Thursday, April 26, 2012

Go Figure

I've not been paying much -- as in, almost any -- attention to developments regarding the latest version of WotC-era Dungeons & Dragons, so, despite all the requests I've received to weigh in on the subject, I have nothing worthwhile to offer regarding Monte Cook's departure from its design team. What I do find interesting and think is worth talking about is the rumor, as yet unconfirmed, that, in addition to the AD&D reprints in July, WotC is also reprinting v.3.5 in September. If that's true (and I've seen nothing official one way or the other), I think it's a good move on WotC's part.

Here's the thing, though. I still don't understand the purpose behind "D&D Next" or whatever the heck it's going to be called. I think, at this stage, WotC (and D&D itself) would be better served by keeping several versions in print or at least available via print-on-demand, with some portion of each version's support materials also available. Further support (i.e. "new stuff") could be provided by third-party licensees or some similar scheme. Meanwhile, WotC itself can concentrate on other fantasy games (board, video, online, etc.) that use the D&D "brand name" and that could potentially reach a much wider audience than any tabletop version ever could in this day and age.

My feeling is that no tabletop version of D&D is ever again going to sell well enough to be considered a "success" by Hasbro. To them, D&D is a woefully underperforming brand, considering its name recognition. The time and energy being spent on yet another edition, particularly one with the Quixotic goal of uniting the fanbase, could be much better spent making other types of D&D-branded games with true mass appeal. But what do I know?

50 comments:

  1. I think you're pretty much spot on about D&D Next not reaching the heights of other editions. I'm not really sure why Wizards would even reprint 3.5. Is there a demand for such product when many moved on to Pathfinder, which they also see as 3.75? If they want to print money, they should repackage the Mentzer boxed sets.

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  2. Hmmm. I wonder if WotC is a 'diffusion' line for Hasbro that keeps the brand alive for other media, as you suggest. I also wonder if someone, somewhere thinks the wheel will turn and the MMO will reignite interest in tabletop.

    Personally I agree with your other posts about products such as Heroica - WotC are missing a trick by not creating an entry-level collectables / minis game out of a very 'basic' D&D to go up against other toys.

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  3. I disagree about Hasbro. For example Hasbro also owns Advanced Squad Leader (licensed to MMP). They recently published a new module that costs about $100. I heard it had a print run of about 5000. This is considered a major success. Do the math. The gaming world is not like it was in 1979, there are no longer mega-hits selling millions of copies. It's lots and lots and lots of small niche products selling a few thousand. They don't need to sell many to make a profit because new printing technologies and desktop publishing have made it very cost effective to do small runs or even POD. I would think any D&D reissues would sell many tens of thousands and would far eclipse many other products they sell.

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  4. That was sort of my point. I think reprints of well-chosen older material would probably garner WotC a lot more success than will 5e. I just don't see a lot of demand for yet another new edition of the game and I doubt that it's design will succeed in wooing back almost anyone who gave up on the game.

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  5.  James you know as well as I do that D&D fans include within it's ranks hordes of rabid collectors and completionists ('Collectors & Completionists - the RPG of borderline OCD!). Splat-books always flew off the shelves, even when they were useless because people like collecting stuff. 5E will be no different.

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  6. The D&D brand is too valuable for Hasbro to let it languish.  But there has to be some reason why they don't want to publish prior editions above and beyond what we are seeing.  

    I am sure that the Wizard's Premier Retailers have to carry X amount of product, so there might be something there.

    The common wisdom is that core-rules sell the best.   We can do all the armchair market research we like, but there is more to all of this than "pushing the new edition".

    Now Print on Demand for the older stuff?  I have to admit I am having issues seeing the logic in not doing that.  There are still things I'd love to have a copy of.  And for a good, legal copy I am willing to pay for it.

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  7. Not a month goes by that on one of the Thursdays I run 4e at my local game store a customer doesn't come in asking to buy 3.x material.  There are players out there who want to buy 3.x D&D.  Right now, their only option -- and the only option for retailers -- is to sell them Pathfinder.

    Hasbro makes $0 on Pathfinder.  It only incurs printing and editing costs to release a new print run.  Hasbro has been forgetting the power of its catalog for some time.  I think James has this exactly right.  Hasbro needs to keep their books evergreen.  Some players never leave an edition, and still recruit new players.  Other players play multiple editions, and still recruit new players.

