Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Recurring Conversation

I keep having this recurring conversation with customers over the last few days. It goes something like this: My D&D group has just about had it with Dungeons & Dragons 4, and Player's Handbook 2 is the book that will decide if we commit to the game. These are very good customers, sophisticated gamers that I've known for years, but haven't seen much lately. They know their stuff. Although they've gotten beyond the rule system, more or less, they feel their options are far too limiting.

If what they're looking for are more options, such as classes and races, I think they're in for a very pleasant surprise. My own group has been running classes from PHB 2, the bard, druid and sorcerer, for weeks now. We've been very happy, although the bard seems to fall down a lot. I've made fantastic barbarians, shifter wardens, and gnome minstrels that have made me giggle with excitement. Options are certainly there, if that's what's keeping people from committing. However, if this was my position, that the game felt incomplete, there's only one option that I know that would fix that.

It's a DDI Subscription. For $5 month, you get access to all the content of the books, previews of content, such as the PHB 2 classes I've been playing for weeks, and it's all integrated into useful digital tools. The Character Builder is superb, and I only get that feeling of vast options when I use this program. You gain access to all the books, magazines, and preview content. $5 a month is nothing, unless you're living in a dirt floor shack in Zimbabwe. I'm assuming D&D players just don't know about this amazing resource, as opposed to balking at the insignificant price tag. Some are unwilling to a commit to a monthly subscription since they're still on the fence. My advice is to hop off and see if DDI provides what they're looking for.


  1. So, I had a question about PHB2 that I couldn't answer: is the Barbarian still broken? Apparently some considered the early playtest version, from before they started charging for DDI, so overpowered that it ended up causing the implosion of a local D&D4 game when the GM gave up in frustration.

    I don't know enough about either the original or the current version to be able to answer the question, so I was hoping you or someone else might.

  2. I didn't playtest it, but my builds didn't seem any more powerful than the Battlerager, also considered a game breaker. I know from Enworld (The WOTC boards seem down), that the final build is different. For example, they don't get the same armor class calculation, so they will end up with a very weak AC, even over time. The question is whether this balances their hit point bonuses.

    The Battlerager, on the other hand, still has a good (not great) AC, with all the regenerative hit points when he's struck in melee.

  3. To clarify, the Battlerager in our game is certainly the bastion of defense, but he's not a game breaker.

    The barbarian is not meant to be like that, as he gets his best bonuses by running around the battlefield.

  4. Here's an idea, go back to running old school D&D games that were free form and far less limited by 600 pages of rules!!

  5. Really? Which version of D&D was this? I must have missed the "free form" edition.

    D&D has never been "free form," and every edition has had far more than 600 pages of rules spread out over the different books.

    I think it's funny that nearly every argument I've seen against D&D 4th are ones that I've used in the past against any edition of D&D in favor of other systems.

    Seriously, if you want a rules light "free form" system don't play D&D! There are, and always have been, far better systems out there if that's your thing.

    While we're on this track, let me shoot down another argument that's often made (this one isn't aimed at the anonymous poster above). D&D has never encouraged roleplaying. Your DM may have encouraged roleplaying, but the system never did. Arguing that you play an older version of D&D because you're a "roleplayer" is about the dumbest thing you could ever say.

    Again, if a focus on roleplaying is truly your thing, then there are, and always have been, much better systems in terms of encouraging roleplaying out there. In fact, just about any RPG ever made does a better job of encouraging roleplaying than any edition of D&D ever has.

    I think part of the reason I like D&D 4th is that I'm not a roleplayer, I'm a gamer. I like games, and I like new games because they are often better than old games because game designers often learn from the mistakes of the past.

    I could go on, but that's probably enough ranting for one day on someone else's board :-P

  6. I was biting my tongue. I'm glad you did it! ;)

  7. I would argue that:

    1. D&D is a rules heavy game. Always has been. It attracts rules heavy players. It's *the* game for rules heavy. Guys in the store stand around talking about various combos and powers, not how they sweet talked the town guard. Those that lament about the rules are likely pulled along in its wake, as D&D has always been the role playing game with the largest share of players. Your group might be playing it, but it might not be your game.

