Tuesday, June 28, 2011
In the old-school blogosphere, we tend to devote a lot of energy looking backwards, deciphering the often "lost art" of old-school gaming, and bringing that energy to our contemporary game tables. I, at least, often forget (or just don't care) that our hobby continues on. Not, all that often, as I would like it to, but it continues nonetheless.
The picture above is from a local museum which has a large exhibit going about video games and their history. The most popular cooperative online game being WoW, they devoted a window to its history and inspiration, and there sits a old original D&D boxed set!
Recently, Bill Slavicsek has "left" his post as lead R&D for D&D after twenty years with TSR and WotC. This, inevitably, has started a flurry of speculation that "5E D&D" now looms on the horizon (as if Bill was somehow standing in the way of that, like Gandalf on the bridge in Khazad-dum).
I have to admit, it is fun to speculate, sometimes, on what a possible 5E could look like. If I had my way, it would be a sort of "D&D Classic" somewhere along the lines of the rules mechanics of B/X with all the flavor and options of 1E.
That, of course, will never happen.
Simply because the hobby is not popular enough anymore to support a company on the sales of single (or even triple) rulebooks alone. If the hobby shrinks to a tenth of its former fan base, the financial solution is apparently to try and sell ten books to every customer instead of one. If it shrinks to a hundredth, well...
4E and 3E (or Pathfinder, as it is now called heh) are brilliant money makers! Where once a DM bought a book and an adventure and players developed their characters according to ingame development, 4E and 3E characters are "builds". This means they are a framework that players can hang all kinds of compartmentalized options off of. Like a christmas tree. Actually, more like an iPhone, because few of those cool "apps" you want your character to have are free - you must buy splatbooks to get them all.
Some of you may be surprised I've included Pathfinder in the above observation; they have a reputation as "the People's Game". But I offer you the "Advanced Players Guide" and the new Arcane characters splat, and the forthcoming Martial characters splat and so on. A recent Paizo adventure I flipped through described a monster, instead of with a stat block, as "Bestiary 2 pg.33". Not even the successive monster books are optional! You must purchase everything to "fully experience" the game.
Now, please don' t take this as an indictment of 4E or 3E - lots of people love playing these, I've enjoyed them both myself. My point, as in the title of this post, is Looking Forward. My point, is that, in most ways, RPG development in the future will continue to be largely revenue-motivated, with actual play experience taking a back seat to financial concerns. Like WoW, we will always be able to trace a game's "roots" back to the original boxed set of D&D, but I suspect future products will resemble that game less and less as the years go by, as opposed to more.
What do you think?