Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Dungeons & Dragons today

Dungeons & Dragons is over 40 years old, and I have been playing it for over 35 years. So what is the most surprising aspect of D&D today for me is how popular the game has become suddenly. A streamlined 5th edition and good use of social media, including celebrity support, has moved D&D into the main stream. People now actually watch other people play D&D on Twitch, and not just when it is Vin Diesel or Wil Wheaton. “D&D player on Twitch / YouTube” is now actually a method to become “internet famous”.

I liked 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons. It is a great combination of role-playing game with a balanced tactical combat game for experienced players. But it is not a suitable game for a mass market, it is far too complicated for that. The much less balanced, much quicker, much easier 5th edition is far more suitable for mass popularity.

It also helped that the makers of Dungeons & Dragons stopped shooting themselves in the foot with their internet policy. In the early days of the internet, TSR was notorious for going after fans putting D&D-related materials on the internet. It took a change of owner in 1997 to Wizards of the Coast and then Hasbro in 1999 to get the company to realize that fans on the internet are free advertising. With a game that is hard to explain to somebody who has never played it, a Twitch / Youtube video of interesting people like Chris Perkins running a game with Acquisitions Incorporated at PAX might actually be superior advertising to anything else.

The only people somewhat unhappy by the current popularity of D&D are the makers and fans of Pathfinder. Pathfinder had shoved D&D off the throne of top pen & paper roleplaying game for several years during 4th edition, only to be left in the dust by 5th edition. Now they are planning a comeback with Pathfinder second edition, with a playtest starting in August.


Pathfinder 2.0's playtest also looks like it is trying hard to figure out how take design queues from 5E while still somehow appealing to the system mastery and design complexity that the PF base wants. I think it's doomed to failure even though I am eager to try it out, and like the concepts they are demonstrating, but I think the base is too polarized to accept the changes they think they need. Meanwhile most new 5E players are oblivious to PF's existence.

When I started playing D&D in 1983, there were multiple gaming shops in the area where I lived and were open all night most nights with several games going at once. There were also annual conventions that drew in thousands of players. Me and my DM would travel the shops on weekends and were amazed at the number of modules/campaigns that were on the shelves. Today, there is only one gaming shop where I live, and it contains a mixture of comics, trading card games and other very niche products, yet very few(maybe two racks) of actual modules/campaigns. Many of which are old and would not support 5E rules. If accessibility is the key, then why isn't there more content available? It's obviously a supply issue, or so it seems.
And it needs to be said that Pathfinder 2e playtest looks a LOT like D&D 5e.

I have to wonder what the Paizo fans think of that, given that Pathfinder was created by the 4e schism.
Tobold, have you looked into Gloomhaven? It's not an RPG, but for somebody who likes combat in 4e it could be just the thing.

It's a dungeon crawler boardgame which uses a very good scripted AI and prewritten scenarios. It uses modern boardgame mechanics (hand management, legacy mechanics) to create a very engaging d&d-like experience.

The set is relatively expensive, but contains an enormous amount of content - something like twenty different classes (with a miniature for each), hundreds and hundreds of hours of game play, and ~90 scenarios, linked together to form a campaign.

It's not an rpg with a dungeon master that tells a story, though. The overall experience may be similar to single player games like elder scrolls or dark souls.
I looked into Gloomhaven and saw a $200 box that weights about a ton and thus would be difficult to take on holidays, which is where I usually find the time to play board games.
That's fair, but you can't really play Gloomhaven as a boardgame, at least not in that way. You want a regular group that plays through the campaign, like a d&d group. The price and weight isn't nearly as important then (well, it's pricier than a d&d core set, but you also get a full campaign, minis for player characters, dungeon tiles, monster standees and so on).
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