The Next Evolution: What We Know About One D&D / DnD 5.5e

It’s happening, folks. Wizards of the Coast — the company behind Dungeons & Dragons 5e — has officially outlined their plans for the future of the game: not a sixth edition to follow 5e, or even a 5.5e, but an end to editions entirely, and a transition to a single, unified and iteration-based game simply called One D&D

Very broadly speaking, this means a sweeping series of (backwards compatible) updates to the rules that will culminate in new core rulebooks being released in 2024. 

We’ve only got the first of many releases of the new playtest rules now, and we’ll get into what they (and all the other stuff we’re able to piece together about the shape of things to come) mean exactly for the future of the game in a minute. But essentially it seems like we can expect plentiful quality of life improvements combined with a few more dramatic changes. 

Everyone kind of expected something big around that time, as 2024 marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of the first edition of Dungeons & Dragons

However, the WotC team – especially Ray Winninger, the game designer and Executive Producer of the D&D arm of WotC – have been cagey about specifics, mostly because, as the team revealed during the event, they’re still figuring out exactly what “the next evolution of D&D” actually means. 

Now, it seems like they’ve figured it out.

“[The 50th anniversary] is going to be very exciting for a number of reasons,” said Winninger on stream in October. “Earlier this year we began work on the next evolution of Dungeons & Dragons.” Now, Wizards of the Coast have laid out — mostly in broad strokes — what this next evolution looks like. So, here’s what we know so far about OneD&D.

OneD&D: The Big News

Let’s look at some of the biggest takeaways regarding the announcement of OneD&D

A New (Sixth) Edition of D&D

It’s official. OneD&D will launch in 2024 with an updated version of the core rulebooks (Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual). The new edition will be backwards-compatible with the 5e products that have been released over the last 10 years, meaning you’ll be able to pick up a “classic” 5e adventure like Curse of Strahd and play it using the new rules. 

Nevertheless, there are big changes in the works for this new version of the game. Not only are we going to see an official, system-wide update that applies the new character creation options from sourcebooks like Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything and Monsters of the Multiverse to the game as a whole, but a bunch of other interesting tweaks are looming over the horizon, from leveled feats and more innate spellcasting, to reworked mechanics that make Inspiration a bigger part of the game, not to mention a completely new way of organizing spells. 

We’ll get into everything we know so far about the new rules for OneD&D below, but for now rest assured that even if the game’s sixth edition is about to make some noticable changes, the core of the game is going to fundamentally stay the same. This means that OneD&D is going to be less of a 6e and more of a 5.5e.

OneD&D Will be Backwards Compatible (is Code For “Nothing Will Fundamentally Change”)

Based on the release schedule of earlier editions of D&D, the gaps between new editions have been getting steadily longer as time has gone on. While the space between OD&D and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was just three years, both AD&D and 2nd Edition reigned for a full six years apiece, followed by 3e (and 3.5e) which lasted for eight years. D&D 4e only lasted for six years, but considering the fact that the ultra-tactical, combat-heavy “problem child” of the game has always been something of an acquired taste, that’s not massively surprising. 

D&D 5e was launched in 2014, and so hasn’t lasted any longer than 2nd or 3rd edition. 

However, there’s one reason why we should probably take the shelf lives of previous editions with a pinch of salt. Whenever WotC (and TSR before them) have launched a new edition, it’s tended to come at a time when things are getting stale. Player engagement has dropped, content releases have slowed down — essentially, the publisher has been losing money, or there’ve been other behind the scenes complications, like those that preceded the demise of TSR in the late 90s. 

By contrast, 5e is going stronger than ever. Buoyed by a massive cultural groundswell, from hugely popular podcasts like The Adventure Zone (currently on its fourth major arc and once again back to playing 5e), Dungeons and Daddies (not a BDSM podcast and legitimately the best piece of comedy podcasting I’ve encountered in a long time, with a shocking amount of tenderness and heart thrown in — check it out), and Not Another D&D Podcast, as well as mainstream representation like Stranger Things, celebrities “coming out” as D&D fans like Terry Crews and Steven Colbert, to the whole Critical Role and Dimension 20 phenomenon — which I don’t personally get, but people love it — D&D has never been more popular or culturally relevant. 

There’s a D&D movie coming out next year with Chris Pine (and Hugh Grant, which is a weird pull but I’m here for it) for crying out loud. Incidentally, based on the kind of heist-centric plot and roguish nature of Michelle Rodriguez’s character (not to mention the fact that Joe Mangianello, another avid D&D fan, had a hand in writing the original script) the movie seems like it’s going to actually feel more like a D&D campaign than previous attempts, which always tended to skew more towards generic fantasy.   

