Thursday, February 4, 2010

"Red Box" Thoughts

Enough people have been sending me emails and otherwise asking me to give my thoughts on the news that Wizards of the Coast is releasing a stripped-down D&D game in a red box this coming September that I feel some obligation to make a post on the subject. I do this somewhat reluctantly, both because I haven't actually seen the game in question -- few people not associated with WotC have, I imagine -- and because D&D IV isn't a game I play or have any real interest in. Still, given my semi-regular exhortations to game companies to consider producing an introductory RPG in a box, it'd be remiss of me not to say a few words.

First, let me get an irrational rant out of the way: I hate the term "red box" as a synonym for "introductory-level D&D" with a passion equal to that many have for the term "old school." I'm not quite sure why it bugs me so, but it does. Perhaps it's because "red box" is generally meant to refer not to the 1981 Moldvay-edited Basic Rulebook with the rockin' Otus cover but to the 1983 Mentzer-edited one with the anatomically-challenged Elmore cover, which I dislike. As I say, it's irrational and I recognize it as such.

Without having seen the game, I'd say that, on the face of it, WotC is taking a step in the right direction. There is a definite need for a simple, straightforward introduction to Dungeons & Dragons. That such an introduction could be bought in toy and "big box" retail stores is essential if one's goal is attracting a new generation of gamers unconnected with the existing hobby. So, bravo to WotC for the high concept behind this boxed "starter set."

Of course, the actual contents and execution of the product will ultimately prove more important than the high concept and it's here that I'd like to know more. For instance, is this a complete game? That is, is it something one could conceivably play for many months without exhausting its possibilities? The web page linked above notes that it includes "rules for character creation," which makes me happy, since past WotC starter sets haven't included them, thereby limiting their utility. How many levels does this new starter set cover? I've seen conflicting reports on this score and I hope that the levels 1-5 range I'd seen earlier is more accurate than the levels 1-2 I'm seeing now. Just as important is the leveling curve -- how long would it take, if used as written, for a character to reach the "level cap" of the starter kit? These are important considerations.

I noticed that the starter kit includes only the "classic" races (dwarf, elf, halfling, human) and classes (cleric, fighter, rogue, wizard). For a variety of reasons, I like these choices, but it does make the notion that D&D IV expanded beyond "traditional fantasy" in order to appeal to gamers whose experience of the genre is different somewhat questionable. If, as is often claimed, "there's more to fantasy than Appendix N," then why does the starter kit for the current iteration of the game go back to those OD&D staples? It's an interesting question and it makes me wonder who the intended target audience for the starter kit really is.

Ultimately, though, what really matters is what the rules of the starter kit are like and how they're presented. I can't imagine that they're anything other than slightly simplified versions of D&D IV's rules, which, if so, hold no appeal for me. I've read D&D IV and it just doesn't speak to me; a starter kit with a different presentation won't change that. That said, I do think WotC's game could use with a better introduction than the three massive hardcover tomes they're selling now. If this starter set fills that role successfully, then it'll have served its purpose well.

Mind you, my feeling remains, as it has since the D&D III era, that WotC made a big mistake by casting aside the "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" brand name. Had I been in charge, I'd have created a couple of stripped down but complete Dungeons & Dragons boxed sets that one could play profitably without the need for anything else. Then, I'd have created a parallel line of Advanced D&D hardcover books, adventures, and supplements that expanded on the concepts of the boxed sets and were geared toward the hardcore audience of the game. The boxed sets would hew very closely to the classical outlines of D&D as it was in 1974 in terms of classes, races, monsters, and general inspiration.

The advanced line could deviate more, incorporating greater complexity and a wider range of inspirations. Speaking for myself, I never had a problem with tieflings or dragonborn or whatever as PC races; what bugged me is that they were elevated to the same foundational status as dwarves and elves. The same goes for new classes, spells, etc. D&D has always taken inspiration from anything and everything, in the process broadening its appeal. But the foundation needs to be largely unchanging and recognizably Gygaxo-Arnesonian. If it's not, then (for me anyway), we're talking about a different game than the one that first introduced me to this hobby. I already have plenty of those and they're not what I turn to when I want to play D&D.

That's one of the biggest reasons D&D IV holds no appeal for me and likely won't, even after the release of this new "red box." I hope it does well for WotC and achieves its goals, whatever they may be. However, if one of those goals is getting me to give the game a second look, I'd be amazed if it succeeded, but, hey, if someone wants to send me a copy, I'd be willing to give a fair shake.

