Tuesday, August 21, 2007

My Thoughts on the Upcoming 4th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons

Minutes after Wizards of the Coast made the announcement that there would be a 4th edition of the Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying game last week, I received two emails from concerned citizens of the roleplaying community.

The first email came from my friend Eric, who plays in my weekly Eberron game and started playing D&D with edition 3.5, who wrote, "Who else thinks that we are all doomed now? I just hope it is not like SAGA edition of Star Wars." Eric and I have had several conversations since this email, more on those later, but I think that Eric's concern might be typical of the new fan (Eric has only been playing for about a year) who is about to witness some major changes in a game he enjoys playing.

The second email I received came from the online game store "Stiggybaby's." In case you were wondering, I don't typically buy my rpg stuff online. I usually buy from a very nice independent bookstore located in Glendora, where I work, but sometimes I want to get a product I overlooked and don't want to wait four weeks until the next shipment can come. "The Ferret," over at Stiggybaby's, wrote:

I will admit I am not too excited about it. My hope is that the game system will be an improvement, or that other companies continue to support 3rd /3.5. I am an old-school gamer, been playing some kind of RPG since the 70's, and have seen some of my favorites come and go over the years, Traveler and Twilight 2000 from GDW are prime examples. I have watched my beloved D&D go from a RPG with combat, to a combat game with Role-Playing.

"The Ferret's" view seems to me to be a more moderate view of the typical resistance that previous editions of D&D have received from long time fans. "The Ferret" uses terms like "beloved," "hope," and "old-school gamer" as a way to show experience, expertise, and an overall love of the hobby. These are traits typical of the long time fan. "The Ferret's" statement lacks the overly aggressive list of reasons why his or her opinion matters more than the average consumer. It also lacks an attack at corporate greed, which is why I say that "the Ferret" is displaying a more moderate view of the typical resistance/reluctance postings one might find on any of the rpg boards out in the interwebs.

Personally, as you might have guessed, I don't agree with either of these positions. I am looking forward to the new edition of the Dungeons and Dragons game. I have several reasons for this, but before I begin let me open with a long list of my grognard credentials. Only after I have verified that I am a legitimate "old-school" gamer, will I begin my reasons for excitement/hope for the new edition. I will put these comments in blockquote, so that those of you who don't require a full background check before going on the offense will be able to skip the next part.

I have been playing Dungeons and Dragons since the first Basic Set. No...I never played with the white/brown box set with the three little books. Since Ken St. Andre was unable to figure out how to play that rules set (which is why he invented Tunnels and Trolls), I don't feel to bad that 10-year old Christian was unable to understand when to use Chainmail and when to use the new "alternative" combat rules. Besides, Chainmail was even more arcane to my inexperience 10-year old mind.

In my over 26 years of gaming, I have acquired a very large collection of roleplaying games. If you look at my gaming shelves, you will find almost everything from Aftermath to Zir'An with a vast selection of D&D/AD&D in between. I own the "Cthulhu" Deities and Demigods and almost every superhero rpg ever published. Yes, I own both Supergame and Superhero 2044. I have played games for almost 3/4 of my life and I love my hobby.

Okay, now that I am back from establishing my credibility, I can begin discussing why I am optimistic.

The primary reason I am optimistic is because Wizards is trying to bring new people into the hobby. I want to be able to play roleplaying games, with new groups, for the rest of my life. Specifically, I want to play Dungeons and Dragons with new people for the rest of my life. I have made some great friends at the gaming table, most while playing D&D. When a publisher releases a new edition, it usually does two things. First, it brings in large sums of money from existing fans who upgrade to the new edition which keeps the company in business. This is good for the hobby. Second, it usually creates "earned media" in the press and creates word of mouth. This brings in new gamers which is also good for the hobby.

Why 2008 and not later? I can think of two quick marketing reasons. First, it is the 25th anniversary of the Dragonlance setting and the 20th anniversary of the first appearance of one of the best selling characters in all of fantasy literature, Drizz't. Those are two HUGE marketing reasons to do a new edition of the game. Wizards will be able to have three major media events surrounding their game in one year, and they won't even require the 700 Club getting upset. Though that wouldn't hurt their sales either. All that press can lead to new gamers coming in. New gamers who would feel far more comfortable buying three books, one each month from May through July, than they would looking at the library shelf of 3.5 edition gamebooks. That catalogue of books that gamers use as an argument why Wizards should wait before they put out a new edition, are exactly why Wizards should put out a new edition. The timing couldn't be better.

My next reason for being excited about the new edition, is that I am sick of playing "Monte Cook's" Dungeons and Dragons. I like the current edition of the rules, but it kept too much of the old and added too much of the new. One of the designers of the next edition of D&D described the way characters will work in the new game as follows:

The next topic comes down to the types of abilities characters will have. Each class will have per-day abilities, per-encounter abilities, and at-will abilities, each tailored to that class, role, and power source. That means the wizard never needs to pull out a crossbow again, which I was surprised to hear someone in the crowd say (followed by a cheer). That's been one of own favorite examples of a crappy experience playing D&D: Running out of spells and having to resort to your stupid light crossbow. Blech. No more!

You mean a fighter might not be useless after 5th level? Huzzah! They are incorporating ideas tested in Tome of Battle: The Book of Nine Swords? Good for them. I'd really like to see how these changes work. One of my complaints about every other edition of D&D has been how little the game "emulates" the genre it is supposedly representing. The above descriptions makes it sound like mages will act like mages in fantasy novels and that fighters will act like fighters in fantasy novels. I couldn't be more excited.

Last, but not least, I am hopeful for the new edition because I have lived through so many editions of so many roleplaying games that new editions seem to me the norm rather than exception.

How many editions has Call of Cthulhu had? Officially six, but more like ten. The first edition lasted two years and the fifth edition lasted ten, but that's only if you don't count the 20th anniversary edition. Do CoC fans complain like D&D fans? Not that I have seen.

How many editions has Champions had? Five, but that's only if you don't count the "Revised Fifth Edition" as a new edition, then it's six. Do "Hero" fans complain? Nope, they are overjoyed because they know how tenuous the string their beloved game is hanging on is.

Tunnels and Trolls? Seven, but you can play with either rules set 5.5 or 7.0 and be current.

The list goes on and on with regard to games and new editions. Heck, I just bought a third edition of Bang! the other day. New editions are good for the hobby. They sometimes hurt the checkbook, but games are supposed to be paid with disposable income anyway.

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