D&D Fourth Edition: Mainstream or Bust

D&D Fourth Edition: Mainstream or Bust

If WotC isn't aiming to be the Blizzard of the tabletop gaming industry, it's certainly putting on a good show.

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Hmm... Well, perhaps it is because I am a complete cynic at heart, but I've got a bit of a different take on 4th Edition. Money. Money Money Money.

They are releasing a new set books now for the same reason the released 3.5, so that we have to buy a whole new set of books to keep playing a game we enjoy. Or at least that some people enjoy. I've personally never liked D&D, 3rd edition or otherwise. Now of course, this raises the question of "What's forcing people to buy the new books when they could just keep using the ones they already have?" To be honest, I don't have a perfect answer, but something made a whole bunch of people put down their 3.0 books and buy the 3.5 ones that were barely different enough to notice without an in depth inspection.

And the whole "Online play" thing is really just a very thinly veiled (if it is veiled at all) attempt to Siphon off some of the ludicrous amounts of money that goes into the MMORPG industry.

When it comes down to it, Wizards already is the Blizzard of Tabletop, or at least Tabletop RPGs. They aren't trying to establish dominance, they are trying to reinforce it.

And to be honest I can't say I blame them. It's a shrewd business practice, and they've had to be, to stay on top with what at least I think is a particularly inferior RPG system. They've pretty much lead the way in the practice of "Buy this new book or your character will suck," and other companies are starting to catch on (look at some of the Stuff AEG has been pumping out).

I don't know if 4th edition system will work any better than 3rd did, but I doubt it really matters, as long as people are willing go out and buy their shiny new books, everything will work out just fine for WOTC.

When it comes down to it, Wizards already is the Blizzard of Tabletop, or at least Tabletop RPGs.

I'd equate them more to Microsoft, right down to the wonky standards no one really likes but uses anyway because all the sleeker alternatives didn't get bought out when Magic made WotC huge.

Rules, like code, accumulate cruft over time. Flaws are uncovered as millions of parties reveal the flaws, and patches are applied, and these patches grow organically and uncontrollably. The project develops new goals as the target demographic changes. Every once in a while you need to refactor the whole thing, and issue a new edition.

There's just no substitute for a GM, but the speed with which computers can dish up graphics, text, random numbers, math, and the like are hard to compete with. I think we're reaching a point where the tabletop RPG needs to play to its strengths, because it has more direct competition. So keeping the same basic strong mechanics but simplifying and rebalancing the calculations involved increases the emphasis that you're giving to the single defining element of the game: a bunch of people, sitting together in a casual, social environment, one of whom is in charge, having some kind of an adventure.

Wizards of the Coast also seems to be moving online in a big way. The company needs to harness the convenience of the Internet, really - it's hard to organize a regular game night. It remains to be seen whether they're going about it the right way.

I feel I must point out that it doesn't take a lot of play testing to notice the flaws in 3.5 D&D. I mean, I still have scars from the last time someone tried to Turn Undead Whilst Grappling. In 3.0 the flaws were so glaringly obvious that if I were not a trusting sort, I might suspect that Wizards left them in intentionally so as to justify producing 3.5 to fix them. Anyone remember when you could throw three ninja-stars with one attack and get sneak attack on every one? Or when Teiflings didn't have a level adjustment?

The problem with D&D and with other systems like it is that they try to do too much and end up collapsing under their own weight. They have such detail oriented rules that they try to account for everything that might conceivably happen, not realizing that this is impossible, and make it much harder for player and GM alike to figure out what to do when a situation there aren't rules for arises. That's not to say good GMs can't get around it, but still.

In that area, yes, a computer is much better at juggling the insane amounts of math, measuring, and book references that come from D&D combat (especially high level D&D combat). However, to say that a game like WOW or Ever Quest somehow replaces table top RPGs is just untrue.

I mean, when was the last time you got any role-playing fulfillment out your last Molten Core run? Those games are all about combat and the tactics there of, with a little story thrown in for flavor. There isn't any actual role-playing going on. Your character never develops beyond what accessories you choose for him, and you have no real influence on the game's story.

It is true that games like D&D often reach a point of critical mass where they are so complex that they must either transfer into another medium or tone down the complexity a little. However, a lot of RPGs these days are moving towards much simpler, more abstract systems that are actually about story telling and role playing, and less about how that chain of feats you took will combine with your prestige class to form a chain reaction that will destroy the Death Star (anyone who's every tried the Bag of rats/Whirlwind/Great Cleave trick knows what I'm talking about).

And to be perfectly honest, there's no real reason to take those online. I mean, it can be done if you really can't get a group of people together, but in my humble opinion you then lose a lot of the reason for playing in the first place.

In short, I do not believe that MMORPGs are in any way the "next step" for RPGs, and after rereading you post Mr. Bongo, we may not disagree on that point, so perhaps I'm just talking out of my ass.

MMOGs are certainly not the next step for the tabletop RPG. Tabletop is tabletop, period. However, market forces have forced them into competition with one another.

DND has always been at the top stop for gaming. Were other games better? Sure. Were other games worse? Sure. DND just had a certain flavor to it that could draw people together for a night of fun. I am not sure if I am one of the dozen people out there that understood Thac0, but 2nd ed was fine with me. 3E was like a breathe of fresh air. I feel, however, with the release of 3.5 that I got 'burnt' by the company. It was released how soon after 3E? 3.5 was released for pure profit. 3E was rushed out, and they released 3.5. I have not picked up a single 3.5 product.