71 comments:

  1. If the aim is to bring in new people to the hobby, then I really hope that WoTC succeeds. The hobby needs new blood to keep it going.

    It'd be nice if it were levels 1-5, although it looks like they are releasing a Dungeon Master's Kit box set that goes levels 1-30.

    The way 4th is from a look over, I'd say it's not my cup of tea, but I haven't played it so I can't pass any judgement on it.

    I thought it was pretty neat that they are also coming out with a new Rules Cyclopedia as well.

    Oh, did anyone see Gamma World Legion of Gold?

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  2. It's worth noting that this is the second starter kit for 4E. The first included a brief 16 page manual, dice, counters, and just one short adventure. (No, I don't own it.) It doesn't appear to have any rules for character creation from what I can tell. Looking at the cover of this older version up against the new one, I'd have to say it's pretty clear that Wizards is trying to reclaim not just the term "Red Box" but the so-called meaning behind it.

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  3. Sorry, I meant to say that there's a 16 page starter guide AND a 64 page DM manual in the first 4E starter set.

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  4. From a business standpoint, it's pretty straightforward. Without the box sets of the early 80s I don't think D&D would have gathered the following it did, so it stands to reason that they need a boxed set today.

    Regardless of how I feel about the ruleset, I'm glad to see Hasbro take an interest in securing a future for PnP D&D.

    And Gamma World? A resounding, fist pumping, YES!!! I'm stoked like I haven't been in years.

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  5. I guess back in the end 90ies when 3rd edition was being developed,WoC were not eager to experiment with 2 different brands.

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  6. I know have a lot more affection for Elmore, Parkinson, and the rest of the 80s artists than you, but I was tickled by your mention of liking Erol Otus, immediately followed by a dismissal of Elmore's red box cover as "anatomically-challenged". I mean, Otus is cool and all, but anatomical accuracy isn't exactly his forte, either. :)

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  7. I have to disagree about splitting D&D/AD&D. I definitely remember a sense among players in the old days that D&D was "kids' stuff" and only AD&D was "real D&D" -- a perception TSR reinforced in a variety of ways.

    I agree with your idea of "core" and "expanded" (my words, not yours, though I hope I've caught your point correctly) rules. That also avoids the compatability problem of having two parallel products, such as D&D/AD&D.

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  8. This is the first I've heard of it, and as a 4e adherent and a student of the old ways I am enthusiastic both coming and going. I know what some people are gettin' for Christmas this year.

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  9. I've long said that the biggest mistake TSR/WOTC has made in the last 25 years, an ongoing one, is to not have a product of this ilk available. I have to respect someone for trying ti fix that at this time.

    I'll call it a shame that it's based on 4E.

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  10. Will the new 'red box' include random/collectible 'power cards'? Sorry. I couldn't resist...

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  11. Hey, take a look at the WoC page for upcoming products. The Essential D&D boxed set is followed by quite a few paperback books:
    Okt:
    -Dungeon Masters Kit box with 256page book + 2 x32 page adventures + goodies

    -Heroes of the Fallen Lands 352 pages

    Nov:
    - Monster Vault box with 256 book + 32 page adventure + goodies

    -Heroes of the forgotten Kindom 352 pages
    they call it the "essential D&D Supplement" line.

    This either means a steep learning curve for beginning players with all these supplements
    OR
    This is 4.5 through the backdoor...

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  12. James,

    You certainly make some very good points and I am pleased to see you weighing in on this.
    I also had some thoughts on my site (with pictures!)

    http://timbrannan.blogspot.com/2010/02/wotc-does-retro-clones-go-advanced-up.html

    Yes. I dislike the 83 Basic set and feel the superior 81 Basic (Erol Otis cover) gets slighted. I don't even own the later basic set and I have everything else.

    That all being said this is a step in the right direction for WotC.

    My wife and kids want to play D&D and they love all the trappings of 4th Ed. This Basic set is perfect for them.

    I know 4e is not everyones bag and that is cool. But this at least is some evidence that WotC does see what is going on in OSR as a viable marketing option.

    And really. As long as more people are playing and having fun then everyone wins.

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  13. It does beg the question of what you think of Dragon Age (the RPG, not the computer game), which has much the same philosophy in creating an introduction to the hobby, and is being marketed in four boxes (each with an expanse of five levels of character).

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  14. "There is a definite need for a simple, straightforward introduction to Dungeons & Dragons."

