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Dysfunctional and Co-Dependent
March 15, 2012 6:17 AM   Subscribe


 
tl;dr - f*cking munchkins
posted by jeffburdges at 6:29 AM on March 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


Our DMs always limited the source material we could draw from and would veto anything too exotic or obviously unbalanced.

I think the assumption that the original rules are "clean, elegant" is a bit much though. Grappling in 3rd edition? Anything but the most basic spells? All the states and marks to track in 4th edition, designed around having software assistance which never actually materialized?

Of course adding more sourcebooks worsens that, but it's not a clean slate that the extra junk is getting thrown onto.
posted by Foosnark at 6:36 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


WotC realized the formula for expanded sales during the 3.0 publishing cycle. Player oriented supplements sell much better than DM oriented supplements because gamers want additional options and they don't want to have to homebrew everything. It benefits the gamer because they get what they want and it benefits the company because they get a regular infusion of cash in the form of new supplement sales. Later on with 4e they decided that a regular influx of cash in the form of a monthly subscription to DDI was the way to establish an even more regular cash flow. Result is that some critical tools (Character Builder, Compendium) are behind a pay wall.

However not everyone wants to jump on the supplement treadmill. Some people will only buy a limited number of supplements (but no DDI) and some will only buy core so you are still faced with a problem of how do you generate stable revenue for a game line across 4-5 between major editions? The supplement treadmill method and the monthly subscription model don't seem like they are meeting WotC/Hasbro's financial goals.
posted by vuron at 6:43 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


A priori, all this sounds like the world needs more open source table top role-playing games.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:46 AM on March 15, 2012 [13 favorites]


Ahm...is this not capitalism, period? iPad2?
posted by spicynuts at 6:46 AM on March 15, 2012


The other reason that player-oriented supplements sell better than GM-oriented ones is that there's typically 4-5 times as many players as there are GMs. In a game that's actually being played, of course. If you find after the fact that you've published one of those RPGs that people buy to read but never actually play, then... well, really you should probably publish a different RPG.
posted by Hogshead at 6:51 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


A priori, all this sounds like the world needs more open source table top role-playing games.

OGL actually comes pretty darn close. The challenge is that it requires market mastery to even know which options and pieces from various places to put together.

The one thing I found missing from this analysis was a more direct discussion of Paizo, what they are doing and whether the author thinks it is trending towards sustainable or the same problems TSR/Wizards encountered with success.
posted by meinvt at 6:53 AM on March 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


The supplements are basically cheat books for optimizer who chafe under sensible game balancing restrictions on classes/races. The "brown books" were the worse.
posted by Bovine Love at 6:55 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Someone with a sales and marketing degree determines that if a new product was published every two months, or even every month, enough people would buy it to make money on it.... To produce that much material, the publisher needs a full-time staff of ten designers, developers, and editors"

Bullshit, and I say that with eight years' experience running the RPG publishing house that my username comes from. (It's now defunct, I sold it in 2002.) Hogshead never had a full-time staff of more than three, and was running three RPG lines as well as releasing occasional New Style games and a magazine. Pelgrane Press, in whose office I am sitting as I type this, has a staff of two and releases a new RPG book a month. The RPG industry runs small and tight.
posted by Hogshead at 6:59 AM on March 15, 2012 [17 favorites]


Atlases and gazetteers, such as the Poor Wizard's Almanac, seem like an underrated part of the RPG ecosystem. Unlike brand-new campaign settings, they're still relevant to even established campaigns. Any DM worth his/her salt can take an interesting village, castle, plot thread, etc. and adapt it into his/her own campaign. Even people who don't play the game can read these supplements for pleasure.

Maybe atlases and gazetteers don't sell very well in general. That'd be a shame.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:04 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


This article is pretty D&D specific. I think a better title would be "The sorts of books that sell well for D&D are bad for D&D."

The supplements are basically cheat books for optimizer who chafe under sensible game balancing restrictions on classes/races

I don't think that's really a fair characterization. I mainly have D&D experience in 3.5 which had a ton of splatbooks, and in 3.5 at least it is the muti-classing rules that do the most to open up the rules to be exploited by min maxers. And one of the core classes, Wizard, is one of the most ridiculously overpowered classes at high levels even considering all of the other non-core classes.

For me the reason that extra classes were nice is that the core D&D classes only had one or two choices for several of the main types of characters that a party needs. Your party needs a skill monkey, so somebody is stuck being the dude who runs around stabbing people in the back. Your party needs a healer so somebody is stuck playing the lawful good stick in the mud with the heavy armor. If classes in D&D were more customizable, especially in terms of fluff for their personality, it wouldn't be such a big deal. But with the core classes as they were, it was nice to be able to make your skill monkey a Factotum or your healer a Healer or whatever instead of having to use the same character archetypes over and over. In my opinion that's one of the few things that D&D 4.0 got right, they split up the classes into meta-class types (striker, tank, etc.) and designed the game around being able to build a balanced party with various different classes. The problem with that approach was that they made all of the classes too interchangeable though, a Wizard plays almost exactly the same as any other controller class instead of feeling like it has any features unique to wizards.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:33 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Bullshit, and I say that with eight years' experience running the RPG publishing house that my username comes from.

Hogshead, your hint that his number was widely made up out of thin air for the purposes of discussion was when one of the things the ten-person staff did was "set type".
posted by jscott at 7:46 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


jscott, I did wonder if he was talking about the way things were in the 1980s before DTP software was widely available... and I know Palladium was using manual typesetting well into the 90s.

But as well as the mythical typesetters, almost no games company has "designers, developers and editors" on staff any more, it's much cheaper and more efficient to use the pool of extremely talented freelancers within the industry. Running an RPG line these days is mostly project-management.
posted by Hogshead at 8:06 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nthing that the problem addressed here is very specific to a limited number of rpg lines, mostly D&D. The problem that selling RPG splatbooks to GMs only isn't very economical is real, sure. But the article made me think of Fiasco, which solves the problem of GM-only books by being a GMless game. I expect to buy a lot of supplements for Fiasco over time.
posted by immlass at 8:24 AM on March 15, 2012


The supplements are basically cheat books for optimizer who chafe under sensible game balancing restrictions on classes/races

This needn't be the case.

GURPS is a counter-example. Their best supplements are setting- or purpose-specific, and require both character and setting rules. In my experience, for a future space game for example, there tend to be several copies of biotech or psionics or vehicles at the table, not just in the stack under the GM's elbow. SJ Games has figured out how to sell extra books. Not that everything they do is great, but are consistant enough that I was quite happy to drop twenty or thirty buck every month or so on a new GURPS book, even if I never used it directly, because it would have stuff in it I could steal, and I could trust it not to wreck my game (most of the time).

