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Ryan Dancey: This is why there was no M:tG setting for D&D

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
From the front page.

Ryan Dancey explains on Reddit why WotC never produced a MAGIC: THE GATHERING setting for D&D.

Hi! I was the brand manager for Dungeons & Dragons and the VP of Tabletop RPGs at Wizards of the Coast from 1998 to 2000. I can answer this question.

There were plans to do a Magic RPG and several iterations of such a game were developed at various times. After Wizards of the Coast bought TSR, there were discussions about making a Magic campaign setting for D&D.

After the release of 3rd edition, we had planned to do a Monstrous Compendium for Magic monsters which would have been a tentative cross-over product to see what the interest level was for such a book.

In the end, the company made the decision to keep the brands totally separate. Here's the logic.

D&D and Magic have fundamentally incompatible brand strategies. This is was once expressed as "asses, monsters & friends".

D&D is the game where you and your friends kick the asses of monsters.

Magic is the game where you kick your friends' asses with monsters.

(Pokemon, btw, was the game where the monsters, who were your friends, kicked each-other's asses.)

There was no good reason to believe that a D&D/Magic crossover book would sell demonstrably more than a comparable non crossover book. And such a book should be priced higher than a generic D&D book - in the way that Forgotten Realms books cost more than generic D&D books (that's the price premium for the brand). There's a fear in sales that the higher the price, the less volume you sell.

The brand team for Magic didn't want to dilute the very honed brand positioning for Magic as a competitive brand, and the brand team for D&D didn't want to try and make some kind of competitive game extension for D&D.

In the end, I think the company was well served by this decision. It eliminated a lot of distraction and inter-team squabbling at a time when neither team had the resources to fight those battles.

Today you might argue there's a different reason. The #1 hobby CCG doesn't want to be entangled with the problems within the D&D brand.
 

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darjr

I crit!
I do wonder if going the other way around would work. A D&D magic the gathering set. I'd love a Magic Monster Manual. Or spell book.
 


There was no good reason to believe that a D&D/Magic crossover book would sell demonstrably more than a comparable non crossover book. And such a book should be priced higher than a generic D&D book - in the way that Forgotten Realms books cost more than generic D&D books (that's the price premium for the brand).

Hang on... I thought the FR price premium was because it was a setting book, and therefore only of interest to that subset of D&D fans who were also FR fans - a much narrower potential audience?

Conversely, shouldn't a Magic monster book have been able to avoid that increase, on the grounds that it was potentially of interest to D&D fans (who weren't necessarily Magic fans) and to Magic fans (who weren't necessarily D&D fans) - potentially, therefore, a much wider audience?

Since WotC owned both D&D and FR, and both D&D and Magic, there's no inherent reason they would need to charge a premium for the brand - unless they're silly enough to go charging themselves a licensing fee, anyway. And, since the goal of such a crossover product is to try to persuade fans of the one property to at least look at the other, it's worth doing even without the extra margin (potentially even at a loss), if it manages to shift other product.
 

The "logic" behind it is mind-boggling. Here are the main points
  • Magic is different from Dungeons and Dragons (asses, monsters, and friends argument)
  • Magic as a setting might not sell and might be too expensive
  • Magic would be diluted
  • Inter-team squabbling

Asses, Monsters, and Friends
Magic, as a setting, is an IP. IP successfully cross from their original genre all the time. Star Wars has made the leap from Movie to Comics, Games (Video, Board, RP), Novels, Television, etc. The setting, lore, characters, tropes, and themes are what translate, not the nuts and bolts. WotC translated Star Wars from a movie into a Roleplaying Game. Are they unable to translate a CCG into an RPG simply because it's roots are in a competitive game?

Sales and Cost
Why would it need to be sold at a premium? You didn't license the IP, you created it. The key word here is "fear." For some reason, the fear of failure with Magic is greater then the fear of failure with some other setting. The first new setting for DnD in years is bound to generate interest, look at Eberron.

Magic would be Diluted
There is not going to be brand confustion on this. A pack of magic cards is very different from an RPG Source Book. Magic the Setting and Magic the Competitive game would be as different as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Star Wars: New Jedi Order. Both entertain using Star Wars, but no one is going to be confused by a Video Game versus a Book series.

Inter-Team Squabbling
Is this the real source of the problem?
 

Hang on... I thought the FR price premium was because it was a setting book, and therefore only of interest to that subset of D&D fans who were also FR fans - a much narrower potential audience?