    I agree. When ordinary people (non-role-players) buy a new game, they tacitly expect the rules of the game to fit on the back cover of the box. I can't imagine what it must be like for a complete newbie to flip through one of the 4E core rulebooks and try to make heads or tails out of it. Many outsiders have the impression that D&D is this ridiculously complex game that requires a baroque encyclopedia of rules. D&D has suffered from this image problem probably since the 1E hardcovers came out.

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  15. As far as what the introductory boxed set will cover, everything I heard from people at the presentation at the D&D Experience convention last week is that the char gen rules cover levels 1-5 (and just the four core races and classes you mentioned). The "red box" moniker is not the only call back to the 1983 boxed set - the cover art is STRONGLY reminiscent of that box, both in terms of presentation and content.

    To the poster above who mentions the follow up books and asks if this is "D&D 4.5" the answer is no. The follow up books basically present the remaining races and classes and DM options that have been published over 4e's lifespan, covering levels all the way up to 30. Still definitely the same game.

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  16. According to this thread on ENWorld:
    http://www.enworld.org/forum/general-rpg-discussion/271528-new-red-box.html

    ...the box will only cover levels 1 and 2.

    Given the differing advancement rates between editions, you're talking about 4 or 5 sessions of gaming with this box versus 12 to 15 sessions of gaming with the three old Basic box sets.

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  17. From the WOTC web site

    "The box takes players from 1st level through 2nd level with a limited selection of options and choices."

    a crying shame it is only 2 levels not exactly a way to get someone hooked, 1-5 would have got me to purchase this.

    but the Gamma World box set sounds like a must have, the 4e rules lend them selves to crazy powers and gonzo action.

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  18. More accessibility is good. Just a shame its gotta be 4e that new players are introduced to. If my first experience with RPGs was bland, over powered, perfectly balanced, and 1" grid based like 4e I doubt I would still be playing today.

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  19. I would likely pick it up, just out of curiosity (and to give it a whirl), if it was levels 1-3 or 1-5, and was relatively complete.

    It seems to me, WOTC still has time to do the right thing here...

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  20. As the box set will only cover progression up to level 2 (what is that, 10 'encounters'?), it looks like yet another piece of 'crippleware' from WotC. Pity.

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  21. The boxed set includes a solo adventure, presumably similar to the CYOA style adventure in the Mentzer Basic set. That's fantastic!

    That it only covers levels 1 and 2? That's terrible.

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  22. I wonder the motivation here was more (a) attract new players, or (b) lure back old-schoolers? The business case would seem to argue (a), but the trade dress seems to argue (b). Of course, there's also maybe (c) get old-schoolers to buy it for new players.

    A while back when I made a case for a small intro box set on ENWorld (incl. character generation, etc., etc., which should go without saying), I was confronted with an argument that it was "physically impossible to do that with the current ruleset". Possibly we're seeing that limitation with 4E, that the material necessary for just levels 1-2 fills the whole box.

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  23. Jay: "It's worth noting that this is the second starter kit for 4E"

    Actually, this is the THIRD starter product for 4E, if you count the module "Keep on the Shadowfell" (H1). H1 was released before any of the 4E rulebooks. Designed for characters level 1-3, it included 16 pages of "Quick Start Rules." Personally, I would love to see *all* RPG publications follow this model -- no rulebooks, just meaty adventures and/or settings with the "rules" confined to appendices.

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  24. If the boxed set covers levels 1-5 I'm likely to pick it up from Amazon at the $13.xx price. If it's only levels 1-2 I definitely won't. Currently you've got Dragon Age and Hackmaster Basic giving you levels 1-5. It would make sense for WoTC to do levels 1-5 at $10 lower than Dragon Age and even priced with Hackmaster but a boxed set instead of stand alone book.

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  25. @Iaowai, true, but I think we're talking box sets here, are we not? IIRC, Shadowfell was a shrink-wrapped folder of materials.

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  26. Tim, you said most people malign Moldvay/Cook Basic D&D?

    Could you mention where?

    According to most RPG sites Moldvay/Cook is the most holy of holy Basic D&D sets and anything with OMG ELLLLLMMOOOORE artwork is some soulless corporate pile of butt.

    (And the usual WOOOAH OTUS RULEZ DUDE! deal. Yeah his monsters are wonderfully goopy, but he should never EVER be allowed to draw anything human as at best his people pictures look like what one might have seen at the original Woodstock after taking the brown Acid.)

