The State of Dungeons & Dragons: Future

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This series of columns has been both insightful and concise. Thank you for putting them up Escapist. You have given me something new to talk about at the D&D table this weekend.

BTW: My group plays Pathfinder, 3.5, 4th (Dungeon delves only) and our own homebrew system, we just alternate.

I got my start in the Caves of Chaos, ever so many years ago. I was 10. I learned to play in Summer Camp, and my first boxed set was the light blue boxed set of Dungeons and Dragons. I'm 44 now. I played through Basic, Expert, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (never really got into Master Rules and beyond in D&D), 2e, 3e and 3.5e. I never got the urge to pick up 4e, because I didn't like what I was seeing.

Yeah, you can roleplay, but just about every published module is combat after combat after combat. And if I wanted to play hack and slash, I can do that without resorting to 4e. I don't doubt there are DMs and GMs who can make it more than that, but so far I haven't seen any do so. I still feel no urge to pick up 4e, and I still have ALL my old modules and rulebooks and boxed sets (I picked them up on Ebay for a song back when everyone was getting rid of the old stuff for the new- their stupidity was my gain). I also have doubles for a friend that loves to play 2e, but can't travel with her books.

When D&D turned into "Advanced Combat Simulator" in 4e, they lost me as a customer. That's not what I play for, and not what I'm interested in. Combat is only part of the whole- there's exploration and roleplaying as someone and something else. If there is a 5e published, if it isn't interesting to me, I won't spend money on it... I have tons of published modules and ones I made myself and the imagination to make more if needed. WOTC lost me as a patron, and it seems they won't be picking me back up any time soon. It's sad, but D&D was more than just a combat simulator- I see it almost as an old school FPS like Doom, where exploration was key to success, to a modern FPS where you are channeled down a single long corridor and can't explore or do anything but go in the direction the game wants you to go. That's not what I am looking for.

I represent the newer school of D&D-players, having gotten my start sometime after the release of D&D 3.5. I also live in a part of the world where role-playing games in general and D&D in particular is a very rare hobby, and only a very few people play it, with the nearest hobby store carrying RPGs being a seven-hours drive from where I live. A friend's older brother introduced my group of friends to the game, though, and most of us got pretty heavily invested in it - within a couple of years, I had hundreds of dollars worth of D&D books lining my shelves, much more than I was ever able to find use for playing the actual game itself (and yet, that didn't stop me from buying more, more, more). As the setting we used when we first started, the Forgotten Realms became my setting of choice, and there's only a very few books released for it under 3.5 that I didn't wind up purchasing (and a good deal of 3.0 books was picked up as well, because they helped me learn more of the lore of the world, of the flavor, which I'd fallen in love with). I had my experiments with homebrewed settings and purchased a few Eberron-books as well (I like the setting, I like the feel of it, but when I'm the only person in my group who knows the first thing about it, and has any reason to want to play it over the FR, it didn't really get much use), but in the end I always came back to Forgotten Realms. I even started buying the FR novels, as did a couple others in my group, and though I've heard a lot of criticism about them in the years since, I thoroughly enjoyed the books and the setting, and I would have gladly gone on supporting the setting (and, therefore, the game) for years to come in the future as well.

Then, 4E came around. Like a lot of people at the time, I was skeptical, I didn't want my massive 'library' of books to become obsolete. At the time, I was part of a play-by-post community devoted to the Forgotten Realms, with each DM taking on his own region (so one person would run Waterdeep-campaigns, another would run his in Icewind Dale, and so on), one that had been around since the days of 3.0 and already made the change to 3.5. Most players and DMs were heavily opposed to converting to 4E, being happy with the way the game ran, but personally, I wanted to give it a try at least, to find out for myself if this new edition would lure me in or leave me cold. When the game came out, I'd moved to another town - the one town in the region to have a FLGS - and so I stopped by there, had a look at the core rulebooks... and I was pleasantly surprised. I liked what I saw, at least in theory, and I wound up purchasing the core set, and later the PHB2 and DMG2 as well. It wasn't the same game that I'd been taught, but I could tell I could learn to enjoy this one as well. Then, something happened that stole every ounce of sympathy I had for WotC, who's products I had by then spent most of my disposable income on for several years. I'm talking about, of course, the Spellplague.

