Complete Mike Mearls D&D 4th Edition Essentials Interview

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Complete Mike Mearls D&D 4th Edition Essentials Interview

The full story behind the 4th Edition and the Red Box.

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I'm only commenting on the "Introduction" to the interview; and I'd like to say, that was well and diplomatically said...
Hell, you didn't even ask anyone for their home address to sort it out later :)

It is interesting, and I hope a good sign, that people feel so strongly about this that the kind of emotionally-charged knee-jerk responses to which the intro was a rejoinder to - and a clarification to prevent further - that they care so much, even if it comes out irrationally perhaps;
has to be a sign that the hobby is not dead.

I sit sinking as a business? Well, I'd like to point out that "real role-playing games" have always been a niche - the better games never had much of a market anyway - and the truth is, TSR tried to make money by expanding the demographic and watering down games in the 80's -
which tended to drive away the original audience to other games - but it was in search of a larger audience. Much of TSR's revenue wasn't from games anyway, or was tied into the "many buckets" of it's sub-settings.
And that's exaclty the point - it HAD to be - there was only so large a market for RPG's then, and once they bought their core books, you had to make more product or get a larger audience to sell to.

We see this in movies and video games frequently enough.

We see it now as, I hope many recall, after spellfire and dragondice, TSR/WOTC tried to compete with the mageknight-heroclix "fad" by releasing "chainamil" - then more successfully re-releasing it as D&D Miniatures.

I don't think many people disagree that 4th hoped to expand the fan base in the same way that TSr tried to in the 80's - this time the model is mini's games ( more the kitschy ones than the "realistic" tactical wargames D&d is from, chainmail name aside), and quite relatedly,
it's avowed similarity to MMO's.

Love it or leave it, the impression I get is that 4th, making the game more reflective of it's competition, succeeded with some and failed with others, based entirely on what they want and expect in a RPG - and that Mr Mearls simply has a different model than his predecessors.

Death knell or not, I wouldn't claim to know, but I'd like to point out, the market for the actual RPG's was never as large as that for video games, for MMO's, for Magic & it's copies...

It's a niche, but it's a large niche.

I like to see that he's invested in the work. I like the 4.0 system but I can't keep up with buying so many books for options. BUT, there ARE options. I would really like to let them know that they did a good job no matter what ppl say still clinging to 3.5. My own gaming group has long dismembered mostly b/c of life but also a split as to 3.5 vs. 4. To be honest I played 4 for the shortest amount of time but I found that to be more enjoyable. I like the nuances that you could find in combining powers. So congrats Wizards on a job well done. I will be back to play as soon as I can find another group :).

I have to say, I appreciated reading this interview. I'm not exactly a "consume and move on" player, but I always enjoyed 4th for the ability to make the characters I could never quite pull off in earlier editions.

AzraelSteel:
I have to say, I appreciated reading this interview. I'm not exactly a "consume and move on" player, but I always enjoyed 4th for the ability to make the characters I could never quite pull off in earlier editions.

I am curious - and this is in no way an insult, slight , or whatever -

this is a question of taste and preference , not "a right way" argument...

I am curious if you are an anime/manga fan and if the characters you built are kind of "super-heroish" in the manga/ kung fu/ final fantasy character sense?

It seemed to me alot of the controversy over 4th was ultimately about how much someone likes that in their game ( the teifling, eldar, and dragon races point at this nicely ).

So may I ask what kind of caharcters you made in 4th that wouldn't have worked as well in previous editions?

Badger Kyre:

AzraelSteel:
I have to say, I appreciated reading this interview. I'm not exactly a "consume and move on" player, but I always enjoyed 4th for the ability to make the characters I could never quite pull off in earlier editions.

I am curious - and this is in no way an insult, slight , or whatever -

this is a question of taste and preference , not "a right way" argument...

I am curious if you are an anime/manga fan and if the characters you built are kind of "super-heroish" in the manga/ kung fu/ final fantasy character sense?

It seemed to me alot of the controversy over 4th was ultimately about how much someone likes that in their game ( the teifling, eldar, and dragon races point at this nicely ).

So may I ask what kind of caharcters you made in 4th that wouldn't have worked as well in previous editions?

Well, for me, there's the Warlord class. In 3.5, I don't remember seeing a class made to lead people. (Here, I'm talking about the multiple player's handbook and the "Complete" books of 3.5)

With my warlord, I never attack to do dmg. My attacks place others on the field, make allies who are better than me attack, sustain and buff my allies. Maybe a cleric in 3.5 could do that, but you can't have a cleric that doesn't follow a deity.

lomylithruldor:

Well, for me, there's the Warlord class. In 3.5, I don't remember seeing a class made to lead people. (Here, I'm talking about the multiple player's handbook and the "Complete" books of 3.5)

With my warlord, I never attack to do dmg. My attacks place others on the field, make allies who are better than me attack, sustain and buff my allies. Maybe a cleric in 3.5 could do that, but you can't have a cleric that doesn't follow a deity.

Off the top of my head the Miniature's Handbook had two: The Marshal and the Warchief, with the Marshal being the closer fit.

Obviously different books series have seen different levels of balance (and acceptance,) but the Miniature's Handbooks "seems legit" in hindsight if for no other reason than D&D's now heavy emphasis (if not reliance) on miniatures. It was hardly something out of way left field like Tome of Battle. Which, given the similarities between ToB and 4th Ed actually seems like a really poor comparison.

