Archive for January, 2012

D&D Next and limits to growth

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

From a somewhat disturbing post over on Story Games:

And yet another different D&D freelancer friend said:

“This is why D&D 4E is called an indie game. It tells you how to play. Many of us know that the rules are better than they have ever been design wise but that’s not the point. Look at Iron Heroes designed by Mike Mearls. The same people who loved that game, a game which was similar to 4E in many ways, hated 4E. Why? They actually like the rules in many cases. But they don’t want to be told this is the way to play. These games are about people. They are about friends. And you don’t know my friends better than I do.”

Now, that’s just the opinion of one alleged freelancer, and even if we took it as truth, it doesn’t pose a large problem… unless you’re interested in the accessibility of D&D. The trouble with not telling people how to play is it limits the game’s growth to the oral tradition. A new group, as in people who don’t know (or don’t know they know) anyone else who plays, must fill in that deliberately larger gap between the rules and the table all on their own, which A) has a lot of known bad side effects, and B) simply fails more often – often enough that I’d guess it doesn’t replace players faster than they drop out.

By returning to not (fully) telling you how to play, Wizards is accepting that D&D is inaccessible from the outside and that the best it can do is reclaim some old players. As we’ve discussed, with D&D Next they’re likely really just aiming to win back recent converts to Pathfinder. That’ll do, corporately speaking; that’ll hold the line. It disappoints those of us who’d rather that D&D were closer to a living part of gaming culture than an archival piece, but it does suit Hasbro’s general M.O. and stated reason for investing in D&D at all: getting value out of a brand through an array of ancillary products. Hell, I kind of don’t know why they don’t just distribute the core RPG books for free. (They haven’t said they won’t, of course; in my view it’d be a smart way to return to the PDF market.)

There are ways, though, that Wizards could make the oral tradition more effective. They’ve announced that they are revamping the D&D website, which is good, but my confidence is a little low that they’ll be able to do what’s really required: utterly changing their online corporate voice. If they did manage it, they could be the oral tradition, the place people go to see and hear what this hobby is and what it looks like when people live it. The right selection of official YouTube videos alone would be a great step towards clearing away the annoyingly persistent confusion about just exactly what it is you do when you play D&D.

That would possibly reopen the door to the world at large. But from what we know right now, that isn’t a goal.

So I guess there’s also gonna be an old D&D

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Yesterday Wizards announced they’ll be reprinting the 1st Edition AD&D core books in new collectible (in the pre-Magic sense of the word, thanks) editions this April. We can only assume that the choice of reprinting this particular edition, rather than the white box or something else you can’t readily find in free boxes on the curb, was chosen for reasons of rights and convenience on Wizards’ part. It would certainly speak volumes about the supposed commitment to embracing all editions in D&D Next if some other reprints got the same treatment.

EDIT Mike is a jerk: it makes a certain amount of sense that this is a reprint of the last major edition of D&D that Gary Gygax was personally invested in, since the books are a benefit for the Gygax Memorial Fund. Okay then.

So I guess there’s gonna be a new D&D or something

Monday, January 9th, 2012

Taste the excitement. For those who missed, D&D Next (that’s all they’re calling it thus far) has been announced, and an open playtest set to begin in the spring can be yours if you go click on one of a selection of shiny red buttons. Here’s what I had to say on the Twits:

  • I don’t envy WotC right now. They can’t possibly do it right for most people, and most people will say so.
  • All WotC’s horses and all WotC’s men want to put the fractured play base together again. (4E didn’t start the breaks, but did worsen ’em.)
  • And amazingly, they have something resembling clear messaging about just that! It’s all over this Mearls interview.
  • The danger now lies in how that openness comes across. 4E’s strength was you could come in totally cold and actually have a successful game.
  • A D&D-for-everyone has a hard job if it wants to be that accessible. (As I’ve written lately, I think Risk Legacy can be a guide here.)

On the “D&D Next” topic: this is significant. Everyone on Twitter, and I’m sure other places as well, is screaming about “5E” but no one at Wizards is saying the number 5. That’s because (turn back now if you fear rampant speculation) Wizards wants “editions” to go away. They create confusion amongst consumers. Wizards doesn’t much care about our nerdfights – there will always be nerdfights – but once it got so bad that Pathfinder actually made a dent in the consciousness of consumers outside the nerd bubble, that got their attention. By and large, the mass of D&D players (the ones who get it at Walmart-or-whatever) don’t even notice independent games, and certainly not fantasy ones; Wizards would like it very much if those folks never notice those games again.

And as far as listening to your fans… it can be done right, and it can be done wrong. For now, I’ll call it a good thing that it’s going to be done at all.

2011 in games (or: I resolve to remember to post)

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Risk Legacy is the game of the year. I know, I know, but: even if the persistent nuisance of the core Risk die mechanic isn’t something you can overlook, think of the effect that Legacy will have on future games from (the wealthier amongst) other game publishers. Specifically, imagine what co-op games will do with it. More generally, look at how Legacy introduces new mechanics slowly over time and compare it to the Fluency Play model. Then think of those poor bastards who read about, say, Agricola in the newspaper’s annual board game review and decide to try to use it to institute game night with their family. They’re going to create a lot of confusion, and probably an impression that games in general aren’t for them. The same game, with most of the complexity initially hidden inside little “achievement” envelopes, would be many times more learnable and accessible. The problem isn’t confined to new or casual gamers, either; ask me how I’m doing at absorbing the rules of Eclipse. Better yet, don’t.

And that’s all leaving aside the sheer joy of playing the thing – which, to be fair, may be due in part to shock value that’ll fade once more games of this nature hit the market. (At the very least, I want to see Monopoly Legacy.) This is the new best practice for doing any kind of campaign play in a board game. Don’t just spell out a campaign in the back half of the rulebook, make it theater. Risk Legacy oozes theatricality starting when you crack the seal on the box, and going forward through just about every step (except the rulebook, which is more straightforward for obvious reasons). This is the essence of what a campaign is for, as role-players know; hell, it’s the reason role-playing was made.

This is just my pick. Allan may have a different one. Also if you don’t own Ascending Empires we can’t be friends, so don’t think you can slack off there.

So yeah, we didn’t do a gift guide. Let’s be real, you didn’t have any money to buy people things with anyway. Pook very kindly put some of his picks up in various categories; I don’t feel super qualified to make a call on RPG of 2011, in part because I seem to be doomed to stay 6 months behind, at least, on actually playing anything. I’m tempted to say that the RPG of the year is Kickstarter – if you get your build right, that’s one hell of a reward cycle.

Give us your picks in the comments. Just keep your damn Skyrim off my lawn.