[Lets's play] You're given total control of Dungeons & Dragons...
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  1. #1
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    [Lets's play] You're given total control of Dungeons & Dragons...

    Here's the scenario: A bigwig at Hasbro is browsing the EN World forums and is impressed by your insights into the world's most hallowed roleplaying game. You get a call offering you complete control of Dungeons & Dragons for at least five years, with no intervention (within reason) from either Wizards of the Coast or Hasbro. You, of course, agree and shortly thereafter a helicopter appears in your backyard and you are whisked off to Renton, WA...

    What would you do? You have at least five years, maybe more depending upon how things go. You can take whatever approach you want - you can try to maximize profits, move quickly to 5E, apply all of your house rules, kill 4E and take its stuff, or whatever you dream.

    As for me, I haven't thought about this too much, only just as I was reading over this thread that I started. Here are a few thoughts:


    • Rebirth of the OGL - I would institute some form of the OGL. I don't know the details, but it would essentially make it not only possible but easy for other companies to create and publish D&D books without undermining company sales (too much), maybe some kind of small commission to use the D&D logo.
    • Adventure Competition - I would announce a yearly adventure writing competition, the winner getting their adventure published in a hardcover form.
    • Revised Core Rulebooks - I would publish revised and expanded versions of the core rulebooks that were heavily edited and due out in 2011. These would be compilation books; the PHB would include most of the races, classes, and other info from the first three PHBs and other sources, but without the magic items and many of the extraneious powers and other info, making it a 500-page book along the lines of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook. The DMG would include most of the first two DMGs, plus a more extensive random dungeon generator, magic items, and other useful info like random encounter tables.
    • The Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons - I would publish a beautiful coffee table book entitled "The Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons" which would include write-ups, maps, and art on every campaign setting every published by TSR or Wizards of the Coast. Page count for each setting would range from about five for the lesser known settings (e.g. Jakandor) to twenty+ for the major settings (e.g. FR, Eberron, Greyhawk, etc), with the book being in the 350+ range.
    • New and Classic Settings - I would publish both one entirely new setting and one "classic" setting. The new setting would be found through a year setting competition ala the Eberron one of a few years ago.
    • Designer's Handbook - I'd create a "Designer's Handbook" which would reveal the code behind classes, feats, powers, etc, allowing DMs to create their own with relative ease and compatibility.
    • 5th Edition! - I would start a task force for designing 5E. I would have them play every edition of D&D, as well as other RPGs, and gather information for the next 2-3 years. The underlying design philosophy of 5E would be to try to capture the best elements of every edition of D&D, with innovations from other games. It would have a modular game design with a simple, core mechanic and numerous interchangeable parts that could be used as desired. 5E would be due out in 2015.


    That's just what came to mind as I wrote but I'm sure other stuff will come up. A note and disclaimer: these ideas need not be what makes financial sense, but could simply be what you'd like to see from Dungeons & Dragons. Don't take it too seriously and just have fun with it...

  2. #2
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    I've sometimes dreamed of this very scenario... [long essay warning]

    I'd first have to accept that 4e cannot be undone, it's too late for that; so its previously-set publication schedule would have to run its course. But here's what I'd try to do from there, given time and resources:

    Year 1:
    - publish 4e material as scheduled but don't schedule any more.
    - look into buying out a company that makes metal minis, bring them into the D+D line, start producing minis of (among others) what will later become the iconic characters of 5eA and 5eB (see below). Keep producing plastic minis of monsters.
    - take a long hard look at DDI and everything associated with it - can it be saved, or does it need to be rebuilt from the ground up.
    - get the design team working on some edition-neutral settings including two new somewhat-generic ones that become the core settings for 5eA and 5eB.
    - offer official support for all previous editions, put a selection of old-edition .pdf files (but not all of them) back up.
    - find a way to get a paper-based magazine out there again, either in-house or licensed out; use this over the next year or so to float new ideas.
    - do a whole bunch of informal research as to what people want from and in the game.