    I'm still excited about Next, but rpgs don't become obsolete due to technological innovations.

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  8. I'd like to see them actively support all editions, even those I don't like as much. I'm even OK with a new edition if they really made it modular and the simplest component was similar to OD&D. This would enable DMs and players to experiment with combining stuff across editions, promote cross-edition gaming, and minimize the petty arguments that so bedevil the hobby. 

    The best way to support earlier versions is with print-on-demand. Selected products from the past could be reworked with separate stat blocks that could be automatically swapped out by version, so with minimal effort anybody could run a module or campaign supplement in any version of the game. If old version core reprints can work, then great. I'll buy every version I don't already have. 

    Make it easy for fans of one edition to try and enjoy other editions in whole or in part. Turn nerd rage into enthusiasm for the diversity of approach that's inherent to the game.

    They could make money off the brand with new edition-agnostic products for campaigns, adventures, DM tools, and game aids. And non-RPG products for a wider audience that are friendly to funneling people to and from the RPG side of things. I think the 4th edition board games are a really good model for this, and would be better if only they weren't so tied to some of the mechanics of 4th edition that so many people (myself included) hate. Someone else mentioned a complete minis game, which I'd also like and prefer to their strategy of plastic mini collectibles. If they want a collectible game tie-in, then put out a special edition of Magic that used some of the D&D IP and concepts. Make more direct tie-ins between future computer games and these other games. Make it easy for a fan of one game format to pick up the other. That would make money and support the hobbyists who would appreciate some new material for their game every once in a while without having to adopt new game mechanics all the time and throw off something that works well as is.

    The one big concern with Monte Cook's departure is that is demonstrates continued upheaval in the business strategy of Wizards/Hasbro. I appreciate the view that the game lives on separate from the business and doesn't need it, but I really think it helps keep things going when there's a commercially successful version of the game out there, on whatever scale. More coherent business strategy would help the hobby, not hurt it.

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  9. Considering this "D&D Next" is supposed to be like a chimera or doppelganger, able to play just like any kind edition of D&D, you gotta ask why they don't just make said editions available.
    D&D Next is also supposed to allow cross-edition player groups, but this is pretty much already possible, at least with the older editions.

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  10. Man, I couldn't agree more - I love the idea of multiple print on demand editions!

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  11. I think there'd be at least a little demand for a 3.5e rerun. Not everybody is moved to pathfinder, and a lot of the interesting splats for 3.5 could be ported into PF pretty easily, should you want to play a binder or some such. 

    One issue is probably total demand vs local demand. It's one thing to kickstart an older D&D-style project (which is how I wound up reading this blog), with mostly online purchasing and it's entirely another thing to create enough physical stuff to fill the nationwide FLGS shelves. How would the distributers feel if WotC released print books from its back catalog, but only through online orders and special store orders? 

    WotC has to get out of the mindset wherein they're trying to compete with MMOs for monthly subscriptions. I was honestly interested in 4e when it came out, but now that players more-or-less have to keep up the $10/month sub to D&Di or else fall behind in the constant stream of errata to their characters, I've lost all hope. That said, it's hard to imagine a company like WotCbro giving up on monthly revenue streams.

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  12. Because when they release a video game or liscence a movie, tv show or cartoon they don't want fans to first ask, "...but what edition?"

    They realized they fragmented their base with the "name brand" aka the only thing worth real money. It's like when people who played FR wouldn't buy an adventure for dragonlance, but multiplied by real money.

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  13. You're a bigger proponent of print on demand than I am (I find it too costly for my tastes in most cases), still I'd love to see them make some of the 3rd Ed stuff (as well as some of their other, older game lines) with legal PDFs and the option of print on demand).

    WotC is sitting on a gold mine with regard to the material written for what amounts to four previous editions of D&D (not counting the pre-AD&D incarnations.  With the Old School movement at its height, and a lot of love for some older game systems in general (Traveller, Call of Cthulhu), WotC is missing the boat by not making portions, if not all, of their back catalog available.

    I'd love to scoop up some of the Alternity stuff I'm missing, pick up a new d20 Modern Core Rulebook, and some of the D&D 3.5 stuff I missed the first time around, to begin with.  Not to mention all those wonderful old campaign settings, adventures, etc. all waiting to be converted to my D&D version of choice.

