Mike Mearls, chief D&D wizard, has confirmed it: The D&D braintrust have plans laid out for two D&D storylines per year from now through 2018.
So right now as we are enjoying the current storyline – Tyranny of Dragons – scheming is afoot in creation of the storylines we’ll enjoy for the next several years. But we know VERY little about these future stories. All we can do really is speculate.
But this is the internet, after all. It would be irresponsible NOT to speculate, because that’s what us crazy kids do on the internet. So, here I go with my best guesses on what the publishing schedule for the next several years of D&D will be.
Early 2015: Elemental Evil
This is the only portion of Wizard of the Coast’s (WotC) D&D publishing plan where we have official confirmation. The Elemental Evil Adventurer’s Handbook will be released in March 2015 and will be accompanied by Princes of the Apolcalypse of huge hardcover adventure fitting the elemental evil theme. (Update: The public finally got an official press release update. The storyline stayed exactly as anticipated, but the delivery method was tweaked from 2 books into 1. Here’s a concise recap, plus a look at auxiliary products.)
Here’s what else we know:
- The setting is once again in The Forgotten Realms, specifically the Sumber Hills and Dessarin River Valley, as confirmed by Grand Master Dungeon Master, Chris Perkins, who serves as D&D lead for story and world building, a position for which you will not find a better fit.
- The Adventurer’s Handbook will provide new options for character creation, with additional skills and abilities that are created to fit the elemental theme. This is excellent.
- The adventure is published by Sasquatch Game studio, which is comprised of industry veterans. The Tyranny of Dragons storyline was similarly outsourced by WotC, which illustrates their collaborative nature (while also highlighting that clues about future releases may come from well-known independent publishing partners, not from WotC themselves).
From this it is reasonable to assume we can expect to only have official story confirmation about 6 months in advance. It seems they’ll tease us to keep us on the hook, but we shouldn’t expect them to play their full hand, as the plans are sure to shift based on market and player feedback.
A final tidbit that is interesting from the only official information we have is that Elemental Evil marked the 2nd straight campaign set in The Forgotten Realms. Two points don’t plot a pattern, but is it reasonable to assume that they’ll remain in a single setting for two release cycles? Let’s speculate…
Late 2015: “Alice in Wonderland” Inspired Storyline
The only thing confirmed about D&D’s late 2015 releases (which I’m sure we can assume will drop at GenCon) is the general inspiration for the storyline: Alice in Wonderland. Let’s collect the clues we have, then I’ll share my best guess:
- Chris Perkins dressed as the Mad Hatter when he was the Dungeon Master for the 2011 PAX celebrity D&D game featuring Wil Wheaton and the talent from Penny Arcade and PVP. Perkins has previously expressed his appreciation for Alice in Wonderland. Can the tone of that PAX session – The Last Will and Testament of Jim Darkmagic – provide us with a clue into the tone of D&D’s future storyline release? (It was theatrical, it had a touch of silliness, and was packed with quirky and darkly humorous NPCs.)
- Lewis Carroll’s famous book was known for it’s madcap mental imagery and mind-bending physics. Could this open the door for a psionics handbook? Mind Flayers can’t be trusted, my friends! But this angle would most likely keep us in The Forgotten Realms.
- Speaking of The Forgotten Realms, it seems unlikely that WotC don’t want to capitalize on the financial possibilities that their popular Drow ranger Drizzt character would offer. Alice went deep into the rabbit hole. Could D&D’s late 2015 storylines take us deep into the Underdark? Update: Ding, ding, ding! It seems this is the pathway that WotC took, largely as a tie-in to their D&D MMORPG, and a year earlier than I predicted (read on). Official press release for Rage of Demons.
- But there is one more possibility. In 1983 Gary Gygax – the world’s first Dungeon Master – wrote an adventure called Dungeonland. Get this, the direct inspiration for the adventure was – wait for it – Alice in Wonderland. The adventure had a light and zany spirit, but also had veins of dark humor. In the adventure, players explored the world under Castle Greyhawk.
I think that Dungeons and Dragons will take us back to the World of Greyhawk in late 2015. WotC have been proven sincere when they say that they have a deep appreciation for the history of D&D, and little is more classic than Gary Gygax’s Greyhawk setting.
Sure, I may be off base in my speculation that a 1983 module would be reimagined for a modern 5e player base, but Chris Perkins has an appreciation for the source inspiration and could really make it shine.
But there is another reason why I think late 2015 will be setting us up in Greyhawk…
Early 2016: “Shakespearean Inspired” Story of Giants
Chris Perkins also intimated that the storyline after the Alice in Wonderland inspired story will be based on giants and a spark for the story will be a Shakespearean play.
- If the Alice in Wonderland storyline is set in Greyhawk (and why wouldn’t it be?)
- And we’re assuming a developing a pattern that each D&D setting gets a two cycle treatment (and why wouldn’t we?)
- Then the giant-based storyline is also set in Greyhawk.
From 1976-1979, Dungeons and Dragons published some of the most iconic stories of giants, each of which were set in the World of Greyhawk. Against the Giants contained three adventures: Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl, and Hall of the Fire Giant King.