    Year 2:
    - publish 4e material as scheduled but by now it should be winding down.
    - put out a series of adventures, 4e-based but as edition-neutral as possible; in a new and reworked format designed by and for DMs. No more delve.
    - do whatever needs to be done to make DDI what it should be in preparation for Year 4.
    - reprint and re-release some classic material - adventures, mostly - from earlier editions; these would be the things not put up as .pdfs the year before. These would be slightly reworked to fit in with 5eA and 5eB and would be something of a trial balloon for the new systems (kind of like SWSE was for 4e).
    - try my damnedest to bring some of the lost design/writing/art talent back in.
    - behind the scenes, design like crazy - building up to:

    Year 3:
    - release D+D 5e version A and D+D 5e version B simultaneously.
    Version A is 1e revisited, taking the best ideas from all sorts of other rules-light old-school style games and putting them together into a modular and as-malleable-as-possible whole to which DMs are not only allowed but encouraged to make their own modifications. It has a DMG and PH.
    Version B is a mash-up of the best of 3e and 4e, also taking the best ideas from other new-school games and putting them together into a modular and cohesive whole. DMs are again encouraged to tinker but are also warned that the math involved is balanced on a much finer edge than 5eA. It has a DMG and PH.
    - release three other books that apply to both versions at once: a MM in which stats for both versions are given for each monster, a Deities and Pantheons guide, and a Guide to Better Play designed to offer advice and hints to players and DMs alike on how to role-play, come up with character ideas, and generally make the game work. (so that's 7 books in total at initial release: DMGA, DMGB, PHA, PHB, MM, D+P, and GBP)
    - release 2 boxed sets that are starter kits for each version of 5e.
    - release a series of adventures for each version of 5e.
    - reintroduce a version of the OGL but have tighter quality and power-creep control and looser (or no) censorship.

    Year 4:
    - design and release fully electronic versions of both 5e's; playable online a la WoW.
    - design and release a virtual tabletop for both versions, that as far as possible allows for house rules in either.
    - release a few more settings and lots of adventures, also allow fans to submit their own adventures.
    - hold a contest for design of new spells, winners get published in Year 5.
    - keep the paper magazine going but more as support now rather than trial.

    Year 5:
    - release a new book for each version, this one fills any gaps missed by the first 6 and introduces some new spells/items/classes etc. but things are generally *less* powerful than what came before. (so there's now 9 books in total; more than enough to be going on with). Some of the spells come from the Year 4 contest.
    - perhaps branch into non-traditional settings e.g. revisit Planescape, Boot Hill, etc.
    - release lots more adventures.
    - support, support, support.
    - put out various add-on items e.g. dice, generic battle mats, etc.
    - sit back and enjoy the ride.

    Lan-"I can dream, can't I?"-efan

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Mercurius View Post
    What would you do?
    Ensure that my company is honest, sincere, straightforward, committed, trustworthy, reliable, gamer-friendly and approachable.

    Somewhat like a number of other companies that spring to mind, actually. But to have such de facto power and influence and be like that? Ah, what couldn't we do. *sigh*


  4. #4
    Okay.

    First, we need to face the fact that the D&D brand is a shambles thanks to mismanagement before its current ownership, misunderstanding of how it might be leveraged into other fields right up to the present, faddish thinking, a poor appreciation for D&D's strengths and recently by a culture of design and development that has trouble disguising contempt for its predecessors.

    The first mistake was treating D&D as a unitary brand. D&D is a lousy brand. The general public either doesn't care about it or looks down on anybody who does. TSR and to a lesser extent WotC sold D&D down the river by letting others present D&D as a stupid hobby for losers.

    D&D is an excellent intellectual property development framework. In its own bungling way, TSR realized this but made the mistake everybody does, which is that a general D&D brand sold books. It doesn't. Dragonlance sells books. The Realms sells books. The Realms sells video games. Without worlds, D&D is worthless outside of a certain gaming niche.

