How should D&D Next be published?

I’ve been thinking a little (ok, maybe more than a little) about how the finished version of D&D Next should look when it finally hits the shelves. Not about the artwork or the typography, but about the books themselves.

Should the next edition of Dungeons & Dragons follow the tried-and-tested pattern of having a Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual and Dungeon Master’s Guide, or something new? Should it start small with a single starter box of just the core rules and the first few levels of the game,  or try to pack all of the levels into a single weighty tome?

Should there be books at all, for that matter, or is an entirely digital solution the smart way to go?

I’m sure these are things which the nice folks at Wizards of The Coast are considering already, so thought I’d throw my hat into the ring. If I had a hat, that is. Or a ring.

One problem with the three book format (PHB, MM, DMG, or 4e Essentials equivalents) is that the balance of cost is with the DM. This increases the likelihood that Players will remain Players (after all, they’ve got all they need with the PHBs) and the DM is stuck in the lonely chair at the end of the table. Even when we’re looking at online gaming where the lonely chair is replaced with a headset and mike, players are less likely to take a turn actually running a game as they simply lack the game resources to do so. Of course, there’s nothing to stop them borrowing the DM’s DMG & MM, or buying their own, but that’s a barrier (or, at worst, an excuse) that’s stopping them from enjoying all facets of the game.

The other issue is that (in my experience) many game groups play most of their sessions at lower levels (through preference, campaign length or natural attrition of players) and rarely rise high enough to use a large proportion of the higher-level material in the books they own. Put simply, they’re not getting value from those parts of the rules material, so why have them there at all?

Dungeons & Dragons also has a heritage. It’s a game with a 30-odd year legacy, and that’s something which is important not to ignore in the presentation of the next edition of the game. It is, I feel, possible (essential, even) to reflect that even as the game moves forwards into the future. How the game is presented should reflect some of that heritage.

So. Here’s my idea.

The first book released for D&D Next should be a single hardback containing character generation, rules, encounters, monsters and an introductory mini-campaign for Levels One to Ten, and it should be called Dungeons & Dragons Red Book One. It should have a red spine and border surrounding the (awesome) front cover artwork.

This one book will provide Players and GM all they need to play the first ten levels. This means anyone in the group can step up and be the GM. The focus here is primarily on dungeon-based adventures, with the wilderness and civilization playing a secondary role in the game. There will be wilderness encounter tables and guidelines for creating adventures in the wild and in urban areas, but the focus is primarily on the dungeon crawl experience. This isn’t a cut-down introduction to the game, but the complete core rules and the supporting modules (battlemat play, etc) required to suit a variety of play styles.

The next book will be Dungeons & Dragons Blue Book One, detailing Levels Eleven to Twenty. This expands the classes and bestiary to fill this range and expands the game fully into the wilderness and urban adventuring. Additional (optional) modules introduce domain-level play with castle building and managing a part of the campaign world.

I think you can see where this is going.

Cyan (or possibly Green) Book One gives you Levels 21 to 30, expanding the domain rules, adding a mass combat module and planar travel, Black Book One has Levels 31 to 40 with world-spanning threats and finally Gold Book One sets the heroes able to challenge and even become the gods themselves.

So why not call them Basic, Expert, Companion, Master and Immortal and be done with it?  And what’s all this Book One nonsense?

Ah. Colours are easy. They’re identifiable. Saying “you need the D&D Red Book to play” gives the product an identity, whereas “D&D Basic” just means you’re playing a basic version of D&D, and that implies that you’re playing a lesser or cut down version of the rules. The brand identity of the classic D&D Basic Edition became “the Red Box”, not “D&D Basic”. Use that identity, and make it something new.

The game can also expand both upward (in levels) and outward, in depth. D&D Red Book One can be followed with Red Book Two, offering new races, classes, monsters and modules (and another mini-campaign to showcase those modules) for levels 1-10. Ditto for Blue Book Two, Red Book Three, etc.

From a commercial perspective, it’s the difference between one gamer at the table buying DMG II, and everyone at the table buying Red Book Two, because it has content which should (hopefully) be of use to them all. Maximised sales = happy Wizards of The Coast, and happy gamers too.