As someone who cared more for his setting than the game system, the changes WotC did with Forgotten Realms in 4E felt like a betrayal. To this day, when I look at all the changes they made, I can't point out a single one that I prefer to the way things had been before. A Dragonborn empire sprouting up, just because they had been included in the Player's Handbook, when there was no justification for them in the lore of the Forgotten Realms? Dozens of deities being killed off to 'streamline' the pantheon, some of them among my favorite deities in the setting? And a century-long leap ahead in the timeline? Ugh. It felt like someone had tried to make it a Forgotten Realms designed for people who *didn't* like the Forgotten Realms in the first place, instead of updating the setting for those of us who loved it, had spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars buying sourcebooks and novels and video games based on it. Selling me more Forgotten Realms should have been the easiest thing in the world, but instead they chose to go after another market entirely. It frustrated me to no end, and though I know I could have used the old setting with the new rules, I was displeased by WotC enough at this point to want nothing to do with their products - I had a ton of 3.5 books, more than enough to keep playing in 'my' Realms for as long as I wanted to, with no need for new updates and supplements.

A couple of years later, I first heard about Pathfinder, and though I remained skeptical at that point, I realized that the changes in the system were far less intrusive, and the changes they did make were ones I happened to agree with, in some cases changes that I'd wanted to see happen for a while. I went into it slow - $10 for the PDF of the Core Rulebook seemed a fair entry point, and the more I saw, the more I liked. I can easily convert any 3.0/3.5 statblock from my Forgotten Realms sourcebooks to Pathfinder, making it much easier for me to convert to it than 4E, and as I started learning more about the Pathfinder campaign setting, Golarion, I came to enjoy that as well. Today, I'll gladly play either 3.5 or Pathfinder (with Pathfinder a slight favorite if I got to choose), and I have two settings to play them in, and chances are good WotC has seen it's last penny of my dollars - well, at least for their RPG products, some of their new board games look interesting, and dungeon tiles and miniatures could always come in handy. . .

Greg Tito:
"When 2nd edition really got focused on story [in 1989], we had what I call the first era of RPG decadence and it was based on story. The idea that the DM is going to tell you a story, and you go from point A to point B to point C. The narrative is linear and [the DM is a] storyteller going to tell you a static story, and you would just get to roll dice occasionally. 3rd edition came out and said 'To Hell with that,'

That... and the d20 system... are what I hate about 3rd edition.

Giving people the power to make whatever they want leads to people trying to be creative, but end up being dumb. I have always found that working within the confines of limitations brings about true creativity. Sure my Dwarf can't be a pally, but he can be a fighter/priest that aspires to be as like the paladins he witness in his youth.

Ugh... all these articles are doing for me is making me miss, and hate all the editions that aren't 2nd... all the more.

LadyRhian:
When D&D turned into "Advanced Combat Simulator" in 4e, they lost me as a customer.

People said the same thing about 3rd Edition when it came out. Is D&D4 more combat-oriented? It's really a matter of perspective.

At the end of the day, D&D as a ruleset tends to focus on fighting, swag, and dungeon traps; the rest kind grows up organically/haphazardly (depending on who you ask) around that structure. 3rd Edition's DMG, for instance, flat-out said that "deep immersive storytelling" meant avoiding the game rules (and spending an hour talking to shopkeepers, but that's a different story...).

No doubt D&D4 didn't match many players' established expectations of how "roleplaying" fits together with rules. That's not the same as cutting it out, though.

And let's remember that D&D grew out of what was basically a "combat simulator" to begin with.

-- Alex

Alex_P:

LadyRhian:
When D&D turned into "Advanced Combat Simulator" in 4e, they lost me as a customer.

People said the same thing about 3rd Edition when it came out. Is D&D4 more combat-oriented? It's really a matter of perspective.

At the end of the day, D&D as a ruleset tends to focus on fighting, swag, and dungeon traps; the rest kind grows up organically/haphazardly (depending on who you ask) around that structure. 3rd Edition's DMG, for instance, flat-out said that "deep immersive storytelling" meant avoiding the game rules (and spending an hour talking to shopkeepers, but that's a different story...).

No doubt D&D4 didn't match many players' established expectations of how "roleplaying" fits together with rules. That's not the same as cutting it out, though.

And let's remember that D&D grew out of what was basically a "combat simulator" to begin with.