In the economics of the roleplaying games, i see one unique point, which was mentionted at the end of the Interview by Mike, when he said that people still play starcraft.
The question is, how much money got blizzard of them after there purchase of starcraft?

Once someone/a group has found the perfect rpg for their tastes, they play it forever, because the creation of new material and houserules is so easy.
For the players that is great, for the industry not so good.
My gamemaster has found Shadowrun 2/3 and Earthdawn as best for his taste. Both systems are out of print, but the limiting factor of our fun, is finding time for sessions, not running out of material.
So, we have a business, where making you customers happy and not making them happy is bad for your longterm success.
So changing stuff is necessary for succes, once you have grown to a certain point. Because the people, who where perfectly happy with your old game, dont need a new one.

I'm glad you posted the whole interview. It really brought out some of the parts I was curious about when reading the abridged interview.

Now that I understand the goals and mindset behind Essentials better, and understand where Mike is coming from on a personal level, I just wanted to wish you luck, Mike. I'm one of WOTC's harshest critics, as you can see from my blog and from posts I've made all over the place as Joethelawyer, but hopefully you can change my perception going forward. It really does seem like your heart is in the right place on this. If you can make it so that D&D is still on the shelves when my nieces and nephews go to college, and has enough of a fanbase to ensure that they can get a PnP RPG pickup game on campus, I'll put you right up there with Dancy as one of the people who helped preserve the hobby I love for the people I love.

I'm assuming you are reading this, Mike, because of your comments in the article, so I'll just go ahead and ask it: Why not make the pdf's of all the older edition material available again? In one fell swoop you would regain a tremendous amount of goodwill from part of the community you are trying to sell Essentials to. At least the part that can create a lot of positive buzz about it.

Joe

http://wondrousimaginings.blogspot.com

Badger Kyre:

AzraelSteel:
I have to say, I appreciated reading this interview. I'm not exactly a "consume and move on" player, but I always enjoyed 4th for the ability to make the characters I could never quite pull off in earlier editions.

I am curious - and this is in no way an insult, slight , or whatever -

this is a question of taste and preference , not "a right way" argument...

I am curious if you are an anime/manga fan and if the characters you built are kind of "super-heroish" in the manga/ kung fu/ final fantasy character sense?

It seemed to me alot of the controversy over 4th was ultimately about how much someone likes that in their game ( the teifling, eldar, and dragon races point at this nicely ).

So may I ask what kind of caharcters you made in 4th that wouldn't have worked as well in previous editions?

I'm a 29 year vet of D&D as well, and I very much dislike manga in my games; Tieflings, dragonborn and eladrin (in the guise of high elves) have been in the game for a lot longer than manga has been popular, and I honestly don't see parallels with these races. 4th would not do manag themes well at all, in my opinion. It seems like Exalted was tailor made for such, anyway.

As to the article: interesting rebuttal, but I think it's an unfortunate response/rise to the ridiculous level of flame bait going on over at rpg.net; as a gamer myself who believes games are best played, not debated and picked apart endlessly, I find little controversy here, other than in how sad this aging hobby can look at times as it seems to try and tear itself apart; for some reason paper and pencil rpgs aren't handling generational transitions/aging demographic issues very well, it seems.

But still, good rebuttal, I suppose!

I was impressed with this interview - I'm one of those that gave up on 4e in favor of other games because of, primarily, the "dissociation" problem. I game to take on the role of a character and immerse in a fantasy world, and it seemed like 4e was too focused on being a tactical wargame to pay that much mind. I am very happy that some of that's been acknowledged and it makes me much more likely to take a look at D&D Essentials.

mxyzplk:
I was impressed with this interview - I'm one of those that gave up on 4e in favor of other games because of, primarily, the "dissociation" problem. I game to take on the role of a character and immerse in a fantasy world, and it seemed like 4e was too focused on being a tactical wargame to pay that much mind. I am very happy that some of that's been acknowledged and it makes me much more likely to take a look at D&D Essentials.

I'll post more thoroughly later, but this is much of my sentiment. The fact that you show such a grasp of the gamne design blog language is encouraging in and of itself.

Alexander Macris:
I have not seen evidence - in the form of press releases, announced sales figures, or retail shelf space - that D&D 4th Edition is doing as well as 3rd Edition or Magic: The Gathering once did.

Then do the research. You're a journalist, after all.

You could start with how 4th Edition saw larger print runs than 3rd Edition and still sold through them faster than 3rd Edition. Or you could look at how 4th Edition placed better and lasted longer on bestseller lists than 3rd Edition. Or you could factor in D&D Insider and how it's allowed WotC to cut out the middle men and increase profits without selling more books. Or you could note that 4th Edition managed all this and more despite debuting in the middle of the Great Recession.

Or you could just be a typical uninformed interweb writer.

Ouch, that RPG.Net thread is full of vitriol. They REALLY don't like you.

I'll admit that I am a 4E scheptic. Not as much as my friends, I at least bought the core books, but still very critical of the massive changes they did to the system. I don't like the shortened skill list, as that makes characters within a point or two of having the same bonus on many skills. I REALLY don't like the minatures rules with the pushing/pulling powers. And just the general MMORPG feel, with 'timers' on powers, marking, the labeling of the roles classes are 'supposed' to play and that you can disenchant magic items into Dream Dus.....I mean Residiuum.

