Complete Mike Mearls D&D 4th Edition Essentials Interview

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Badger Kyre:
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.

Dragonborn are a concept: the draconic/reptillian character, brought forth in 4E in a particular incarnation. The idea of something scaly as a playable race actually goes back to Spelljammer when lizard men got stadded as a player race (although curiously Spelljammer didn't do much with it afterwards). I've heard dragonborn got specifically introduced in 3.5, but must have missed that book; I was only aware of the half dragons in 3.5, and previously in the Council of Wyrms books iirc for 2nd edition.

Drow have been a playable race since 1st edition with the release of Arcana Unearthed, and are a very old meme.

Perhaps my general dislike of most manga, as well of my perceptions of it, have led me to see it very differently than people who are more generally familiar with it; although I am inclined to agree that many of the stunts and power elements in 4E have more than a passing nod to the influence of computer gaming in the genre, I rarely see anything in D&D that involves gender confusion, giant robots (warforged strike me as decidedly western, btw), magical sorcerer cat girls (closest I ever saw to this was in the D&D Miniatures handbook for 3E which had catmen as a race), etc. etc. so if there is manga out there that looks and feels like D&D (any edition) I haven't seen it. The fact that I couldn't even stand the first ten minutes of an effort to watch Record of Lodoss War might explain some of this....!

Addendum: on Eladrin, I have found this concept of an elf who can slide in and out of his home reality to be a cool idea, and is more like a High Concept reinterpretation of the cletic legends of sidhee, who were themselves enigmatic beings, dwelling in deep woods with haunted castles that seemed to move in and out of the haunted realms of the faerie. The eladrin simply put a stamp on that and make the concept much more interesting....as well as playable!....than has been attempted (risked) in prior editions.

Second Addendum: As far as 4E's super powers go...I just don't know what to say. They seem no more powerful....indeed often less so!....than the upper levels of 3rd edition. 4E definitely cut out the "pathetically weak" slog of 1st-3rd level from 3.5, though, rebalancing and making such levels more competent (although still ironically pretty weak, relatively speaking). I really do prefer 4th's mechanical approach to character abilities, as it removed ridiculous loads of paperwork, especially at higher levels; most of my 3rd edition campaigns died by level 14 or so, due to the sheer weight of the rules and myriad variables that one had to account for constantly. It has been considerably less so with 4E.

Badger Kyre:

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".

I definitely agree that a fair amount of the controversy boils down to the mileage we are all getting out of a given system; I burned out --badly-- on 3rd edition in 2006-2007 so much so I returned to 2nd edition/OSRIC and ran that until 4th edition was released. I much prefer 4E for the exact same reasons you don't like it; I feel that 3rd was a cumbersome rule system overlaid with redundant system cleverly hidden behind what looked like a unifying mechanic. For me, the system got in the way of a good time more often than not. 4E has proven to be a refreshing change of pace, and reinvigorated my interest in D&D in a fashion I have not enjoyed since my college years with 2nd edition.

As a side, I run Runequest II (the newest edition from Mongoose) and quite enjoy it, preferring Runequest as my default system for more cerebral, realistic games; I totally agree with anyone who suggests it that 4th edition D&D is much better at running a certain style of more cinematic game, and there are other systems that do the job of a less combat-centric style of RPG much better than it; Runequest is my go-to system for that. I am also exploring Legends of Anglerre which recently came out, and is a marvelous work; it may also serve much the same purpose. But when I want to run a game of epic adventure with Big Damn Heroes against The Evil Overlord or some Cosmic Menace, D&D 4th edition is proving to be a great set of rules for the job.

Archon:
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

Are you aware of his history with GAMA as well? Dancey isn't a very principled person. So when he claims that scarcity equates to, of all things, poor sales, you really can't take him at his word. He's been spreading this kind of FUD for the better part of a decade now. If you aren't already active at ENWorld, you might find it interesting to dig up some of the old threads that Dancey's comments have spawned.

Anyway, Dancey is the CMO, so he isn't responsible for White Wolf's direction as a company. It's just his job to promote that direction, which he's done by, among other things, trumpeting it on blogs and forums as the one true way forward for all RPGs. That's the conflict.

Archon:
as is Goodman.

To a certain extent. He certainly isn't loathed like Dancey. Quite the opposite, actually.

Archon:
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.

They're mostly anecdotal. For example, the FLGS isn't "the lifeblood of the industry" anymore. It's just the lifeblood of Goodman Games, because very few people know what Goodman Games is and sales are more likely in a browsing environment with salesperson feedback. D&D's mind share is many orders of magnitude larger, though. The FLGS is a very small part of D&D.

At the same time, while Goodman claims to have "read it all" when it comes to TSR's financial records from suits they were involved in, he has no special insight into WotC-era sales. He only knows how well his own products have sold in the limited channels he has to peddle them. That's the definition of anecdotal.

And, just to reiterate: the success of third-party companies tells us nothing one way or the other about D&D, especially since 4th Edition, for better or for worse, has gone out of its way to phase these companies out. A hundred different third-party companies folded during 3rd Edition, but 3rd Edition was still a resounding success.

Archon:
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.

And that may very well be true, but it only means that he hasn't been successful with 4th Edition--it doesn't mean that 4th Edition itself isn't successful. I don't know who you've spoken to at WotC, but I'd imagine that the creative staff still very much support the ideals behind the OGL. Mearls, for example, made his name doing OGL (and possibly d20 STL) work. In fact he's responsible for one of only two d20 games that I, personally, like (Iron Heroes--the other is Mutants & Masterminds). The business end (so to speak) of WotC, though, seems to have a very different take on open gaming.

But as long as the Character Builder remains closed, the actual licensing terms are irrelevant. Third-party products won't sell without CB integration due to the popularity of the DDI. Even if 4th Edition had been released under the OGL, third-party support would still have died out. People just don't want material that isn't included in the online tools.

Archon:
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. But if you told anyone here at The Escapist that I genuinely wanted D&D or rpgs to die, well, you'd be laughed out of the room. I'm afraid you'll have to think me sloppy instead!

I wouldn't have said you wanted D&D to die, but as someone who follows industry news closely and has seen these claims pop up on other sites before, I find it disconcerting when readily available data is overlooked. And, as a freelance writer myself, and actually also as a sometimes logic and argumentation instructor, I take journalistic ethics pretty seriously.

I wasn't comparing you to Jayson Blair or Stephen Glass or anything. But I'm quite fond of The Escapist and was really disappointed by the slant. It makes me wonder how much I can trust other articles on subjects I'm not as knowledgeable about. I wasn't trying to be snide in my original reply though--it was more a case of cursing at your favorite football team after a fumble. You do it out of love!

KCL:
Are you aware of his history with GAMA as well? Dancey isn't a very principled person. So when he claims that scarcity equates to, of all things, poor sales, you really can't take him at his word. He's been spreading this kind of FUD for the better part of a decade now. If you aren't already active at ENWorld, you might find it interesting to dig up some of the old threads that Dancey's comments have spawned.

I actually *wasn't* aware of that GAMA incident. That's really disreputable. My only interaction with Dancey was about 10 years ago, when I questioned Wizard's motives with regard to the OGL and he told me off. (You can actually still find that thread on Google). I'm not particularly active at ENWorld, as I mostly devote myself to the Escapist community, but I'm certainly curious now.

Anyway, Dancey is the CMO, so he isn't responsible for White Wolf's direction as a company. It's just his job to promote that direction, which he's done by, among other things, trumpeting it on blogs and forums as the one true way forward for all RPGs. That's the conflict.

