Classic Dungeons and Dragons and Old School Gaming

D&D etc.

"Heir to a crumbling summit: to a sea of nettles: to an empire of rust: to rituals' footprints ankle-deep in stone."

-Mervyn Peake

"...and that, my liege, is how we know the Earth to be banana shaped."

-Sir Bedevere in Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Sunday, April 19, 2015

5e: settling for the geek ghetto when they should be owning the airwaves

Al recently posted this really fascinating list of mods to B/X D&D that Mike Mearls made to his home game in the genesis of the 5e rule set.  This got me thinking about what makes me frustrated with 5e.

Rant follows with otherwise unforgivable use of caps but I have FEELINGS:

WotC's whole marketing strategy seems to be to sell three $50 books to people who already play funny elf games.  There's no real effort to sell D&D to people who don't already have some experience with the game.  The Starter Set and the Basic Rules pdf marketed in game stores and on the internet where intended to poach players from Pathfinder, retroclones, and to pick up lapsed Gamers. You didn't get anything but a sample adventure to try out the rules and the pdf only of char gen was weird and inconvenient.  They were hoping that the geek in the game store would see the Starter set and think, "D&D, cool, I remember that.  Well I've gotten my kids into Settlers of Cataan, I bet they're old enough for this now"

And that's all great.  Invite the Pathfinder folks back into the fold.  make the OSR true believers again.  Sell to Geek Dad.  Great.  but that's not really a whole lot of folks, the roll out seemed clumsy, and what about EVERYONE else?

Oh Mearls, why didn't you throw your mods into a rewrite of Moldvay and take that 32-64 page pamphlet that has truly everything you need to play and sell it in every freaking store in America? 

If ten people buy that pamphlet for $15 that's the same as one geek who buys three books for $150.  And you know what?  go ahead and make the three $50 books.  Us geeks will buy them.  Anytime humanity is presented with a social phenomena with an inner and an outer circle there will be folks who feel they must be in the inner circle.  That's why there are hipsters.

And I mean every store in America, not just game stores and Barnes and Nobles.  Comic book stores. The magazine rack in grocery stores.  Freaking 7-11s and Circle K, heck sell to truckers at the flying J! Maybe a cardboard stand in the lobby of movie theaters.  I mean, when every movie Peter Jackson has made for the last 15 years is basically a giant ad for D&D and they've made millions and millions of dollars and Game of Thrones is as big as it is I can't help but feel like the folks at D&D headquarters are letting this cultural moment pass them by when THIS SHOULD BE THERE MOMENT.

And where are the ancilaries?  It looks like the VTT is up now, that's good.  And there is a Neverwinter MMORPG apparently to compete with WoW.  I don't know or care as much about the video game market as I do the tabletop, but it seems to me that D&D is the thing that WotC has that competes with WoW, and they might be better off making ancilary products that support it more.

 How about a web series or multiple web series? (Multiple would be great actually, to show how the game is different with different groups.  That would highlight the huge difference/advantage that tabletop has over computer games) Apparently I hit it with my Axe isn't going to be on the Escapist anymore, why not grab that up and make it official DnD?  Dead Gentlemen has made great work that is already essentially an ad for D&D.  Hire or license those guys.

Heck go all out and make a web series with Peter Dinklage, Mandy Morbid and Vin Diesel.  Put them on the cardboard stand with the Basic books in the multiplex lobby.  They'll sell like hot cakes.

Oh well, maybe for 6th edition?


  1. As rants go, that one was worth checking out, caps and FEELINGS, and all.

    I thought the same thing, that 5E is trying to co-opt the OSR and short-circuit its claims being a more authentic gaming experience. Another poster at Beyond the Black Gate mentioned having massively over-complex chargen that took literally hours to do. Bleah. I have trouble figuring out how control of a brand name and a few million dollars in marketing got anyone to adopt such a hugely rules-heavy and slow game that games calling themselves D&D became. You mention the Moldvay rules being 64 pages and that's all you need to play. Damn straight, it is.

