Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What We Need

I know this topic has come up before, but it bears repeating: the hobby really needs an inexpensive yet complete introductory game. Yes, yes, I know we already have several, most notably Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry. The problem with both is that neither is available in non-specialty stores and neither looks like a game to the uninitiated.

Here he goes again, blathering on about boxed sets. There's a reason I do that and it's simple: to people outside the hobby, you buy a game in a box, at least if it's a game you're going to pick up for kids to learn. I don't think it's a coincidence that the best-selling RPG products of all time have been boxed sets. I understand that producing a boxed RPG is expensive nowadays; that doesn't change the fact they're a very attractive way to package a game.

The other vital thing is getting those boxed sets out to places like Toys R Us and Wal-Mart. Having young children, I go to toy stores quite regularly and there are a lot of fantasy themed games and products out there. Lego recently started a very cool line of fantasy sets that include knights, dwarves (complete with tankards of ale!), trolls, skeletons, dragons, and wizards. How wonderful it'd be to see a RPG on the same shelves. I don't really know why D&D is no longer to be found in such places. You'd think, given the tentacles of Hasbro, that it'd be an easy matter to ensure the game was sold in them, but I haven't seen D&D outside of hobby and book stores since the 80s.

I know full well that these aren't magic bullets. They won't turn back history and return roleplaying into the fad it once was. But I'd still like to see these games accorded the same opportunities that even collectible card games are (which you can get in Toys R Us). I recall Gary Gygax musing in the pages of Dragon that, one day, Dungeons & Dragons would achieve a steady state and become like Monopoly or Clue -- a classic game each new generation could discover and play with previous ones because the game was forever in print, easily available, and largely untouched by time. I like the sound of that.

72 comments:

  1. but I haven't seen D&D outside of hobby and book stores since the 80s.

    Wizards used to sell 3rd edition D&D Basic sets at Toys-R-Us just a few years back. These were the boxed sets that came with cardboard map tiles, introductory characters, miniatures, a cut-back rulesset and an intro adventure. I also recall the initial 3rd edition intro set being sold at my local Target for a little while - that was the one that came with cardboard discs instead of miniatures and a poster-map instead of tiles. They were there when Wizards was also attempting to put together a lightweight Pokemon card-based RPG targetted at 8-10 year olds.

    So it's not like they haven't been trying. I think the problem right now is that Toys-R-Us and the big box stores don't want to sell any games that aren't quick sellers - they don't want to experiment outside of the niches of "classic games", "kid's games" and "party games". Anything more complex than that has been getting pushed out of the stores that used to carry it.

    I'd love to see a real transition product between boardgames and RPGs - Hasbro used to make HeroQuest which I think is still a great casual intro to dungeon crawling RPGs. But right now I don't think that the stores are interested. (And Hasbro has no power over what the stores want to put on their shelves - Hasbro can pitch it all they want, but if they say "we'd rather have more Dora games", that's what they're going to get.)

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  2. Wizards used to sell 3rd edition D&D Basic sets at Toys-R-Us just a few years back.

    True, but that wasn't a complete game, since it didn't include character creation rules, as I recall.

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  3. That should actually read "... when Wizards was attempting to sell a lightweight card-based Pokemon RPG..." They put the game together just fine - I have a copy. It's not great, but the 8 year olds I know seem to love the cards.

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  4. If I had my way, the Holmes rulebook would be reprinted, thrown in a box with Dungeon Geomorphs (set one), Monster & Treasure Assortment (set one), and a set of dice, and THAT would be D&D. Unfortunately, I think all the art would have to be replaced with something more "contemporary", but the text could be 99% unchanged.

    I think that not having a single, changeless boxed D&D set has decimated D&D. Such a boxed set should be ubiquitous: in K-mart, Wal-mart, grocery stores, grandma's house, under the Christmas tree, etc. Everyone and his dog should have played D&D a few times, just like everyone and his dog has played Monopoly a few times.

    All D&D products outside of that boxed set would be marketed in a very different way: just to hobbyists and hard-core gamers. Consider chess: Almost everyone knows how to play, and has played a few games. But how many people play chess variants? I've never even seen a chess variant played.

    I think that we gamers are partly responsible for marginalizing D&D (just as comic book collectors have marginalized comic books, but that's another rant). Though, of course, the game companies are responsible as well.

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  5. I can only agree and without reservation. Boxed sets were things of beauty in most cases, even for a gamer well-entrenched in the hobby I loved boxed sets and still do! Dark Sun, Forgotten Realms, Marvel Superheroes and more line my shelves... Great stuff.

    But as a novice, coming in with only the idea that I liked fantasy, stories, and games akin to Heroquest, I WAS confused by all the books on the shelves... Thankfully I was steered to the BECMI red box.

    Kids liked the red box back then. it was bright, attractive, but not intimidating or oversized. The art was just right (a little cartoony and exciting!) and even those who turned down the actual game afterwards were still initially attracted to the "big red box with the dragon on it"

    That set the standard for me. The game might not have progressed to high level, but it held all the rules, enough monsters and treasures for dozens of games, maps and advice for the DM, plus... Everyone's favourite solo adventure with Bargle the evil wizard!

