. Classic D&D - the new game isn't. Original D&D - it isn't.

    But now, 50 years in, D&D is really the generic umbrella under which Classic D&D/OD&D/OSR live under along with all the other D&Ds and every DM who built a world and made the rules and adjustments they felt they ought. Gary told them to do that.

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  4. It's obviously not D&D as it was meant to be, which is why there's so many other iterations of the original game. I still think ShadowDark takes the crown of what's out there. I give 3E a little bit of a pass other than being overloaded with rules and books. I was lucky enough to be selected to play test 3E in the late 90s at Gencon and after the play test, away from the ears of the new\old WOTC\TSR staff, we all asked each other 'what did you think?' I'll never forget one guy who said " That wasn't D&D"


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