Thursday, August 12, 2010

Everything New is Old Again

Have you seen the box for D&D's new starter set? Check it out:

Oops! That's from the old Mentzer set. How could I have mixed those two up? Here's the box for the new 4E Essentials Starter Set:

I got to see this at GenCon, inside a large display showcasing Elmore's art. As we were looking at it, a guy came up behind me and said, "Now that's what D&D is supposed to look like!"

The similarities are glaringly obvious. It's not just the same Elmore art, and the exact same shade of red, and the exact same dimensions. It's also the exact same font and ampersand for the name. This box doesn't just harkin back to the Mentzer box; it is almost exactly identical, with only a little change in the text and the company logo at the bottom.

I think Oddyssey nailed it when she suggested that the target audience for this box is clearly lapsed gamers. Middle-aged parents are going to see this and it will evoke immediate memories of all-night summer marathon sessions and biking over to a friend's house to spend a rainy Saturday slaying orcs and exploring ruined temples. The similarities are more than skin deep. Check out these details. Rumor says that the pre-gen characters have Elmore art. And I don't think I've seen die-cut counters in an RPG box since Star Frontiers!

But the pièce de résistance is the suggested retail price: $19.99. Well within impulse-buy range. This is easily something Mom or Dad might buy for somebody's birthday. Heck, this is something Mom or Dad might buy for the child of some other parents birthday.

Quite frankly, this is the most exciting and imaginative thing I have seen out of Wizard's marketing since the OGL. It's a certain thing this box will be showing up in Borders and Barnes & Noble bookstores across the country. If they can take this to the next level by selling it in Wal-Mart stores, who knows how far this could go? Wizards has a really good chance to hit this one completely out of the ballpark. This could completely change the game.

A rising tide lifts all boats; bringing in lapsed gamers can only be good for the OSR. Some of the folks who buy this set and bring it home are going to be disappointed that Mentzer's rules are not inside. There's already been much discussion on the differences between the most basic aspects of 4e and older versions of D&D; no need to hash that all out again. Folks who don't like what they see in this box may go looking for "the real thing." That means now is not the time for the OSR to rest on its laurels. I don't think we'll get most of the people who buy this box, but I also don't think it's unreasonable to expect a new influx of interested and excited ex-gamers looking for a little bit of the fun of those glorious days of yesteryear. It's going to be up to us to make certain that they can find Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry and all the rest. Keep an eye out for questions popping up on message boards. Be sure to provide links on your blogs. And we really need to do something to make sure the OSR has a serious presence at GenCon next year.

Between this and the other boxed sets we've seen so far I think we can clearly declare 2010 to be the Year of the Boxed Set. Now is not the time to squander the gifts that have been laid before us.


Will Mistretta said...

Too bad the game is still a soulless mess.

I feel bad for these hypothetical kids getting impulse bought a gilded turd.

The Bane said...

Simply Blasphemy, IMHO!


Aos said...

I'm sure the open minded friendliness of the old school community will win over many new gamers.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

Well I grew up in (before really, my Basic Box was blue-ish) the Red Box era. Last week I sat down with my kids and we played the new Red Box.

Guess what.

It was a lot of fun. Yes it is still 4e, that has not changed, but it was still really fun and we had a blast.

I say good on Wizard's for recognizing what is working.

Nick said...

Hoorah, Trollsmyth. :)

Natalie said...

Yikes, guys!

4e can be a lot of fun if you like what it does. Not everyone does, and I know I definitely *prefer* the older stuff, but it's not a bad way to get people into the hobby by any means. Particularly in a stripped down "everything you need to play for $20" format like this.

I'll admit it's a bit annoying that what WotC calls "D&D" and what I call "D&D" are such different animals these days, but they're more following the trend of treating D&D as a game about tactics rather than strategy more than they are causing it.

trollsmyth said...

It will help if we can avoid tearing into each other. What I think will win over many gamers is our enthusiasm and creativity. And, honestly, the open-minded friendliness I've seen in the OSR.

It's going to be an interesting year between this, seeing if LotFP sinks or swims, and whatever it is White Wolf has up its sleeve.

Anonymous said...