But that interview seemed pretty balanced. You asked questions that needed to be asked and we received better (in my opinion) answers than we have received from the other people who have held Mr. Mearls job.

I wanna believe that he will guide the system back to better days, but it really is a wait and see game.

PS: THAC0!!!!!!

camazotz:

I'm a 29 year vet of D&D as well, and I very much dislike manga in my games; Tieflings, dragonborn and eladrin (in the guise of high elves) have been in the game for a lot longer than manga has been popular, and I honestly don't see parallels with these races. 4th would not do manag themes well at all, in my opinion. It seems like Exalted was tailor made for such, anyway.

As to the article: interesting rebuttal, but I think it's an unfortunate response/rise to the ridiculous level of flame bait going on over at rpg.net; as a gamer myself who believes games are best played, not debated and picked apart endlessly, I find little controversy here, other than in how sad this aging hobby can look at times as it seems to try and tear itself apart; for some reason paper and pencil rpgs aren't handling generational transitions/aging demographic issues very well, it seems.

But still, good rebuttal, I suppose!

Well, I think the manga/ kung fu/ superhero stuff all takes up the same "head space", so to speak - MovieBob did an article on that, using hogwarts/ x-men et al as his example.

I think thematically, even if you disagree with my "manga" / final fantasy term, the point is still valid - the older "pulp" fantasy tended to be more about the "hero" - less super -
whereas the "newer" fantasy tends to have more of a "superhero" ( what i call manga- ish ) feel-
and I don't totally disagree with you - alot of that shift i saw, myself, when TSR started purposefully marketing towards the "comic book" demographic ( and you're right, that is before manga had made it's way into western fantasy).

ALOT of the underlying argument to me SEEMS to come down to that difference in taste - people who like the grim "realistic" fantasy ( MArtin or Cook would be modern examples of this sensibilty) as opposed to people who like more of the "superhero" high fantasy ( Salvatore is a good example of that )

I think this point remains valid even if you disagree with my terms.

ANd i want to be clear that although I MYSELf have my preferences, I don't say "my way" is the right/ true/ perfect way - 'tis a matter of taste and flavor.
I think alot of the debate is, unintentionally, people defending their preference on this.

Relatedly is the "dissociated mechanic" issue, which to me mirrors this - some people want an RPG to be, more or less their interaction with a fantasy world that, until RPG's, one could only spectate in instead of participate in...

I'd like to think that, relatedly, this comes back to what you said - a good part of why rpg's as we knew them may be "threatened" - the ability to interact is no longer a "new" concept/ monopoly.

Certanly a recurring theme in Mr Mearns discussion is the accessibility of interacting, that other mediums prove to be easier, or at least more accessible, than the traditional RPG with all it's complexity and "volume".

Edit/ Post script - i personally don't like 4th very much - matter of taste - and i definitely feel it is geared towards "super" characters.
I also think 3rd was BETTER as a tactical wargame, Temple of Ellie Evil being a fine example - certainly the characters had more tactical OPTIONS with feats than are offered in the powers choices in 4th.
The only thing I personally liked about 4th, mechanically, was that FINALLY your combat skill makes you harder to hit ( which we have always had as a house rule).
Interesting, seems I am not the only one that started D&D in '81.
Moldvay/ Erol Otus cover basic set FTW.
We tell the Hobgoblins: " Gary sent us".

And by the way:

camazotz:

I'm a 29 year vet of D&D as well, and I very much dislike manga in my games; Tieflings, dragonborn and eladrin (in the guise of high elves) have been in the game for a lot longer than manga has been popular, and I honestly don't see parallels with these races. 4th would not do manag themes well at all, in my opinion. It seems like Exalted was tailor made for such, anyway.

Dragonborn? "Dragonborn were originally introduced in the Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 supplement book Races of the Dragon, published by Wizards of the Coast in 2008. " -wiki

Tiefling? From Planescape, arguably the most 'super' setting of TSR.

Eladrin ( yes, high elves to distinguish from Wood Elves - a Tolkien dichotomy of Hobbit and LOTR, I beleiev ) - with their "bamf" are pretty fucking "manga" super IMO.

The Drow as a player race, and hell, unearthed arcana overall, is when I started noticing this trend, myself - of course the monk was in AD&D, and that's straight out of Kung Fu movies - so
Camazotz's point is still valid - at leats at higher levels when D&d got "super" anyway - my personal taste was always to lower level games anyway ( why i preferred Runequest)...

However, having these kinds of "super powers" as first-level pc's is more the gist of what i meant, and it's certainly a "manga"-like sensibility ( head space ) - and I think that is fairly specific to 4th edition ( or, exaggerated in ). The race choice is simply an indication or symptom of that shift in sensibility/ taste. Giant manga weapons for everyone, of course, was in 3rd's art style too.

Of course, one could always play 4th and not use the races of the "core" setting; which let's be honest, most of us "grognards" always did.
I'd also like to point out that most of the "grognards" are from a period when most gamers had probably suited up in armor and pounded on each other, and were history and monty python buffs. 'Gamer' is a much more broad demographic now.