The difference between a GURPS expansion book and a WotC "Sparklies for Paladins and Clerics" are that the GURPS books are coherently targeted at producing a certain style of play, while the WotC expansions, particularly many of the 3e ones, were just more stuff, without a core mythology or purpose.
posted by bonehead at 8:32 AM on March 15, 2012


The supplements are basically cheat books for optimizer who chafe under sensible game balancing restrictions on classes/races.

Almost every word in this statement is wrong (especially "sensible"). What a bizarre thing to say.
The supplements feed a very important and reasonable desire for variety. I've gotten some "Ohmigod you play with numbers and mechanics instead of just resolving everything by roleplaying while wearing a very fine cloak? You're doing it wrong!" for this in various fora, but for a lot of gamers it's not enough for characters to be narratively different; two characters that are mechanically the same feel like the same guy, regardless of their stories. For players like this, a wide variety of mechanical ways to satisfy the roles the party needs is important. I play with a few people like this--you may be shocked to learn that mathematicians consider the numbers of their character to be very important--and they find the increasingly bizarre and narrow sorts of character classes and options printed as a game ages to be delightful.

That aside, I think the article is almost entirely off the mark. As Hogshead says, there's no reason at all that an RPG publisher needs to employ a hundred people, and that by itself invalidates the entire argument being made (as the lack of that crushing financial burden really removes the burning NEED to sell more books right the hell now). Even if that pressure really did exist, though, the argument that player-oriented expansion materials necessarily erode the rules is asinine. Some level of balance is absolutely achievable, and the rest can be resolved through DM fiat or, even better, the power of the internet to allow for self-updating tools that make errata relatively painless. The character builder application is one of D&D 4E's greatest achievements, although it sure would be nice if it wasn't behind a paywall (although I hear that's circumventable *coughcough*).
posted by IAmUnaware at 8:37 AM on March 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


Hogshead, you must not have read the whole article, because he differentiates between small companies and large companies. This article is about large companies (ie. makers of D&D).
posted by stbalbach at 8:49 AM on March 15, 2012


The phenomenon he describes is accurate and real and can be seen in other gaming worlds too, such as wargaming. Advanced Squad Leader has many of the same problems. When it was first released in 1985 you bought one rule book and one module. Today there are 14 modules (each costing $50 to $150), 30 supplements and 100s of second party modules. They are all intertwined in a way, making it dauntingly complex and expensive for anyone to enter the hobby. The sheer mass of stuff takes up 5 or 6 large plastic storage bins and weighs in around 150 pounds (again, just for the "official" stuff). The game is on "version 2" and would not be surprised to see a "version 3" in the next five years or so. Recently MMP the makers of ASL have said they were thinking of moving to an electronic rule book and rumors of a subscription model, the very same idea presented in this article.
posted by stbalbach at 8:55 AM on March 15, 2012


I don't know. What I get from this is more along the lines of "the need for large companies to constantly be increasing their revenues is bad for the game." The fact that people are willing to spend the money to buy unnecessary additions/editions is the reason why they can get away with it, making it kind of a symbiotic death spiral. But the truth is, we can (and do) still play 3.5e just fine.
posted by papercake at 9:52 AM on March 15, 2012


The whole 'there's too many supplements and options, new players have no idea what to do and can't handle it' argument is incredibly spot on, it's the exact same reason that restaurants with salad bars have always failed.

OH WAIT.

You get your player's handbook, and you play. When you're comfortable with that, you start looking around and expanding your horizons. No one says 'Here's my friend Jeff - he's never seen a d20 before, much less played a proper tabletop. Someone give him the fifteen books it is mandatory for him to read end to end before he plays his first Level 1 Fighter.'

People will get more books as they become comfortable looking for more books. You can't say 'player option splatbooks are bad, adventures and campaign settings are good' if your thesis is 'books = new player intimidation', since new players won't be distinguishing 'Mongoose's Guide to Hobgoblins' from 'Keep on the Borderlands' from '1001 Oracle Feats'. From a new-player position of innocence, all books will be the same to them, and equally horrifying. Or... they just have their friend walk them through making a fighter in the PHB, and a couple sessions in when they start trying to figure out how to do something mechanically that isn't core, you nudge them towards 'Ultimate Combat' or something and watch them spread their wings/winged boots/carpet of flying.

No amount of splats will ^break^ the core system. If a DM finds something unbalancing or goofy or psionics* or whatever, THEY SHOULD DENY IT. If your kid comes back from the salad bar with two plates of soft serve ice cream covered in reese's pieces and nothing else, you tell them NO and send them back to get a full bowl of bacon bits like a grown up.

*j/k i love psionics in all it's game-breaking glory... the stories i could tell...
posted by FatherDagon at 9:55 AM on March 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


If your kid comes back from the salad bar with two plates of soft serve ice cream covered in reese's pieces and nothing else, you tell them NO...

To that effect, if you want to play a Rogue/Swashbuckler/Master Thrower (Complete Warrior) augmented with feats and skill tricks from Complete Scoundrel and equipment from the Magic Item Compendium, don't bother.
posted by griphus at 10:03 AM on March 15, 2012


To that effect, if you want to play a Rogue/Swashbuckler/Master Thrower (Complete Warrior) augmented with feats and skill tricks from Complete Scoundrel and equipment from the Magic Item Compendium, don't bother.

Not at all - you just play that character in a game run by a DM that allows it. The guy running the game makes the final call about what goes and what is too much. However, it's not the fault that splat books merely exist that someone's game goes off-rails from rules addendum - it's that the DM didn't properly manage what he allowed in the game he was running.

It's not ice cream's fault for existing and being delicious. However, a lack of self control can lead to fortitude saves vs. stomach upset, and this metaphor has gone off the rails but you get the idea.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:09 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


On RPGnet, people frequently state that a game line is "dead" or that they're disappointed that a game line is no longer "supported". This always kind of baffles me, because games don't die -- they just sit on the shelf. Any game that anyone anywhere dreams of playing is a game that's still "alive".

What this shows, I think, is that a lot of people (at least people on RPGnet) aren't actually buying games to play them. Instead, they're buying games to read, cogitate about, steal ideas from and otherwise enjoy without actually playing. This kind of enjoyment would cause a person to continually want more games, more supplements, more books.

However, I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. If the entire industry starts behaving as if keeping games "alive" in this way is the only purpose of existing, rather than facilitating actual play (which should, in my mind, always be the primary reason RPGs and supplements get published), then that would be a bad thing. But since that doesn't seem to be happening, at least not yet, and since reading games is one way to enjoy them, I don't think this trend has had an overall negative effect on the industry.

Also, there's the fact that the RPG industry is very different from the RPG hobby, but that's a whole 'nother essay...
posted by jiawen at 10:14 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


The fact that player-focused stuff sells better is not a novel insight -- it's been known for a long time. But lots of common discussion about D&D is basically based on marketing efforts from 2000. For instance, the term "supplement treadmill" was invented to sell the D&D3e business model by exaggerating a known situation that extends beyond the RPG business. Funny thing is that this business model (emphasis on core books, leave supplements for third parties) failed to sustain D&D's sales, leading to an early revision, (3.5) a failed subordinate business model (Did you know that D&D3.5 was supposed to have four core books? Did anybody give a shit about the Miniatures Handbook?) and in the end, a return to selling lots of supplements.

