With a new and applauded version of Dungeons and Dragons Wizards of the Coast seem to be following a different publishing policy than before, and say that they are listening to the player community. Many campaigns have been published, where old, tried and tested story lines and antagonists appear, meanwhile there have been fewer books with player options.
Many D&D fans have applauded the 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons, especially old dogs like myself. And I admit, this new version is quite good and I believe it is more in line with the older versions of D&D, than both 3rd and 4th edition and there’s no doubt in my mind that D&D is in a Golden Age of sorts. There are probably some players that disagree with me, but when I started playing D&D we still used THAC0 and rolling a Death save actually meant that your character died if you failed it. No second chances, no, sir! Save or die, puny creature!
Although the 5th edition doesn’t incorporate such drastic measures, the spirit of the game is rich and gives a friendly nod to older versions in a way that I think that both veteran and rookie players would like. Wizards have been following a new publishing strategy, i.e. the company have focused on publishing campaigns rather than books with a plethora of player options.
The campaigns have mostly been well received by the D&D community, and no wonder, for almost all of the campaigns are firmly placed within the D&D mythology. In short, WoTC are busy recycling, reincarnating and restoring old D&D materials. I can’t help but wonder if this edition will ever see published material which is completely new? Or is the community ever hungry for tried and tested story lines or antagonist brought back from ye olde editions?
WoTC have published two books containing adventures or campaigns that are simply reworked for 5th edition. Curse of Strahd recycles the 1st edition module Ravenloft. The count’s castle has been published in one way or another for almost every edition, House of Strahd in AD&D, Expedition to Castle Ravenloft in 3rd edition and now the Curse of Strahd. The campaign is beautiful and for an old Ravenloft fan, like myself, it’s nice to have the castle updated for this new edition. But I can’t help but wonder, why not allow the community to update the old modules, e.g. in DMsguild.com?
The same goes for Tales from the Yawning Portal, it contains many known and applauded modules from older versions, many of which have literally no ties to the famous tavern in Waterdeep and were even originally set in completely different settings.
Will we see more of this? Should we expect Ao to put loose the Tablets of Fate again? Are Orcus and other dead gods to rise again? Does Halaster’s Undermountain need exploring yet again?
I don’t mind using old material, I do it myself for my games all the time, but no matter how I try to convince myself it’s still just recycling. And recycling is not that creative.
Forgotten Realms is the default setting for WoTC. Curse of Strahd is the only campaign that takes place in another setting. This means that when old ideas are recycled and reworked by WoTC, they are shoehorned into this setting and, until Tomb of Annihilation came out, especially the northern part of Faerun.
Princes of the Apocalypse is more or less based on the old Greyhawk module Temple of Elemental Evil and later Return of to the Temple of Elemental Evil. The 1E module has been a favourite for many old D&D players, especially those who still remember the small village, Hommlet. The two campaigns use more or less the same themes.
The same goes for Tomb of Annihilation. After reading the module I feel that it is in many way the modules Jungles of Chult and Tomb of Horrors combines, even Acererak is there in his own way, having moved from Oerth to Toril. Another famous character makes appearance in the module, the saurial paladin Dragonbait.
Reincarnation like this can be fun but it poses a few problems, especially when you need to find a plausible reason for things migrating from one world to another, or have a way longer life than others of your race. Of course, WoTC can do what they like with their brand but in my mind both Acererak and The Temple of Elemental Evil are Greyhawk products. Perhaps I’m just an old fart…
Still, WoTC have restored and reworked a few ideas so that they fit alright in Forgotten Realms. Both the Storm King’s Thunder and the Tyranny of Dragons story lines are gentle reminders of older modules, Storm Kings Thunder has much in common with the old Against the Giants and the Tyranny of Dragons is a friendly wink at Dragonlance Classics.
This kind of restoration is a great way to pay homage to the old modules without being too dependant on them and it also gives the designers freedom to take the stories into more creative directions.
Bring out yer dead!
Don’t get me wrong, I like many of these campaigns, but I think that perhaps WoTC is going a bit overboard in redoing old modules, reusing old narratives and trying to capture the spirit of long gone edition. I don’t think that they need to, they don’t need to constantly bring out their dead. I would love to see more new stuff, new stories and new antagonists.
I think that the best module for D&D 5E is Lost Mines of Phandelver. No world shattering events, original story line and basically just fun stuff. It’s short enough to drop into as a starting module for any campaign and it doesn’t take 3-12 months playing through it. Why can’t we have more of this?
As mentioned before, I don’t dislike these new campaigns. I feel however that perhaps if Wizards get too caught up in this, the creativity which was the main driving force behind these classics will get lost and sooner or later D&D will feel stale and stagnant.
The reason why the classic modules are fondly loved by many old players is in part because of their originality, because these were fresh and fun to go through. I miss the feeling of reading something new, something extra-ordinary and breathtaking. Of course, most of these new modules will feel exactly like that to new players, and that is great. But I long for something more, something more creative from Wizards. Hopefully we will see something spectacular in 2018.