    The whole bashing of Mentzer D&D by the OSR crowd is one reason its hard to actually want much to do with that crowd.

    I just don't get it, and don't want to.

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  27. WOTC web site describes The players book is 32 pages the DM's book is 64 pages.

    3 extra levels in 4E if you are limiting the power selection should only take up 1 page at most, thats 4 extra pages, add in an extra page of feats to give more choices and you are at 5 pages.

    you would need to add some tougher monsters to the DM guide (or a seperate 32 page monster book) more magic items, ect, but still cut some fluff, use smaller pictures, reduce white space, smaller font, if they wanted to they could.

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  28. "not to the 1981 Moldvay-edited Basic Rulebook with the rockin' Otus cover"

    You can call me a "purple box" gamer...

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  29. I somehow managed to buy my B/X books without any boxes. I liked that they were pre-punched for putting in a 3-ring binder, so you'd combine them into a single book. :)

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  30. A step in the right direction for WotC. I have long said that their business model over the past 10 years of ignoring a sizable minority of hobbyists by refusing to release a "Rules-Light" version of their flavor of the month was going to hurt them in the rear. Apparently, my assumption was correct.

    When I was pretty-much forced (by default) to play/run 3.5 several years back (an experience which lasted a year at most), that little endeavor set me back $100.00+. I said "never again" to purchasing WotC products. And promptly sold the books & picked up some 1E goodies I was missing with the credit I received.

    With that being said, I have had the (questionable) curiosity to give 4E a try. The only thing stopping me was the astronomical price of $30.00+ per book. No way. But with this boxed set, especially one containing character creation, I can finally give it a whirl & see what I think. I already have plans in place to NOT purchase any of the add-on rules, preferring to play with the mechanics presented & see what I can do make it my own.

    I can say with certainty that the new "Red-Box" won't be derailing my love affair with OD&D, Basic D&D (yes, I am apparently one of the heretical few who LOVES the Mentzer set), or AD&D1E, but I'm willing to give it a chance.

    Who knows? With a few house-rules to extrapolate the levels & play presented in this boxed set, my players & I might just enjoy it.

    I have to give WotC an "E" for effort. But I won't be holding my breath for an "Old-School" release anytime soon...

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  31. "I mean, Otus is cool and all, but anatomical accuracy isn't exactly his forte, either. :)"

    No, it's not, but I don't know anyone who lauds Otus for his "realism," whereas Elmore frequently is praised for that. Plus, that particular Elmore piece is terrible, certainly not the man's best.

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  32. @Captain Rufus:

    The Golden Age is before Elmore. Everything after the end of the Golden Age is a debased era where men have lost all virtue.

    Its really as simple as that, and a big reason why this whole talk of a Golden Age (or really any Golden Age) has always struck me as bullshit.

    Some of that Golden Age stuff isn't that good, and some of the stuff that came after has been great.

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  33. I have to disagree about splitting D&D/AD&D. I definitely remember a sense among players in the old days that D&D was "kids' stuff" and only AD&D was "real D&D" -- a perception TSR reinforced in a variety of ways.

    This is, I think, another case of where we shouldn't let ourselves be straitjacketed by the hamfisted execution of an idea by TSR. Properly handled, I don't think the non-advanced version of D&D would have to be viewed as a "kiddie" game.

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  34. It does beg the question of what you think of Dragon Age (the RPG, not the computer game), which has much the same philosophy in creating an introduction to the hobby, and is being marketed in four boxes (each with an expanse of five levels of character).

    I haven't seen Dragon Age, so I can't really comment. I like what I've heard about it, but whether it'll be to my liking is hard to say without reading it.

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  35. Given the differing advancement rates between editions, you're talking about 4 or 5 sessions of gaming with this box versus 12 to 15 sessions of gaming with the three old Basic box sets.

    Yeah, that's the rub of it for me.

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  36. I somehow managed to buy my B/X books without any boxes. I liked that they were pre-punched for putting in a 3-ring binder, so you'd combine them into a single book. :)

    Yes, I got my B/X books without a box too -- and I kept them in my "DM's binder" for years, even though I was playing AD&D almost exclusively.

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  37. So even if this Red Box has levels 1-5, that's still not good enough?

    I have thought for a long time that "introductory boxed sets" were some kind of no-win scenario for awhile now, and the reactions in this thread, and to the Dragon Age boxed set elsewhere, just confirm that.

