Monday, January 16, 2012

D&D moving forward...

I'm sure everybody has already heard about the big 5E announcement from Wizards.  I know there are some out there arguing that it isn't 5E but "something different" that should appeal to fans of all editions because that is what the press release said. I don't have the desire to look it up but I believe the exact wording was "the next iteration" of D&D - sounds like 5E to me.  Let me bring this post back on topic at this point.  This is nothing more than me doing what most everyone else had done on this matter - stating my opinion and/or reaction - so here goes.

My Opinion of 4E
I come from a background of many years of experience with A/D&D in one form or another.  I have played many versions of the game throughout the years; it all started in the summer of 1980.  I know all of the versions share many of the same terms and are put together with many of the same parts.  I believe that Wizards took 4E just a bit too far.  In all honesty, 4E would probably be a great game from another company; one to "compete" with the current set of D&D rules.  As a set of D&D rules I think it just simply does not work. 

What Can Wizards Do For Me?
I admit it - I signed up for the playtest offer.  I am always curious about the newest version of the D&D rules.  I must also admit that the days of purchasing the newest A/D&D rules immediately upon release are gone.  I will approach 5E with an caution.  I hope D&D makes a triumphant return but I have my doubts. There are a few things that will definitely make me happy.

  1. Bring back the pdf sale of older editions.
  2. Drop the reliance on miniatures for combat.
  3. Bring back Dragon magazine in print.
  4. Get rid of the spiky, dungeonpunk art.

I am really not that concerned with 5E.  For older edition play, I have either the retroclones - hell, I'm even helping to write one - or the ability to purchase what I do not have from other sources such as ebay, etc.  For new school D&D I have C&C and also Pathfinder.  I even have a decent sized collection of 4E manuals since a co-worker is selling off his collection at $10 a book.  I have all of the bases covered at the moment so 5E is going to have to be pretty nifty for me to buy in.


  1. Every edition of (A)D&D alienates its fans. Gary had it right with what he was going to do. Consolidate rules, clarify, and tweak. You don't redo. 2E sold poorly because most AD&D players had no reason to switch (why by a stripped down moralized version of AD&D?) 3E did well and it did appeal to many of the 2E fans, but it is not D&D. It is another game with the D&D name. 3.5 managed to keep most of the 3E player base, but moving to 4E lost more than 50% of the previous player base. OGL has allowed Pathfinder to service those players (I really think the OGL was a bad idea and is part of 4E woes.)

    There is no way you are going to get even a majority of all D&D version players to like 5E, or 6E, etc. They are just too different. The best they can hope for is for 5E to be more like D&D 3.75. Something that will bring back 3.5/Pathfinder players and 4E players.

    With 4E, WotC did something smart. They wanted to try and expand the market by appealing to mmorpg players. Much of the mechanics has gone that way (3E layed the groundwork). The problem is that it did not really appeal to the mmo player and drove away your core fans.

    Marketing, PR, advertising, etc is probably the best thing to do to grow the hobby.

    However, if game design is going to be a part of it. You need something easy and flexible. Something that allows the GM to shape the world. It needs to be something that abandons the old class/level based system in favor of a skill based system. It probably should have a point based character creation system so that it is perceived as "fair." There should only be one core rulebook. It should also be available cheaply. Now if only someone had done such a game and put it up on the internet . . . :)

  2. @Darius: That's quite a comment on my post! I believe you are correct in most every aspect of your reply. It is TRUE that every edition of A/D&D alienates fans to varying degrees and numbers. I would have loved to have seen Gygax's AD&D 2E because his ideas were spot on to how the game should have evolved next. Like him or hate him, Gygax should have been in charge of 2E and any other versions until it was no longer possible. Yes, the 2E rules and AD&D rules were mostly compatible but there was a lot lost by de-Gygaxing the game.

    I also agree that there will be no way to get a majority of the D&D players to be big time fans of 5E or 6E. The fan base has been divided and will remain divided. The only question is how many will gravitate this way or that way.

    I disagree about the OGL - actually, I feel it was good and bad. On the plus side, it opened up the official system (mostly) and created a flood of creativity in products, sharing of ideas, and the ability to use someone else's open segments of their products in your products. With the good also came the bad - supplemental and add on products by third parties that were just total crap or rushed to the market to ride the latest wave. Some products sounded really good so if you bought them before word of their suckitude got out then you just stuck with a turd. This reminds of the bloat and expansion that took place during the 2E days and we know how that turned out.