Now 3e's open source implementation was hugely popular, but it didn't necessarily help D&D that much. I have a feeling that when WotC decided to churn out supplements again, they helped drive third parties out of that focus and into a cheap alternative: other core games based on D&D's core system. Of course, this also synched up with the collapse of third party supplement sales (the "D20 bubble") in general, so distributors needed something more substantial that "X Guide to Paladins." Alternate core books are easy to make because most of the boring writing (skills, technical descriptions of systems) has been done for you.

So D&D's business model, which was trumpeted as supremely clever, probably helped guarantee the launch of dozens of competitors. The sad thing is that the dynamics of mainstream RPG publishing provide opportunities for innovation when the time comes to refresh the game, and the clone-based model is heavily focused on the derivative because honestly, most people publishing D&D variants just aren't clever enough to design substantially new systems. Thus, we're mired in minor revisions (Pathfinder) and homages to earlier editions.

As for the original issue, I think it's been solved with the adventure path/event model developed for D&D and taken up by other games, which merge setting and scenarios into one release.
posted by mobunited at 10:20 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


or you can play with the Window system

very playable, but (of course) very GM dependant
posted by jb at 10:49 AM on March 15, 2012


No amount of splats will ^break^ the core system.

I can't speak to D&D in particular, but Palladium was pretty bad for this, at least with their Rifts line. They didn't just munchkinize the entire game with each new world book, they actually broke their own rules. Occasionally, they referred to rules/tables that didn't exist (I'm pretty sure they even did this in the core book at least once; they weren't exactly great editors).

So, yeah, you can break the core system...especially if the core system was pretty fragile to begin with.
posted by asnider at 10:49 AM on March 15, 2012


However, it's not the fault that splat books merely exist that someone's game goes off-rails from rules addendum - it's that the DM didn't properly manage what he allowed in the game he was running.

The problem is that when rules break the game as written, they're breaking the covenant between the publishers and the players. A DM shouldn't have to be utterly familiar with expansions before they're allowed in the game. If you've got a full party of characters with prestige classes from numerous book, it isn't fair the the players to pick and choose on familiarity alone because you've read Complete Warrior cover-to-cover and had no idea Complete Divine existed at all.

So when a player creates a character that looks okay on the surface and plays fine fir a while but, at some way-too-early level, somehow manages to make eight sneak attack hits a round while playing the class as written, something is wrong. The publisher has a responsibility to their product that it doesn't have to be micro-managed by the DM in order to have a fun game.
posted by griphus at 11:07 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


The thing is, in any healthy, functioning role-playing group, the players should be trying just as hard as the DM (and bear at least some of the responsibility) to make sure they don't introduce anything unbalanced and game-breaking.
posted by straight at 11:24 AM on March 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


On RPGnet, people frequently state that a game line is "dead" or that they're disappointed that a game line is no longer "supported". This always kind of baffles me, because games don't die -- they just sit on the shelf. Any game that anyone anywhere dreams of playing is a game that's still "alive".

But there won't be any new players discovering the game either, or anything new and interesting being done with such a game.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:35 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've been running a weird hybrid game between 1E and 3E lately. We've got a couple of players who are super into minmaxing their fighters so that they're all but invulnerable. (It was worse when I discovered they were having Mage Armor cast on them and having it stack with their regular armor, but no matter.)

Those people above who say that the splatbooks don't overpower characters, I think, are not seeing their true impact on the game, because my minmaxing players salivate so much about the possibility of adding Super Deluxe Options X, Y and Z from stuff like The Book of Weeaboo Fightan Magic that I have restricted them to core books only just to keep the game sane. (They are much more experienced with playing D&D characters than I am with running a D&D game, in any case, and I don't have the time to read all those books and figure out how to give them substantive challenges.)

WotC realized the formula for expanded sales during the 3.0 publishing cycle. Player oriented supplements sell much better than DM oriented supplements because gamers want additional options and they don't want to have to homebrew everything.

This actually dates back to TSR and second edition. D&D hit it big in the 70s when it very suddenly and auspiciously hit the Ultra Big Time and became, for a moment, a mass market phenomenon. The company size ballooned up from that, but the popularity didn't last long. Ever since that time, the company (or whatever other company owns D&D at that moment) has been trying to recapture that past glory. They have been just successful enough to keep the dream alive, but have still fallen way short of the heady old days.

In my mixture game of 1E and 3E, I have discovered that I like the 1E parts a great deal more than the 3E parts. In 1E, characters are in genuine danger nearly every moment, and nearly everything in the adventure is dangerous in some way: besides monsters, some traps are save or die, and the cursed items are nasty and hilarious. Whereas in 3E, if I gave them "challenges" of CR equal to their level they'd just walk through the 13 1/3 encounters they need to gain a level, and character advancement is so rapid that they'd level out of The Temple of Elemental Evil long before they reached fell Zuggtmoy. Everything I've seen about 4E implies that it's even worse.

What is more, it takes a hell of a lot longer to play 3E combat than 1E combat. They've just finished the first level of the Temple and it's taken them two months, because every time they find a room of monsters I have to set up the battle mat, drawing rooms (or, more recently, using prebuilt Lego constructions for rooms), arranging figures, and what follows is everyone clapping their tokens around the field. We can't ever do more than two encounters a session because of that. The players seem to be okay with it, but I'm just about bored out of my mind.
posted by JHarris at 2:50 PM on March 15, 2012


The thing is, in any healthy, functioning role-playing group, the players should be trying just as hard as the DM (and bear at least some of the responsibility) to make sure they don't introduce anything unbalanced and game-breaking.

This is counter to the spirit of the game dating back to the old days. It's more true of other RPGs, but D&D's tone is more adversarial. The players are doing everything they can to win out, because their characters would, and it's their lives on the line. This is neither good nor bad, I think there's room for both kinds of game.
posted by JHarris at 2:56 PM on March 15, 2012


The thing is there is a vicious cycle of production that happens with RPGs. I know that quite a few gaming purists would like it if people just put out a single rpg book and then shut their company down. But the thing is if writing rpgs is a business, then a continuous stream of profitable material has to keep flowing. That means either putting out a couple game books in a given combined setting and system (say, Dresdin Files) and then putting out another game system, or regularly putting out crunchy books with options players and referees like.

When you have a system that's badly broken already, like 3rd. edition D&D, then it's easy for new material to imbalance things even further. In this respect games like GURPS and Savage Worlds are practically miracles in that they seem to be able to keep putting out material with lots of crunch for players, without invalidating what comes before. I seriously doubt that Pathfinder is going to be able to continue doing so for long, since they're working with a badly balanced system.
posted by happyroach at 2:58 PM on March 15, 2012


I think one of the real achievements that D&D4 managed is that as a GM, you probably *don't* need to worry about what the players come up with. I've been running 4e since it came out, and I've never actually sat down and read a player's character sheet. We can just talk about who they are, figure out how they get involved in the game, and start playing - and I, the GM, can be surprised by the cool tricks they come out with.