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    1. The only "gold mine" is the name. If books were still good business then boarders, walden books, barnes and nobel and all the others wouldn't be going out of business.

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  14. They could reprint the 3.5 core, but who would it sell to?



    I'm serious.  If there really was serious demand for the 3.5 core rulebooks, well, anybody could do what Mongoose did back during 3.5 itself and release their own versions, rather than waiting on WotC.  Insofar as there's a market that hasn't been captured by Pathfinder, it appears to be tiny.

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  15. Even though WotC haven't announced it yet, you can find listings for the new 3.5 on Barnes and Noble's website. They're slated to come out in September, according to them.

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  16. I play original AD&D. Always have since the beginning of the 80's, and I always will! I have recruited many players that love AD&D, and wotc never sees a dime. Ebay has though.. Because my players love it enough to buy their own copies.

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  17. I think in the current environment where PDF's are pretty popular among the RPG crowd that keeping PDF's of older editions available for some $$$ amount  has to economically feasible in some way. A print on demand option would be simple enough to do too. Add in some kind of annual or bi-annual "special edition" hardback of some older material for stores to sell and to keep interest out there and I think there's a way to "unite the editions" besides another new edition.

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  18. I wouldnt buy pdf rulebooks, but modules i totally would!

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  19.  What's borderline about the OCD of completists.

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  20.  I'm not seeing reprints of older editions outselling 5E.  It's just not going to happen. 

    For all of the love the OSR movement gets, and for all that WotC is leaving money on the table by not monetizing their back catalog (particularly when less scrupulous folks could find it all very easily via Bittorrent, if so inclined), it's a drop in the bucket compared to 4E & Pathfinder. 

    Core book sales of 5E will become the current bestselling title the day they are released.  As much as some folks have left it behind for various flavors of older editions and Pathfinder, there will be enough hoping that WotC learned their lesson with 4E and have built a better game.  Whether it will sustain those sales will hinge on how well WotC succeeds in building a better game.

    There are a myriad of reasons 5E will fall short of 3.0/3.5 and 4E.  First, there are now two companies effectively publishing D&D or something very much like it.  How many years is it before we see a Pathfinder 2 come down the pike?

    Also, nobody is going to catch lightning in a bottle the way WotC did with d20.  The market is more fragmented (and arguably smaller and grayer) now than it was in 2000.  Back then, D&D was this behemoth that frankly needed a rules overhaul from AD&D 2E years before it finally got one and the OGL opened a lot of doors for third-party publishers which accelerated its success. 

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  21. My personal expectation is that those were (before they were taken down) placeholders for one of two things:

    D&D 4th with errata incorporated, since such a release hasn't yet happened.  Sell it off to the people who want to keep playing 4th after Next is released

    D&D Next "beta" version, the businesspeople having noticed that Pathfinder sold a bunch of its beta version.  And is the big reason behind Monte Cook's departure; he disagrees with the company that it's a good idea for the development cycle.

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  22. "Success" in terms of 5e will mean that when WotC licenses it's money maker IP (the word, "Dungeons and Dragons") to a 3rd party product, like a video game (do you know how much money Skyrim makes?  No TRPG is ever going to come close to this again--The next generation of DM's are writing code not on graph paper), that fans of D&D won't balk because they are balkanized into fans of "basic" or fans of "1e" or fans of 3, or 3.5, or 2e, or 4e or menzter, or holmes, or, or, or, or.

    To make money on the D&D name (the only thing worth any money is the name, James M. can write as many D&D adventures as he wants, but the only thing he can't do is sell a "D&D" adventure.)...To make money on the D&D name, WotC needs to end edition wars and fragmentation.

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  23. I think the D&D audience isn't really split up that much as people say. It's split up, but basically, there's only 3 groups: Old School, 3.x, and 4E. You could argue the "old school" is split up in 0E, B/X, BECMI, etc, but I think all TSR versions of the games are compatible enough.

    If WotC reprint 3.5, they have product for all three groups. I think it's a smart move on their part; they provide the rules that can be used to play 3rd party products, and it shows they're serious about supporting all versions of the game. Hopefully, Wizards will follow up by offering their backcatalog in pdf or print-on-demand. If they leave the DDI available for the 4E people, they will have their bases covered.