ALso, may I point out, most people I knew, started with d&d - it was the default - and usually moved on to "better" games - I think that's generally pretty true amongst gamers.

Badger Kyre:

AzraelSteel:
I have to say, I appreciated reading this interview. I'm not exactly a "consume and move on" player, but I always enjoyed 4th for the ability to make the characters I could never quite pull off in earlier editions.

I am curious - and this is in no way an insult, slight , or whatever -

this is a question of taste and preference , not "a right way" argument...

I am curious if you are an anime/manga fan and if the characters you built are kind of "super-heroish" in the manga/ kung fu/ final fantasy character sense?

It seemed to me alot of the controversy over 4th was ultimately about how much someone likes that in their game ( the teifling, eldar, and dragon races point at this nicely ).

So may I ask what kind of caharcters you made in 4th that wouldn't have worked as well in previous editions?

I will preface my answer with this: I do watch some anime and play some JRPGs. But when I say I can build things that I never could before, I mean that I am able to better realize them because despite a first glance making the powers seem very similar, I can use them to build the character I really want, almost always without the multiclassing I ended up doing in 3.5.

A good example is a character I build who I wanted to be a mage who could manipulate time and space using arcane magic. Nothing spectacular, but changing things (3.5 had the Truenamer who could do similar things, but that was SPECTACULARLY broken at almost all levels) to benefit himself and his party. How? I was able to use the mechanics of a bard, to the letter, to accomplish this. The flavor was the big thing to it, though. Healing? Reversing time so the wounds were never taken. Damage? Warp the character, but not quite right (Bards have a TON of push/pull/slide powers). And that's just the first example. Pretty much every character I've played has been something I would have to work my ass off in multiclassing to even approximate in 3.5.

I can't remember where the source was (want to say on the Escapist) that the difference between 3.5 and 4e is a difference between high fantasy and low fantasy. That each game, by its nature, attracts certain individuals to play. And I can say without a doubt that I am a high fantasy person when it comes to books or movies or whatnot.

For gawds sake why couldn't Wizards release some software during the 3rd edition phase that made DMing a lot less like doing your taxes?

I want a fiendish half dragon ogre mummy with two warrior class levels so he can wear full plate. It would take an two hours to actually stat that out and be legit under the rules. Or I could just make up the numbers but at that point I might as well just declare the outcome of the encounter "boss monster will kill 2 players" and fudge the dice until that happens.

I want to hit one button and get the loot and encounter breakdown for a level 3 challenge rating dungeon. I want hundreds of dungeon templates so I can pick "abandoned mine" "sewer" "evil temple" "natural cave" "haunted house" and generate rooms, hallways, etc automatically with descriptions and potential encounters.

I want to be able to print out my dungeons room by room so I don't have to describe the map to my players and waste 1/4 of the play time correcting their maps.

Dammit now I'm slightly motivated to try to make this as a web application....

----

My best 3rd edition dnd session...the players level 10ish were after this minotaur wizard to prevent him from becoming a lich. What they didn't know was that his base was a maze of mirrored crystal, and chained on the end of his staff was an enslaved beholder who the minotaur used to shoot eyebeams down the maze corridors.

Interesting read. Long, but interesting. I bought read and gave away the original core 4E books. Just not my game. I still don't have the desire to play 4E, Essentials or original format. I play 3.5 / Pathfinder (still). One thing that popped into my mind while reading this was how much of the D&D experience you shared with Mearls that I didn't have (I've been playing since 1974). The reaction / connection to a "Red Box" edition of D&D isn't there for me. For me, the nostalgia / connection would be with a small wood print box and three little brown books (the white box was later printings). I was deep enough into the game that the whole "basic" D&D thing didn't impact me. I went from original D&D (grudginly) into 1st edition AD&D and on into 2E AD&D, 3E / 3.5 and skipped what was the intro experience for a lot of other older players. It makes me wonder how my view of the game would differ if I had started just a bit later. As I said, interesting interview.

Good luck to Mearl's and crew. 4E isn't my thing but that's not to say it's a bad game -- just a different one from what I play. One downside of being an adult is that I don't have the time to diversify and try / play multiple RPGs. Other than making time for playtesting a new OGL RPG of my favorite setting :) Can't not do that...

*edit* I was pondering another of your articles on long term campaigns. My time is spread out among a number of hobbies / activities and a job that absorbs 60+ hours a week during the school year. I'd say I have less time for optional / hobby activities than I did pre career / marriage / kids if not less time period... speaking of which, time to get back to grading papers before the sun rises.

christofsch:
In the economics of the roleplaying games, i see one unique point, which was mentionted at the end of the Interview by Mike, when he said that people still play starcraft.
The question is, how much money got blizzard of them after there purchase of starcraft?

Once someone/a group has found the perfect rpg for their tastes, they play it forever, because the creation of new material and houserules is so easy.
For the players that is great, for the industry not so good.
My gamemaster has found Shadowrun 2/3 and Earthdawn as best for his taste. Both systems are out of print, but the limiting factor of our fun, is finding time for sessions, not running out of material.
So, we have a business, where making you customers happy and not making them happy is bad for your longterm success.
So changing stuff is necessary for succes, once you have grown to a certain point. Because the people, who where perfectly happy with your old game, dont need a new one.

Great first post.

