Sunday, September 14, 2014

Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition: The Meta-Support

I've been playing in a Warhammer Fantasy RPG now for many moons. Long enough for Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition to hit the shelves. A few of the players didn't buy it, but were soon swayed by those who had purchased it.

Rule wise, it hits some of the things I like but not all of them. For example, my group had a very short discussion about the benefits of random rolling character bits, like stats and hit points and almost unanimously went with point buy and fixed hit points.

In terms of gaming, I've been reading Hoard of the Dragon Queen, it's the first 'separate' adventure for the new edition. I know that the basic set has it's own adventure mind you but I figured I'd start with something that Wizards of the Coast has been promoting on their home site.

Bad news is I'm not too thrilled with it. It's a little too open and feels incomplete to me. Others have less kind things to say about it on such regular locals as RPG.net.

My dislike of the only print adventure, only 'official' print adventure, has me wondering about the 'meta-support' if you will.

First off, there appears to be no OGL or even GSL. Mind you, that hasn't stopped some like Goodman Games from offering 3rd party support and Necromancer Games has decided to disregard waiting for a license and has already run a Kickstarter to fund some support for the game. Honestly wish that Necromancer Games had the conviction of their legal ground when they had the license to do Tegal Manor mind you but what can you do? The past is the past.

Now the other thing, is back 'in the day', Dungeon and Dragon magazine acted as useful tools in order to bring hype, previews and all sorts of other fun things to the game. I know that during the transition from 2nd to 3rd they were very handy to have and even had things like the game stats for Bahamut and Tiamat.

More importantly, it also acted as a monthly source of adventurers.

Now Wizards of the Coast, in my opinion, has always been weak about supporting its games with print adventurers. 3rd edition had the OGL and SRD and all sorts of other things that meant Wizards of the Coast didn't necessarily have to put those resources in place. But when they killed the print version of the magazines and then when 4th edition didn't engage a lot of 3rd party interest due to its restriction license, WoTC did NOT step up the published adventurers. Sure Dungeon magazine continued its online support but WoTC did weird things in that era.

So you'd think with a new edition of Dungeons and Dragons coming out, that we'd see some new incarnation of either magazine? Something that might allow Game Masters, who at this point don't have the Dungeon Master's Guide or the Monster Manual, some quick adventures.

No such luck.

This to me is a failure on Wizards of the Coast part.

I remember when 3rd edition came out. There was a conversion document. It was a nifty little thing. Wasn't perfect by any means mind you but it was handy.

Anything like that on the WoTC home site? Nope.

Failure again.

Mind you, it's not like WoTC didn't KNOW they were coming out with a new edition for oh, say the past year.

But what about miniature support? While the new game doesn't require miniatures, Wizards of the Coast is doing some new Dungeons and Dragons miniatures thanks to Wiz Kids help. Something like Icons of the Realms?

And it's possible my own internet skillz are failing me here because I can't find a listing of what those miniatures actually are. I see a brief product synopsis on the WoTC site, but in the past, they'd have a gallery of what the miniatures actually were. I GET that it's a Wiz Kids product but sending people to another company's website is stupid.

And even the Wiz Kids website is terrible. Maybe I'm missing it but there are supposed to be like 44 figures (50 counting the non-random pack) and I count 24 images including the non-random pack and a picture of the booster pack. Argh!

Fail!

One of the things this set is supposed to do, is support the adventure.

If so, it doesn't do a fantastic job of it.

This being the first miniature pack of the game, you need to have miniatures available for players to pick from. So with a LOT of ground to cover, because the Player's Handbook is jammed with race and class options, every pick for a miniature should be important.

Eight of the miniatures are 'invisible', see through plastic. Out of 44 miniatures, eight of them are duplicates to be 'cool'.

Imagine that you're a game company. You pay people money to illustrate characters in a setting book.  Say one of them is Langdedrosa Cyanwrath, a halfdragon, blue, champion of the bad guys.  A named character that makes several appearances in the adventure. You have a great illustration of him in the book. Perfect for making into a miniature right?

Nope. They have a 'generic' half red dragon. So you PAID someone to make miniatures that should probably have some type of visual reference and for the adventure itself you PAID someone else to make numerous illustrations that you don't bother using for the miniatures that the game is supposed to be supporting?

