Is D&D 4E too "far out" to expand the market easily?

This thread was caused by thinking about this post:

A) Dungeons & Dragons has become increasing distant from its medieval fantasy origins and these creatures just seem to reinforce that. I feel the starter book should have a more basic array of creatures and said beings should be a bit more classic. After looking through the 4E Player's Handbook, a non-gamer female friend said to me, "Are there any Dragons or Dungeons in this game? This looks like another planet. Its like Star Wars."

I imagine she is one of the people that WotC/Hasbro is trying to market to...a creative and intelligent young professional who doesn't buy their product but might. She is a history buff and a fan of classic literature but sees nothing of the mass market elements she expects to see that might interest her. It doesn't look like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. It looks weird and confusing. She's in consulting and marketing herself btw.

On the subject, I thought fantasy RPGs did better then SF ones because they are based on a recognizable past we can all reference the same way.

Of course this choice of a change in atmosphere is directly related to...

B) The art. I just don't like it that much but specifically I'm not a big fan of the designs of these two creatures. The Dragonborn do not look like Draogn Men to me but rather evoke images of Predator and D'Argo from Farscape. The Tiefling of late is a different colored Draenai. Not interesting to me at all as I've seen it before.
Now, let it be clear that I don't dislike Dragonborn and I like the concept of Tieflings (albeit not the particular "look" they have in 4E), but I do think that Green Adam is on to something here. Now, fantasy is inherently "far out" to some degree, but what I'm wondering is, is 4E's basic setting so far out that it loses touch with reality entirely and becomes hard to relate to? Obviously, I'm actually interested in opinions, because I can see it both ways, myself. Is it still grounded enough but perhaps teetering on the edge of "too unreal", I wonder.

I wonder because most popular non-gaming fantasy, whether it's LotRO, or Harry Potter, or what-have-you, posit human-o-centric universes, and previously D&D very much did this. In 4E, it explicitly doesn't, the assumption being (according to the setting development book, at least), that non-human is always more interesting than human. Why have a human miner when you can have a dwarven miner? etc.

Personally, I can certainly feel that as a factor pushing me away from the default setting, and to a lesser extent away from the game as a whole. It's not the rules, let's be clear, they're fine. It's the setting, and it's explicit ultra-high fantasy-ness. It's hard to put the feeling into words without slipping into false perjoratives or using dodgy examples, so I'll try to avoid that. I look at the art of 4E, though, and I very much do see Star Wars, and a world that's extremely distant from ours, almost incomprehensible on any level other than as part of game. I think the difference between 4E and previous editions of D&D isn't so much that this stuff wasn't there before - it mostly was - but rather that it's deeply integrated in the game and kind of present from the get-go. I guess what I'm saying is that the basic level of fantasy in D&D 4E seems so high that I can't really get a handle on how life would be in such a world, and I suspect that it's likely to actually kind of shock any non-gamer coming to D&D.

I mean, coming from something like WoW, you're going to be fine. D&D's implied setting and level of species diversity is very much "on-par" with WoW. Coming from say, a fantasy lit. reading background, or from watching things like LotRO and Harry Potter, though, I think it's going to be a bit wild and extreme, and coming from outside fantasy entirely, I think the world 4E portrays implicitly is so alien that it would extremely difficult to meaningfully connect with. Maybe that's not a big deal, though, given 4E's focus on just providing a good game.

What are your thoughts? Did 4E hit exactly the right level of fantastic-ness? Too much? Too little, even? Does this really matter to 4E's long-term success? Is 4E even likely to meaningfully expand D&D's market anyway, I guess is perhaps another valid question. I wonder perhaps if there's room for a more human and grounded, but equally playable fantasy RPG out there. I think 4E's general rules design makes it wildly more capable of getting new players in and having fun than other RPGs (including 3.5E, Pathfinder, Runequest etc.), but just as much I wonder if the setting is helping or hurting.
 

Snoweel

Visitor
I'm happy with the level of fantasy in 4e.

