Resurrection Edition

Priests gather around the husk of a fallen warrior, as do his companions and friends. A brush with darkness left him all but dust and bone. Someone steps into the circle of solemn onlookers and places a diamond over the corpse’s heart. The sun rises, and the ritual begins . . . .

Yeah, you’re right. That’s an overwrought way to reintroduce myself to the Critical Hits community. I mean, I’ve been away from blogging here for four years and some change (pun intended). That’s a little less time than my first daughter has been alive. She did have a little something to do with my departure in 2011, among other issues, including work on a two editions of the D&D game. I won’t bore you with the details on the former, unless you ask to hear them.

In fact, I hope not to bore you at all.

Batte of the Sages!
There can be only one!

To shore up my hopes, I’ll repeat what I said when I first started here six years ago: I want to write what you want to read. Again, I’m open to your questions and suggestions. Perhaps I should start my own version of “Sage Advice” to answer your gaming questions. Maybe “Charlatan’s Counsel” works, or “Questions and Quackery”? See, I’m no Jeremy Crawford or source for official D&D answers, but as some can attest, I can help with your game, even if it isn’t about the dungeons or the dragons. I’m versed in a bunch of entertainment-type things, and I’m steeped in the knowledge I managed to glean in over a decade of making games, and thrice that long running and playing them, as well as being nerdy about all sorts of diversions. (What I don’t know, I can make up . . . or research. Research is probably better.)

Speaking of my experience, part of it was helping with Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition. It reminds me of the mindset I was in last time I started here at Critical Hits. Fourth edition was in full swing, much like fifth edition is now, but it had a much different start and production cycle. It lacked a well-realized entry-level product, even though a starter set had come out in 2008. My first post from back then tells the story as I saw it, if you want to travel back in time to read it.

Fifth edition’s D&D Starter Set did a better job of introducing the game and its concepts to new players. One of the best aspects of the set was that it was released before the game’s massive rule books hit shelves. You could use it to become comfortable with some of the game’s core concepts before taking a deeper plunge with the Player’s Handbook. The nearly simultaneous release of the D&D Basic Rules as a free download was also a smart way to make sure would-be players could put their eyes on the D&D rules. That the Basic Rules were expanded as the D&D game grew with the release of new rule books was as much a boon for the brand as it was for players. (It might have been better if the OGL and SRD were out then, too, but that’s another topic. And they are out now.)

I faulted fourth edition (among other games) for attempting to give players as much as possible right out of the gate, rather than moving in steps, starting with the simple and expanding to the complex. Fifth edition did the same, essentially, even though in a perfect world, it shouldn’t have had to. (See, data still indicate most players consume content slowly, and most D&D campaigns start and end at lower levels.) The reasoning behind the presentation choice is complicated, as it always is in business, but the short story is that the RPG team had to release the newest version of the game into the wild as complete as possible. Perceived risk had to be mitigated, since some in higher management saw the game as a big one. Those people, in fact most of us, didn’t and perhaps couldn’t predict the amazing success the game would ultimately have.

Terminal Halitosis
It says age 12+, but I started playing when I was 8. Breaking the law!

I believe fifth edition’s success owes much to a studied return to the roots of the D&D game, along with the calculated inclusion of fan favorites from all editions. Fifth edition designers are indebted to audience feedback included in the design process, as well as the positive responses fans created and still create in the marketplace. I can tell you, as a developer on the game, we took the criticism very, very seriously, and considered it, along with every previous D&D edition, to arrive at the design you see today. Some of you might be able to point at the wording in a spell or the function of a rule and smile, knowing you influenced the direction of the game.

In the face of a great launch and ongoing existence for fifth edition’s release, I still maintain the fantasy I asserted in my first post here. I like to imagine the game could have been constructed and released in smaller, modular increments that supported learning and mastery, as well as the way data say the game is actually played. That would have been better for players and designers, I still pretend. But like any wishful thinking about creative endeavors, the realities of the game as part of a commercial enterprise have to be acknowledged. The desires of our audience members must not only be accepted, but also pushed to the fore. More than a few cool design ideas ended up on the cutting-room floor because the R&D team intended to create a game not for itself but for the wider fandom. (And that’s not wrong. Besides, we R&D team members can customize the game for ourselves if we want. Not that most of us do.)

I’m proud to have been and still be a part of the game that is Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition, as well as my contributions to other editions. Working on games isn’t easy, but it is satisfying. What I’ve gained from the work in knowledge, joy, and camaraderie has made all the labor more than worth it. I hope I can continue to spread those virtues here and elsewhere. Help me out, will you? (See the fourth paragraph!)

6 thoughts on “Resurrection Edition

  1. Great to have you back! And great post. As an avid fan of 4E and 5E, I’d love to hear more about the design process of both editions, particularly things you learned about 4E that were either kept or jettisoned for 5E and why. My group just finished up a 1-20 level 5E campaign that took nearly 3 years. It interrupted our 2 year old 4E campaign which we are about to return to. So as I begin to unlearn 5E and relearn 4E I’m struck by how much is actually similar and by the small things that changed. It would be great to get some insight about changes you were involved with. Thanks and look forward to reading more from you!


  2. Hey Chris!
    First of all nice to see you blogging again.
    I would love to see a few insights on what actually did end of not being used for 5e, If you are allowed to talk about it.
    Another thing I would like due to my own limitations as a DM is: in Session pacing


  3. Hello! While I’m a bit disappointed that this post isn’t the discussion of Resurrection-spell-related issues that I expected from the title, it’ll be interesting to see what you produce.

    I don’t have any specific questions (because I’m a pretty new follower of this blog and I don’t play 5th Edition, so I have no idea what would be appropriate to ask you). So let me suggest: instead of opening with a call for questions, perhaps it would be good to give readers hooks to hang questions on.

    Surely there are topics on which you have information not yet publicly available that you are willing and allowed to share. Perhaps you could outline some of the more interesting decisions you were involved in, in the creation of D&D 5E, and discuss the process and results. Or just choose some topics about RPGs in general that are interesting to you, so that you present some opinions and lines of reasoning for your would-be audience to respond to. You might even consider doing some research, in the sense that you could go out, read other people’s blogs, and respond to the issues you see the community discussing, instead of just hanging up your shingle and waiting for the community to deliver its issues to you.

    Hopefully I’ve suggested some fruitful and enjoyable avenues of approach! Take care!


  4. Great to see you back, Chris! Thank you for all the work you have done on so many aspects (and editions) of my favorite game.

    I would be interested in hearing about a variety of subjects. I’m curious how you feel about D&D’s focus on the Realms – that deep focus on one campaign setting and even the Sword Coast – versus the possible moving from setting to setting or supporting several settings at a more shallow level.

    I know you have worked so much on 4E and 5E monster design, so I’m curious how happy you are with where 5E came out on monsters as compared to other editions, and what you might have changed if it was only up to you.

    I’m curious on your take on the release schedule for the thematic seasons and the size and breadth of experience of the adventures. Also, how it seems that WotC changed its initial approach of always working with another external design studio – what do you think is behind that? (To me, it always seemed like something that was limited because so few studios exist that can meet the WotC needs)

    On my end, I always want awesome hooks and I love D&D history. I would love for someone to take pre-5E adventures and tell me a bit about them and then sell me on a cool new hook that I could use to run them. For example, Pharaoh is my favorite adventure, but I’ve never met a person that liked the initial hook it has to dump you in the desert. Many of the older adventures lack hooks at all, or even a real central plot that will trigger a rich narrative.

    But, mostly I just dig your take on the game and I’m glad to see you here! Write what you want to write!


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