Thursday, January 5, 2012

DnD: A Retrospective and Some Speculation

I haven't blogged much during the second half of 2011 due to a variety of issues, but I want to try and pick it up again here in 2012. Our Sunday night DnD group is still going strong. Scott had adapted some older Ravenloft modules for 4E usage and we are having a blast. I will blog more about our Sunday night capers in a future post, but in the meantime you can follow our walk through Ravenloft here.

With a nod towards Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol Escapist Magazine, a website dedicated primarily toward computer games, over the recent holidays published a series of three articles on DnD, where it began, where it is now, and then some speculation as to its future. These links are here:

The article covering the past is pretty much what you would expect, Gary Gygax, TSR, and then including Wizards of the Coast and the 3.0/3.5 versions of DND. Current covers the 4E release and the internal strife it has caused in the larger DnD community. Pathfinder, the version 3.75 variant of DnD has overtaken Wizards in many areas and they get covered in this as well.

Lastly, the future includes speculation on the future of the larger RPG industry, but of course as the brand name DnD is still seen as the bellwether for the industry as a whole. Is there going to be a version 5.0 of DnD? Well, of course there will be, but when? Will it be a continuation of the current 4E arc, or will it be more of a revision based around the simplified Essentials line. Given the success of Pathfinder, and given that Wizards has hired Monte Cook (on of the version 3.0 guru's that has also worked on Pathfinder), are they looking to build a bridge to all of the disaffected DnD'ers that have rejected 4E outright?

Of course no one from Wizards will speculate openly on the future, the articles do includes quotes from plenty of former and current Wizards/DnD employees. The articles appear to be pretty objective in general and do manage to avoid descending into yet another version of the Edition Wars. These articles have of course lead to other postings and commentary on other RPG-related blogs about the future of the RPG as a business and a pasttime.

Ryan Dancey, one of the former DnD employees quoted in the article, took the opportunity to further expound on his views of the RPG marketplace at (the article is here). This kicked off a storm of comments, questions, and responses, so pulled out some of the more relevant responses here. I am not sure I really learned anything here, but from a sausage making perspective it is interesting to be read about some of the external pressures that went into the decisions Wizards have made over the past decade.

I've had this thought roiling in the back of my head for sometime now ... what is it that I think caused the disconnect between 4E and pre-4E (including Pathfinder) versions. Previous versions of DnD maintained the fighter / cleric / rogue / wizard model of characters roles, but 4E came out with the striker / controller / defender / leader model. There is some advantage toward having all characters follow a similar game mechanic, but it seems to me that part of the DnD orthodoxy is that your four main character archetypes indeed follow different mechanics.

I realize a 4E fighter and a 4E wizard both have a very different skill sets and powers, but at some point, well, they just play the same. That was not true in earlier versions. Previously a Wizard and a Fighter were not anything alike, whether it be in game play mechanics, hit points, or in general philosophy of life. Most fantasy literature is not about how similar the character heroes are, but how different they are and then how they are able to mesh their skills together to succeed.

The other issue with the release of 4E and its ensuing problems is that I think at some level some people just want something to bitch about and with the existence of an an internet megaphone it is a lot easier to raise mild levels of discomfort to full blown levels of frustration ... but that's a different topic for a different day.

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