    2. D&D 4 is lighter. In comparison, D&D 4 is far lighter than 3. That's the BIGGEST complaint about it. It's no longer the toolbox, and some crunch centric players feel like it's a straight jacket. Indie gamers love it. Multi-genre gamers love it, since the commitment is less. Some 2E players who skipped D&D 3 because of the crunch are jumping into 4E. You only need the Player's Handbook to play and it's about 300 pages, most of which are about powers you don't need to ever read until you need them.

    3. The free form problem. It is true that often D&D feels like a tactical miniature game, since it relies on *objective* combat. That's where miniature gamers shine and it often feels like a miniature game with role playing tacked on. That's just the nature of the beast, but it is troublesome. I've been trying to role-play my powers at the table, and it seems to make me feel better about it.

  8. So, quick question.

    If players get access to all the books and resources online with a $5/month DDI subscription...

    What do they buy from you?

    Won't this cut into your margins if the play groups stop buying their books from you?

    Is it possible that DDI may 'save' the game at the local store and at the same time cut all of the profit out for your store?

  9. "Your group might be playing it, but it might not be your game."

    That's pretty much always been my experience with D&D, until 4th edition. Now I actually want to play in a game of D&D, but can't find a group that's playing it :-P

  10. It's a concern. However, you don't get context. You also don't get all the class details. The difference is slight, but important.

    I'm personally using all the books with DDI. The books allow me to visualize how I want my character to be, then I can use DDI to implement that.

    The books are also essential for designing an adventure. I've been doing that for the last two nights, and I've got a big stack next to me, like in the old days. I've used DDI's Monster Generator program to tweak existing monsters up and down in power. I'm using Dungeon Delve for my core adventure with the tiles as my map solution. The Manual of the Planes and Monster Manual have been essential references.

  11. Not to quible... But DDI is $8 a month if you pay per month. It only goes down to $5 when you pay for a year at a time. That being said it is still a really good value at $8. (And a nice middle ground is $20 for three months at a time.)

  12. The BEST thing about any RPG, including D&D (in any form), is that it is not a "head to head" competition between two opponents, but a group adventure mediated by the GM/DM.
    A good GM will never feel hampered or constricted by the rules - which are, after all, only guidelines to help the GM to carry the players through the adventure. The rules are completely an "a la carte" menu in an RPG - a means to keep things moving, as opposed to a means to keep things fair and balanced between opponents.

    Just my take on it. And also how the best D&D, AD&D, and 2nd ed AD&D games I participated in were run (not to mention, Top Secret, Merc, Twilight 2000, and various other RPGs I've played in the past).

  13. Sorry, but the original edition of D&D was not 600 pages. The three books that made up original brown or white box edition of D&D were pretty slim. And the rules were entirely free-form and role playing was most certainly an emphasis because there weren't rules for every single possible action or outcome. A player and DM had to roleplay in order to make the system work. That was in fact the very root of what we now consider roleyplaying today, and you certainly can't get that with a system that has rules and subsystems for every single thing that can happen. The game has long since become a tactical boardgame with little connection to the original intent or idea behind Original D&D.

  14. That would now be the tiny niche known as "storytelling" games or Indie Press, or Dirty Hippy Games. I recommend Spirit of the Century or maybe even something lighter.

    As I was 7 years old in 1974, I know not of which you speak, but I can tell you that many D&D players nowadays are not getting their itch scratched by story games. They're looking for some crunch, something established with 1st Edition.

    What is nice about the current D&D game, as opposed to past editions, is consistency of experience. You could walk into a convention game for 1st edition or 2nd edition and not recognize the game. It was so free form, so interpretive, that it was really an agreed upon thought experiment among mutual friends. That's what made it great. That's also what kept it from growing.

    Third edition might have had a couple pages of house rules. By the time we get to 4th edition, you can walk into any game and you know what to expect.

    From your comments, I think you haven't read 4th edition, because what you describe is essentially 1st or 2nd edition. There is not a Gygaxian table or rule for every contingency. 3E took the toolbox approach, but 4E clearly avoids this. You're arguing the opposite of the main complaint of 4E, it's SIMPLICITY, which just goes to show you can't please everyone.

  15. Chainmail and the first edition of actual D&D were designed by miniature wargamers who wanted to play in a fantasy setting.