    That's the kind of boxed set you want to introduce new players. Very friendly tone, very easy rules, with appealing art and a brightly coloured box to keep it all in!

    Possible? Don't know... If none of the big companies that rule the shelves of such stores are trying it, maybe that time has passed?

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  6. For teaching purposes, the Mentzer game was the best of the 3 Basic Sets. Everything in that was perfectly designed.

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  7. James, it's my understanding that getting product placement in big stores like Toys R Us is no easy task (not to mention featured placement), and Hasbro probably has products that are for, far more profitable than D&D... ergo, they invent the effort in those products instead. There have been many threads about this on ENWorld, for instance.

    That said, there is a 4e boxed starter set. I know that system is not your cup o' tea, but the fact remains that WotC is making an effort. My friend's 8-year-old son has been having tons of fun with that set. He's hooked!

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  8. I remember seeing the Moldvay/Cook version of D&D in KB Toys, and later the Red Box along with miniatures and modules. That was really my first introduction to the game.

    I'd love to see a boxed version of S&W or LL. I know there's a boxed edition of Castles & Crusades, but it's only an online only offer.

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  9. I don't think the actual rule set would be as important as the actual existence of such a gateway game. Once into the hobby, newer players would come to discover other versions and systems thanks to the internet. Then, once they're hooked, you could reel them into to the older style of playing. You're never going to get unanimity on the actual version, and that's not necessarily a big deal in the long run to keep the hobby alive.

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  10. I agree that we need a classic D&D boxed set alongside Clue and Monopoly.

    But we're not going to get it.

    If such a set comes out at some point everyone reading this is welcome to call me a big dummyhead. My opinion is that to get a D&D classic box set it would take Hasbro abolishing Wizards as a division and D&D becoming downgrading to just another game property alongside Scrabble or whatever. Maybe then someone at Hasbro would stick their neck out and try it. As long as D&D remains a specialty game in a specialty division I doubt we'll get anything more than the half-assed efforts we've seen from Wizards. No chargen? Way to remove the number one thing that distinguishes D&D from HeroQuest, Talisman, or Dungeon. Dumbasses.

    Let us cease to bemoan the lack of a D&D intro boxed set that actually works to introduce to kids and reintroduce the hobby to the "Hey! Remember the 80's? They sure were whacky!" crowd. Our energies are better spent answering the question "What can we do to achieve the same results without the benefit of a big coporation with market penetration?" Where's the grassroots solution to this problem?

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  11. Never happen because the rule changes between editions can be minor and more like errata from 1st to 2nd, to massive from 2nd to 3rd to completely revisited/revised like 3rd to 4th. Too much change for an accurate comparission to say Monopoly where the game is essentially still the same as it's 40 year old versions.

    And yes, the 4e boxed set is a solid starter set and getting new players in should be easier considering the two dummies books and the online community WoTC is attempting to build with the DDI.

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  12. That said, there is a 4e boxed starter set. I know that system is not your cup o' tea, but the fact remains that WotC is making an effort.

    Does it include character creation rules? If it doesn't, then it's not a complete game, which is what I want.

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  13. Unfortunately, I think all the art would have to be replaced with something more "contemporary", but the text could be 99% unchanged.

    Much as I love Holmes, I'm not so sure about this part.

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  14. That's the kind of boxed set you want to introduce new players. Very friendly tone, very easy rules, with appealing art and a brightly coloured box to keep it all in!

    Very much agreed.

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  15. For teaching purposes, the Mentzer game was the best of the 3 Basic Sets. Everything in that was perfectly designed.

    I am coming round to this point of view, actually.

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  16. I don't think the actual rule set would be as important as the actual existence of such a gateway game.

    I think you're right.

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  17. Let us cease to bemoan the lack of a D&D intro boxed set that actually works to introduce to kids and reintroduce the hobby to the "Hey! Remember the 80's? They sure were whacky!" crowd. Our energies are better spent answering the question "What can we do to achieve the same results without the benefit of a big coporation with market penetration?" Where's the grassroots solution to this problem?

    I wish I knew, but it sounds like you've given this some thought, certainly more than I have. Care to share your insights?

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  18. WotC doesn't seem to have any problems getting either Magic the Gathering or Heroscape into my local Wal-Mart. But no Dungeons & Dragons? It's just plain odd.

    There hasn't been a stand-alone intro set published since about 1994. Since then, if you want to play D&D, you need to buy three rule books at $20+ each, plus dice, and nowwadays, miniatures/counters and a battle board.

    (Yeah, I know, there have been various box sets that introduce you to the rules, let you play a couple scenarios, and then tell you to buy the rest of the rules... I mean, a real stand-alone game you can play for an unlimited amount of sessions - a la the old Basic games.)