But back when 3e came out I was very much into the simulationist humanocentric side of the game - to the point where I only allowed human PCs, and even elves and dwarves were portrayed as alien beings.

I've gone off simulationism now. I just want good rules and the ability to play out good stories - and I've come to the realisation that more fantastic is better.
 

mmadsen

Visitor
"Are there any Dragons or Dungeons in this game? This looks like another planet. It's like Star Wars."​
Wow. I think that says it very well. There's nothing wrong with wahoo, but it's not to everyone's taste, and it's much harder to scale back than to scale up.
 

WayneLigon

Adventurer
I don't see the implicit setting -- though I'm not even sure I beleive such a thing exists -- as 'too fantastic' as regards previous editions. Humans didn't mean squat in other editions, either; in fact, 3E and now 4E were the only editions that gave you a reason to play a human at all. (In fact, in 3E+ is the first time since I've played D&D [almost 30 years now] that I've seen mostly-human parties).

I also don't think it's too odd or far-apart from the fantasy literature of our day unless one is specifically and foremost an accept-no-substitutes Tolkien fanatic. People that might come from Harry Potter and many other books will actually wonder why D&D has so little magic in it. The sheer number of intelligent non-humans might give them pause, though.
 
Seems like if everybody at the table goes "Ugh, no Star Trek alien lookin races" and the group wants to dump dragonborn or tieflings, that isn't that hard a change to make, though.
 

jdrakeh

Adventurer
Nope. It's not too far out. If non-Tolkien-esque races were a deal breaker for the public, then Runequest with its Ducks, Jack Vance's Dying Earth with its Pelgranes, Buffy with its 'good' demons, Farscape with its amphibious, diminutive, multi-stomached, deposed monarchs and so forth would have utterly failed to capture an audience. As it turns out, it seems that most people want more 'new' and 'different', rather than more of 'the same old thing' :hmm:
 

AllisterH

Visitor
That's kind of weird isn't it?

I mean, weren't dragonborn brought in BECAUSE people wanted to play Dragon races? I mean, looking at the history of 3.x, I'd argue that dragon-style races were the most popular non core race. We got dragon shamans, half-dragon templates, dragon disciples etc and frankly, they SOLD. How many "dragon" themed sourcebooks did WOTC produce? I could see say one sourcebook on dragons but there were more than three and SOMEONE had to be buying all of it.

I always assumed that it was to appeal to the wider audience that things like half-orcs and gnomes got dropped in favour of dragonborn and tieflings.

Gnomes for example, only appear in things like "David the Gnome" and that Traveller Gnome. Not exactly stuff that screams "I want to be THAT race" whereas the half-orc is pretty much absent from non D&D fiction.
 

jdrakeh

Adventurer
I always assumed that it was to appeal to the wider audience that things like half-orcs and gnomes got dropped in favour of dragonborn and tieflings.
I'm pretty certain that you're right. As you mention, demon-like and dragon-like humanoids have always been a popular choice for D&D PCs, especially so in D&D 3x, with numerous sourcebook entries dedicated to them. Of course, the prevalence of 'good monsters' in pop culture -- from the 'demons' of Buffy and Angel to the 'freaks' of the BPRD -- cannot be ignored, either. The public really seems to like the idea of playing 'good monsters' and the designers of 4e seem to be aware of this.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
My dislike of portions of 4Ed is no secret, but I'm also a realist.

I can't see the game as having anything but very good short term success. Some of the elements I dislike may even contribute to expanding the game's market far beyond the hobby as it is today.

In a sense, it almost seems designed to appeal to a larger, tangentially related market, even if it means that some of the legacy consumers don't come along for the ride.

I wouldn't be surprised if 4Ed gained 2 new players for each old one lost...at least for the next year or so.
 
