There are rumblings, in meatspace and in the blogosphere, about the fate of Dungeons & Dragons this week. We’ve already seen how Wizards of the Coast isn’t going to be continuing their miniatures line, and how there are only three items on this year’s release schedule that are D&D specific. With the Dungeons & Dragons Experience convention only two weeks away, it’s to be expected that some major announcements are going to be coming through the tubes, and people are already speculating to their hearts’ content. Some people are suggesting that Wizards is going to pull a White Wolf and make a retreat from print product. Others have suggested that the dreaded Fifth Edition is in the wings. As a person who sells games for a living, I can’t say which of those concepts scares me more, but I don’t honestly think either of them is the truth. It is entirely too soon after the release of Essentials for Wizards to be looking at a new edition of the game, and to retreat entirely from print would be ridiculously alienating to a huge swath of their player base.
And let’s face it, Wizards of the Coast can’t afford to alienate anyone right now. Just under half of the core Dungeons & Dragons players are playing Pathfinder. If Wizards is going to announce anything that’s world-shattering and strange, it had better be something that is going to get those players back on the WotC side of the fence, or they’ll risk losing even more of their market share, which would be a total fucking disaster for them.
So I think we’re going to see “More of the Same.” We will see more powers books come out. There will likely be a Player’s Handbook 4, a Monster Manual 4 and a Dungeon Master’s Guide 3 this year. Essentials is going to get more love. Encounters is going to focus on products that haven’t come out yet, and force people to buy those products as soon as they come out.
There are, of course, some things I would LIKE to see them announce in the coming weeks. So I’m going to talk a bit about my wishlist for D&D XP.
1. Adventure Tools
This has been my pet peeve for D&D coming on three years now. I want the tools they promised us back before the launch. I want the Monster Builder to be officially launched, I want to see the beta runs for the Character Designer and the Virtual Dungeon, and I want to see some new online tools that have NOT yet been announced. I want to see Masterplan as an official D&D thing. I want to see a World Builder and a map design toolkit. I want to see the most comprehensive suite of online tools that anyone has ever put together for Dungeons & Dragons, and I want it all in one package.
I also want to see these tools available on iPhone, iPod Touch, the iPad and the X-box. More than that, I want the X-box version of this tool to be so fucking dope it makes me run out and buy a Kinnect. How amazing would it be to sit in your living room playing D&D, but instead of actually rolling a die, you could just say “X-box, 1d20,” and your X-box would fucking roll a d20 for you?!?! It’s a pipe dream, it’ll probably never happen, but I can hope beyond hope. Hell, if you happen to know some solid programmers, I would pay for this program on X-box live.
2. Opening the Vaults
The guys at Paizo have figured this shit out, and so have the guys at White Wolf. Some people just don’t want your fancy newfangled game. Some people don’t want to have kick-ass powers and wicked abilities out the gate. Some people just want to play D&D 3.5 until they die, and that gets really hard when the books are no longer available. So open the vaults; put out a new set of 3.5 core books, put out a new set of AD&D 2nd Edition core books, hell, reprint the fucking Little Brown Books. People will buy them.
White Wolf has made Vampire: The Masquerade available as a PDF, and I have not sold much in the way of World of Darkness books since then. Vampire: The Requiem is a strictly better game in nearly every respect, but it’s not the game that Vampire players want to play. Vampire players want to play The Masquerade. Well, some of them do. Enough that Requiem has never sold quite as well as Masquerade, and so the PDFs (which cost White Wolf exactly zero dollars to make and distribute) have been making them quite a bit of money. Were Wizards to follow suit, and make D&D 3.5 books available again (PDF or print or cave drawing or whatever), they would likewise make quite a bit of money. And given that I would love to play some First Edition D&D once in a while, I think having access to those old-ass books would be pretty great.
As a retailer, I have to admit I find the idea of Wizards focusing on online content to be a little terrifying. As a player, it just seems to make sense that they would open their backlist to the players who want to play their older games.
3. The Great Designer Search
Once upon a time, Wizards of the Coast did this cute thing. They put out a call for people to design a world, and they promised that they would refine and publish the best of those worlds. A lovely young man named Keith Baker designed the best of those worlds, and the final product was one of my favorite D&D settings to date: Eberron.
