Last week, Wizards of the Coast posted news of a revival of the classic Spelljammer setting for Dungeons & Dragons. Spelljammer is a space fantasy that includes magical spacefaring ships and solar systems locked in crystalline spheres. It's a weird, gonzo setting that hearkens back to the roots of the fantasy genre before Tolkien's works dominated the scene. When we saw the post, we were excited for a solid five minutes before realizing the date: April 1st. Womp-womp. Cue the sad trombone.
One might ask, why would republishing a fan favorite be a joke? Many of the comments on the post expressed excitement at the prospect of resurrecting Spelljammer, and many expressed disappointment that it was an April Fool's joke. Few were critical at the prospect of bringing Spelljammer to D&D 5e. Although D&D 2e is arguably the least popular edition of the game, it is fondly remembered for its fantastic settings. That's why we find the current direction of Wizards of the Coast to be so strange. They publish D&D-cum-Hogwarts and Matt Mercer's homebrew; they woo Magic: The Gathering players and Rick and Morty fans.
We're not knocking anyone who enjoys the current batch of content, and we understand why Wizards of the Coast has published it: Harry Potter and Critical Role are big money. Those old settings have big audiences too. Ravenloft's popular revisitation in Curse of Strahd proves D&D players are ready to shell out shekels for the classics.
History repeats itself, and when it doesn't, it rhymes. Herein we witness a rhyming error that plagued D&D 4e: the attempt to draw in new players while ignoring existing player base. D&D 4e tried to bring in new blood by changing the game drastically. Innovation is necessary, but the resulting game didn't feel like D&D to much of the fanbase. And their sales numbers suffered.
WotC's 5e strategy seeks to incorporate fresh blood by creating new settings. We have mixed feelings on the upcoming Radiant Citadel. On one hand, its vibrancy and interdimensional weirdness seems like a spiritual successor to Planescape. On the other hand…why not update Planescape and take some artistic license with it? Radiant Citadel's marketing emphasizes diversity and the authorship of people/women of color, which could easily be done with any of the older settings. Furthermore, with at least one adventure designed to be "accessible to...streamers and content creators," it's as if WotC is marketing to D&D watchers rather than D&D players.
To be clear, this is not nerd rage at the growing playerbase or the newer content. By all means, let's add to the D&D repertoire. We're ready for WotC to shut up and take our money when they do revisit the classics.