Monday, January 9, 2012

5th Edition D&D Already?

In looking at the various news posts today relating to Dungeons and Dragons, it looks like 5th ed is on the way. This is way too soon in my opinion. We didn't get 3.5 this quickly. Mind you, I'm of the firm opinion that the Essentials were a ".5" edition so the cycle does seem to be quite short this time around.

WoTC talks about uniting the fans of the brand behind "one ring" so to speak. Won't happen. While 3rd edition had a lot of the elements that made D&D what its known for, 4th ed went a completely different path. Not necessarily a bad one in terms of game design, but rituals, spells, and magic items were all lain down and sacrificed under the banner of balance. You will not be able to make people who want to play a powerful wizard who is weak at low levels happy at the same time you make those who want all of the classes to retain equal utility throughout the entire careers. Not going to happen. End. Fini.

There are some things that I think WoTC should do that could help reduce the issues that will crop up during this time. Many of them have nothing to do with game mechanic design and I've mentioned them numerous times before.

1. Know what the hell you're talking about. When 4th edition was in the pipeline, the VTT (virtual table top) along with other bits of the DDI were supposed to be seamlessly integrated into the edition. A recent article by Ryan Dancy further illustrates how this was supposed to happen. Not only that though, but anyone remember 'The Rouse'? He was a great guy from WoTC and was talking about how there would be codes you would get from buying the books that would allow you to buy a PDF for "a buck or two." None of that happened. Mind you, by shutting the hell up, you'll cut off some potential communication between players, buyers, and the makers, but people want what you tell them they'll get. Is it entitlement? Probably. Is it human nature? Definitely.

2. Bring back PDF's of all editions. Even if you have to hire someone from India for $1  a page to convert the material, bring back every old book. WoTC has been talking about a solution to the piracy and PDF problem ever since the Player's Handbook 2 came out. Anyone remember that? that the PHB2 sold out but PDFs were undercutting sales? So PDF sales were undercutting sales of a book that physically sold out? Here's something to think of. According to an article on ye old internets, digital sales have surpassed those of physical sales. Provided a legal alternative that people can use for a 'fair' price and people will buy.

3. OGL all the way. Not only does 5e need to embrace 5th edition, WoTC needs to give 'seed' money to companies like Green Ronin, Frog God Games, Malhavoc Press and others to support it. The GLS was a complete and utter failure. By not embracing the OGL, WoTC not only allowed, but essentially actively encouraged Paizo to come out with Pathfinder. And the other editions that WoTC now talks fondly of? Chances are there is a retro clone of it, and chances are there's a GOOD retro clone of it. The old editions don't need WoTC support as people who want to play an older edition have a ton of choices. Now if WoTC supports the OGL, and does so by allowing third parties full access to the material before its printed, WoTC can concentrate on a certain 'style' of D&D while others fill the void. I like many aspects of 4th edition but find it silly that there are still no official rules for firearms. I like some of what WoTC has done with say, Dark Sun, but miss the dozens of options I once had in terms of setting support such as the Scarred Lands.

4. Playtest Intensively. 4e suffers from the Hero/GURPS effect in that a lot of the powers and abilities are the same but due to the way they were written, instead of having a master list of such abilities and powers that players could select from, each class gets its own write up providing monstrous bloat to the system. This doesn't count things like how the first and second 4e Monster Manuals are, I don't want to say useless, but their utility was greatly diminished when the 3rd Monster Manual came out and basically said, "Yeah, we don't know hot to calculate damage so try these numbers instead." And other bits like magic items and rituals and spells? Things that we used to see numerous articles for in Dragon like Pages From The Mages and Bizzar of the Bazaar among others? DOA.

5. Pull in One Direction. It does no one any good to have several people who work at WoTC talking about the Character Builder going online because it makes things more compatible among the various types of computer users and then in an podcast have another person talk about how all the customers are thieves and the reason that the Character Builder is going online is because its the only way to fight piracy. Pull in one direction or risk making yourself look like a gigantic jackass.

6. Examine HTML 5 for the DDI. I'm not a computer expert or anything, but with Tablets and Android becoming larger and larger means of accessing the internet, it would seem that HTML 5 offers a lot of benefits that Silverlight does not. Once again, not a programmer, but when you see tablets talking the place of notebooks, the whole thing about making the DDI something you can access from anywhere becomes more hallow unless its something people using an iPad or android tablet can access.