    The development culture is committed to the idea of D&D as brand that sells everything, but D&D can only reliably sell a game called D&D, and not well enough for some, because D&D was an 80s fad. It looks like it should sell more and sell everything. It doesn't, can't.

    WotC kind of knows this. Part off the company manages D&D as if using D&D for anything other than a game was a big mistake pawned off by "failed novelists," even though that wasn't the mistake -- the idea that there are D&D novels that are valuable outside of being Dragonlance or Realms novels was.

    But telling fans alienated by a completely different department of TSR (management and legal) that game designers from the last regime were crappy arts majors with chips on their shoulders was a great success from a propaganda POV, and focused a hatred that fans still indulge and which, given the dearth of worldbuilding IP development down Renton way, seems to be part of the orthodoxy over there.

    Eberron didn't suck, but WotC managed to make it suck by making it the dumping ground for leftover high concept pitches. WotC managed to make the Realms even worse than it had been under TSR's rough management. And yes, Paizo's Golarion, the transplanted fruit of WotC's development style, also sucks. In all cases, extremely talented people probably created amazing stuff, but a bad process whittled it down to something boring.

    This goes beyond worlds, to mood, appreciation of genre -- WotC and its heirs blew it, even with access to some of the best talent around. For example, outside of WotC Monte Cook created Ptolus, an amazing alternate World of Darkness and a worthy companion to D&D's implied setting through a "Donaldsonian" lens.

    Under WotC, Monte made a bad guy with babies chained to his armour so you would know he was evil, and Feat: I Rogered a Zombie.

    So in some sense, WotC has given up. When seeking refuge in Game Design Uber Alles it's natural that you'd see some rapid improvements along that front combined with no small amount of self-indulgence and eccentricity masquerading as objective improvement, but when applied to a fiction-creating machine like an RPG, the very concept of the objective improvement is risible. Each new design convolution alienated fans even more because fans like many different kinds of story-cranking machines -- not just the latest, but the ones they've learned to operate and can easily customize. The designers don't care much about worlds so there's little in the way of a unifying point for fans, who bond when they share experiences in fictional places. Why adopt a new edition when it doesn't act as a rallying point? Why not play something else -- hack, clone, whatever?

    So I would start the job with some trepidation.

    Here's the cheesy mission statement that goes on my office wall:

    The goal of D&D is to create unique stories and worlds that transcend their origins in genre and medium, through a game and creative process that makes every level of their creation intriguing and fun.

    Some of you will immediately think that by "story" I mean the naive simplification of narrative common among simpletons in the popular screenwriting and story gaming communities. This deficiency is a clear indication as to why you need more people with Arts degrees hanging around. This is not about some stupid tinkertoy story-building exercise. This is about class-and-level, raucous, multiple POV D&D, where we freely range from grave matters to goofy comedy, and screw pacing and structure.

    But man, I've got some work to do. First, I have to repatriate all versions of D&D. I'm sending missionaries to the OSR and 3e (and 2e) holdouts, giving them WotC resources (boards, archival material, etc.) and bringing them back to talk about what makes D&D cool for them. I want one place where hobbyists can make their own version of D&D within the WotC "ecosystem." I believe that with the right arrangements and electronic tools I can help players make better versions of D&D and support them better than they can outside. Yes, that *does* include Pathfinder.

    This is part of a general plan to get serious about social networking and support. Part of this plan requires aggressive acquisition of the best third party tools. I don't want to pay a bunch of guys to develop a virtual tabletop or map in house. I want to buy what other guys have made when it already works. I want to get the cream of small shop agility. And when that's done, 'llI integrate it all with a first class website that helps people play, plan, communicate and share campaigns. It even includes art archives to use, printout minis, maybe even a PoD service.

    This DDI+ is of course free for basic functionality. Because not doing that would be silly. And of course, due to official apps it's all cross-platform, letting you manage your game entirely in the cloud.

