Dungeons & Dragons may never be the same — but that doesn’t mean the last decade of 5th Edition is going to become obsolete.
In addition to revealing the next major sourcebook, Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen and its crossover functionality with the Dragonlance: Warriors of Krynn board game on Thursday, D&D publisher Wizards of the Coast also dropped the monumental announcement of something called One D&D during a “Wizards Presents” livestream. But what is this next evolution of the tabletop roleplaying game? In short, you can’t really call it 6th Edition because the expansion adjusts the core 5th Edition rulesets ever so slightly while expanding the scope and breadth of what the franchise is capable of moving forward. Here’s what we know.
What is One D&D?
The original D&D launched back in 1974 but branched off into a rules-light core system and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, which incorporated far more mechanics for those who wanted a more gamified experience. Over the years, the intensity of various rules has varied between the editions until 2014’s 5th Edition established the highly approachable framework we all know and love today. One D&D will build upon that framework while expanding it in totally new ways.
Here’s how Wizards of the Coast puts it in official materials: “One D&D is the codename for the next generation of Dungeons & Dragons that brings together updated rules, backward compatible with 5th Edition, D&D Beyond as the platform for your D&D experience, and an early-in-development D&D digital play experience that will offer players and Dungeon Masters full immersion and rich 3D creation tools.”
More practically, One D&D subtly adjusts loads of rules already in 5th Edition in ways that ensure everything is compatible. New content released as part of One D&D can coexist within the same campaign players have been in since 2014.
And, since the digital platform D&D Beyond formally joined Wizards of the Coast back in April 2022, we can expect greater integration with the platform moving forward. How will that shake out exactly? Well, starting with Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen, you’ll be able to purchase bundles of physical and digital content. (We’re hoping this includes a system where you can retroactively unlock digital content if you own physical copies!)
The biggest bombshell in all this, however, is definitely D&D Digital.
What is the Digital D&D Play Experience?
If you’re anything like me, then once the pandemic hit, you moved all of your D&D games online, using Discord for video and voice chat while having the Dungeon Masters design campaigns in Roll20. While it’s an excellent resource for tabletop gaming, Roll20 requires that DMs design the two-dimensional maps individually. That includes collecting various assets for characters, enemies, and obstacles, not to mention the various options for lighting and copious amounts of data management.
D&D Digital (or whatever it’s called) literally opens up another dimension for the experience while making things much easier. It’s a fully immersive playspace through which entire campaigns or single encounters can be created in 3D environments, all developed using Unreal Engine. Rather than operate as a D&D video game, a tilt-shift camera angle and deliberate design choices essentially simulate a tabletop D&D game in a digital environment.
Except rather than having to painstakingly design your mini in something like Hero Forge and then paint it yourself only for your dog to destroy it one day, D&D Digital lets you make — and change over time — custom character minis. Pretty much every facet of playing the game IRL at a table has been digitized and streamlined.
If you purchase a premade campaign, every digital asset include in the various environments then becomes part of your library, so those assets can be recycled to design all-new dungeons.
When will One D&D launch?
The new Player’s Handbook for One D&D is slated for release in 2024, but an ongoing series of Unearthed Arcana publications will function as a beta test for the new mechanics — and they’ve already begun! The first of these focuses on “Character Origins.” Mechanics such as Backgrounds and even Feats saw a hefty rework in 2020’s Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, but this new playtest takes things even further, leaning into flexibility and accessibility while still maintaining the core balance of 5th Edition.
For example, the new UA materials offer options for a character whose parents are of two totally different races. Half-Elf (an Elf and Human hybrid) has long been an option, but what if a player wanted to be half Gnome and half Halfling? “You might choose Halfling for your game traits and then decide that your character has the pointed ears that are characteristic of a gnome,” the UA suggests.
The biggest shakeup in all this is undoubtedly how One D&D approaches Feats. Traditionally an optional mechanic in 5th Edition, Feats are potent special abilities that a character might acquire through unique past experience or the course of play. The Magic Initiate Feat, for example, lets any type of character learn a few spells from a magical class. Various other Feats grant special bonuses for particular styles of fighting or specific weapons. Typically, only Variant Humans can have a Feat at Level 1, but anybody can select a Feat instead of improving their ability scores at Levels 4, 8, 12, 16, and 19.
Under One D&D, however, every new character gets +2 to one Ability Score, +1 to another, and access to a Level 1 Feat — all as part of the character’s Background. Previously, Backgrounds offered very little in the way of gameplay value, but now they’ll be the most important part of character creation.
It’s just one of the many ways that D&D is changing for a more digitized future. To playtest, check out the One D&D playtest materials.