    That's a c. $100 outlay for a game. That's two or three video games. Or three or four standard boardgames. Or two complicated hobbyist boardgames. Or 7 or 8 pre-constructed ready-to-go decks of Magic or other collectable cardgames. Or the Heroscape main set and three or four small expansions.

    Whatever lip service WotC pays to trying to expand D&D's market to the casual gamer, their actions simply do not match their words.

    And the rpg gaming crowd just gets older and older.

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  19. I wish I knew, but it sounds like you've given this some thought, certainly more than I have. Care to share your insights?

    While "insights" is hardly a term I would use for my own opinion here, I suspect we've got to figure out ways to take the games to the kids. The physical objects themselves are secondary, I'm talking about running games at after school programs, libraries, boys & girls clubs, friendly local bookstores, etc. My local library has a chess club for kids, why not a D&D club? Only with those sorts of contacts do I think that you need a cheap and easy rulebook for the kids. In others words, put the horse before the cart: get the players first, then set them loose with their own games.

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  20. The forthcoming Doctor Who Role Playing Game from Cubicle 7 will be a boxed set for this very reason. Certain stores wouldn't take it if it didn't come in a box and the BBC want it to reach as wide a market as possible (understandably). And it will be a complete game in the box. There will be supplements but they won't be required to play.

    It will be very interesting to see how well it does.

    (Disclaimer: I am involved with Cubicle 7 in a supporting role, so obviously hope the game does very, very well indeed).

    - Neil.

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  21. I have trouble with any suggestion that licensed properties are going to help the scene much. Common wisdom holds that Vampire was responsible for more new players in the 90's that WEG's Star Wars, even though the latter was both an excellent game and one of the best licenses you could secure. I don't have any hard data, but I don't have any real reason to doubt this opinion.

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  22. The old Basic boxes weren't all that standalone--it didn't take us long to get our characters past third level at which point we were buying the Expert boxed set or just outright switching to AD&D. (All three books of which, in early 1980s dollars, cost a comparable amount to today's three rulebooks.)

    The new standalone box doesn't have chargen, true. (How feasible that would be with 5 classes' worth of 3 levels of powers and some sort of feat selection is another question.) But it does have a decent set of rules for building dungeons--in fact, I'd say it's the best of all the various basic/starter sets at actually helping DMs to run games. (The Mentzer set remains the gold standard in learning how to play, I think.) So you may be playing with pregen characters whose advancement is plotted out, but at least you'll be able to put those characters through adventures of your own design.

    In the end, though, I just don't see a boxed set saving the hobby by bringing in droves of tweeners and teens. Those kids already have their video game machines and their MMORPGs. Table-top anything can't compete against that, at least not in the marketplace as exemplified by Wal-Mart and Toys-r-Us.

    Evangelism is the key, I think. We've got a 10 year old in my Friday night group, and I gave the 4E starter set to 3 sons of friends for Christmas. I've played 1 session each with those 3 boys, and I'll be getting them together for a regular game soon--with their own characters. (Granted, these are pregens because I'm talking about 6-7 year olds. But they're pregens based on the boys' particular interests in races and classes.) Having someone else run D&D for you (or LL or S&W or C&C) seems the best way to show how table-top differs from and improves on the video game/MMORPG experience.

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  23. I now see my rpg's at bookstores, B&N, Borders and Books-a-Million than I see at my local game store.

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  24. I think a boxed set is a great idea, especially for Labyrinth Lord as it definately appeals to the nostalgia factor for parents who remember the Red Box.

    Stripping down LL to bare bones essentials (say levels 1-5 and a careful selection of monsters and treasures) could be a 30 - 40 page booklet. Include a cheap set of dice and maybe even a starter adventure and you're good as gold.

    As for low levels lasting only a short time, well, what's stopping you from putting in a note in each box or in the booklet saying something like "For more adventure, go to www.goblinoidgames.com and download a free copy of the advanced and expanded rules!"

    Getting it on shelves is tricky, but I'd go for the completely obnoxious and direct method. Package some up with an explanatory note and ship it directly to the bigwigs at toy stores and WallMart.

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  25. Troll Lord Games have been talking about releasing a "basic" boxed set for what seems like years now. Yes, they plan on making it a complete game (PC creation, etc.). One of their stated design goals is for it to teach new players (e.g., kids) how to role-play.

    I'm not sure of its chances of making it to a main-stream store, however. I do plan on picking up at least one copy for my nephew if it's ever released.

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  26. Bear in mind that homebrew board games companies manage to produce very handsome boxed sets on a relative shoestring. Just look at, for example, Red Dragon Inn by Slugfest Games, or Cutthroat Caverns by Smirk and Dagger Games.

    I would think that with a minimal investment, a boxed edition of S&S or LL could be produced pretty easily; rulebook, dice, introductory module, maybe some character sheets.

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  27. With regard to a Game in a Box I think the Mentzer Box is the aesthetically perfect introduction for young people.

    But Jeff is right. The question is how on earth did so many kids end up lusting after a game devised by a bunch of smart bearded wargamers.

    Sociologically what happened there?