-- Alex

I still play 2e by choice as my favorite version. And yes, D&D started from tabletop wargaming, but it became so much more than that, and that's why I was so disappointed by what I saw as a big step backwards in 4e.

JesterRaiin:

happyelf:
It's really obvious that the writer of the article is hostile to 4e, and trying to hide that instead of being honest about it.

The idea that 4e is for people with 'limited imaginations' is absurd, and it's kinda pathetic that somebody got paid to write that.

It may seem like that at first, but please, forget about emotions for a moment and tell me - judging by official adventures and campaigns released for newest edition of D&D, don't you feel that it became some sort of tactical hack and slash game ?

A far as i can see, adventures in D&D are now almost solely about "tactical encounters" and while you need some imagination to survive them, it's completely different kind of imagination than this required for role-playing.

This pretty much confirms my suspicions. My group and I were always so confused at the claims people have made towards 4e, and I couldn't help but wondered what the published official campaigns and adventures had to offer and if that added or subtracted to those flames. We only have the PHB's 1-3, DMG's 1-2, and 3 monster manuals... Everything that's the pure mechanics of how the game works, and we apply that to our own completely custom setting and world. My group is a bunch of freeform rpers (those who usually don't use any ruleset for roelplay) whom were either subtly bi-d&d curious or clearly had no interest in playing before I decided to rally them together, and I've been told that it has been one of the most immerse experiences they've had when it came to roleplay.

Granted, not everyone has the time to create entire worlds, so I got off a little lucky in that regard. I write, and therefore already had a setting to throw my players into, and they already had characters that I've created that they know in explicit detail to create that feeling of familiarity in this world. I took one of my characters and put them in this world as a blacksmith. They knew just by the name of the shop alone who was going to be in it, and despite the books saying "The game shouldn't really focus on roleplaying shopping sprees." I couldn't for the life of me seem to pull them away from that experience to get to the parts where dice rolls and miniatures mattered.

To us, it didn't feel like a tactical board game... Not entirely, each battle mattered, the players roleplayed their attacks instead of going with the default flavor text. The strategy came from the characters, not the players. The emotion the group had after the end of a chapter, the fear that I could sense after introducing a bone demon, only to have it lurk in the shadows after being bloodied. Those were real emotions. The excitement in the group when one of them did something truly awesome. As a free form roleplayer who usually followed no ruleset or never used dice for that matter. I can really say 4e brought something to our roleplay experience that wasn't before imaginable.

I just can't figure out what's going on at other tables that people aren't sharing the same experience.

model trains is the wrong example to pull for a potential future of table top games.. honestly i see it more like table top wargaming. yeah you will have your warhammer 40k spend thousands on minatures but you will also have your person playing an old grid map game with counters as well

LadyRhian:
I still play 2e by choice as my favorite version. And yes, D&D started from tabletop wargaming, but it became so much more than that, and that's why I was so disappointed by what I saw as a big step backwards in 4e.

But look at, like, the actual non-combat rules. They've always been pretty perfunctory. What are skills called in AD&D 2nd Edition? "Non-weapon proficiencies". And, IIRC, they're an optional subsystem.

Which is to say, I don't think that "so much more" thing you're describing ever really lived in the rules. Looking further back, there's more room to talk about stuff like different approaches to the reward structure and all that, but I think most of that stuff's dead by the time we get to AD&D2.

-- Alex

LordPsychodin:
could you even *THINK* of ANY kind of concept that needed full WOTC published support you yourself couldn't settle for a homebrew material, that would be worthy of a shiny, expensive source book slot that would need to sell tens to hundreds of thousands of copies to cover the expense of? One of TSR's biggest reasons for going under was releasing so many books that just had a tiny market that only the worst nerds of the hobby would buy because they were collectors or obsessed, not because they were badly designed. They were just bad ideas from inception to rotting on shelves to the games poorly tested materials helped ruin.

And if TSR had operated under the "new edition" model instead of niche books, they might have been able to last. White Wolf has managed to released similar systems for years. they're still a largely successful company and largely driven by the same profit ideals as Wizards, and their fans are still buying the books.

Arguing that they needed a product that couldn't be covered by homebrew material is kind of silly. By that logic, Pathfinder should have crippled D&D in general by now.

