Over the last few months there has been a lot of excitement in some parts of the nerdosphere about the release of the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Old pros call it 5th Edition (or 5e), but Wizards of the Coast, who are producing the new books, simply call it Dungeons & Dragons without any numerical designation.
Now, I haven’t really played D&D in a couple of decades, but I have watched with interest from the sidelines as various incarnations of the game have come and gone. I grew up with AD&D (1e), thought 2nd edition was terrible, marvelled at the sheer scope and breadth of 3rd edition, and finally mourned when 4th edition wrecked it.
Probably the most interesting point in the history of Dungeons & Dragons came in 2009, right about the time 4th edition was released. It was then that a schism developed among the D&D players. Some carried on to the new edition, but most turned instead to a new game called Pathfinder. In one of the great marketing backfires of all time, WOTC had created a situation where another company was able to come in and essentially repackage Dungeons & Dragons 3e under a different name. That name was Pathfinder, and it quickly rose to become the most popular role-playing game of them all, slowly pushing aside D&D 4e.
What is interesting to me, however, is the number of people I have heard in various blogs and forums who want to return to Dungeons & Dragons. It is not because they have grown dissatisfied with Pathfinder; quite the contrary, people still seem to love the game. Yet, something seems to be calling people home...
Is it really just the name, Dungeons & Dragons? Is it the association with many ill-spent college nights rolling dice and eating pizza? Why do people care if their game is called Pathfinder or D&D? Surely it only matters which game is better?
Why do I, who haven’t thrown rpg dice in anger since D&D books were printed in black and white also feel the call?