I had a sense that he was influential in steering them in that direction, but that may simply be because he is good at self-promotion. Thanks for clarifying.

They're mostly anecdotal. For example, the FLGS isn't "the lifeblood of the industry" anymore. It's just the lifeblood of Goodman Games, because very few people know what Goodman Games is and sales are more likely in a browsing environment with salesperson feedback. D&D's mind share is many orders of magnitude larger, though. The FLGS is a very small part of D&D.

At the same time, while Goodman claims to have "read it all" when it comes to TSR's financial records from suits they were involved in, he has no special insight into WotC-era sales. He only knows how well his own products have sold in the limited channels he has to peddle them. That's the definition of anecdotal.

Fair enough. I have heard nothing but good things about Goodman, so I'm glad you don't have anything negative to share. So, to be clear, your understanding of the situation is that overall Wizards is doing better with 4E than they were doing with 3.5E, although not as good as they were doing with the 2001 3E surge?

And, just to reiterate: the success of third-party companies tells us nothing one way or the other about D&D, especially since 4th Edition, for better or for worse, has gone out of its way to phase these companies out. A hundred different third-party companies folded during 3rd Edition, but 3rd Edition was still a resounding success.

Right. The decision of whether to support third parties is a different discussion. I already went on record as saying that I think the survival of RPGs is generally going to be linked to the fate of D&D. I haven't yet decided whether I think the OGL or GSL model is better for that.

And that may very well be true, but it only means that he hasn't been successful with 4th Edition--it doesn't mean that 4th Edition itself isn't successful. I don't know who you've spoken to at WotC, but I'd imagine that the creative staff still very much support the ideals behind the OGL. Mearls, for example, made his name doing OGL (and possibly d20 STL) work. In fact he's responsible for one of only two d20 games that I, personally, like (Iron Heroes--the other is Mutants & Masterminds). The business end (so to speak) of WotC, though, seems to have a very different take on open gaming.

Everyone I've spoken to has been on the creative side, yes. And you have great taste in RPGs, sir! I own Iron Heroes and am good friends with the folks at Green Ronin. We had a long-running M&M campaign here at The Escapist.

But as long as the Character Builder remains closed, the actual licensing terms are irrelevant. Third-party products won't sell without CB integration due to the popularity of the DDI. Even if 4th Edition had been released under the OGL, third-party support would still have died out. People just don't want material that isn't included in the online tools.

Right. I actually asked about that in my interview. It's definitely a deal breaker for a lot of folks. It seems like WOTC could create an open API for integration to the Character Builder if WOTC wanted to....

I wouldn't have said you wanted D&D to die, but as someone who follows industry news closely and has seen these claims pop up on other sites before, I find it disconcerting when readily available data is overlooked.

I actually can't say that I think that article you linked is readily available! I am pretty good at Google and I couldn't find it. There's so much "white noise" with regard to D&D/4E that finding anything is hard if you don't know exactly what to look for. So, anyway, I want you to know that the absence wasn't anything other than me failing a Search check.

And, as a freelance writer myself, and actually also as a sometimes logic and argumentation instructor, I take journalistic ethics pretty seriously. I wasn't comparing you to Jayson Blair or Stephen Glass or anything. But I'm quite fond of The Escapist and was really disappointed by the slant. It makes me wonder how much I can trust other articles on subjects I'm not as knowledgeable about. I wasn't trying to be snide in my original reply though--it was more a case of cursing at your favorite football team after a fumble. You do it out of love!

I totally understand. I get riled up about the things I'm passionate about too. As far as a fumble, well, the reality of it is that we publish a lot of content here at The Escapist. We are rare in that we actually even HAVE a full-time fact checker for our content (to my knowledge, no other gaming website does). But even so, sometimes things will slip through the cracks. Frankly, if I were Wizards I'd be making more noise about the success of 4E, because that message is not getting out there. Next time I interview Wizards, I'm going to steer the questions about how they're exploiting success, etc., and see where that leads.

I really appreciate your thoughtful response - thank you.

Kilo24:

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.

Just wanted to give some kudos here. Understanding what type of games a ruleset is suited to create seems to be too big picture for a lot of folk (much of the present company excepted), and it is really critical, in my book, as to who will play and enjoy a game.
A good GM can do a lot, but a ruleset that works with the type of game he wants to play creates a much better overall experience for everyone.

BTW, Ben, totally on target on the Holmes recognition vibe. Props to you, brother.

Regarding 4E v. old school, when I read Essentials I realized that what 4e calls an "encounter" is not fundamentally different than what classic D&D called a "turn": An arbitrary time period of 10 minutes, which was used to measure all chunks of activity. In Classic D&D, battles were fought in 10 second "rounds", but all battles, even if shorter than 60 rounds, still took 1 turn because you were assumed to take a short rest afterwards to clean your weapons and catch your breath.

For example, in Classic D&D, the Ring of Invisibility can be used once per turn. In practice, this is *exactly* the same as saying it can be used once per encounter. You start the battle invisible, when you attack and reveal yourself you appear, and then you can't turn invisible again until the next turn, which will coincidentally also be the next encounter.

Mike Mearls ruined turns!

Yeah, I also have to give kudos to Kilo24, that was a spot-on analysis.

Archon:
In Classic D&D, battles were fought in 10 second "rounds", but all battles, even if shorter than 60 rounds, still took 1 turn because you were assumed to take a short rest afterwards to clean your weapons and catch your breath.

This may be splitting hairs, I think in BASIC set D&D, it was changed to 10-second rounds, but in "classic" D&D it was 1-minute rounds ( or was that only in Advanced? )
Trying to explain - even in the later 6-second rounds - that you weren't actually making a SINGLE attack in around lost a lot of people, as I recall ( going back to things said earlier in this article ) - I liked in theory how 3rd tried to use "attacks of opportunity" to reinforce that the action hasn't "frozen" while you take your turn -
I enjoyed watching people get punished for standing next to 4-armed demons thinking they could rummage through their belt of fragile healing potions or scrolls and the beast was supposed to politely wait it's turn.
Abstractions ( we've mentioned extra Hit Points and Armor Class ) that can lead to the kind of "dis-association" mentioned throughout these discussions.
An awful lot of the abstractions appropriate for the wargames, collapsed like the proverbial waveform when observed too closely.

Kilo24:

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.

And really , isn't that MORE of a return to the infancy of the hobby, before people started taking the role-not-roll playing aspect, seriously?
The original games were pretty damn Hack n slash.

Liked the rest of the post, too ( though I personally think 3rd was superior in tactical mechanics)...

And I never liked TSR's "official" settings much, either, since they started getting the "sanitized" settings in the 80's, but that's a whole 'nother ball of wax...
The degree of rules to setting was a subject of a "check for traps" - but I think essential to alot of the discussion of 4th's mechanics and "mood".
I liked the idea, if not always the implementation, of "here's the core rules ( d20 ), add setting specific X "

Archon:
I actually *wasn't* aware of that GAMA incident. That's really disreputable. My only interaction with Dancey was about 10 years ago, when I questioned Wizard's motives with regard to the OGL and he told me off. (You can actually still find that thread on Google). I'm not particularly active at ENWorld, as I mostly devote myself to the Escapist community, but I'm certainly curious now.

That's really strange. I actually used to like Dancey when he was with WotC. In fact, an early interview he gave on open gaming may just be my favorite industry interview ever. It was amazingly refreshing to have him come out and say, before the OGL had even been released, that its purpose was to "drive support for all other game systems to the lowest level possible in the market [and] create customer resistance to the introduction of new systems." You'd certainly never get an answer like that from Greg Leeds today.

