In celebration of D&D’s 45th anniversary, Wizards of the Coast released a beautiful set of metal dice, featuring a sapphire set in one of the d20. There are some other things that come along with the set; a nice display box, some stats for a Sapphire Dragon, and so on. And there is Clever Marketing™ all over this. They are only releasing 1,974 sets, for instance, in honour of D&D first being published in 1974. The sapphire is not only the 45th anniversary stone, but the 5th anniversary stone, so it also celebrates the anniversary of 5E. I’m not going to link to it, but if you search you can scroll through a whole page of hype before getting to the price at the bottom. Yes, this celebratory set of dice sells for a cool $299.95USD.
Let me be clear right from the start, I have no quibble with WotC partnering with Level Up Dice to create an expensive set of dice for their anniversary. Sometimes game companies are going to create expensive collectibles for our hobby, and that isn’t inherently bad. There are folks who will buy a set of these and enjoy their purchase for years to come. And to forestall any, “You’re just butt hurt because you can’t afford them!” comments, I can afford them. I work a well-paying, full-time job. While dropping $300 on a set of dice wouldn’t be insignificant, I could afford to do it. I’m just not going to.
My issue is that this seems to be the only thing WotC is doing to celebrate either of these milestones. In fact, if I type “celebrate 45 years of D&D” into my search engine, the first two pages of results all relate to the sale of this dice set. I have to get to page three before I see anything else, mostly op-eds regarding, you guessed it, the sale of these dice. But what I don’t see is any word from WotC about celebrating these anniversaries with anyone except the 1,974 people who purchase this set.
As of March of this year, there are an estimated 13.7 million folx playing D&D worldwide. Because large numbers are large, if I subtract 1,974 from 13.7 million, I’m pretty much left with 13.7 million. So WotC Marketing decided the best way to celebrate the anniversaries of both D&D and 5E was to sell an expensive item to a statistically insignificant portion of the millions of players who have made their game popular. To put this into further perspective, dividing 13.7 million by 1,974 means that one in 6,940 of us get to celebrate with WotC. The other 6,939 get to look at the pretty dice (assuming we can close enough to a set) and think warm thoughts, I guess?
What bugs me about this is twofold. First, at a time when the hobby as a whole is working to be ever more inclusive, WotC Marketing decides on a “celebration” driven by FOMO and elitism. Everything about the way they have marketed these dice, from their limited numbers to the “own a piece of history” rhetoric to the price point, makes it seems like WotC only wants to celebrate with the elite, and only after they have forked over their $300 for the party. If you aren’t one of those 1,974 people who can afford a ticket? Well gosh, hope you keep playing! Now here’s a warm slap on the ass, get back in there, champ!
The second thing that bugs me is that I know WotC is actually capable of celebrating an anniversary better than this. I was running in-store games during the 30th anniversary celebration (or 35th? Okay, the old memory is tricky). For that anniversary we received a box of stuff to help us run a special game day. It contained dice, figures, and special anniversary mechanical pencils to hand out to players and DMs, with enough for us to support up to six tables of D&D. The dice weren’t super special, and the mechanical pencil was white plastic with the D&D logo and “30th Anniversary” stamped on the side. I still have it, actually; when it ran out of lead I put it on my shelf so it wouldn’t get beat up in my dice bag anymore. But the point is, about forty of us got together in a game store one Saturday and celebrated the anniversary of D&D in the best way possible: by playing the game. And it didn’t cost anyone there a dime.
Now, it is possible that WotC Marketing has some sort of community celebration planned, something that will reach out to the majority of the 13.7 million players supporting their game. But if so, all their marketing around this dice set has blocked word of it getting out. It’s also possible that WotC Marketing may pull something together last minute, as a reaction to the somewhat mixed response the dice have received. But that’s all it will be, a reaction, an offering designed to appease rather than celebrate.
As I said before, I won’t be buying a set of these. I hold nothing against anyone who does, because frankly, it’s a beautiful product and Level Up Dice should be proud of the design. For me, though, this dice set isn’t a celebration, however desperately WotC Marketing might frame it as such. Clever marketing around an anniversary? Sure. A celebration? To me, that suggests wanting everyone involved in your success to take part, and this is not that. It’s not even a signpost showing the way to the road that takes you to that.
Instead, I am going to take the $300 I could have spent on these dice and go shopping on Itch.io and DriveThruRPG, picking up some excellent games and supplements from marginalized creators in our hobby. I won’t do that all at once, but I’ll finish up by the end of January. I’ll post here with my purchases so you can see some of the amazing stuff to be found. To me, that seems a better way to use $300 to celebrate my hobby.
Feel free to leave a comment below or track me down on Twitter (@DorklordCanada), I’m happy to hear your thoughts. And if you would like to get yourself or someone you know an adorable Hedgicorn for their 5E game, you can do that on DM’s Guild. All proceeds go to support Extra Life, so not only do you get something fun for your table, but you help out sick kids around the Holidays.