Is D&D Critically Failing?

With Gen Con coming along their is a lot of buzz around forums that there may be an announcement to a new edition. Now mind you this actually happens every year that their is talk of this kind. There is also the typical edition wars of why 2ed was better then 3rd and while 3rd is better then 4th, etc. After reading a lot of this ongoing debate and speculation I just have to say..why can’t we just love Dungeons and Dragons for what it is. Now I have been a roleplayer since 2nd edition and have seen a lot of things come and go. Some decisions I liked and some I didn’t. Back then the company was TSR and now it’s WotC. Either way, they tend to get beat on for their decisions. To make things worse Pathfinder seem’s to have surpassed D&D in sales.

When I think of the editions, I take a look back and yeah, nothing is perfect between any of them. 2ed made running games a bit of a drag. I couldn’t just throw simple creatures against my party. I had to wait till they were all an appropriate level because otherwise the wizard or the theif would definitely bite the dust or maybe the whole group. It was a bit ridiculous when you think of it. I remember running Hail to the Heroes for Mystara back in the day and the group nearly died from a simple creature. It was a mixture of purely bad roles and the nature of the mechanics. But it was a bit of a flaw that was there. Why was something that should be a no brainer fight so deadly. Oh and we had mechanics like THACO and armor class math to determine your ‘To Hit’. It was a bit wonky when trying to organize an adventure or hell even when playing. Also remember the bazillion books? From all the racial books to the equipment books, then there was the class books and oh yeah, the famous unique blue books. It was over saturated and something just about everyone disliked. But we learned to love it anyways because we roleplayed. It was a kill the monster and onto the story.

3rd Edition was much better. The system in my opinion just worked. Sure it also had it’s faults like the others but nothing really that I could insanely gripe about. Ok, magic was done much better. Players had more going power at the start. It was still work to run an adventure. The books were more DM and player centric in the crunch department. Adventures? What adventures? The generic setting in the core rules was supposed to be Greyhawk however we only really got a Greyhawk book much later on. It was not anything extravagant either. It was more of a book to tide those who were itching for one over. Gone were classic settings like Spelljammer, Planescape, Ravenloft, Dark Sun, Mystara. Fan sites were created and supported these sites. Oh did I love the Secrets of the Kargatane website. Some sites were just great support while others….not so much. But this was not TSR or WotC fault. This was the hard reality of the world we face even now of sales and sustainability. They needed to cut things down and for all intents and purposes it worked. Dragon and Dungeon were handled by Paizo and I even bought mags which was something I never did before.

Hey, remember the OGL? Holy crappers was that ever the must brilliant idea. 3rd parties came up from the ground and released awesome settings and alternative mechanics but all in keeping with the core rules of Dungeons and Dragons. It was fantastic. Sure some of the material was crap but there was something for everyone. Heck, even some of the best adventures and games were from other publishers who used the OGL. You pretty much had to by the core D&D rules because everything centered around them. From a company standpoint that is brilliant as your market explodes. Want to play X publishers adventures or settings, well you need to by the core D&D rules.

3rd Edition however did irk me in the sense that 3.5 came out. It was a good rules update and I liked it. But it made you by everything all over again. I think at this point I had a sense that things were getting a bit bloated on the ego side of things. It also didn’t seem like too long since the original 3ed books were out and suddenly we needed an update.

And then….4th edition. 4th edition was out very quickly. I remember a lot of hype behind it all. I also remember that suddenly the OGL was replaced by the GSL and that suddenly all the retro settings that 3rd parties had were suddenly gone. I also remember a lot of other companies that just gave in as to my understanding, they did not want to work within the GSL. God that was annoying and from all the good will that was built with 3rd edition it seemed like a totally dick move. But not all decisions are wise decisions. I lived with it despite the annoyance. The core rules came out and you know what, it’s a much easier game to play. From a DM stand point the difficulty of encounters is much more flexible. However on that note, the combat can drag on forever. Who the fuck thought it would take so long to kill a small group of kobolds. Like almost 2 fucking hours!!! And no, we are not playing it wrong which is the worst part. You have minions which dissapear fast but the named kobold is always the toughest and has a high hit point statistic. Also with all the players new abilities there is a lot of referencing. Since the game is more strategic combat wise, everything uses tiles, powers like mentioned need to be checked for how many squares are affected, etc. I remember in 2ed we used maps and combat tiles sometimes but it was more generic to know visually where you are and what you are doing and common sense on direction and range you made whatever attack.