I know we games have a love of symmetry in all things, but personally I see nothing wrong with the next edition of D&D ultimately having Red Books 1-4, Blue Books 1-3 and just one book for the rest of the series if that reflects how the game is played. The game can go in whatever direction appeals to the widest audience.

A system like this would simplify adventure presentation as well. A supplement could have an icon showing, say, a red 1 in a circle meaning you only need Red Book One to use it and it is designed for levels 1-10, or a black 3 means this adventure uses options present in Black Book Three and is suitable for levels 31-40.

The books should all be released in Kindle format too. Wizards of The Coast already has a great channel in place for their novels, so why not use it? Kindle format is widely readable on darned near any device under the sun, and any errata can be pushed through and updated immediately. It’s a win all round.

Anyhow. That’s how I would do it, for what it’s worth.

What do you think?


30 Comments on “How should D&D Next be published?”

  1. For years, ever since I lost my high school play group after graduating, I’ve wished D&D came with solo rules. They used to have a solo adventure in their introductory pack and it would be wonderful for them to target this sector of the market – I reckon there’s untapped potential there.

    1. Have you seen the 4e Red Box Starter Set? That includes a great solo adventure that both introduces the game and generates your character as you go along. I thought that was a great way to showcase the rules, and it’s fun to run through too.

  2. I love it! I was thinking on this, and you really nailed an excellent approach. I don’t even think it is the only one! Though this is a great approach, there are other ways to provide the content that would be useful for everyone.

    One question current D&D Next design begs is whether we will see a return of the older paradigm of selling content that is mostly fluff with spells and magic items. That’s what pretty much every 2E product was (if it wasn’t an adventure, and even then it might be true). We could add themes to that list. That’s one model, but I don’t find it very attractive.

    What you provided, and perhaps the Neverwinter 4E model, seems compelling. Link content to larger concepts that would be appealing to as wide an audience as possible, and be richer for it. For example, with the 4E Neverwinter book the DM comes out ahead by seeing the player content because they can integrate it into the campaign’s story (example: themes that are actually factions and thus impact play).

    1. I agree. One of the things Mike Mearls has been talking about is the idea of combining modules with adventures so that even when you’ve run the adventure the purchase has long-term use in your game as you’ve got the module to use. The example he gave was a mass combat module packaged with an adventure which features a large-scale battle.

      It also has the happy accident of encouraging more sales of adventures, something which Wizards have traditionally struggled with. I think that’s a great solution.

    1. In terms of initial sales, hypothetically yes, but sales of later books will more than make up for that.

      For example (and simplistically), four players and a DM would equal five sales to start with (one each of Red Book One) as compared to seven sales (five PHBs, a DMG and a MM).

      The next book in the series (Blue Book One) would also be bought by all the group (five more sales) whereas only the DM would have bought DMG II, and possibly one or two players bought PHB II.

      That’s just three sales for two books, compared to five more sales for one additional book. Later books (Red Book Two, etc) will also have the same increased sale potential.

      Add in secondary sales from the Kindle edition (I’d happily pay twice for both a print and kindle version of the core rules, and suspect others would too) and the sales should more than make up for any early shortfall.

  3. I’ll weigh in on this one. I’d actually like to see (in improved quality, of course) a return to the 4 booklet boxed set. I’m really hoping that the “core” rules everyone is considering are tight & compact, making this folio concept (one for players, one for DMs, & one for monsters, & one is a full adventure module), viable. They should then offer the player “folio” as a separate (and reasonably inexpensive) item so that if you have players that don’t wish to be DM’s have the rules, they may do so.

    My two cents. :-)

    1. I’d be more than happy with that format too, provided the print quality and paper thickness is much improved over 4e’s boxed set offerings.

      Thanks for the two cents :)

      1. I think this is the best idea of all. Besides, who doesn’t love getting a box of books?

        Now, the big question… what size books? Digest, or the more traditional larger books?