What are your thoughts? Did 4E hit exactly the right level of fantastic-ness? Too much? Too little, even? Does this really matter to 4E's long-term success? Is 4E even likely to meaningfully expand D&D's market anyway, I guess is perhaps another valid question. I wonder perhaps if there's room for a more human and grounded, but equally playable fantasy RPG out there. I think 4E's general rules design makes it wildly more capable of getting new players in and having fun than other RPGs (including 3.5E, Pathfinder, Runequest etc.), but just as much I wonder if the setting is helping or hurting.
The "right level" in terms of what? Personal tastes? Aesthetically? Market potential?

The answer to all of the above is "I'm not sure yet." Personally I don't really dig Dragonborn and Tieflings, but this is not to say I don't like "out there fantasy"--I love Talislanta, for example. I just find Dragonborn and Tieflings to be more "kewl" than "cool" in that they seem like they were designed more in terms of ass-kicking than as artistic fantasy creations. Contrast this to Talislanta in which every race was designed without "game balance" in mind, so that you have a wide range of power levels in terms of race. Each race was designed because it was interesting, not because it would be kewl to play as a player character. Tieflings and Dragonborn, imo, while not being totally aesthetically offensive, are still one step away from a laser gun in one hand, a sword in the other. This, to me, is where D&D has stepped a bit too far into video game land.

But it sounds like your query is specific to marketability, especially with regards to bringing in new players. Being a semi-grognard it is hard for me to say. I don't play World of Warcraft or any video games, so I am coming at D&D more from a fantasy story angle than a video game one. So I could see it going either way: 4ed could be successful because it appeals to a younger generation, or it could fail (at least compared to the impact of 3ed) because it distances old diehards. What I fear for WotC is that a large portion of "on the fencers" will return to 3ed after the novelty of a new rules set wears off. But this may be unjustified and only time will tell.

Personally speaking I would have preferred if PHB 1 was more traditional, with only slight adjustments on the usual array of races and classes and with a PHB 2 including more "exotic" races and classes, perhaps coming out sooner than later (say, six months after 1) so that WotC could still showcase their "new look". This way you start out with the core D&D we all know and love, and then can add-on and adapt it however you want (which you can do anyways, but I'm speaking in terms of WotC supports).

Overall I think 4ed will succeed in that it will be popular, perhaps even a tad more than 3ed, but it will fail in that it won't increase the game's popularity nearly to the degree that 3ed did. If you are Hasbro you might be a bit disappointed, because the point is always to increase profit, not just float on previous success. I'm not sure 4ed will do more than just continue the plateau established by 3ed.
 
I'm pretty certain that you're right. As you mention, demon-like and dragon-like humanoids have always been a popular choice for D&D PCs, especially so in D&D 3x, with numerous sourcebook entries dedicated to them. Of course, the prevalence of 'good monsters' in pop culture -- from the 'demons' of Buffy and Angel to the 'freaks' of the BPRD -- cannot be ignored, either. The public really seems to like the idea of playing 'good monsters' and the designers of 4e seem to be aware of this.
That's a good point and one I hadn't really thought much on. Still, I think Dragonborn would be more appealing if they weren't so "monstery." I mean, they aren't sexy at all ;)
 

jdrakeh

Adventurer
. . . but it will fail in that it won't increase the game's popularity nearly to the degree that 3ed did.
You may be right about this. D&D 3x had a huge advantage over D&D 4e by coming in on the heels of the least popular edition of D&D to date. Indeed, I'd argue that AD&D 2e was effectively dead as a brand when D&D 3x was introduced (purely based on anecdotal evidence, of course).
 

GnomeWorks

Proposal Judge
...4ed could be successful because it appeals to a younger generation...
Who keeps saying this? Why? Is there any kind of information that would lead people to believe that this is the case?

I'm 21. I started seriously gaming with 3.5. I've played video games my whole life.

I do not like 4e, and neither does the rest of my nine-person gaming group - and we are all in the same age range (18-22).

So, where is the idea that 4e will appear to younger folk coming from?
 

jdrakeh

Adventurer
Who keeps saying this? Why? Is there any kind of information that would lead people to believe that this is the case?
If it helps, I don't think that it is necessarily designed to appeal to younger gamers, so much as it designed to appeal to other consumer markets that D&D has traditionally ignored.
 