I found your exchange with Dancey and it's interesting to look at now. The above interview does a better job of answering your questions than his tailored response did, and it was already live at the time of your conversation, so I'm surprised he didn't reference it at all.

Archon:
I had a sense that he was influential in steering them in that direction, but that may simply be because he is good at self-promotion. Thanks for clarifying.

Well, I suppose it's possible that he had some degree of influence. White Wolf and CCP merged in 2006 though, and Dancey wasn't brought in until the end of 2007.

Archon:
Fair enough. I have heard nothing but good things about Goodman, so I'm glad you don't have anything negative to share.

I certainly don't dispute that many people think highly of Goodman, and I've never found a reason to disagree with them. But is he an authority on D&D's finances? Not really.

Archon:
So, to be clear, your understanding of the situation is that overall Wizards is doing better with 4E than they were doing with 3.5E, although not as good as they were doing with the 2001 3E surge?

My understanding is simply that each launch from 3rd Edition to 4th Edition has been bigger and has sold out (or in) faster than the last. That's all the concrete information we've been given.

The rest is speculation. I don't know that the surge Goodman mentions, for example, ever actually happened. Was there a surge for third-party products? Absolutely (followed by a glut as the third-party market was saturated with inferior stuff). Was there a surge for D&D itself, though? Not that I'm aware of. All I know is that each launch has improved on the previous one.

I mean, the hobby shops we grew up with are dropping like flies, so even ICv2's quarterly roundups don't tell us much about the health of D&D. Dancey has speculated that by now hobby shops may account for as little as a quarter of sales, but with the rise of the DDI it's also worthwhile to consider how important physical book sales even are to WotC at this point. The last I heard (this was in 2007), Magic: The Gathering Online had grown to about 40% of Magic's business. Everything I've seen (this is only anecdotal) suggests that the DDI is even more ubiquitous among 4th Edition players, but there are no hard numbers.

So, I'm confident that 4th Edition is doing as well as 3rd Edition did, but I wouldn't push it any further than that.

Archon:
Right. The decision of whether to support third parties is a different discussion. I already went on record as saying that I think the survival of RPGs is generally going to be linked to the fate of D&D. I haven't yet decided whether I think the OGL or GSL model is better for that.

It's interesting how 3rd Edition and the OGL ushered in an explosion in thinking about RPGs at places like The Forge and even ignited an indie RPG renaissance. Would we have seen games like My Life with Master or Dogs in the Vineyard or Dread* if the OGL hadn't focused most commercial RPG development on a single system? Even more mainstream indies like Burning Wheel seem to have benefited.

* The Dread that brilliantly uses Jenga as a resolution mechanic, not the Dread about demons.

Archon:
Everyone I've spoken to has been on the creative side, yes. And you have great taste in RPGs, sir! I own Iron Heroes and am good friends with the folks at Green Ronin. We had a long-running M&M campaign here at The Escapist.

Well damn, you're a lucky man! I was disappointed that Paizo rather than Green Ronin picked up the 3.5 torch. GR's products--d20, Warhammer (via Black Industries), Dragon Age, all of them--have been universally excellent, and they're more experienced, and more skilled, at developing and supporting rulesets than Paizo. It's a shame they didn't capitalize on it.

Archon:
Right. I actually asked about that in my interview. It's definitely a deal breaker for a lot of folks. It seems like WOTC could create an open API for integration to the Character Builder if WOTC wanted to....

I really wish they would, too. I'd find 4th Edition a lot more enticing if I could customize it in the actual builder. At the same time, I tend to think that reigniting third-party support would go a long way toward bringing the community back together, which by extension would make RPG.net, ENWorld et al. much more palatable places. And there isn't a doubt in my mind that opening up the CB would single-handedly spark a flurry of third-party activity and bring a chunk of people back from Pathfinder. It just seems like good business sense all around, and yet they don't seem interested in doing it.

Archon:
I actually can't say that I think that article you linked is readily available! I am pretty good at Google and I couldn't find it. There's so much "white noise" with regard to D&D/4E that finding anything is hard if you don't know exactly what to look for. So, anyway, I want you to know that the absence wasn't anything other than me failing a Search check.

That's a fair point. There's an awful lot of chatter out there, and these are news items from over two years ago to boot.

Archon:
I totally understand. I get riled up about the things I'm passionate about too. As far as a fumble, well, the reality of it is that we publish a lot of content here at The Escapist. We are rare in that we actually even HAVE a full-time fact checker for our content (to my knowledge, no other gaming website does). But even so, sometimes things will slip through the cracks.

That's really encouraging to hear. And of course, not being aware of a fact and getting a fact wrong are two different things, and you even said something like "that I'm aware of" as a disclaimer. I should have used [motivational speaker][/motivational speaker] tags or something to approximate the tone in my head better. I was writing like I would talk as an editor to one of my writers, or like one of my editors would talk to me, but as plain text on a forum to a stranger it completely backfired and ended up sounding harsh. Like I mentioned to someone else in this thread who PM'd me, you deserve all the credit in the world for even responding, and then doubly so for not escalating when you did it.

Archon:
Frankly, if I were Wizards I'd be making more noise about the success of 4E, because that message is not getting out there. Next time I interview Wizards, I'm going to steer the questions about how they're exploiting success, etc., and see where that leads.

I completely agree, and hope the opportunity for another interview presents itself sooner than later. The creative staff do a good job of interfacing with the fans, but there's never been much in the way of horn-tooting from the business side of things. They don't need to come out Dana White-style or anything, but when the overwhelming market leader takes a risk like 4th Edition and actually pulls it off, you sort of expect to hear something. Maybe it's just a Hasbro thing. From what I remember, Peter Adkison and Dancey always had interesting things to say.

Archon:
I really appreciate your thoughtful response - thank you.

And I yours.

Archon:
Yeah, I also have to give kudos to Kilo24, that was a spot-on analysis.

Thanks.

Badger Kyre:

Kilo24:

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.

And really , isn't that MORE of a return to the infancy of the hobby, before people started taking the role-not-roll playing aspect, seriously?
The original games were pretty damn Hack n slash.

Liked the rest of the post, too ( though I personally think 3rd was superior in tactical mechanics)...

And I never liked TSR's "official" settings much, either, since they started getting the "sanitized" settings in the 80's, but that's a whole 'nother ball of wax...
The degree of rules to setting was a subject of a "check for traps" - but I think essential to alot of the discussion of 4th's mechanics and "mood".

To preface my commentary, I will say that I don't have much experience before 2nd edition. I was introduced to AD&D because I was impressed by Baldur's Gate's combat engine. So, I am working mostly from hearsay and projected data as far as my understanding of the earliest editions go.

I'll agree partially with it being a return to tone, in the sense of it favoring simpler hack'n'slash gameplay. But it also lost more of justification for the way the settings functioned: 4e was tweaking Dungeons and Dragons into a substantially, not turning Tolkien and the host of other weaker influences into a playable game.

