Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Dungeons and Dragons: Why Official? Why Magazines?

I have previously mourned the passing of the magazines, Dungeon and Dragon. My blog post on such musings, as well as others about the lack of material for 5th edition, has recently seen much activity thanks to a sharing of said blog post by +Charles Akins .

One responder, +Ricky Moore, asked “Why do we need the magazines? There’s so much stuff out there now that it’s not necessary.”

I don't want to say that’s always been true but to a certain extent, it has. In days gone by, there were people doing conversions of monsters from other game systems. Bringing magic items from myth and history into the game. People sharing notes and convention war stories. People making up things on the fly or inspired by comics and movies of their time.

The internet has made the sharing of such things even easier.

So in that sense, no, nothing new is needed. But in that sense, Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition itself was not needed. People already HAD games. People already HAD characters. People already HAD something.

But we have 5th edition nonetheless.

So are there any reasons outside of a product being sold?

Ed Greenwood. How much money has Ed made for first TSR then WoTC with his creation, the Forgotten Realms, his personal works printed for the Forgotten Realms in both fiction and gaming line?

Ed did not spring whole cloth from the mind of Gary Gygax. He made his bones if you will, in the pages of Dragon magazine.

Ed is not the only one. There were many comics that either started out in Dragon or had a signal boost from being in the official magazine of Dungeons and Dragons. These range from classic comics like Wormy (sadly never completed) to more modern contemporaries like Order of the Stick.

Here at least Wizards of the Coast has been wise enough to allow others, like Scott of PvP, to use their properties to have stories. Scott does a great job in his comic Table Titans of a group playing in the Forgotten Realms. But would you know about that comic from The WoTC site?

Dragon magazine proved to be a fertile ground for many in terms of creators, comics, and artists. 

Larry Elmore and others may not have made their bones in Dragon and Dungeon, but such magazines didn’t hurt in getting eyes on their art.

Again though, there is this whole internet thing where people can see each other’s work on a much broader scale than previously so while the legitimacy of being published by the official makers of Dungeons and Dragons has its appeal, it’s not necessary. It’s another “Nice” thing.
It’s so “Nice” that Paizo has yearly competitions to see who the next “Superstar” will be. These contest draw a lot of attention to Paizo’s site and get people involved in the game in a way that only playing it does not.

Content: This is the era of content and content is king. Comic readers have had thousands of issues of Batman, Superman, and Spiderman, among others, but those characters are still being published, still being put through the paces. New foes and allies arriving with regular frequency.

Look at it from another perspective if you can. If Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition is your first role playing game, and as a player, you enjoy the barbarian, sorcerer, or warlock, among others as a player, you’re using “new” content. Such classes were not originally part of the game.

Do you enjoy tielflings or dragonborn as core races? Again, not something that was part of the core prior to 4th edition.

By this whole theory of “let the players make it”, the Player’s Handbook should only have included human, elf, and dwarf for races, and only cleric, fighter, magic user, and rogue for classes. Some would say go back further and only have cleric, fighter, and magic user as the rogue wasn’t part of the “original” game.

Do you get my drift? Your favorite part of the game may be one that’s new to it. And in so being new to it, there may be those who’ve played and would like to see their favorite thing return to the game. For example, me? I’d love to see psioncs hit 5th edition.  While I have not enjoyed every edition’s versions of psioncis, I like it as a concept and enjoyed a lot of what was done in 3rd and 4th edition with it. Not having psionics in this edition is a strange thing to me.

For me, this is where the vast resources of 3rd edition and 4th edition make those games feel more ‘complete’ to me.
But you’re the Dungeon Master! You care not for these player bits. You have hundreds of monsters in the Monster Manual.

But do you enjoy the chaotic Slaad or the lawful Modron? These were not creatures that were originally in the 1st edition Monster Manual. I know, I’m stretching it going back that far.
But the point is there are so many monsters that are different people’s favorites that Dragon magazine would be a good way to bring them to the game. There are numerous types of dragons ranging from ferrous and drakes, to gem dragons. There are numerous types of outsiders including elemental variants and demons and devils that haven’t been updated. Many of them are someone’s favorite.

And magic items? Wow. With the cap on magic items at +3 (which I’m sure we’ll see broken officially at some time), and other changes to how magic items work, having Dragon would allow a Bizarre of the Bazaar to make a return and update some of them. Perhaps not even necessarily on a one per one basis but some game design articles talking about how you COULD update the items.

