Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Providing Value

For those of you who don't hang breathlessly on every development of the forthcoming new edition of the Dungeons and Dragons game, you may not be aware that, er, there is one. But there is. This is the fourth new edition of the game, sort of. Anyway, they call it Fourth Edition.

AND Wizards of the Coast (a very tiny division of Hasbro, which owns D&D) is publishing little updates on the design and development process as part of their marketing efforts for this new edition.

Which, predictably enough, has a certain portion of the Internet in an uproar.

Is there ANYTHING that doesn't cause an uproar on a certain portion of the Internet? I mean, besides my blog posts?

Honestly, I have a point in here. Stay with me.

So the latest of these little marketing "Inside Peeks" came out yesterday, and it outlined how demons and devils are going to be treated in the new version. A little cosmology, a little campaign setting history, and some basic ideas on what's fun in gaming. All reasonable stuff, actually. Pretty good ideas, to my thinking.

But here's the thing: it's just one possible way of handling such things. It's not a bad way, in fact it's a pretty good way. But there are plenty of pretty good ways. I'm absolutely certain that just about anyone I've gamed with in the past few years could come up with a cosmology and a history just as good.

So how much value is there, really, in Wizards providing this for us? Maybe I'm off, but I'm thinking, not a lot. Even for folks who don't want to do all that thinking, is there really an advantage here? I mean, there was already a pretty good idea in place from the last edition. Is it just novelty for novelty's sake?

And is THAT a viable business plan? I know it works for the fashion industry (now THERE'S a parallel), but really?

Thing is, if I want some good ideas on a new way to handle demons and devils, honestly, I go online and ask the folks there. I'll get half-a-dozen sharp, creative (and probably play-tested) ideas in a day. That even goes for rules, not just fluffy stuff like this. And the situation is only going to get worse (or rather, better) as time goes by. My interest in paying $40 for a hardcover book full of rules I can get elsewise isn't going to rise, I'm pretty sure.

So where is the value? What is a viable business plan for this industry?

I think the good folks at Paizo are onto something. Their new monthly publication, Pathfinder, offers up a host of useful stuff -- a fully detailed adventure (for those of you not in the know but gamely keeping up, that means that all the math I would normally need to to do before running a game is already done for me -- this is a good thing) (and yes, doing lots of math is actually part of these games), new monsters I can drop into my own games, no matter what the setting (or the ruleset, to some degree), pages upon pages of gorgeous art...

Now, much of this sort of thing I'm sure I'll find in the new D&D books, but those are going to be immense hard-bound volumes selling for $40 a pop. Ish. These Pathfinder books are ten bucks.

And they're more SPECIFIC, and I think that's really where the value is going to be in the future. For better or worse, the Open Gaming License has released the basics of solid rules design into the world for all to observe and make use of. Providing large-scale generic-ish rulesets just doesn't strike me as a solid play for the future. Not compared to providing detailed, specific value.

Heck, I don't even play D&D and I love Pathfinder already.

Remember my original goal with my Mini-Games? Well, that didn't end so well, honestly, but not, I think, because the idea itself was flawed. I think the value in this industry is in making it easier for folks to get together and have fun. The obstacles to me running a game aren't in the rules. I got rules coming out my ears. They aren't in the cosmology and big-picture setting details. The obstacles I face are in getting characters generated, in having some notion of what's behind that door RIGHT THERE, and having some sort of answer when my players ask, "What happens if we just, you know, SET IT ON FIRE?"

Paizo seems to be helping me help my players set things on fire. I appreciate that.