Conversely, shouldn't a Magic monster book have been able to avoid that increase, on the grounds that it was potentially of interest to D&D fans (who weren't necessarily Magic fans) and to Magic fans (who weren't necessarily D&D fans) - potentially, therefore, a much wider audience?

Since WotC owned both D&D and FR, and both D&D and Magic, there's no inherent reason they would need to charge a premium for the brand - unless they're silly enough to go charging themselves a licensing fee, anyway. And, since the goal of such a crossover product is to try to persuade fans of the one property to at least look at the other, it's worth doing even without the extra margin (potentially even at a loss), if it manages to shift other product.

The whole things reeks of the Magic side saying you can't play with our toys.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
I understand it, but I disagree.

True, the M:tG game is played by "epic level Summoners" to use a D&Dism, but the setting itself and its storylines are quite rich, and could be a very hot RPG setting IMHO.

I know that when I announced to my gaming group- most of whom play or played M:tG- that I was making a M:tG fantasy campaign, interest was high. (Then I said I was doing it in HERO, and the crickets began to serenade...)

But to be fair, prognostication is difficult- there are a lot of high-profile/wealthy people who have made comments on what would succeed or fail in the market that were ultimately proven to be 100% wrong.
 

saskganesh

First Post
I don't think Magic needed D&D. I can appreciate that D&D didn't want to co-operate with the WOTC's Magic Department out of fear of Magic the RPG, but I think that's navigable.

So: "Magic: The RPG, powered by Dungeons and Dragons."

But:

The whole things reeks of the Magic side saying you can't play with our toys.

Yeah, this.
 


Asses, Monsters, and Friends
Magic, as a setting, is an IP. IP successfully cross from their original genre all the time. Star Wars has made the leap from Movie to Comics, Games (Video, Board, RP), Novels, Television, etc. The setting, lore, characters, tropes, and themes are what translate, not the nuts and bolts. WotC translated Star Wars from a movie into a Roleplaying Game. Are they unable to translate a CCG into an RPG simply because it's roots are in a competitive game?
I bolded the most likely answer.
Magic is competitive. The point of the setting is wizards fighting other wizards with monsters. It's trickier getting that into a cooperative RPG without losing the spirit of the source game. The die-hard fans of one might be less interested in the play of the other.

It's worth noting, that this would have been the early 3e era. Right after WotC acquired TSR, having watched the gaming giant fall for trying to support too many disparate brands. WotC only really supported FR at this junction, although it was starting work on Eberron. They would likely have been very hesitant to add yet another campaign setting to the mix, and risk fracturing their audience and sales even more.

Sales and Cost
Why would it need to be sold at a premium? You didn't license the IP, you created it. The key word here is "fear." For some reason, the fear of failure with Magic is greater then the fear of failure with some other setting. The first new setting for DnD in years is bound to generate interest, look at Eberron.
At that time, WotC (and TSR's) price was different between Core books and non-Core books. The latter tend to sell at a premium to offset the reduced sales, because they were niche and had a smaller audience. FR fans wouldn't buy Eberron (or Magic) products and the reverse.

Magic would be Diluted
There is not going to be brand confusion on this. A pack of magic cards is very different from an RPG Source Book. Magic the Setting and Magic the Competitive game would be as different as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Star Wars: New Jedi Order. Both entertain using Star Wars, but no one is going to be confused by a Video Game versus a Book series.
It's different than licenced products where the RPG is not made by anyone remotely associated with the source material. In this case, WotC is publishing both. Instead of a company that makes two separate products there's a company that makes only a single product.

A crossover has much more "canon" implications. Suddenly, the RPG might influence the CCG and vise versa. If the RPG really focuses on cooperation or different elements of the world that might have pushed the CCG to incorporate those same elements. As the RPG world would likely make use of standard D&D monsters, those would have to enter the CCG as well.
There's the very real worry that as the two properties overlap more and more certain elements would become less brand specific and more generic. Such as if Beholders and Mind Flayers were on MtG cards. Suddenly those would no longer be "D&D" monsters but just "monsters".

Inter-Team Squabbling
Is this the real source of the problem?
Had this been the only problem they product would still have happened. Management can easily squash dissent and tell everyone to play nice.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Management can easily squash dissent and tell everyone to play nice.

How easily one may squash dissent depends on the structure and corporate/interpersonal culture within the business. If you're working with friends, it may be hard to swing the hammer of authority.
 