    Gamers always yell that no one releases boxed sets, that some company (Wizards, Green Ronin, whomever) need to "build the hobby".

    Leaving aside for a moment that "building the hobby" sounds like secret code for "you're going to lose money on this complete introductory boxed set", whenever someone actually DOES invest that money, all they get is condescending comments about how their boxed set isn't "complete enough".

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  38. Some of that Golden Age stuff isn't that good, and some of the stuff that came after has been great.

    Seriously: who says otherwise? Certainly not I, nor pretty much anyone in the old school community. There's lots of differing opinions over various products from the Golden Age, with no one I have ever encountered claiming that good products simply ceased to be after 1983 or that everything produced before that point was undiluted goodness. Nor does anyone claim that every piece Otus or Tramp did was a work of art or that everything Elmore and Parkinson touched was garbage.

    Is there lots of criticism for the very real shift in the content and style of D&D products after 1983 or so? Definitely. But that's a far cry from the notion that old schoolers are a hive mind whose opinions are completely without basis. You may disagree with those opinions and for good reasons of your own, but let's not suggest that anyone who believes that, by and large, D&D products went downhill after a certain point is some kind of fun-hating Grinch.

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  39. all they get is condescending comments about how their boxed set isn't "complete enough".

    You have to remember that, for many advocates of boxed intro RPGs, they're using the games from the 70s and 80s as models. Those games were often complete in a single box, without the need for expansions or supplements of any kind. By that standard, most of today's boxed sets feel very halfhearted.

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  40. James: Yes, the original Red Box was amazingly complete. The company that made it, and most of the companies that tried to imitate that company wound up declaring bankruptcy.

    For gamers interested in "growing the hobby", I think that's worth remembering.

    The reason why introductory boxed sets are a hard sell, I suspect, is that they lose money.

    And I'm sure it doesn't make it easier for companies to spend that money when it doesn't even engender any good will among the fans.

    Make a product that loses money so someone can say you didn't do it well enough?

    No thanks.

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  41. The company that made it, and most of the companies that tried to imitate that company wound up declaring bankruptcy.

    TSR didn't go bankrupt because of losing money on boxed intro games, though. Their business mistakes were legion, but this wasn't one of them. Indeed, it could be reasonably argued that dropping the boxed intro games contributed significantly to TSR's ultimate demise.

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  42. James: Red Box was a huge success for TSR.

    But, as we all know, and as we all regret (to varying degrees) it couldn't stay 1979 forever.

    Every boxed set a company (ANY company) makes is a big financial investment and thus a big risk.

    Again- if introductory boxed sets made money today, one wouldn't need to cajole companies into making them, would they?

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  43. It can't stay 2009 forever either. :)

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  44. "I have thought for a long time that "introductory boxed sets" were some kind of no-win scenario for awhile now, and the reactions in this thread, and to the Dragon Age boxed set elsewhere, just confirm that."

    No, the reactions on this thread confirm nothing, except the largely-ignored ruminations of a tiny subset-of-a-subset of D&D enthusiasts: a tempest in a teaspoon.

    If you're looking for the alternative view, that the new red-box will be a huge popular and financial success, and is the RPG equivalent of the second coming of our lord, you will find that in spades over at the WOTC website.

    Have no fear: the managers at WOTC will make money on this release, or get the traditional WOTC pre-Christmas pink-slips.

    Frankly, i'm not sure why it matters whether we like the new WOTC red-box or not.

    Word verification: crazatio

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  45. "Frankly, i'm not sure why it matters whether we like the new WOTC red-box or not."

    Your wondering is incomplete: to whom does it matter? Why, to us of course. This is the blogosphere; if there needed to be another reason to write about something the bloggertubes wouldn't exist.

    @Chuck: There are only two complaints about this boxed set that I've seen. The first is a legitimate critique of execution: including only levels 1 and 2 is crazy. The second is a matter of taste: it is bittersweet that the revival of the boxed set that the OSR has been advocating happens to contain a system not to most of their taste.

    Those are legitimate complaints at the same time that commentors are lauding the mere existence of the boxed set. So really, I think you protest too much.

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  46. I counted the pages in my 4e PHB as writen: cleric thru 5th level 6pages, fighter thru 5th level 5pages, thief thru 5th level 5pages, wizard thru 5th level 6 pages.

    all of the 1-10th level feats only take up 10 pages. (you could cut a lot of the racial and class based feats for races and classes not included in the box set)

    by uping the players guide by 32 pages you easily could have included everything for 1-5th level.

    i think a 24.95 price point for 5 levels would get a lot more people to buy this, but I run hotels not gaming companies.