  4. This is a wonderful idea. I love how each player has the tools to be a DM, and how adventures or other books can reference these by color/number. Very, very well done.

  5. I certainly like what you’ve proposed better than the current model WOC follows. However, I still think the game will eventually run into information bloat and disorganization resulting from having too many books, rules, modules, and options that are purchased separately. Personally, I don’t like having fifteen books on hand with pages earmarked and sections tabbed to show the parts I actually use and then having to, during a game, try and locate each individual rule I am looking for. That is why I think WOC should also investigate options for providing more personalized content through DDI, Kindle, and even on-demand publishing. This is something I wrote about a while back in this article ( entitled, “Game Designers Seek the Impossible for D&DNext.”

    How cool would it be to purchase hard-copy books personalized to your own group’s personal tastes (i.e. one on-demand published book containing only the options you are interested in) and to set options and filters in DDI to show only the content and search results you want? Kindle could also be utilized in this manner to purchase specialized books. It could truly be revolutionary.

    1. It would be very, very cool indeed, and Wizards need to embrace the Kindle format for digital distribution.

      That said, I hope they don’t drop out of selling print editions as well. The solution I suggested means that you only need just one Red Book to run the game from levels 1-10, and even by the time you approached level 30 that’s just three books, the equivalent of the minimum needed for a DM at any level right now.

      When it comes to digital editions, the possibilities are very exciting, and I agree it is certainly something that Wizards should look into further down the line.

  6. Hey Grey, some great thoughts here, for me I would wholly agree but for two points – I worry that if the DM material, particularly monsters and magic, are bundled with the players information, how long before that material becomes well know and used in a meta game way around the table.

    One solution for, for me at least, would be to make the monsters more like 4e in that they are easily customizable and therefore able to be inserted in a game without following the by the book convention so that players familiar with the Orc Shaman and his typical spell abilities might be surprised that this Orc Shaman hails from the Thundersnot mountain and specialises in different spell like powers for instance.

    Equally if magic items could also be changed, then what players know (or in fact think they know) can be challenged. I say all this because I love this elegant solution and would love to see something workable implemented that makes playing and paying for the game easier.

    Just one question, you mention the kindle offerings, but both of us are in the UK and I know none of the WOTC books or materials are available to us via Amazon uk, have you found a way to purchase WOTC materials legitimately? If so I would love to know, it irks me no end that I can’t buy digital content for my kindle reader. That there is now even a column on their digital offerings but it excludes the rest of the world save the USA also annoys me – there seems little will to change this at present.

    1. Personally, I think that the fear of players gaining meta-game knowledge from having access to the monsters is a myth, and it’s held back the game for too long. When we play classic D&D (as we still occasionally do) the monsters & GM information are right there in the players’ copies of the Rules Cyclopedia. It’s the same when we played Savage Worlds, Mutants & Masterminds, d20 Modern or any other one book solution game, and none of the players gain an unfair advantage from it being there. Heck, some of my players have their own copies of the Monster Manuals and their PCs still die just as quickly :)

      I wholeheartedly agree that the monsters should be easily customizable though. I love keeping my players on their toes so they don’t really know what to expect until the battle commences. Give me stock monsters then easy to add on the fly templates (Winged, Exploding, Swarm, Giant, Miniature, Dire, etc) which allow us to tweak the monster right at the table. Give me easy monster creation rules too, so I can build my own critters and NPCs, and don’t make it something that demands strong coffee and an hour in a darkened room to do (I’m looking at you, Third Edition D&D).

      When it comes to buying US only content for the Kindle….. I cheated. I created an account at using address information generated using This effectively gives me a US activated account for digital content.

      The day that book/music/video distributors learn that restricting digital content by national boundaries only damages their own business is the day that the internet will finally come of age.

  7. This IS a great idea. the books emulate the boxed era. Nice
    when you have the first set of books which demonstrate your willingness to buy the product. There could be a buy sections and print on demand.
    you love the intrigue and stealth section but hate the mass battle or even want mass undersea battle. so you just order those parts and say through LuLu you print on demand the books that you specifically want.
    your main books could just have the parts you wants.
    As more content comes out you say hey these five books only have two or three sections in that i want . then chose them and print your own version.
    So not only do you have a core set of books you have customizable books as well.
    I myself would rather have a book than a screen to look at.