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  28. I wonder what would happen if Lego produced a set of rules so you could use those models in a game? I'm half surprised that they haven't.

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  29. Mentzer really caught lightning in a bottle with his Red Box Basic. Elmore's art didn't hurt, either.

    By contrast, I have the 3.0 D&D intro box set and it is incredibly lame. WotC's heart clearly wasn't in it.

    As far as a 'steady state' game goes, I'd think something based off Mentzer Basic-Expert would be the way to go. Include dice and maybe some cheap plastic minis for the PCs (Fighter Elf Dwarf Halfling Cleric Magic-User Thief), counters for the monsters. But keep it open-ended the way Mentzer did, not a poor effort at a boardgame.

    In fact, on second thoughts perhaps lose the figures & counters. Players need to get used to the idea of a game that takes place in the imagination, before the props come in.

    It's a pity TLG are so tardy with their C&C Basic set, it ought to meet the specs well, even though I doubr they have the muscle to get it in toy stores.

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  30. Mentzer really caught lightning in a bottle with his Red Box Basic. Elmore's art didn't hurt, either.

    I concur on both accounts.

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  31. I wonder what would happen if Lego produced a set of rules so you could use those models in a game? I'm half surprised that they haven't.

    BrickQuest is what sir is looking for :)

    http://www.brickquest.com/brickquest/

    - Neil.

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  32. The old Basic boxes weren't all that standalone--it didn't take us long to get our characters past third level at which point we were buying the Expert boxed set or just outright switching to AD&D. (All three books of which, in early 1980s dollars, cost a comparable amount to today's three rulebooks.)

    The new standalone box doesn't have chargen, true. (How feasible that would be with 5 classes' worth of 3 levels of powers and some sort of feat selection is another question.)


    Making your own character is the game. Old basic sets had it, new ones don't. If the claim is that it's "impossible" for new players of the new game, then the new game is doomed. (WOTC end-of-publication estimate: 2018.)

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  33. As I was reading these comments, it came to me, that the old introductory boxed sets wouldn't work now. Let me explain. In those days, nobody knew what roleplaying was, so they had to explain it to the kids. But now, every 12 year old knows what role playing is... They have played it on their home computers! So the 21th century introductory boxed set have to include a book, which explains what is the difference between this game and the well known computer rpgs. Something along the line, that this is a new game, which is better than your crpgs because... you don't need a computer in the first place, your imagination is better than your computer's imagination, etc. etc.

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  34. In others words, put the horse before the cart: get the players first, then set them loose with their own games.

    I do think this is a good idea and, let's face it, the hobby grew from such humble beginnings. Ultimately, though, my worry is that, without intro products in big box stores, we'll lose a lot of the people we reach out to.

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  35. BrickQuest is what sir is looking for :)

    I don't know from BrickQuest, but +1 for the subtle "Are You Being Served?"-ism.

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  36. Sociologically what happened there?

    Well, it was a perfect storm really. D&D appeared just at the time when fantasy and science fiction were going mainstream through a number of successful books, comics, and movies. TSR smartly took advantage of this through its Basic Rules sets and I have no doubt that the notoriety the game acquired because of things like the Egbert incident helped too.

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  37. Making your own character is the game.

    Exactly.

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  38. Folks, there are plenty of introductory box sets out there. They say "World of Warcraft" on them. :)

    No box in a Toys R Us is going to bring back the glory days. Tabletop RPGs are a niche now. And that's okay. The point now is to foster a healthy and diverse niche. Old School and Indie RPGs are the key to that.

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  39. I do agree with your post to such an extent, but I think that this issue is minor compared to what, IMO, is the main issue: we have to introduce new, non-gamers, to the hobby ourselves.

    How were you introduced to tabletop RPG gaming? Chances are, you were introduced by someone who already was playing. That's how most gamers have been brought to the hobby.

    It seems that sometime along the way, at the same time the hobby grew, gamers grew complacent: there were associations, local game stores... you could find people to game with who themselves were gamers, so why introduce your little brother or cousin or neighbor rather than post an ad in the store? The Internet made the problem even worse. People just don't even bother to introduce people to the game. If they don't find a group of people who already are gamers, then they'll play play-by-posts, virtual table games and such.

    This is a shame, and this is I believe the real problem we have to face.

    Now that said, rest assured you bring fine points about introductory games.

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  40. Honestly a version of D&D based off of Mentzer, but with some light feat choices, more starting HPs, 4d6 (3 high) x 6, and in a boardgame style box with miniatures and dungeon tiles could rock.

    Call it "Classic Dungeons and Dragons" or something.

    Sell a 1-4 level Basic set, then Expert and Master (kind of combine Companion/Master into one thing) with maybe 20 total levels and a couple new races and classes in the other 2 sets plus more tiles and minis and it could sell itself, especially if they sell monster and dungeon tile and adventure packs.

