Sunday, March 7, 2010

This Can't Be for Real

A couple of people have pointed me toward a post by ex-WotC designer Charles Ryan on the "D&D UK" group, where he includes a picture of the cover of the upcoming D&D Essentials boxed set. Here's the picture:

Charles explains in a note that this cover is different than the one he'd posted previousy, but that he felt this new one was "the most accurate" since "this is what's on the solicitation."

Am I the only one who thinks it's virtually impossible that the cover above is the one WotC is using? Sure, the D&D Essentials boxed set is partially an exercise in nostalgia, but I highly doubt WotC would simply use the exact same cover as the 1983 Mentzer Basic Rules, right down to the old D&D logo. I mean, this picture doesn't even include the words "D&D Essentials" anywhere.

Consequently, I suspect that the above picture is just a mock-up that somehow managed to make it into the retail solicitation catalog rather than the real thing. If I'm wrong, then that's interesting on numerous levels and I'll probably have some things to say about it. Right now, though, I have a hard time taking it seriously.

61 comments:

  1. The retro cover will only grace the first print run of this product; later print runs will have a more modern look that matches the style of the Essentials line products.

    Perhaps they'll go to the previous image in subsequent printings? He certainly seems certain that this is the actual cover. he also notes that it does go up to third level. They certainly haven't done a good job of promoting this, with all the contradictory information coming from apparently-official sources.

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  2. If this is true I feel that it's an intentional misrepresentation of the product. Some people who have been away from the game are going to buy it thinking that it is what they remember from their childhood and then find themselves having a serious "WTF?" moment. Hopefully some of them will find their way to S&W or Labyrinth Lord after they toss this into the trash. I'm sure WOTC is banking on more than a few nostalgia prompted sales. I call Shenanigans, regardless. This is just lame.

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  3. If this is real, consider it the first shot across the bow of the good ship OSR.

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  4. If this is real, consider it the first shot across the bow of the good ship OSR.

    That's one of the reasons I don't believe it: we're too small for WotC to care, let alone build a product line in reaction to.

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  5. Solicitations often include mockups rather than the actual cover.

    Count me in to the "don't believe it" crowd. This is supposed to be an entry-level product, not something primarily aimed at the nostalgia crowd. There's no way WotC would change the branding from the main D&D line, or leave off the "D&D Essentials" line.

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  6. That's one of the reasons I don't believe it: we're too small for WotC to care, let alone build a product line in reaction to.


    But big enough to appear on their radar. And there's been at least one, uh... interesting rumble. Did you see this exchange with Andy Collins and Liz Schuh of WotC in the Escapist?

    AM: Why not toss some of those classic products back into print, or do an on-demand? It strikes a lot of us as kind of odd that people are paying for Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizards when with one swoop you could capture that money just by selling D&D Mentzer.

    LS: You know, I think that things like print-on-demand are really coming into their own and it's certainly something that we're exploring and looking at. We don't have any specific plans that we're announcing yet, but it's certainly something that we're looking at.

    AC: We're not unaware. We do move slowly at times, but I like to think that the end result is that we're happier with the decisions we make.


    http://tinyurl.com/yeege7r

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  7. looks like a mock up indeed. It doesn't have the same Dungeons and Dragons header that every other D&D product coming out of WOTC currently has. Bad branding. I can't imagine that happening in brand conscious corporate land.

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  8. That Escapist interview, is kinda interesting, though. (Thanks, Fitzerman!) You think, that maybe some ego's are getting bruised? Or, maybe we're having more of an impact than we realized?

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  9. A movement can be quite small and yet quite influential...

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  10. D&D's lead designer plays OD&D and AD&D 1st edition. He also regularly interacts with several OSR bloggers.

    My take on this? There is a slim chance they will use the Elmore image but the old logo isn't going to happen!

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  11. The retro cover will only grace the first print run of this product; later print runs will have a more modern look that matches the style of the Essentials line products.

    They will use the old logo for the 1st print run.

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  12. Probably a linkage cock-up in the original post.

    The cover pic on WOTC's own product page for the set has far more of their current house style to it, but still apes the classic trade dress.

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  13. I have a feeling that this image is just a mockup made by someone as a place holder OR a mockup made by someone online.