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  47. Regarding Dragon Age:
    Bias: I love this game and was playtester for it.

    I have read a lot of the comments and complaints that were raised because the first box "only" encompasses 5 levels.

    These complaints were all from experienced gamers!

    The Players Guide is 64pages and includes a lot of background information on the Dragon Age World.
    The Gamemasters Guide also has 64pages and includes an adventure.

    @ James: I am pretty sure that you would like the mechanics of DA. They are so "open" that you basically can create new races and classes on the fly or tweak existing ones. You really should give this game a whirl (even if you don't care for the Setting).

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  48. When I was 11-16 the boxed sets were always a visceral purchase. What got me hooked was high-impact cover art and the fact that it was self-contained. The biggest factor in bonding me to the game was always a well-written adventure. I never would have considered the number of sessions, levels, or anything else.

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  49. Hold it. Didn't Moldvay only go up to third level?

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  50. I love that Wizards are releasing an introductory boxed set to D&D again, and that it has a red box, harking back to their old TSR days.

    A step in the right direction.

    I'm not sure where people are getting this 1-2 level thing from though, sounds like typical anti-WOTC stuff to me which I just can't join in on. I enjoy a lot of what WOTC have done, from the Baldurs Gate games to D&D games even on the Nintendo DS. Some great adventures have been published under them.

    Anyhow, lets not become a bunch of fanatics who hate for hates sake. When WOTC do something good, we should applaud it, imho.

    Ok rant over lol

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  51. The box set covering only levels 1-2 is documented fact, straight out of Bill Slavicsek's mouth in the latest Ampersand column of Dragon. It's not a rumor or people trying to stir the pot.

    I like 4E and AD&D & basic D&D for very different reasons. While I really like the idea of the new box set and have contemplated about buying it for my 8-year-old for Christmas 2010. I think he would love it and since I already own the core books anyways so the down side of the product isn't an issue.

    Which of course does bring up the down side - the level 1-2 is ridiculous IMO because you're talking about 2-3 sessions (assuming you use the standard 8 encounters = 1 level, and you get through 3 encounters per session) before the box is no longer usable. That to me is ridiculous and borders on being a "bait & switch."

    I've seen a number of people bring up that the original "red" box only covered levels 1-3, but they are either ignoring or ignorant of the fact that the pace of advancement was much slower and the structure of the game is such that you simply can't stretch out the game in any meaningful way to get more out of it - it's ridiculous that you can't even use the box set to play Keep on the Shadowfell, the free introductory 4E module, all the way through.

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  52. Hold it. Didn't Moldvay only go up to third level?

    Yes, but mine included Keep on the Borderlanmds (I know earlier versions had B1 don't know how that compares)and that module has loads of gameplay packed into it, it takes many a session. to exhaust all the possibilities in B2

    Going from 1st to 2nd in 4e takes 10 encounters. That will last about 2-3 sessions.

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  53. Recursion King said: "I enjoy a lot of what WOTC have done, from the Baldurs Gate games..."

    Bioware designed the Baldur's Gate games, not WotC (WotC simply was the license holder). Give credit where it's due! :)

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  54. Anyone curious about the previous presentation of 'Basic 4e' can read the 4e Quick Start rules (lvls 1-3 with minimal treatment of some mechanics and no chargen) for free right here. Keep on the Shadowfell, the 4e riff on Keep on the Borderlands, is similarly available for free here. And the Character Builder, the handy-dandy digital chargen tool, is available for free in lvl1-3 form right here.

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  55. "Bioware designed the Baldur's Gate games, not WotC (WotC simply was the license holder). Give credit where it's due! :"

    Good distinction there Akrasia and one definitely worth remembering, but the distinction is not as deeply dividing as you think... for Wizards of the Coast must approve the content for the games or the games will not be published, bearing their logo and the publishers will lose the right to the Dungeons and Dragons license.

    "Going from 1st to 2nd in 4e takes 10 encounters. That will last about 2-3 sessions."

    Not to defend them here, but knowing that, if I picked it up, I would slow the rate of experience down to get more value from the product and maybe even invent my own content to scale past level 2, as I'm a pretty creative DM. A couple of options there that no one has yet (to my knowledge) even considered.