As a result, it would be absolute foolishness for WotC to split its community across 5e and a whole new edition, and it looks like they’re hip to this fact.

Don’t Call it 6e! Or 5.5e … Actually, Don’t Call it an “Edition” at All 

Don’t call it a comeback! Okay, so apparently OneD&D is not actually a “new edition”, but instead a series of tweaks and changes to the core system that forms the basis of 5e today. It’s also very emphatically not 5.5e. 

So, it’s not a new edition, but it’s not 5.5e, so what is it?

It’s both. And neither. Confused? Me too. Let’s try to parse the cursed doubletalk that is the WotC PR party line. 

OneD&D is supposed to be the “last edition” of D&D, meaning Wizards officially has no further plans to launch a whole new version of the game. Rather than splitting its customer base every few years (especially after the debacle of 4e split the community so hard that it created D&D’s biggest competitor in the tabletop space for years to come), Wizards are apparently confident enough in the basic structure of 5e that they think adding to the game and occasionally revising it is a better way forward than putting out a “new” edition every few years. 

(Apparently, they just don’t have the cajones of Games Workshop, who are releasing dozens of “new” £40 editions and supplementary books every year, most of which recycle art that was gracing their covers back when I played 40k in the early 2,000s. You gotta respect the sheer brazenness as you reach tearfully into your wallet again. But I digress.) 

Also, while I’m being corrected by the Wizards PR department, One D&D isn’t actually a new edition. It’s brand shiny and new and a totally new direction for the game, but also nothing will fundamentally change and it’s really important here that NOBODY PANIC. 

According to D&D’s lead designer Chris Perkins, Wizards “are no longer in the position where we think of D&D as an edition. It’s just D&D.” 

Basically, there’s a lot of marketing going on right now, but OneD&D is basically D&D 5.5e, and though probably won’t be the game’s last edition, the shift in Wizards’ business model should concern you. More on that below. For now, let’s look at some of the mechanical changes we can expect to see over the next few years, culminating in the official launch of OneD&D in 2024. 

So, What’s New With OneD&D

Well, we don’t know very much yet. Okay, we know some things, and we’ll know more as we get closer to the release of OneD&D in 2024. But for now all we have are the materials that have already been launched, like Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything and Monsters of the Multiverse, which we can use to make some educated predictions, and the new One D&D playtest materials that are out now. 

Basically, Wizards are going to be releasing the new rules piecemeal for community playtesting and revision before OneD&D gets an official launch, and the first round already heralds some interesting changes for the way that player characters work. 

Backgrounds are Gone, But Also More Important Than Ever?

Ability Score Increases at character creation are now tied to a player character’s Background, not their race. 

Monsters of the Multiverse and Tasha’s had already shown the way the game was headed — away from potentially problematic ideas of bioessentialism and towards a more versatile perspective on player lineage.

Now, a character with the Soldier background is going to get a +2 Strength and +1 Constitution bonus, whereas an Acolyte is going to get a +2 Wisdom and +1 Intelligence. On the face of it, this feels like an interesting confirmation of a change that’s been in the works for a while, that also goes a long way towards making backgrounds feel more important.

Except it doesn’t, because all the existing backgrounds are now “sample backgrounds”, and you can just make up your own. You get to distribute a +2 and a +1 bonus to two ability scores, pick two skills, a tool proficiency, a language, and a feat. What’s gone are the special features — like the criminal’s network of underground contacts or the sage’s ability to know where to find any knowledge they don’t have access to. Basically, the one really flavorful element of backgrounds has been stripped away in favor of a feat at 1st level, and backgrounds as we know them are basically less important than ever.

Feats Have Levels Now

Not only does everyone now get a feat at 1st level as part of their background, but Feats have now been assigned levels, which let you know when you can unlock them. We don’t know yet whether you get access to different, more powerful feats as your character levels up, or whether your feats themselves get more powerful at certain points (kind of like how cantrips work now), but either way it’s an interesting new layer of versatility for adventurers. 

Divine, Arcane, and Primal: The New Classless Spell Lists 

Rather that give each class its own unique spell list, One D&D looks set to group magic effects under three new umbrellas, and each class will now get access to one of the lists. 

There are some questions raised by this — as it looks set to dramatically widen the list of spells a sorcerer and bard can choose from, while simultaneously robbing them of other spells. Also, the absence of class-exclusive spells from the lists in the UA playtest rules suggests that things like vicious mockery and eldritch blast might become class features of the bard and warlock , respectively, rather than be spells at all. 

A New Playable Race!

A whole new playable race, the Ardlings, are being added to the game. They’re basically the celestial version of a tiefling, and appear to be winged and have animal heads. 