Okay, but at least all of the 'core' races are supported right? It's not like 4th edition, where again, Wizards of the Coast KNEW they were introducing dragonborn to the core rules and we have a few Dragonborn miniatures to select from right? They're not going to have to reprint an old dragonborn that looks nothing like the current version of the race right?

Wrong! You may get an invisible gnome that's a copy of the visible gnome, but ain't one dragonborn in the whole pack. And yeah, any of you drow players who aren't doing the whole two scimitars thing aren't going to find anything useful either.

It's like the guys making Dungeons and Dragons want to push the 'standards' of the game by including different things like tielflings and dragonborn but then FAIL to support it.

You want to make some fixed packs? Since the Dungeon Master is probably the one whose going to be buying a lot of these, how about, oh, I don't know, some kobolds, cultists, and ambush drakes? A pack for those times when you need 'em? To me, the whole thing is like Wizards of the Coast going, "Yeah, let's tap into that Star Wars and Star Trek market with this Attack Wing stuff but throw a bone to the miniature players of the role playing game".

To me, they're essentially saying, "Yeah, go buy the Reaper Legendary Encounters line and we'll blame the lack of sales on a soft market or something." For those who can paint, the Reaper Bones, while not prepainted, offer an even better value.

In terms of 'support', on one hand, WoTC has a supplement online with all the monster stats. They need this because you know, those stats aren't in the book.

On the other hand, if you're not going to support the game with miniatures, despite having a miniature set dedicated to it, perhaps, like Fiery Dragon and other companies have done, there can be some counters made? A nice little download for either stand up or lay flat counters since in many cases you already have the art made?

While miniature mapping isn't required, some like it in order to simply keep marching order straight and area of effects straight. When you buy the product, you don't get large resolution sized files that you can print out and use for your game. I've seen some people buy them directly from the artists and make their own maps that way.

I have no problem with an artists supporting themselves through secondary use of their work, but maybe, just maybe mind you, Wizards of the Coast, and Paizo and other companies for that matter, can pay the map makers a little more and get scale sized maps that the people trying to support the companies can then download for their own games? Just putting it out there.

Another venue of what I'd consider failure on the part of Wizards of the Coast is the lack of a PDF product. "Hey, we're sorry we abandoned PDF years ago and stomped off like children who didn't like the way the game was being played. We're back and have a ton of old material for you to buy. Oh, you'd like to support the new material or want it for reference? Uh... no see, we have this digital thing that is not ready yet even though, you know again, we've had something like a year or more to have a product launch..."

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that these elements will "doooom..." the new Player's Handbook. Sales have been very brisk in various online stores and it'll have its moment in the sun. I've never argued against that. I've argued that due to the lack of official product that initially sales will be awesome and may even be some sell throughs of the first printing.

But long term I don't think WoTC is going to be able to compete.

Let me boil down my "you fail" list for Wizards of the Coast.

1. Miniatures that don't actually support EITHER the player's options from the core rulebook or the adventurer that they were designed to, you know, support.

2. Lack of adventures.

3. Lack of Dragon/Dungeon magazines as marketing tools.

4. Actual digital tools that people can use.

5. Conversion documents.

6. OGL/GLS/something official to let third party companies know what they can do. Mind you, Necromancer Games and Goodman have already given WoTC the finger on this one so maybe it'll be irrelevant in the future.

7. PDF support.

8. Adventure Support with full scale maps that people can use in their home games.

9. Better website. When you're sending readers from your website to Wiz Kids website, you fail. Get a gallery up and some real information.

10. Price. Still think that $50 bones for three books is too high a buy in.Sure Amazon and other methods of acquiring the books can reduce that but that slaps the whole "play in your friendly local store" in the face.

I'll be curious to see where 5th edition is this time next year because once the shine wears off, if WoTC isn't firing on at least a few of those cylinders, people have a TON of options out there including supporting companies that, you know, DO fire on those cylinders.

How about other games out there? Everyone happy with how WoTC is handling the Dungeons and Dragons line outside of the rules? Any of these points strike home or are all these just minor things? Let me know what you think!