Tovec

Explorer
The "logic" behind it is mind-boggling. Here are the main points
  • Magic is different from Dungeons and Dragons (asses, monsters, and friends argument)
  • Magic as a setting might not sell and might be too expensive
  • Magic would be diluted
  • Inter-team squabbling
I just want to say I agree with the prevailing opinion here.

Asses, Monsters, and Friends
Magic, as a setting, is an IP. IP successfully cross from their original genre all the time. Star Wars has made the leap from Movie to Comics, Games (Video, Board, RP), Novels, Television, etc. The setting, lore, characters, tropes, and themes are what translate, not the nuts and bolts. WotC translated Star Wars from a movie into a Roleplaying Game. Are they unable to translate a CCG into an RPG simply because it's roots are in a competitive game?
Yeah, that one is total BS. Although it speaks to the ability of Dancey's colleagues instead of the property itself. Maybe THEY can't figure out how to make a game where the players aren't against each other out of the universe that is MtG. I'm sure if they gave it to their writers (whomever actually do the lore of the game) they could figure it out. That then leads to the designers having to figure out how to make a game with 'epic level summoners' which is a little harder. But you are absolutely right that the IP has no such boundaries.

Sales and Cost
Why would it need to be sold at a premium? You didn't license the IP, you created it. The key word here is "fear." For some reason, the fear of failure with Magic is greater then the fear of failure with some other setting. The first new setting for DnD in years is bound to generate interest, look at Eberron.
I agree that this would be an incentive. If the campaign books cost the consumer more, and you have a new campaign to pitch, then that seems like extra money in the pocket not LESS. Especially with one so popular as MtG. Heck, think about how well such a book would sell if it was basically just a thorough explanation of how to model the MtG uni/multiverse into the existing rules. Depending on quality I would probably pick that up even if there were few actual rules in it - kind of like how I picked up 3e's manual of the planes even though most of it was just fluff.

Magic would be Diluted
There is not going to be brand confusion on this. A pack of magic cards is very different from an RPG Source Book. Magic the Setting and Magic the Competitive game would be as different as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Star Wars: New Jedi Order. Both entertain using Star Wars, but no one is going to be confused by a Video Game versus a Book series.
Diluted? MAAAYBE. More money and profits? Almost certainly. An excellent pizza place in New York might have the best food around, but McDonald's sells how many burgers a year? The chief issue would be on our side, not the company's. For customers, I would worry that the products would NOT be too diluted that the opposite would happen that they would become too tied. Take a look at the release of 4e. People at the time already called it MtG in sheeps clothing (since it had the cards), now imagine if it had the same universe and perhaps a module that allows you to use REAL cards in the game? It could have become their most successful product by alienating those who didn't MtG play before.

Inter-Team Squabbling
Is this the real source of the problem?
I don't see how it is a legitimate concern. By all accounts the FR writers disliked the direction 4e took the brand but they're still around and still writing books. If it becomes a real issue just put the teams in different buildings. (I'm reminded of the twix commercials running right now.) The trading card universe guys work in building A, the roleplaying game universe guys in building B. Once a month they discuss and the higher ups decide what crossovers (if any) are necessary - like what long lasting "expanded universe" type stuff exists in the "MtG Expanded Universe."
 

I'm fairly surprised to find that I'm in the minority by agreeing with Dancey. A Magic/D+D crossover would have been a pain in the butt, and had low likelihood of being successful.

Does anyone else remember all the "too video-gamey" complaints about 4e? Can you imagine what the response from D+D fans would have been once rules drift started happening with MtG? And how damning that would have been before 3e had solid ground?

Also, let's not forget that this wouldn't have been a partnership between equals; MtG was/is the breadmaker at WotC, and D+D is small potatoes. Once MtG got involved with RPGs, they would have been running the entire ship.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
The whole things reeks of the Magic side saying you can't play with our toys.

Sometimes this is the right stand to take - particularly if your team has got a good thing going and the other team does not. Back in the early days of 3e, arguably both were looking good. But I can certainly understand Magic being wary of D&D's problems now. Ultimately, I'm not complaining. Magic has some fun lore to it, but it can certainly exist well separate from D&D and vice versa.
 

I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
FWIW, I think Dancey's comments make a lot of sense. Different games, different feels, different design needs, marginal market. It's not a foregone conclusion that this would be gangbusters. It's fairly solid reasoning, though I think intelligent people could disagree on various points.
 

True, the M:tG game is played by "epic level Summoners" to use a D&Dism, but the setting itself and its storylines are quite rich, and could be a very hot RPG setting IMHO.