This is all there is to it. The fans of the old, can and should stick to the old. The new is for players unsatisfied with the old.

veloper:

christofsch:
In the economics of the roleplaying games, i see one unique point, which was mentionted at the end of the Interview by Mike, when he said that people still play starcraft.
The question is, how much money got blizzard of them after there purchase of starcraft?

Once someone/a group has found the perfect rpg for their tastes, they play it forever, because the creation of new material and houserules is so easy.
For the players that is great, for the industry not so good.
My gamemaster has found Shadowrun 2/3 and Earthdawn as best for his taste. Both systems are out of print, but the limiting factor of our fun, is finding time for sessions, not running out of material.
So, we have a business, where making you customers happy and not making them happy is bad for your longterm success.
So changing stuff is necessary for succes, once you have grown to a certain point. Because the people, who where perfectly happy with your old game, dont need a new one.

Great first post.

This is all there is to it. The fans of the old, can and should stick to the old. The new is for players unsatisfied with the old.

With the specific example of Starcraft, I'm pretty sure they still make a moderate amount of money from it. There's advertisements on Battle.net (at least pre-Battle.net 2.0) and there's the brand loyalty associated with Blizzard's games and more specifically Starcraft 2 (and its 3 separate parts.) I'm pretty sure that, while it's no World of Warcraft, they're still making a profit from it - especially since the development costs are long-gone.

The point's more valid for tabletop games, partially because of the expectations of the medium, partially because there's fewer things to flat-out upgrade like graphics.

But there are still a number of things that can be applied to improve a game system. Eliminating needless complexity is a big one of them (THAC0 from 2nd edition, saving throws versus attack rolls from 3rd/3.5 edition.) There's also tweaking balance and adding in a few more interesting abilities - Pathfinder and 3.5 both were editions focused around this idea, and they did a pretty good job. There are also shifts in gaming philosophy, newer ideas for more elegant mechanics that couldn't be done before because no-one had thought of them. These all contribute to the value of a new edition, which is precisely where the designers make their money.

4th edition had a number of improvements on the system, but it also screwed with the focus to a degree that previous editions had not. There are few rules for what characters can do outside of combat (aside from skill challenges, which are still not hard-and-fast determinants of a character's abilities.) Some decisions could be described as baffling and unnecessary (removing half of the alignment system.) Everything was focused around combat moreso than previous editions - the out-of-combat abilities of rituals were carefully designed to deny any abuse, but that also limited creativity (and put a constant price tag on making your wizard feel like a wizard.) Combat was much-improved from the already excellent 3.5 combat and positioning mechanics, but it became harder to tweak the feel of the game without upsetting the balance of the different classes and in many cases swapped out out-of-combat mechanical clarity for the in-combat clarity. Oozes can go prone, undead can be sneak attacked, web spells can't be burned away, which simplify the rules but now there's a wider gulf to explain exactly what happened.

There's also the change in tone from earlier editions. 4e exudes a sense of "everyone wants to be an adventurer and slaughter monsters all day," borne out by the class/race/power descriptions, alignment system, lack of out-of-combat rules, and pretty much everything cosmetic about the whole design. It encourages roleplaying to be a colorful aside to the combat and does little to explain the increased gap between the logic of the game-world and the real-world. As an example, I still remember the 2nd edition Dungeon Master's Guide trying to explain how vast amounts of wealth could be just lying around in treasure hoards for adventurers to pick up, and looking at medieval history for inspiration in how to actually store wealth. 3rd edition dropped that and similar rationalizations from the actual books and put price tags on and a marketplace for magic items as a commodity. 4th edition went even further than that and just suffused the game with a MMO-style economy of eternally escalating item prices and bonuses, ignoring that any 21st level character could feed a kingdom for 20 years instead of upgrading their +4 Belt Buckle of Shininess to a +5. The whole setting is working from a self-referential viewpoint on fantasy, not one connected with reality. It's taken wizards and monsters running around as granted from the previous editions, now it's turning what was originally ripped from Lord of the Rings into chainmail bikinis, Gandalf zapping orcs with his once-an-encounter lightning bolts, and saving the world into a day job for the adventuring parties of the world.

Can a creative DM overcome that? Absolutely. But they're doing it without much aid from the books and have to work against a lot of the mechanics that balance the game to do so. And the image of the game is rather tied into that whole naive conception of adventuring and saving the world.

Me, I like 4th edition because I'm not that fond of Dungeon and Dragons's settings, even from 2nd edition and on (with the exception of Planescape, though I do prefer Planescape: Torment's more personal/subjective take on it rather than the pen-and-paper version's.) 4e turns what was good combat into excellent combat that rewards tactical thinking and encourages teamwork in ways that most other RPGs don't. A lot of them fall to the problem of specialization in activities: you send in the rogue to disarm traps because he's got the spot checks, the bard to talk with people because he has the high plus to diplomacy, the barbarian to kill things, the priest to heal, and so on. That problem is that most characters who specialize are just flat-out better than anyone else at a given activity, so a 4-man team becomes 4 one-man teams who do only what they're good at, and don't interact with eachother. 4th edition solved that: all characters have diverse but not absolutely necessary capacities within combat and have nothing distinguishing about them outside of combat.

