D&D rolls out 5e: Do new editions require new brand strategies?

June 12, 2014

“Dungeons and Dragons: Satan’s Game...” or so the classic intro to the Dead Alewives parody goes, is thankfully no longer the primary image the general public imagines when D&D comes into a conversation. Now, it’s evolved to: “That weird dice game that keeps coming out with new rules.” With D&D 5e rolling out this year, I can only imagine the fuss and bother brand aficionados will raise with a whole new revision of rules to follow, minutiae to utilize, and release schedules to keep track of.

New revisions and brand updates sometimes feel like change just for the sake of making changes. Everyone likes to take a fresh look at something they love, but is it already time for an overhaul and new edition? Couldn’t they have put together new races, monsters, and powers without upsetting the characters players have invested hours, days, or even years to?

Obviously, the change was deemed necessary and due in Wizards of the Coast’s eyes, but ultimately the question that needs to be answered is: Is it enough of a change to make me purchase more?” There are three primary factors that help me to answer that question. When the materials available, how easy it is to get the right content I need and want, and if it’s within my budget.

There’s the matter of the rollout schedule for the 5e books. 4e’s launch rolled out the three core books needed to create your own campaigns. The core books are still split by: player’s handbook, monster manual, and dungeon master’s guide.

The problem that arose was: There were several follow-up core books. The equivalent of software patches or DLC, the extra core books for players and dungeon masters added more character races, powers, and abilities. At the time, $40 per core book made “home brewing” a campaign (when a dungeon master creates their own story, without the use of pre-created or officially branded D&D quests) using all of the extra core books financially unsupportable for many fans of the game, myself included.

5e is staggering the three core books, with supplement books providing pre-set campaigns, or stories, to follow throughout 2014. At launch, their starter kit provides enough content to run a pre-created campaign until the core books and supplements roll out. Hopefully this will equate to a game demo in that players will then go out and purchase the core and supplemental books when they are released, rather than staying solely with just the starter kit.

I’m curious as to what communications methods will be used to ease any questions or confusion from those unfamiliar with D&D. Going to a store and only finding one of three core books because the others aren’t out yet would be weird if I weren’t familiar with how the whole system works. This confusion will be moot after this year once all the new books are rolled out, but for 2014, there better be a strategy in place to handle the potential issues of their incremental rollout.

The 4e books had the Dungeons & Dragons logo prominently emblazoned across the front top of the each cover, providing a nice consistency across the core and supplemental books. 5e is going minimalist with the visual branding. Now it looks like it’ll be just a D&D up top, with the book’s title below that, and then it’s all about the cover art. This is more impactful, if the cover is prominently displayed in bookstores and online and is easier to read when on a computer screen (I’ll hazard a guess this might be in response to a stronger digital strategy, as the 5e covers are easier for me to quickly scan through for titles compared to the 4e covers)

So long as they keep the layout and style consistent across the edition, it works. And I can see how they want to differentiate the two editions visually, to prevent confusion for consumers. It also removes the need to have 4e, 5e, etc. emblazoned on every book to ensure that consumers obtain the right editions for their groups.

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While I personally prefer the 4e banner style, with the iconic logo and dragon ampersand, the 5e style provides more image space, and the new bottom banner more accurately details the use of each book. I’m curious as to why the “Dungeons & Dragons” flag on the new books are necessary; perhaps to ensure the full brand name is still on there, which makes me wonder just why they chose not to do so on the top banner space.

So long as they retain the style consistency across any future supplemental books (or future core books if necessary), consumers will be able to easily identify which edition books they’ll want.

My delve into the dungeons and the dragons has my band of misfit compatriots using digital copies of 4e, including the full spread of core books, and a handful of supplements. While more cost effective than the hardcover books, it gets pretty frustrating to have a dozen PDFs open at once to keep track of everything.

Will my group change to 5e at some point? It won’t be for a good while, as my group prefers to home-brew the campaign, rather than roll through what’s provided in the supplement books. Perhaps in a year or two, once we see just how Dungeons & Dragons, or D&D as they are now presenting it, handles itself.

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