Basically, it compartmentalises complexity - I generally don't have to tailor my GM work to what the characters can *mechanically* do, all I have to do is make sure the characters want to be involved from a personality point of view.

It's pretty sweet to be surprised by the players mid-fight.
posted by xiw at 3:01 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


So D&D's business model, which was trumpeted as supremely clever, probably helped guarantee the launch of dozens of competitors.

Yet if it weren't for OGL we probably wouldn't even be talking about D&D today. WOTC successfully got the whole RPG publishing community on board with their project to revive D&D, and it was a brilliant move. You certainly see far fewer 4E add-ons.

Your party needs a skill monkey, so somebody is stuck being the dude who runs around stabbing people in the back. Your party needs a healer so somebody is stuck playing the lawful good stick in the mud with the heavy armor.

It's not like you can't multiclass.

But with the core classes as they were, it was nice to be able to make your skill monkey a Factotum or your healer a Healer or whatever instead of having to use the same character archetypes over and over.

At least the old archetypes were iconic. The new ones, well, what the heck is an "arcane archer" supposed to be? I don't remember seeing one of those in Conan or LOTR.

In my opinion that's one of the few things that D&D 4.0 got right, they split up the classes into meta-class types (striker, tank, etc.) and designed the game around being able to build a balanced party with various different classes. The problem with that approach was that they made all of the classes too interchangeable though, a Wizard plays almost exactly the same as any other controller class instead of feeling like it has any features unique to wizards.

I've already spent a lifetime of bile talking about 4E. Suffice to say, the thing in your first point regarding the MMORPG-like templates, that you like, I hate, and your second point, that you hate, I really hate.
posted by JHarris at 3:06 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


4E does a wonderful job of managing the complexity of a complex game. As a player, I have all my powers easily accessible on easy-to-read cards, and my GM states that the complexity on his end is equally well managed by modular systems. Really, more games could stand to learn from 4E in this regard.
posted by happyroach at 3:07 PM on March 15, 2012


The first time I played D&D was 13 or 14 years ago, but I've gone many, many years between campaigns, and even when I'm playing I tend not to think in terms of making my character really powerful, and I tend not to know the conventional wisdom about what classes are better than others, what spells are better than others, and so on. (...And sometimes I need to be reminded of very basic rules...)

Most of the people in my group have been playing for longer than I have, but not that much longer. But some of them actually care about power, and about supplement books, and -- I won't say minmaxing, because it's not that, but stretching the limits of what their characters can do.

It DOES make the game more intimidating for new people, and it does make the game more intimidating for people who care more about the "story" aspect than the "whacking things with a sword" aspect, but... I'm not sure there's anything wrong with that? Chess is intimidating for new people, because it's something you have to learn a lot about to get good at. That's true of a lot of games. (And D&D should never get as adversarial as chess does -- at least, that's been my experience.) But I don't mind the "be a little underpowered relative to anyone else, but still sneak in a good fireball once in a while" strategy.
posted by Jeanne at 3:12 PM on March 15, 2012


Yet if it weren't for OGL we probably wouldn't even be talking about D&D today. WOTC successfully got the whole RPG publishing community on board with their project to revive D&D, and it was a brilliant move.


The OGL was an incredible failure in it's actual task, which was to cripple all aspects of the game industry which were not D&D.

Seriously, if you read the writings of the creator, the idea was that there were too many competing games at the time, so a winnowing was needed. THe OGC was supposed to accomplish this by having everybody be so busy making products for D&D that pretty much all non-D&D games would whither away. It was, in short a Trojan horse that was designed to kill D&D's competitors, and we're fortunate it failed miserably.

Really, the only good thing that came out of the OGL was games like FATE, which take the notion of sharing systems seriously. Hence games like Spirit of the Century, Diaspora, and Dresdin Files, which use the same FATE system.
posted by happyroach at 3:15 PM on March 15, 2012


What this shows, I think, is that a lot of people (at least people on RPGnet) aren't actually buying games to play them. Instead, they're buying games to read, cogitate about, steal ideas from and otherwise enjoy without actually playing. This kind of enjoyment would cause a person to continually want more games, more supplements, more books.
THIS.
I used to buy compulsively addendums and supplements, just to sate my desire for more knowledge of the world of a given RPG (it mostly went on with Shadowrun & Ars Magica, both awesome RPGs, altough the 2nd is miles better than anything else i ever played) and i didn't mind if i never played the game, as was (mostly) the case with Shadowrun.
posted by vivelame at 3:39 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


The OGL was an incredible failure in it's actual task, which was to cripple all aspects of the game industry which were not D&D.

You are most likely completely wrong, and your statement smacks somewhat of Microsoft crying about the "viral nature" of the GPL threatening to destroy the software world.

Until Pathfinder (which is just the second coming of 3E) D&D has always, always been, by far, the most successful roleplaying game. Even in the waning days of 2E, D&D was the only roleplaying game to commonly find shelving in mainstream bookstores, which automatically increases their sales beyond anything another company could hope to match. If WOTC was worried about competitors then their concerns were wildly misplaced. If you are going to stand by that, then you're going to need a cite.

OGL gave us quite a lot of cool things that it's easy to forget about because there's also rather a lot of D20 crap as well. But as for the best, well, D20 Call of Cthulhu alone would be worth the entire deal, a joint project between WOTC and Chaosium. Far from destroying it, I think D20 rather helped give the whole RPG industry a bit of a boost by giving it a basic, default system.

However, one can probably ascribe more malign motives, after the proliferation of D20 games, to 4E's GSL, which tried to stamp out OGL (and thus D20) material by saying your company couldn't make products for both 4E and D20. They took an open and rather wonderful system and tried to bring it in under the control of the One Ring.
posted by JHarris at 4:45 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yet if it weren't for OGL we probably wouldn't even be talking about D&D today. WOTC successfully got the whole RPG publishing community on board with their project to revive D&D, and it was a brilliant move. You certainly see far fewer 4E add-ons.

I think we'd still be talking about D&D if there were commercial RPGs at all. From what I've heard the only time D&D was ever beaten in sales before the release of Pathfinder (a revised 3.5 clone) was for a brief period after the release of Vampire Revised. D&D had not been completely revised in about a decade. Any serious overhaul like 3e's probably would have warranted attention with or without the OGL. The actual purpose of the OGL/D20STL was to offload the "supplement treadmill" on to other companies. The result: D&D's earlier than planned 3.5 revision and a renewed commitment to pumping out supplements anyway. (One of them, Dragon Magic, exists solely because of market research that said books with "dragon" and "magic" were strong sellers.) When 3.5 and WotC's reentry into supplements, third party supplements collapsed, and D20 derivative games spiked, to be eventually followed by retroclone games, etc. Given that I read former WotC staffers complaining about this, I seriously doubt this was The Plan All Along.

