Dungeons & Dragons is going places. More people are playing Dungeons & Dragons than ever before, celebrities are sharing their love for roleplaying and dungeon crawling in weekly livestreams and at lavish events like the Stream of Many Eyes, and Wizards of the Coast is publishing limited-edition copies of D&D books with stylish alternate covers for hard-core collectors.
But even as D&D caters to an audience wealthy enough to collect expensive miniatures and accessories, it’s clear that Wizards of the Coast and its partners still have their loyal fans in mind. In 2018, we saw two adventures released—one catering to players who love intrigue and low-level play, and one aimed directly at dungeon crawlers who have been champing at the bit for years for a high-level adventure. We’ve also recently begun exploring D&D’s broader Multiverse, with a tentative step into Eberron courtesy of the setting’s creator Keith Baker and Maze Arcana co-founder Ruty Rutenberg. And that’s to say nothing of D&D Beyond and other electronic D&D game aids like Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds, which are helping to bring our favorite game into the digital age, making it easier to play and transport than ever before.
It’s no stretch to say that 2018 was the biggest year yet for the current edition of Dungeons & Dragons. But where do we go from here? 2018 saw the unprecedented release of four D&D game books (up from three books in all previous years, except for its launch in 2014). Part of the promise of fifth edition was releasing only a few high-quality books each year in order to reduce system bloat and extend the edition’s lifespan. Will D&D continue to hold by this tradition, or will we see more books than ever this year? What will those books contain, and what major media event will we see to promote this year’s big adventure?
Let the speculation begin!
What Can We Learn from the Past?
When speculating about the future, it’s important to examine the patterns of the past. Ignoring the edition’s launch year, let’s take a quick look at the releases of 2015–2018 and analyze the trends moving forward. If you want to analyze these releases for yourself, you can take a look at the full Wizards product catalog, just like I have.
What Released in 2015?
2015 was an interesting year for D&D. The launch of fifth edition in 2014 had only barely ended with the release of the Dungeon Master’s Guide in early December. Three D&D books were released in 2015, plus a short PDF/print-on-demand supplement.
- Princes of the Apocalypse (April 2015), an adventure created by contracted developer Sasquatch Studios with oversight from Wizards of the Coast, and released alongside a free PDF supplement called the Elemental Evil Player’s Companion.
- Out of the Abyss (September 2015), an adventure created by contracted developer Green Ronin Publishing with oversight from Wizards of the Coast.
- Sword Coast Adventurers Guide (November 2015), a setting guide to the Sword Coast, also developed by Green Ronin Publishing.
Licensed products included: an official Dungeon Masters’ screen, a set of prepainted miniatures based on Princes of the Apocalypse, a set of prepainted miniatures based on Out of the Abyss, four novels set in the Forgotten Realms by R.A. Salvatore, Ed Greenwood (he wrote two), and Erin M. Evans, and a sprawling anthology of classic D&D computer games compiled by GOG.com. Some other licensed products were released, such as a board game tied to Princes of the Apocalypse, and DM Screens tied to both the major adventures.
2015 also saw the rise and fall of the ill-fated computer RPG Sword Coast Legends by Digital Extremes.
To summarize, this year saw the release of two campaign-sized adventures, and one setting book that contained some player content. All three of these books were produced by outside development teams in close communication with Wizards of the Coast. Its ancillary products were limited.
Promotional art for Sword Coast Legends by Digital Extremes.
What Released in 2016?
This was the year that Wizards of the Coast stopped contracting outside game development teams to create their adventures, and moved the operation completely in-house. Three D&D books were released in 2016.
- Curse of Strahd (March 2016), an adventure created by the Wizards of the Coast D&D team. Legend has it that Chris Perkins wrote the entire first draft for this adventure in a frenzy over his two-week Christmas break.
- Storm King’s Thunder (September 2016), an adventure created by the Wizards of the Coast D&D team with additional story design by Magic: The Gathering narrative Design Manager Jenna Helland. This adventure is notable for having D&D’s first-ever “kickoff event” at the now-defunct Meltdown Comics in Los Angeles.
- Volo’s Guide to Monsters (November 2016), the first sizable rules supplement to this edition of D&D. This book contained a host of new monster stats and player options, making it useful for both players and Dungeon Masters alike.
This year also saw the release of miniatures sets and specialized DM Screens linked to the two major adventures. Gale Force Nine also released a physical Tarokka Deck for use with Curse of Strahd. Salvatore, Greenwood, and Evans all each wrote at least one new Forgotten Realms novel. Notably, Greenwood’s novel Death Masks was deeply involved with the evolving D&D mythos: it referenced the Storm King’s Thunder storyline and examined the after-effects of Curse of Strahd by showing Mordenkainen’s recovery from madness, and also laid groundwork for the future Waterdeep adventures.
Several ancillary books, such as Dungeonology and the Monsters and Heroes of the Realms coloring book were released, and Beamdog Studios released Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear, a brand-new expansion to their remastered edition of Baldur’s Gate, originally developed by BioWare. Finally, WizKids released Rock Paper Wizard, a competitive card game loosely based on Rock, Paper, Scissors. Notably, this game included tokens based on an illustration from the Dungeon Master’s Guide that would go on to also inspire the unique “dragon” gold coin that appeared in Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. Finally, a board game loosely based on the events of Out of the Abyss, one of last year’s adventure, was released in the form of Tyrants of the Underdark.
