First of all, Monte Cook is off the D&D Next team. That’s bad. Just a few hours later, the public playtest date of May 24 was announced. That’s good… isn’t it? Then, leaks at Barnes & Noble revealed reprints of the 3.5 PHB and DMG, with errata, coming in September. Also released that same day is another product, with the obvious placeholder name “Provolone”. The cherry on top of the sundae is Amazon’s listing for a reprint of the classic Dungeon! boardgame. (It might or might not be a fake.)
What is up with all this?
I am most curious about Monte Cook’s departure. While he isn’t specific about his reasoning, he indicates that he left voluntarily due to differences with the company, but not his fellow designers. Couple this with the rumors of reprints, and you have to wonder if there is a significant push to get product on the shelves at any cost. Perhaps Monte thinks the game needs more time to develop than the business-side folks do, or something of that nature. That sort of thing happens more often that not, it seems.
Regarding the playtest date, D&D Next was said to be only partially complete a few weeks ago. Now, in less than a month, it’s ready for a public playtest? That’s concerning to me. From all accounts, the version of D&D Next played at DDXP was fairly complete, and it could be that the public playtest will use the same material. That would be acceptable, as there are so many of us who want to get our hands on it. If it’s not different, though, I won’t be able to shake the feeling that the open playtest is more damage control after Monte’s exit than anything else.
And what about those 3.5 rulebooks? Could “Provolone” be the missing third of the core books, the Monster Manual? Obviously, there are many fans of 3.5, but reprinting revised (with errata) versions of these books while woefully out of date versions of the 4e core books are still on shelves seems counterproductive. And why offer these at Barnes & Noble? I would think that reprints of books almost a decade old (niche products by almost any definition) would be better off as hobby store exclusives, similar to the 1e reprints coming this summer.
The Greyhawk Grognard is speculating that “Provolone” is really D&D Next, and that the 3.5 reprints are just placeholders for the Next versions of the books. While it seems shocking and outrageous on the surface, maybe there’s something to it. It would certainly explain Monte’s departure, a quicker timetable for playtesting, and the outright bizarre notion of selling 3.5 products at a mega-bookstore.
It might also explain the lack of releases later on in the year. Right now, the only product announced after August is the version-neutral Elminster’s Forgotten Realms supplement. Everything between now and then is similarly edition-less, including a Dungeon Tiles set and the Menzoberranzan campaign book, (as confirmed here). If D&D Next is indeed coming this fall, it might explain the empty spaces on the release calendar.
Speculation aside, there’s a lot to think about, and it’s clear that Wizards is shifting gears at the moment. I am a bit disheartened by all the tumult, and will probably remain cautious in my optimism about D&D Next until more information becomes available. Wizards really should be as transparent as possible here, and I suspect we will hear some official stances on these things very soon. In any event, I, like many of you, will be watching developments very closely.