    Want to sell world setting gazeteers? 20 dollar blisters with a 32 page book, poster map, and some minis of the cool new race and class options in the set. (Like Forgotten Realms could come with some Snirfeblin, Drow, and Saurials, Dragonlance has some Kender and Tinker Gnomes, Dark Sun has some Thri Kreen, Muls, and Half Giants, ect.)

    Basically it would be sold sort of like they did with Heroscape, except actually not screw it up. Keep a steady stream of new product coming out, and put it in the toy section, preferrably with the action figures instead of the boardgames if the megaretailers don't understand the concept of a game that gets people to buy MORE STUFF for as opposed to the gift o ramas that most kids don't really play like Monopoly and such.

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  41. James, it sounds as though you're advocating a mass marketing strategy! All kidding aside, I think a box set for beginners is a GREAT idea.

    Maybe the set should have a 'starter' book for learning the rules and trying out an adventure. Additional booklets could cover the character generation and DM responsibilities and tips (plus monsters and treasure).

    A thought--maybe putting the whole kitchen sink in the box set isn't necessary. Part of the reason box sets for beginners work so well is they let nascent gamers get their feet wet without feeling overwhelmed. That said, it's nice to have something you can run right out of the box.

    Oh, and I'm all for including the 'old school' artwork look/feel. RESIST all notions of going for contemporary art. Retro-like art is definitely part of the charm of retro-like games!

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  42. Joseph said:

    I would think that with a minimal investment, a boxed edition of S&S or LL could be produced pretty easily; rulebook, dice, introductory module, maybe some character sheets.


    Depends what you mean buy minimal investment. Getting such a product into physical form is possible, certainly. But stop to consider that there are probably good reasons no one is doing it now. It probably isn't economically viable to mass produce them, and by "mass" I mean a few thousand at least. That issue aside, most of us involved in publishing "old-school" material are doing it as a hobby. Who could possibly come up with the $10,000+ to mass produce boxed sets that Wal-mart will be happy to pay 50 cents apiece for? That's if they'd even sell them. So while I think it would be very cool to get an intro boxed set out there, I think people misidentify the real problem. Many of us have thought about this, and creating it is the easy part. The hard part is the market research, marketing, and ultimately the (major) investment. So while Jmaes says that Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardy almost fill the niche but are not available at enough channels....show me the investor and I'll make it happen!! ;-)

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  43. Jer wrote: Wizards used to sell 3rd edition D&D Basic sets at Toys-R-Us just a few years back. These were the boxed sets that came with cardboard map tiles, introductory characters, miniatures, a cut-back rulesset and an intro adventure...

    I'm not sure if that's better than nothing or worse than nothing.

    The post-1991 TSR/WotC Basic Sets have been nothing except a preview of the actual game that you buy in a hardback book (either the Rules Cyclopedia or the PHB/DMG/MM triumvirate). It's also a preview that you have the "privilege" of paying money for.

    Jeff Rients wrote: I have trouble with any suggestion that licensed properties are going to help the scene much.

    Most licensed RPGs seem to target RPG fans. This is actually quite odd. Every other licensed product you see is aimed at the fans of the licensed property.

    One of the few exceptions in recent memory was Guardians of Order, who licensed anime series and then produced books which were one-half RPGs and one-half resource books aimed at fans of the anime series.

    These were tremendously popular -- not just with RPG players, but with fans of the anime.

    GoO eventually lost their focus, mismanaged their money, and went bankrupt. But their model isn't without merit.

    There has never, to my knowledge, been a BECMI-style boxed set produced for a licensed game.

    And I agree with others that the BECMI Basic Set is the model to emulate here. It doesn't have to be the BECMI rules, but the structure and approach is just about perfect. About the only thing I'd tweak is expanding the ruleset to cover at least 10 levels.

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  44. Brickquest is fine, but I assume that it's not sold alongside Lego sets in toy shops?

    I was thinking more along the lines of a properly licensed product, an introductory D&D set that just happens to have suggestions on how to use Lego with it. The kids grow up, and want to put the Lego away? Well, they've still got a game they can play without.

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  45. Justin:
    "And I agree with others that the BECMI Basic Set is the model to emulate here. It doesn't have to be the BECMI rules, but the structure and approach is just about perfect. About the only thing I'd tweak is expanding the ruleset to cover at least 10 levels."

    I agree - 10 levels would make it a full game; with indefinite playing time.

    Things I would tweak:

    1. Starting characters should be more durable, more hit points, as noted above. Spellcasters should have several spells.

    2. Spell lists can be dialed back, 6 spells per level is plenty, with 5 levels of spells that's 30 spells per class.

    3. Character generation is tough to get right; you want both randomness and moderately heroic starting characters. Using the Basic D&D stats; I'd suggest the default be something like "roll 2d6+6 in order, then swap any 2 stats around" - so you can put a high stat into STR for a Fighter, etc. Alternatively go the Swords & Wizardry route and make stats unimportant; they can even be abolished without much harm to the game.

    4. Dice - a boxed set can include gamer dice, but it might be more accessible to use d6s instead; 2d6 makes a nice distribution.

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  46. "There has never, to my knowledge, been a BECMI-style boxed set produced for a licensed game."