It would be a giant move (Boom! Dad pun!) by WotC to keep with the old school feel and rewrite these modules for today’s D&D faithful, while infusing some Shakespearean intrigue. I’m stoked with the Tyranny of Dragons miniatures, and you know they’ll sell me some giant miniatures (Hmm. That reminded me of jumbo shrimp).
Late 2016: The Underdark
We’re no longer on the map at this point. It’s all baseless speculation and if there have been clues dropped, I haven’t been able to sleuth them out.
But here’s something interesting: Back in the day the Against the Giants adventures served as a lead-in to the Underdark, and a series of Drow centered adventures. Of course, these are the Drow of Greyhawk, not Drizzt of The Forgotten Realms.
An Underdark D&D storyline in late 2016 (let’s assume all late year releases will be at GenCon) would break pattern, as it would most likely be set in The Forgotten Realms or the World of Greyhawk, but we all know the Underdark is coming, and probably sooner, rather than later.
But Drizzt, the Drow, and Underdark are just too popular and profitable not to create storylines for. WotC is not a charitable non-profit corporation. They’ll not leave that money on the table. So even though two years into D&D’s 5th edition release, you would think the time would be right to unleash something new and fresh, my gut guess is we’ll stick strongly with traditional D&D lore like the Underdark.
Early 2017: Eberron
If all the above speculation proves true, then the time is past right for WotC to go a little buck wild jiggy with it and deviate strongly from traditional Arthurian fantasy themes.
Psionics (Dark Sun), the Feywild, and (maybe?) Planescape are worthy options, but please swallow any food stuffs in your mouth, because you may do a spit take when I share that I think there’s a more likely option for D&D’s 2017 publication schedule.
Eberron consists of oodles of non-traditional fantasy tropes such as magic powered trains and zeppelins, plus sentient mechanical beings. Eberron also includes dinosaur riding halflings. You’d get new classes, new races, and a fresh shot in the arm after marathon two years of more predictable fantasy themes.
Late 2017: Dragonlance
By late 2017 I fully suspect that D&D’s publishing schedule will be releasing full campaign settings much more quickly. By this point it’s likely that a new Open Gaming License (OGL) will be in place and D&D players will be getting more third party content, making it less onerous on WotC to supply all the published adventures for a setting.
Given this new found flexibility, I speculate that WotC will focus on adding value in their core strength – their rich campaign settings – and leave much of the one off adventure writing to third party publishers.
By this point players would have had 5e storylines for The Forgetten Realms, Greyhawk, and Eberron. Why not add Dragonlance to those options?
Dragonlance would add interesting sub-races and aquatic races, plus some great throwback options like minotaurs. Dragon lance is hugely popular and could draw back from Tracy Hickman’s great work in the 80’s.
Early 2018: Ravenloft
Let’s stick with our guess that at this point WotC is releasing 5e editions of popular campaign settings at a rate of 2 per year. If the previous year’s GenCon was the release of Dragonlance as a campaign setting, why pivot 90 degrees and drop a campaign setting with a uniquely different tone.
Ravenloft is gothic horror, which would fit a gap that at this point is a niche that hasn’t gotten attention in the D&D 5e release schedule. This would be an opportunity to flesh out 5e mechanics like MADNESS!, plus offer new player classes like vampires and lycanthropes.
Late 2018: Feywild
After detours through Eberron and Ravenloft, The Feywild could provide fresh options for classic classes like the ranger, barbarian, and druid. (Maybe they could buff the Moon Circle Druid! Kidding.)
But it wouldn’t just be classic classes who would benefit from an infusion of some primal storylines. New Shaman and Warden classes could be introduced as well. I’m down.
Where does that leave Planescape, Spelljammer, and some of the others? Where does that leave space for something entirely new and off our grid entirely (like perhaps following the lead of Pathfinder’s popular pirate themed Skulls and Shackles, but use Chris Perkins’ Iomanda campaign setting)?
I don’t know. Again, this is all crazy speculation. Remember, there is 40 years of Dungeons and Dragons history to pull from, which is all the more remarkable because there was a brief period of time in there where Coldplay was popular.
So let’s put speculation aside, and remark on what we know to be confirmed true. Mike Mearls, Chris Perkins, and Jeremy Crawford et al. have shown that they care deeply about the rich history of D&D. They’ve also shown through 5e that it’s also important that D&D feel modern and play elegantly.
The success of 5e is strong proof in the pudding that there will be a long release cycle of D&D 5e products, and we don’t have to speculate on if it will be good. We know we’re in for a treat.
33% accurate! Not too shabby. ?
— Christopher Perkins (@ChrisPerkinsDnD) December 19, 2014
Update: Chris Perkins replied via Twitter that this is 33% accurate, adding that it’s not too shabby with a handclap emoticon. That’s a clever way to say that of course some of this is right, but not give anything away as to which of it is right. He’s a crafty DM.
So the big question becomes if more of this is actually accurate in terms of content, albeit time shifted slightly. Of course, of that he didn’t say.
Is Chris Perkins Writing a New D&D Campaign Setting?
Review of Princes of the Apocalypse
Review of Out of the Abyss
Is Out of the Abyss the Campaign Setting We Didn’t Kew We Were Getting?
A GIANT D&D Storyline coming in 2016