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  14. Besides saying it's a mock up, have you guys clicked on the link given? It clearly says that the retro cover is limited print run and will be a collectible.

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  15. Oh for crying out loud.

    An introductory boxed set that takes you levels 1-3, with a solo adventure (like in the original) so a kid can learn the basics of the game before gathering his friends, with a clear upgrade path of further boxed sets for those who keep playing.

    Basically, its everything we have been saying WOTC needed to do.

    And folks are still picking it apart.

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  16. "And folks are still picking it apart."

    Oh boy, here we go again.

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  17. What, chuck, we're not supposed to discuss a potentially interesting marketing tactic by WotC?

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  18. If they had any taste the would just use an original cover but that still wouldn't help how awful it will probably churn out on paper. Just the idea of adding " cards" to a RPG sickens me to no un end...

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  19. "Oh for crying out loud."

    Wow, that didn't take long. See, this is why we can't have nice things.

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  20. Fitzerman: What, chuck, we're not supposed to discuss a potentially interesting marketing tactic by WotC?

    Ok- I am conflating the previous discussion on this blog with this one.

    If you will recall, in the earlier discussion, everyone was ignoring that it was an introductory boxed set in favor of it not being a GOOD one, because:

    A) It only covered levels 1-2 and
    B) There was no clear upgrade path

    So now, we find out that it does in fact cover levels 1-3 and have a clear upgrade path.

    And now the discussion is on the cover, which is clearly a dastardly marketing ploy aimed right at the HEART of the OSM.

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  21. I'm with Chuck. This can only be a good thing for the hobby.

    My 10 year-old-boy can't wait for it to come out!

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  22. Chuck- Well, given that they've clearly noticed the successes of the OSR (small scale, though they may be), and stated that they're considering ways to pull in the nostalgia dollar, I think that this box cover might well be a sort of trial balloon. And yeah, if the "old school" cover succeeds, that could have some effect on the OSR.

    The OSR makes money by referencing IP that WotC owns. At some point, WotC might well decide to cut out the (non-paying) middle man. I don't know if this cover is a sign of that or not, but my take on the Escapist interview is that they are indeed kicking some ideas around in that general direction.

    See? No invention of a dastardly plot needed. Just speculation based on evidence.

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  23. I'm with John! I hope it sells like gangbusters! Then, when these new players get a little more age and experience, some of them will be ready to appreciate what the older systems have to offer.

    (Whistling, nonchalantly.)

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  24. The OSR makes money by referencing IP that WotC owns. At some point, WotC might well decide to cut out the (non-paying) middle man.

    I don't see how they can cut out anything. They might expand the market, which would work in the favor of Brave Halfling, et al. If people started playing a Wotc produced, or re-released Old School game, that would lead many to the existing OSR. Gamers that would explore and snatch up the cool "underground" stuff, in a heartbeat. So long as it's good. Since much of it is very good, we could only hope that Wotc makes such a move. When's the last time Wotc put out a product that could compare to Death Frost Doom or Fight On!? Serious question. I no longer buy Wotc products.:)

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  25. "Sure, the D&D Essentials boxed set is partially an exercise in nostalgia, but I highly doubt WotC would simply use the exact same cover as the 1983 Mentzer Basic Rules, right down to the old D&D logo..."

    Of course, it's not really the "exact same" cover. Title on the original was "Basic Rules Set I" (here, "Starter Set"). Descriptive text at the bottom is different. WOTC logo in place of TSR.

    Old images at Acaeum: http://www.acaeum.com/ddindexes/setpages/basic.html

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  26. It's obviously not the actual cover of WotC's version. And any alarmist who thinks this is some sort of attack on the OSR is grossly overestimating the influence the OSR has on 4e's market.

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  27. Somewhere around them internets there was an article about Games Workshops business model, and how it holds no place for graybeards because thats not going to make them money, and it was spot on for WoTC/Hasbro.

    WoTC/Hasbro doesn't care about us, they don't need to care about us. They, very specifically, have no interest in players who expect value for money, because they can make alot more selling to kids buying with either their parents money, or with an allowance/small earnings. Thats why Miniatures are becoming almost standard, thats why there are hints of adding cards and other game aids, because these things make money, piles of it.

