Tobold's Blog
Thursday, June 07, 2012
Who will buy D&D Next?

In 2000 Wizards of the Coast made an extremely daring move by publishing 3rd edition of Dungeons & Dragons under an Open Game License, allowing other companies to produce rules and other materials compatible with 3rd edition. As WotC themselves later released version 3.5, and other companies made compatible game systems like Pathfinder, 3rd edition could be said to be the edition that has the most compatible material available. 4th edition wasn't compatible with 3rd edition, and used a more restrictive license. I haven't played Pathfinder yet, but I hear that it is very successful. As it was released around the same time as 4th edition, and is an improved version of 3.5 instead of being a very different game, like 4E is, a lot of people who didn't like 4E switched to Pathfinder instead. Wizards of the Coast had inadvertedly helped creating their competitor.

The core rules of D&D Next, in the unfinished version we have available for playtesting, apparently are very similar to Pathfinder. Specifically I've heard it compared to the Pathfinder Beginner Box. And Wizards of the Coast stated that one of the goals of D&D Next was to get the old school players who had quit D&D over 4th edition back into the fold.

From what I have seen of the D&D Next rules up to now, I am extremely uncertain how that is supposed to work. I would have thought that the way to gain new customers or to get old customers back would be to offer them something new, that is something they don't already have, but which caters to their preferences. D&D Next is more of a mix of old rules, and I have yet to see the new feature which would persuade a Pathfinder player to come back to D&D. Right now it appears more likely to me that D&D Next is competing in the narrow market already filled by 3.5 and Pathfinder than opening up a new market for all previous D&D players. In fact, the current version of D&D Next is rather repugnant to those of us who liked 4th edition, so in its current form D&D Next is likely to attract less people than either 3.5 or 4th edition.

The secret weapon WotC says they have, but haven't shown yet, is modularity. They suggest they will be able to have one set of core rules, and several sets of optional rule modules which can be combined to basically emulate the experience of any existing D&D edition, from 1st to 4th. I am extremely skeptical about how that is supposed to work. To me it appears that many things in the different editions of D&D are incompatible with each other, so that a modular approach couldn't possibly work.

Consider a very easy question: How many arrows does it take to kill a level 1 wizard? The problem is that the answers to this question go from 1 for first edition to something like 8 for fourth edition, with the other editions and D&D Next being somewhere in between. How do you want to make all these answers possible in a single rules system with optional modules? Would it really be possible to take the D&D Next core rules as seen in the playtest, add a "Powers & Tactics" optional rules module to it, and arrive at an experience very similar to that of 4th edition?

And even if it did, would people buy that system if the only thing it does is being able to emulate more or less the already existing editions of Dungeons & Dragons? If you liked 3.5, why would you want to pay for D&D Next to emulate it, instead of playing with the 3.5 books or Pathfinder books you already have? If you liked 4th edition, how many "optional" rules books will you need to buy to get even close to what you already had?

I agree with the general gist of your post, but can think of a few categories:

- anybody who wants to participate in organised play (such as Encounters or convention play) will be forced to upgrade
- those new to the hobby are likely to pick the newest edition
- collectors such as the 'COMC' crowd who define themselves by what and how much they own
- people who can't discern (or don't want to discern) that they are being sold the same old product again
anybody who wants to participate in organised play (such as Encounters or convention play) will be forced to upgrade

That is a whole can of worms on its own. If there are many different versions of D&D Next, using many different combinations of optional rules, then which set do you need for organized play?
"If you liked 4th edition, how many "optional" rules books will you need to buy to get even close to what you already had?"

I think this is the entire purpose of D&D Next, to keep selling you rulebooks.

I am sure WotC is currently running into a problem that the vast majority of 4E players have all the rulebooks they need, and sales are very low now.

The intent of D&D Next strikes me as a software company that strips down their product so they can keep selling "upgrades" to you for years.
From what I've been reading, D&D Next is more of a third edition beginners box redux than anything else. I had previously thought that they were going to go further back to their roots from 2E all the way back to OD&D. If this is not the case, I'll not be buying it.

This idea that, "oh we'll just release module rules to change your game to what you want", is kind of a joke. Would you rather pay for a Honda accord where you can order the parts to glue on to make it into a Ferrari, or would you rather just buy the Ferrari to begin with?

It seems a little ridiculous to purchase a product which requires other purchases to make it into the game that we could simply go out and buy anyway. If I want to make 5E turn into 1E, why would that be better than simply going out and buying OSRIC? If I wanted 5E to turn into 3E, why not buy Pathfinder instead? Seems to me they are trying to be a swiss army knife, where each blade is a poor imitation of the real thing.
I don't play alot of D&D but when I do I play what my DM plays, which is 2nd edition. We don't even have that much combat though. Actually to be honest when my character is in the story most people avoid combat because... well... he kind of kills everyone on accident all the time.

(Nothing like a gnome mage who's scared of his own spells and loud noises)
Honestly I think they would be better off re-printing the OD&D books. The OSR crowd would be catered in an instant. I'd buy those re-prints.

D&D needs to be split by a huge axe.
so far d&d next does not look anything like pathfinder or 3.x
It has no iterative attacks yet. And modularity of rules is a plus for me as is a return to the vancian magic system.
They've said that most of the optional rule content that isn't released in the core books will be made free in the internet, not as more rule books to sell. If the designers get their way, most books made will be adventures and setting content and very few rules options (other than setting-specific ones).
I think I'll be sticking with 4e, thank you.
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