    Well, there's never been a BECMI-style box set sequence produced for anything other than D&D, that I can recollect.

    However, Decipher produced a "basic set" for their LOTR RPG that was in, at least, all major book stores. And it tanked, iirc.

    Getting people (regardless of age) interested in RPGs is important. I don't think an '80s-style box set in brick-and-mortar stores is necessarily the only (or even the best, by far) way to accomplish this. Consequently, I don't think the absence of such a product today means that nothing is being done to get people into the hobby.

    And, as a side note about my buddy's son... the 4e starter set may not have chargen rules, but it certainly made that kid desperate to DM. He's been recruiting family and friends to play. Honestly, I think that's way more important.

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  47. I think one thing that is sorely needed is that whatever game is put out to attract new blood is written in a language approprite for them, total newbies.
    Similar to the style that can be found on the BD&D boxed sets. Uplifting and inspiring and without throwing jargon at the reader right from the start:

    "By opening this box you have entered a realm of infinite adventure limited only by your imagination..."

    Or something like that...

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  48. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  49. One of the few exceptions in recent memory was Guardians of Order, who licensed anime series and then produced books which were one-half RPGs and one-half resource books aimed at fans of the anime series.

    These were tremendously popular -- not just with RPG players, but with fans of the anime.

    GoO eventually lost their focus, mismanaged their money, and went bankrupt. But their model isn't without merit.


    Personally I don't care how many copies of the Sailor Moon Sourcebook GoO sold. Did the effort bring in new active gamers?

    There has never, to my knowledge, been a BECMI-style boxed set produced for a licensed game.

    MERP is an almost case here, as it was intended as introductory to RM and had a sound license.

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  50. I think the problem of not having new gamers is a bit exaggerated. A lot's of people are talking about this on the internet, but there are countless other people, who play the game but don't care a lot about writing of it on the net.

    I'm DMing in two different groups. From the 11 people I play togather only I read rpg blogs and forums. The others just game and plan to run their own games for younger relatives or friends.

    The root of the problem is the segregation of people from each other. Nowadays most people don't talk to each other that much, don't need the company of others. Well, they do need, but it's more confortable to sit before your computer at home chating with someone than going out with friends to share some fun togather. The rpgs are there, either on the shelves of bookstores (general ones, not hobby gamestores) or on the internet. What you don't have, are people of whom one would say: "Come over to my house, roll up some characters and have some fun!"

    It's easier to sit before an MMO, talking on Ventrillo or TeamSpeak, eating pizza that was delivered to your door.

    A nice start set will not solve this problem.

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  51. @Buzz: Hard to really say whether Decipher's LOTR tanked. Decipher tanked, but that's because one of their employees embezzled millions of dollars.

    @Rients: I've met at least two gamers who cut their teeth on GoO's anime stuff. So, yes.

    Jeff Rients wrote: MERP is an almost case here, as it was intended as introductory to RM and had a sound license.

    I'm a bit biased because MERP is the game that almost resulted in me NOT being a roleplayer. I had the MERP boxed set before I got the BECMI Basic Set. I found it to be very non-accessible -- as a newbie I literally couldn't figure out what I was supposed to do with this big mass of decimal-sorted rules. (I was also 10, of course.)

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  52. A couple of random thoughts...

    Yes, we've got to bring it to the people, that's where it's at. Lead by example. Involve friends, neighbors, and classmates. Get out there and run some games.

    Sell the rules formatted for Nintendo DS and PSPs. And make sure that the rules are also freely available in simple text format, for use with netbooks, PDA's and even phones. Yay, S&W! Boo, LL!

    (Pdf's are great for printing from, but not so good when just used off the screen)

    Let's get some historically-themed retro-clones going too. Wild west, Roman empire, you name it. I'd kill for a game of intrigue set in New Orleans 'round the early 1800's. More points of contact for all the crypto-gamers out there.

    And of course, a boxed set containing...
    * Complete rules up to around lv. 10 or so.
    * A book of monsters, a few quite powerful, with neat illustrations.
    * A complete numbered hexmap of a Land of Adventure, and a key to go with it, Judges Guild-style.
    * A handful of 1-sheet dungeons.
    * A good beginning dungeon, 1 or 2 levels.
    * The top 3 or 4 levels of a mega-dungeon.
    * A comicbook showing how the game is played, on both sides of the screen.

    ...and I'd also like a pony and a zillion dollars...

    But how much could you charge for a boxed set these days? I'm guessing no more than the price of a new videogame. I don't know if it could even be done for that kind of money.

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  53. Wizards has made several attempts at an introductory box. It seems to me, however, that nothing has been as successful as Mentzer’s Basic Set. Including the post-Mentzer attempts by TSR before Wizards bought them.

    The biggest problem Wizards has is that they can’t look at it as anything beyond a gateway to their current system. To really be successful, it needs a certain ability to stand on its own. If it does, you’ll get the gateway effect for free.