It’s time to do it again.
The original Dungeons and Dragons had Greyhawk. When AD&D came around, we had Faerun. Third edition had Eberron. Each incarnation of Dungeons & Dragons has had a setting that exemplified it, a setting that you could point at and say “That is Edition X.” Fourth Edition D&D doesn’t have that, yet, and it’s high time. A solid campaign setting, something that screams “THIS IS FOURTH EDITION!!!!” and then kicks you down a well, can mean the difference between player apathy and sudden, obsessive devotion. I liked 3.5 D&D, but with the campaign settings on offer, it didn’t really grab me. There was nothing that made 3.5 any different from any other Fantasy Heartbreaker RPG on the market. Then Eberron came along and gave me magic-punk gaming in a pulp-fantasy world, and I was hooked. My first D&D 3.5 game was an Eberron campaign; for years before that, I played Palladium Fantasy.
Think about that for a minute. Think about what that actually means. I hurt myself on a weekly basis for years rather than play 3.5 D&D because “At least Palladium’s world was kinda cool…” Give me something to work with here, kids.
4. Make Dungeon and Dragon Good
I have a file with the store I work at. It used to have two items on it, but both of those titles have been cancelled, so my file goes unfilled week after week, month after month. Those two titles were Dungeon and Dragon magazines, and I loved both dearly. See, Dragon Magazine always had something for me as a player. Every month, I would open it up, and even if what was in there was kinda meh, there were always one or two things that stuck out. I loved the Class Acts in the back of the book for shit like that. I may not care for the Ecology of the Stupidmonster, but that tiny list of new Barbarian Feats? That was fucking dope.
Right now, the best monthly feature in Dragon Magazine is Shelly Mazzanoble’s article, and that’s sad. Not because I dislike her column (it’s pretty great, and I loved her book), but because it has nothing to do with making my D&D game better. It has nothing I can _use_. I’m looking at the table of contents for issue 395, and I’m sad at what I’m seeing. Three editorials, two Class Acts features (both of them are Defenders, for fuck’s sake! Give me four per week, one for each Role at the very least!), a Darksun article, a column about strongholds, a thing about Channel Divinity with Vecna as the focus, and a look back at some stuff that happened Back in the Day. And this took a fucking month to put out? Jesus, you guys. Paizo was pumping out a monthly book with a half-dozen opinion pieces, a half dozen informative articles about the gods alone know what, one Class Acts per core-book class, three or four comics and an Ask Abby section. Every month.
You want to make Dungeon good? Here’s what you’ll need (This is almost its own article, hence the quotebox):
i. An Editorial Piece. Ampersand is it. Everything else can be trashed. Sure, we want to know what James Wyatt thinks of the state of the game. We want to know what’s going on with the D&D world. We don’t need three articles a month to let us know.
ii. The Bazaar of the Bizarre. People love gear. Give them new gear. Every fucking month. Seriously, if you want people to check out your magazine more often, you need to give them a solid incentive to do so. It takes thirty seconds to write up a new item. Here, let me make one for you, and I’ll time myself.
This small card bears arcane writing that dances across it’s surface.
Wondrous Item: 9000gp
Power (Daily): Standard Action. If you are an arcane caster, you may use one Encounter power that you have twice this encounter.
There. That took me four minutes. It’s not great, but it took me four minutes, two of which was looking for my Player’s Handbook so I could check on formatting.
iii. Ecology of the Whatever/New Monster Article. Tell us all about a monster, or give us new monsters to fight. One of the roughest things about Fourth Edition D&D is the lack of information on the monsters that live in the Monster Manual. You can say that it’s to give DMs the ability to come up with that shit on their own if you want to, but let’s face it, it just looks lazy. I looked at the Pathfinder Bestiary 2 the other day, and my first thought was “Wow, I wish D&D made monster manuals like this… Oh wait… They did… Five years ago…”
iv. A tips and tricks article. These were the most valuable articles in Dragon when it was in print. They told you things you might not have known already. I’ve got a copy of Dragon #343 sitting beside me, and that magazine will teach you how to stay alive when you’re fighting Bad Guys What Fly. That’s kind of a big deal, not gonna lie.
