The Divide Brewing Among Dungeons & Dragons Fans

Dungeons & Dragons' newest book has put a spotlight on a growing rift between two segments of players. For all intents and purposes, Explorer's Guide to Wildemount is shaping up to be one of Dungeons & Dragons' big success stories. The new book, a campaign setting book set in the Critical Role world of Exandria, was the best-selling book on Amazon shortly after its release and is trending to be D&D's best-selling book since the release of the Fifth Edition rulebooks five years ago. And while the response to Explorer's Guide of Wildemount was positive, especially among the "Critters" who make up Critical Role's massive fanbase, there was some grumbling amongst some D&D fans who were hoping for something different out of D&D.

Dungeons & Dragons has capitalized on its recent resurgence by releasing a variety of products meant to appeal to new fans. In the last 18 months, we've had product tie-ins with Stranger Things, Rick & Morty, Critical Role, and Magic: The Gathering, plus several new products meant to appeal to new players that have never played D&D before. This strategy is to help keep D&D relevant for another 45 years by building the next generation of tabletop RPG players, but some fans feel that this push for new players has come at the cost of keeping the game's current players sated. These players wonder why D&D is dedicating resources towards Ravnica (from Magic: The Gathering) and Exandria (from Critical Role) instead of dusting off classic campaign settings like Greyhawk or Dragonlance or Dark Sun, worlds that are mentioned in D&D's core rulebooks but haven't gotten any kind of strong focus.

Some of these campaign settings predate the Forgotten Realms, D&D's current "home" campaign setting, and have alternative classes, alternative races, or even entirely different types of play. Spelljammer is a "space fantasy" setting where players travel between worlds on giant ships fueled by magic. Dark Sun is a post-apocalyptic world with psionic abilities that saw a resurgence of popularity during D&D's 4th edition. And Dragonlance and Greyhawk are beloved "classic" fantasy worlds with wildly different political structures, factions, and backstories than what we see in the Forgotten Realms. Even the Forgotten Realms has areas that haven't been explored in 5th Edition books, such as the One Thousand and One Nights inspired Al-Qadim. Likewise, the Shadowfell and Ravenloft also have many more areas to flesh out, spots that haven't been touched over the last five years.

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With every new book that tries to draw in new players and appeals to fans of shows like Critical Role, Stranger Things, and Acquisitions Incorporated, the players wanting more material set in older campaign settings grumble a little louder, complaining that Wizards of the Coast's publishing strategy is alienating them, the players who have kept the game afloat since its inception. Some of this is just gatekeeping, with players upset that D&D isn't catering to their specific interests. But it is true that D&D isn't supporting as many campaign settings as they did in earlier editions - D&D had supported five different campaign settings during 4th Edition, while they've only supported four settings in Fifth Edition, two of which are brand new to D&D. By this point in 4th Edition, we had campaign setting books for the Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun, the Shadowfell, Eberron, and the Underdark. By comparison, we've gotten campaign setting books for the Sword Coast and Eberron, along with Ravnica and now Wildemount.

Part of this ongoing issue surrounds Wizards of the Coast's deliberately slow publication schedule, with the D&D team formally releasing about three books a year. One of these three annual books is a full length campaign, which leaves two publishing slots to publish new rulebooks, updated adventures, and other supplementary publications like campaign setting books. To help keep up with demand, D&D has also published several collaborations over the past three years, which is how Guildmaster's Guide to Ravnica, Acquisitions Incorporated, and presumably Explorer's Guide to Wildemount were all added to the schedule in addition to D&D's three annual publications. Personally, I think D&D's emphasis on quality over quantity is good in the long run, but today's society has a culture of immediate gratification, and there's a thin line between stoking demand for more material and causing frustration among fans who feel like they aren't being heard.

So - what's the solution to a problem caused by having so many fans looking for so many things out of D&D? I think that some of these issues could be solved by peeking into the pipeline and getting some confirmation that more campaign settings are being worked on. We know that D&D is developing a ton of new subclasses, many of which seem to have ties to different planes and worlds that aren't the Forgotten Realms. D&D released a "living document" for Eberron over a year before Eberron: Rising From the Last War came out, and I think that more documents like that would serve as a solid olive branch and give all D&D fans more of the content they crave.

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I also think opening up some more campaign settings for use in DMs Guild publications could help sate demand. D&D already uses the DMs Guild to sell digital offerings of older sourcebooks, and they allow third parties to publish material on the DMs Guild set in the Forgotten Realms, Eberron, and Ravenloft. I think there's enough demand to open up other campaign settings as well, especially ones that aren't very high on D&D's list to reboot or update. This at least gives the fans a chance to "vote" with their dollars, and show the D&D team that there's money to be made on some of these older settings.

A lot of this boils down to patience. Wizards of the Coast is a business focused on profit, and no one should be surprised or upset that they're looking to make products that get a maximum return on their dollar and time. At the same time, I think the D&D teams knows that they have plenty of great campaign settings in their back pocket and are either actively developing more settings or have ideas for them further down the line. The success of Fifth Edition means that there's not a rush to publish material before it becomes obsolete, and that means that the timeline that D&D books will come out is a lot slower. I think we'll get a lot more of the D&D material ALL fans want, but some fans might need to wait a bit longer than others.

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