    I'll make it clear that we love all versions of D&D, from 0 to 4 and everything in between, but we can only support one version (4 and successors) ourselves. We need a community to take care of the rest and would encourage these conversions. I need people playing any kind of D&D because D&D fandom is where I find out which ideas work, and which suck. But these are not ideas for "the brand." D&D is a game, a series of related, cool games with a thriving hobby community. But like Marvel and DC harvests from comics to other media, I'm interested in what kind of stories and worlds arise out of D&D. But I don't want a bloody "D&D Movie."

    D&D gives us the Forgotten Realms. You can do cool stuff with the Realms. Film TV, games. Or Dark Sun. But these would not be "D&D" brands in the sense we might think of otherwise. They would be brands of their own under a D&D umbrella that stays firmly in the background. D&D is a foreground brand *only* for tabletop and hybrid games.

    D&D is for Games. D&D Worlds and Stories Are for Other Media.

    I know that by moving through this model where I need an authentic core hobby buy that hobby is not the main revenue mainspring will take some fighting with Hasbro. They probably won't get that supporting a diverse D&D community will eventually be awesome for them. Games are where ideas begin -- prototypes, new worlds, new plotlines -- and the lessons learned there get sent to other media.

    But what about the RPG? I've told you we'd support every version, create a new, semi-free DDI, but what do I do with the RPG?

    First, we need one implementation of the current D&D that's easy to buy. A red box and weirdo expansion sets? Booster packs? What the hell is wrong with you people? I know I called for a new Red Box back in the day but guys, if you were listening then you blew it! Do you honestly think anybody has any at a glance comprehension of how the line works now? Christ.

    Anyway, D&D ought to come in three sets segregated by level that includes almost everything you need to play to level 30, including a campaign framework and representative adventure. It explores different aspects of game play much as BECMI did.

    In addition to these, we release strategy guides/players' manuals and GM guides. These are not enormous tomes, but quick references that zero in on a few subjects and provide some optional expansions.

    I like 4e, but 4e has problems letting itself be interesting. D&D has nine goddamn alignments, (Lawful Good as the only extension of Good is fascist) strange spells and magic items I care about. It has some elements that are not strictly purpose-built, but cool. D&D could also use new art direction that doesn't alienate everybody, a discussion of play style beyond dungeon versus not-dungeon and GUMSHOE's system for investigation.

    And yes, we do worlds. But we start the way the Realms did -- allusions in Dragon, testing the waters, maybe even releasing adventures that could be set there and seeing how they float. This will probably lead to several tiers ranging from full in-house management to officially recognized fan support, and several places in between. At the top, the worlds have their own continuity and theme gatekeepers. Below that it's a bit more freewheeling.

    So that's the plan.
    Last edited by eyebeams; Friday, 17th September, 2010 at 11:09 PM. Reason: Sobered up. And sobered up again.

  5. #5
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    Firstly, start winding 4E down and making arrangements with paizo for Pathfnder to become D&D 5th edition. Accept that 4E was worth a try but not the right direction.

    Stick to three published campaign settings: Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance and (though I am loath to say it) Eberron. Paizo continue to publish thier Golarion setting. Undo changes to the settings caused by the advance to 4E and plot a new course with regional supplements. No moving timeline or advancing metaplot.

    Reinstate Dungeon and Dragon magazines as monthly releases. Publish new material every couple months rather than flood shelves on a monthly basis. Maybe 1 or 2 adventure modules per year.

    Bring back D&D minis but in the old GW blister pack style rather than random. Might be more expensive per figure but people get the figures that want for their characters or game.

    Allocate more money to an advertising budget. Lets see some decent TV advertisement and look into ads in other areas where we are not just publiscising to the people who already play. Let's do what we can to get new bodies around the gaming table.

    Work with the Magic: the Gathering design team for a block based on the worlds of D&D. Ok, to be fair, that's just a fantasy of mine but if it could be done I'd be happy.