Content: What? Again? Yes. I mention content again because I don’t go to the official site of Wizards of the Coast that often. Paizo on the other hand… Paizo breaks their site up into many parts. They have upcoming previews for new material. They have short stories that are free to read. They have showcases of what other companies are doing that they think are cool. There is a lot of interaction with the fan base.

Wizards of the Coast? Maybe I'm just missing it, but I found the site so poorly organized that when I tried to find images of their miniatures, I’m directed to other sites. WTF WoTC. WTF. If your own site is so lacking in regular content to draw readers to it, you will wither on the vine.
Content, new content, on a regular basis, is needed to give people a reason to come to your site every day. Sometimes multiple times a day to see if they missed anything previously.

To me? WoTC site for Dungeons and Dragons seems designed to act as a coming soon page with an occasional dip into an article like Unearthed Arcana. Perhaps I’m wrong and I’m not looking at it enough? Are there some hidden gems I've missed?

Nostalgia: Okay, this one is a nonsense listing for the most part. It’s a “Because I want it!” portion. But… but… there are probably STILL people angry that WoTC cancelled the print versions of the magazine. There are probably people upset that WoTC cancelled the electronic versions of the magazine. Maybe I should retitle this one “good will” as opposed to “Nostalgia”.

But there MUST be value in Nostalgia or WoTC wouldn't keep going back to the well. Elemental Evil? Really? Again?

Tiamat? Really? Again? Wasn't one of the adventure paths for 4th edition Tiamat? Wasn't that based on Red Hand of Doom? What?

Nostalgia has power. It’s been a force in 2nd edition. In 3rd edition. In 4th edition. In 5th edition. Using well known names, events, characters, and other bits, showcases continuity between editions. It allows new people to play with old ideas. It gives readers who have never seen any of it before, opportunity to go down the rabbit hole and see how far it goes.

Variety: I like a lot of esoteric things in Dungeons and Dragons. I like a touch of technology for example. I was very happy to see that in the Dungeon Master's Guide. I enjoyed the Sheen, a race of robotic invaders from back in 2nd edition. I enjoy Psionics. I enjoy Ferrous Dragons and Linnorms. 

Not everyone does. For example, some people LOVE the two hardcover adventurers WoTC put out. I thought the basic adventure in the starter boxed set shamed those two books. To me, their useless. They are no-gratis products.

By having products like Dragon and Dungeon out back in the day, you were able to have something that probably hit your fancy. Rare was it that a whole issue was useless. Not impossible mind you but rare.

Time: Perhaps role playing in and of itself is a younger man’s game. Unlike say comics, books, movies, or other forms of entertainment that you can enjoy by yourself at your leisure, role playing is a group activity. It is one that requires a further chunk of your life. What does that mean?

If you work more than 40 hours, raise you hand.

If you have outside obligations, like taking care of a diabetic mother, a special needs child, your crack habbit,  raise your hand.

If you have a S/O or children, raise your hand.

If you have all those and still find time to game, raise your hand.

Now having done that, it’s nice to be able to sit back, grab a professionally edited magazine with some appealing art and go, “Man, I’m going to put that in my campaign.”

The days of spending hours, days, weeks, or longer on crafting the perfect dungeon or setting, are gone for many of those who've been playing the game for years and having content created for busy people is a very handy thing to show people, “Hey, Dungeons and Dragons, it’s the game that’s well supported so you can sit back and enjoy it” as opposed to “Hey, Dungeons and Dragons. You finished our boxed set starting adventure and hated the two hardcovers adventurers so make up everything from scratch now.”

And this is part of the problem. It’s not necessarily JUST a lack of the magazines. It’s a lack of resources. There are no official conversion documents. There are no official electronic tools. When such tools are put up on a fan site, they are requested to be taken down. For the most part, the core content has been allowed to roam free and the owner has closed the gates to go check on their more promising, profitable children.

I cannot blame WoTC for that. WoTC is a company and a subsidy of Hasbro. They need to show profit and need to show continual profit.

But again, that’s why I'm concerned that this edition of Dungeons and Dragons, will be the last. If you're the biggest fish in a pond too small to interest the corporate masters, your value is equal to that of the smallest fish.

I enjoyed the spirited debate that popped up last post. Be curious to see if people think I'm just smoking that lovely crack pipe or a little from column A and a little from column B.