One thing to understand is that all RPGs were doing badly in the latter half of the 90s (and they're doing even worse now). The official WotC line as of 3e was that it was basically the fault of competitors alienating players. Everybody who wasn't working for WoTC was pretty sure it was Magic and other card games, since declines neatly matched its release. WotC makes Magic cards. You can draw your own conclusions from there. In short, you can't really examine what comes from the company uncritically. Similarly, it's hard to compare sales of various editions because each edition after 1e has been accompanied by an announcement that it broke previous sales records. Obviously, the meaning shifts with time.

One of the unfortunate side effects of this whole thing has been the erosion of the fair use concept. The idea floating around in bigger companies now is that even though game rules are non-copyrightable (though expressions of them are) numeric values and their interactions are protected in the same fashion as programming code. The licenses associated with D&D do allow some use of specific expressions, but they're also phrased as if they're releasing rights which they don't have in the first place. I dread a legal situation which appeals to common industry practice and ends up screwing with fair use, which RPGs need in order to maintain the game design jazz that makes good stuff happens. When I see a license appended to someone's blog to make their house rules and adventures "legal," it kind of saddens me.
posted by mobunited at 5:00 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


What this shows, I think, is that a lot of people (at least people on RPGnet) aren't actually buying games to play them. Instead, they're buying games to read, cogitate about, steal ideas from and otherwise enjoy without actually playing. This kind of enjoyment would cause a person to continually want more games, more supplements, more books.

THIS.
I used to buy compulsively addendums and supplements, just to sate my desire for more knowledge of the world of a given RPG (it mostly went on with Shadowrun & Ars Magica, both awesome RPGs, altough the 2nd is miles better than anything else i ever played) and i didn't mind if i never played the game, as was (mostly) the case with Shadowrun.
posted by vivelame


Yup. I used to take the 2nd Edition Dark Sun campaign materials and settings everywhere when I was starting out. I played the game, and that setting, for years. And have then continued to tote those books with me from move to move for the last 11 years! I've gotten a crazy amount of value out of what I paid, thanks to the fact that these sorts of RPG experiences tend to occur in my head. That's not a very sustainable business model, I guess.

Another factor: D&D comes in phases now that I'm an adult. I'll get a campaign going, play for 6 or 8 months and then stop, and a year or two passes. The next time the urge coincides with the requisite other folks, the desire to buy the new edition and the new supplements and dive into them.

I bet they get a pretty nice steady cyclical streams of "relapse" purchasers.

posted by lazaruslong at 5:32 PM on March 15, 2012


tags are hard
posted by lazaruslong at 5:33 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]




I'm guilty of buying books I know I'll never use too. I bought the Epic Level Handbook from 3E specifically because I thought the stuff in it was awesome. I'd probably buy Planescape or Spelljammer if they were on shelves now just because the world building in them is so neat. (Yeah, I like Spelljammer. At least it's not all grimdark like a certain other property involving orcs in space I could name.)
posted by JHarris at 6:46 PM on March 15, 2012


JHarris: "I'm guilty of buying books I know I'll never use too."

I have to say, this is nothing to be "guilty" of. Enjoying the worldbuilding in books is a perfectly legitimate way of enjoying them -- just one among many. Using books in actual play is only one of many possible ways to enjoy them. All are legitimate, I think, so long as the industry doesn't start designing books primarily to (for example) sit on a shelf and look pretty rather than to be useful in actual play. That doesn't seem to be happening, so there's nothing to feel guilty about. (People feeling guilty over enjoying pure worldbuilding is a whole 'nother essay of mine...)
posted by jiawen at 11:35 PM on March 15, 2012


Jharris > What is more, it takes a hell of a lot longer to play 3E combat than 1E combat. They've just finished the first level of the Temple and it's taken them two months, because every time they find a room of monsters I have to set up the battle mat, drawing rooms (or, more recently, using prebuilt Lego constructions for rooms), arranging figures, and what follows is everyone clapping their tokens around the field. We can't ever do more than two encounters a session because of that. The players seem to be okay with it, but I'm just about bored out of my mind.

What's stopping you from just using simpler combat rules? I always thought all the miniatures, hex maps, and whatnot were optional, not required. Let alone Lego versions of rooms.

I mean, there's a pleasure to that, sure, but there's also something to be said about a campaign whose equipment is basically "some books, some character sheets, dice, and pizza".

Then again the last time I played AD&D was when 2e was still newish, and the last time I bought any RPG books was in like '92 when I picked up the Tooniversal Tour Guide, so maybe all the miniatures shit is deeply embedded in AD&D 3e?
posted by egypturnash at 11:45 PM on March 15, 2012


Miniature shit is indeed deeply embedded into 3E (though not as deeply as 4E, which is a miniature combat system and not much else). You can ignore the subset of 3E dealing with miniature shit, though almost no groups do that, so if you play with other groups or bring in outside players, there's gonna be a "this isn't 3E" mismatch—the by-the-book movement is strong in 3E—and someone's going to snort in derision about someone else's dude with a spiked chain and enlarge person buff and someone's going to call badwrongfun. Ultimately, yeah, miniature shit is indeed deeply embedded in 3E.

Pretty much the same way shitty roleplaying is embedded in 3E. /me zoidberg-dances off stage.
posted by fleacircus at 5:43 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've been running a weird hybrid game between 1E and 3E lately. We've got a couple of players who are super into minmaxing their fighters so that they're all but invulnerable. (It was worse when I discovered they were having Mage Armor cast on them and having it stack with their regular armor, but no matter.)

Those people above who say that the splatbooks don't overpower characters, I think, are not seeing their true impact on the game, because my minmaxing players salivate so much about the possibility of adding Super Deluxe Options X, Y and Z from stuff like The Book of Weeaboo Fightan Magic that I have restricted them to core books only just to keep the game sane. (They are much more experienced with playing D&D characters than I am with running a D&D game, in any case, and I don't have the time to read all those books and figure out how to give them substantive challenges.)


Or those of us who say that splatbooks don't overpower the game know how to break the game sideways and actually understand where people are coming from. In 3.X there is a commonly agreed power order for classes - and one thing that is screamingly obvious is that of the six top tier gamebreaking classes, three are from the PHB. In the best guide for wizards going, of the ten spells called out as too stinkily broken to be fair, six are from the PHB and a further two from the PHB2.

The same pattern is present in 4e. If I'm looking for the broken stuff, it's almost all in the PHB - Twin Strike, cleric dailies, stunlocking orb wizards.