  6. #6
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    I wish I could give myself XP for starting this thread, because there are a lot of great ideas here already (OK, XP really doesn't matter but you get my point ).

    One thing stands out from reading over the first few responses. They all agree on one basic point that 4E seems to have lost: D&D should be a game that individual DMs can easily make their own. I don't know that WotC intentionally worked against this principle, but DDI--and the increasing focus on it--seems to discourage customization, if only in that it is very difficult to house rule a character within the confines of the computer program.

    Thus to my list I would add, "Make DDI more customizable, with the capacity to add feats, classes, powers, etc."

    Lanefan, I appreciate your idea of "5a" and "5b" but wonder if it could possibly work. The only way I think it could work is if the former was marketed as "AD&D Classic" and the latter "5th Edition D&D," most definitely not 5a and 5b.

    But I question the idea of revivifying 1E AD&D. It is not that I don't like it, but that part of its draw is the charm of the early editions, the idiosyncrasies, the Gygaxisms, the minutiae, the clunkiness. Just as much it is the art, the 70s-to-80s printing technology, and other factors that can't really be reproduced today and when it is attempted to reproduce them--e.g. the early Goodman modules--they just end up looking, well, low-budget. I could see reprints of classic books, such as the OD&D books, 1ED DMG, etc, but not a complete revival of the line. And the truth is that there are so many used copies out there--at least of the 1E hardcovers--that anyone interested can easily pick up cheap copies on Ebay or Amazon.

    What I would rather do, as I said in my post, is find a way to win fans of other editions. This could be two-pronged:

    1) As eyebeams said, by "repatriating all versions of D&D." Here is a fuller quote:

    I want to make it clear that we love all versions of D&D, from 0 to 4 and everything in between, but we can only support one version (4 and successors) ourselves. We need a community to take care of the rest and would encourage these conversions. I need people playing any kind of D&D because D&D fandom is where I find out which ideas work, and which suck. (eyebeams)

    In other words, send goodwill to all exponents of all editions, but also be clear that only the recent edition(s) will be supported from within. But, again as eyebeams suggested, establish and support social networking for other iterations of the game.

    2) The second approach would be to create a 5E that draws from the strengths of all editions and appeals to as many folks as possible. Impossible? I don't think so. The reason why this hasn't worked, imo, is that WotC has not adopted a modular model for the game. It is quite straightforward: Start with a simple, core rules set and then expand outwards from there with interchangeable parts. The simple core is the d20 + modifier vs. target number; it includes ability scores, AC, defenses, HP, and that's about it. Skills may vary, feats and powers will definitely vary, alignment is optional, as are healing surges, etc. The core system would not be dependent upon magic items, and it would not have a default mode that is more like WoW or Hong Kong cinema than it is like Fafhrd and Gray Mouser. Yet the modularity would allow for both styles of play and others besides.

    Yes, this would prove problematic and potentially confusing for tournament play. But you could have a few levels of it: a simple, core "Basic" game. A recommended extended, or "Advanced" game of traditional options (e.g. alignment, skills, feats, etc), and infinite other varieties in which individual DMs can pick and choose options around the Basic game.

    Perhaps it goes without saying, but the Basic game would be easy to play without miniatures or DDI.

    One last note - I also think someone needs to take a look at making another, but good, D&D-related movie, possibly the Dragonlance Chronicles or maybe something set in the Forgotten Realms or Eberron. Or imagine a Dark Sun movie using Brom art in the same way the LotR used John Howe. Guillhermo del Toro directing Dark Sun? I'm sold.

  7. #7
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    If I am in charge...

    Every player book would also be available as a pdf for a maximum price of $9.99.

    Every DM's book would be as large, detailed, and complete as Ptolus.

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  9. #9
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    Five years ?
    IMHO, given the average development cycle of D&D, it means that years 4 and 5 would see the launch of 5e.

    So, what do I do with the next three years ? I would probably use them to experiment new rules and new gaming style.

