Via the Velvet Dicebag comes word that Chris Pramas of Green Ronin, the classiest guys in RPGs, has posted his thoughts on D&D 4.0. He has a lot to say, and most of it is thought-provoking. Just to prove it, here are some actual thoughts:
I really felt that 3.5 was just more complicated than it needed to be and I hoped that 4E would simplify things. While it does fix many of the ongoing issues with 3.5, my feeling after today's session is that it's just complicated in a different way. It's not something I think experienced gamers will have a huge amount of trouble with, but it does seem that 4E may be even more unfriendly to new players than 3.5 was. It looks like 4E requires newbs to make too many choices and track too many things to make it truly accessible. Since D&D has always been the entry point for most RPG players, this is my most serious concern.
This is pretty serious stuff. I’ve heard that WotC is planning a beginner’s boxed set. Hopefully, they’ll be able to simplify things enough that new folks don’t have too many issues. Moldvay’s Basic was complex enough for me way back in 2nd grade. That should be the level of complexity they shoot for.
And since the rules seem to have been tailored to provide a very particular experience, I don't think they will make as good of a base for the variety of campaign settings D&D used to see. It's pretty clear that WotC realizes this, which explains why they felt the need to advance the timeline and have an apocalyptic event in the Forgotten Realms. I don't think many of the old campaign settings will transition over without a lot of cutting, spindling, and mutilating.
I’m very curious what he means by this. So far, I haven’t seen anything that would make 4.0 a bad fit for Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, or even Spelljammer. If you ignore the fluff, you ought to be able to make it fit even Planescape fairly well. But he’s played the game and I haven’t, so maybe he knows something I don’t. And if he does, what does that mean for Paizo and Pathfinder?
What I think WotC is going for here is what Marvel managed to pull off with their Ultimate line of comics: take the core of the IP and redefine it for a new generation. There will certainly be some longtime fans disenfranchised by this move, but I don't think there will be enough of those folks to hurt 4E. (I do think, however, that there will be enough of those for a third party company to carve out a good business for itself catering to them, but that's a topic for another day.)
Heh… Remember, this is the guy who has True20 in his stable, and the soon-to-be-released A Song of Ice and Fire RPG. So it’s not like he doesn’t have a dog in this fight.
That said, I think he’s right. I also think Green Ronin, with its stable of literature-based games and experience converting the settings of novels into settings for RPGs, is well-positioned to lay a claim to the fantasy storytelling terrain that WotC appears to be abandoning. Whether they achieve that through promoting True20 or the system they create for ASoIaF, they’ve got a good head-start on everyone else in the industry. And with the roadblocks that WotC has cast in the way of 3rd party developers so far, Green Ronin might very well find themselves forced to pursue such goals, simply from being shut out of doing anything for D&D 4.0 over the next year.
Viewed from this perspective, WotC’s marketing campaign appears hell-bent on shooting their corporation in both feet. First, by dragging their feet in getting the licensing info out to third-party publishers, they’re almost forcing those companies to compete with the release of 4.0, either by putting out new product that is unrelated to D&D, or, even worse, by continuing to support the older editions. Second, by insisting that older versions of D&D are not fun, they seem determined to drive a wedge between the players who adopt 4.0 and those who stick with older editions.UPDATE: Mr. Pramas has continued to play with 4e. His after action report here, and my brief take on it here.