    Errata I found to be a bane of 4e. I bought the books but 10 minutes later they became out dated. the electronic part of 4e was the only means of a correct system. I would rather not go to far this way again or whats the point in buying the books from WoTC anyway

    1. Agree about the errata. It became something of a joke with 4e, and (imho) the regular “updates” did more harm than good to the game. Wizards should fix typos in the next print edition and update Kindle editions automatically, and that’s it. When a book is published it’s done; move onto the next one rather than waste time and resources messing around with an already released product.

  8. Great thoughts as always Robin…

    Looking back over 22 years of gaming, and the stuff that has survived several house moves and crazy ex-wives destroying stuff are the hardbacks, or systems where there are only a few books in the game.

    Taking the BECMI products as the best example, my brother owned them, and the boxes were broken or dog-earred by the time I got into D&D. I was bought the Rules Cyclopedia when I got into the game, and inherited the boxsets when he went off to uni. The boxsets are long gone, but the rules cyclopedia still has pride of place atop the CRT monitor on my desk.

    As such, I think both Randal and Robin are right, and there is a place for both boxsets with booklets and compiled hard back books to coexist, and if they were priced right, I’d buy both.

    But I don’t want WotC to just sell me books…

    As others have mentioned, kindle books and personalized print on demand are options, but I want to present the bigger picture, using ideas from D&DI…

    At the moment, I can’t name a single rpg website that works well, presenting a different experience to casual browsers, those interested in the game, those who are just getting started, experienced players, lapsed players, new dms, experienced DM’s etc
    And that’s not too surprising, given the amount of options I just mentioned there. Despite the many problems I have with the WotC site (especially the way it forgets my cookies), its one of the better ones.

    So how could that change?

    Well lets look at why each of those groups might be on the site:

    Casual browser – they might have ended up on the site due to an advert, a link from a news article, or a random google result. The chances are they are unlikely to dig further into the website, so the idea is to present the idea of the game to this audience without rpg’s sounding like a weird deviant hobby (you know, like every news article makes us sound like). The goal here is to convert that casual or accidental visit into someone who might buy the game.

    Interested in buying – you’d think this category of visitor would be simple, chances are they know a little about D&D or rpg’s and all you have to do is convince them to buy the game. The obvious thing to do here is to highlight the core rules, the core races, the core classes, describe the world, the technology, the magic.
    But given D&D’s many worlds, many races, what do you show off? The default setting (which should be Mystara)? Or highlight them all? And again, we have to be careful not to make the hobby sound weird, a 13 year old might want to buy the game so it’ll be his parents and their credit card that have the final say. The goal here is simple – convert that interest into a sale.

    New players/DM’s – new players and dm’s have a lot of questions, and given the change to a more DM empowered game, new DM’s are going to want AND need a lot of support. This type of visitor should be presented with advice on how to get the most of the starting products, and the majority of extra products and articles should be hidden from them. The goal here is to hold the players and dm’s hands as they learn the game, connect them to other players, develop their roleplaying skills and eventually, after they complete say a series of masterclass articles and tests, turn them into a new breed of supergamers…

    Experienced players – this is where the website starts getting cool. At this point, we’re presuming the visitor is either a new player whose bought into D&D Next and gone thru the intro articles, or that they are players from previous editions.
    We can open up the full breadth of player content from “Dragon” our digital player delivery system (more later) and we can bombard them with new player products to buy ‘upgrade your fighter with all new options from red book 2, only £19.99’, and we can tempt them with public play options.
    But that’s not all, this level of visitor should feel pampered… The digital tools for maintaining your character should be there, with all the content you own, and again, tempting you to upgrade ‘with red book 2 Adam, you could retrain Scarth the fighters guardian theme into a chevalier theme’. And we should be able to find our dm’s campaign page, tying into a calendar, so after each game, the site asks us how our game went, did our player survive, did they gain xp etc. The goal here is to provide the player with the best content and tools and to keep them buying and playing D&D.