    2011 would be about Ravenloft and shadow powers, with a DMG 3 geared toward "grim 'n gritty" rules option.

    2012 would be about a new campaign setting, maybe one issued from the setting contest. I would choose a high magic, high fantasy one : there is already vanilla fantasy (FR), noir fantasy (Eberron), post-apocaliptic fantasy (Dark Sun), and gothic fantasy (Ravenloft/Shadowfell).
    Floating islands, oceans of fires ; whole armies of dragon riders fighting giant flying ships ; "stargate"like portals the size of a football field ; stairway (or lift...) leading to the moon, with caravanserai build on asteroids... this kind of stuff.

    2013 would resurrect another old setting in a stand-alone but compatible game, like Ravenloft be. I would probably choose Birthright, because it offers the possibility of developing an interesting strategical game. The DMG 4 would be all about customizing the game : a compendium of house rules classed by style of play. How to do a low magic light fantasy D&D game. How to do a high magic grim n gritty game. How to do a high intrigue spy game....

    Then, using all that has been tested and experimented...

    2014 is about 5e. Which setting ? I don't know, but I will probably choose from the most successful 4e setting. The new edition would probably shift back the balance to something less "gamist" and more "role-playist", with secondary skills or what not, because I need "craft : tailor". The power structure will probably use the diversity added along the way in 4e. And every power list will be expunged of every "absurd" powers like the rogue blinding barrage.
    Overall, it will be closer to 4e than 4e was to 3e, because I don't think a revolution is needed so often, but 5e should be easier to adapt to a greater diversity of gaming style.

    2015 would be about another setting, very different from the first.

    No OGL from me, or restricted to non-rule materials... yeah, it's bad, bad, bad, but I don't want to see a "Wayseeker" RPG coming out when I publish 5e.

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    Honestly, I'd probably let the name D&D die off and give subsequent versions a new name. I think the biggest travesty was when they flat out redesigned the game from the ground up, with nothing but stylistic similarities to the former game. Gradually shifting, sure. But why keep calling it D&D, anyways? (Please note that this isn't up for argument, it's just showing my thought process behind this.)

    That said, I'd probably have the original team reproduce the older editions with maybe some updated art and stuff, and release the pdfs of older edition games in their original forms- so that people who like the old art and layout can have it, and those who prefer more "modern" art and layouts can have theirs as well. There's no reason not to support the old games, especially since in this case, support would be absolutely trivial compared to producing 5-10 new books monthly.

    On this tack, I'd have full OGL support for the older edition games.

    We could take D&D 4e, make it its own line, and stop pretending it isn't a tightly-designed miniatures game. Focus on it, make it the center of the rules, make everything have internal consistency and make it its own totally gonzo world. Stop pretending that the 4e rules fit well in every setting, and instead make something like Eberron was for 3e. Take all of the idiosyncracies and instead of explaining them away halfheartedly, make it front and center in the campaign setting.

    I'd apologize for the glut of mediocre 4e books, and try and reduce the insane amount of material released. Focus on the long tail, so to speak. If you create a truly excellent roleplaying experience, people will play for the next 20 years and keep coming back to gaming. If you try and bleed as much money as you can as fast as you can, you'll only create gamer fatigue and boredom, as well as produce lower-quality material. Let's make every book able to stand the test of time, so you can look back in ten years and admire the art, the systems, and read it for inspiration 20 years from now. We're aiming for the 1e DMG, which some grognards read just for fun, not Martial Power 4, or whatever.

    In addition, I'd abandon the idea of remaking the entire D&D game every couple of years. It's absolutely needless and stupid. Do you remake chess every couple of days? Yes, I'm willing to argue about it, and no, not here. Let each version of D&D stand as its own game, with its own flavors. We have enough already. Between oD&D, AD&D, BD&D, 3e, 3.5e, and 4e, and all the material for each game, we already have too many versions of D&D muddying the water. I'm not against a new fantasy roleplaying game but FOR GODS SAKE CALL IT SOMETHING ELSE.

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