v. Something related to the D&D Encounters initiative. The twitter updates are kinda cute, sure, but I miss the old Addendums for the Adventure Paths Paizo was publishing in Dungeon and Dragon. Those were neat little articles that would fill in some of the blank spots for you. Would you like to know more about Restwell Keep? Cool, here’s an article in Dragon that will tell you all about it. How about more information on the Borderlands themselves? Yep, we’ve got that. How exactly did what’s-his-face steal that doodad from you? Let’s take a look at the Magic of Benwick (Spoiler Alert: Benwick is an asshole). A companion like this gives people something to do during the week while they’re waiting for their D&D:E fix, and might have made the Dark Sun mini-campaign almost palatable.
vi. A question and answers column. For the sake of the gods, kids, this shit writes itself. People ask me stupid questions about D&D all the time. Hell, send me stupid questions about D&D, and I’ll answer them. I won’t be as kick-ass-awesome as Andy Collins about it (I don’t have half his rules knowledge), but I’ll give it the college try. Or you could have, y’know, someone who knows things answer your fans.
vii. One Class Act per role. If you’re going to use the Class Acts model of telling people about their characters, you should at least make sure you’re giving a little something to everyone. Controllers, Defenders, Leaders and Strikers. That’s four columns a month. You have the Magic guys writing one more than this every week. I’m sure your D&D guys will survive. Or, gods forbid, freelance it.
viii. Mail. We live in an era of instant communication. Personally, I like to think this is a good thing. When I read your article, I can respond pretty much as soon as I’ve read it. That’s pretty bitchin’. Still, sometimes it’s nice to have your questions, comments and concerns addressed in front of a larger audience, as that audience may share said question, comment or concern. Also, with instant feedback, they will get responses from a huge variety of people, not just from you. Some of the best stuff to come out of Paizo’s Dragon was in Scale Mail.
ix. New releases: Not just yours, let us know what other people are coming up with that rocks with your games. This was how I used to know what cool new things were coming out. Obviously, you can’t cover everything, but if you focus on the stuff that will cross-market well with your own brands, you help to build some favor with both fans and the people who make the stuff you shill.
I’ll get to how to make Dungeon suck less in a different article, I think. That one will require an entire overhaul of how Wizards builds their Encounters. That’s going to take some talking about.
5. Admit to 4.5, Already
Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way. I feel that if you make a new edition of your game, even if that seems like an unpopular choice, you should at least have the balls to call it a new edition of your game. Dungeons & Dragons Essentials is not Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. They use many of the same rules, and much of 4th Edition is getting some heavy errata to make it into the same edition, but they are not the same game, not at the base. So to call D&D Essentials anything but a new edition of the game is, to me, a lie.
D&D Essentials does not play like D&D 4th Edition. They are very different play experiences for me, and I have heard that sentiment echoed by many of the people I know who have played both extensively. Wizards of the Coast could do a much better job of supporting their new edition if they simply called it D&D 4.5 and made the assumption that all further endeavors would be using this new and (in my opinion) improved version of Dungeons & Dragons. Conversion books to follow.
Realistically, what would this change in policy do? It would give Wizards the ability to stop producing D&D 4th Edition format books and focus on the Essentials digest design. It would open the door to converting every class that isn’t currently in Essentials, meaning that players would need to buy their class books again, meaning more money for Wizards. And don’t assume they’re not going to do that anyway, they’re just going to lie to your face about whether or not they’re doing it. “Sure,” they’ll say. “Everything from 4th Edition is totally compatible with D&D Essentials. All you’ll need is to purchase this book with the Sorcerer in it, and you’re ready to go.” Big toothy smile, cash changes hands.
It is now four in the morning. I considered other things to add to this already slightly ridiculous article, but I think I’m going to leave it here for now. Speculation will continue for the next couple of weeks, I’m sure, and if there’s one thing Wizards has taught me, it’s that we are always, always wrong. ^_^