One key tonal change was using magic as a balancing factor for characters. Magic items were random DM gifts, many with a strong potential of permanently screwing up the whole campaign (think Deck of Many Things and other examples.) Paladins couldn't even own more than a few. In 4e, they are literally parceled out and are expected of every single character.
In previous editions, spells were something that only wizards, clerics, classes taking advantage of those two specific routes, or inherently magical creatures could achieve. Arcane magic had fewer limitations than divine (with 9 levels of spells rather than 7 and greater diversity within those spells) but those were two coherent, distinct paths to magical power that made a definite statement about how magic worked in the setting. Magic was something that you could detect and interact with as a separate force. 4e focused on mechanical coherence, not setting coherence, and used magic to explain away the disparity between the rules of the fantasy world and reality. The task of separating the magical from the nonmagical, or in substantially changing how magic interacts with the world is much, much harder. Melee martial characters used to only beat people with sticks, now they can suck multiple enemies towards them (Come and Get It) or heal their wounds instantly in ways that leave the real-life placebo effect crying (Inspiring Word). You could argue that it's a more epic fantasy that hearkens back to Beowulf wrestling Grendel for days underwater, or Cu Chulainn's grotesque warp-spasms, but I seemed to have missed the part where Grendel drops 72,000 gold pieces so that Beowulf can visit the local wizard to make his +3 Spear of a Thousand Fragments into a +4 Spear of a Thousand Fragments.
Therefore, if you wanted a low-magic (or higher-magic) setting, you'd either need to redesign the whole game or axe the carefully designed balance that 4e sacrificed so much for. Or, just reflavor the whole thing but deal with an even greater mechanics-setting disparity. Earlier editions looked primarily for rules that carried across the setting they wanted to depict and thought of balance second (if at all.) 4e inverted those priorities.

Another significant change was the attitude towards character death. 0 hit points in early editions? You're gone. Only rolled a 1 for hitpoints on your fighter? Better luck next time. In 4th edition, you need to fail 3 saving throws (or take half again your maximum hit points in damage) for a character to finally die. Resurrections, too, were painful in previous editions - permanently eating your character's stats and coming with a built-in chance of failure - but now they're just a money sink with a temporary debuff. This - and the constant more-refined gradual gain of powers - encouraged you to play the same character throughout the whole campaign. Early D&D was much more "Kill 'em all and hope you roll better on the next one," something which was a heavy shift. You're much more likely to invest in your character emotionally and personality-wise because you know you'll almost certainly be playing him unless you decide otherwise. (Personally, I'd consider this shift to be a strictly positive one in all but the most gritty of settings.)

I won't say 4e doesn't encourage roleplaying - there are a good few suggestions that encourage a colorful character personality and at least some level of motivation - but it discourages players from playing their characters in ways that disrupt the game. The game, in this case, meaning being a good adventuring party slaughtering hordes of evil monsters. To contrast, I don't recall the early editions doing much at all with roleplaying.

Even with all its flaws, I do personally prefer 4th edition to other editions of D&D (and most role-playing systems) in any combat-heavy campaign, as most campaigns are. Where combat is concerned, it succeeds admirably in encouraging every player to participate, in offering significant challenge but rarely permanently screwing over characters for poor luck, offering options and diversity, and being easy for the DM to run. The naive flavor does it no favors, but I'm not fond enough of most settings' flavor and few DMs (at least in the games I've played) manage to take advantage of a good setting that it's rarely an issue.And it's by no means impossible for a group to make a good narrative out of 4e, it's just not as encouraged by the rules.

Badger Kyre:
I liked the idea, if not always the implementation, of "here's the core rules ( d20 ), add setting specific X "

I would agree with you here, but for one specific counterexample that, to me, shows what a system designed for a specific system from the ground up can do. World Tree is a P&P setting\system that has an elegant and powerful spontaneous magic system, non-class-based characters that still feel unique, and diverse, powerful races and advantages\disadvantages. Its setting is one of the very few I'd call unique, and disparities between the rules and the game world (like the lack of realism of hit points or the mysterious proliferation and quick learning capacities of adventurers) are explained in ways that are specific to the setting and are the basis for further depth, rather than being hand-waved away. It's rather unfortunate that the cover art as well as the novelty of the setting seems to frighten off most potential players: it's superficially designed with an anthropomorphic furry aesthetic.
You could rip out the basic system from it (and it is a good basic system) but that system would lose a lot of interesting little tidbits that the setting puts good justifications for in. Or you could swap it to a d20 base (and someone has a conversion for the races, if you look around online) but that also loses quite a bit in translation - in comparison it's rather inelegant.

Actually, World Tree's a decent part of what's inspiring me to design and code a tactical fantasy game in which magic is basically fueled by living biomass (in order to encourage heavy terrain involvement.) Seeing what that system achieved was pretty impressive.

Badger Kyre:

Kilo24:

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.

And really , isn't that MORE of a return to the infancy of the hobby, before people started taking the role-not-roll playing aspect, seriously?
The original games were pretty damn Hack n slash.

Liked the rest of the post, too ( though I personally think 3rd was superior in tactical mechanics)...

And I never liked TSR's "official" settings much, either, since they started getting the "sanitized" settings in the 80's, but that's a whole 'nother ball of wax...
The degree of rules to setting was a subject of a "check for traps" - but I think essential to alot of the discussion of 4th's mechanics and "mood".
I liked the idea, if not always the implementation, of "here's the core rules ( d20 ), add setting specific X "

The games were often very hack/slash, but if you look at how even the early classes were balanced, they were not balanced on combat. So the rules encouraged a roleplay based on class utility as well as a game based on the same thing.
The early game's focus (based on how the classes were balanced) was based on Exploration. You'd often hear younger players complain that the Fighter was so much more useful than a mage in their games back in the day.."One Magic Missle and I was done"...and you had to tell them they were not doing it right. The reason the mage had spells like 'read languages' and 'light' and 'detect magic' (and remember, they had to memorize these) is because the role of the Mage was not just a combat role. The mage had huge utility when viewed from the perspective of exploration. Similar when the thief was added, he was a really poor combatant...since he had huge exploration advantages over the fighter.
You never saw an )D&D group leave town without that 10' pole. Period.

You can move onto the different versions of D&D and find where the classes are balanced, it's actually a useful exercise.

Kilo24:
but I seemed to have missed the part where Grendel drops 72,000 gold pieces so that Beowulf can visit the local wizard to make his +3 Spear of a Thousand Fragments into a +4 Spear of a Thousand Fragments.

Hilarious.
In fairness, the point was made in the article that an inherent part of 3rd - which my group also ignored - was the "common market value" of magic items.
The ramifications of that on a setting and internal consistency are mind-boggling, but hold up mechanically ( or at least arguably so ).

The core discussion there, as you seem to point out, continues to be mechanics that simulate a game, rather than simulating a setting or fantasy to interact with.

ANYWAY: I expect all these fellow Grognards will greatly enjoy this: http://www.gamespy.com/articles/111/1115803p1.html

KCL:
So, I'm confident that 4th Edition is doing as well as 3rd Edition did, but I wouldn't push it any further than that.

OK, fair enough. Thinking further on this, I bet the decline of the hobby shop is hurting non-WoTC studios more than WoTC, which is probably further confounding the white noise about how the RPG industry is doing.

It's interesting how 3rd Edition and the OGL ushered in an explosion in thinking about RPGs at places like The Forge and even ignited an indie RPG renaissance. Would we have seen games like My Life with Master or Dogs in the Vineyard or Dread* if the OGL hadn't focused most commercial RPG development on a single system? Even more mainstream indies like Burning Wheel seem to have benefited.

That's a great point. I do think the OGL had a benefit in that it opened the doors for everyone to be a game designer, too. When you combine the timing of OGL with the rise of the internet and e-publishing, it's pretty amazing. I think there's more stuff available for Classic D&D now than there was when Classic D&D was the actual edition of the game, for instance....

Well damn, you're a lucky man! I was disappointed that Paizo rather than Green Ronin picked up the 3.5 torch. GR's products--d20, Warhammer (via Black Industries), Dragon Age, all of them--have been universally excellent, and they're more experienced, and more skilled, at developing and supporting rulesets than Paizo. It's a shame they didn't capitalize on it.