This times a thousand. Look at the Weatherlight Saga. This plot SCREAMS Dungeons and Dragons. A god banished locked in the 9th plane of hell (in this case Phyrexia). To do this, he's constructing an artificial plane of to overlap with the Dominaria. Only by collecting and understanding the artifacts left behind by a mysterious wizard can this threat be stopped.

I know that when I announced to my gaming group- most of whom play or played M:tG- that I was making a M:tG fantasy campaign, interest was high. (Then I said I was doing it in HERO, and the crickets began to serenade...)

Actually, this was my experience as well (I was going to use a modified 3.5 rule set that included color for alignment and mana for spells and special abilities like Trample, Deathtouch, Lifelink, and Haste). Group elected to do Dark Sun instead (also 3.5, also DMed by me). My group didn't like all the changes to the core rules I was trying to implement to give the setting a Magic feel.
 

MoonSong

Rules-lawyering drama queen but not a munchkin
Take this with a grain of salt, but a simple self contained -a la Ghostwalk- Ravnica campaign book or Mirrodin campaign book would have sold a lot I'm pretty sure. On my country Magic is pretty popular and I'm sure that having a 3.x Kamigawa campaign setting would have made lots of people give D&D a chance (Vampire and CoC are/or were king here, to the date D&D is very frowned upon by the same people who loved Kamigawa and love Magic overall). Something simple featuring maps, lore, key monsters and NPC stating, some prestige classes and giving the Kami domains for example, heck maybe even go and propose the cromatic colors as an alternative alignment system. No need to get gimicky or extra fancy and involve the actual cards. I mean you don't need the cards to read the novels, why would you need them to play the RPG?
 

FWIW, I think Dancey's comments make a lot of sense. Different games, different feels, different design needs, marginal market. It's not a foregone conclusion that this would be gangbusters. It's fairly solid reasoning, though I think intelligent people could disagree on various points.

I think Dancey's comments hint at the reason why it wasn't done; one side wanted to test it out, the other side didn't, management played it safe.

I played both magic and DnD when WotC purchased TSR. The fear was (at least at the local shop) was that MtG would become the default setting for Dungeons and Dragons.

This fear has not been realized. We are now years beyond that initial purchases. Magic continues to make interesting settings that are routinely ignored by the Magic community at large. Knowing why Urza wanted to defeat Yawgmoth doesn't help you reduce your opponents life total to 0. The Magic settings today exist to help the artist (and oh man, the magic art is beautiful). Some in the Magic community care about the setting, most care only about the mechanics.

Here's a model I'd love to see implemented.
  • Create a Magic the Gathering setting for DnD.
  • Base it on Dominaria prior to the events in Weatherlight Saga.
  • It contains normal rule tweaks to fit the setting.
  • Each year, when Magic the Gathering does a new block, you get a new Source book for running adventures in that plane
  • Ex: This year is Theros based on Greek/Roman mythology. Planes from historical sets can be introduced as popularity demanded (Mirrodin, Ravnica, Kamigawa, Innistrad, etc)
  • Using Dungeon, release an Adventure Path to support the setting. I'd love to see the Weatherlight Saga given this treatment. But you can keep it modern by have the AP relate to the ongoing block

One nice thing, the Art for these projects could be pulled from the incredible work already produced for Magic.
 
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Jacob Marley

First Post
This times a thousand. Look at the Weatherlight Saga. This plot SCREAMS Dungeons and Dragons. A god banished locked in the 9th plane of hell (in this case Phyrexia). To do this, he's constructing an artificial plane of to overlap with the Dominaria. Only by collecting and understanding the artifacts left behind by a mysterious wizard can this threat be stopped.

I believe Mark Rosewater referred to the Weatherlight Saga as a failure. I cannot find the quote, but it was referenced in this thread on Reddit.

I think this quote from Reddit sums up a lot of what many Magic players feel:

Reddit said:
I like Magic because it's a game of strategy and math. I don't play Magic because it lets me feel like I'm living in an adventure novel. One day this silly back story just showed up and I totally didn't care about it.

I think WotC made the right decision in keeping the two brands separate. I am not convinced that what Magic players want and need from a product is in line with what D&D players want and need from a product.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
I think WotC made the right decision in keeping the two brands separate. I am not convinced that what Magic players want and need from a product is in line with what D&D players want and need from a product.

I don't think WotC's decision was wrong at all. But what about the players who cross between the two games? I can certainly see a Magic campaign setting doing reasonably well. It's not like the two markets are non-intersecting sets.
 

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