I'm not going to say 4e is bad, but I will say it is radically different than the game that once bore that cover. I think using it again now is dishonest and a cheap ploy to sell people something they don't actually want. 4E is *not* classic D&D, and is not even similar. It's literally a different game. This leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

David The Archmage said...

I'm thrilled, not only be the harkening back to the old school look, but also because I've heard that it's at least going to be in Target. I'd love to see it in Wal-Mart too.

Now if the OSR can act civilized around the new kids getting into the hobby, and older lapsed players, and not be quite so rabid about the game that brings them into the fold, we'll do a lot better!

Anonymous said...

I have to admit, I really want to get this for my daughter, although the fact that it's 4e does give me pause. I'll probably do it anyway, but it does make me think "am I going to get her addicted to a bad drug?"

And from what I've read it's not ALL that simplified. They sacrificed that at the altar of compatibility. I would like to see an "actually basic" new red box.

Natalie said...

I'm really curious to see what the pre-made adventure looks like. KotS-style quasi-railroad? Or something with more built-in flexibility? May have to go give my local Borders (or Wal-Mart!) a look-see.

And mxyzplk, I wouldn't worry too much. If your daughter is way into the character build thing (which would surprise me, but be kind of awesome in its own way) it's possible she'll get deeply in to 4e and the supplements and stuff. Otherwise, I'll suspect you'll find she prefers a looser interpretation of the rules.

It would be nice to have a similar old school product out there right now. LotFP is close, but it's, what, $70?

JDJarvis said...

The rules still have to be written so normal(ish) humans can enjoy the game. The 4e rules I've seen are obnoxiously formulaic (and I read computer code for fun).

Patrick W. Rollens said...

Luckily, this new Red Box doesn't come packaged with the entire OSR blogosphere inside of it, so the kids who eagerly open it will, for a brief moment, be left utterly to their own devices to create their own game experience. Then, after an hour or two of paging through the rulebooks in starry-eyed wonder, they can go online and find out how wrong they are.

Jeez, guys. Give the 12 year olds some credit...if we managed to make a good game out of AD&D, surely they can make a good game out of whatever's in this new Red Box.

Aos said...

My 9 year old had no problem with the 4e books. They continually vanish from my shelf into his room. We've been playing S&W lately, but he has expressed an interest in 4e. The powers at 1st level are only slightly more complex than what you have in Heroscape. Beyond that, anyone that can keep track of all the crazy shit in Pokemon (re: every kid in the World) can handle 4e.
Personally, I found the books enjoyable and straight forward- certainly more so than 3.x.

Aos said...

That wasn't meant to be a ding on 3.x, btw. I think it's great that its out there and that people are enjoying it.

trollsmyth said...

Aos: My major worry about complexity is that it comes at the cost of big, expensive books. Granted, the kids who tackle Harry Potter might not be daunted by the heavy PHB and DMG, but they do mean something like a few days to a week between buying the game and playing the game. I imagine your example helps inspire your kid, but others might set those books aside and just not pick them up again.

Complexity is also more likely to rub the free-form crowd the wrong way, but I'm not thinking this is much of an outreach towards them, so that's probably not a serious concern at this time. And the kids who dislike the complexity can use Essentials as a spring-board to find BRP or S&W easily enough.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

I played this with my 10 year old and 6 year old and they both got it fast and loved it.

Aos said...

Trollsmyth, as far as I can tell, the Essentials line is geared towards making everything cheaper. As for complexity, first level 4e characters just aren't all that complex. Later on things get pretty complicated, at least in comparison to 0e, but at first it's just a little bit more complicated than Heroscape.
Waiting a few days might be an issue, but likely only for a few. Coached by the others at the table, I played for months before I got a peak at the Holmes set.

Anonymous said...

@Aos: I don't know about cheaper - when they say there are TEN "essentials" products every store should keep in stock and everyone should get. $20 a pop still comes out to $200!

trollsmyth said...

Aos: Going to have to respectfully disagree on the complexity issue, especially where Defenders and Leaders are concerned. Getting your fighter to properly block access to your squishies, especially when dealing with more numerous or mobile enemies (and kobolds are both at once) is a nightmare for that sort of play.

