Friday, June 13, 2014

The big time

DnD Next is really can't decide if it is taking aim at expansion or just trying to recover the players who used to be.  I find their overall strategy somewhat bizarre because when reading their strategy it is super clear they are trying to expand the game and make it easier to get into.  Old DnD was really tough to get started on unless someone else introduced you to the game because it was extremely complex and expensive to begin, not to mention being somewhat incomprehensible to most people who haven't seen it in action.  Next is going to have a really simple starter edition and free online materials in an attempt to make it simpler to recruit new folks into the game.

The marketing is clear:  Get more people involved and make DnD Next into a mainstream game.  They don't want to just be for nerds anymore and they know that they are competing with MMOs and other computer games that really weren't competition a couple decades ago.  The landscape is very different these days and the company that runs DnD is focused on being really aggressive in setting themselves up to succeed, which I don't recall TSR ever doing effectively.  The new strategy really seems to be to create a new market rather than simply to service a market that exists.

All that is true until you look at the game mechanics themselves.  The game isn't a new one, designed to appeal to a new generation.  It is the old game with a big facelift.  Now most of the changes that were made to the old game were good ones so at least that is right.  Spellcasters don't get totally ridiculous at high levels, the amount of system mastery required to be a good character is much less, and things are laid out in ways that keep people on the straight and narrow in a lot of ways.  There is plenty of freedom to be terrible as always but it feels like the balance is much better.

Unfortunately it is still too much of the old game.  The magic system is a bizarre reimagining of Vancian casting that nobody wants except that it is kinda like the way it always has been.  Many classes have choices that are far too few in number and end up with no way to change a character that isn't feeling quite right.  Thugs are still super trivial in strategy and design while casters have constant streams of interesting choices.  The designers obviously felt that they were shackled to the expectations of the old fans.

So the marketing department is going off to brand new and exciting places while the game design team is mired in supporting the nostalgia of the grognards.  Running off frantically in two different directions is not the way I would like things to be going if I were directing them from the top.  Pick a thing and be good at it - either rebuild the old game and package it for the old players or build something new and great and sell it to the masses.  Doing both at once seems like a recipe for disaster to me.


  1. Getting existing players excited about it is part of marketing. The quirks of the actual game system matter less, as far as marketing is concerned, than having evangelists. I mean, one of the most popular games out there is **monopoly**, a game with horrible rules that nobody follows, and they typically use house rules that make the game **worse**. But it has nostalgia on its side, and good brand recognition.

    Having an entire subset of classes be "simple to play" (Thugs), while others are more complex, is also a good design. Sure, it means that people who want simple to play wizards or complex thugs are screwed -- but that kind of want is something a seasoned player might demand more than a new player.

    The people who like shiny new systems are far outnumbered by the various clans of grognards, and they are also less faithful to any given system. To convince the shiny new system likers and get them to stick to it, they would actually have to create a system **better than any other out there**: something they cannot guarantee they'll do. To convince the grognard clans, they just have to use hidebound game constructs with some updates that do not offend them.

    If I was looking for evangelists, I know which I'd pick.


  2. It is possible to cater to the grognards in terms of theme without making the game bad. There can still be a Fireball spell with a 20 foot radius, but it could be found in a magic system that makes some kind of sense. I agree that getting the grognards on board is highly useful but that can be done without compromising on the game nearly as much as they have. Keep in mind that many of the old school folks are, like myself, long time fans of DnD but also longtime critics of its systems and would welcome a widely played system titled DnD with better mechanics.

    The edition wars that rage forever and ever show that there is no one old system that everybody wants to return to. They want something with a vaguely similar feel and iconic things like Magic Missile but how much damage Magic Missile does is not at all agreed upon. Make the fluff to attract them all and just make the mechanics good I say.