    Even Holmes had the ability to stand on its own. I know people who played Holmes for years before they ever got a chance to acquire more. While people can do that with anything, it looks to me like the early Basic Sets really inspired people to do that more than later sets have.

    I want a product like this so that I can buy it for people who I can’t mentor directly. Direct evangelism is always preferable, but it isn’t always an option. I could send a gift of a good Basic Set to nieces and nephews living far from me.

    Personally, if I had encountered computer RPGs before D&D and Traveller, I think I’d have a very different idea of what an RPG is than I do. I’m not convinced that Final Fantasy X communicates my conception of what an RPG is.

    I don’t think the mere existence of such a product would work miracles. I do think, however, that it serves a key role.

    OK, so now I’ll dream:

    The box should contain an intro booklet based on the Mentzer player book. It should contain a guidelines booklet based on the Moldvay Basic and Cook/Marsh Expert. I’m not sure that a module is essential but perhaps. And dice, of course.

    (Let’s abolish the word “rules” from it altogether. And it must include a recommended reading section.)

    It should be produced to be a completely stand-alone game. Like Monopoly. This is where I’d break with the old levels 1–3 model. I may be crazy, but I wouldn’t even produce modules for it. Make it a given that people should create their own dungeons and worlds.

    I would definitely not include miniatures or “dungeon tiles” or any other such trappings. Get people to understand it as a game of paper, pencil, dice, and imagination first.

    I’d consider a single expansion box set with various optional rules.

    I might also consider selling a stand-alone player’s booklet that contained the intro booklet and the player-specific parts of the guidelines booklet. I also like the idea of the basic box itself including four player’s booklets.

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  54. It probably isn't economically viable to mass produce them, and by "mass" I mean a few thousand at least. That issue aside, most of us involved in publishing "old-school" material are doing it as a hobby.

    Well, the board game producers manage it (and I know from personal experience that at least one of the companies I mentioned is a one-man operation). Don't forget; you're not going to get into Toys R Us right away; a run of 10,000 isn't going to be the first thing you do.

    I cannot believe the economics of board games are so far removed from those of RPGs that it could not be done. I suspect it's more a matter of mindset.

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  55. The economics of board games are kinda far removed. They are also far more profitable than RPGs.

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  56. VacuumJockey: Some good ideas.

    Imagine a DS program that allowed you to browse the rules on the upper screen and had a dice roller on the lower screen. Is writing and distributing free DS applications feasible?

    Matthew James Stanham worked on an OSRIC quick start. (Unfortunately, my K&KA username is no good anymore, so I can’t find it.) I think printing out copies of something like that and handing it out and just leaving it places is a great idea.

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  57. "I would definitely not include miniatures or “dungeon tiles” or any other such trappings. Get people to understand it as a game of paper, pencil, dice, and imagination first."

    Yeah, I now agree with this. All the failed TSR and WoTC intro boxes are/were stuffed with geegaws, I think in the end those just distract from the essential element of play - imagination.

    I don't agree with multiple copies of the players' book - StarSIEGE did this and it just comes across as a waste of paper.

    I think the idea of 1 page dungeons (suitable for an evening's play) is a great one, and much better than including a 32 page module. TSR's City of Greyhawk box included lots of 1-page (2 side) adventures on cardstock; it was an incredibly efficient and fun way to pack in tons of gaming. They can be written for a wide range of levels and showcase different elements of the game. Plus, any the GM doesn't like can be easily discarded, which is not the case with a 32 page module.

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  58. How were you introduced to tabletop RPG gaming? Chances are, you were introduced by someone who already was playing. That's how most gamers have been brought to the hobby.

    My friends and I were self-taught, using a Holmes set that my mother had purchased for my father in the late summer of 1979. Granted, we didn't know what we were doing and my friend's older brother and father set us straight, but we began to play by picking up a boxed set and trying to make sense of it.

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  59. James, it sounds as though you're advocating a mass marketing strategy!

    Well, I'm coming round to the notion that, for this hobby to thrive, what we need is a two-pronged publishing model: a mass marketed "basic" version of the game and a more hobbyist "advanced" game. Both games must be complete and playable on their own and compatible with one another, but their focuses and presentation would be different.

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  60. I also like the idea of the basic box itself including four player’s booklets.

    FWIW, I do too.

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  61. Why the hellassballs has nobody told me about this?

    Probably because it's been out of print for close to 20 years.

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  62. How were you introduced to tabletop RPG gaming?

    I meant to comment on this. My experience is that more gamers started with a Basic Set than by joining a group.

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  63. Come to think of it, don't we already have the basic components, sort of?

    * One copy of Labyrinth Lord
    * One copy of The Phoenix Barony
    * One copy of Fight On!#1
    * A pamphlet of useful tables
    * A stack of 1-page dungeons
    * A stack of character sheets
    * One complete set of dice
    * A landscape DMs screen

    Then we'd need maybe 12-16 pages of 'what-is-this' FAQ/How-to/Link list/Book recommendations.

    And then all we need is a box and some bitching Erol art!

