Thursday, March 20, 2008

Plan B (D&D)

So what if you avidly play D&D 3.5 and decide you don't want to go to 4.0? Perhaps you bought the new books and it didn't work out for you. Even if you gave it a chance, maybe the flavor just isn't what you're looking for. Maybe the artwork gives you convulsions. Perhaps you see your 3.5 books as an investment and not part of an ongoing hobby and you refuse to obsolete them with a new version. For those of you who use the word investment, let me point out that a Player's Handbook for any version of D&D older than 3.5 is worth about five bucks, far less than the cover price. Feel free to write your name in it or color in the artwork. Regardless of why you won't go to 4.o, your options are to stay with what you're playing or try something new.

Staying with 3.5 is an option. 3.5 books will be around for some time to come. I own a store and I want nothing more than everyone to go to 4.0, but there will still be a strong market for 3.5, a market that will quickly turn to "pre-owned" products. New books will disappear rapidly, probably gone completely from stores within a year. However, the used 3.5 market is likely to remain large, both in-store and the "secondary" market, meaning eBay and PDF. Imagine if 10% of 3.5 players refuse to commit to version 4. Some will eventually give in. Perhaps they'll just buy the PHB and never buy another book again. What if they still want 3.5 material? Well, that 10% is still as big a market as those who play White Wolf, Shadowrun, or any of the other "top" RPG's that comprise what's left of the RPG pie after D&D takes it's giant helping. The market consists of several million people at least. With a strong secondary market, staying with 3.5 is viable for both players and store owners.

What if you've prepared yourself and your group for something different, but 4.0 wasn't it? That's where I might be, and I've let my group know. I expect D&D 4 to work for me, but how can I be sure? I may sell 4.0, but I'm not such a robot as to play it just because it's new. So if you've attempted 4.0, and you've prepared everyone for a transition that just didn't work, perhaps trying something different is in order. Different doesn't mean a different game, but a variant of what you play now. You could certainly tweak your D&D 3.5 experience with such excellent supplements as Unearthed Arcana, but two additional new options have emerged recently, options that take 3.5 to the next level, assuming you aren't ready for whole numbers.

The first option is Monte Cook's Book of Experimental Might. It's being hailed as D&D 3.75. These are essentially Monte Cook's "house rules," and many rules sound like the logical changes we'll be seeing in 4.0, but without the jarring "reboot." Monte Cook is largely responsible for D&D 3.0, if you were wondering who he was. This is a one-shot PDF only product without follow-up support, but it might be the shot in the arm your group needs to continue playing 3.5 for years to come.

The second option from Paizo is an OGL compliant role-playing game called Pathfinder RPG. This is a new rule set based on 3.5 D&D, kind of like you may have seen with Conan or Arcana Unearthed. You get to keep the familiar game mechanics of 3.5, while playing new and interesting variant characters, using different races, classes and more. You can download a free alpha version right now. All Pathfinder materials will be made to work with Pathfinder RPG when it's officially released in August 2009. Will it work? How many of you play D20 Conan or Arcana Unearthed now?

As players, we need to do what's right for us and our group. I see these Plan B options as last resorts, but it's nice to know there are options. This is the fruit that the D20/OGL licenses have produced, for good or ill. As players, perhaps knowing there's a safety net makes getting out on that 4.0 tightrope a little less scary. Then again, other store owners have argued that it's just an excuse not to even try.


  1. You beat me to the punch. I'm working on a post on my blog discussing this, but I plan on going over it once more before posting it, so it will probably be up tomorrow afternoon.

    Suffice it to say that things could get very interesting in the RPG market over the next year or two. A lot depends on just how good 4th edition ends up being. If too many people agree with those who have said that 4th just doesn't "feel like" D&D, then there could be some real upheaval.

  2. Bleh, I couldn't just leave it, so I went ahead and posted what I wrote up here.

  3. Yeah, I know what you mean. Jay keeps talking about getting all the 3.5 books he might ever want so he can keep playing it forever if need be. The Cook book sounds intriguing though. Do you have it already, G?

  4. I don't have the Monte Cook PDF yet, although I downloaded and browsed through the Pathfinder RPG last night. Pathfinder RPG is interesting, but too evolutionary. The Monte Cook stuff, just by reading the table of contents, is a more dramatic change, but with some changes I've already made, since I follow his stuff pretty closely.

    Still, I fully intend to go 4th edition, so I've been cramming for that and I'm reluctant to read too many other variants in fear I'll get confused, especially with some of the subtle differences.

    As for the D&D feel, after reading playtest reports I've been discussing some of my concerns with customers who follow this stuff as closely as I do (and won't rabbit when the pro-4th edition game store guy starts getting cold feet). A lot of my issues with 4 being too "gamey" can be rationalized away with role playing explanations.

  5. "Pathfinder RPG is interesting, but too evolutionary"

    This seems to be the most common response to it so far. I suspect if the trend continues that we may see a few more changes by the time the beta version is released.

    Still, I think Pathfinder is meant to be the evolutionary next step. They leave the more revolutionary updates to others and hope to get the people that don't really want revolutionary.