Thursday, 24 February 2011

doing it differently and growing pie

We like pie.
I read with interest Mike Mearls' article on the past and the future of Dungeons & Dragons.  There have been a variety of responses appearing in the blogosphere.  Wizards have a chequered history of fan interaction and organised play including mixed messages about fan sites, tiered organised play bias toward larger FLGS and forcing customers to register with their site to make a simple e-mail query.  They have made significant progress with online community and D&D Encounters.  Other industry players offer alternative views, involving active engagement with players and adapting existing assets to new formats.  Yet Wizards have got  a few tricks up their sleeve yet, as we shall see.

Next to Games Workshop's offices in sunny Lenton is Warhammer World.  Statues of Space Marines flank the car park and appear at various points.  The experience is one part theme park, one part game convention and happens every day barring Christmas Day, Easter and New Year's Day.  An indoor courtyard in faux medieval has gaming tables set up.  There is a sizable game store stocked with goods and dioramas of exquisitely painted miniatures. Admission is free.  This as well as store-based promotions, conventions and events in GW stores worldwide.  Compare with the typical convention.

Then of course, there's e-publishing of gaming materials.  Bits & Mortar offer an innovative approach to PDF and print bundles which has seen takeup by industry and FLGS alike. While D&D novels are being e-published, the books used to play aren't.  This is despite the success of publishers like Paizo or Open Design. Online vendors like Lulu offer this service to companies like Green Ronin.  I suspect with the introduction of DDI, there's a shift from paper to electronic format mirroring Adamant's experience of app pricing.  It may explain FLGS concerns over digital initiatives such as Virtual Table Top.  Where are they in this vision of the future?

To address this, Wizards are talking of growing pie for D&D (shades of Alice!) using electronic tools citing experiences with online and console versions of Magic: The Gathering.  Yet those instances were complete games rather than 'optional' add-ins.  A better analogy would be seeing what impact sales experienced after  D&D Tiny Adventures or D&D Online.  Atari announced a Neverwinter MMO project last August yet many at DDXP were surprised, and a recent Eurogamer interview refers to a console-based dungeon crawl called Daggerdale.  These may draw some new blood into the hobby from curious MMO players.

The introduction of theme-related modular board games (e.g. Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon) is redolent of Talisman but using iconic D&D elements.  While entertaining games in their own right, they don't build on the D&D experience any more than Dungeon! did back in the '70s.  It wil give the FLGS something to sell while running running Essentials-driven D&D Encounters, introducing new settings and card-based systems.  While I'm not excited by Fortune Cards or The Despair Deck, it's encouraging that the Wizards Play Network is extending more support to D&D,

Wizards have a lot of data to analyse via the Character Builder and express caution over relentlessly publishing core game books announced at DDXP having learned an endless stream of hardbacks with errata alienates players who use a fraction of what's published.  Mearls' call for unity seems confusing until you realise this data is exclusive to DDI subscribers, a shrinking demographic amid tabletop RPG sales.  By inviting outsiders to the table, this introduces new blood into the community.  It's ironic the new blood includes some of the oldest fans of the game.  It remains to be seen whether the strategy will be successful.


  1. Interesting, thought I wonder what how such talk is going to actually be realized.

  2. Given Joe The Lawyer's experience I'd say something was afoot. It does seem like an odd way of asking though.


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