Tag Archives: D&D

Editions and Edition Wars

Last week, the first in what’s assumedly a fairly long series of playtest documents came out for One D&D, the revised version of Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition that is scheduled to be released in 2024. Fifth Edition’s product lifecycle is quite long for modern D&D: 10 years is the second longest any edition of D&D has gone with no major revision, still not quite beating out the first edition of Advanced D&D which went without a revision for 12 years. The main difference between AD&D 1e and D&D 5e, though, is that Fifth Edition is the best selling version of D&D ever and AD&D 1e is one of the worst; Basic D&D sold better at the same time and saw three iterations over those 12 years, clearly getting more of TSR’s attention. This contrast gets us to the broader point that running an RPG business is a complicated game, especially when it comes to figuring out how to maintain your product lines.

New editions of games have been part and parcel of the RPG industry since Gygax attempted to close the Pandora’s Box of D&D hacking by releasing AD&D. Even that first public revision of a game, a wholesale rewrite as opposed to small revisions gained over time, laid bare the various and sundry motivations designers could have for revising their game. It may be an attempt to regain editorial control, or appeal to a new audience. It may, cynically, be a way to sell more books after the product line has flagged. And maybe, in some limited circumstances, it could actually be to improve the game.

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Doctors and Daleks Review

Gamers have long memories. In the early 2000s, the first iteration of the Open Gaming License was released by Wizards of the Coast, and accompanied by the ‘D20’ branding, which allowed many games to claim official compatibility with the Third Edition of Dungeons and Dragons. While this new era in licensing created some new and interesting games, it also created a lot of, well, garbage. This large quantity of garbage combined with Wizards handing out the ‘D20’ branding to essentially anyone combined to erode consumer confidence in the brand. Unfortunately, D&D was the biggest game in the industry at the time (much like it is now), so this, combined with some misplaced faith in the brand on the part of game stores and publishers, caused the ‘D20 bust’. Books didn’t sell, publishers and game shops went bankrupt, and Wizards…well, they published 3.5e and went on their merry way.

The point of recounting this is that the D20 bust is one of the root causes of distrust in the current crop of games developed using the D&D 5e ruleset. Because D&D is the largest, most successful RPG brand, it stands to reason that associating yourself with that brand is a way to make more money, regardless of the quality of your game, and regardless of whether or not your game aligns with the mechanics of D&D. It also doesn’t help that one of the recent high-profile games using the 5e ruleset, the Dark Souls RPG, was released in a pretty messy state, giving it no real chance to disprove the notion that D&D was a poor choice for emulating the ‘Soulslike’ video game genre (whether or not it could have otherwise is an open question).

It was in this environment that Cubicle 7 announced ‘Doctors and Daleks’, a Doctor Who role-playing game built on the 5e ruleset. The announcement was met with a fair amount of criticism, much of it baseless given that there wasn’t a game yet. The surface-level thinking, though, made sense. Doctor Who, especially the newer runs which started with Christopher Eccleston playing the Doctor, is a fantastical series about time travel, the history of the world, and a generally optimistic outlook on coexistence with life all over the universe. The Doctor has a code against killing, gadgets like the TARDIS and the Sonic Screwdriver have capabilities mostly defined by the scripts in that season, and the stories rapidly shift from small and intimate vignettes involving Vincent Van Gogh to apocalyptic, universe-ending plots where the Doctor faces off with the Master, or the Daleks, or the Cybermen. Dungeons and Dragons, on the other hand, is a game where the rules are roughly 90% predicated on killing things and taking their stuff. The mismatch observation is a fair one.

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Zine Month Round Up #3

Sending messages to someone you’ll never see again across growing interstellar distances. A giant whirlpool crawling with pirates. A bar crawl on the borderlands. Trying to make sure your people don’t fall off the map. A rescue mission into an environmentally hostile forest chock full of horrible mutants and dragon cultists. A veritable library of zines. Zine Month ’22 continues onward at a typically breakneck pace, although maybe that’s just the time dilation we’re all going through… nevermind! You’ve had two rounds of ZiMo content already, so how about a third?

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Who Is Your Game Designed For?

Role-playing games are a complicated medium. The act of reading a game is not the same as the act of playing it, which is not the same as the act of running it. This was not in fact acknowledged in the first role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons; almost nobody understood how to play after reading, and the designers were pretty much just hoping that wargamers would buy their standalone rules rather than doing anything in particular to make it so. As such, for decades, enthusiastic role-players have grabbed their books, put their heads together, and puzzled it out.

The market of enthusiastic role-players is saturated. More and more games are coming out and fewer and fewer of them are gaining the sort of traction which actually pays their designers. The centerpiece to this is the explosion of Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition, which grew significantly faster and larger than any previous edition despite not being designed any better than any of them. So why is that? And how do other games do better?

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Meet the Campaign: Intro to West Marches

Seamus and I both came of age at a time where the long-running campaign was considered the platonic ideal of the role-playing game. There’s a lot of historical justification for this; the ‘campaign’ as an innovation in the wargaming space was one of the things that led to interest in the character-driven gaming that eventually became Dungeons and Dragons. The campaign as a procedure within a game, though, has been somewhat of a stagnant thing. Even as games continue to push on notions of advancement and other structures which define how events progress across multiple gaming sessions, it’s still assumed that a long-running game would be played in a series of continuous sessions by a consistent group of players. 15 years ago, a known luminary in the RPG design space ran a campaign that worked quite differently, creating ripples across the hobby. I’m of course talking about Ben Robbins’ West Marches.

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The Trouble With Ecosystems

How many RPGs do you know which consist of a single book? There are definitely some, plenty of indie games especially are singular works. When it comes to the games most people play, though, you can expect that the core rules are joined by supplements, additional books which expand the game through either deepening existing elements or adding new ones. Beyond that, you may have secondary accessories, things like dice, card decks, and maps which add to the physical experience of the game. Taken together these elements create a product line. When you add additional material made by players and designers other than the original authors, then now you have an ecosystem.

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