    The big development stride Gygax and TSR took was in making the 'pieces' grow over time, introducing XP and tiered levelling system tailored to the specific class of piece (magic-user, fighter, thief).

    They went a step farther in D&D, removing the requirement in Chainmail for an actual piece to represent the player character, evolving the story of the particular character, but it was never free-form, only moved from requiring miniatures to pen and paper.

    And I refuse to play the current incarnations because the last few versions have done neither storytelling nor wargaming well.

    My two cents.

    -The Griffin

  16. You are mistaking everything I am posting. I'm not suggesting anything about storytelling games, I'm saying that the current version of D&D is far removed from the original version, pre-AD&D, and that if someone were to take a step back and look into them they might find them refreshingly free-form while satisfyingly crunchy. I'm not talking about dirty-hippy make everyone happy story games, I'm talking about roleplaying in a time before every thought or move was codified in a rulebook. In addition to Original D&D (and to a degree AD&D), there are a flury of recently released "tribute" RPG systems based solely or closely on OD&D. Old school man, old school.

  17. "To clarify, the Battlerager in our game is certainly the bastion of defense, but he's not a game breaker."

    I would question this. He is not a game breaker, per se, but the resources that have to be allocated to hinder him is incredible.

    Especially when the Warlord deserves a damn pounding...

  18. Good to hear (from the DM). I was under the impression it wasn't all that bad. I made the character for the player and then suggested a different one from what I had read in the forum.

  19. You know, old school is cool and all, having bought the Monster Manual in 1977.

    But man, the arguments we could get into about certain things not covered in the rules. Sheesh. Granted, I was 11-12 then, but still.

    D&D4 is pretty fun, but it is a miniatures game with an RPG trapping, where your figures gain powers as you go along. Like Evolved Pokemon...

    Still a GURPS fan.

  20. It's funny the arguments you can get into over RPGs ;-)

    I've always wanted to like GURPS but when it comes down to it I find the combat too fiddly and the disadvantages too restrictive.

    In my experience players take the disadvantages and then find ways to avoid them. I prefer a system where instead of rewarding you for taken a disadvantage only during character generation, the system rewards you for playing your disadvantage during the game. The Fate system in Spirit of the Century does it best, but the Cortex system used in the Serenity and Battlestar Galactica games does a decent job as well.

  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

  22. Arguments in an RPG?

    Isn't that the point where the GM/DM declares you dead, you pack your shit, and go home?

    If you're lucky, the group will let you come back, but you may have to buy the pizza and soda for the next few sessions.

    Since the DM/GM decides which rules to use, and which to ignore (and when), they are the god of the game world, which is what makes a good GM the vital start point of a good campaign.

    Players who want to argue and rules-lawyer the game need to be playing tournament MtG or 40k, and rules lawyering and sucking the fun out of those games (which they do, btw).

    Background: I started playing D&D back in 1979 or 1980, out of the "Basic Set" (remember that box?), I also played from the "Expert D&D" set and first edition AD&D, playing until about 1986. I played a few games of 2nd edition AD&D in the early 1990s, but haven't played the newer editions. I've played in "Monty Hall" campaigns, "cooperative storytelling adventure" campaigns, "lead the players by the teeth" campaigns, "strictly by the book" campaigns, "dungeon crawl" campaigns, and other campaign types, including one memorable and fantastic adventure where most of our time and effort one weekend was spent in a marathon 20 hour session negotiating a mountainside and crossing a chasm to get to the evil sorcerer's lair - lots of skill checks, minor failures, and tense moments, but no actual combat (and that was truly one of the greatest RPG sessions I've ever experienced - a real nail biter where the characters all had to work together to succeed).
    What every one of these campaigns (but one) had in common was that the DM had absolute control over the game universe. The last AD&D campaign I played in high school was a "strictly by the book" campaign where, after weeks of character development and background creation, we were annihilated by a random encounter while traveling between the opening "scene" and the next step in the quest. Since our DM was trying to go strictly by the book, without fudging rolls or otherwise tinkering with the rules (normally, he was of the "roll dice behind his screen and tell you what happened, possibly leaving one dead, and one of you barely able to drag the wounded to safety and patch them up/find new party members to replace the dead characters" DM, rather than a "the monsters need x to hit you - roll x - now they do y dice of damage - rolls, adds dice, discovers you are dead, dead, dead - my mosters killed you all." DM), we had the exact random encounter specified from the table, and the Giant Wasps were numerous and rolled well, while we rolled poorly and died. It was a total buzz-killer and resulted in my not playing any more D&D (of any variety) for several years.