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  56. Leveling up in 4e takes aroun 10 encounters. Therefore, this boxset is good for about 20 encounters worth of gameplay, and unless you're going from fight to fight without more than the shortest of pauses, I could see that filling a good ten sessions easily. That's plenty of time for just about anyone I can think of to raise 20 bucks and buy the book bringing them through the rest of the levels, and frankly that's two weeks longer than it's EVER taken me to run Keep on the Borderlands.

    I'm a little bummed that the boxset only offers such a small taste, but I realize that it's not for me primarily, it's for new players. With that in mind, I intend to buy a copy for just about everyone I know come this Christmas.

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  57. @ Narmer,

    Yes, Moldvay went to only 3rd-level, but the Basic set was closely followed up with the Cook's Expert box, which went to level 14 (IIRC).

    While the Basic box was an intro set, it was less of a risk, IMO, because A) it paralleled AD&D so TSR could mitigate overall loss, and B) it fed seamlessly into the equally accessible Expert rules.

    This is where Moldvay really took a different direction from Holmes. The latter was not only an attempt to organise the content of the previous D&D books, but also serve as an intro to AD&D. Moldvay's Basic was really more of a rewrite of the Holmes edit, probably as another intro. But my theory is that it became more compelling as its own game.

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  58. I'm not bashing WOTC, I pay for the D&D insider even though I have played 4e once (more money than sense i guess), and i will be picking up Gammma World, but 5th level in 4e is a great goal. even if the casual player won't get that far using only the basic set the idea that it is there is a motivation in itself.

    I remember looking at the 2nd level spells in my "Purple Box" and dreaming of the day i could cast them, even if my brother had already bought the expert set well before I made 3rd level the idea that i could grow kept my 7 year old brain interested in playing.

    when i first read about this new redbox i invisioned breaking this out over christmas break with my bother and brother in law, or on a long ski weekend with friends. sure we wouldn't probably make it past 2nd level but the idea that we could reach mighty 5th level would help fuel the game.

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  59. Don't forget, if kids are suppose to play this, they have more time than adults do for gaming. I bet they can finish the whole thing in one weekend.

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  60. "Not to defend [WotC] here, but knowing that, if I picked it up, I would slow the rate of experience down to get more value from the product..."

    In my group's experience, ten encounters can take as long as six or even seven sessions, depending on how roleplay-heavy we get (and how much drinking happens before the session). It's a bit silly to assume that 4e encounters, with their greatly increased *complexity* over earlier models, should be as numerous as e.g. Basic D&D encounters, which lack 4e's (unpalatable to some) tactical complexity due to their quite different abstraction model.

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  61. Leveling up in 4e takes aroun 10 encounters. Therefore, this boxset is good for about 20 encounters worth of gameplay, and unless you're going from fight to fight without more than the shortest of pauses, I could see that filling a good ten sessions easily.

    The box covers level 1-2 that's 10 encounters.

    I can only go on my own experience I ran 4e when it first came out (so just the three core books) roleplay medium (we like the game part) and 1 Skill Challenge to every 2 combats (The skill challanges are my favourite part of teh game). The ten encounters took two 4 hour(ish) sessions.

    It would be possible to slow things down and string it out, also possible to come up with your own content to expand it but that's the same for any game so not really an issue.

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  62. Not to defend them here, but knowing that, if I picked it up, I would slow the rate of experience down to get more value from the product and maybe even invent my own content to scale past level 2, as I'm a pretty creative DM. A couple of options there that no one has yet (to my knowledge) even considered.
    I think you've missed the point - the box set is designed for beginners, new to the game. How many beginners are going to say "you know, these rules will have us advancing too fast so I'll just disregard them and hand out fewer XP."? None. In fact, it' antithetical to the whole concept to consider a "creative DM" will be involved. Aside from that point, why should you have to hack/house rule a game you just bought so you can play it for more than a few hours?

    Regarding the "original D&D only went to level 3" point some have raised, many are ignoring the fact that TSR released at least 10 modules (B1 through B10) that supported that level of play. WotC has practically none (as I mentioned earlier, the box set won't even get your through KotS).

    I'm a fan of 4E (though not a fanboy because I play a lot of other games), but I'm mystified by the weird way they're trying to package the game in a way that it's virtually useless to the target audience they're going for. If you go through all the "this will be AWESOME" posts about the new red box, virtually all of them are coming from people who already own and play the game. That's amazing that they've hit a nerve with those players but I don't see how this is going to bring any new players, especially kids, into the hobby.

