Monday, May 12, 2008

Shot Heard 'Round the (Gaming) World

The big news hitting the Net this evening is that Monte Cook, one of the architects behind the Third Edition of Dungeons & Dragons is joining Paizo as a rules consultant on their Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

This is remarkable news for a number of reasons. Firstly, Monte Cook's name carries lots of cachet in the world of 3e D&D. Besides being the author of that edition's Dungeon Master's Guide, he was among the first people to take full advantage of the OGL and D20 STL. His Malhavoc Press sold PDF supplements to 3e when no one else did and, by all accounts, sold very well indeed. This quickly established him as a leading light of the Open Gaming movement and led to his writing and selling numerous very successful products that have been consistently well regarded by D&D fans as among the best material available for 3e/D20.

Secondly, Monte Cook is seen as a straight shooter. He often speaks out against what he believes are poor moves by WotC, either from a business or a design perspective. Even if one disagrees with his opinions -- and I often do -- there's no question that he cares about the hobby and is knowledgeable about the inner working of the industry side of things.

Thirdly, Monte had previously "retired" from the game biz. He had made enough money from his D20/OGL products and had had some success in branching out into other areas (such as fiction) that he indicated he was no longer going to write gaming products. Of course, his retirement has been more theoretical than real, given that he published two significant products after he has supposedly hanged up his hat. Nevertheless, it makes great theater to be able to say that Monte Cook is "coming out of retirement" to work on Paizo's new RPG.

So, by signing on with Paizo, even in a consultative position, Monte Cook lends an air of authority to Pathfinder, much in the way that Troll Lord Games' benefited from Gary Gygax's imprimatur on Castles & Crusades. If anything, I'd argue that Monte's decision to throw in with Paizo will be even more important, because he's remained a leader in the hobby since the release of 3e, whereas Gygax's influence was largely nil by the time C&C came out (except among grognards, to whom Troll Lord hoped to appeal). Likewise, having one of the designers of the previous edition lend a hand on your upstart RPG sends a signal: we are the true heirs of 3e.

I'm sure the guys and gals at Paizo, in their usual gracious way, will deny this and express nothing but admiration for the crew at WotC and the work they've done on 4e. I even believe they're sincere. But the fact remains that this is an important coup for Paizo and for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and it solidifies my belief that there will now be a permanent split in the fanbase of D&D and a fork in the development of its rules. I won't go so far as to say this spells doom for 4e or WotC, because it won't. I remain convinced that, at least initially, 4e will be a huge success for WotC. Long term, though, anything is possible and I expect that, when -- and if -- 5e rolls around, the landscape of the hobby will still be feeling the repercussions of Paizo's decision not to jump on the 4e bandwagon.


  1. I agree. There's also one other important result of this. Paizo has stated that there will be a trademark license for Pathfinder, and as long as they keep things open and simple, Pathfinder should end up as the primary inheritor of the 3e crowd, instead of that group of players dispersing between a bunch of similar but slightly incompatible gaming systems.

  2. I think you're right. If Paizo is smart -- and I think they are -- the Pathfinder license will be very flexible and open, to encourage other companies to use it and ensure that Pathfinder becomes the de facto standard for non-old school, non-4e hold-outs, of which there will almost certainly be many.

    Unless they really screw things up, they're about to carve out a happy little niche for themselves.

  3. This is exciting news, indeed. The Pathfinder promise, for me, is that there will be more viable alternatives in the marketplace - something that is healthy for the industry. With Monte on the team, the PRPG has a greater chance of doing well. Good times.

  4. I don't think it's possible to underestimate the effect this will have. It's quite a coup for Paizo, and will definitely lend legitimacy to their Pathfinder game as the heir to 3.x. And I agree with your comments about the need for their license to be as open as possible; they need to make the playing field as similar as possible in order to maximize their position. They benefit from the open license for precisely the reasons that WotC did.

  5. not only is this good for non-old school gamers ... but 3e, and 3.5 are both backwards compatable ( with some work) to ad&d. from what i have seen and heard 4e is TOTALLY non backwards compatable. ie minion