I have only limited experience with Paizo's products so I can't speak to their prowess, but I strongly believe that Green Ronin is one of the best design shops in the business. I have NEVER seen a bad Green Ronin product. And Dragon Age is amazing. I wish they'd take that Dragon Age system and roll it out as a generic fantasy system, a sci-fi system, and so on...

I really wish they would, too. I'd find 4th Edition a lot more enticing if I could customize it in the actual builder. At the same time, I tend to think that reigniting third-party support would go a long way toward bringing the community back together, which by extension would make RPG.net, ENWorld et al. much more palatable places. And there isn't a doubt in my mind that opening up the CB would single-handedly spark a flurry of third-party activity and bring a chunk of people back from Pathfinder. It just seems like good business sense all around, and yet they don't seem interested in doing it.

I totally agree. I actually know a half-dozen folks that are waiting for just that opportunity, and despairing it will never come.

That's really encouraging to hear. And of course, not being aware of a fact and getting a fact wrong are two different things, and you even said something like "that I'm aware of" as a disclaimer. I should have used [motivational speaker][/motivational speaker] tags or something to approximate the tone in my head better. I was writing like I would talk as an editor to one of my writers, or like one of my editors would talk to me, but as plain text on a forum to a stranger it completely backfired and ended up sounding harsh. Like I mentioned to someone else in this thread who PM'd me, you deserve all the credit in the world for even responding, and then doubly so for not escalating when you did it.

No worries. :D

I completely agree, and hope the opportunity for another interview presents itself sooner than later. The creative staff do a good job of interfacing with the fans, but there's never been much in the way of horn-tooting from the business side of things. They don't need to come out Dana White-style or anything, but when the overwhelming market leader takes a risk like 4th Edition and actually pulls it off, you sort of expect to hear something. Maybe it's just a Hasbro thing. From what I remember, Peter Adkison and Dancey always had interesting things to say.

Hopefully Mike Mearls is going to be more like those folks. He definitely has a voice that isn't as corporate as some others from WoTC have been. Anyone who is willing to be the lead of 4E while simultaneously blogging about OD&D has giant brass balls in my book.

Norm Morrison IV:
Good Stuff

i wrote a fairly long response to that - and was proud of it so of course my browser crashed on form submission and isn't getting it back.

For what it's worth, I mostly agree - rangers "don't leave the dungeon without them"

but I think you overlooked, and perhaps wizard was a bad example, that they, in particular, balanced out over time, at low levels they were intentionally weak ( made good npc's for utility, yes - how many noble's daughters have been m-u in any campaign :) ? )-
and the experience points for them to advance was, at low levels, the hardest - so they were intentionally designed as a "long term investment" - no one complained at higher levels of the power of a wizard ( and clerics were continually underestimated ).
4th avowedly addressed this as one of the things they thought needed to change to be more fun - to make the game play at all levels how they thought the fun levels played.

I also intended to point out that 3rd edition made one of it's design mantras "back to the dungeon" - and that doesn't seem to have changed.

I for one can clearly remember when Dragon magazine articles asked us to consider the ecology of the dungeon and what all these mooks ATE - part of a tendency to want to think of it less of a "minis wargame" - and more of a world with internally consistent logic - the story "role players" if you will.
Satisfying both needs - and the needs of multiple player types ala Robin Laws - has always been a balancing act with no perfect , easy answer.

As a further aside, I am personally fond of the low-level part of the game another poster said was basically skippable, and my games are the kind of grim & gritty games to where a member of my group once said " you need to read this" and handed me " a game of thrones".

Archon:

Hopefully Mike Mearls is going to be more like those folks. He definitely has a voice that isn't as corporate as some others from WoTC have been. Anyone who is willing to be the lead of 4E while simultaneously blogging about OD&D has giant brass balls in my book.

His brass balls will finally offend the Hasbro Overmind and in backlash they will lobotomize him and rehire Lorraine Williams.
And we'll see Buck Rogers games again.

Norm Morrison IV:
BTW, Ben, totally on target on the Holmes recognition vibe. Props to you, brother.

Thanks, man. Glad to find you here as well. :-)

Badger Kyre:

Norm Morrison IV:
Good Stuff

i wrote a fairly long response to that - and was proud of it so of course my browser crashed on form submission and isn't getting it back.

For what it's worth, I mostly agree - rangers "don't leave the dungeon without them"

but I think you overlooked, and perhaps wizard was a bad example, that they, in particular, balanced out over time, at low levels they were intentionally weak ( made good npc's for utility, yes - how many noble's daughters have been m-u in any campaign :) ? )-
and the experience points for them to advance was, at low levels, the hardest - so they were intentionally designed as a "long term investment" - no one complained at higher levels of the power of a wizard ( and clerics were continually underestimated ).
4th avowedly addressed this as one of the things they thought needed to change to be more fun - to make the game play at all levels how they thought the fun levels played.

I also intended to point out that 3rd edition made one of it's design mantras "back to the dungeon" - and that doesn't seem to have changed.

I for one can clearly remember when Dragon magazine articles asked us to consider the ecology of the dungeon and what all these mooks ATE - part of a tendency to want to think of it less of a "minis wargame" - and more of a world with internally consistent logic - the story "role players" if you will.
Satisfying both needs - and the needs of multiple player types ala Robin Laws - has always been a balancing act with no perfect , easy answer.

As a further aside, I am personally fond of the low-level part of the game another poster said was basically skippable, and my games are the kind of grim & gritty games to where a member of my group once said " you need to read this" and handed me " a game of thrones".

No, I did not overlook the wizards growth. I was speaking of the focus of the rules, and where they are balanced. I agree that Wizards in most of the earlier games were made to grow slower due to some of their advantages, but again, they had such low HP, that they were still fragile.
And leave us not forget how long it used to take a properly run game to have even mid level characters. That's a whole other continuum.

I totally agree with you about the type of game, BTW. I left AD&D back in the early 80s because it was not gritty enough; with too fast progression. And after I left, the later versions were built for more epic/mythical styles. No value judgement on the game, just another focus.

Is it too much to ask for D&D that plays like Conan, the Black Company or Game of Thrones, and not the Belgariad or Wheel of Time?

All I want is for my player characters to die of gangrenous infections when their hit points drop too low. Is that so much to ask?

Archon:
Is it too much to ask for D&D that plays like Conan, the Black Company or Game of Thrones, and not the Belgariad or Wheel of Time?

All I want is for my player characters to die of gangrenous infections when their hit points drop too low. Is that so much to ask?

Don't go here. Seriously. Madness, this way lies.
You have pretty much just encapsulated why I had to leave the world of D&D, because it was too overpowered for me in AD&D. This was before the Epic rules...there is no wonder why I left the House with the Door Closed behind me.

Archon:
Is it too much to ask for D&D that plays like Conan, the Black Company or Game of Thrones, and not the Belgariad or Wheel of Time?

Yes, that's what I want.

All I want is for my player characters to die of gangrenous infections when their hit points drop too low. Is that so much to ask?

C'mon Archon, now you're just giving me a hard time.

Norm Morrison IV:

You have pretty much just encapsulated why I had to leave the world of D&D, because it was too overpowered for me in AD&D. This was before the Epic rules...there is no wonder why I left the House with the Door Closed behind me.

Yeah, me too - and if i'd known when i read " the cleric's canticle"- possibly the worst book ever written in the history of man-kind - that I was looking at the future of D&D, I might have hunted down "Lady Williams" myself.

i forgot :

No, I did not overlook the wizards growth. I was speaking of the focus of the rules, and where they are balanced. I agree that Wizards in most of the earlier games were made to grow slower due to some of their advantages, but again, they had such low HP, that they were still fragile.
And leave us not forget how long it used to take a properly run game to have even mid level characters. That's a whole other continuum.

