Thursday, January 20, 2011

Long Live the King

So after Mr. Dancey posted his speculation, lot of folks have been talking about the end of D&D. Does it mean the end of RPGing? The end of the industry?

Probably not.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. Vampire: the Masquerade and the following World of Darkness books gave D&D a strong run for its money. So did Magic: the Gathering. The only reason the game didn’t die in the later days of TSR is because D&D was their flagship product; the brand that was selling the novels which was their primary source of income.

Frankly, D&D is a bit of an albatross around the neck of the industry. It’s the best-selling game, the gateway product. And so far, nobody seems to have been able to reap the fortunes everyone assumes naturally come with that sort of thing.

Of course, D&D is probably not going to simply die overnight. Too many have too much invested in the brand, and the conventional wisdom is that the brand needs at least a token tabletop RPG to remain viable. If Pathfinder is, in fact, going toe-to-toe against D&D, then that means D&D actually is dying, if very slowly, right before our eyes. (That’s also splitting hairs, though; saying Pathfinder isn’t D&D is a bit like saying the iPhone isn’t a cell phone.)

If this is a trend we’re seeing, and if it continues unabated, then that simply means that Pathfinder becomes the 800 lbs gorilla to D&D’s 600 lbs gorilla. I don’t see that as a major or dramatic shift in the terrain. Heck, due to name recognition, it might not even mean that D&D loses its status as the gateway product. (Now wouldn’t that be an odd looking industry? D&D focuses on boxed sets sold in Target and Wal-mart, with the assumption that the players it brings in will eventually “graduate” to Pathfinder? Since the goal is to sell online subscriptions and keep the brand alive, I could see it, but I don’t think that’s likely to be the plan, even if it is what eventually ends up happening.)

So yeah, not expecting the world to end anytime soon. Or for the industry to vanish (Do you really think Raggi gives two flips what WotC does this week?) or for the sun to rise in the north and set in the south. Even if the “unthinkable” happens and WotC ends up passing the torch to Paizo, the game that rules the industry will still have players rolling d20s and chatting about AC and hit points.

UPDATES: Destination Unknown reminds us of the real tragedy here.

Art by Friedrich von Amerling.


JDJarvis said...

At this point it matters little to me if WOTC and Hasbro stop publishing D&D products. As for "the industry", what has it done for me lately?
If "the industry" includes OSR sites and self publishers it'll be around for as long as any of us could possibly care. When that last d20 rolls out of a fading codgers hands sitting there himself playing a solo adventure on his large-print e-reader, does it matter what comes afterward?

trollsmyth said...

JDJarvis: Somehow, I think that if anyone working for you tried to convince you that they could produce the same quality and output of work only putting in 10 hours a week that they do working 40 hours, you'd laugh them right out of your office. ;)

Personally, the industry (and I'm sure he'd hate me for outing him as the Man but hey, gotta give props where they're due) has given me a superior encumbrance system, some neat adventures, and great art.

That said, I can completely understand your attitude. Considering how many man-hours have been pumped into RPGs over three decades, you'd think they'd have more to show for it. The fact that yes, we really don't need them should have compelled them to push for better and greater. I have a lot of respect for what Raggi is doing, but the fact that what is, in effect, a one-man shop being run out of a guy's living room is producing some of the most interesting and usefully innovative work out there speaks volumes for what most of the industry is up to.

Aplus said...

I would like to see two things happen in "the industry".

1. Hasbro sends Paizo the D&D rights, preferably for free. I think they'd give the brand good treatment.

2. James Raggi is cloned, and at least two dozen of him are put to work, writing adventures 24/7.

trollsmyth said...

Aplus: As for Paizo, I'm not sure they want D&D. They'd have to abandon their Pathfinder product and that might very well cost them a lot of the good will they've built up over the years. Part of the appeal of Pathfinder, after all, is that it doesn't change, and you can keep playing the same game you've been playing since 2004. Releasing a new version of D&D, even one that's just Pathfinder with the serial numbers filed off, would be completely antithetical to their marketing strategy.

But I could very much see them farming it out, possibly to one of the other up-and-coming outfits. Maybe Bauer's Open Design or something.

As for Raggi, I'm still not sure the world can handle just one of him. ;)