Well, this article bloated my ego. Maybe they should just keep selling 3.5ed along side 4th, until a 5th edition that hopefully is good for both sides is made. All I know is, I will continue playing 3.5 for now.

snowfox:
(snip)
I just can't figure out what's going on at other tables that people aren't sharing the same experience.

Sure you can. :)

I'll repeat myself.
D&D still holds the title of "Face of the RPG". As such it does pretty bad job. Why ?
It makes newcomers believe in hack and slash, tactical formula as the proper, mainstream way of both constructing and playing scenarios.

It's not that this way is bad. It's simply one of ways and D&D forgets about it. Official adventures lack the objectives, the elements, the need to do things differently than by chopping the way to the victory. Sure - there's fun in this, sure - why not, sure - every wound taken, every wound caused can be roleplayed in the manner that would put Mr. Willem Dafoe to shame, but...
"With great power comes great responsibility" is applicable here and i feel that all D&D cares about is how to appeal to everyone which equals abandoning some extremes, concepts and sectors that make rpg... well... rpg instead of let's say tactical wargaming.

I feel very strong similarity between D&D and Skyrim. Both deliver great frameworks, and they both need plenty of imagination to uncover its full potential. Yet, they do nothing or very little to teach us how to open those door.

I may be wrong, but i think that Mr. Tito's articles are backing up this point of view...

JesterRaiin:

snowfox:
(snip)
snip

-snip-

Guess I'm glad we decided to ignore official adventures then. XD When I was first introduced to D&D. ((4e mind you)) I believe the DM was focusing on essentials characters, and the red box. This was her first time DMing, so I can't tell what was from the story, or what was from her, but all I know is. There was something she put me through to teach me the game and to throw my character into a lil bit of storyline involving a dwarf merchant losing a box to a bunch of goblin minions.

All I know is. I get done that, scenes were skipped, one sec I'm with the Merchant, next thing I know I'm immediately standing in front of a giant cave, and then when we finally get the group together... Apparently in the mean time my character went to the local tavern and gathered up a dwarf, a halfling, a human and a dragonborn... No explanation of who they were other than their name and class... And All the sudden before I can even roleplay with them, we're attacked by goblins and wolves.

Maybe she skipped all that roleplay just to get to the "Fun part?" Or maybe it wasn't in the story she was following? I don't know, and I don't think I'll ever know unless I pick that up for myself. All I know is, I ended up in a party with a powergamer, an observer, and a DM who didn't do half of her homework, and without any indication on who everyone was.. I was bored. I didn't feel attached to the storyline or the group. I had to refer to a notecard just to remember the other players names because there was NOTHING about them that stood out and said "Hey I'm this person because of such n such a reason."

It wasn't fun for me, but clearly I just had the wrong group of people. But I can't help but wonder how much of that was the campaign itself, and how much of that was just her. If campaigns are set up that you jump immediately from one encounter to the next, then I won't be buying any of them anytime soon.

With my campaign, I knew my players, and I knew their characters. Everything was built around those characters. Creating motivation for them is easy, because I know what the characters like, and I know that the players like. Even to the point where they realize that they can't hack n slash their way through everything and expect to get to their goals easily, although I do throw in an epic battle in there once in a while to get the blood flowing. It's not about "Oh they rp taking damage or doing damage." Even through combat scenes, there is story and character interaction going on. Guess by choosing a different path, we were just able to see the game differently. *shrugs* Or maybe it's because the group is so roleplay heavy considering we're usually freeform para-rpers. I dunno D:

Edit: I'm sorry if this comes off as silly rambling. I was heavily distracted while writing all this.

snowfox:

(snip)
Or maybe it's because the group is so roleplay heavy considering we're usually freeform para-rpers. I dunno D:

Glad to hear that people still do it "the proper way". ;)

Yet, i feel that nothing changed, and my point is still valid.

I think that current edition of D&D waste considerable part of its own potential by focusing more and more on combat. Perhaps - like the article suggested - people behind it are afraid that too big success will prevent them from selling the next edition ?

Perhaps. And that's why - once again - perhaps the new edition will have to fight for the crown of most popular RPG with The Pathfinder that runs on D&D 3.5 engine (or, according to some - 3.75) and despite being potentially "old news" still attracts new players. Who knows ?