I see all this nonsense about how complicated 3E is as the justification for the new fourth edition. Give me a break. If someone wants to see something 'complicated' look at how in depth some of the GURPs manuals are. Don't get me wrong, I love GURPS, but that could get a little too in depth at times.

As far as paying a subscription fee for some online access, not for me. If anything, I would just check out enworld.com. I think it is a novel idea, but revamping the game might have mixed results. I know people who still play first edition and Hackmaster.

Who knows; perhaps, in a few, years we'll see celebrities admitting their admiration for Dungeons & Dragons like WoW-playing celebrities do now

Vin Diesel, anybody?

"What's forcing people to buy the new books when they could just keep using the ones they already have?"

Absolutely nothing, and if you ask any true gamer, they will reply that.

We used a mash of 2nd edition AD&D with Basic, and made up our own rules when there were none that fit. Our rules were sometimes more complex, other times we simplified their rules.

And that was the joy of playing AD&D. Yes, sometimes it would devolve into a rules argument, but on the whole we just enjoyed playing games.

D&D does seem to have be moving more quickly to change out editions, but I would also say a great deal has changed in the world of tabletop RPGs. I believe this is largely due to computer RPGs and what they can do now. In the 90's it seemed that every tabletop RPG wanted to be more 'realistic' than the competition with more and more dice rolls and tables that had to be referenced. At that time nearly all video game RPGs were simple random encounter dungeon crawls that involved hours of level grinding. With more advanced programs, video game RPGs can compute all of those tables and charts of 'realistic' rules in the blink of an eye. However, what video games have yet to completely accomplish is really getting players to interact with the world with character as to feel apart of it and still be the character they made. It this reason that tabletop RPGs have simplified the part computers do better to ascent what tabletop can do better. I think WotC sees this and with the popularity of WoW they and the fact they have held the D&D name for a while now, they can alter the game in this new edition to bridge the gap between video game and tabletop RPGs.

And sure they want to make money.

Yep, WoTC are there to make money, no doubt about it.
However, moving into the digital realm with D&D in regards to table top gaming seems to me at least, a step in the wrong direction. Yes having a computer crunch all those numbers for a DM is a joy but as I recall, there were a number of those sorts of programs made, some you paid for and some made by fellow D&D enthusiasts for free. The essense of table top gaming is being with a group, being face to face with them and sharing the experience in the same space. MMORPGers' are a step away from that. Plus, by using Biowares NWN engine you don't have to bother spending a small fortune by subscribing to their product. There are many servers out there that allow you to play for free which, IMO, beats the crap of of WoW. Sure the graphics aren't as snazzy as WoW but free online RPGing vs monthly fees...well I know where I go.
The other thing about WoTC's move to digital/online publishing is an end to books and magazines. We've already seen the demise of Dragon magazine which they claim was not profitable [what absolute bollocks] and now the manuals are going to be online as well. Call me an old fashioned bugger but what the hell is wrong with picking up a book and turning a few pages to get to what you want? I personally like books, I still have all my 1st & 2nd Ed D&D books, even though I no longer play the game.
The sad thing is that even though I understand why WoTC are moving in this direction, the cynic in me see's it as a further attempt to grab more cash from its market and although there will be die hard players out there that will "move with the times" I am uncertain if this will be the commercial success that WoTC hope it will be.

I think there's clearly some features of the 3.5 system that could use some adjustment, and I've heard a mixed bag of predictions and/or reviews based on the preview stuff that has come on, so I am in a wait and see attitude. There are still people out there who play 2.0, for f's sakes, so 3.5 will stick around and be played for quite awhile longer, I'd figure, while 4.0 demonstrates how it works in real life.

I just started playing DnD a few months ago with some friends. I went and bought the v3.5 core rulebooks and started having some fun. Then a month later I learn the new edition is coming out. I got pissed, but what can I do? I'll be sticking to 3.5. As for WotC trying to dominate the tabletop industry: I thought they already did! They have DnD and Magic, don't they?

Don't worry. You will be able to play 3.5 campaigns, I predict, easily and with no hassle for 5 more years, and with some small amount of effort for the next five years after that.

And to a certain extent they are, but you get the sense that they feel not that their competing with otehr tabeltop companies, but rather with WoW, etc. Mind you, I think tabletop is fine, because the unique things tableotp brinsg to the uh.. table are irreplacable.

What other venue allows truly creative problem solving, unique rewards, and allows the characters to become a established long term part of a world? Not to even mention the "sitting around with and having fun with friends" part.

My beef with 4th Edition is the same beef I have with Warhammer/WH40K and certain other games.

You invest a LARGE sum of money in the game, core books, supplements, adventure books, and more. Just as you seem to have it all, some f**ker goes and revises the rules so you have to buy it all again.

Battletech is about the only major title that new versions of the game were handled right. I can't speak for Battledroids (AKA 1st Ed.), but 2nd edition thru 4th edition are completely compatible, every rulebook, miniature, supplement, and scenario can still be used in any version. It wasn't until the Dark Ages virus of 2002 that this changed.

God forbid they try to improve their game. That would just be criminal.

And, yeah, they're in it to make money, on a base kind of essential-to-the-industry way. But you know how you make money in that industry? Make a good system that does what the players and GM want.

Let's stop theorizing quite so much, shall we, and hear more about how things will actually be in 4E, so that we can start making informed decisions on purchasing rather than wildly speculating and baselessly condemning.



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