So here's a little trivia bit about me: I listen to a lot of Top 40 Pop music. Why, you ask? Because I skate a lot. And if you go to roller rinks in America (especially on weekend afternoons) you will here two hours of the most common pop tunes out there. I will say this, though, I don't find them offensive, just bland. That's because they've been designed that way--to appeal to the broadest (young) audience.
The latest iteration of the D&D feels the same way. It's not bad, it's not offensive, it's actually okay. But it is built to be as inoffensive and homogenized and possessing the broadest general appeal. But there's a problem, and it has to do with cola.
Not Coke, or Pepsi, just cola. You go into any restaurant and you can have a cola. Yes, they'll either be Coke or Pepsi and I get people have preferences, but you can get a cola anywhere. In fact, the whole restaurant/beverage relationship is designed that way. And if it was 1980 when there were not loads of other games out there, I think D&D would go gangbusters because you'd walk into a store and you would only have a few selections. And one of them, the latest version of D&D, wouldn't be half bad. You'd play it and you would probably have fun.
But here's the thing: it isn't 1980 and this isn't a restaurant. In my hometown of Lawrence there's a store called Mass Street Soda. Mass Street Soda touts over 1000 kinds of soda from around the globe. You want bacon soda? Celery soda? Japanese soda whose flavor can best be described as "blue"? You can have that. And yes, you could buy a Coke or Pepsi but I can guarantee that no one does, because why would you want to when you could have Gingerbread House soda?
This is D&D's problem. It's plain. It's designed to be plain as to not offend and to try to reach the broadest audience. But it is bringing nothing to the table at this point. Why not run 13th Age? Or Torchbearer? Or a host of other games that have innovative ideas or neat rules or fascinating backgrounds? If you had to play D&D, you could. Just like you could drink a cola. But the market is spoiled for options right now, and cola isn't going to cut it.