7. Review your ebook pricing. I'm not saying that every book should be cut to $2.99 or anything like that. but... if you haven't made your money back on the Crystal Shard, or you still don't collect the omnibus editions for online selling, well, when looking at epic fantasy on the kindle and the first WoTC book pops in at #73, well after numerous authors selling their books for less than $6.39, what does it hurt to test out different prices? It's not like you're going to be crushed by returns of unsold books. If the new price points don't work and don't increase market penetration, move back to the old prices.

8. Stop making promises. This one is hard because different people have different definitions of what a promise is. For example, when asked if WoTC was going to reprint the Player's Handbook with all of the errata in it, a thing that would be useful since there were dozens of powers and abilities that were changed with errata, the initial reply was that there was no plan to do so because they had done such a massive print run but when the time was right.... well, after WoTC changed things up with the Essentials, when do you think that time was right? WoTC has to be able to react to market conditions and if those conditions tell them to cancel the first quarter of products, then that's what they need to do.

9. Make Dragon and Dungeon real magazines again. I hear some laughter out there, but seriously, the things have gone to waste when compared to the proud legacy they used to have. There was a time, for those who came into reading these magazines, that they were not just little magazines that were used to preview upcoming game material. They brought their own value. When WoTC doesn't provide epic support because of some unknown factor that its not viable, there was easily the opportunity to do The Dragon's Bestiary or Creature Catalog. When people talk about the lack of spell selection, as I mentioned earlier, even if keeping it in game balance, pages from the mages would easily fill that need. When discussing unique characters and characteristics of characters, Legend and Lore, where heroes of myth and legend are given game stats, would provide GMs with opportunities to see how professional game designers handle weapons like Excalibur and provide a quick round of NPCs that the GM can use if he's running a specific type of campaign, such as an Arthurian one. And for god's sake, stop with the nonsense about people reading individual articles and compile the magazine at the end of the month. Seriously.

10. In terms of print products, remember to support the GM. The GM is the one who makes the game work or fail. While it is great that players have ten thousand options for their characters, if there are not a wealth of adventurers for every level, then the GM has to work. When there are more options for a particular level than another, GMs will cluster around those levels. Support the GM and he will support you. Paizo does an excellent job of this with various books that build on the game setting, such as their recently released mythic monsters revised, as well as single adventurers, and adventure paths. Throw in their maps and other GM focused aids and you can see why GMs, despite the complexity of 3.5, stick with it.

11. Hit 'em With the Classics Right Away. For all the talk of the 'shared experience' that WoTC likes to parade like a show dog, there are dozens of adventurers that haven't seen a 4e adaptation. When launched 5e should come out the door with several options for the GM including a boxed set that has something like In Search of Adventure. In addition to adventures and other classics of setting, for god's sake, throw some money at the old artist that made D&D the sensation it was. The fact that you can see Larry Elmore's art on miniatures and posters but outside of the one cover we got on Dragon when the introduction boxed set came out, is a damn shame. There are numerous artist who should be getting work from WoTC just to showcase their ties to the community. If Kezner and Co can hire a certain artist to do the cover of Hakcmaster basic, there is absolutely no reason WoTC cannot.

12. A decent starter box. WoTC, your started box was inconsistent with the core rules that came out shortly thereafter. Look at what Paizo did. I'm not saying it's perfect, but damn is it better than yours in almost every way that counts.

13. (I knew I forgot one) Don't dick around with the content. What do I mean? When 4e first came it, there was a deliberate decesion to without certain material from the first core books like the Player's Handbook and Monster Manual to 'encourage' buying of future books. Want the Frost Giant? Sorry, not in the core Monster Manual. Want to play a barbarian? Not in the first Player's Handbook. Listen, if your future content can't stand on its own two legs, then its worthless regardless of how you dress it up. What's worse, letting people know ahead of time that this is some dicking around to get money? Another bad marketing decesion.

I'm sure I'm missing some very obvious things or some people will disagree with me, but I think if WoTC can get out of its own way and stop being a corporation long enough to be, and let's be honest, this is what it probably needs to be, a game company, than 5th edition can succeed. Mind you, I personally think it may be too late. The days of Dungeons and Dragons being able to hit the types of goals necessary for it seem over. Look at it this way. If WoTC tells us that 4th edition did better than 3.5 which did better than 3.0 and its still not hitting its target numbers... well, that writing may not be on the wall but it certainly can't be fair away.