5 is a magic number–or it better be!

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dndBy Paco Garcia Jaen

Amidst a race for being the first one to break the rules and announce the announcement of the worst kept secret and most rumoured piece of news in the gaming industry (and many others!), today we found out that Dungeons & Dragons is getting a rework.

Immediately Twitter got totally packed with comments, requests, messages of excitement and dread and a lot, an incredible lot, of speculation. However, one thing I didn’t sense from the many people who were tweeting, is a sense of understanding how significant this new edition of D&D is.

Let’s take a look at the last few years of D&D and its relationship with the gamers.

To say that it’s been rocky is an understatement. Since 4th Edition was unveiled, there has been a “edition wars”. Firstly I’d like to say that “Edition Wars” is a misnomer. The war hasn’t been between editions, but between games. The players decided to rage a war between the followers of D&D and the followers of Pathfinder. Yes is true that Pathfinder was born after WotC decided to ditch Paizo as their publisher and make all the horrible decisions that followed afterwards, but make no mistake, if WotC had continued to publish material for 3.5, no one would have been upset, people would have just bought whatever game they liked better and be happy with D&D. Of course some people would still complain… there are a lot of players out there who just like to whinge.

Also the relationship has been rocky because they shifted their relations with the players pretty much to the online forums alone, and a few appearances here and there in some conventions. Not good. The public relations company they have used has pretty much ignored all but the biggest blogs, online magazines and podcasts. Heck, they haven’t’ even sent me any press releases!

To make things worse, their licensing agreement is, to say the least, miles away from the friendly OGL that has helped make Pathfinder and incredibly successful game. If we add to this that they have had a very proactive team of lawyers willing to send pretty unpleasant letters to anyone overstepping the mark, we have a very difficult to follow and support game.

So why did I say earlier that this new edition is significant?

To start with because 4th edition only came out less than 4 years ago. Considering that previous reviews have taken considerably longer to come out, that they have released two different versions of the same edition, and that Pathfinder has overtaken Dungeons & Dragons in sales in Amazon.com, it can’t be outrageous to think the corporate buffs at Hasbro are saying the brand is not making enough money.

Note I say it is not making enough money… The corporation would expect to make X amount of money. Less than X will be considered to be unworthy and I bet my bottom dollar (and my top one too!) that D&D is not making X amount of money. Not because the books are not selling, they are, but because they have lost the video game presence they used to have. The last few D&D video games have been not very good, and the massive flop of D&D Online.

It is also significant because they have done something they have completely disregarded for the last few years: They have said they will listen. And I believe them. I also believe that will probably come and bite them in the bum, but at least it will be for the right reasons. More on this later.

My impression is that this is going to be make or break for D&D.

I can imagine the situation being something like this: Hasbro decides D&D is not making enough money. WotC argues the case and says they are making money. Hasbro says it’s not enough. WotC says they could do better, but they need to bring gamers back and do something different so they can take back the players that have gone to Pathfinder. WotC also gives them some numbers on the amount of books Paizo is selling, and how many companies actually support them, which is why they are being successful. Hasbro frowns. WotC says they want to make a new edition, bring someone very successful who will be able to help make D&D what it once was and make TONS of money. Harbro agrees, but for that to happen, they demand that WotC becomes more “economically efficient” and thus they have to lay some people off. Welcome back Monte Cook. WotC starts to send out little messages that snowball into full-sized rumours and two months later, voila! we have a new announcement. Of course Hasbro will have also said that if they don’t make it work now…

The pressure is on.

Btw, this is just wild speculation from me. The reason I have got to those conclusions is because I used to work for a corporate asshole who used to have great employees, until we all left and started to work for the competition. I believe the guys from WotC are excellent guys who care deeply about the game, and are faced with the corporate crap every single day. I bet I am not very far from the truth, though.

So what would I want?

I am not going to go into what sort of game mechanisms I’d like to see. I don’t care about that sort of thing and I am sure they will make a great job. As long as they get more of the “role” into the game, I think the game will be great. What I would like to see are different things.

I would like to see a flexible system that is approachable by beginners, and easily made more complex by experienced players. Not too much of the useless fluff that just makes characters more complex and the job for the GM more difficult with an overwhelming number of options to keep in mind. If fluff is to come (and I can’t imagine D&D without fluff) please format it in a way that’ll be easy to follow and deploy in games, and also cheap to buy!

I also want to see more adventures, if possible something on a regular publication like the Pathfinder Adventures. I know DDI is there, but I would like the likes of us, who like to buy the books and have a neat shelf full of gorgeous books and publications, to be catered for. Make them POD if necessary, but please don’t stop publishing printed adventures.

I want to see more support for companies and individuals who want to publish their material and let others enjoy it. The current gaming license is, to say the least, draconian.

I also want to see more interaction with players outside the USA. For us living in Europe, communication with WotC is pretty much done via Twitter and some forums… I’d like a PR company that actually gives a toss for us media platforms.

Most importantly, what I want is a game that feels D&D. I want a game that I can sit down to play with anyone and think “this feels D&D” and enjoy myself, regardless of the type of rules. I want a game that I can make mine, that I can take ownership of and make it feel like I matter as a player and a GM.

Asking the audience is something well overdue from WotC, and although I can already hear the sulking from people saying “my idea is not there… this game is rubbish”, and I truly hope they will reflect the wishes of the people, not in the rules system alone, but also in the sort of experience and long term development of a game that means the heck of a lot for us.

Paco out!


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