    Experienced DM’s – This is the biggie, where the site stops being about selling stuff and turns into a fully fledged set of tools. At its heart, the dm’s site is a campaign manager, with the tools to support a DM in creating and running a game. The tools are here for making encounters with a treasure generator, monster generator, map builder, calendar etc.
    Click on the world map of an established setting and you can zoom into regions, towns, even down to the level of a single room in a cave. You can see population stats, local monsters, adventures etc that are set at that zoom level. Right click, and you can add an adventure directly onto the map, pulling in details from your previous sessions and the local fauna and flora, and importing a default tileset… Fighting in a goblin focused campaign?… it’ll know to suggest goblins, drakes, hobgoblins, ogres etc.
    Finish building your adventure, and you can schedule it, so it show on all your players versions of the WotC site. Click share, and your adventure in that area is available to other dm’s as they zoom in…
    The dm’s version of the website has all the player articles for you to review, and with a click you can authorise the content in these article for your campaign, which filters through to your players sites, letting them know if its worth reading and controlling whether that content shows up in the player characters tools.
    You’ll have access to the “Dungeon” content delivery system, new adventures, monsters etc, and articles on honing your skills as a DM. You’ll be tempted, as the players site is, with new books, and you’ll be asked if you can DM public play for your local store ‘Adam, its Free RPG Day this weekend, and Travelling Man Leeds don’t have anyone to run Dead in the Eye, can you do it?’.
    The goal here is for WotC to prove that they are the best in the industry… Even delivering half of these features would do it…

    Lapsed players – what happens if I take a couple of years out of playing? Maybe I’ve had to move away because of work, or I had kids? I don’t want to trawl through 2 years of content, I want to find a group as quick as I can, learn about any important new or amended rules and get gaming. Ideally those 2 areas are the most prominent part of the site if a player or DM doesn’t log in for 3+ months.

    Subscriptions/Dragon and Dungeon mags…

    Well, number 1, they aren’t mags any more (and haven’t been for years), they are delivery systems for new content with different subscription models. And some subscription models come from the books themselves.

    At the sites heart, we’ll presume that if you have an account you are considered a new player/DM and have access to all of that supporting content as described above, and any free dragon/dungeon content. This works because to use the WotC webstore you’re create an account…

    Buying an item from the webstore unlocks that content immediately into the character builder/campaign builder, and, for a nominal fee, say £1 you can get a kindle copy of the book, in addition to the physical copy sent to you. If you buy the book in a physical store, it will have a single use code in it, that can, for a nominal fee, unlock the books content for an account and gain a kindle copy.

    By default, the character builder would allow you to build and store 1 character, and 1 additional character per linked campaign, additional character storage could be bought for a nominal fee. The benefit of storing your characters online rather than export/importing them is that articles would highlight which character they applied to ‘this article presents new ways for Cass your rogue to use sneak attack’.

    Dragon subscriptions could be done on a per article basis with a different cost to read the article to one where its added to your account and character builder, or on a monthly/yearly scheme.

    DM’s would get one campaign by default, with a nominal fee for each additional one, and would get a reduced rate Dragon subscription and the Dungeon subscription with the same options as dragon (per article/monthly/yearly).

    As for article added to your account and future products, I’d like to see them embrace the print on demand scheme and the ideas used by people like Triple Ace Games. Why aim to put out a 128+ page hard back each month, when you could focus on higher quality and shorter products, selling via your webstore in pdf/kindle format for say £5, with the content added straight into your character/campaign builder. For those wanting physical copies, you offer a print on demand option, allowing you to add up to 128 pages of content to form your own book from the articles and products linked to your account.

    1. The WoTc website is a whole subject unto itself, and not a particularly pleasant one at that. While it has improved over the past year, the best thing they could do with it is tear it down and start again from scratch.

      There’s so much great content in the site, but the chances of actually finding stuff you want (either intentionally, of from roaming the site) is slim. It is not a site which encourages click-through or spending a lot of time exploring. I suspect most users follow a link from an rss feed, click the download pdf button or read the article then get out as quickly as possible.

