I think D&D Next is scheduled to be released on September 18 of this year.
In the comments of my post from last night pointing out the “reprints” of the Players Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide, sharp eyed James Mishler pointed out that the Wizards RPG Team also had something called “Provolone” scheduled for release the same day, which was also available for pre-order:
James thought– justifiably so, I think– that this “Provolone” was the Monster Manual, since that would complete the trio of 3.5 core books. But the more I think about it, the more I think the identification of the first two books available for pre-order on September 18 was a mistake by Barnes & Noble. I think they’re the D&D Next books.
Because “Provolone” sure sounds like a code-name to me.
It would make a certain amount of sense; it’s certainly been the case that online booksellers, especially the massive ones like Amazon and BN.com, have screwed up details of forthcoming gaming products often enough in the past. I think Barnes & Noble put those entries “live” on their website early, by mistake, and the identification of the first two books as 3.5 was also a mistake. I note that none of them appears on the Amazon.com website. That wouldn’t make sense if this really was a 3.5 reprint.
If my theory about a B&N screw-up is true, that leaves us with the notion that WotC is rushing to get D&D Next out the door. The official announcement was January 9, 2012. But we know they’ve been working on the game for at least a year leading up to that (and probably longer); they had a complete (although not polished) game ready for the D&D Experience convention that same month, and we know that the initial playtesters have had a complete game in their hot little hands for about the same amount of time.
It would finally make the timing of the announcement make sense. Remember how a lot of people were wondering three months ago why WotC would announce 5E while 4E was still on the shelves? Surely they knew the announcement would kill 4E’s sales; how could they take that for a whole year or more, until 5E was ready to release?
I think a September release date suddenly makes that all make sense. The design of D&D Next is pretty well wrapped up. They’re just polishing it at this point. The input from the open playtest will be used to patch up any glaring holes, anything that’s broken mechanically that they missed with their in-house and non-disclosure-agreement-burdened testers. Maybe they figure three months or so is enough time to catch and patch any glaring holes. They’d certainly have enormous pre-release buzz at GenCon, and might just have some previews of the books there (or an early convention-only release, if they can swing it).
Could this be why Monte Cook jumped ship? Because corporate was pushing to get the game out this year, before he thought it would be ready?
All this is just speculation, of course, but it does fit the available facts, and makes some moves from January that didn’t make any sense suddenly seem not so crazy.