The following is a thought experiment. I imagined what I would create if Wizards of the Coast let me design a book for them for Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition that could showcase the best independent talents I have run across in the OSR, in the story game movement, and getting third party publishers from DMs Guild.
The book would focus on continuing the arc of the new setting that Wizards of the Coast is currently building towards with The Radiant Citadel A setting I predicted in December of 2020: that is to say, a cleaner, less bleak dimension hopping environment. Planescape, only bright and hopeful.
I'm not choosing all of my favorite designers. In some cases, I eliminated people because they have an open dislike for WotC, or, they are prone to controversy and would make the book a non-starter for the Wizards board of directors. And I eliminated people whose work is so dark or mature that it wouldn't quite fit the 5e frame without seriously distorting that person's creative vision.
My goal would be to bring to mainstream 5th edition the incredible energy variety of design styles, and amazing talent that is out there in indie TTRPG circles.
Part of the point of the work would be to help advertise not just WotC's products, but also draw attention to the incredible industry that has grown up around Dungeons & Dragons and its legacy. To help 5e players both have a 5e game with playing, and see the opportunities to expand their horizons at the same time. Which I doubt would really hurt the WotC bottom line.
If I Worked for Wizards...
If I worked for Wizards of the coast right now, I know exactly what I would make. I would take Ravinica, Strixhaven, The Radiant Citadel, and the Feywild as they are expressed in their various and sundry modules, and interlink them together with a new setting book built around the idea of wandering the planes and looking for wonderment in effect, I'd be taking the concept of the planeswalkers from Magic: the Gathering and cranking it up to 11 for the player characters.
I would create a setting built around four larger nodes of planar travel. Ravinica and the radiant Citadel would be two of those nodes. Sigil a third. And I would build a fourth node in the new book to serve as a travel hub. I would also drop hints about Union, and make reference to travel to the Githyanki cities as well. Among other things, I would draw heavily on both AD&D2e's Planescape, and a lot of the weird and wonderful material from the 3.5e Planar Handbook, which I regard as one of the Forgotten gems of Dungeons & Dragons.
I would work on making it strange, gonzo, and far more out there than they recent publications. Adding a little bit of weirdness to the planes would make a big difference.
And I know exactly who I would hire, from a big range of indie artists and developers.
Hankerin Ferinale for Dealing out Punishment
Putting rules like the ones in hardcore mode in a specific environment would allow DMS to experiment with variant rules and options without committing to them. They might find their players more open to experimenting with tweaks to the difficulty more readily if they feel they can escape from it with a plane shift.
Bruce Cordell for Mystery
Thanks to his consistently amazing settings, such as the implied setting in the 3.5 Complete Psionics, and the far more parsed out - and amazing - worlds in The Strange, I would make Bruce Cordell in charge of creating an extremely alien world. Possibly something with pure energy beings or super intelligences.
Mike Evans and James Ward for an Alien City
Chris Kutalik for Strange New FiendsChris Kutalik, would almost be perfect for this job. Especially if he encapsulated it in a relatively short Point Crawl Adventure.
Jacob Hurst for Perilous Wilds and Contentious FactionsHot Springs Island is the perfect model.
What really makes hot springs Islands shine, however, isn't just the way the hex map is presented, it's how he built factions that live in that location in a meaningful way, clearly connected to their environment, and how he built a delicate balance of power tied to the setting and then acted like a powder keg where the PCS actions building a house good set off Wars chaos, or even planetary destruction. That is something that 5e players deserve to be exposed to.
Harley Stroh to Start it Right
Bessai and Hoffman for a Wild Tour
Angus Bessai and Patrick Hoffman wrote Winds of Madness, an absolutely stunning module that integrated the Far Plane, the Frostfell, Spelljammer, and Planescape in one amazing whirlwind. If they could take more recent material and do it again, my mind would be thoroughly blown.
Derek Ruiz for Romance
Derek Ruiz wrote my favorite adventure in Candlekeep Mysteries, Sarah of Yellowcrest Manor. It was an adventure that incorporated a lot of complex, three-dimensional NPCs whose motivations drove the adventure. If I wanted an adventure built around NPCs with personal depth, Ruiz would be my writer.
Luka Rejec for a Fantastic Journey
Ultraviolet Grasslands and the Black City was a strange, beautiful psychedelic journey. His far-future Earth was so strange and otherworldly. I would love a planar journey that mirrored an Orphic Journey through the underworld created by Luka Rejec. This would be another great opportunity to showcase the Survival-and-exploration style of adventure.
Matt Colville for Playing God
One of my favorite pieces of Magic the gathering lore that Dungeons and Dragons now touches on is the idea that planeswalkers occasionally so the seeds for great events. When the danger of Phyrexia was discovered, several planeswalkers found a world where time moved faster and created a race of living magical constructs called the Thran who would perfect magical arts, a culture, and religion all designed to make them the perfect weapons against The inevitable Phyrexian invasion.
While I'm not sure I want to do the whole Thran / Phyrexian war (although I could,) I love the idea of shaping a world over time. It is like a highly Advanced version of The domain and immortal levels of play, and could be really exciting to you combined with a scaled Mass combat rule. I certainly have ideas about how I would accomplish it, but if I were to get someone else to do it it would be mad colville, as he has put considerable effort into actually making a 5e version of dominion rules that function. I would love to see how he would extend his acumen for building societies in the abstract.
Prescott for Beautiful Strangeness
Michael Prescott of Trilemma Adventures creates gorgeous one-page dungeons that are beautiful in design, epic in scope, and weird in all the right ways. A world - or chaotic planescape - populated by a handful of his dungeons linked by a common puzzle would be radical for a D&D5e book. It might even change the way 5e players think about the game.
Axian Spice for a Spark of Creativity
Yum/DM for Weird Gear
Moriya as Feature Artist
|Image from Overlight by
I mean, look at this stuff!
Visually I would want to focus on bright, colourful design, but avoid the "cute" feel of recent work
|Cover for "The Winds
of Madness" by Diego Iñigo
Iñigo's work is consistently beautiful and he has a great eye for line and color that really captures the aesthetic that I would love to capture in this theoretical project.
|image from UVG by Luka Rejec
I think it would be worthwhile as a creative experiment to pair artists and writers to brainstorm together.
Stawicki for Weird
Matt Stawicki's illustrations are bright, energetic, and really capture some of the oddest, most bizarre ideas I have run across in TTRPGs.
Diesel for Characters
Sarah K. Diesel creates absolutely stunning character art in vibrant colors using clean, elegant lines that would really fit the aesthetic I have in mind.
|"Chrysanthemum" by Sarah Diesel
Kuip for Bright Landscapes
Guido Kuip has some pretty amazing work and I love his strange landscapes. I think he would be ideal for bringing some of the places these authors would create to life.
|Image from Numenéra: Discover by Guido Kuip
Dirk! For Flare
As a design choice, as I'm creating my own dream WotC 5e book here, I would create some cryptic seals at the beginning of every Adventure using the art of Dirk Detweiler Lietchy. These would specifically be designed to be juxtaposed to the clean lines and vivid colors that appear pretty much everywhere else in the book.
Image by Dirk Detweiler from Troika!