    I do agree that the intentions with 4E were smart. I do, however, further agree that 3.x and 4E BOTH are so far removed from the original that in all fairness they should not be considered "D&D". They both bring good and bad points to the table.

    The last paragraph of your comment is insightful and very true. Plus, it just dawned on me that it hints at PERILOUS JOURNEYS...:-)! BTW, I still owe this blog some posts about PJ. The examination of PJ will continue; work was hectic the last week.

  3. I should clarify about the OGL thing. In the comment, I thought it was a mistake for the profitability of WotC in the long run and part of the cause of their current problems, e.g. Pathfinder can pretty much put out 3.5 material and make money off of a fan base that WotC created and then abandoned.

    The long-term ramifications of the OGL are hard to analyze. On the plus side, it contributed to the initial expansion of the hobby and games. On the bad side, almost all of the products failed. Those that converted to D20/OGL stuff all went back to original systems. There seems to be some push back against the whole thing now, but maybe I am wrong about that.

  4. That's cool - we understand each other pretty well on these points. I agree that the OGL was good for creativity and bad for profitability. I don't believe anyone can argue that at all.

    I think the D20/OGL served best as a springboard to other things. One good example is Mutants & Masterminds. It started off somewhat closer to the standard rules but has evolved way beyond that. I agree that most of the stuff produced during that time seems to have "mutated" into something else. I think there is a push back against some of the OGL stuff at the moment but I *think* it's more a call for quality as opposed to quantity BUT I may very well be wrong about that.

  5. I recall reading in threads that Gary posted in that he felt that lack of quality control was the biggest problem with the OGL. Felt that granting licenses was a better idea.

    I think WotC thought it would be a way to 'kill' other systems and unify around their rules. From my perspective, I just don't think that class/level based games work in most genres. I wonder if D&D had been a skill based game instead if class/level games in fantasy would seem weird also. In a conversation I had a long while back, someone said that was something satisfying about leveling up a class and that the satisfaction you get there makes people prefer those over skill based fantasy games.

    This connected with a different conversation about how 3E was a hybrid class-skill based system in name only gave me the idea to outline a proper class/skill hybrid game. Maybe I will put it out someday, but basically you have a class and skill. When you level, you put points in skills. For example, a Fighter might put points in defense and this will enable additional armor types. I also toyed with adding additional abilities. It will make it more mmo, which I am not sure if good or bad.

    Anyway, instead of detailing a while new system and hijacking your blog, I think I'll stop now.

  6. worries about the hijacking of my blog - I am enjoying the conversation. I like the ideas about the hybrid class/skill game. I would like to hear more of your ideas about the system. Hell, I wouldn't mind lending a hand with the design or playtesting it also. I love to tinker with games and rules so I'm always up for a new game design.

    I believe your perspective about WOTC desiring to "kill" other systems and unify the industry around their rules. I believe they had those intentions long before buying D&D. If you can find and old Cryptych (IIRC) magazine and look for the free sytem known as ENVOY. It was presented as a universal language of RPGs to use in products by any publishers that wanted to use it. IIRC I had that magazine when I was stationed at Ft. Riley, KS and that would have been around 1995.

    I seem to remember those comments from Gygax also. I could definitely get behind a license program. I think they could have mended some T$R fences by just providing a small block of "fan content" text that people could use on their websites for fan material. Then, they could have done a 2-tier license system for print products. First, a "D20 license" for products that are derived from the D20 SRD that would be free but still have to get approved. Second, a license that has to be paid for but the product gets to use a "For Use With Dungeons & Dragons" label on the cover. Of course, there would be many more details than that but that gets the basic idea across.

    As much as I like some of the products that came out of the Open Gaming movement, I would have rather had a fewer amount of products released with an overall much higher content of quality.

  7. I think Savage Worlds does easy licensing. I think it is still a bit too loose. Something like if it is just anyone, it has to say "Fan." If they have a deal with the company it says something else. They just "trust" the companies and don't get more involved. Perhaps the next D&D version will go more in that direction.

    Besides trying to control profit, there is something about having a "universal" system. It makes it easier on player since they don't have to learn a new system - something in my experience has kept people from switching/trying/liking new games. The problem I see is that such a system is very hard to do because no single system can mimic every play style and feel. GURPS is generic and plays generic. Nothing wrong with it, it just feels bland and is too customizable for me. Too many books, no real setting or unifying thing about it. D20 focused on class/levels which doesn't work for most things. Then, those that used it modified the hell out of it so you still had to learn a lot.

