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DnD fifth edition ends not with a bang, but a whimper

A new generation of DnD is about to begin, but it’s hard to be excited when you remember all the bad decisions Wizards made in 2023.

DnD fifth edition final year - Wizards of the Coast photo of the Player's Handbook and an anxious-looking Twitter emoji

The Winter Solstice of Nightal is fast approaching, and the closing of the Harptos calendar has us feeling reflective. More specifically, we’re musing on the highs and lows of Dungeons and Dragons this year. 2023 shook things up more than a Hill Giant emptying out their bag – and while there’s plenty to celebrate ahead of D&D’s 50th anniversary, there’s been just as much drama and disappointment.

Like a dutiful Dungeon Master recapping their DnD campaign, we’ve summarized the biggest stories of the year for your pleasure. Here’s Wargamer’s Dungeons and Dragons 2023 retrospective:

DnD retrospective - Wizards of the Coast art of a dwarf fighter

Wizards continues to playtest One DnD

Technically speaking, 2023 is the final year of Dungeons and Dragons fifth edition. A new ‘edition ish’ begins next year with the long-awaited arrival of One D&D. Enough has changed to warrant an entirely new version of the core DnD books, but Wizards says all existing fifth edition content will remain completely compatible.

We still don’t know the exact release date, but we do know that playtesting for the DnD classes is almost over. And plenty has changed since 2023 began – so much that it’s difficult to squeeze into a few paragraphs. Our One DnD release date guide can give you the gist of how playtesting is going, but here are a few of the most interesting changes to check out:

If online forums are anything to go by, many fans still don’t trust Wizards of the Coast to get One D&D right. But it shouldn’t be long now before we have the completed version in our hands, ready to judge ourselves.

DnD retrospective - Wizards of the Coast art of a bar brawl

Everyone disliked the Open Gaming Licence controversy

Cast your mind back to January. The draft of a new, much more restrictive DnD OGL was leaked, forcing Wizards to apologize for its plans. Despite backpedaling, the damage was already done.

Fans released parody adventures mocking Wizards of the Coast, ex-employees weighed in on the OGL criticism, and D&D’s major competitors began working hard on alternatives for fans who felt slighted. Paizo’s ORC and Kobold Press’ Tales of the Valiant were both propelled by a desire to distance themselves from Dungeons and Dragons, and other RPGs’ sales skyrocketed.

Wizards may have walked back these plans, but its attempts to overhaul the OGL still haunt the D&D community. The 50th anniversary of Dungeons and Dragons should be a year for celebration, but this incident means many of us are entering 2024 full of distrust.

DnD retrospective - close-up photo of three DnD books

An underwhelming lineup of DnD books released

The 2023 release schedule promised five new Dungeons and Dragons books:

We reviewed them all (as you can see above). And honestly, these titles weren’t Wizards’ best. While titles like Journeys from the Radiant Citadel were winning excellence awards in 2022, this year’s releases felt a little underwhelming. There were no truly bad apples, but the design quality was hit-and-miss, and many books didn’t feel fleshed out enough.

One 2023 product also failed to make it to the hands of fans before the close of the year. The DnD Deck of Many Things was plagued by production issues, causing Wizards to delay its release until the new year.

DnD retrospective - three characters from Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves running

At last, a Dungeons and Dragons movie that’s good

Things were slightly better when it came to licensed D&D products. In March, Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves hit cinemas. It was an eye-roll-heavy comedy that made plenty of rules mistakes, but it was also an entertaining romp that captured how it really feels to play D&D.

We gave it a good review, and it performed more than respectably on its opening weekend. The Mario Movie definitely stole its thunder, but Honor Among Thieves is still a noteworthy part of D&D history. Plus, it’s leagues better than the other Dungeons and Dragons movies.

DnD retrospective - Wizards of the Coast art of a Warforged

RPGs take on AI art, and Wizards is late to the party

A large number of tabletop gaming creators condemned AI art this year, perhaps most notably Pathfinder’s Paizo and Call of Cthulhu’s Chaosium. We spoke to several RPG publishers about the Pandora’s Box that is AI art, and their attitudes were largely unanimous – AI art was a bad thing for tabletop RPGs, and steps needed to be taken to limit its presence.

Wizards of the Coast, it seemed, missed the memo. The publisher didn’t reply to our questions about AI art’s place in the industry, and it later had to apologize for unintentionally using AI-generated art in Glory of the Giants. New guidelines aim to prevent Artificial Intelligence from appearing in D&D books, but this retroactive pivot was a bad look.

DnD retrospective - Larian image of four characters from Baldur's Gate 3

Baldur’s Gate 3 arrives, blows everything out of the water

If this year’s retrospective was a Christmas tree, Baldur’s Gate 3 would be the shining star on top. As our Baldur’s Gate review said, this is the best DnD game, period. 300 hours later, we’re still playing it with every scrap of spare time we can find.

After several years being tweaked and polished in Early Access, the full game is a rich well of storytelling and strategic turn-based combat. With thousands of possible endings, hundreds of spells, and a near-endless amount of Baldur’s Gate 3 builds to test, this is a game with endless replayability. Its story is a high fantasy of epic proportions, and it reminds us why we love spending time in the world of Dungeons and Dragons.

DnD retrospective - Wizards of the Coast art of a character leaping out of danger

D&D’s festive season begins with staff layoffs

As we were writing this roundup, we were glad Baldur’s Gate would let us end the year on a high, even if controversy ruled much of D&D’s year. And then a new wave of Hasbro layoffs were announced.

This is the second load of redundancies Wizards of the Coast’s parent company announced in 2023, with around 800 people losing their jobs back in January. On December 12, it was confirmed that roughly 1,100 more people would be out of a job before Christmas. Many of these people worked on Dungeons and Dragons.

Dnd retrospective - Wizards of the Coast art of a fighter and a slain giant

What’s coming next year for Dungeons and Dragons

Wizards of the Coast announced some of its 2024 plans in December in the form of a new DnD release schedule. D&D’s 50th anniversary will be celebrated with a level-20 Vecna campaign book, a historical book dedicated to the invention of Dungeons and Dragons, and an anthology sourcebook in the style of Tales from the Yawning Portal. Oh, and that new ‘edition-ish’, of course.

There’s going to be lots of proverbial balloons and champagne next year, celebrating the existence of D&D and how far it’s come. But while this past year had some highlights for Dungeons and Dragons, 2023 hasn’t left us in much of a partying mood.

For those who are in the mood for a D&D party, here’s some guidance on choosing DnD classes and DnD races for your next DnD character build.