Dungeons & Dragons looks for new start

jgaines@macon.comJuly 13, 2014 

  • More on ‘D&D Next’

    Here are some of the Middle Georgia gaming stores that will carry or host ‘D&D Next’ games:
    • Comics Plus, 226 Tom Hill Sr. Blvd., Macon, 478-477-5550
    • Command Zone Games, 152 Spring St., Macon, 478-741-0089
    • Heroes and Villains, 117 Russell Parkway, Suite F, Warner Robins, 478-322-0004
    • Vigilantes Comics and Café, 1291 S. Houston Lake Road, Suite J, Warner Robins, 478-477-5550

It’s been 40 years since the first version of the “Dungeons & Dragons” fantasy role-playing game was introduced, and a new edition -- the fifth, dubbed “D&D Next” -- is primed for release.

A free set of basic rules is already available online. On Tuesday, a starter set will arrive in midstate gaming stores, and though many other games have challenged D&D’s one-time dominance, there are some hopes for a resurgence of the classic’s popularity.

In anticipation of the new release, Heroes & Villains in Warner Robins plans to try out the starter set at its in-store gaming tables Sunday, owner Mike McDaniel said.

“We’ll be doing a full-fledged RPG, kind of demoing it,” he said.

There is still “strong, strong interest” in “Dungeons & Dragons,” though as the game went through major rule changes in earlier editions, it lost some fans to newer related games such as “Pathfinder,” McDaniel said.

“But players that are into (D&D), they’ve been waiting a long time for a new edition.”

Michael Starr, owner of Command Zone Games in Macon, said he hopes to see D&D games popping up at his tables, but that hasn’t happened lately.

“It’s been a while,” he said. The last D&D game he recalls seeing in his shop was about a year ago. Other tabletop role-playing games do see sessions there, but the card game “Magic: The Gathering” is the most popular, he said.

Players in Command Zone last week said it’s been a long time since they played D&D, but they’d heard vague mention that a new edition was coming out.

“I’ve played all of once,” Eric Martinez said. That was just last October, but he wasn’t sure what edition of the game he played.

Donald Chambliss Jr. last played in 2008. He and Martinez came to Command Zone to play “Magic.”

Chambliss and Martinez said they’d found it was difficult to get started in D&D without an experienced guide, and that even game basics -- in previous editions -- were a considerable investment for those just starting out.

But both men said they were willing to give the new edition a try.

“I’m actually interested to see what ‘D&D Next’ is like,” Chambliss said.

Starr said he’s been hoping to attract some regular D&D players from the recently closed Avalon Comics, but none has turned up yet. He’ll be happy to host games when players get the books.

“If you have the stuff for it, go for it,” Starr said.

Game history

The origins of tabletop role playing run all the way back to a miniature war-gaming rule book called “Little Wars,” written more than a century ago by H.G. Wells, according to Gary Gygax in his 1987 book “Role-Playing Mastery.”

In 1971, Gygax himself was co-author of “Chainmail,” a set of rules for re-creating medieval warfare -- which included a “Fantasy Supplement” by Gygax.

“Thus heroes, spell-casting wizards, fire-breathing dragons, magic swords, giants, trolls, and werewolves began to appear in miniatures games across the country,” he wrote.

Then in 1974, Gygax and Dave Arneson expanded on those ideas in the first edition of “Dungeons & Dragons.” An “advanced” version followed in 1977. The thoroughly reorganized Second Edition came out in 1989.

TSR, the company Gygax co-founded but left in 1985, ran into financial trouble and in 1997 was sold to Wizards of the Coast, which had just had huge success with “Magic: The Gathering.” Wizards, in turn, was bought by Hasbro in 1999, one year before a major D&D rules change with the release of the Third Edition.

In 2003, those rules were adjusted in version 3.5. And in 2008, the same year Gygax died, the gaming system got another major revamp.

Meanwhile, many other games were popping up, both tabletop and then on computer. And as D&D went through many changes, many longtime players turned to those.

Changes to later editions of D&D seemed to be aimed at recapturing some of that lost audience, but they actually drove some old fans away, McDaniel said.

Now, Wizards is hoping to redress all discontent with a new approach. “D&D Next” has been play tested by more than 175,000 people in the last two years to refine the rules, according to Mike Mearls, the game’s lead designer.

The game’s core rules, more than 100 pages, are available for free download at www.wizards.com/dnd. The starter set to be released Tuesday, which includes premade characters, a trial adventure and a set of dice, will cost $19.95.

Full rule books will come later this year: the Player’s Handbook on Aug. 19, the Monster Manual on Sept. 30 and the Dungeon Master’s Guide on Nov. 18.

Waiting to see

Heroes & Villains is the only local gaming store that is planning to herald the “D&D Next” release with an event. The rest plan to carry the new edition, but they haven’t seen enough D&D games lately to warrant a big to-do, owners said.

“The problem we’ve had in Macon for the last couple of years is that people can’t get along on what edition they want to play,” said Will Peavy, owner of Comics Plus in Macon. “We get people all the time: ‘Hey, do you play D&D?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘What edition?’ ”

Dusty Gautney, co-owner of Vigilantes Comics and Café in Warner Robins, said he’s been playing role-playing games for seven years and has probably tried about 20 games, including all editions of D&D. He thinks “D&D Next” will fix many of the game’s problems.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” Gautney said.

The store stocks 4th Edition -- and also rival game “Pathfinder,” said Rosaly Aponte, Vigilantes co-owner. They’re still looking for someone to run a D&D game there regularly. Meanwhile, an Atlanta representative of the company that makes “Pathfinder” may drum up someone to run that game regularly in the shop, she said.

Regular customers in the three-month-old store have kept up on news about “D&D Next,” but their current tabletop game of choice is superhero game “Mutants & Masterminds,” Aponte said.

“They play it every Saturday,” she said.

No regular D&D group has gathered at Comics Plus in a long time either, Peavy said, but the back room is always open for players.

“I know D&D has struggled,” he said.

Peavy has shelves packed with new and used copies of books and modules from all of the game’s editions, and he sees “D&D Next” as the latest in Wizards’ ongoing response to “Pathfinder” and other rivals -- perhaps a successful one.

“I think it will be a big resurgence,” he said. The players he knows still have a desire to play the game that started it all. It’s just a matter of finding the time and a willing group, Peavy said. And reaching consensus on the edition, which “D&D Next” may resolve.

“Gaming is still as strong as ever,” he said.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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