    What I saw, was a rush to D20. It was a perceived market share out that that was easy to grab and everyone was a game designer. It was just the lack of a "system" that was holding them back. There were a couple of neat games and a few companies that were basically homebrew that nurtured their little niche idea into something that was successful. Most weren't that lucky. Class/level works mostly in games where you want a linear progression of power with set archetypes.

    Anyway, was for the Hybrid System, I went with it two ways - mmorpg and D&D-esque. I will give you the mmo one because it is the one I remember the best.

    Basically you start with an archetype. Each archetype has a set of defining skills. For a fighter, it would be armor, bladed weapons, blunt weapons, two weapon fighting, etc. (Not sure on how many there would be or the exact divisions). Then you have generic abilities such as riding a horse. Then you have abilities from other archetypes say healing magic.

    At level 1, you have 1 point in all of your archetype and general skills. At level 2, you get additional points (say 2*new level). You then can spend those points to raise your skills. The further away skills are from your archetype, the more points it costs to put something in it. No skill can ever be higher than your level.

    Additionally, you could have things unlocked by using points to raise these skills. (This is where it gets very mmoish). You get special attacks that say stun a target, cause bleeding damage (dot), etc. You unlock new spells. Also, the higher your armor, not only the greater your defense but the better armor you can use.

    The idea is that you start with one "class" but then you can learn skills in pretty much any other "class." This way you can build whatever character type you want. In AD&D, a Fighter/MU was always the same. Under this hyrbid system, if you start off as a figher and learn magic, you will be a better fighter than a Magic-user who learns how to use a sword and wear chain-mail. The MU would be better as spells.

    Anyway, that is the jist of how it would work. The key part would be the list of skills. While I described more of an mmo way of doing things by focusing on combat, if I did a final version I would likely use PJ skills as the base. I would then divide them up. Not to such a specific extent as maybe by examples I used, but less broad than they are now.

    I would likely use a D20 to resolve things. So, if you want to know if you hit something with a sword, you roll against your bladed weapons rating plus bonuses from like STR or magic items. AC/Defense would reduce damage.

    Anyway, that is the idea in a nutshell.

  8. I like it! I would definitely like to see more of the rules. You hit the problem with GURPS right on the head. More thoughts later - I'm getting ready to go to work.

  9. More of the rules would have to wait for time as well as a specific focus for the project. Is it meant to be PJ turned into a Class/Level game? Is it something new? If so, do I go for 3E+ or OD&D?

    For example, take defense. I said there is a more D&D route. One way to so that is have AC/Defense that determines IF you hit. There are different ways to do this. If you used say that D&D AC table, then you add the AC to your chance to hit. So if your target has an AC of 5, and you have a skill of 3 with a sword, then you need to roll 8 or less. If you had an AC of -1, then you need a 2 or less.

    A less D&D way to do it is to subtract the defense skill for the attack skill. Armor then just determines how much is absorbed.

    So I have no idea what of the many approaches is best until I know what the end goal would be. Personally, I prefer simple resolutions with minimal math. This makes me want a single check. I also don't like the idea of Armor making it harder 'to hit' which always confused people because of the terminology. It was really an abstracting of lots of parries and attacks. Such things won't fly with modern gamers used to MMO's. Those things can be cleaned up with a change of terminology. You have a Defense Skill. So you can say that you made a successful swing, but it was blocked by a shield or a parry.

    So yeah, a bit of a conundrum on what way to go with this and other issues.

  10. After a rough few days of work, I am back and ready to check out the blogosphere. I think you laid out a pretty good idea for a system in your last two comments here. Sure, it's just a skeleton and needs to be fleshed out but I like what I have read.

    I think the MMOish approach is very interesting. I think you are on the right track by starting with the PJ skills and then dividing them up into more fine tuned selections.

    A universal resolution mechanic is definitely the way to go. Don't get me wrong, I love AD&D and it's varied resolution mechanics, but the less variation in the rules is better. The game will be easier to learn and teach.

    I also agree about Armor or Defense absorbing damage instead of making one harder to hit. I kind of like the method you mentioned about subtracting the defense skill from the offense skill. This sounds like it would reduce the number of calculations and rolls during play.

    Sounds interesting so far.