The Red Box seems to be a combination of more options and some of the 3rd edition attempts at increasing the fanbase scope through "dumbing it down" and branding to me. There's more D&D-flavored rules and options from what I read, but what would really interest me - a maturation of the setting through actually examining the setting - just isn't there. Just another supplement, I suppose.

thank you very much for the full interview, very very interesting

I love both 4th ed and the new essential twist

maybe because I am a old D&D fan since 1984 (should have been earlier by here in Italy D&D was hard to find for a young boy)

I have to wonder-- is Alex Macris' resentment of 4th Edition D&D more of an editorially directed mandate (the Escapist bias against 4th Edition D&D and it's fans has been noted in other places- even by Zak S of I hit it with My Axe). Or rather is it just reflective of the creeping disengagement that the Escapist has with today's roleplaying fans?

KCL:
Then do the research. You're a journalist, after all.

You could start with how 4th Edition saw larger print runs than 3rd Edition and still sold through them faster than 3rd Edition. Or you could look at how 4th Edition placed better and lasted longer on bestseller lists than 3rd Edition. Or you could factor in D&D Insider and how it's allowed WotC to cut out the middle men and increase profits without selling more books. Or you could note that 4th Edition managed all this and more despite debuting in the middle of the Great Recession.

Or you could just be a typical uninformed interweb writer.

Let's assume that neither of us is uninformed but instead we've consulted different sources. I'll share my sources, and you share yours.

Best-seller lists are not reliable because what is required to get on a bestseller list is dependent on the list and the genre/category, and is relative to the number of other books being bought. It isn't the equivalent of saying "it's a platinum record". It's very hand wavy, and susceptible to manipulation and shifting sentiment. For a good overview, see:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bestseller

With regard to 4th edition seeing larger print runs than 3rd edition and selling through them faster, that is not my understanding of the facts. Everything I have read has indicated that D&D's two peak years for sales were 1982 (Moldvay Basic and AD&D) and 2001 (D&D 3rd Edition). Joseph Goodman, a highly respected industry figure, circulated some details on this point.

You can find Goodman's analysis here: http://www.circvsmaximvs.com/showthread.php?t=61346

At the time he thought it was fine that 4E was not doing as well as 3E's launch had; but it's worth noting that Goodman has since reduced his support for 4E since the publication of that original document as well.

Ryan Dancey has also provided interesting details on his analysis of 4E's sales. He addresses the ways that "sell outs" can be manipulated very specifically.
You can find Ryan's comments here:
http://rpgpundit.xanga.com/698172157/item/?page=1&jump=1481948581&leftcmt=1#1481948581

Can you link me to the specific sales numbers you mentioned above, or other data? This is a point on which I'd like to be wrong. As I said, I don't *want* to see D&D fail, I'm *worried* that D&D will fail. I certainly don't think D&D's real competition is the prior edition, it's other outlets for nerd entertainment, like videogames and MMOs.

Rorshach13:
I have to wonder-- is Alex Macris' resentment of 4th Edition D&D more of an editorially directed mandate (the Escapist bias against 4th Edition D&D and it's fans has been noted in other places- even by Zak S of I hit it with My Axe). Or rather is it just reflective of the creeping disengagement that the Escapist has with today's roleplaying fans?

Hi Rorshach! There's no editorial mandate at the Escapist that's opposed to 4th edition. If it were, we wouldn't have done a whole issue inspired by the release of the 4th edition Red Box! Our games editor, Greg Tito, was a Wizards playtester for 4E, and wrote 2 supplements for 4E for Goodman Games, actually, and is working on a lunchtime campaign for the office.

We also actually offered to have the Axe crew play 4th edition for the second season of the show and Wizards declined because they were concerned that the show's content was too adult given the age range that Hasbro needs to embrace. In short, Wizards was happier with us not playing 4th, but still talking about D&D. Which actually makes sense when you think about it.

I personally don't have resentment of 4th edition D&D - why would I? 4E didn't erase the other editions. I simply didn't *like* the game as it was released. I can tell you why, but you have no particular reason to care, do you? There are plenty of games that I love and plenty of games that I dont't. As a gamer, I use the edition I like; I don't feel that I have to upgrade. I liked the 2nd edition of Cyberpunk 2020 more than the 1st edition or the 3rd edition. I liked the 4th edition of Stormbringer more than the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 5th. I liked the 1st edition of WFRP more than the 2nd or 3rd.

JaredXE:
Ouch, that RPG.Net thread is full of vitriol. They REALLY don't like you.

I thought so too at first. But if you read the full thread, that's how they talk to everybody about everything. So then I felt better, but less special.

Archon:

KCL:
Then do the research. You're a journalist, after all...

...response

BOOSH!

... NEVER be rude without supporting evidence.

Generally, it's considered bad form to personally insult someone and not include your home address and choice of local dojo.

AzraelSteel:

Badger Kyre:

I am curious - and this is in no way an insult, slight , or whatever - this is a question of taste and preference , not "a right way" argument...
So may I ask what kind of caharcters you made in 4th that wouldn't have worked as well in previous editions?

I can't remember where the source was (want to say on the Escapist) that the difference between 3.5 and 4e is a difference between high fantasy and low fantasy. That each game, by its nature, attracts certain individuals to play. And I can say without a doubt that I am a high fantasy person when it comes to books or movies or whatnot.