I think that it's the time for D&D to pass the torch and become simply "yet another" game. :)

JesterRaiin:

snowfox:

(snip)
Or maybe it's because the group is so roleplay heavy considering we're usually freeform para-rpers. I dunno D:

Glad to hear that people still do it "the proper way". ;)

Yet, i feel that nothing changed, and my point is still valid.

I think that current edition of D&D waste considerable part of its own potential by focusing more and more on combat. Perhaps - like the article suggested - people behind it are afraid that too big success will prevent them from selling the next edition ?

Perhaps. And that's why - once again - perhaps the new edition will have to fight for the crown of most popular RPG with The Pathfinder that runs on D&D 3.5 engine (or, according to some - 3.75) and despite being potentially "old news" still attracts new players. Who knows ?

I think that it's the time for D&D to pass the torch and become simply "yet another" game. :)

Haha, Yeah in no way was I disagreeing with your point. In fact, you're enlightening me on the situation much better than anyone else was able too. So if it seemed like I was, then I'm sorry!

The books I've read so far, PHB1-2-3, and DMG 1-2 seemed to really put the focus down on combat and combat orientated situations. How to make combat better, how to give it that flare, how to do this and that with it. They do touch on elements of storytelling and roleplay, but either I ended up skimming through them, or they just really didn't stand out as much as everything else did.

I've always understood it as, "Well this is the 4th edition, perhaps they feel as if they shouldn't have to cover roleplay as much? People by now, should already have a basic understanding of how to do just that, and perhaps they didn't want to put to many rules and regulations and guidelines on it to leave it open for all sorts of story and mechanics."

But if their own published campaigns are lacking in that department too, then yeah I can see where you're coming from, and that does make sense too. I could picture a company intentionally throwing something out there that they know their core base wouldn't like, just so that way when the next installment comes out that promises them everything they want, they'd flock to it if they didn't already say game over to the company.

That's a shame though, cuz we just got into it! D:

Thanks for the heads up though!

snowfox:
Thanks for the heads up though!

My pleasure ! Don't forget where i actually come from - it's more than possible for me to misunderstand this and that. Just sayin' ;)

I really want to make it clear : D&D has potential. That's not discussable.
For example :
http://www.wizards.com/dnd/Product.aspx?x=dnd_products_dndacc_251210000
(I choose this as an example, because horror is the hardest thing to properly role-play. One childish player, one stupid remark and ka-booom, atmosphere of fear and tension ends shred to pieces.)

I consider myself (trumpets, drums) "a seasoned DM" (and player, to some extent) with experience in systems like Call of Cthulhu, KULT, Chill and such, but the visions presented in this sourcebook are among darkest i've ever encountered.
And where's support for that ? Where are scenarios and campaigns that take players to the UnderDark and throw all hell's fury at them making them whine "game over, game over man, we're doomed so much that death would be a relief", or "from now on, i'll kill every drow i'll meet, they're pure evil" and "if we're gonna make it to the surface, i'll emigrate to the region where there's no night at all" ?.

...oh yes, here it is :
http://paizo.com/pathfinder/adventurePath/secondDarkness
:)

I'll never change my mind : the system, the setting doesn't have to be that richly detailed. Creative minds are capable of filling all the gaps and providing better or worse solutions whenever's the need.
It's the adventures, the campaigns, the modules that make RPG alive.
D&D delivers former, but not the latter and that's not ok in my book. :|

I'm always glad to see tabletop gaming coverage here. 4e felt like taking the board game elements of 3.x and kicking it up a notch to where it really was just a board game, complete with cards, map tiles and other game pieces. Their idea, and it's not a bad one at all, is to try and make D&D fit into a world that's filled with more distractions than ever. Other old media is having to go through radical changes to survive, so this is no different.

However, you can't make changes of the magnitude they did without ruffling a few feathers and, in the process of streamlining the game, making it something that some of its fans no longer recognized. I've played all the editions, and going from third to fourth was by far the biggest adjustment for my group and I, and eventually left us wanting to go back (or rather, forward) to Paizo's Pathfinder.

Ryan Dancey has contributed some more insight to this discussion over at EN World:

http://www.enworld.org/forum/news/315800-4-hours-w-rsd-escapist-bonus-column.html
http://www.enworld.org/forum/5765766-post205.html

Definitely worth checking out if you want to get more of the story regarding the business side of D&D and Wizards.

Greg

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