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  63. Leveling up in 4e takes aroun 10 encounters. Therefore, this boxset is good for about 20 encounters worth of gameplay

    The box covers level 1-2 that's 10 encounters

    I don't play 4e, so forgive me if I'm misunderstanding, but if it's 10 encounters per level, you'd have 10 encounters to get from level 1 to level 2, then 10 encounters at level 2 before you'd be ready to level up again. That would be 20 encounters. It's not like you'd level up your character to 2 and then not ever try out his new abilities or anything.

    Several comments here seem to be made under the impression that once you hit level 2, you have to stop playing. Some of them even imply that there's no more reason to play the game ever again. I just don't understand this thinking. If there's content and guidance in there for a new DM to create their own adventures, you can play forever. Sure, your character will never level up again, but that's not the only reason to play.

    Furthermore, it specifically says there are rules for character generation, so if your character hits the level plateau and you get tired of playing him/her, you could always make a new character and play someone else. If your dwarf fighter's fun factor is exhausted, make an elf wizard or something. It's fun for new players to try out a variety of classes, and that way they'll see how different types play.

    I started with the big black box (well, technically Heroquest was my gateway game), and we never played one character long enough to level even once. We would always just make new characters each time. Granted, the rate of advancement per encounter is much more rapid now, but by design encounters also now take much longer.

    I do think it's a little disappointing that they couldn't squeeze at least one more level per class in there, but I just don't think it's as crippling as people seem to believe. 4 races x 4 classes x 2 levels x 10 combats per level = 320 encounters before you've played everything available in the box. This still ignores the fact that you can always just keep playing or even play it over again.

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  64. Our experience was that it took 7 4-5 hour sessions of 4e for a couple of PCs (in a group of 6) to make level 3, levelling at 4th and 7th, but I think we were slower than average due to running converted Vault of Larin Karr, a sandbox mini-campaign. One factor that slowed advancement was the meagre XP fo higher level foes.

    With non-stop action you can level up in 2 sessions in 4e.

    I'm in the "Will Buy if 1-5, will not if 1-2" camp.

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  65. Wonder if anyone will even care if the box cover wasn't following Mentzer's at all.

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  66. but if it's 10 encounters per level, you'd have 10 encounters to get from level 1 to level 2, then 10 encounters at level 2 before you'd be ready to level up again. That would be 20 encounters. It's not like you'd level up your character to 2 and then not ever try out his new abilities or anything.

    You are of course, right not sure what I was thinking, or not thinking as the case may be.

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  67. That's funny. I always associated red box with the Moldvay edition. That was the first D&D boxed set I got. Then when Elmore and Mentzner re-did D&D that's when I got Expert, Companion, Master, and the much-maligned Immortals set.

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  68. "How many beginners are going to say "you know, these rules will have us advancing too fast so I'll just disregard them and hand out fewer XP."? None."

    I just love it when intellectuals post their opinions up as fact. Lets deal with the facts here... you do not know all of the people that will play this game, how many of them will turn out to be beginners and how creative they will be to emphatically say 'none' will ever expand the game their own. To summarise: you have no idea what you are talking about!

    To take on the point itself, the rate of advancement will of course be noticeable because anyone can see how quickly one number moves towards another one, just because there may be beginners involved it's wrong to assume they are blind and / or stupid. You were a beginner yourself once. Oh hang on... ;-)

    In short, beware of anything said by one who makes statements of facts about unknowable quantities.

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  69. Well, the main audience will be 10 year old kids who are hooked with XBox and WoW. Or is it for old grognards who feel nostalgic over the box cover?

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  70. A point that noone's mentioned is that with a subscription to D&D Insider you can pretty much play forever. The character builder goes up to 30, includes every skill, feat, power and piece of magic from every book or magazin WOTC publish. The Encounter builder has every monster and trap, ditto.

    So a 1-2 level starter pack, followed by (as a plausible minimum) a single months subscription to DDI would give you the whole of 4e, if you are interested.

    And if not, then no problem!

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  71. D&D and Advanced D&D were very separate products. I recall an article in one of the early 80's Dragon Magazine answering a question from a reader about that very point.

    BECM was its own game, and so was Advanced D&D. I much preferred BECM, as the stat tables were uniform and streamlined, and Advanced (to me) was a big mess. We even imported Classes over from Advanced to Basic, even stuff out of the Unearthed Arcana.

    I just thought the boxed sets had more flavor. Certainly more flavor than 3E or 4E do now.

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