Well, i don't disagree, but my point was, wizards weren't meant to be balanced at lower levels - what i meant by it being an investment - the balance was spread over your level curve - you knew you were playing a weak character in the short term - the same was true of the monk class, and THAT's one that gets "superhero".
But seriously, a ways back my "teacher" DM and I were disussing this because he used "hero system" for all his campaigns ( which in time you learned was all ONE campaign - based on the Amber series ) - and he said, why not, high-level D&d characters are superheroes ANYWAY...
I argued, unaware at the time that I had never really SEEN high-level D&D characters...

So soon enough, in our Champions ( superhero ) campaign; a party of old PC's from his once-d&D, converted to hero-system game, came looking for a Scion of Amber, which we were unaware was one of us, a "superhero"... so we fought them.

They cleaned the FLOOR with us... and left with our "friend", whom we were unaware was a villain from an old campaign hiding on our Earth as a "superhero".

Point?

Well, besides that it's funny, the potenial always existed, but in "old" D&d , most people retired or did "end campaign" stories (look at the level on Q1 - our campaign ender )- but the possibilty existed even to become a demigod...
So even then it was a matter of preference.

While the discussion continues to go back to what metagame assumptions a set of mechanics or setting create, and who prefers what, I hope the often dogmatic defense of any given idea of "how it should be" doesn't cloud us from hoping that 4th edition doesn't indicate a failur eof interest in RPG's as we loved them.

Hail, all ye Grognards.... http://pc.gamespy.com/articles/538/538262p1.html

Archon:
That's a great point. I do think the OGL had a benefit in that it opened the doors for everyone to be a game designer, too. When you combine the timing of OGL with the rise of the internet and e-publishing, it's pretty amazing. I think there's more stuff available for Classic D&D now than there was when Classic D&D was the actual edition of the game, for instance....

Very true. There's The Old School Renaissance (capitals and all!) in addition to the indie renaissance, and occasionally some nifty cross-pollination between them. One "new" old school game I've seen get some love recently is Old School Hack. I haven't had a chance to play it yet, but it's a pretty smooth read.

Archon:
I have only limited experience with Paizo's products so I can't speak to their prowess, but I strongly believe that Green Ronin is one of the best design shops in the business. I have NEVER seen a bad Green Ronin product. And Dragon Age is amazing. I wish they'd take that Dragon Age system and roll it out as a generic fantasy system, a sci-fi system, and so on...

Paizo are all WotC alums, so I don't mean to suggest that they aren't competent. But adventures have really been their bread and butter, and prior to Pathfinder they had essentially no experience developing a ruleset. I think that shows through in the final product. To their credit though, they marketed Pathfinder effectively and brilliantly exploited the fallout from 4th Edition to build a base of loyal customers.

Back when I was young and idealistic, I had a three-step plan for D&D to achieve world domination. It went something like:

1. Win the lottery.
2. Buy D&D.
3. Give D&D to Green Ronin.

I'm getting anxious waiting for the second Dragon Age set.

Archon:
Hopefully Mike Mearls is going to be more like those folks. He definitely has a voice that isn't as corporate as some others from WoTC have been. Anyone who is willing to be the lead of 4E while simultaneously blogging about OD&D has giant brass balls in my book.

Mearls was actually quite a bit more active in the community before he landed the D&D gig. I think they issue gags and nipple clamps to all new hires. Ari Marmell, Keith Baker and a few of WotC's other go-to freelancers are more interesting sources of opinion these days, I've found, but of course they're still very politic, what with having the job security of, well, freelancers.

lomylithruldor:

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.

Come on man. I don't mean to be a rules lawyer, but 3.5 specifically said you could be a cleric without a deity. Basically, you were just really devoted to the philosophy of your alignment and could choose your domains as you pleased provided they didn't contradict your alignment.

Badger Kyre:

Norm Morrison IV:

You have pretty much just encapsulated why I had to leave the world of D&D, because it was too overpowered for me in AD&D. This was before the Epic rules...there is no wonder why I left the House with the Door Closed behind me.

Yeah, me too - and if i'd known when i read " the cleric's canticle"- possibly the worst book ever written in the history of man-kind - that I was looking at the future of D&D, I might have hunted down "Lady Williams" myself.

i forgot :

No, I did not overlook the wizards growth. I was speaking of the focus of the rules, and where they are balanced. I agree that Wizards in most of the earlier games were made to grow slower due to some of their advantages, but again, they had such low HP, that they were still fragile.
And leave us not forget how long it used to take a properly run game to have even mid level characters. That's a whole other continuum.

Well, i don't disagree, but my point was, wizards weren't meant to be balanced at lower levels - what i meant by it being an investment - the balance was spread over your level curve - you knew you were playing a weak character in the short term - the same was true of the monk class, and THAT's one that gets "superhero".

--

While the discussion continues to go back to what metagame assumptions a set of mechanics or setting create, and who prefers what, I hope the often dogmatic defense of any given idea of "how it should be" doesn't cloud us from hoping that 4th edition doesn't indicate a failur eof interest in RPG's as we loved them.

Hail, all ye Grognards.... http://pc.gamespy.com/articles/538/538262p1.html

You know, I've been hearing the Magic-user-investment/too weak at low, too powerful at high level thing for over 30 years. I think I made the argument a few times.

But I see it very differently now than I ever did. I'm not saying I'm right; it's part of my job in the real world to try to find causative factors and event chains so I tend to have an outlier viewpoint.

I mentioned before that I believe OD&D was actually pretty balanced, but the focus of that balance was the exploration, not merely combat. Looking at the spell list for the mage confirms this to me. When the game is played properly, the mage may not be a great combat addition at lower levels, but the PCs won't find as much magical stuff, won't be able to read clues, often won't be able to get to other areas, unlock doors, etc, etc, without the Magic user.

I also believe that AD&D had a shift on rules balance to the adventure and somewhat to the campaign. how many Experience points did it take for a fighter to start developing politically through the rules as written? 250001 to start building a stronghold. 375001 for the magic user. This was very intentional, I believe.

I believe the classes were balanced to some degree at every level. One just needs to find what the author felt was the focus of the ruleset, the game the author thought he was writing for.

And your last comment is key. There is no right way, there should be no dogmatism, there is merely an attempt to understand. And through this, to write games that people enjoy, that may perpetuate the hobby.

Norm Morrison IV:
Yep

I respect your reasoning, but respectfully disagree - think the curve and metagame WAS part of the balance, and I notice the Monk wasn't mentioned in your response.
Similarly, non-human races were KNOWN to be over-balanced - this balanced in the later game with level limits. If you were playing a one-shot adventure, there was little reason NOT to play an Elf.
As far as exporation, the M-U in combat OR exploration, with spells rather than skills, simply did not act frequently enough to be of great impact- why they made such good "utility" NPC's at low levels. It has always been my experience that the low-level magic-user had (usually )very little impact on our games, and we usually dragged loot to a common area for a detect magic, or a wagon to take to npc's in town.
That doesn't make you wrong, but it was MY experience. My joke about NPC noble-kids being M-U's wasn't a joke - there was a lot of overlap in the 'needs protection but occasionally important' in both "memes".
At one point in one of the Gold Box games, one of our fighters could gain 1 level of fighter, or, because of the XP curve reversing at that particular level, dual-class ( gain an equal level of wizard, and VERY nearly the additional level that let you use both classes) - for the same amount of experience. It was far more effective to "baby-sit" him through his wizard levels ( which you did anyway at low levels, we were just high level ).
Not only was it feasible in terms of experience points, but it was essential - the encounters we were having simply REQUIRED another magic-user. The balance of class utility had changed THAT MUCH.