Well; I said it earlier in this thread, no doubt others see it that way as well ( though to be fair, Camaztotz was right, that's been creeping into D&D at *least* since the Lorraine Williams take-over of TSR and it's "diversification" into a younger market/demographic.
http://pc.gamespy.com/articles/539/539628p1.html

Anyway, AZrael points up exactly what I was saying - 4th works better for him because he likes the kind of "high-fantasy" characters where fire-breathing Dragonborn and teleporting Eldar aren't out of place ( as an example ) even in a low-level campaign.

* In lower-fantasy games, such characters would be absolutely out of place and jarring - which is the problem with the "dissociated mechanics". Part of the issue here is that this is the first core system that is THAT geared to "high fantasy" play ( Mr Macris pointed out in his column previously how the rules system CAN determine some of the flavor of the campaign).

Myself, I liked superheroes in my superheroes game ( champions, and V&V - and we had planescape in our V&V campaign, and my Champions DM's setting was ALWAYS the Amber universe- imagine finding out that one of the "supers" you know is just a scion of Amber- now THAT's high fantasy)
...and my fantasy games where definitely "low fantasy" with a touch of Lovecraft and more likely to be based on history than comics...
I - this is my preference - just didn't like my chocolate in my peanut butter, so to speak.

I think the mode and taste at the core of the arguments and vitriol, I am always disturbed when people argue over their preference with the fanaticism of defending the sacred.

Archon:

We also actually offered to have the Axe crew play 4th edition for the second season of the show and Wizards declined because they were concerned that the show's content was too adult given the age range that Hasbro needs to embrace. In short, Wizards was happier with us not playing 4th, but still talking about D&D. Which actually makes sense when you think about it.

HASBRO... you said it.

I mentioned this article earlier :http://pc.gamespy.com/articles/539/539628p1.html - which may be one of the most comprehensive histories I've seen of D&D in one place -

and i just wanted to point out, as with the Lorraine Williams era, when TSR "cleaned up" D&D to remove devils, nudity, most of the horror references, in order to present a sanitized version to a new, younger demographic ( it was originally primarily for wargamers & college kids, it began to be marketed for the pre- and adolescent "comic book" demographic - most o fthis was done after Gygax lost any control of the company)...
they in the eyes of the old fans, "watered down" what the game had been, making it less grim pulp and more happy cartoony -
and most older gamers i knew were split between loyalty to TSR and D&D, or moving to new games - which most in fact did.
Honestly, D&D was never mechanically a good game, and the loyalty of many of the players was lost by the "spiritual" watering-down of the game, and many of those people fled to more "adult" games when most of TSR's products no longer appealed to them in tone.

Now, instead of Lorraine, we have Hasbro, and alot of the same "you're watering down the spiritual essence of this thing sacred to me" feeling is right at the core of this.

We see this with movie sequels, and with musicians once they "make it" and have to listen to the company they know work for. Book and comic movie-versions...

People used to HAMMER mr Terry Brooks for the work of plagiarism that was "Sword of Shannarah", unaware that he had been REQUIRED to basically re-write LOTR because the suits were sure that was the only fantasy book anyone would read. ( his later novels are much more "his" ).

SO : I maintain that while most of the vitriol comes from emotional attachemnt to one of another preference of "how this should be" ( and I'm guilty, get me started on Drow if you want a show)...
The real issue isn't the flavor of one edition or other, or whether or not "this is even still an RPG" ( we ALWAYS had alot of "hack and slash" gamers in every game I've played - MOST new players start that way, honestly)

I think the issue reamins

. As I said, I don't *want* to see D&D fail, I'm *worried* that D&D will fail. I certainly don't think D&D's real competition is the prior edition, it's other outlets for nerd entertainment, like videogames and MMOs.

KCL:
Or you could just be a typical uninformed interweb writer.

Or you could yourself be the uninformed lambda guy of the intarwebz who thinks he knows everything because he really, really likes the taste of the Kool Aid. But hey, don't take my word for it.

Though the Red Box really is not an old school, vintage gaming product, and it really is 4E through and through, I think the accurate comparison isn't with the old red box, Mentzer Basic D&D, but rather with Holmes, the blue book/box of 1977, D&D.

Holmes D&D was intended as an introduction to the AD&D game before it actually came out. It provided its users with a few character levels, a basic understanding of the game, with basic advice and materials for them to create their own adventure content, with the assumption that they would upgrade to AD&D at some point.

The New Red Box provides you with a few levels, gets you into the game as quickly as possible, giving you a basic understanding of how things work, and how to make up your own stuff with it, all the while with the basic assumption that you will upgrade to the Essentials line of products at some point.

The New Red Box really is Holmes D&D's heir. Not Mentzer's.

That's a compliment in my mind.

Benoist, I think your assessment that the new Red Box is Holme's is spot on. I'm kicking myself that I didn't make that realization when I was doing the interview, because the evidence is RIGHT THERE. Great analysis, man!

Archon:
Let's assume that neither of us is uninformed but instead we've consulted different sources. I'll share my sources, and you share yours.

We haven't consulted different sources at all. I'm familiar with all of your links. In fact I considered directing you toward Goodman's analysis in my original reply. You really ought to read it again if you think it supports your claim that 4th Edition isn't doing as well as 3rd Edition. Goodman's evidence is entirely anecdotal, woefully incomplete, and most importantly, it only takes into account 3rd Edition's peak, not its volume of sales from 2000 to 2008. "Is 4E doing as well as D&D sales in the times of 1974-1981? 1983 through 2000? And approximately 2002 through 2008? Yes." And note that 3.5 was released in 2003.