    All the lies about how massive added rules over-complication was for the benefit of the players to protect them from abusive DMs, rather than sell $700 worth of 10 core rulebooks aside... how did WotC convince so many people to adopt this? I'd never invest the energy into memorizing all the new systems, or stopping play immersion to look up yet another rule, to 'catch the DM in the act,' when you still have perfectly viable older more rules lite versions to use.

    Any idea how these marketing campaigns can be so effective?

    Your insight about the inner and outer circles that convince some, they must be inside the inner circle, is very astute. And thinking about it, you see that manipulation all over the place. Kickstarter levels, charity contributions, etc, for examples.

    1. I don't know man, WotC has rooms full of people with masters degrees in marketing and I'm just a guy who plays games so they must know better than I, but I don't get some of the decisions that were made. I really hope that 5e DnD has been and continues to be a success for them.

    2. I half-agree with the sentiment posted here.

      I thought the Starter Set was not truly a newbie-introduction that it could have been...

      I don't 100% agree that they're not targeting new people... but I agree that they are not doing it as well as they could be.

      My two real points of contention with the rant:
      1) D&D Encounters actually has brought some new people. Hard to say how many, but I have heard (granted, anecdotal) evidence from the blog-o-sphere that those who regularly attend Encouters nights generally have at least 1 newbie at the table.

      2) Marketing to D&D dads isn't necessarily a bad strategy for new players. The kids will play and then they will tell their friends who tell their friend... etc.

      I agree some of the marketing strategy could be a bit more aggressive.

      I'm not certain the Flying J is the best venue. ;)

    3. Lum,

      Well, as far as having rooms full of masters degrees in marketing being an indicator of successful marketing, I'm reminded that roomful of experts get things wrong all the time.

      You get all kinds of cognitive bias going on. During WWII, there was evidence that there was a Japanese naval force on the way to Pearl Harbor, and tracking of it had been interrupted. The generals and their staffs laughed that an invading Japanese fleet was on the way to bomb Pearl Harbor, and how ridiculous that was.

      Maybe poor marketing comes into play when you get commitment bias to an idea, and no one is willing to be the dissenting voice and lose that promotion or their job? Something screwy seems to happen with these campaigns all too often.

      Off the subject, the graphic of the Tentacle mountain with cavern at the top of your blog is cool. Is that your artwork?


    4. Thanks for the comments guys.

      I haven't played in an encounters game so in that sense this whole thing is yet another example of someone on the internet spouting off about something they don't know anything about. I do want 5e to do very well so this is something i'm really happy to be wrong about. Your point about gamer dads is well taken. If gamer shame is the enemy then getting the dads to share the hobby with kids is a good tactic.
      Dude, I love the idea of playing DnD with truckers.

      After putting this out here one the interwebs I'm now feeling the need to take a step back and approach the subject with some humility. I have no idea what happens at WotC, but especially considering the context of the post at Beyond the Black Gate, the very first thing that WotC considered must have been to reboot Moldvay Basic and for whatever the reason they must have determined that it didn't pencil. Maybe that's the case, maybe I just like the idea of playing DnD with truckers. If they didn't atl east consider flooding the market with a ton of cheap 64 page basic rule books then they are very silly, and my gut tells me, wrong.
      Yep, I drew the be-tentacled skull-face mountain.

  2. I don't know if you saw the news item, but apparently D&D 5e is doing well enough that the Hasbro CEO mentioned it on an earnings call.

    This is from the company that has 10 billion different versions of Monopoly... D&D isn't even really a blip on the radar when it comes to their overall games revenue, and yet it gets noted in an earnings call.

    That's big.

  3. Chargen in 5e can take as little as 15 minutes; the "Quick Build" options are there for a reason (similar to the 3.0 character packages, which were removed in 3.5 since they were very useful.) Furthermore many parts of the game are optional (feats, for example; and the DMG has guidelines for removing skills.) So...whoever said that chargen takes hours didn't really read the book.