Wednesday, August 06, 2008


I thought long, and very hard, before writing this. And I thought harder before posting it.

Let me start by saying that I don’t have an axe to grind or a bone to pick with WotC. I don’t hate them, I don’t think they’ve “ruined” D&D or destroyed my childhood or anything silly like that. Quite the contrary; I wish them the best, because the health of my favorite hobby depends in a very real and obvious way on the health and success of WotC. While I’m not their biggest fan and I don’t buy a lot of their products, I do pay attention to what they produce. Even when I wasn’t playing 3.x D&D, I flipped through Dragon and skimmed their web pages. They are, in short, influential in my preferred pastime.

So what follows is not an attack. Rather, it’s the concerns of, if not a friend, at the very least a respectful neighbor.

I think WotC is ill.

The signs are everywhere. Just today, James Maliszewski asks of the 4e Monster Manual:

What's with all the recycled art? I'm frankly a bit surprised to see so many illustrations I recognize from the 3e era. 4e was clearly a big project for WotC and one they've invested a lot of money in producing and promoting, so why does it re-use art?

And it’s not just the recycled art. You can see it in the page layout as well. Yeah, it’s easy to read, but sloppy. Did they just not have time to clean up the vast tracks of blank space and orphans? Or are they a clumsy attempt to bulk out the book, so it fills up the number of expected pages? Seriously, if Steve Jackson or Chris Pramas put out a book that looked like the 4e PHB, they’d cringe every time they had to open it. They would have felt ill as the boxes shipped to the retailers. The 4e core books, the results of years of development, the flagship products of the biggest name in RPGs, are not pretty books. They look clumsy, they are poorly laid out, they are poorly organized. Where are the alphabetized listings of spells and powers? Why do we have to flip madly about to learn what [W] means? What's up with the PHB's index? Why were skill challenges so broken? I’ve heard that WotC has claimed that the books shipped with an older version of the skill challenge rules, and not the final, proper rules. Giving WotC the benefit of the doubt on this, how did something so large manage to slip by everybody?

And what are we to make of the clumsy marketing campaign? Or the endless revisions to how 3rd party licensing was going to be handled? Or that the official D&D web page, badly in need of redesign, is still dominated by a spiky metal motif echoing the covers of the 3rd edition books nearly two months after the debut of 4e?

And then there’s the arrival of a new company president just as WotC was entering the crescendo towards release of 4e. Was that really the best time to change the top management position? The death of Gleemax proves that this wasn’t just changing out name plates on the door; the new boss has very different ideas and attitudes towards where the company should be going than the old boss did. This, actually, gives me reason to hope. Mr. Leeds might be exactly what WotC needs to shake this funk they seem to be in.


Anonymous said...

Ill? I don't know. But it's definitely changing. What it's changing into remains to be seen.......

Sure, they've dropped the ball quite a lot this year. The marketing campaign didn't target new players at all, and managed to alienate existing players (but hey, we bought anyway so no loss). I'm no fan of the layout of the PHB, the index is pitiful and the glossary is..... oh wait.... there is no glossary! Thankfully though, the other two books are great, even if the Monster Manual reads too much like a statement of Intellectual Property.

Gleemax going is a Good Thing. It deserved to die, and whoever chose to pull the plug did the industry a big favour. I'm not sure it's completely dead though, and wouldn't be surprised to see Wizards' reanimating it's corpse some time in the future.

Killing Dungeon and Dragon mags was, frankly, an unforgivable act. The existing articles they're putting out are great - and would have been EVEN BETTER in print. Grrrrrr. Ah well.

And as for DDI. Don't ask.

This might all be a sign of illness, or a sign of change in the wind. The 2009 release schedule is very exciting indeed (for me, at least). Call me an optimist but I'm hoping this is a change for the better.

Anonymous said...

Sloppy layout? Not pretty? The 4e handbooks is one of the most readable and easy-on-the-eyes RPG books out there, and without question the best looking D&D manual yet seen. I was glad they got that almost perfect, regardless of how the game itself was designed. Oh well, opinions and all that... I agree WotC has problems, but I can't imagine what RPG books you'd think look better than the 4e volumes.