For all the things Goodman missed, see below.

Archon:
Best-seller lists are not reliable because what is required to get on a bestseller list is dependent on the list and the genre/category, and is relative to the number of other books being bought. It isn't the equivalent of saying "it's a platinum record". It's very hand wavy, and susceptible to manipulation and shifting sentiment. For a good overview, see:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bestseller

Let's be clear here: bestseller lists aren't evidence that 4th Edition is selling better than 3rd Edition, but Joseph Goodman's anecdotal claims are evidence that 4th Edition isn't selling better than 3rd Edition? Even though those claims are limited to a dying distribution channel? Even though those claims say that in fact 4th Edition is selling just as well as or better than 3.5?

Seriously?

Regardless of how you want to spin it, there are only two facts here. 1) 4th Edition outsold all previous editions for which sales records exist. 2) WotC doesn't release its records. It didn't release them for 3rd Edition and it isn't releasing them for 4th Edition. This lack of evidence in no way means that 4th Edition is lagging behind 3rd Edition. To suggest that it does is a formal logical fallacy called "denying the antecedent."

In other words: data is limited, but what data we have suggests that 4th Edition has outdone its predecessor.

Archon:
With regard to 4th edition seeing larger print runs than 3rd edition and selling through them faster, that is not my understanding of the facts.

It's a fact.

http://www.icv2.com/articles/news/12654.html

Archon:
Everything I have read has indicated that D&D's two peak years for sales were 1982 (Moldvay Basic and AD&D) and 2001 (D&D 3rd Edition). Joseph Goodman, a highly respected industry figure, circulated some details on this point.

You can find Goodman's analysis here: http://www.circvsmaximvs.com/showthread.php?t=61346

I'm intimately familiar with Goodman's post--the one where he says "4E is doing well, very well," then goes on to describe his experience with smaller hobby shops, not even counting the fact that the majority of D&D's sales are through major chain stores and online retailers. The difference in penetration for, say, Amazon.com between 2000 and 2008 is staggering. And then there's the DDI.

You're exaggerating the status of both Goodman and Dancey, by the way. They aren't authorities, so even if this were one of those rare times when appealing to authority was a valid tactic, they wouldn't--and won't--get you very far.

Archon:
At the time he thought it was fine that 4E was not doing as well as 3E's launch had; but it's worth noting that Goodman has since reduced his support for 4E since the publication of that original document as well.

Third-party support is indicative of exactly nothing. WotC has largely pushed these companies out, and they've done it intentionally. Scott Rouse and Linae Foster, the two people who were pushing to open up the GSL and revive third-party support, no longer work at WotC.

Archon:
Ryan Dancey has also provided interesting details on his analysis of 4E's sales. He addresses the ways that "sell outs" can be manipulated very specifically.
You can find Ryan's comments here:
http://rpgpundit.xanga.com/698172157/item/?page=1&jump=1481948581&leftcmt=1#1481948581

Ryan Dancey has been an irrelevant alarmist since WotC downsized him. His entire argument is that tabletop games will die out because they can't compete with video games. He's been saying this for years, and for years he's been wrong.

In case you weren't aware, Dancey is now (and was when he made those comments) the Chief Marketing Officer at CCP, which is a video game company that merged with White Wolf, another major tabletop RPG company, in 2006. If you can't spot the conflict of interest in his half-assed prognostications then I don't know what to tell you.

Archon:
Can you link me to the specific sales numbers you mentioned above, or other data? This is a point on which I'd like to be wrong. As I said, I don't *want* to see D&D fail, I'm *worried* that D&D will fail. I certainly don't think D&D's real competition is the prior edition, it's other outlets for nerd entertainment, like videogames and MMOs.

And here's when the core books first turned up on a bestseller list:

http://mearls.livejournal.com/151518.html

But I think you're being disingenuous when you say you want to be wrong. Your evidence has been so carefully selected, misread and unvetted that I have a hard time believing you. But then, I don't play any edition of D&D, so it's much easier for me to see all of this for what it really is.

Nah, no disingenuity.

I recognize Dancey for what he is, and am aware of his conflict of interest (and I dislike what he's done to White Wolf's tabletop presence). But the fact that he HAS moved White Wolf away from doing as much tabletop says he actually believes what he is saying. And, frankly, he's a smart business person, so he's certainly an authority in my mind, as is Goodman.

Goodman's views are not anecdotal - they are based on actually getting the sales documents from a ton of TSR cases as well as from his own sales in the 4E arena. And from what I understand, Goodman no longer thinks 4E is something he should support. What you are saying about lack of support for the GSL certainly would explain that, but that contrasts with what anyone at Wizards has said when I've directly asked them.

In any event, thanks for the ICV link. It's encouraging to read. Here's to a future with lots of tabletop gaming.

EDIT: I'd like to add that my own views here could certainly be skewed by my position in the industry, i.e. we primarily cover videogames. Many times the interaction I have with tabletop game designers eventually leads to them expressing worries about the future of RPGs and frustration that videogames are taking away from tabletop.

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