As for your fighters min-maxing, let them! The fighter in 3.X is incredibly underpowered. In core 3.5 you have not only the fighter but the druid who is literally able to say "My animal companion is a trippy or grapply fighter. I'm wild shaped to be a fighter (and who cares if I dumped strength). Oh, and I'm summoning more fighters with my magic (and never mind that summoning unicorns eclipses the cleric's healing." Unless they've gone for Hulking Hurlers or an Enlarged Whirlwind Spiked Chain Trip Fighters (PHB again) they are going to be significantly less powerful than any 3.X primary spellcaster. And even those builds are one trick ponies.

As for the Book of Nine Swords, of course fighter-players want it. It is cool! And Bo9S characters are more powerful than the PHB fighter (which isn't surprising as just about everything is). Being more powerful than the PHB fighter isn't exactly an achievement - the PHB fighter being about the third worst PC class in the game (ahead of the minor variant of the fighter that is the Samurai, and arguably ahead of the monk). Bo9S classes are all only about on a power level with the bard.

Yes, there are times you can do some seriously twisted things with splatbooks like create Pun-Pun but those tend to be obvious. The overpowered day to day stuff is in the PHB. Banning splatbooks doesn't help with that - it just prevents the PCs getting characters that are as cool as they would like.

Oh, if 3.X fighters give you too much of a headache just attack their will save.
posted by Francis at 5:45 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's not like you can't multiclass

Other than prestige classes and the cheesy tricks that min maxers play with multiclassing, I don't see it as a great way to make more interesting characters. Even for combinations that kind of make sense like Rogue/Ranger (rather than Barbarian/Wizard), if you've gained 4 levels of Rogue and 4 levels of Ranger you have a lot less of the cool stuff of either class that you would have at level 8, and a level 8 Wizard will be way overpowered compared to your character.

At least the old archetypes were iconic. The new ones, well, what the heck is an "arcane archer" supposed to be? I don't remember seeing one of those in Conan or LOTR

This may be a sign that D&D is not my ideal tabletop fantasy game, but the fact that you aren't restricted to generic ripoffs of Tolkien archetypes is a plus for me. If I'm playing a video game RPG where the mechanics are the main focus and the backstory doesn't really matter at all, it's fine to have a generic old dude with a gray beard and pointy hat who casts spells but is terrible at physical combat. But if I'm playing a game where I'm supposed to have a lot more freedom to make an interesting character and do interesting things, it's a bummer to basically have the system tell you exactly what your character's concept and personality is without a lot of wiggle room to make it different and still have a character that performs well in the mechanics of the game. The DM gets to have books and books of unique monsters and races to populate the fantasy world with, and to me a half dozen or so fairly rigid classes do not give the players enough base material to come up with similarly interesting characters.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:06 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


As for the actual topic of the discussion, a lot depends on how the options are added. Assuming we're talking about D&D, I'm going to illustrate from 3e and 4e. But there's a basic principle at work: Inclusionary options are bad for the game, exclusionary ones are within reason good for it.

To elaborate, an inclusionary option is one with very low resource cost. A spell in any 3.X seting with magic shops fits this nicely. As does a new magic item given the exponential scale for income. You can buy it out of pocket cash without changing the basis of your character. Which means you easily get to add its combos to what you can already do. An exclusionary option is something like a character class. You can be a rogue or a fighter (or in 3.X can only level one of them up at once). You can't as a fighter take the awe-inspiring "Come and Get It" in 4e while taking any of the other alternate power choices.

Feats are something else. 3.X and 4e both have well over a thousand feats. That's gone past the "Within reason". Nothing wrong with having feats but they are way into eyes-glazing-over territory.

To pick examples from both 3.X and 4e:

3.X had the Spell Compendium. This was a bad supplement - with wizards being able to know an unlimited number of spells and clerics and druids having their pick of spells to prepare from the list, the mere existance of additional spells was automatic power-creep and created some horrible interactions.

3.X also had the Book of Nine Swords/Book of Weaboo Fitan Magic. Yes, it presented versions of the Fighter, Monk, and Paladin that were much more powerful than their predecessors. But the power level wasn't up to that of the strong PHB classes, and what it presented was alternate and interesting character classes for those archetypes. You replaced power rather than added so the interaction problems weren't as bad.

(On a sidenote, one of the biggest problems with 3.X was the Polymorph spells - which turned the Monster Manuals into supplements with inclusionary PC options if they had these spells/features).

In 4e you had Adventurer's Vault II. The biggest problem with AV and AVII is that they are incredibly boring to read. But beyond that, they add lots of extra options to already existing characters as they are essentially books full of magic items.

Also in 4e you have Martial Power II. Silly name. But what it adds includes a set of sword-and-fist options for the fighter (think Hercules from the old TV series), an Archer Warlord and a seriously heavily armoured Warlord. Also a skirmishing archer ranger who switches to a two handed weapon to finish off downed foes rather than relies on pure archery most of the time, a two weapon shock trooper, and a rogue focussing on crossbows and stealth. But to take these options, you have to give other options up - for instance the armoured warlord simply isn't as good at making sure the party is ready as the previous version, and the sword-and-fist fighter doesn't carry a shield. It's extended the options that are strongly supported in the game (including the "Lazy Warlord" - who never directly makes an attack) but hasn't made the game harder to manage.

The two exclusionary options haven't harmed the game in the slightest. The inclusionary ones IMO have.
posted by Francis at 8:47 AM on March 16, 2012


What's stopping you from just using simpler combat rules? I always thought all the miniatures, hex maps, and whatnot were optional, not required. Let alone Lego versions of rooms.

As said by others above, the miniatures game is inextricable from 3E. Between attacks of oppotunity, creature sizes and reach ranges, and a plethora of feats (unchangeable aspects of character generation) that depend on it, if you take out the mat you're taking out a lot of the game. My players have come to see the mat as basically being D&D.

On overpowered fighters: I think the PHB powercreep is such that it only shows up at high levels, and after some early mistakes I am now careful to keep players' levels low with house rules* to keep them from outlevelling the adventure. (I'm running 1E Temple of Elemental Evil with adjustments, some made on the fly and some planned.)