    You can have a successful RPG publishing house making rules light, non-monetized games, but thats only if you intend to stay small, make those sorts of games with any hope of corporate expansion and you end up gobbled up, as happened with TSR, Fasa, and I believe West End Games.

    These boxed sets will likely just be a gateway drug to 4e, or a boadgame-ized variation thereof. I'd be surprised if they ever created a genuinely "retro" edition of D&D.

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  28. "It's obviously not the actual cover of WotC's version. And any alarmist who thinks this is some sort of attack on the OSR is grossly overestimating the influence the OSR has on 4e's market"

    You mean, we should expect Wotc to make sound business decisions, based on rational concerns, respect for their customers and the long-term health of the FRPG hobby?"

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  29. A movement can be quite small and yet quite influential...

    Don't misunderstand me: I do think the OSR has been influential outside its diehard core. However, short of affecting WotC's bottom line in an appreciable way, I can't imagine there'd be any real incentive to try and horn in on its territory. I hope I can be forgiven for doubting that our little movement has had much impact on WotC's sales, certainly not enough to warrant their trying to court us.

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  30. D&D's lead designer plays OD&D and AD&D 1st edition. He also regularly interacts with several OSR bloggers.

    Sure, but there's a big difference between being personally fond of older editions of the game and steering the current edition toward imitating them, even on a superficial level.

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  31. Besides saying it's a mock up, have you guys clicked on the link given? It clearly says that the retro cover is limited print run and will be a collectible.

    I didn't see that line, since it occurred after Ryan's description of the contents, about which I care very little, which is admittedly a poor excuse on my part.

    Thanks for pointing that out. I'll have to think on this a little further now.

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  32. All due respect, Capheind, your predictions are correct but your reasoning is spurious and assumes malice where none exists.

    Anyway I think I'm totally going to have to buy one of the first printing, because that is seriously cool.

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  33. For the record I'm not saying they hate us. or even have contempt for us, just that as a company they have no interest in us and aren't likely to. Calling it a gateway drug was purely for giggles.

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  34. And now the discussion is on the cover, which is clearly a dastardly marketing ploy aimed right at the HEART of the OSM.

    Come on: it's 2010 and WotC has spent the last 2 years trying to tell us that D&D IV isn't your father's D&D and now they're releasing a boxed basic version of their new edition that swipes the cover image and trade dress of the most successful version of the old game and that's not worthy of picking apart?

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  35. James: Come on: it's 2010 and WotC has spent the last 2 years trying to tell us that D&D IV isn't your father's D&D and now they're releasing a boxed basic version of their new edition that swipes the cover image and trade dress of the most successful version of the old game and that's not worthy of picking apart?

    Over the years, really since the 2e days, I have seen D&D fans decry the lack of vision shown by TSR, and later Wizards, for not having "real" introductory boxed sets.

    They've always had introductory boxed sets of course, but not "real" ones.

    Real has consistently been defined as: complete, several levels of advancement, and with a clear upgrade path.

    So I see a boxed set that checks off all three and my first reaction is to say "Huzzah! good thinking!"

    Sometimes its ok to declare peace.

    If nothing else, it confuses the hell out of your enemy.

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  36. So I see a boxed set that checks off all three and my first reaction is to say "Huzzah! good thinking!"

    Which is why I have no issue with the boxed set and in fact do think it's a fine idea, at least as far as WotC's goals are concerned. But that shouldn't mean that the choice to re-purpose the cover of an iconic piece of art should be above criticism, should it?

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  37. James: Which is why I have no issue with the boxed set and in fact do think it's a fine idea, at least as far as WotC's goals are concerned. But that shouldn't mean that the choice to re-purpose the cover of an iconic piece of art should be above criticism, should it?

    I will be shocked if that cover is ever printed.

    Every book catalog solicitor I have ever dealt with requires a cover to list a product, and mock-ups are common.

    Paizo lists all products with mock-ups first, as an example, and they aren't printing anywhere NEAR as far in advance as WOTC does.

    But theoretically, let's say they do a limited first edition run with that cover, what's to criticize?

    Its not like the OSM hasn't been ripping off TSR covers and trade dress literally since its inception.

