Dungeons & Dragons Wants Its Own Mighty Nein

Dungeons & Dragons Wants Its Own Mighty Nein

Set in the Forgotten Realms of Dungeons & Dragons, The Fallbacks: Bound for Ruin is a new novel from bestselling author Jaleigh Johnson. The novel centres around an all-new adventuring party whose exploits “will be chronicled across multiple publishing initiatives,” according to the press release.

Apparently, the main characters—a five-class adventuring party—weren’t created entirely by the author, but were in fact “designed by the Dungeons & Dragons team.” Which sounds bonkers to me, personally. The Fallbacks “honour the game’s founding classes while putting a contemporary spin on fantasy archetypes.”

Image: Penguin Random House

Paul Morrissey, publishing lead at Wizards of the Coast, says the characters are “compelling and innovative,” which is pretty standard Press Release-Speak but also mirrors a lot of the ways that people speak about Actual Play characters. And also, people don’t want compelling and innovative characters. They want characters that are unhinged and horny. Jot that one down.

The book seems a classic fantasy intro; it’s about a group of adventurers who need to prove themselves in order to become the best adventuring party. Their first mission is a fetch quest. The team consists of the classics: a rogue, a fighter, a wizard, a cleric, a bard, and an Uggie, a pet otyugh “who loves giving hugs and eating trash.” The fetch quest goes sideways fast when their client is found dead and they’ve got to deal with a sentient grimoire and the mounting pressure of figuring out exactly what their team callsign should be. Like I said, classic.

But, to give the WotC marketing team its kudos, classic fantasy has been doing great for Dungeons & Dragons. The movie was successful, people continue to buy the rehashed settings the company pumps out at a blisteringly fast rate, and its FAST channel includes a new season of Encounter Party, an established and popular Actual Play podcast that sticks to D&D but slims down the table talk.

This isn’t a dig on Johnson, who has very likely written a perfectly good (and possibly great) fantasy novel tied up in the D&D mythos, but more of an observation of what Wizards is doing here. For all intents and purposes it looks like it’s trying to replicate the success of popular Actual Plays by developing this curated group of adventurers and putting them in easily imaginable situations that audiences have been primed to crave, after over a decade of Dungeons & Dragons APs and video games exploiting the same fantasy tropes over and over.

The Mighty Nein, which was referenced in the title of this article and is an adventuring party created by Critical Role for its second season, has been widely influential in bringing people into the D&D lifestyle and, subsequently, the gaming hobby. Fanart, fanfic, games, and cosplays abound. It might be a niche fandom, but it’s massive for what it is, and Wizards clearly thinks that with its own name brand and Penguin Random House’s distribution, it’s perfectly primed to be a part of that fandom space too.

There is a clear desire here to own the work that uses its intellectual property, and might be a more salient part of the plan that was aborted when the OGL 1.1 was cancelled. Wizards of the Coast has realized that it needs to step up to the plate rather than rely on other people’s work to make money. In classic fantasy fashion, and to borrow a line, we’ll see if it works out for them.

Dungeons & Dragons: The Fallbacks: Bound for Ruin is available for preorder. It will release on March 5, 2024.

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