Over the past few weeks there’s been some debate over what it means to play Dungeons & Dragons, whether you’re an old school player or part of the new school. If you’re interested in these debates you can read more at A Butterfly Dreaming or at Whitehall ParaIndustries. I don’t want to enter into this debate, but the question of “What is D&D?” got me thinking about what I enjoy about the current edition. It also made me think of the aspects of 4e where I feel Wizards of the Coast fell short.
Before I go any further I should explain that I’m a fan of D&D in all its incarnations, but currently 4e has my heart. I enjoy the pacing, tactics and feel of the game. My gaming group debated upgrading as we always do when a new edition is released and as we usually do we tried out the new edition. Our group is happy with the decision to switch, 4e works for us.
Yesterday I blasted WotC for the release of Players Handbook 2 and the addition of eight new classes. The argument I made yesterday stands, I’m ticked about the new classes. Don’t get me wrong, I am eager to read all about the new classes and races. I want to see how WotC has put everything together. However, the release of the PHB2 and the debate between old and new school got me thinking that once upon a time four classes were enough.
Now at the heart of the game this is still true. Every class we have today is derived in some part from the original four: Cleric, Fighter, Rogue and Wizard. As the game evolved we were introduced to new friends like the Paladin, Druid, Ranger and others. However, each of these classes was a natural progression from one of the original four. To me the evolution to these classes appeared organic. Additionally, these classes were all part of the Players Handbook and there was only one Players Handbook. It had all the rules a player needed to play D&D.
I suppose what ticks me off about the PHB2 is that it is a core rule book and that I must have it in order to play.
Now, I’ve already stated that I won’t be purchasing the PHB2. I’ll wait for my Character Builder to be updated with the new content. This of course brings me to my main argument, that WotC missed the boat with the DDI.
Like Nicholas from Dungeon Mastering I’m a fan of the DDI. I’m not going to go into great detail as to why I like the DDI, as I feel Nicholas’ article sums it up pretty good.
When WotC announced the DDI I cringed. I thought to myself what are they thinking. Did they not learn from the E-tools debacle? Stick with creating a game that people will enjoy playing, a.k.a. do what you’re good at. Leave the character generation stuff to the fans and the excel sheets. When 4e was released and the DDI wasn’t there and the Compendium was horribly broken I felt justified in my thoughts. Then the Character Builder Beta was released and I was hooked. I had a vision and it was the future – or the future for D&D and me.
With each new edition of D&D a few fans stay back and continue playing the old edition. Never was this so evident than with 3.5 and the OGL. So as WotC advances the game looking to broaden the appeal of table-top gaming in a video game entrenched world it’s no surprise that they added a significant digital aspect to the game. They needed to find a way to gain new players, to make D&D friendly to a new generation. The methods employed might alienate the existing player base, but if they aren’t buying the product anyway because they are purchasing third party creations then from a business standpoint WotC can live without these players. In an effort to gain new players WotC went digital. In my opinion they didn’t go far enough.
Now I know there are those who say that 4e is little more than D&D styled like a MMO and perhaps those people are right. However, I’m not here to discuss the mechanics or play style of the game.
For the past four years as both a player and a DM I have had my laptop with me at every gaming session. It has my game notes, my maps, my character sheets, in short everything that I’ve needed to play. At each of those sessions I’ve needed to bring along my PHB, the supplement for the class I was playing and any other books I thought might be useful for reference purposes. If I was the DM I needed the PHB, DMG, MM1, 2, 3, 4, etc. Are you catching my drift? What I’d like to do is just bring my laptop and have access to all my books online.
While I’m a fan of the DDI, it doesn’t go far enough. Finally having the CB is great but we are still missing many of the other features that were promised. Having Dungeon magazine and Dragon magazines online is also great. I was paying for those anyway so there is no change there. But there is improvement because now my magazines are delivered digitally. And that’s how I want all my content.
I have no intention of purchasing the PHB2, not because I don’t want to read the content, not because I’m not interested in it, but because in my mind I’ve already paid for it. I’ve signed up to have my content delivered to me digitally and I’d be willing to pay a little bit more per year for a pdf copy of that content.
This is where WotC missed the boat, they didn’t go far enough with D&D Insider. I want more than just sneak peaks of content that I’m likely going to purchase anyway. I want the content that they promised me, the tabletop and character visualizer. If WotC was smart they’d push the envelope and offer a digital service to those that were interested. Why wait for technology to evolve and the next edition, the audience they are trying to attract already does everything online anyways.
I’m not saying do away with the printed books, they will always be necessary for marketing purposes and to reach a wider audience, but don’t go halfway with a digital offering, which is what I feel WotC has done. They have a real opportunity to expand a subscription service. Look at what Monte Cooke is doing with Dungeonaday.com and he is just one guy. WotC is a big company, why they don’t expand the content digitally in a meaningful way is beyond me.
Think about the Dungeon Delve that was just released, if they’d been on top of things this would have been paired with the tabletop and character visiualizer. DMs could purchase Dungeon Delve as a pdf and received a download file with all the dungeons created and populated, ready for instant play. This is the potential of the DDI, and while it won’t be for everyone I think it would be for enough people that it would be viable for WotC to offer this type of a service.