But that is the thing right there. If you look back on ALL the editions there is change whether good or bad. I can go back and play each and be content. Of course you may be for one particular edition and that’s ok and this goes really for any system and not just D&D on it’s own. I think what get’s everyone riled up is that they want to see D&D succeed so much that people really get angry when things are not working out. I know I want them to succeed. To me they were always the number one for my roleplaying needs. Sure I played other systems but D&D was my first. But I think the best thing anyone can do is head on over to the Wizards community and open some dialogues. Help make things better and if your not happy then show it with your money.

If I had my wishlist of things I would want WotC to do right now to help fix things up would be the following:
– DDI needs to have something more to it then it does. It’s been a blessing and a curse. When their digital initive took place, WotC took away all PDF’s from other sites because piracy was apparently rampant concerning their books. Guess what, still is. But they need to provide support for their older material. They also should be competing against or absorb Fantasy Grounds. When 4th edition came out we were supposed to get a virtual table top. We didn’t and they lost some major points.

-We need a clear concise entry point into D&D. We got not only the core rulebooks but we now have a retro red box and the Essentials. Your confusing anyone new who wants to jump in and dividing your market up further. Basically they are causing themselves harm in the long run.

-I would like to see some good solid adventures. And not just a remake, I would like to see something new and epic taking you from the ground up. I don’t see why this cannot be done well enough especially from WotC.

-Novels…this is a bit of a sore point. Back in the day we had ton’s of novels on the market for all settings. But even now when I head on over to my local chapters the novel section is slowly dying out. The Dragonlance section which was by far huge has now dwindled to the point where not even many of the main arc’s are even present. Forgotten Realms has also died down. All the other setting novels have dissapeared aside from a few Dark Sun which appeared due to the setting coming out again. But why not the rest? Not worth it? Is putting out a Ravenloft or Spelljammer novel that upsetting to the market even if done in occasional little quantities?

But those are my little changes I would do and please note they are simply one mans lonely opinion. Maybe one day we will all move on from D&D to something else. It could happen but when I personally look back at every edition of D&D what I remember most is that despite whatever flaws or frustrations I had with a system or decisions made by WotC, I remember seeing a group of guys sitting in a basement around a coffee table or playing on a virtual table now that were further apart just having a good time.

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Was recruited back in the first year of high school to play this odd game called Dungeons & Dragons by his friends who would become his family. Tending more towards darker themed games like Call of Cthulhu, Ravenloft, Gemini and other such titles; he has also ventured into other genres as his interest has developed. If there is something cool to play out there, he will play it even if it hurts his brain.

One thought on “Is D&D Critically Failing?”

  1. Great post!

    The difficulty is that Wizards is a large company with shareholders that they have to keep pleased. If they don’t continually put out new product, then the shareholders get upset because they’re not increasing profits. They’ve found that the only things that sell really well are the core books, so they figure they’ll just put out more of those and then they’ll make more money. But RPGs, by their very nature, are not something that requires continual revision. People can be perfectly happy with the first edition of something if it’s good. If it’s not good, then they may well just not play it in the first place. As such, Wizards is having a hard time figuring out how to maintain D&D as a business.

    Smaller publishers don’t have this issue. They’re printing only a few thousand copies, and they don’t have shareholders to appease. They can be more creative with what they put out, because they can take risks and not piss anyone off.

    I love 4th edition (though I do agree combat is overlong and battlemat-focused than I’d like), but I’m completely ignoring the Essentials line. All that does is muddy the waters and require me to buy more books. I’m fine with 4th edition as it is, and that’s the problem.

    I also think players themselves might be getting a little tired of the treadmill with Wizards, and will be branching out more and more. It was easier for Wizards to keep them in the loop with the OGL, but now there’s a lot less d20 material out there. So instead of staying within the same RPG area, they’re really branching out and playing completely different games, and in some cases they’re not coming back.

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