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SYFY WIRE Dungeons & Dragons

'Dungeons & Dragons' announces the next evolution of the game, 'One D&D'

Fifth Edition isn't going anywhere, but over the next year and a half players will be able to shape what the next phase of the game looks like. 

By James Grebey
Dungeons & Dragons

For a few years now, there have been rumblings and rumors about what’s next for Dungeons & Dragons. The game’s Fifth Edition will turn 10 years old in 2024, and although it’s more popular than ever, fans are wondering if we’re due for a Sixth Edition, or at least a major update to 5e, as has been hinted by some recent releases like Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything or Monsters of the Multiverse. Well, during Wizards Presents on Thursday, players and DMs everywhere got their answer. Fifth Edition isn’t going anywhere, but a massive initiative known as “One D&D” will make substantial changes and additions to the rules, fully integrate the recently acquired D&D Beyond with digital-physical bundles, and implement a digital playspace for all your campaigns. 

One D&D will make its debut in 2024 with the release of new “core” rulebooks, but players will be seeing a lot of what could be in those new books in the many months before that. The first playtesting material (known as “Unearthed Arcana”) is available today, and D&D’s Game Design Architect Jeremy Crawford says the next evolution of the storied tabletop role-playing game is all about player feedback — past and future. 

“Everything that we’re showing really has a for your consideration sign over it,” Crawford said at a press preview ahead of the event. “We’re continuing the conversation that began during the D&D Next process [the creation of what would become Fifth Edition] where we turned to our fans all over the world and ask them “what do you want D&D to be?”

Crawford and the D&D team “deconstructed” the game as it currently is, looked at all the playtesting feedback they’d gotten in the past and lessons they’d learned about how players actually play D&D since Fifth Edition started, and over the next year will be reconstructing the game with all of those elements in place.

One D&D Logo

One D&D consists of three main initiatives. There weren’t many details about the specifics of the (long-requested!) integration of D&D Beyond, the popular digital D&D workspace that Wizards of the Coast acquired in April, nor was there much information about the impressive-looking “digital playspace” that seems like it could be the future of virtual tabletops. However, Crawford could share information about some of the potential rules changes. 

One D&D will be backward compatible, as it will be updates to the core Fifth Edition D&D rules rather than a drastically new system. (That said, DMs or players who want to make older books fit into the new rules might need to do a little bit of gruntwork and tweaks to make it all work perfectly, but it shouldn’t be too challenging.) 

The D&D Next playtesting process offered players what was essentially the entirety of the proposed new system to mess around with and offer feedback on, but the Unearthed Arcana for One D&D will focus on specific elements of the game. Crawford says to expect new Unearthed Arcana roughly every month and that they have Unearthed Arcana lined up through the end of next year. 

The first Unearthed Arcana, available now, is about player backgrounds. “You’re going to see new versions of races, new take on backgrounds, new and revised feats, and we’re also going to preview some of the core rules revisions that we’ve been considering,” Crawford says. 

One of the biggest proposed changes (players who use this playtest material can offer feedback, so it’s entirely possible that aspects of the Unearthed Arcana don’t make it to the final product) is an overhaul of backgrounds. Previously, a player’s choice of their character’s background — that is, what they did before they became an adventurer — gave them some skill proficiencies and some flavor. Now, ability scores, which had previously been tied to race and made more flexible in Tasha’s and other recent releases, are connected to customizable backgrounds. And, creating a background gives players their choice of a free feat, with a caveat. Feats, which are basically additional class features that aren’t tied to a specific class, now have levels, so you can only snag a background feat that’s scaled for first-level characters. All these feats were designed (or redesigned, in some cases, as Crawford said he wanted to “make the ‘Healer’ feat actually desirable for healers) to be useful in later tiers of play, too. Their just an extra chance to customize a character and make their background feel important. 

Additionally, there are proposed changes to existing races, the specifics of which can be found in the Unearthed Arcana. Dwarves can use tremorsense with a bonus action, and Tieflings have three legacy options, and Humans get a free use of Inspiration after a long rest, for example. Humans getting Inspiration is actually a big deal, as One D&D will be making the mechanic — advantage on a roll of a d20 that previously could only be handed out by DM discretion — formally integrated into the game’s rules. Rolling a natural 20, for instance, grants a player Inspiration in the newly proposed rules. 

“Instead of it being something that’s largely handed out by DM whim, we wanted there to be some concrete ways for players to get it,” Crawford says of Inspiration. 

Natural 20s and Natural 1s are now automatic successes and failures, respectively, codifying what was formerly an unofficial (but popular!) house rule. New categories of spell lists have been created, Arcane, Divine, and Primal. These categories existed in lore, before, but Crawford and Co. “decided to give those [story] terms a bit more teeth in the rules.”

There’s only one new race in the Unearthed Arcana (though Orcs, an existing race in Fifth Edition, are getting the promotion to the core Player’s Handbook). Ardlings, animal-headed or otherwise bestial beings with celestial connections, are a proposed race choice. 

"We have found with Tabaxi, Giff, Tortles, and the other animal folk we have released, that fans really respond to them,” Crawford said. “The Ardling is us leaning into that more and really let a person play an animal character of any kind.”

That just scratches the surface of some of the updates in the Unearthed Arana, and there is a lot more in store for One D&D as the effort progresses over the next many months. The hope, Crawford says, is that all the tweaks, playtesting, and player feedback will create a game that “feels ready for the next ten years.”  

Looking for more fantasy? Check out the new original series Vampire Academy on Peacock, premiering Thurs., Sept. 15.