    I think the success of 5E will largely be depended on ease of use with other editions. If 5E products are easily converted to Pathfinder or Labyrinth Lord, and vice versa, so players can use everything that's published, that would (re)gain them a lot of customers. However, ruleswise, I don't see how that's possible. Especially 4E is mechanically too different from the rest.

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  24. I think not. The titles were D&D 3.5 PHB - with errata, D&D 3.5 DMG - with errata, etc.

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  25. Supposedly 5th edition Dungeons&Dragons is going to be compatible with all versions of Dungeons&Dragons -- though after 4th edition, I'll believe that when I see it.


    Either way, I agree that it's in WotC's best interests to cater to, or at least make available, all editions of D&D (at least in .PDF format).

    Now for a bit of a ramble...

    It might be a bad time for Hasbro to make money off of tabletop D&D, but I think it's a great time to be a tabletop D&D gamer.  I will concede that I am probably not one to comment on this, as I have no real experience in any other eras of D&D to base this on.

    However, my gaming group has started to embrace the whole "Old School Renaissance" and we, spritely early-mid 20's nerds without any real 1st. Edition AD&D experience, have started collecting (from Amazon.com, mostly) old modules for play.  It took awhile, but my Pathfinder conversion of Against the Giants is complete, and my group's level 9 party is busily making its way through Steading of the Hill Giant Chief.  It's been pretty awesome:  my players describe it as "the best Dungeons and Dragons experience" they've ever had - vastly superior to the published modules currently proffered by WotC and Paizo (although it could be that I just naturally excel at DMing such "organic" modules).

    Were WotC to offer .PDFs of all the old 1e modules, I'd probably buy up every last one.  God knows I'm doing it on Amazon.com right now as I now have the entire A1-A4 series, GDQ, X1, S1, S4, B1-3, C1-2 and I1.  Expedition to the Barrier Peaks along with White Plume Mountain and Village of Hommlet are on the way. 
    After my group completes their Pathfinder rendition of GDQ (minus Q), we're going to pick up Castles&Crusades for the rest of the modules (hopefully C&C is fully compatible with 1e without too much reworking).

    Honestly, the fact that my group and I are spending all this money buying from 3rd party retailers and not WotC is really all their fault;  there's so much amazing content out there that I'd gladly pay for -- after I gobble up the hard copy of the module from Amazon, I promptly turn around and pirate a .pdf of the same module for my tablet.  Were I given the option, I'd quite literally PAY twice for the same module -- once for the hard copy to give myself the warm fuzzies collecting, and once for the .PDF to actually use during my tabletop sessions.Speaking of which, does anyone know of a good site where I can legally purchase the .pdf files for the old modules?

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  26. Where did you hear that it was going to be compatible with "all editions"?  I think you might be misreading something, as all I've heard is that they want to give all the options they can so you can make it "your game", but the base will remain the same for everybody.

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  27.  Their stated goal has not been compatibility with past editions, but rather the ability to recreate the style of game that was present in all editions. In other words, the wand 4E players to be able to play a game that feels like Fourth, 1E players to be able to play a game that feels like 1E, etc. It does not seem like they are trying to make a game that can work with all past published products.

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  28. losing Cook seems like a blow to the game design and constrains some "higher up" put on their vision. if you chase a guy down to do a long project and hes out after a few months  = Gong Show.

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  29. If WotC reprint 3.5, they have product for all three groups.

    Yeah, and also think of this from the perspective of a Hasbro product manager:

    "Wait, you mean we released a game under an open license that someone else based a game on, and that game is outselling our current flagship? And we still own this intellectual property? And we're not using it to steal those customers back?"

    Granted, there is more brand loyalty at work here now (as Pathfinder fans really like Paizo); it's not just about rules. But from a business perspective, it seems silly not to attempt to get some of those customers back.

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  30. I wanted to add that making all editions available is a brilliant move. RPG systems aren't like PCs or gaming consoles. At least they don't have to be. If history has shown us anything, the fanbase doesn't convert the second a new edition drops. More importantly, the people who don't convert go elsewhere.

    Let's be honest about what this whole 5E thing is about: recapturing lost revenue streams. Keeping all of the editions in print, and making multi-edition modules would probably be the best thing they could do to accomplish this goal. The problem is that none of modules, supplements, or splatbooks sell as well as those corebooks, which is why we're seeing the turnaround time between editions shrink.