* Some of my house rules, presented in case someone finds them useful. The game is generally 3E, but the adventure is 1E. To make this work, what I do is:
1. Retain 1E's gold-pieces-harvested-grant-experience rule. Sometimes this gives the players a huge windfall of experience, but just as often it's just a sideline, which gives the game a kind of feast-or-famine aspect I like. Remember: gold from selling stuff found in dungeons is worth experience too, but sold magic items have a special lower experience income.
2. The place where 1E and 3E experience tracks start to seriously diverge is around level 5. After some spreadsheet, this scaling factor to convert 1E experience to 3E seems appropriate:
Up to Level 4: Experience as given.
Level 5: 1/2 experience
Level 6: 1/4 experience
Level 7: 1/6 experience
Level 8: 1/10 experience
Level 9: 1/12 experience // note: most classes earn their last hit die here in 1E, while 3E characters keep earning them until level 20
Level 10: 1/14 experience
Level 11+: 1/16 experience
This may seem harsh at higher levels. Well, in our experience (note: not just mine) D&D starts to break down as a game at just those higher levels. I do make moderate use of small, unscaled experience rewards for good thinking or roleplaying. One advantage of doing it this way is that it brings back the aspect of 1E where low-level characters can catch up to high-level characters in experience, instead of forever being the runts of the group. However, it has come to my attention that a 3E level is "worth less" than a 1E level, so this approach to scaling may be misguided.
3. Temple of Elemental Evil has a good number of places where treasure is really well-hidden, like, if you dig in particular spots in the Earth room, or dig for several rounds in the burning coals. These treasures tend to be outsize valuable, and players should not find them just from succeeding on a Search or Spot check unless it's like over-the-top successful (DC 40+). Instead, players must identify how specifically they are searching. What a character says he is doing always overrules how well he does on a die roll, if it is appropriate.
4. If a monster in the adventure has a 3E version, use the 3E version. The DM is helped somewhat in that monsters in 1E and 3E use generally similar mechanics, but if used unchanged 1E monsters are woefully underpowered compared to 3E ones. In particular, 1E likes throwing bucketfulls of 0-level "normal men" against players as opponents, but even with a natural-20s-automatically-hit rule they have really no chance against well-equipped level 6 fighters. I've been using some pre-gens I found on delta's website, especially level 5 and 7 warriors which aren't really dangerous to the lead fighters but still hit sometimes.
5. Restrict magic items. This is really important. How the players had been playing before, they could pretty much buy any magic item in the DMG, or even Magic Item Compendium. I tend to like more the 1E attitude that magic items are really rare and not generally findable in shops, but if a player decides to make a magic item by 3E rules and has the necessary feats I let them, since gold costs this way are pretty high.
6. I discarded the rule where players had to pay to train to gain levels. It was in the game originally, I think, to be a money sink (1E has lots of them). I still try to provide money sinks, but for other things.
7. Speaking of money sinks... I found an online resource that develops the nearby town of Verbobonc ("Verb-o-bonk") to exquisite detail. I've let the players use that instead of Homlett or Holm. I made up some house rules for finding random magic items up to level 5 from the Magic Item Compendium in the marketplace there. In my opinion D&D is better when you are forced to use what you happen to find than getting exactly the item you want from the books. I generally give players one roll there per game day in Verbobonc, but with a limit of about five rolls a game month. The marketplace charges extra for items though, and sometimes these marketplace items are cursed.
8. I give players the option to spend extra gold instead of experience points when making an magic item. I go with a figure that some books suggest, 10x the experience cost in additional gold. This works well for ToEE because there's really a lot of money laying around.
9. No sorcerers, whose point in 3E is to side-step Vancian magic. Other than free spells earned when gaining a level, wizards have to build their spellbooks like in 1E, scribing found scrolls into their spellbooks to increase their repertoire.
10. Cursed items. IMO, D&D isn't D&D without them. There are some good ones in ToEE, including a really evil artifact.
11. Henchmen. I've discarded the 3E rule requiring the Leadership feat; if players can dice for them under 1E's henchman rules, they can have as many henchmen apiece as Charisma bonus, minimum of 1. The catches: I also use 1E's introduction rules for them (they enter at level 3 at most, and so far have always started all the way back at level 1), and although their player gets to control them they also get morale checks if mistreated or if the going is particularly bad. Several times, however, having henchmen around has saved a primary character's life, usually at the cost of the henchman however. This does tend to bulk out combats however.
12. Care about hints. 1E adventures often have little things that practically no player will ever do have some special effect. As I see it, these are here to give ask-a-question sorts of divination spells something to do. 3E divination tends to be of an entirely different sort, limited to things like detecting magic and identifying things. I've yet to come up with a good analogue to the 3E way of doing things. I may have to invent a spell. (I don't have the 3E spell listings memorized, so forgive me if there is a spell for just this sort of thing.)
13. 1E uses a 10' square on maps. 3E's battle grid is 5' square. I have been careful to scale battle situations up to match this, which works very well.
14. During a fight, I always make sure I know the contents of nearby rooms, and try to make sure, if the neighbors can hear the fun, that they crash the party unless they're part of a particularly important set piece. Particularly, my players have come to regret several times standing by a closed door during a fight....
15. Since the players are traveling fairly often to Verbobonc (about a week away) I took the opportunity to have Romag, priest presiding over the first level, restock the dungeon with new higher-level guards and ogres on one of the occasions the party was away. Ogres are good opponents for mid-level fighters: they're only CR 2, but they have fairly good to-hit bonuses and their clubs sting. Hill Giants are particularly great opponents because they can make even optimally minmaxed fighters sweat at this level, but are far from invulnerable. Be careful with them however, they can overwhelm an unprepared party.
16. Save-or-die poison and no save situations: 3E always gives a saving throw while often 1E will not give one in certain situations. I find that 3E's approach lends to a certain air of callousness on the part of players, as if they have a very high skill they tend to swagger around more, knowing even if they trigger the trap they have an excellent chance to escape it. So, no-save situations I tend to keep in. But save-or-die potion seems to be going too far. BTW, it's worth noting that it's not quite so bad in 1E as it seems as first: as I understand it, the intent of the "Slow Poison" spell is to effectively bring a recently-poisoned character back to life if cast immediately. This spell doesn't exist in 3E, making things harder for players.
17. The Temple of Earth: The earth elementals here are obviously intended to be undefeatable opponents at the player's levels. They have 16HD in the adventure (I generally use hit dice as a measure of how difficult a monster is supposed to be), and a 16HD 3E earth elemental is "huge," and an over-the-top opponent. Fortunately, they have precise rules. I had Romag, after all his guards had been defeated by the party, retreat to here and hold up, but the party managed to overcome the elementals by killing Romag and then commanding the elementals to go away (while wearing some of Romag's ceremonial robes -- I was careful to leave them hints that this would work, but they didn't quite pick up on it until it was almost too late).
18. Unsolved problem: Zuggtmoy. I found Zuggtmoy's 3E stats in a splatbook -- she's CR 21 in 3E, and will easily demolish even an 8th level party (the high-end of the range suggested on the cover). I could tone her down somewhat though; she's supposed to be sealed here and doesn't have full access to her powers. I'm open to ideas as to what to do....
I am helped in my efforts by, whenever the players complain about not being able to resort to a time-honored 3E powergame exploit, reminding them that this is a 1E adventure, and that it was partly written by Gary Gygax himself. I have quelled their arguments more than once by invoking that holy name, and regularly use him as a scapegoat when something untoward happens to their beloved pretend guys.

posted by JHarris at 2:10 PM on March 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Gah, I didn't mean for that to be so large. I thought it'd just be a paragraph or two. Please excuse places in that giant block of text that don't seem to make sense, I really just wanted to get it all out there as quickly as I could so I could go on and do other things. Particularly, I want to say I let them use Verbobonc as a base of operations, a phrase I left out of point 7 above.
posted by JHarris at 2:13 PM on March 16, 2012


I've played a single matless game of 3.5. Unless the DM's day job is being a savant air traffic controller, you end up either having to discard so many rules that combat becomes too simple to be fun, or you have to arbitrarily apply rules based on the conception of the setting in the DM's head, which no one but the DM is privy to. That may be fine in certain types of campaigns, but there's no good way to do combat well in 3.X without a mat.
posted by griphus at 2:21 PM on March 16, 2012


Er, to clarify, I played a single matless campaign of 3.5. It took place over the course of maybe six months. And that's in contrast to the dozen or so 3/3.5 campaigns I've played with a mat.
posted by griphus at 2:24 PM on March 16, 2012


A priori, all this sounds like the world needs more open source table top role-playing games.