  23. It seems to me that the OD&D movement has some pretty angry folk. I'm not sure why.

  24. A simpler time, 55 cent a gallon gas. I might be angry too!

  25. "What is nice about the current D&D game, as opposed to past editions, is consistency of experience. You could walk into a convention game for 1st edition or 2nd edition and not recognize the game. It was so free form, so interpretive, that it was really an agreed upon thought experiment among mutual friends. That's what made it great. That's also what kept it from growing."

    Interesting thoughts. That's one way of looking at it. Another way to say it is that while gaining consistency, D&D has lost what has made it a unique play experience. There are many similar combat games, D&D Minis directly, others indirectly, that play better as combat games. The "roleplay" that D&D enables beyond these encounters is limited by the "rules heavy" approach. If I want a combat game, there are better ones out there. If I want to roleplay - or "storytell" as you say - there are better options out there. D&D 4 is a hybrid of already existing systems, whereas the more free form earlier editions provided something unique.

    Ultimately, it those unique experiences, while maybe making the game inaccessible to some, also developed lifelong devotees to the brand and the hobby. There's nothing in the current edition to breed that kind of loyalty, nothing there to get you as emotionally committed to the game. It's much easier to put down and move on to something else that has a more precise audience and can cater to your needs as a player. While the current edition is surely intended to broaden the audience, that audience, I think, will be more transient.

  26. It's really hard to say after 9 months whether the current edition is "sticky" or not with players. I heard the same kinds of complaints about 3.5, and here we are again.

  27. ...and second edition before that. It's because I've heard this so many times before that I have a hard time believing it now. Every edition has had strengths and weaknesses compared to the previous one.

  28. Yes, but with the earlier editions there was not as much direct competition within its own brand (I'm looking at you D&D minis). D&D will survive because no other RPG has the same market muscle behind it, but to me D&D 4th makes a further leap than any previous edition to UNdifferentiate itself. I'm not saying it will suddenly die, but that it will be more of a way station in one's gaming life than a home. We'll see.

  29. Well, they agree with you on the brand competition, because there's no longer a D&D minis game. From this point forward the minis are only for the RPG. The skirmish game is dead.

  30. I think a major complain with 4E is it lacks flavor, customization elements that make one character different from another. I think this is a valid complaint, but one that will change over time.

    For example, you now have three books of feats to choose from for martial characters. You can multiclass into nearly 20 different classes. Race options are even wider if you include races from the monster manual, many of which are just as suitable as PHB races, albeit without feats.

    All clerics will always heal. All rogues can sneak. All fighters can fight. Variations beyond these iconic themes will grow with time, but the design philosophy was to maintain iconic roles, for ill or good.

  31. I didn't know they'd killed D&D minis... I'll have to look out for clearances...;)

  32. They didn't kill the minis themselves, just the game, partly because they realized the majority of sales were going to the RPGers anyway, and not the skirmish game players, so I doubt you'll see much in the way of clearances.

  33. It wasn't so much killed as euthanized. We'll continue to sell the collectible minis boosters until they're not available. They've always been aimed at the RPG crowd. The nice thing I see with the non-collectible set is the death of the single market. It makes opening cases for the purpose of selling singles unnecessary. Singles comprised about 50% of our sales towards the end of this product cycle and I'll be glad to see that labor intensive part of my job disappear.

  34. Sadly, unless they've changed things, the miniatures are still partly collectible. The character miniatures will come in fixed sets, but the monsters will still come in random boxes. IIRC, you'll be able to see which large miniature you're getting, but the smaller ones will still be luck of the draw.

  35. Yes, I think that's still the plan. On the positive side, the sets will be smaller, so the need to buy many cases to get everything will be reduced. The new set will have 40 figures, compared to 60 for the last set, plus you'll already have a lot of the characters.

    On the positive side, there's RPG content in the boosters. They'll contain power cards not available elsewhere.