Dungeons & Dragons: Art & Arcana, the exceptional visual history of the original tabletop role-playing game, is getting a sequel. Lore & Legends: A Visual Celebration of the Fifth Edition of the World’s Greatest Roleplaying Game will chart the explosive mainstream growth of 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons, exploring its impact on modern pop culture (and vice versa) and the rise of actual play that brought new players into the D&D fold.
Polygon recently sat down with its authors of the new art book to discuss their approach to the material, and to learn more about what the book will (and will not) cover when it arrives on Oct. 3.
The biggest draw here — other than the unprecedented access to Wizards of the Coast staff and primary sources — is the team helming the project: Michael Witwer, author of Empire of Imagination: Gary Gygax and the Birth of Dungeons & Dragons; Kyle Newman, the filmmaker behind Fanboys and Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made; Emmy-nominated actor Sam Witwer, best known as the voice of Darth Maul; and historian Jon Peterson, author of Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons and other books. That’s the quartet that brought us Art & Arcana in 2018, by the way.
“After the success of Art & Arcana, Wizards obviously was interested in working with us more on similar projects,” Peterson told Polygon in an interview with the group. “We realized that there was a rare opportunity to tell the more recent story of the game. If you look at Art & Arcana, it really runs out of steam circa 2017 or so. But something happened between 2013 and 2018 that is a very unlikely thing to have happened — a tabletop brand in this digital age suddenly became this massive, mainstream activity of a whole throng of people. So the question that really sparked this for us, and the story we try to tell in the book is: Why? What happened?”
That singular question propelled the foursome into the project, which began with a close look at the dozens of rulebooks, campaign books, video games, and other first-party content produced by Wizards and its partners. But they also journeyed well outside the walls of the publisher’s Seattle-based headquarters to chart the course of another kind of entertainment media entirely — the growth of actual play.
“You cannot ignore actual play,” said Witwer. The book will chart its growth from the early days of Penny Arcade’s Acquisitions Incorporated to The Adventure Zone, and beyond.
“We all understand that everything changed pretty significantly in 2015,” Witwer continued, “when this group of well-established voice actors put on a show called Critical Role. [...] That changed the game.”
The book will also linger on the many cultural touchstones of modern media that referenced, or fully incorporated, D&D into their storylines. That includes Netflix’s Stranger Things and the recently-released film Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.
“It was a perfect storm of influences, and that’s why we’re here,” said Newman. “You’re watching it go from a tabletop game, to almost a lifestyle brand. You’re watching the brand itself change its identity, and continually evolve over those years.”
Authors tell Polygon that even the core game material, which spans from 2014 all the way to the present day, is actually well more than most players can fully comprehend. That makes this historical look back valuable not just for casual fans, but for experienced players as well.
“One of the things we talked about early on was, ‘Is this going to be an interesting book?’” Newman said. “But if you’re a DM, there’s no way you’ve DMed everything. So for us to be able to explore everything was a big opportunity, because we can expose people to some of these different rulebooks and different campaigns in a way that [Wizards] didn’t market it. [...] These are the connective tissues, and that’s where we spend a lot of time in how we curate, and juxtapose, and shape that story.”
One thing that the book will not contain, however, is a discussion of the Open Gaming License (OGL) fiasco that broke earlier this year. While a leaked version of a new licensing agreement may have galvanized D&D’s fandom into pushing its corporate owner, Hasbro, to relinquish some of its control over the beloved brand, the incident fell well outside the bounds of what the Lore & Legends team set out to do.
“We are definitely interested in how the fan community in particular steers the brand,” said Peterson. “Wizards has always navigated, and I think they have tried very hard to create the game that the fan community wants to have, and to update the game to reflect what that is as it changes over time. And it always changed, and it will continue to change going forward.”
“If you pick up a D&D adventure and you’re looking forward to playing it with your friends,” said Witwer, “there generally isn’t, say, a chapter on the OGL in that adventure. This was all coming from a place of enthusiasm, and what we have learned in our road from Art & Arcana to now is that the enthusiasm is quite an interesting story.”
Lore & Legends: A Visual Celebration of the Fifth Edition of the World’s Greatest Roleplaying Game is currently available for preorder from your local bookseller and online.