Am I ready for a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons? It is an interesting question because – at the moment – I am very content with the 4th Edition campaigns I am either running or playing. I’ve been playing 4e for over two years, and I certainly plan to see the campaigns through to Level 30. But I imagine our groups will launch into the next version of D&D in some capacity when it is released.
During the past week, I’ve read with great interest the reactions by fans, designers and other members of the D&D community. A poll at EN World, which already has over 1,700 responses, demonstrates that approximately 60% of respondents are feeling positive about the news, while 30% are neutral and 10% are feeling negative about the next edition. Since 90% of the respondents do not hate the idea of another iteration of D&D, I think this is a positive sign for the game to at least get a chance to succeed. However, another way to interpret the data is that 40% of the respondents are not feeling positive about D&D Next, which is currently the default name for the new edition.
The following article is another instance of taking a theory from psychology, the Transtheoretical Model (pictured below), and applying it to gaming. In this case, I’ll be discussing a model that describes the process of change. The model address a variety of stages in terms of preparedness to change, and I believe the model may assist everyone in understanding how ready and willing players of earlier editions are to change over to D&D Next. Change is often conceptualized as an “all or nothing” behavior, but in reality, it is a multi-stage process.
Through the article below, I discuss stages-of-change through the lens of my previous work as a smoking-cessation counselor, which brings me to a very important caveat. While smoking is an unhealthy behavior, playing an earlier edition of D&D is not an unhealthy behavior! There is nothing inherently wrong about deciding not to play the new version of D&D whenever it is released. There are no judgements here! However, the commentary and examples below illustrate the concepts and different stages of the Transtheoretical Model, which can be applied to individuals and their decision-making process of whether or not to play D&D Next when it is released.
Precontemplation (Not Ready)
People at the precontemplation stage have no intention of shifting their behavior in the near future. For example, a person who smokes a pack of cigarettes each day may have friends, family and doctors telling them the importance of quitting smoking, but the person has no interest in quitting. It does not matter how often you suggest quitting smoking, the person is not ready for change; he or she does not even see it as an option!
People in this stage may benefit from learning more about the positives of changing behavior, but are not likely to respond to having others tell them, “Oh, just try it. You’ll love it!” People in the precontemplation stage benefit from specific information about the benefits of changing their behavior. To shift back to D&D Next, learning more about specifics of the new gameplay and how that will positively change an individual’s gaming experience will help to move them to the next stage of change. But as a general rule, precontemplators typically underestimate the benefits of changing and overestimate the consequences.
Referencing EN World’s poll results once again, the 10% who feel negatively about the future of D&D are in the precontemplation stage of change. They are not ready to change in any way at the moment, and the thought of D&D “shifting gears” or “advancing” causes them to shut down any thoughts of accepting a new direction for the game. The slang term often used for this group of individuals is grognards.
If Wizards of the Coast wants to reach these individuals, then they need to approach them with specific information about the new game. The precontemplators need to learn enough potential positives about changing their behavior that they’ll move from not even considering change to at least considering it a little bit. Forcing a precontemplator into a D&D Next session is likely to backfire; it would be like locking someone in a room without cigarettes and expecting them not to smoke once you let them out. You cannot force change, but you can educate and present potential positive outcomes for the precontemplators/grognards.
Contemplation (Thinking About It)
People at the contemplation stage intend to change behavior within the next few months, but are not fully committed. While those in this stage are aware of the benefits of changing, the consequences of change balance the decision scale. The equality of benefits and consequences leads to ambivalence, which can result in them putting off behavior change for additional time or changing their mind completely and moving back to precontemplation.
The key point for individuals in this stage is to discuss the possible consequences of the change. For example, if the perceived consequences of change can be reduced, then the decision scale would tip in favor of following through with the change since there would be more benefits associated with the change. In working with people considering quitting smoking, I would often talk with them about their reasons for continuing to smoke and their reasons for thinking about quitting. The goal is not to convince them to quit smoking, but to elicit their reasons for changing or not changing. Eventually, the person focuses more on the benefits of changing their behavior.
Returning to the discussion of D&D Next, players in the contemplation stage would benefit from WotC listening to the most common concerns about the new edition and releasing detailed responses to reduce the perceived consequences of change. Individuals at this stage may still be resistant to playing the game just once. Again, the “Try it, you might like it” approach will be unsuccessful. According to the EN World poll results, it seems the 30% of participants that responded “Neutral” fall in the contemplation stage. They are not completely resistant to change, but they are not in favor of change either.
Combined with those in the precontemplation stage, the contemplators make up 40% of D&D players who have replied to the EN World survey, which is a substantial number for WotC to convince in the coming months. During the conclusion, I humbly offer suggestions for how to connect with individuals in the precontemplation or contemplation stage.
Stage 3: Preparation (Getting Ready)
People at the preparation stage are ready to take action in the very near future. For those quitting smoking, they are willing to set a quit date or engage in other behaviors to limit smoking (e.g., only smoking outdoors, reducing cigarette consumption by 50%, etc.). The individuals in this stage no longer need convincing to make changes, but may need support to make the change a lasting one.
These are the 60% of individuals who responded “Positive” in the EN World poll, but this does not mean they will stay in this stage forever. People in this stage can slide back to further feelings of ambivalence and doubt. It is crucial to strengthen the commitment and motivation for change. People in this stage are often encouraged to seek support from friends they trust and tell people about their plan to change their behavior.