    Surely this is doable! How the hell much moneys can a box with 4-color print on it cost?

    IMO, this would be a worthy project for the OSR... :)

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  64. vacuum jockey
    is right
    NOW can we get the owners of the Rights to those materials to get on board?

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  65. VJ:
    " One copy of Labyrinth Lord
    * One copy of The Phoenix Barony
    * One copy of Fight On!#1
    * A pamphlet of useful tables
    * A stack of 1-page dungeons
    * A stack of character sheets
    * One complete set of dice
    * A landscape DMs screen"

    That might be a bit much (Fight On retails for rather a lot), but the basic idea seems right.

    Troll Lord Games put out StarSIEGE recently, a boxed set with dice (2d20), GM's book, 4 player books, setting book, for £17.99. A Labyrinth Lord box with similar pagecount ought to be doable at a similar price. I think it would need somewhat more contemporary/polished art on the box, but the game itself should be fine.

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  66. Re “contemporary art”: I don’t know. Retrophilia seems to me to be pretty strong today. Check those wooden box Monopoly, Scrabble, Yahtzee, Clue, etc. on the shelf at Target for just one example. Even kids seem to find retro products attractive even if they don’t realize they’re retro. Maybe because it stands out against the modern rococo, ADD, info-overload style.

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  67. I know this thread has likely run it's course, but I just looked in my closet and 3.5 had TWO boxed sets:

    1. A Basic Game set with
    -->12 painted minis! (a nice plus, I think)
    -->4 double-sided dungeon tiles (also nice)
    -->4 hero booklets (different pre-made heros to try out)
    -->1 DM booklet (just basics, not the DMG)
    -->6 dice
    -->1 counter sheet
    -->1 advanced rulebook (note: not the full PHB or DMG)

    2. A Players Kit, including:
    -->"premium" dice (heh)
    -->quick start character creation booklet
    -->quick start rules summary booklet
    -->solo adventure booklet (a nice addition)
    -->character sheet and...
    -->soft cover Players Handbook (the full book!)
    -->the version I bought also came with a booster pack of minis shrink-wrapped to it

    So for all that we might rip on Wizards of the Coast, they actually did a great job of putting substantial box sets together. I think they wisely chose to make their sets using two different approaches--one based on getting the mechanics down and another from a character development perspective. While I know that many on this board will say that the 'character' approach is the true spirit of 0E, I have to say that there's something about getting the basics down.

    I have my reasons for this viewpoint: when I was about 9-years-old I received both Moldvay and Mentzer versions of the box sets and struggled to 'get' the mechanics--primarily because I had no one to play the game with (sad face!). And granted, I was a kid, but I think it illustrates how some concepts are difficult to get across on paper without demonstrable application. So my vote is for a solid guide for newbies to be included (not that it has to be the 'focus').

    Now that that's out of the way, how about including some low-budget miniatures? I'm a big fan of the 'smaller' fantasy minis as they mimic the figurines of old. Caesar Minis makes a fine assortment of 1:72 fantasy (and other) minis (skip to the bottom of that page). Sets go for around $12/box of 35 or more (that's right, 35!!!). Perhaps they could be contacted to do a special selection for a retro-clone box set?

    Anyway, thanks for indulging my massively long comment!

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  68. How were you introduced to tabletop RPG gaming? Chances are, you were introduced by someone who already was playing. That's how most gamers have been brought to the hobby.

    I also wanted to reply to this; I hear it a lot, but it's the opposite of my experience. Back in 1979, I wsas the first person I knew to start D&D, and it was entirely because I asked for a D&D basic set. I introduced everyone else I knew to the game.

    Did most people at my school learn from another player (me)? Yes. Would anyone have got into the game without a Basic boxed set? No, because that's what provided the seed to the first person in my community to get into the game (me).

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  69. I started by seeing other kids at summer camp playing the game. My mom then bought me a copy of the Holmes Basic set. That book made absolutely no sense to me (not to mention didn't even come with dice), and I had no luck running the game on my own. It wasn't until I got the AD&D hardbacks, and was able to use them with friends who already knew how to play (as much as any of us could, given Gary's text), that I figured out the basics of D&D.

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  70. Holmes Basic set, with no dice, was everything I needed to learn the game and introduce it to my friends.

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  71. As a quick addition to my earlier post. If miniatures could be made to be a part of the set, perhaps Otherworld Miniatures could put together a set. I think their scupts are absolutely fantastic!

    While metal minis are preferred, I think plastic would be just great for a starter set. Unpainted would seem to suit the DIY aspects of the old-school/retro-clone movement.

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  72. Did most people at my school learn from another player (me)? Yes. Would anyone have got into the game without a Basic boxed set? No, because that's what provided the seed to the first person in my community to get into the game (me).

    I had a double initiation into the hobby, first through my reading of the Holmes basic rules, followed up by my friends' brother and Dad helping us to figure out stuff we didn't understand in those rules. My feeling is that Basic Sets are vital to the growth of the hobby, whereas an accessible community is vital to its maintenance.

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