As Wizards of the Coast works toward updating the Fifth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons in 2024, public playtesting plays its own critical role. For years Wizards has used feedback from “Unearthed Arcana,” the moniker given to the playtesting materials offered to D&D players, as a metric for future development of the TTRPG. The D&D design team shared insights at a recent press event about how influential survey results from Unearthed Arcana can be, and how that feedback has already affected the 2024 updates for the core books.
Wizards regularly offers playtest materials for specific areas of the game they wish to focus on. Player’s Handbook is the current focus for Unearthed Arcana, a.k.a. “UA,” as of the writing of this article. (Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual will have their turns in the near future.) Wizards of the Coast is offering a free download of rules for testing weapons and spells, along with a new glossary and more. After a pre-announced amount of time, Wizards invites players to submit a survey about their experiences using the rules in playtesting. It’s much more important than you might expect.
“The Unearthed Arcana survey is the primary way we can dig into what people have written in a very systematic way,” said D&D Game Design Architect Jeremy Crawford.
The D&D design team looks for a 70% satisfaction rating by UA players for officially adding playtested changes to the game. That means no matter how much Crawford and fellow Game Design Architect Christopher Perkins might personally like a rule or mechanic update, they said, if it doesn’t reach that 70% it won’t make it into the 2024 update of core books.
The Ardling as a new playable species, for example, didn’t pass muster during the Unearthed Arcana phase. It only garnered the satisfaction of “little more than half” of players surveyed, Crawford said. A change that made rolling a 1 or a natural 20 guarantee automatic failure or success respectively also didn’t make it past UA playtesting. Neither change received enough approval in the survey to make the official leap into the 2024 Player’s Handbook.
Once a design feature or mechanic does reach that crucial 70%, it doesn’t mean the work on it is complete. The Dungeons & Dragons team keeps iterating on and improving the design until it’s ready to officially become part of the game.
With measurable data and feedback, Crawford said, he and his team can see not only the results as a snapshot of recent playtesting, but also track longtime trends as players change the way they play the game. “The survey is like a collage collected over years to see cycles of popularity,” he said.
Digital toolset D&D Beyond, which joined Wizards of the Coast in 2022, gives the design team even more data about characters and beyond. Rangers have a reputation for being unpopular, Crawford recalled as one example. However, class ranking data on D&D Beyond says otherwise. Druid and monk are actually the least created classes, he revealed.
“Fighter, cleric, rogue, and wizard are almost always in the top four classes,” Crawford said. (Warlock once enjoyed a nice stint in the top four.)
While quantitative data in the Unearthed Arcana surveys are one of the primary sources Wizards looks at while developing the biggest update to D&D in 10 years, the designers also consider comments in the UA feedback, along with social media reactions and more. “Sales are another factor,” added executive producer Kyle Brinks.
If you’re ready to get in on the playtesting action to make your voice heard, it’s happening now on D&D Beyond. Wizard plans staggered release updates to the core rulebooks in 2024.
Kelly Knox (she/her) is a Seattle-area author and entertainment writer who also contributes to StarWars.com, DCComics.com, and more. Follow her on Twitter at @kelly_knox to talk about just about everything pop culture.