D&D General Edition Changes and Brand Identity: Remembering New Coke


It's difficult to discuss this topic without referring to previous editions. The closest analogy to new Coke was the switch to 4E. WOTC looked at World of Warcrack and decided that they needed to create a tabletop version. Don't forget that there was supposed to be a fully supported online VTT as well.

Now that doesn't mean that 4E was a bad game, it's just that it took a fundamentally different approach. Yes, 3E had changed the math around but ignoring that, 2E to 3E was a relatively gradual evolution. I could, and did, take a 2E characters, monsters, adventures and fairly easily convert them to 3E. The gameplay felt the same to me. Meanwhile the difference in feel and structure, giving all classes powers that felt much like the structure of Vancian casting with the AEDU structure didn't feel right to a lot of people. While I embraced 4E (at least for a while), to many people it simply didn't feel like the same game.

So for the 2024 edition I don't expect any huge changes, likely less than what we saw in the switch from 3 to 3.5. The game has been out a long time, it could use some minor tweaks. But major change? I just don't see it. So it's a tough balancing act, add enough to make it worth switching over, don't change it so much that people don't like it as much after playing a session or two.

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Prince of Dorkness
Am I the only person here taken aback by Snarf comparing Coke to the New York Yankees and Pepsi to the …….. Detroit Tigers?!?! Was the Boston Red Sox just too obvious?

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Am I the only person here taken aback by Snarf comparing Coke to the New York Yankees and Pepsi to the …….. Detroit Tigers?!?! Was the Boston Red Sox just too obvious?

So, to pull aside the curtain for a second....

I actually hesitated for a while on that. I knew I was going to use the Yankees.

But while my first thought was, "and the Red Sox," I immediately realized that for anyone under, oh, 35 years old or so ... that reference doesn't make any sense. The Red Sox and Yankees are just two teams that spend a lot of money and have annoying fan bases.

So then I was going to use the Cleveland team, but that was also ... complicated, because of the recent (and overdue) name change.

I ended up just throwing up my hands and going, "Whatever. Yankees and Detroit. That'll work. Close enough for unpaid posting, right?"


Follower of the Way
Overall, I think that people tend to view D&D design in a vacuum; as I wrote above, there is the belief that you can literally slap any game with the name "D&D" and it would sell just the same. But that's not it at all. It's the other way around. D&D is a brand which does provide this massive inherent advantage, but it also is a huge constraint on design. In making "D&D," you are necessarily limited in terms of what you can change.
Alternatively: Presentation is far more critical than content. Botch the presentation, and it doesn't matter if you're bending over backwards, people will feel alienated and upset. Nail the presentation, and it doesn't matter if you're selling them something actually alien to their preferences, they will feel at home.

Of course, the (entirely valid) rebuttal is that it isn't possible to nail the presentation while being genuinely, totally alien. And I would agree. But you can get away with some pretty major changes so long as people feel they're getting what they're familiar with.

It's not like Coke hasn't changed the formula multiple times over the years. It uses high fructose corn syrup now, but used to use real sugar (and still does in Mexico, which some folks massively prefer.) Likewise, something like WoW has revamped itself multiple times, sometimes to an enormous degree, without that specific thing alienating fans.

But WoW also has another lesson to teach. Chasing metrics--using overly-simplistic measurements like "engagement" as a proxy for whether things are actually good and liked and productive--can lead to disaster.

Voidrunner's Codex

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