    If the guys that actually, you know, own the rights to that trade dress want to use it for a little jolt of nostalgia, I see no reason to look askance at them for doing so.

    Also, since you say you haven't read much on what they're doing, let's be clear:

    Wizards is going to have 10 products, boxed sets from the sound of it, to lead players gradually into the game, including a rules cyclopedia.

    In short, they are doing a 4e version of Basic D&D, except its not going to be forked development.

    This isn't something different from D&D ala AD&D and BD&D, this is the actual game.

    This is a breathtakingly positive development.

    They deserve nothing but praise for this imo, no matter what cover they want to use.

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  38. Re. aping TSR-era trade dress: I hate it when the OSR does it and I certainly don't like it when WotC does. At least when the OSR does it it's not nearly as gross a misrepresentation.

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  39. Don't get me wrong, a Starter set is a good thing, and its great that WoTC is doing so, I'm just not sure why there seems to be folks interpreting this as a return to the old school, when that just doesn't seem very likely.

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  40. I'm excited to see what's inside this box, even if this is just a mock-up of the cover.

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  41. "They deserve nothing but praise for this imo, no matter what cover they want to use."

    They should be praised for false advertising?

    I'm almost certainly going to buy this, but I don't understand why I am required to be a un-thinking booster for WOTC.

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  42. My two cents on the Elmore cover issue:

    Assuming that this is the final cover for the initial print run . . . AWESOME!

    The image is one of Elmore's best, IMO. If WotC has the rights to use it, why not? It's no less wonderful an image now than it was in 1983.

    Is anyone under the age of 30 going to feel cheated because it's not Mentzer in the box even if the trade dress suggests otherwise to us old hands? Is it false advertising to show a guy fighting a dragon on the cover of the basic rules set--especially when there was no way that a 1983 Basic Set fighter would even be in that situation (without ending up a crispy critter a round later) . . . but a 2010 Fourth Edition fighter can actually take on a young white dragon at 1st level and win if his party fights smart?

    Heck, by that standard, the image was false advertising the first time it was used . . .

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  43. Paladin: They should be praised for false advertising?

    I'm almost certainly going to buy this, but I don't understand why I am required to be a un-thinking booster for WOTC.

    As I said, I am almost 100% certain the product will not ship with that cover.

    But if it did, false advertising? Are you serious?

    So if you saw that in a store, you think you would actually buy it, thinking that you were purchasing the original Mentzer Red Box that Wizards had brought back into print and placed in the retail chain?

    As for being an unthinking booster, is that what you think I am?

    It's pretty clear that 4e isn't my game. I run, play and write for OSRIC.

    But sometimes we should be able to praise people when they do the right thing.

    James, for example, has repeatedly exhorted Wizards to do exactly what they have now done.

    This seems like a good thing- it would be nice if he had a post reflecting that.

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  44. Yes, I am serious.

    I think if you go back to Chevski's original post, you'll see he was NOT criticizing the contents of the product. Neither am I. His post seemed to be saying that he was doubtful that they would use the original cover. How you got from his original post, to your current reply, eludes me.

    I think it's false advertising to use the original art: anyone unconnected to the current goings-on could be forgiven for thinking this boxed set was a reprint of the 1983 rules. You and RB (for whatever reason) don't agree with that argument. I guess we'll have to simply disagree on that point, as i'm not interested in chasing people down into their intellectual rabbit-warrens.

    As I have not seen the contents of this boxed set, I will not blindly praise it, as I have no idea whether it deserves praise.

    If my original posts seemed uncivil, please accept my apologies. I continue to be exasperated at the extreme positions, and over-reactions, that are floating about in the blogosphere.

    Keep on keepin on.

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  45. >>I hope I can be forgiven for doubting that our little movement has had much impact on WotC's sales, certainly not enough to warrant their trying to court us.

    I don't think they are courting us, or trying to sabotage us, etc.

    But the creative types are aware of us, some do play the older versions themselves, and it's not like the public at large would consider that Elmore painting as "old fashioned" compared to the other cover art they've posted for the Red Box.

    No conspiracy or grand marketing scheme to collect hundreds of extra OSR, but just a decision driven by "Wouldn't it be cool to release something presented this way?"

