Tuesday, March 03, 2015

What's Up at WotC?

Joe Kushner of the blog Appendix N isn't happy with the support WotC has given 5e:

Wizards of the Coast just released something called "Unearthed Arcana". A few pages with no illustrations and no page design to them. It looks like something that fell off of some designer's desk that WoTC said, "Yeah, put that up online."

This is terrible. People, well, me, I expect some professionalism from WoTC. With all of the stock art they have, with all of the templates for designed books they have, with all of the trade dress they have, the best they could do is this? This half-baked mess? Well, you get what you pay for here.

Just how bad does Mr. Kushner think it is? “My opinion hasn't changed much from my earlier musings on the subject. Unless WoTC somehow surprises me, 5th edition will be the last print edition of the game.”

So what is going on? I think, I honestly do think, that WotC has no idea what they want to do with D&D.

Over at ENWorld, we have this quote from Mike Mearls on the non-publishing of the Adventurer's Handbook:

we've played things close to the vest is that it's a huge, open question on what support for the RPG should look like... we do a lot of stuff that may or may not end up as a released product. For instance, we now know that the high volume release schedule for 3e and 4e turned out to be bad for D&D. It wasn't too many settings that hurt TSR, but too many D&D books of any kind. lots of experiments ahead...

Ever get the feeling that, so far as Hasbro is concerned, WotC can do what they like with D&D just so long as they keep the IP alive and don't fumble the glorious gravy-train that is Magic: the Gathering?

Seriously, it very much feels like D&D is this tiny department whose directive from on-high is, “Don't go over-budget, but keep the name alive until somebody figures out how to make real money with this thing.”

Frankly, if that's true, it's very exciting.

The truth is, lots of supplements are bad for a game. Paizo recently launched a “core rules” version of their organized play. Why? Because, in spite of Paizo's slow-drip release schedule for rules, there's simply too much there for new players to master, and if you don't master it, you're going to get overshadowed and steamrollered by the veterans. Also, their original adventures crumble when you toss the new character options at them.

This sort of thing is bad for the an RPG. It inhibits growth, it alienates existing fans that don't want to always have to scramble to keep up with the latest-and-greatest, and, if you read between the lines, it looks a bit like some of the original classes may now be obsolete next to the new sexy hotness. That's not going to sit well with fans of the old classes.

The last thing Paizo wants to do is release a new edition of their game. Helping people keep playing 3.x D&D is how they got started. It's the very foundation of their success.

The last thing WotC wants is to be where Paizo is and be forced to shatter their fanbase by releasing 6e in four years.

So what to do?

This is pretty uncharted territory. Chaosium's really the only outfit I can think of off the top of my head to pull off a long-running RPG business without seriously mucking with their core rules. And they're not exactly know for a hot-and-heavy publishing schedule. Their big seller support product still appears to be “Horror on the Orient Express” which was first released in '91. And they've just kickstarted a new edition of the game.

Tori Bergquist thinks Green Ronin's go this thing down, able to keep a strong publication schedule rolling in spite of the current environment. Sure, they've got a robust schedule for 2015. But what's Green Ronin's flagship game? M&M? Only one dead-tree release is scheduled for 2015. Their Dragon Age RPG is getting what amounts to a new edition, replacing the boxed sets with a book, a revised DM's screen, and a dead-tree, expanded version of an old PDF adventure. You can maybe-sorta count the release of the Dragon Age mechanics in their own book with the setting stripped out as another book in that series, but that's kinda stretching it.

And the story is the same for their SoIaF RPG: one big adventure book, one rules supplement, and some PDFs. In short, while Green Ronin's publishing schedule may look robust, for each individual game it's a rulebook, an adventure that may or may not be in dead-tree form, and maybe some PDFs.

It sounds like Mearls wants to do something different. That sounds very cool to me. It also sounds like they're still figuring out exactly what that is. Here's hoping for something innovative and sock-blowing.


Cross Planes said...

I hold the exact opposite view of Mr. Kushner. Once a month, we're give play testing material that eventually will be polished up. Why bother adding art to a playtest? Even though it's obvious that Hasbro has no expectations from D&D, the guys running it at WotC are giving us free stuff every month.

My hope is that they will decide to offer the Expedition adventures on DnDClassics.com when each season is over.

I know it feels like we're not getting very many releases, but our expectations no longer match WotC's plans. Instead of supplements we're getting miniatures, board games, MMO updates, spell cards, miniatures, DM Screens, weekly pdfs, novels....quite a bit of product. Its just not traditional product.

I think WotC's philosophy of channeling every edition is on display by the amount of previous edition PDF's that you can mine for support. I know that's what I'm doing.

And candidly, as someone who is still play testing for them, there is some great stuff coming in the future.

trollsmyth said...

Mark Craddock, when you say, "Once a month, we're give play testing material..." do you mean you and your group? Or are you talking about stuff released publicly on the web page?

Unknown said...

I imagine he's referring to the Unearthed Arcana stuff. And I'm pleased as punch with that free web material that comes out every month.

Unknown said...

I think he is talking about dnd expedition and dnd adventure league, you have to get a dci (that you can get in any magic approved place/tournement), register and play each week. It a free pdf that tie in in the current adventure and some kit that they send you (but they do not make you feel like your missing out if you dont run them). For a portion of it, you need to run them in a game store or something (adventure league). And most important of all, you need to report back to wizard. It too complicated for my tastes, i dropped out of roleplaying a couple of years (like 8 years ago) and im having trouble getting stable or relevant players. So i'm not able to play each week like they ask.

Culmani said...

I think you're extremely optimist

Joe G Kushner said...

In terms of miniatures, can you point to a complete gallery on either WoTC site or Wizkids site? No. If you want to see the brand new miniatures, you have to hunt down pictures from second hand resellers.

In addition, Wizkids does both Pathfinder and D&D. If you go to the Wizkids site right now, unless it just changed, Pathfinder is listed first.

That tells me that either WoTC considers MUCH of the D&D property to be 'holding value' or that they have no manpower to actual marketing or leveraging their own IP.