      The best example I can give of an excellent site that’s roughly analogous to Wizards’ is Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 site. It’s bright, inviting and packed so full of great content (something which Wizards’ site has, but buried) that it is easy for me to find myself happily lost in there for ages.

      Yes, the site is primarily a sales site, but that’s exactly what the website should be, and in W40k’s case the selling aspect is cunningly wrapped in useful, meaningful content too.

      Plus, on the Games Workshop site you can actually buy the products whereas on Wizard’s site all you can buy is more access to the site. How fucked up is that??!!

      The whole D&D Insider concept needs revision and review. It’s clearly profitable (otherwise it would have been shelved long ago) so should remain to offer subscriber-only content., but move to its own site to emphasize its own brand identity (important words. I keep using them for a reason).

      If Character Generation is as quick and easy as we’re expecting it to be, the generator should be free to use right in the main site. It should work much like the (excellent) one for Gamma World. Characters are not stored by default (just generate, print, and play), but Insiders could perhaps by able to save their characters and have access to Insider-only options (backgrounds, themes, races and even unique classes).

      Take the same approach for an online Monster Builder too. Insiders could reference existing monsters and save their own creations while non-subscribers could use the blank form to create their own creatures.

      They should lose the” Dungeon” and “Dragon” section titles altogether; these were magazines and a key part in the history of D&D. They deserve a better epitaph than this. I would much prefer that they made the entire back catalogue of magazine PDFs available online to purchase. D&D Insider subscribers should get a reasonable discount as well – this would help attract players of other editions to taking a subscription, especially given D&D Next’s stated aim of appealing to all eras of play.

      I could go on, and probably will in future blogposts :)

      Thanks, Adam.

      1. For me, any character generator program has to be something that is usable on my machine, modifiable, and most importantly offline use. I had really liked the originally 4e D&D generator and the wonderful ability to arrange the character sheet the way you want. The online only version was a huge step in the wrong direction.

  9. I for one like your ideas but I would supplement them with online pdfs (or any other electronic format for that matter) like Mutants & Mastermind do, to showcase differents modules (hey the game is modular, but I might be interested in only a few modules of a book, why buy the whole book then ?)sold for a lesser price. Every once in a while they could publish real books that collects those modules (at least those thematicaly bound together) and see which ones of them are actually more succesful.
    Just a thought, anyway.

  10. In general, I think this is a very sane proposal. The basic, expert, etc hardbacks could coexist with an intro boxes set containing the basic material, as has been suggested by other commenters. The grid module could also come in boxed set format with battle mat and a nice collection of plastic minis, like the ones in the current D&D board games.

    It would be great to have digital versions too, but I’m not sure the Kindle is the best form for art-heavy RPG books. PDFs are really probably still the best option here.

    I personally have no interest in paying for a subscription to an online service, and think the core game should be simple enough to not require a character builder. Those options can be there for the hardcore optimizers or crunch consumers, but I much prefer either a set of hardbacks or a boxed set (I would probably buy both if they were well-made, and Next turns out to be a system that I like).

  11. Excellent idea. I most likely would wind up purchasing most of the books anyway (as I already do) simply because I’m an obsessive completist (well, I am still missing a couple 4e books) but I’ve found our group tends to hang things up about 20th level, so this approach would work quite well. And the comment above about meta-gaming, while there are some players I’ve run across who use “out of character knowledge” at the table, they’re going to do that any way. That’s the guy (or gal) who’s going to plunk down the money for the MM in order to memorize everything from A-Z for the next time the GM throws something at the party.

  12. I personally disagree. What D&D next should do is look at pathfinders adventure path module system where they have 6 linked modules at about 96 pages each that take players from 1st to 20th level. So I would stick with the 20 level PHB. Also pathfinder’s adventure path module has shown that high level modules in that format will sell.

    I remember when I played 2E that it was hard to connect a series of modules to take character all the way to 20th. I really think pathfinder has the module format down to a marketable art.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.