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  31. Since most Pathfinder fans switched over from 3.5, I wonder how printing the same edition they already own will win them back. I think the only way to get those customers back is to actually offer new content for their favorite system.
    WotC has stated they want to support all D&D players, not just those using the current version of the rules. If they're serious, they should provide new content for older versions, maybe in Dragon and Dungeon.

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  32. I probably misread as I can't find anything that mentions compatibility now, though I would have sworn that one of their statements said otherwise.

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  33. I suspect that WOTC management is really living in fairy-tale land with the hopes that they are appending to the entire project, and that this was probably a source of the friction with Mr Cook.  Then again they have to be enthusiastic in this regard, because it's their careers at stake and to paraphrase a certain set of books (and TV shows) Christmas is coming.

    Personally I think they are approaching the wrong crowd in their redesign - essentially preaching to the converted.  The hope that they can win back both halves of the Empire is a forlorn one.  Instead the D&D brand (which is exceedingly strong outside the hobby), should be focused on bringing the new blood in rather than appealing to the old blood (who will no doubt buy the product any way).  And their marketing strategy sucks - modularising the game is simply expanding the ability to market canonical rule-books (the only essential part of the game, which has always been the problem with the industry).

    Instead I think they should have shifted focus onto the D&D boardgames and used the Hasbro connection to not just push these into the dedicated game stores but also into the chain stores.  Use these as the entry point into the D&D game for newcomers, and then introduce expansions that guide people into creating their own content for the game (as well as producing supplements that will continue to satisfy people that just want the boardgames).  People will naturally role-play their characters in this sort of situation; take a look at kids playing with the Lego dungeons.  You don't need rules to do that.  And this reduces the entry barrier into the hobby by providing ready-to-go adventures that don't need gamemasters, reading massive rule books, or any other advanced prep.

    I definitely think the D&D brand is strong enough to get away with this, even though the "traditional" role-players will howl like gutted otaygh at the idea of abandoning the idea of a distinct rule-set (at least until later).

    The main competition to tabletop RPG is, of course, computer RPGs, not different editions.  And you can't succeed against them by trying to be like them.  They are ready to go out of the box, much more spectacular, and much easier to use.  Instead we need to levearge the advantages of tabletop, which include (a) it's a social activity done face-to-face, (b) there is less of a barrier to creating your own content, and (c) you can act in a manner not envisaged by the designer/writer of the game.  We need to provide this to people.

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  34. This is very close to the position I've come to as well.

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  35.  Great comment, thanks for that.

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  36. If face to face was a barrier to social activity, Mark Zuckerberg would be poor, there is no barrier to creating content in computer games, people are building castles, making new spells and adventures, forging new magic items in games like skyrim, just as pen and paper guys did in 1975. Guys writing new content for skyrim have more in common with gygax and arneson than computer illiterates give them credit for. There is also a to of money to be made with a d&d/skyrim like game. Reprinting old books is a marketing effort, 5e is just marketing fluff for a crpg to be announced in 2013.

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  37. I'm pretty sure that Hasbro has their own television channel.  They should really be making a new, non-terrible D&D cartoon series.  Get John Rogers to write it.  Have a My Little Pony crossover.  That'll sell some books.

    The above is semi-serious, but no more than semi.

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  38. We are seeing the end of the "Dungeons & Dragons" tabletop game. The brand will live on with other product but the game will end now. 5E is the last gasp and I think it is pretty apparent that it will fail. There is just no one to sell it to. The old school doesn't want it, the 3.xers don't want it, and the 4Ers are just baffled about why it exists at all. The wholesale abandonment of 3E and the OGL was a horrendous business decision. In hindsight, for the company, so was making 3E OGL in the first place. Paizos massive (OGL inspired) success sent the D&D bean counters into a tailspin and will ultimately end the D&D game itself. 

    The reprints are a symptom of the end,  not a new beginning. Everyone always knew reprints of the old stuff was always a last ditch alternative to grind a few more dollars out of the game before its demise. We are seeing it now. The last chapter in this story could involve some type of legal action against its competitors (namely Paizo but maybe OSR games as well). This effort is, of course, doomed to fail but they have to try something. 