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  46. Well, in recent years I have been surprised at the number of old-schoolers like myself. Surely, we are not a few hundred people, are we? Throwing in a cover like that is a simple way to potentially rake in a few bucks. I know some people here will pick it up, and they do not play 4E. So I'd say we are on their radar. Not enough to provoke an entire separate edition or what-not, but something as simple as a cover to entice us.

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  47. "False advertising"? I can't believe you guys.

    Let's suppose that it is true that they are using (at least for the first print) the classic Elmore cover. And are providing an introductory set with lite rules including character creation and levels up to 3rd.

    That's what *I* have been saying they should do for quite some time now. I hope it sells a millionty-billion copies. One of which I will buy.

    You guys who bash them for trying to pay homage to the Old School just sound like a bunch of hypocrites. Probably if WOTC re-released the woodgrain box at the original price they'd be accused of trying to undercut the OSR with predatory pricing or something.

    If you want them to at least try to meet you half way, you can't set it up so that they can't even win. Disgusting!

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  48. "However, short of affecting WotC's bottom line in an appreciable way, I can't imagine there'd be any real incentive to try and horn in on its territory"

    I'm a bit surprised by this comment. We don't have to step outside of the hobby to find companies that make the effort to stamp on even the smallest of its competitors (something Games Workshop is actually doing at the moment). In fact we don't even have to step outside of D&D to see it - look at the Williams era C&D letters. How many of the people who received those letters were affecting TSR's bottom line (other than actually helping it)?

    Large companies know that big competitors grow from small ones. WotC have no big competitors to worry about (that they can do anything about) so there's no reason for them not to turn their attention to the small ones. Especially if those small ones are making a lot of noise.

    @Korgoth: I don't want to meet WotC halfway or anywhere else. Why would I? They have nothing I want.

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  49. Whew! Lots of stuff to mull through, here. I'm still new enough to my return to this hobby to feel like an outsider, but here's my take anyway:

    [1] WotC wants go retro? Great! WotC isn't going to pull a "TSR" on the OSR. I'm fairly sure they understand that there's more money to be made by having friendlier policies than TSR had back when they were litigation-crazy whack jobs.

    [2] And I think it's because WotC understands the hobbyist mindset, which is that even if we won't use the product, we'll still pay money for it, especially if it helps us scratch whatever nostalgia- or collector's-itch we may have (mine is a nostalgia itch).

    [3] So if they went and republished the old Holmes set, or the Moldvay, or even the orginal 3-volume woodgrain box set, I'd buy them all (heck - even the old modules) because I hate getting them through eBay with someone else's house-rules already marked in and because electronic downloads lack a certain - oh, let's call it a sense of concreteness - that printing them out on copy paper can't fully achieve.

    [4] Regarding the "D&D Essentials" set itself; who cares what it is, really? If WotC wants to appeal visualy to the game's roots while trying to sell its new 4e product, I can't see how this is by definition a bad thing, especially if it points new players towards retro coolness. It's just business, but it's not like we're all Fredo in the boat or anything.

    Just some old guy's take. Happy Monday, everyone!

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  50. I feel like I'm the only one who really doesn't give 0.02$US about the whole WotC box set. I had an initial WTH reaction which has subsided into a "whatever" reaction. I have my OD&D/AD&D and clones and as long as games are to be had, I really have so little interest in WotC's latest publication. Will it make them a lot of money? Yup. Are they smart for starting buzz on this now, with this possible trial balloon that adds to the "buzz"? Yup. Will it help add kids to the hobby if this thing is on shelves at Walmart? Yup. Do I hope those kids and adults find their way to D&D games that I like to play? Yup. Win.

    Instead of "pants on the ground" I think I'm naming the dustups "panties on the ground" cause it sure has been a bunch of those these past two weeks.

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  51. Oh, Wizards is coming up with something to make their current game more accessible? Sounds pretty good to me - I'm actually in favor of them making an explicit connection with the past, if only because it'll make it easier to educate new gamers about the OSR.

    Seriously, I don't see a problem here. Something worthy of comment and analysis, but not a problem.

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  52. Chuck said: I will be shocked if that cover is ever printed.

    Every book catalog solicitor I have ever dealt with requires a cover to list a product, and mock-ups are common.