However, it' still an interesting and valid point, and perhaps more importantly, still goes to the essence of 4th E's designers saying in interviews they wanted the game to play at any level like the "sweet spot" levels ( which is risky since, as we've seen even in this small thread, the ideas of what levels were "the fun ones" to play varies immensely even in a small group of respondents who mostly share similar age and gaming experience ).

I'm sorry - as I was saying, however, your point becomes intensely valid in that they seem to have only looked at that in terms of combat utility, rather than in exploration or social utilities - and so even if I disagree with some of your observations, the underlying point seems to heighten the degree to which 4th focused character "utility" as almost entirely in the actual encounter - perhaps even more so than the imminently "Hack n Slash" Gold Box game I mentioned.

Archon:
Is it too much to ask for D&D that plays like Conan, the Black Company or Game of Thrones, and not the Belgariad or Wheel of Time?

All I want is for my player characters to die of gangrenous infections when their hit points drop too low. Is that so much to ask?

Archon, we've discussed difficulty curves in games, player willingness to accept character mortality and the attendant personality types of the play styles.

I just wanted to point out this from a website I think you have mentioned:

West Marches:
The environment is dangerous. Very dangerous. That's intentional, because as the great MUD Nexus teaches us, danger unites. PCs have to work together or they are going to get creamed. They also have to think and pick their battles - since they can go anywhere, there is nothing stopping them from strolling into areas that will wipe them out. If they just strap on their swords and charge everything they see they are going to be rolling up new characters. Players learn to observe their environment and adapt - when they find owlbear tracks in the woods they give the area a wide berth (at least until they gain a few levels). When they stumble into the lair of a terrifying hydra they retreat and round up a huge posse to hunt it down.

The PCs are weak but central: they are small fish in a dangerous world that they have to explore with caution, but because they are the only adventurers they never play second fiddle. Overshadowed by looming peaks and foreboding forests yes. Overshadowed by other characters, no.

http://arsludi.lamemage.com/index.php/78/grand-experiments-west-marches/

Anyway, we've seen the principle of the first sentence there in several iterations, games and real life - and the PC's being small fish part of a larger world not dependent on them for it's story is something certain player "types" will love, and some - the kind of people who love , for example, the Wheel of time, or what MovieBob went on about in his superheroes-vampires-wizards "rant" - would probably NOT like.

If I may digress yet again, as many of these same posters have been in the other threads where I have mentioned this, I had a campaign that was becoming "epic political" where the PC's were party-wiped ( and it was their fault on top of bad luck ) - and yet chose to continue the campaign because they were more attached to the campaign than to their specific characters ( quite the opposite of the modern emphasis on near-unkillable characters)
Obviously, different types of players would or would not have tolerated or enjoyed that.
It's interesting to me that I had just mentioned in the previous response M-U npc's - we had one that was the daughter of minor nobility, had been involved with a party that had wiped, and ended up married to one of them.
all of the players continued as the children of their old characters a generation later ( it was a campaign with alot of non-combat event ) - the Lady in question had gone from NPC apprentice to non-adventuring "patron"( mother, in fact) NPC wizard, and was now a force in her own right...
bu tin the "rags to riches" RPG mold, most of the players could remember the previous campaign when they'd known her as the little "girl" they'd escorted who had to hidden behind a "wall" in encounters and might be there to identify magic items or such - at best - when the dust settled.

Badger Kyre:

Norm Morrison IV:
Yep

I respect your reasoning, but respectfully disagree - think the curve and metagame WAS part of the balance, and I notice the Monk wasn't mentioned in your response.
Similarly, non-human races were KNOWN to be over-balanced - this balanced in the later game with level limits. If you were playing a one-shot adventure, there was little reason NOT to play an Elf.
As far as exporation, the M-U in combat OR exploration, with spells rather than skills, simply did not act frequently enough to be of great impact- why they made such good "utility" NPC's at low levels. It has always been my experience that the low-level magic-user had (usually )very little impact on our games, and we usually dragged loot to a common area for a detect magic, or a wagon to take to npc's in town.
That doesn't make you wrong, but it was MY experience. My joke about NPC noble-kids being M-U's wasn't a joke - there was a lot of overlap in the 'needs protection but occasionally important' in both "memes".
At one point in one of the Gold Box games, one of our fighters could gain 1 level of fighter, or, because of the XP curve reversing at that particular level, dual-class ( gain an equal level of wizard, and VERY nearly the additional level that let you use both classes) - for the same amount of experience. It was far more effective to "baby-sit" him through his wizard levels ( which you did anyway at low levels, we were just high level ).
Not only was it feasible in terms of experience points, but it was essential - the encounters we were having simply REQUIRED another magic-user. The balance of class utility had changed THAT MUCH.

However, it' still an interesting and valid point, and perhaps more importantly, still goes to the essence of 4th E's designers saying in interviews they wanted the game to play at any level like the "sweet spot" levels ( which is risky since, as we've seen even in this small thread, the ideas of what levels were "the fun ones" to play varies immensely even in a small group of respondents who mostly share similar age and gaming experience ).

I'm sorry - as I was saying, however, your point becomes intensely valid in that they seem to have only looked at that in terms of combat utility, rather than in exploration or social utilities - and so even if I disagree with some of your observations, the underlying point seems to heighten the degree to which 4th focused character "utility" as almost entirely in the actual encounter - perhaps even more so than the imminently "Hack n Slash" Gold Box game I mentioned.

I find myself glad that you responded. Meaning I must be enjoying the interchange.

I had enough tough GMs...Ok, I was that Gm most of the time, I won't deny it...that made it tough on groups to find treasures or move through dungeons without discretion and intelligence. My ogre magi hid almost all of their treasures with magic or illusion, they had ambush spots, etc. I'd often leave hints to find stuff in obscure languages...hints that were absolutely critical. But those are MY experiences, no more valid than yours. And I am not in disagreement that the balance also changed throughout the arc of the level gain. Especially with the monk, who was a decent thief but really was weak at low levels, but came into his own later on.

Norm Morrison IV:
I also believe that AD&D had a shift on rules balance to the adventure and somewhat to the campaign. how many Experience points did it take for a fighter to start developing politically through the rules as written? 250001 to start building a stronghold. 375001 for the magic user. This was very intentional, I believe.

I believe the classes were balanced to some degree at every level.

I think you're certainly right in that there were clear attempts to achieve some sort of balance in the early days of D&D and AD&D. I just don't believe they saw much success. Game design has come a long way in the intervening years. Today, games that make balance a priority are pretty well balanced, and games that aren't particularly balanced are that way more or less intentionally.

Well, it looks to me like this thread has about died out; it had a good run. In retrospect, I'm stricken by the similarity in ages of the respondents - now I presume that's because this was a pretty specific article addressing a pretty specific release - but I have to wonder to what degree the concern that only grognards care about "tabletop" traditional RPG's isn't reinforced by this.
I also find it interesting how many of the discussions preferred "low fantasy" - when the game has been ramping the other way since the 80's - and how many said, more or less, that D&d had been their 'gateway drug' into other games.
I find this interesting in that part of the point of 3rd edition was to de-fragment the players and with the OGL bring alot of them back at least to core mechanics, a "common" language.
I personally worry that 4th may have undone that to some degree - but I think it was said well that it's not WOTC's previous game editions that is the competition.