But then, I am comparing it in play to games like Holmes or Moldvay/Cook. It's a lot simpler in many ways than 3e. Holmes is, what, 60 pages long? You can whip that off in an afternoon and get right to playing. 3e and 4e take a bit more time to get through, especially if it's your first game. Keeping things simple in this boxed set is a major achievement for WotC, and will certainly make it more likely to be played by first-time players.

tim said...

To diverge a bit from the discussion of 4e and take up another point -- is there a con that truly targets old school gamers? I know of Troll Con, which is really targeting C&C games, but is there anything else out there?

thekelvingreen said...

It would be nice to have a similar old school product out there right now. LotFP is close, but it's, what, $70?

The Dragon Age rpg. It has a similar level of complexity to Mentzer, and a similar format. It's not strictly "old-school", as it's got quite a modern design in terms of rules, but it's still a good game, and a lot closer to the feel of Mentzer than D&D4 is. This is a game which needs wider recognition.

trollsmyth said...

Tim: Yep, at least one: the North Texas RPG Con. I didn't make it this year, but I'm hoping to make it next year.

KelvinGreen: Yeah, by the time I got around to the Green Ronin booth at GenCon, they'd even sold their display copies. I'd really like to learn more about that game. That boxed set is $30, which may put it over the line for impulse buys for kids, but is still a great price for an RPG.

Castles & Crusades also has a boxed set for the same price. But that's not going to appear in stores; you have to order it directly from them.

Aos said...

@ Trollsmyth, I see where your coming from, but I'm not expecting mastery the first time out. I'm just talking about knowing enough to get started.
@ myxilpick- you're right of course, but it's not quite what it seems. At least four of the 10 essential things are stuff like tile sets which you can buy or create you own or whatever. I think starting with the 20$ box you could build up slowly with the other stuff. However, I'm not sure, and really, I have no stake in attacking and/ore defending Wizards. I will say this, though, Gamers are a funny lot. We (and I include myself here) complain when a game is unsupported and their is no more cool stuff to buy, and then we also complain when a game is supported and there is stuff to buy.
Whatever it's still a lot of money. I was at the Game store last night though, and everything is wicked expensive- some of it makes essentials look dirt cheap.

thekelvingreen said...

If Dragon Age sold out, that's great news, as it deserves to succeed. I don't see it discussed much, so I hope it's reaching a wide audience, and it's not just circulating among existing gamers.

It's a class-and-levels game, with races of a sort (as in, there are regional backgrounds, but the mechanics could easily be used for races), and a 3d6-roll-high resolution system. In that sense, it feels a lot like Basic D&D, but then there's the addition of the Stunt Die, in which one of the d6s can cause something special to happen, sort of like the Wild Die from WEG's Star Wars.

The result is a game which feels both classic and modern. I'm not too fond of the included setting, but I suspect that if it takes off as a system, we'll see it used elsewhere; there's already a Freeport adaptation in an issue of Kobold Quarterly.

Aos said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aos said...

Here is a list of the essential products:
hopefully the link works.
I present this without endorsement or condemnation:

trollsmyth said...

Thanks, Aos. Here are the Essentials products in handy, one-click link form.

KelvinGreen: I know game companies like to brag when they sell out, but what they're really saying is, "We had no idea how popular this product was going to be, and now we're losing sales due to inaccurate forecasting on our part. Oops!" ;)

If Green Ronin brought a thousand boxes and sold out, that's awesome! If they brought four and sold out, that's hardly worth mentioning. I suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle, but it does mean the game has some buyers. I know there was a lot of talk about it being a gateway drug for folks coming from the computer game, but I haven't seen much evidence of that yet.

The folks at Green Ronin are very good at coming up with interesting mechanics and rules; there's a reason why the mechanical structure of Blue Rose acquired a life of its own as True20. If I wasn't so enamored with the retro-clones right now, I'd probably be making much more of an effort to track that game down.

Aos said...

True20 is a great game. I've played several campaigns is several genera with it and it works great. Definitely in my top 5-6 games of all time. Mke sure to get the revised edition, though, it has the complete text of the most excellent True20 companion in it.
Sorry my tags were off in the previous post.