Who keeps saying this? Why? Is there any kind of information that would lead people to believe that this is the case?

I'm 21. I started seriously gaming with 3.5. I've played video games my whole life.

I do not like 4e, and neither does the rest of my nine-person gaming group - and we are all in the same age range (18-22).

So, where is the idea that 4e will appear to younger folk coming from?
Well it is just an idea, not a fact. Call it "Wizards of the Coast's 4E Gamble" ;). But seriously, that is just it: WotC is gambling that it will appeal to a younger generation, because in order to grow they need to appeal to younger folk. I mean, the market of 30+ year olds is already tapped. There are very few players of that age group coming in, and probably more leaving than returning. 4E, in my humble opinion at least, is more geared towards bringing a new generation in than it is in bringing the old generation back. That is why I call it a "gamble." 3E already brought back those that could be brought back, so WotC probably figured it was time for a New and Shiny Toy to appeal to the kids :).
 

AllisterH

Visitor
Here's the thing though...What makes a race "far-out"?

I'd argue that both the half-orc and the gnome ARE more far out fantasy than dragonborn or tieflings. Outside of D&D, I'm blanking on any source of media that uses either gnomes or half-orcs. Contrast that with "monstrous" heroes/characters like Hellboy and the demons from Buffy and the concept of say "demon cursed human" is NOT far-out for the average person.

Hell, even IN D&D fiction, Draconians have actually managed to be the stars/leading protoganists of TWO novels. (Both come from the pre-3E era), while the tieflings were the main stars of the much loved planescape setting (and also a prominent feature of the critically acclaimed videogame Planescape:torment - again, a pre 3E creation). Halflings (and kenders/hobbits) of course have shown up in popular D&D fiction (THe Halfling's Gem- the original Drizzt book so you KNOW a lot of players know about halflings)

Half-orcs? Gnomes? Help me out here people. What media (D&D or not) that actually has gnomes NOT as comic relief (and not resembling lawn gnomes either)

Personally, I was more surprised that they even made it to 3.x. I mean, even the designers at WOTC didn't like gnomes it seemed (both Birthright and Darksun killed off their gnomes, while the others used those annoying tinker gnomes. Not exactly good adventurer material there..)

re: Defence of 2E
2E _IS_ fondly remembered not as a game system (it's basically 1e really) but the edition where roleplaying came to the front and the rise of the much loved campaign settings.
 
You may be right about this. D&D 3x had a huge advantage over D&D 4e by coming in on the heels of the least popular edition of D&D to date. Indeed, I'd argue that AD&D 2e was effectively dead as a brand when D&D 3x was introduced (purely based on anecdotal evidence, of course).
Right, which is why I hear a lot of angst from diehard 3.xers: their edition wasn't dead like 2ed, although it could be argued that it was A) due for an upgrade/update, and B) dry in terms of supplement options. So now we've got 4E, which supposedly upgrades the system and re-sets the clock for supplements and the gives WotC a new burst of cash flow.
 
I don't think it's the races or the setting that might limit the number of newcomers to the game. If anything, it's the high price of entry to the game now. WoTC seems to be gambling on the willingness of people to buy minis and dungeon tiles. For hard core gamers like those that frequent ENworld, that's probably not a problem. For groups that have a DM or a single player that's willing to do all the buying and supply all the extra elements the game now needs, it's also not a problem. But for more casual gamers, it's probably going to reduce the appeal of D&D.
 
... whereas the half-orc is pretty much absent from non D&D fiction.
You know, this is something that always bugged me. Half-Orcs in D&D were weaker, a little smarter, and nicer than Orcs, right?

But Tolkien's half man, half orc creatures, the Uruk-Hai, were far smarter, stronger, and far more ruthless than either orcs or men, and towered over them. Where did half-orcs in D&D even come from?
 

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