There's been a discussion of mechanics imposing a feel on the rules, and i think for better or worse it can be said that d20 had a more 'universal' or adaptable feel, while many of the mechanics of 4th might make it harder to work with for DM's who don't WANT use such a high-fantasy and "dissociative" setting. On the other hand, for better or worse, I don't think 4th was for them. The people who like manga-anime and final fantasy and Ra Salvatore and such seem to greatly outnumber people who like "realistic" fantasies. Remember when most fantasy writers were ALSO sci-fi writers? There's some mind-sets that go with that.

post scripts..

Norm Morrison IV:

But those are MY experiences, no more valid than yours. And I am not in disagreement that the balance also changed throughout the arc of the level gain. Especially with the monk, who was a decent thief but really was weak at low levels, but came into his own later on.

and Mr Blake's comment , above. I think as we have continued this discussion, we have found we really didn't disagree so much on anything but specifics - the experiences you mention illustrating the non-combat utility o fthe M-U class were mine too, i don't disagree with your principle, a matter of extent is all.
SO that would be my response to Mr Blake - I think it was fully intentional - those XP charts were too much work to be arbitrary - it was just balanced to a much more "meta" level rather than the immediate level, IMO.
But as we said earlier, wizard is one example - that you could agree with me on monks, on race, and on the "political" levels all purposefully balancing differently - I think illustrates the overall point - which even IF not for the wizard, holds true in other places - that the balance was over the whole campaign - with the assumption that it would matter in that people expected to play long-term.
..I'm not sure that expectation is in place, and I think that informs 4th's decision to balance the classes at every level ( as opposed to the example of the elf wizard-fighter who was a paper tiger until he was mid-level ). This is related to, I could say "dovetails" with, the similar discussion on balancing things entirely on the "combat utility" as the game seems to focus on that. ( relatedly, one of my pet-peeves is that rogues have become better swordsmen than fighters - whereas i see that as two "builds" of fighter. It could be splitting hairs or a basic difference in "reading", but I use it as an example because if

, rogues turn into "trap monkeys" or near-ranger "strikers" - my point here is, what else can they become in a game that is clearly focusing on combat encounters? )

Norm Morrison IV:
I find myself glad that you responded. Meaning I must be enjoying the interchange.

Myself as well - I have enjoyed this thread - and our discussion - immensely, and hell, we were actually able to internetz without anyone insulting anyone personally! :)

I have two comments about things that have been overlooked.

First, you can add house rules to the Character Builder. If you want to add a new feat, new power, new race, or even a new class that is added to your local Character Builder database, you can. Manage -> Campaign Settings -> Custom Rules. Not enough support for third-party publishers to hang their hats on, but it's certainly enough for you to integrate a smattering of houseruled or third-party content into your game. You can also disallow specific sets of content down to the level of individual issues of Dungeon or Dragon.

Second, 4E provides a parallel framework for low magic settings. That framework was detailed in DMG2 and is integrated right into the character builder: Manage -> Details -> Inherent Bonuses. The Inherent Bonuses framework is the default in the new Dark Sun rerelease, since Dark Sun isn't exactly a loot-heavy setting.

Nice to see some other Iron Heroes fans in this thread, although if I were starting a new IH-style game today I'd just run 4E, stick to the martial power source, and give characters inherent bonuses instead of magic items. As characters level in my ongoing IH game, I find myself wishing with increasing frequency that it was 4E instead.

Archon, if you want a more dangerous d20 variant, you could check out The Black Company Campaign Setting by Green Ronin (also nice to see some GR fans around here), which uses variant and much more lethal massive damage rules similar to d20 Cthulhu.

I have some thoughts on the d20 OGL approach vs the 4E GSL approach, but I think this post is enough for today.

papagordo:

lomylithruldor:

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.

Come on man. I don't mean to be a rules lawyer, but 3.5 specifically said you could be a cleric without a deity. Basically, you were just really devoted to the philosophy of your alignment and could choose your domains as you pleased provided they didn't contradict your alignment.

2e also. The splatbook for priests said you could be a cleric of a Force or Philosophy. It didn't necessarily have to be a Deity.

Ajar:
I have two comments about things that have been overlooked.

First, you can add house rules to the Character Builder. If you want to add a new feat, new power, new race, or even a new class that is added to your local Character Builder database, you can. Manage -> Campaign Settings -> Custom Rules. Not enough support for third-party publishers to hang their hats on, but it's certainly enough for you to integrate a smattering of houseruled or third-party content into your game. You can also disallow specific sets of content down to the level of individual issues of Dungeon or Dragon.

Second, 4E provides a parallel framework for low magic settings. That framework was detailed in DMG2 and is integrated right into the character builder: Manage -> Details -> Inherent Bonuses. The Inherent Bonuses framework is the default in the new Dark Sun rerelease, since Dark Sun isn't exactly a loot-heavy setting.

Nice to see some other Iron Heroes fans in this thread, although if I were starting a new IH-style game today I'd just run 4E, stick to the martial power source, and give characters inherent bonuses instead of magic items. As characters level in my ongoing IH game, I find myself wishing with increasing frequency that it was 4E instead.

Archon, if you want a more dangerous d20 variant, you could check out The Black Company Campaign Setting by Green Ronin (also nice to see some GR fans around here), which uses variant and much more lethal massive damage rules similar to d20 Cthulhu.

I have some thoughts on the d20 OGL approach vs the 4E GSL approach, but I think this post is enough for today.

Thanks for the great thoughts, Ajar. I've had the Black Company supplement on my to-buy list for a while and will be sure to check it out ASAP.

What are you thoughts on GSL v. OGL? Do share!

Thanks for the full interview. It doesn't make me like 4th edition, but it does make me feel less estranged from the designers.

LadyRhian:

PxDn Ninja:
Also, in version past, you felt like an adventurer in a world where people like you were common. You weren't some adventurer blessed by the gods for some epic quests. You were a group of normal people put in an extreme situation and you grew into a powerful party by experience, not because you just want to be a demigod at level 30.

Pretty much. And when you were that pasty 1 hit and you're dead wizard, every victory was like wine. Surviving and winning when you were a piece of paper facing a ginsu knife (metaphorically) was more of a thrill than facing off against 30 Kobolds when you're the 10th level fighter, which seems to be more of the way it is in 4th edition.

I also have to say that the "adventure nights" 4e is sponsoring don't interest someone like me (the ones where everyone plays the same module) because it's an unbroken string of combat-skill check- combat- skill check- combat, and if you are unlucky, two combats in a row. That just doesn't sound all that interesting to me.

Ajar:
....
Archon, if you want a more dangerous d20 variant, you could check out The Black Company Campaign Setting by Green Ronin (also nice to see some GR fans around here), which uses variant and much more lethal massive damage rules similar to d20 Cthulhu.

...

The first quote is actually from the "sister" thread...
But I felt it related better here, since this has gotten into party wipes, and "dangerous campaigns" and such.

The reason I thought it was worth dredging this up again is because the trend towards making characters who simply are never in a deadly situation has coemme up as quite central to games that aren't even precisely what most people would call RPG's."
This is IMO worth noting because there is some good degree of overlap in the target demographics here - the idea of death of a character being "too controversial".
Those who are old enough may recall how Frank Miller challenged the comic industry by killing off Electra - that just wasn't DONE. Ditto, Captain Marvel.

I submit to you that Thermopylae ( even the 300 version ), nor the Alamo, nor Braveheart, nor many other stories ( Calgary hill? ), would be near as poignant if they did not face death.

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