D&D’s Quests from the Infinite Staircase will be backward-compatible, here’s how

A tiny blue man, likely a deep gnome, sits atop a giant gila monster wearing a saddle. He’s carrying a trident.
Image: Zezhou Chen/Wizards of the Coast

Wizards threads the needle with its last hardcover book for the original 5th edition ruleset

If there’s one thing that Dungeons & Dragons has gotten right in the last decade, it’s anthologies: meaty volumes filled with disparate adventures loosely connected by a common theme. Titles like Candlekeep Mysteries, Tales from the Yawning Portal, and the Nebula Award-nominated Journeys through the Radiant Citadel are among this generation’s best official materials. At the dawn of a highly publicized revision of the 5th edition ruleset, publisher Wizards of the Coast is making one last stab at greatness. Its final anthology for the current ruleset, Quests from the Infinite Staircase, is landing at retail on July 16.

But as managing game designer Justice Ramin Arman said during a recent press briefing, Infinite Staircase is more than just the last book published for the original 5th edition. It’s also among the first to be published for the game’s 2024 rules revision. That makes it the exemplar for how the legendary tabletop role-playing game plans to handle the issue of backward compatibility.

Historically, every new edition of D&D has pretty much been a clean break, with little but lore connecting one to the next. The result has been a fragmentation of the game’s community on generational fault lines. The most recent example came in 2008, when Wizards launched the 4th edition. Some folks — myself included — liked the 4th edition just fine, and dove headlong into the game and all of its tactical, miniatures-friendly glory. Other folks, not so much. They either moved on to other hobbies or games entirely, or glommed on to Paizo’s Pathfinder, which, at its inception at least, hewed very close to the 3rd edition.

Wizards, and its corporate owner Hasbro, would very much like for that not to happen again. Over the last 10 years, it’s managed to catapult the seminal TTRPG back into the public consciousness, growing its player base to what it claims to be new heights. Having only recently weathered the painful fiasco that was the OGL debacle, Wizards would like to change the narrative with this newly revised ruleset.

Arman said that Infinite Staircase’s adventures are “truly playable regardless of whether you’re using” the Player’s Handbook (2014) or the soon-to-be-released Player’s Handbook (2024), and the same goes for the Monster Manual (2014) and the Monster Manual (2025). So how was that accomplished?

One of the ways is by changing how adventures give good guidance to Dungeon Masters.

“Something I find in older books of ours [is] sometimes when a monster appears, it might have a tactical suggestion or mention a specific monster ability,” Arman said. “A lot of the time that’s great, but if something happens in our [2025] Monster Manual that changes the name of an ability, we don’t want to confuse a DM who [only has access to] the updated version of that text.”

To be more frank, Arman said that Infinite Staircase won’t call out specific spells or abilities for a particular monster to use in a given encounter. Instead, Wizards will give DMs more broad advice for what they should do instead.

“When you see that there’s a Cloaker in this room, the text won’t say, ‘The Cloaker uses Phantasmal Illusions to create three illusory duplicates of itself,’” Arman said. “It might just specify what the Cloaker does without referencing that one-to-one text. What that does is almost give more general guidance in some places that’s more intuitive [than it previously might have been], rather than making it feel like you need to go cross-reference a specific ability or trait [in a book that you don’t have]. Which honestly, I think, makes the adventures more user-friendly, anyway. Because if you’re a new DM picking this text up, you don’t need to know what the abilities of a Cloaker [were in 2014]. You just need to know that it’s hiding, and it attacks.”

Is that guidance going to jibe for harried DMs on the go? Hard to say until we’ve seen all of the updated rules — something that won’t be possible until the revised Monster Manual, the last of the three core rulebooks currently in the production pipeline, is finally published in early 2025. But Arman says the team at Wizards is good for it.

“Look, I was D&D fan […] for a long time [before I came to work at Wizards of the Coast], and I recognize there might be a certain subset of people who are holding out [on the revised core rulebooks],” Arman said. “Is it really backwards compatible? Let’s wait until it comes out, and let’s see. But, you know, I encourage you to do that if that’s what you want to do. And if not, you can trust us. Look at the book when it comes out. You can see it on [D&D Beyond], and see for yourself with the previews we’ve already had for the new PHB [on YouTube]. It’s still just as compatible with the new stuff as it is 2014 stuff.”

Quests from the Infinite Staircase will be available at retail on July 16, including a version with a special alternate art cover made available only at local game stores. Those who pre-order the physical and digital bundle directly from Wizards of the Coast will receive their materials two weeks early on July 9. More information on the Player’s Handbook (2024) is rolling out right now on Wizards’ YouTube channel.

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