Many of the members of the online D&D community who are active on blogs fall into this category. Already, gamers are discussing possible strategies for the change to D&D Next and providing support to one another. A primary concern for the people in this stage – even though they are ready to take action – is the possibility that they will fail. In the case of D&D Next, this means that they’re ready to give the game a chance, but hold reservations about long-term commitment to the change.
Until the game is opened for a wider playtest, players of D&D will fall into one of the three stages above. Players may shift from one stage to the next (and back again) as time progresses and new information is available about the product. An important concept to grasp is that the stages of change are not all-or-none. Change is not like pulling the trigger of a gun where there is no turning back. Instead, change is something that is a process the occurs before, during and after change takes place.
Stage 4: Action (Ready)
Except for a few fortunate few who have already played the game, the remaining stages have not yet been possible for players of D&D since the game is not available. As the open playtest proceeds and the game is eventually released, individuals can enter this stage by changing their behavior to play the new game. The individuals in the action stage will continue to strengthen their commitment to change and fight urges to slide back to previous behaviors.
Returning to the smoking example, an individual that has successfully quit smoking would benefit from avoiding temptations that would draw them back to earlier behaviors. Staying away from friends and family that constantly smoke or areas (i.e., bars, clubs) where smoking is prominent can be vital to prolonged success. Individuals in this stage can benefit from techniques that enhance their commitment to the behavior change.
In the case of D&D Next, perhaps WotC can provide incentives and useful resources for early adopters of the product. Another important step for individuals to remain in this stage is avoiding people and situations that tempt them to return back to previous habits. Given the nature of online discourse, players who have decided to change to D&D Next would do well to avoid cruising websites that offer negative views of the game they have now decided to play.
Stage 5: Maintenance (Continuing)
People at the maintenance stage have already successfully changed their behavior and kep the commitment for at least several months. As with the action stage above, it is important for individuals in this stage to be stay away from stressful situations that may reduce commitment to their behavior change.
For example, perhaps a DM is thoroughly enjoying a new campaign of D&D Next with a group of players, but has a friend who wants to join the game but has often railed against the new rules. Adding this player to the group is likely to cause stress as this person is likely to be unhappy playing the game and may sully the experience for everyone in the campaign. Even though individuals have reached the maintenance stage, they can still slide back to previous stages by losing their commitment to the change through a relapse.
It is recommended that people in this stage seek support from people whom they trust. Again, the online gaming community can be a wonderful or a dark place depending on where one looks. If you want to continue with the change to D&D Next, then stay away from known areas (blogs, websites, etc.) that tear down the product and those who play it. Gain support for other individuals who are learning the play the game and enjoying it, and feed each other’s interest in maintaining the change moving forward.
How To Facilitate Change
While playing earlier editions of D&D is not an unhealthy behavior, I assume Wizards of the Coast is hopeful that the majority of players of previous editions will change their behavior to support the new product. In some cases, they are seeking to change behaviors that have been taking place for over 30 years. This is no easy feat! I believe they are already doing a wonderful job of engaging the online community by sharing information about the development process and actively soliciting questions and feedback. But moving forward, players will need more concrete information about the game to decrease their ambivalence about changing to D&D Next.
Actual Play Podcasts/Videos. I think this should happen after they have had the opportunity to receive feedback from the playtests, but as the game takes shape, it would be extremely helpful to hear and see the game. The vast majority of players are not going to participate in the open playtest of D&D Next. But clicking a link to listen to a podcast or watch a video of D&D Next being played is an easy way to learn about the new rules, mechanics and “feel” of the game. I started playing 4th Edition after approximately 20 years of being away from tabletop gaming once I listened to the hilariously entertaining Penny Arcade/PvP Dungeons & Dragons podcasts. It hooked me back into the game even though I never opened a rule book or had a current gaming group. It simply sounded like a great time, and I wanted to try it. A series of weekly podcasts of actual play videos from one or more campaigns - perhaps with different styles of play – would do wonders to spread the word on the product and answer questions.
Focus on Positives. A common pitfall of attempting to change behavior is focusing too much on the reasons an individual is avoiding change. For example, the person may be asked, “What’s holding you back from playing the new version?” or “Why don’t you want to give D&D Next a try?” The individuals being asked these questions is being encouraged to talk about negatives associated with change, which only reinforces their decision to avoid change. It is certainly important to understand concerns about potential consequences of change, but WotC should be certain to ask players to describe possible benefits of the switch to D&D Next, “What did you enjoy about the new game?” or “What was a pleasant surprise about the experience of playing D&D Next?” These questions encourage the individual to talk about positives associated with change, which may provide fuel for long-term behavior change and increased motivation and committment.
Decisional Balance Sheet. Once the game has been playtested and WotC has collected a great deal of feedback on the perceived benefits and consequences of changing behavior to play D&D Next, they could create a decisional balance sheet to illustrate the most common consequences and benefits offered by people. This could be combined with a Frequently Asked Questions document that could educate individuals who are either in the precontemplation or contemplation stage of change. For example, the balance sheet may list benefits the individual has not considered in addition to addressing and dispelling perceived consequences about playing D&D Next. A quite interesting option for WotC is to create a sheet like this through their website and let players fill out the form. It would encourage players to consider change by the simple act of completing the form, and it would give WotC meaningful data while developing the product and their future plans to change their players behavior.