    But WotC already had another mock-up with an original cover and the modern D&D logo - Ryan had posted it earlier and it is still in their product description on the WotC homepage.

    James said: ...and now they're releasing a boxed basic version of their new edition that swipes the cover image and trade dress of the most successful version of the old game...

    Maybe that's the key. That image and design is a trigger, and they want something triggered.

    Maybe they are after lapsed gamers. Not die hards like us who remember every minutiae of the rules, current or otherwise.

    Imagine a former gamer who discovers this box at Toys'R'Us and suddenly remembers the fun he had with his buddies in that basement/kitchen/dorm - a flashback that the genuine 3e/4e design couldn't trigger because he would gloss over it.

    Chances are that that gamer won't remember any rules detail anyway (other than six stats, classes, AC, and polyhedrons), and maybe he will even expect some update or modernization. He surely wouldn't expect Trivial Pursuit to come with the same set of questions it had in the 80s!

    Maybe that gamer is a parent and thinks "cool, Kevin's in the right age to try this".

    And if they are after lapsed gamers they won't win anything if they anwered the OSR call and republished the original Basic Set - they want to make them repeat customers of the current line.

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  53. Instead of "pants on the ground" I think I'm naming the dustups "panties on the ground" cause it sure has been a bunch of those these past two weeks.

    I particularly love the faux indignation.

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  54. It really does look like they might have a good starter set on their hands for the first time in a long time. I can’t get too excited about it myself, because it is their game, which—so far—hasn’t impressed me. But... shrug

    What I lament is that this is going to make talking about products even more difficult. It’s hard enough now. (Too many product names re-used. Too many books that lack clear “edition” markers.) A new “red box”...one that looks very similar to the old one...or one that looks nigh identical to the old one... It’s just going to make things that much more confusing.

    This includes confusing 4e newbies. How many of them are going to pick up a Mentzer set second-hand expecting it to be the 4e set their friend has?

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  55. Don't we forget a bit it's a just a cover and a trade dress we're talking about? I take it as a really positive sign for the OSR and the estimated weight of retro-gaming in the market's expanse, but I'm not getting confused about Wizards taking the least interest about what happens in this community. If a cover illo and a trade dress can sell 10% more, there's no reason why they wouldn't do it, still keeping the system and aim they've developed about the 4th.

    Now, the fact that they expect to sell more just with this seductive glance towards the OSR community tells a lot about the growth of its share and importance in the expected sales figures. We're not talking greybeards here, we're talking new, fresh players.

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  56. Re. aping TSR-era trade dress: I hate it when the OSR does it and I certainly don't like it when WotC does.

    You and me both. It's one of the hobby horses I've been riding practically since I started this blog and every time I bring it up, I get lambasted from every side. Me, I'd prefer to see the OSR forge its own identity and stop aping TSR circa 1978. That's why I've been most happy with the new look of Labyrinth Lord and why I've always given Jim Raggi high marks for the looks of his products -- would that more OSR publishers followed suit!

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  57. WotC site has a different image:

    http://www.wizards.com/dnd/Product.aspx?x=dnd/products/dndacc/244660000

    -Tyler

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  58. As of now, Amazon has the Elmore cover on display (including a way cheaper pre-order price).

    http://tinyurl.com/yksstz7

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  59. I'll pick this up in its limited run to get the Elmore image and would be tempted to give it a go. Owning both the original basic set that sported the same cover and the new limited edition one for the 4th edition sure gets me excited!

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  60. James: "I hope I can be forgiven for doubting that our little movement has had much impact on WotC's sales, certainly not enough to warrant their trying to court us."

    That's completely out of whack with my own spending patterns. I'm spending probably 30 UK GBP pounds a month on old school products, miniatures and supporting materials. I've even donated to your blog to help support it.

    I run a weekly gaming session for five other people all who pick up the odd thing here and there (mostly a new mini to represent their character). I'm pretty sure there will be others like me who have a healthy budget for gaming products in our game of choice and winning us back to the new edition /does/ make sense to them and will affect their bottom lines.

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  61. Don't know about anyone else, but I just pre-ordered my copy... If nothing else, I can give a copy to the nieces or nephews.

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