To summarize, this year also saw the release of two campaign-sized adventures, and one new supplement that catered to all types of D&D players. Its ancillary products were varied, and one in particular, the Tarokka Deck, had real use as an in-game prop as well as a game aid.
Concept art for coins in Waterdeep: Dragon Heist by Olga Drebas (@OlgaDrebas).
What Released in 2017?
2017 was the year in which D&D content production really ramped up. This year was characterized by the release of several new ancillary products, such as the Dungeon Masters Screen: Reincarnated, and a host of small PDF releases that accompanied published products, such as One Grung Above and The Tortle Package.
- Tales from the Yawning Portal (April 2017), an adventure anthology made up of some of the greatest dungeons in D&D history and updated by the Wizards of the Coast D&D team to modern D&D rules. This product is interesting because it is fifth edition’s only anthology product, and because its use of the Yawning Portal set up the inn as a major location in 2018’s Waterdeep
- Tomb of Annihilation (September 2017), an adventure created by the Wizards of the Cast D&D team with additional design by two notable D&D freelancers: Will Doyle and Steve Winter. The release of this book was preceded by the second D&D kickoff event, the Stream of Annihilation. This event was much larger than the Storm King’s Thunder event, and featured dozens of D&D streamers, celebrities, and personalities.
- Xanathar’s Guide to Everything (November 2017), a major rules expansion geared towards players, containing over 25 new subclasses, new spells, racial feats, and more. It included some material intended for Dungeon Masters.
As with the past year, Tomb of Annihilation received major support from WizKids and Gale Force Nine in the form of themed prepainted miniatures, a board game, a campaign-specific DM Screen. It was also paired with a unique dice set, and even received a new video game: Tales from Candlekeep: Tomb of Annihilation. A bevy of supporting products, such as the all-purpose Dungeon Master’s Screen Reincarnated,
A host of D&D-themed traditional games were published this year, as well, including the deckbuilding game Dragonfire, the “Betrayal at House on the Hill” spin-off Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate, a slightly tardy board game companion to Storm King’s Thunder titled Assault of the Giants, and a similarly tardy comic book companion by Jim Zub titled Frost Giant’s Fury. A mobile adaptation of the classic worker-placement board game Lords of Waterdeep was released, and Codename Entertainment released their wildly popular “idle game” Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms, which brings together D&D characters from novels, adventures, and even livestreams into a single grand adventure.
To summarize, this year saw the release of one anthology adventure, one campaign-sized adventure, and one new supplement that catered primarily towards Dungeon Masters. Also notable is that the Guild Adept program began in Summer 2017, assembling a team of expert D&D freelancers from the Adventurers League and the ranks of the best creators of the DMs Guild creators to create “Wizards-sanctioned” products for the DMs Guild, often tied to the current storyline like “DLC” and bearing an identifying gold ampersand symbol.
What Released in 2018?
Wizards of the Coast broke their “three-books-per-year” strategy in 2018 by releasing five new D&D books! This year also saw an explosion of supporting products, many of which were showcased at this summer’s storyline kickoff event.
- Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes (May 2018), a huge book of lore, with a few scant player options, and a hefty bestiary. D&D design veteran and Shadow of the Demon Lord designer Robert J. Schwalb was contracted as a freelancer on this book.
- Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron (July 2018), an electronic-only setting supplement developed independently by Keith Baker and Ruty Rutenberg, with Wizards oversight.
- Waterdeep: Dragon Heist (September 2018), a full-size adventure book designed by the Wizards story team with two freelance designers: James Haeck (that’s me!) and James Introcaso. This product broke the mold by including stylish black-and-white maps by Dyson Logos, rather than the typical full color maps by the likes of Mike Schley and Jared Blando.
- Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage (November 2018), a full-size dungeon adventure book designed by the Wizards team with a huge host of freelance designers, including Adventurers League administrators, Guild Adepts, and others, including Kobold Press designer Dan Dillon.
- Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica (November 2018), a full-size setting book designed primarily by Magic: The Gathering lead story designer James Wyatt. This book also included some black-and-white maps by Dyson Logos.
The avalanche of supporting products seen in 2017 did not abate in 2018. Several “evergreen” game aids, were released, including Dungeon Tiles Reincarnated, the latest Monster Menagerie prepainted miniatures set, as well as new sculpts from Nolzur’s Marvelous Miniatures, a line of pre-primed, unpainted miniatures depicting iconic D&D creatures and classes. A flood of new books entered the market as well, including four Endless Quest “choose-your-own-adventure” books by Matt Forbeck, the mighty Art and Arcana artbook by Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, and Sam Witwer, and two children’s books, The ABCs of D&D and The 123s of D&D, written by Geek & Sundry veteran Ivan van Norman and illustrated by Caleb Cleveland. A limited edition set of the Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide were released, mirroring the limited edition versions of Volo’s Guide to Monsters, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, and Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes.