No one’s 100% sure whether their inclusion means that they’ll be part of the new core races in the new Player’s Handbook, but no one can think of a compelling reason why else they’d be here… unless WotC is planning on going hard after the furry demographic. 

Half-Orcs and Half-Elves are out! 

Instead, it looks like you’ll just be able to combine any two player lineages (as long as their humanoids) by cherry picking a few elements from each — which means every single optimized build from here on out is going to be a mix of two races with the best of their parents’ abilities.

Other interesting changes from the first round of unearthed arcana rules include… 

  •  Rolling a d20 is now called “a Test”, which encompasses ability checks, saving throws, or attack rolls 
  • A reworking of the Grappling rules to be a form of unarmed attack against AC, rather than a contested Strength check. 
  • A natural 1 or 20 is now officially a critical failure or success on an ability check or saving throw, as well as an attack roll. 
  • Rolling a natural 20 also now gives you Inspiration (as do several other things, including character abilities)
  • Starting gold is standardized at 50 gp and looks like it will replace equipment packs.  

And here are some unconfirmed predictions either based on material that’s already been released, interviews with the design team at WotC, or told to me by the life-size picture of Jeremy Crawford stapled to my vision board in the middle of the night.  

Rebalanced Classes 

As newer subclasses – especially for the Sorcerer and Ranger – have been released, there’s been a noticeable improvement (or power creep if you’re a curmudgeon about such things) in the effectiveness of newer content versus older versions. 

For example, all of the Sorcerer subclasses released in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything get an extra known spell each time their Sorcerous Origin improves, which helps make up for the class’ pretty glaring lack of spells. For 5.5e, I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet that class developments that have appeared over time will be retroactively applied to older subclasses. 

Reworked Subclasses 

There are also a few subclasses – like the Champion Fighter – which even the designers have publicly admitted kind of stink. The Champion, when you break down the math, is mechanically underwhelming and often dismissed as the most boring subclass in the entire game. Reworking the Champion to either be more effective as a “crit machine” — maybe granting special effects or a meta resource that charges up whenever you crit, just spitballing here — could give the subclass a new lease on life in terms of playability. 

Then you have stuff like the Assassin subclass for Rogues, which often kind of feels like it’s playing a very different, stealth and surprise-dependent game to the rest of the party. Reworking that roguish archetype to be less dependent on a high initiative score or surprise round could make this one trick pony into a viable option again — especially when you hold it up against some of the other incredible roguish archetypes that have come out more recently like the Soulknife or Swashbuckler. 

We could also see the Berserker Barbarian, which can basically kill itself with Exhaustion levels if you enter Frenzy more than a couple of times a day. While it’s thematically great (all the subclasses I’ve mentioned here are, actually) the mechanical benefits of an extra attack using a bonus action definitely don’t outweigh the downsides of an exhaustion level. 

Reworking the subclass to either get bigger advantages during Frenzy or maybe clear a level of exhaustion on a short rest instead of a long one (again, just thinking out loud; don’t @me, Jeremy) could do a lot to bring the subclass out of the dumpster tier. 

Action-Oriented Monsters

A big gripe I have with 5e is that high level monsters tend, more often than not, to be different ways of flavoring a big bag of hit points with multiattack and maybe one special ability.

Going forward, I would love to see some monsters with more diverse sets of actions, maybe with more use made of damage vulnerabilities and resistances, and just generally more stuff that leads to more dynamic combat than “all the players get to hit the monster, and then the monster hits the players or dies.” 

Speaking of more dynamic combat… 

The Wombo Combo 

There are already a few ways to make different player abilities synergize in 5e, but for the most part helping out an ally through some creative and clever ruse is typically going to be less effective than just using one of your character’s own abilities. 

It would be absolutely lovely to see some more overt game design centered around party synergy, actions that build off something another player does to produce an effect greater than the sum of their parts. It could be rare – something reserved for boss fights or desperate situations – but being able to set up awesome combos with your allies (like the fighter being able to give the rogue — as long as they’re size small — extra jump distance and a huge buff to their initial damage) would be a great way to add some more depth to combat. 

OneD&D Goes Digital… Yay? 

Those of you who saw Wizards’ acquisition of DnD Beyond earlier this year as a sign of future pdf and physical book bundles as Christmas come early are in for a treat. 

The reason why WotC parent Hasbro has snapped up the third party license once again is because the launch of OneD&D will also be accompanied by a huge suite of deluxe digital tools, from improved character management options and integrated rulebooks, dice rollers, and online avatars, but the real news will be a slick, robust virtual tabletop (VTT) integrated into DnD Beyond. 