    Cook saw the writing on the wall and moved on while his reputation was still intact. He now gets designer credit on the final version of D&D but won't be around to see it fail as a product. He gets the last laugh on WoTC on behalf of not only himself but all the other friends of his they treated so poorly in their Christmas season blood baths. He's leaving at exactly the worst time for Hasbro but the best time for him. Smart. Diabolical even.

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  39. Those titles are evidence against a placeholder how?  The whole point of using a placeholder for the inventory system is so that the actual product won't be prematurely revealed by accident.  If it's a placeholder, the titles are going to be false.

    Second, your "etc." is misleading.  The third wasn't, as that would imply, "D&D 3.5 MM - with errata".  The third title was "Provalone".  Which is a blatantly obvious placeholder.

    Third, there is absolutely no business reason to keep a 3.5 reprint under wraps, because announcing a 3.5 re-release wouldn't hurt any of WotC's current products.  Such an announcement could only hurt sales of Pathfinder by encouraging remaining 3.5 players not to switch.

    On the other hand, announcing that 4e core with errata is coming would depress sales of 4e core, while announcing Next is coming in September would both hurt 4e sales and suck enthusiasm out of the "playtest".  Keeping one of those under wraps actually makes sense.

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  40. One of the groups at my local cards and games shop plays 4th edition with My Little Pony figures for the player characters.

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  41. Is there a current series of D&D novels? I know there are Pathfinder ones, or there were relatively recently.

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  42. James, Wizards might agree with you if the current series of D&D board games is any indication.

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  43. I agree with much, but not all, of what has already been said below.


    My perception (from waaay outside)  is that WotC is producing 5e in an attempt to retake "market leader' position from Pathfinder.  Why is that important given the financial triviality of the tabletop RPG market to a multinational company like Hasbro?  Because a significant part of the equity in the "Dungeons & Dragons" brand name is the perception that it is the '10,000 lb gorilla' of the hobby. 

    If it is no longer so for any extended period of time, I suspect the value of the "D&D" brand will be diminished greatly.  And THAT is important to Hasbro for two reasons.  For one, they probably hope to leverage the "D&D" brand beyond pen-and-paper RPGs (where probably the vast majority of the value of the brand lies today).  And secondly, Hasbro's accountants have probably attributed a multi-million dollar value to the "D&D" brand on their balance sheet, and I suspect the company is loathe to write that down materially.

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  44. The Recursion KingApril 30, 2012 at 11:44 AM

    "-The next generation of DM's are writing code not on graph paper" Rubbish, people thought that ten years ago too, games like Baldurs Gate sold like crazy. These are not either/or propositions, all of these lines run complimentary. People who play World of Warcraft also DM D&D and also play Warhammer (as an example).

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  45. The Modular D&D game essentially exists, but is published by Troll Lord Games and called "Castles & Crusades."  Check into it.  The only edition that does not seem to convert well to it is 4E.

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  46. Again it exists, in a way, as Castles & Crusades.  In fact, what I am seeing on the WOTC boards about how D&D Next is supposed to play looks an awful lot to me like their own variation of C&C.

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  47. RE: C&C   I assure you it doesn't take much to use a 1E module with C&C.  There are basic conversions online that are all of 1 page long.  It's easy and you as a GM can do it on the fly, without needing much prep.

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  48.  Since so many other companies made variations of their rules, why not the other way around?

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  49. The constant tinkering with D&D is evidence of constant corporate meddling.

    4e was not a bad idea at all*, the problem is that it deviates from what most fans saw as core D&D mechanics; had it been marketed as a wholly new system/setting (just using the generic setting of the rulebook), it probably would have had a little less success, but created far less PR problems for WotC. Allowing the exodus to Pathfinder was a huge mistake on a corporate level.

    I realize that here I'm going to get a lot of disagreement with my statement that 4e was not a bad idea. I think the powers system, in particular, was a really good idea. It gave weapon–using classes immediate flavor they otherwise would have lacked; I don't know how many players have quit D&D shortly after starting because they were handed a fighter as a new character and they were bored to death just swinging a weapon. I also liked the system's near–complete excising of gish–y builds; they always struck me more as gaming the system rather than actually creating a coherent character in your setting.

    A lot of the rejection comes from people who never actually attempted a 4e campaign. I was in one—a rather large one, at that—with a number of players who had never role–played at all (and, of the three of them, only one had played WoW, before anyone throws that one in) and they all loved it in a way I've rarely seen from new role–players.

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