There are already enough OGL and Creative Commons games to keep anyone busy for a lifetime. (Of course, D&D is one of them.) If the "dirty little secret" as the article has it is that "once you've bought the basic rules and a book of monsters, you don't need anything else", the dirtier secret is that you don't even need to buy any rules if you already have Internet access, a printer, and a bunch of dice.

Not that this stops me.
posted by Zed at 2:34 PM on March 16, 2012


So 3e really does insist on the battlemat? That's so incredibly counter to, well, the entire rest of the RPG industry. I wonder if that was the point. Kind of ironic that Jonathan Tweet worked on that!

Is 4e (and the teasers of 5e) as hostile to non-grognards, or did they pull back from that number-crunchy OLD SKOOL extreme?

Memo to self: if you want to play D&D, don't join a 3e campaign.
posted by egypturnash at 10:35 PM on March 16, 2012


Tweet's now working on (along with Rob Heinsoo) a love letter to D&D called 13th Age. In Tweet and the publisher, Pelgrane, I have trust. But the world's seen an awful lot of love letters to D&D.
posted by Zed at 11:16 PM on March 16, 2012


My history with 3E has been a bit complex. Before it came out I had made several attempts to understand past editions of the game, which were always sabotaged because I had never seen original D&D, now referred to as "OD&D," and in fact had only an unclear understand that this version even existed. The 1E books are nearly unuseable as game manuals without having at least read the white box books as context (and even those to a degree require you having read Chainmain and Avalon Hill's Outdoor Survival). 2E doesn't have that problem, but has the disadvantage of being less wonderful generally. (Seriously, the 1E books are fully worth the price even if you can't directly play the game only using them, even if you never play D&D. Those appendices are concentrated awesome.)

Then came out 3E. While not easy to digest quickly, it was the first time I actually really understood the rules to a D&D game. And a lot of things that seemed unfair about earlier editions were suddenly not unfair. I loved it.

It's only recently that I've decided that I agree with the grognards that 3E is really too time-consuming, and too reliant on miniatures. But it remains that these things don't so much hurt the game as are a departure from the awesomeness of the early days. I'll still play 3E if I have to (and my players currently have no interest in any other version -- I only got to do my 1/3E hybrid game because I'd only run the game that way).
posted by JHarris at 4:17 AM on March 17, 2012


My first game of D&D was when I was like eight, using the Blue Book. It made sense. Sometime after that I got the 1E AD&D books.

I've never seen the while box/Chainmail stuff, ever. Had no problem playing without that. Although I can't speak to how well the 1e AD&D books worked if you came to them cold; I think everyone I gamed with had a copy of the Blue Book in their past.

Of course the people I played with also cheerfully fucked around with house rules. Which was something the AD&D rules explicitly encouraged you to do. (I seem to recall hearing some later editions took that out, even told you NOT to do that?) And ultimately my regular group ended up being one that preferred GURPS, which had two sets of combat rules - the quick abstract ones, and the hardcore BREAK OUT THE MAPS rules. And worldbooks galore...
posted by egypturnash at 11:56 AM on March 18, 2012


As I'm fond of pointing out, there are a lot of rpg choices out there... for heroic fantasy in the D& D vein, besides Pathfinder, there are several retroclones, some of which are free. Furthur afield, there's Dungeon World, Barbarians of Lemuria, Reign, Runequest variants like Legend and Openquest, Legends of Anglerre, Adventurer Conqueror King, Burning Wheel, The Dying Earth, Heroquest, Rolemaster, Harnmaster, Hackmaster, the GURPS Dungeon Fantasy line, etc., etc.
posted by Zed at 4:21 PM on March 18, 2012


Is 4e (and the teasers of 5e) as hostile to non-grognards, or did they pull back from that number-crunchy OLD SKOOL extreme?

4e is basically a new game written from scratch and it's nothing like the hassle 3.X can be, especially from the DM side of the table. (Seriously? Screw any monster that says "Casts like an Nth level wizard" - PCs only have to make one PC (plus replacements)). On the downside it's a lot harder to not use the battlemat in 4e than previous editions, and combat takes too damn long (but is at least fun while it's taking a while as long as you narrate what's going on). It needs a light-combat system for 8th level PCs dealing with a small goblin patrol.

I seem to recall hearing some later editions took that out, even told you NOT to do that?

Bwuh? Not 3.X or 4e. On the other hand people are scared to house rule 4e because the thing is delicately balanced. Which isn't a good reason. Good balance means it can take more bad houserules before falling over. On the other hand it's relatively elegant, so a clunky houserule sticks out like a sore thumb.
posted by Francis at 3:32 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is an open system called Eclipse Phase that many people like, probably deserves mention if not it's own post. And we apparently had an entire thread about free/open systems last year.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:58 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Francis, it's only slightly harder to do away with the battlemat in 4E than 3E, that is to say, it's pretty integral to both games' combat. But 4E is a lot more explicit mechanics and special moves, to the extent that even Fighters only rarely "Attack" anymore. Instead, they invoke some special ability that that does damage to the foe in some special way.

I would hate to be in the position of designing D&D Fifth Edition, as by now there are so many different players wanting so many different things that satisfying all of them is damn near impossible. Even in days of 1E through 2E they had this phenomenon; remember that was the age of "basic" D&D, which despite some quirks was a lot faster and cleaner to play than the main system.

But for all the carping I've done about 4E, now that this version of the game exists I feel just as bad for the players who love it and who may be now facing its disappearance as I felt for my players when they sunset 3/3.5E. Game rules don't go obsolete; there is no reason to force players to trade up versions every few years, especially when versions end up being so different from each other.

I hate to say it, but... if there is any company that can figure out a way to make money selling the same old thing over and over again, it's Hasbro. Of course, it doesn't quite fit to sell Pokemon D&D, or I Love Lucy D&D, or NASCAR D&D, or Nintendo D&D, but that didn't stop them from selling it for Monopoly, but is there another solution? If there is, I'm sure Hasbro can find it. Hopefully 5E will end up being some kind of definitive version, and we won't need to trade up again. I mean, ever.
posted by JHarris at 7:15 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


THAC04LIFE
posted by das_2099 at 12:53 PM on March 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


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