Apparently, currently players are “cobbling together all kinds of apps and websites in order to have an integrated D&D experience” (Wizards’ words, not mine), and the OneD&D initiative wants to change that with an official, vertically integrated virtual tabletop packed with maps, custom characters, monsters, and terrain — all built to work in the Unreal Engine.

© Wizards of the Coast

Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Metaverse

Pretty cool, right? Here’s why I’m worried this will be the end of D&D as we know it.

For the past 50 years, gamers have played D&D and other games like it around tables with their friends and (in my experience, rather confused) family members. Maps on paper, miniatures, physical terrain, and art were all still set dressing in the theater of the mind. Because the game you’re playing is facilitated by language and fueled by your imagination, anything is possible as long as it could feasibly be supported by the rules. When a tabletop RPG works well, its rules are an effective way of expressing and arbitrating a shared fantasy using language and dice. 

The fact that you can do anything you can imagine in a tabletop roleplaying game is the biggest advantage the format has over video games and board games. 

Our imaginations and language — not the Unreal Engine — are the things that make D&D compelling and magical. By forcefully integrating D&D with a digital VTT, WotC is about to change that. D&D will become a curtailed, video-gamey experience. The things you’ll be able to do in the game will be limited (if not in the rules, in the players’ minds because they’ll be thinking in terms of that virtual space, not their own imagination of the scene) to the things you can do with that tabletop.

Also, before you tell me that I can just play without using this tool, or that VTTs already exist, let me say that, based on how much money Hasbro is spending on developing the OneD&D VTT (not to mention a recent shareholder report that used the phrase “aggressive digital transformation”), it’s pretty clear that the future of the world’s biggest pen and paper game is digital-first. 

It’s going to be impossible to open a boxed set, toy, rulebook, or owlbear plushie ever again without seeing a little “play D&D the way it’s meant to be played” flier with a link to D&D Beyond on the back. You and I might know that this is marketing nonsense, but the tens of thousands of new players (coming from a generation already bombarded with mobile-first digital products, microtransactions, and subscription services) discovering D&D for the first time every months won’t. 

Also, the existence of third party VTT software like Owlbear Rodeo, Tale Spire, and Roll20 is an unrepresentative dataset if you want to claim that VTTs have existed for over a decade now and haven’t “ruined D&D” for anyone. None of these properties have the user base, the marketing department, or the budget to be more than an optional extra or play aid. Once WotC’s VTT becomes the dominant method for playing D&D, it’s unlikely they’ll even exist for long. 

I am genuinely worried that just by making the default way of playing D&D a VTT experience hard-coded with character managers, microtransaction skins, and non-transferrable digital assets available only as long as you keep paying for a premium subscription service, WotC isn’t only going to cheapen the D&D experience for a buck, they’re going to irrevocably change what it means to play D&D for future generations — and not for the better. 

Now, I could be totally wrong about this, and I really hope I am. I will admit that the graphics in the VTT, not to mention the idea of playing around with cool little virtual toys (and the inevitable VR integrations) are all rather exciting. Let’s hope that the price we pay isn’t the soul of the game itself (plus $9.99 per month, billed annually, of course — asset packs and optional Strahd token sold separately).

Will I Like OneD&D?

If you like 5e, then you’re going to have a blast with OneD&D

There are a lot of great decisions being made about improving issues with 5e’s rules, making the core system more elegant, and bringing the subject matter of the game into the modern era. Every mechanical and thematic tweak that Wizards are making to the current rules are designed to make the experience of playing D&D today better — at least, by the standards that D&D 5e sets for itself. 

The game will still have a lot of rules (more than a lot of indie games or older editions from the 1980s) and not a whole lot of tactical depth (like, say, 4e had). It will still functionally be about fighting monsters as part of a series of scenes that capture the feel of an action movie — as opposed to dungeon crawling or other styles of play. Characters will still be very complex from level 1, and basically impossible to kill from level 3 onwards. 

D&D right now is the McDonalds of tabletop RPGs; it’s palatable, widely available, accessible, and everyone recognizes (and, more importantly, understands) it. 

Do I think it’s the best thing out there? Not personally, no. Do I love the fact that it attracts new people to this awesome hobby, respect its ability to bring people together in joyous moments of shared storytelling, and always say yes when someone asks if I want to sit in on their weekly 5e game? Hell yes. 

Do I think OneD&D is going to change any of this? Not in the slightest. 

Out of all the tabletop RPGs out there, OneD&D will still have the biggest community, even more comprehensive support and tools than it does today, by far the most published material for GMs to use, and in many ways the language of tabletop roleplaying games is the language of D&D 5e (and now OneD&D). 
For millions of people who love sitting down to spend time with their friends, roll dice, and beat up monsters for their loot, it’s the game. And it’s not going anywhere.