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Sunday, August 19

My Thoughts on D&D 4.0

There's a lot of griping, accusations, and flat-out incorrect information floating around on D&D 4.0. I figured I'd add my two cents to the mix:

You can play D&D with whatever you've got right now. WOTC could never print another page and you'd be set for life. This is a game of imagination, and few hobbies give you the complete building blocks to create more of said hobby for under 100 bucks. You're done. Close your eyes, open your imagination, and never look back.

But there are a lot of folks who don't see it just as a personal hobby. They see it as an investment hobby, with new and interesting ideas added to the game by an official source. They want, they CRAVE, new additions to the game. They look forward to using the new rules that come out or incorporating them into the game already. So they want published books to come out. This follows the typical model of a market, which is a dangerous game any RPG publisher plays since they technically gave you everything you need with the core rules.

But it works, because people buy those unnecessary books.

So from one perspective, D&D is immortal. Whatever you have now is good, you'll never need anything else again, go and have fun.

From another perspective, D&D is a culture of consumers with a common language, defined by WOTC. WOTC continually refines and defines that language by publishing books, so that if we all have Complete Psionic, we all speak the same gaming language and are thus more compatible. This makes us more likely to find new players. This helps keep the community cohesive instead of fragmented. But the rub is that everyone has to buy into it. And of course, not everyone does. So we have fragmentation anyway.

But we have fragmentation amongst OLDER consumers. Markets need fresh blood, that's vital to make them long term consumers. So given the choice...catering between the folks who have been playing for years or providing a new opportunity with each book to catch a new consumer...a business chooses to continue to publish new material and thereby justify its existence. The polite fiction is over: WOTC is a hungry beast and it will continue to make product so long as there are consumers willing to buy it.

Here's my suspicions:

  1. There was finally a downturn in D&D sales. That's an excellent reason to
    launch a new edition alone.
  2. The day D&D stops getting a new edition is the day D&D dies as a business model and transforms into a insular hobby model. Mind you, it will always live on in campaigns, open support, the Internet, my imagination, yadda yadda. But the day the company stops trying to refine a product is the day the game becomes a dead game. Development, evolution, refinement of a product is not only critical to a healthy company; it means the business cares enough about the core product to make it better. The alternative is just declaring the game absolutely fantastic as it is, and end up with Palladium's business model.
  3. WOTC is trying to SAVE D&D by adding it to the Internet. The old social mediums were people getting together in person to party. But the world has changed. With the fragmentation of in-person social networks and the evolution of online social networks, not only should WOTC be pushing this digital initiative, failure to do so means D&D will become an insular hobby, along with model trains. We can all stand around pretending that it's easy to get five kids together to play a game. We can deny that the hobby on the whole has aged and us adults have time to travel two hours so we can play together for four hours (my situation). We can fool ourselves into thinking that D&D is not a complex game, basically two big fat rules manuals that have to be the most challenging barriers to entry for a hobby on the planet -- "Here kid, you wanna play this game? Learn all these rules first. They're over six hundred pages in total and even though we put it in color with fancy illustrations, a huge chunk of it is about math" -- or we can see what makes D&D great and keep making it better for the next generation.

Me? So long as each new edition has something that seems manifestly better than the version before, I'm gonna keep changing. So in another six years or so, my son will have something to play with his dad.


posted by Michael Tresca at 12:19 PM

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  • Good, cool thinking on what will oft be called a hot (though I would say 'hot air') issue.

    If 4th edition implements some of the streamlining choices made for SW:SA, it will be enough to get me DMing again... I just can't manage the front end on current rules.

    By Blogger rainswept, at Tuesday, August 21, 2007 6:19:00 PM  

  • Thanks. I've looked over the new Star Wars and it seems like it's fixing a bunch of the stupid things that D&D needed fixing all along, but they weren't willing to break with tradition.

    Or to put it another way: 3.0 was restrained because they didn't want to harm any sacred cows of D&D, thus we have nine levels of spells (ten, if you count 0 level), magic missile being bizarrely named and extremely powerful at first level, etc. 3.5 was a bug fix as opposed to actually changing the game.

    4.0? "We're throwing anything out that doesn't work, and screw your sacred cows." Which is a good thing, IMO.

    By Blogger talien, at Wednesday, August 22, 2007 7:40:00 AM  

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