The Waterdeep adventures were supported by various game aids, including dice and map packs, a benefit also extended to the new Ravnica setting book. Several new D&D-themed games were also released, including the charming and fast-paced card game Dungeon Mayhem, a Ravenloft expansion for the D&D MMORPG Neverwinter, a remastered edition of the BioWare classic Neverwinter Nights by Beamdog, and Vault of Dragons, a board game based on the villains of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist.
To summarize, this year saw a massive expansion of content by leaving the D&D team to design three main books and entrusting teams of passionate creators to create two new setting books that will supplement the Forgotten Realms as worlds of adventure.
A two-page spread from Art and Arcana.
Five Predictions for 2019
With all of that knowledge in play, what is truly to come? Everyone wants to know what new D&D books will come out this year. What trends can we pick out of all this data? Here are some predictions we can make, based on the data we've seen over the past four years.
- Three “backbone” books will be published by Wizards this year, one in spring, one in autumn, and one in winter. This has happened every year since 2015, so this seems like a pretty safe bet.
- The autumn book may be a campaign-sized adventure, and it will be announced in early summer with a massive media kickoff event. I suspect that this adventure will have a planar bent some sort of link to Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, which teased dozens of new planar monsters, just like Volo’s Guide teased some very interesting monsters that later found a home in Tomb of Annihilation. There's no hard evidence for the planar theme, but with all the references to the broader Multiverse and even to Sigil, the heart of the Planescape campaign setting, fans of the planes are champing at the bit for an adventure that goes beyond the Material Plane.
- The spring book may either be a new book of player options like Xanathar’s Guide to Everything or a book that combines interest for players and Dungeon Masters, like Volo’s Guide to Monsters. This is definitely the weakest piece of speculation. There's just not enough data to know what's really going to happen this spring. We've seen a new campaign-length adventure in Princes, new monsters and races in Volo's Guide, an adventure anthology in Yawning Portal, and new monsters and extraplanar lore in Mordenkainen's Tome. What could be next?
- The winter book may be a companion to the autumn adventure. If it has a planar bent, maybe it will include player options that support extraplanar adventures? Winter books have historically been the most surefire D&D releases, like with the all-but guaranteed bestseller Xanathar's Guide to Everything, and the something-for-everyone release Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage. That said, they can also be highly experimental, such as the out-of-left-field Guildmaster's Guide to Ravnica. Do you think the winter book will be a crowd-pleaser, or something that really pushes the envelope of what D&D can be?
- Two other game books will be published by Wizards of the Coast this year, but they will be developed by an outside team. D&D is growing so quickly that simply releasing three books a year probably won't cut it. I hope that they don't publish too much, to avoid overwhelming everyone with books they don't have time to read, but I also want Wizards to be able to cater to people with more niche interests. How do you think they could strike this balance well?
Wild, Hopeful Speculation
It stands to reason that the autumn adventure will be accompanied by the usual supporting products: dice, map packs, miniatures, a DM Screen, and maybe even a board game. I hope that D&D will receive a brand-new, big-budget video game RPG, in the vein of Dragon Age. The D&D brand is large enough to leverage into a triple-A video game adaptation, and it would help the game reach the video game-playing audience. It might support the autumn adventure, but it could also stand alone. A planar angle could support a “loose link” between the RPG adventure and video game, because of the expansive nature of the D&D Multiverse.
If a huge new game like this is released, it would make sense for it to debut (or at least be demo'd) at the summer storyline kickoff event. On that note, the kickoff events have grown more and more accessible to the public with each passing year. Stream of Annihilation was strictly invite-only, and Stream of Many Eyes was only available to the public if they purchased an expensive ticket. One way to make the event more than just a show would be to get people to stay longer. Last year, a ticket got you a tour through the Waterdeep set and a drink in the Yawning Portal, then the chance to eat lunch and buy some swag outside the studio, followed by the live show you bought a ticket for. Then you were ushered out after those two or three hours. If guests were able to hang around longer, in a larger space, there could be room for partners creating other D&D products to show off what they're planning for the year to come. In this scenario, the ticketing scheme would definitely be different from Stream of Many Eyes, where your ticket was tied to a specific live streaming show. Guests would likely purchase a general admission ticket, and then purchase tickets for other events they wish to go to.
We also already know one product that will definitely be releasing in February 2019: Tactical Maps Reincarnated. These full-color poster maps are compiled from 3rd and 4th Edition products, and support tactical gameplay. That’s great news if you’re a fan of crunchy combat encounters.
These guesses are nothing more than wishful thinking, but I still can't wait for 2019. It's going to be a good year for D&D. What do you think will come out of D&D in 2019? Leave your predictions in the comments!
James Haeck is the lead writer for D&D Beyond, the co-author of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and the Critical Role Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting, the DM of Worlds Apart, and a freelance writer for Wizards of the Coast, the D&D Adventurers League, and Kobold Press. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his partner Hannah and their prophetic kittens Mei and Marzipan. You can usually find him wasting time on Twitter at @jamesjhaeck.