D&D 5E The Key to 5E's Success: Inspire DMs

Mercurius

Legend
Very simply: Inspire DMs. Inspire people to want to DM, to make book-keeping and other nitty-gritty stuff--anything from campaign design to encounter set-up--relatively easy. But not just easy, inspiring. That's the short version. If you want the longer version, read on.

PART ONE: WHY?

There are two primary angles on this:

1) No DM = no game. Its as simple as that. How many campaigns have you been in that fizzled out due to DM burnout and no one else being willing to take up the reins? Here's the rub: an inspired DM means an active game. An inspired DM means inspired players. If you (the DM) build it, they (the players) will come.

2) Inspired DMs buy product. This is simple economics, but think about it: While there are allegedly millions of D&D players, let's face facts - there are probably only thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of folks that are really into the game, that buy a lot of product. We the Ten Thousand (or so - that's just a symbolic term) keep the game going. We are the Few, the Proud, the DMs. What percentage of D&D products are purchased by DMs? It is certainly the majority, but the question is whether it is 60% or 90+%. I tend to think towards the latter end of the spectrum. If there's a spectrum of casual to serious to diehard D&D players, it is the serious and diehard players that keep the financial boat afloat. The vast majority of the supposedly million+ of D&D players are "casual" - they might show up for a session, but they don't invest any serious time, energy or money into the game. They don't own any books or, at most, buy a set of dice, maybe a Player's Handbook and are done with it.

So there you have it, Wizards of the Coast: Focus on your bird in hand, the DMs. Sure, think about generations - the graying core that has been playing for decades, as well as how to draw in a new generation. Think about how to make the game fun for players. But more than that--more than any other factor--focus on inspiring DMs, both old and potential. Because it is the DMs that are at the heart of the game, both in terms of what brings a campaign to life but also what keeps the money flowing. Furthermore, if you inspire the DMs, if you inspire the Ten Thousand, even if those serious-to-diehard fans can't find a game, they'll be buying product dreaming up a game.

PART TWO: HOW?

So now that you we know why DM inspiration should be central, let's focus on how to make it happen. A few things come to mind (although this is not meant as an exhaustive list - feel free to add your own takes):

1) Make the Game Easy to Run - this includes anything from simple stat blocks to useful campaign and adventure-design tools. How about an Encounter Builder where you plug in some specifics and you get recommendations on monsters and other factors? How about a guided adventure design machine that doesn't take the creativity out of it, but gives a framework to build from?

2) Bring back the Settings - Even if they are loss leaders, settings create a context, a living world for the game to be based on - a shared language that, even if most DMs don't use it, is at touching point for all to enter into. This is one of the ways in which 4E really flopped, in my opinion. Inspire DMs through example.

3) Adventures! - Last but not least (perhaps even first), create adventures. Adventures are settings, they arise out of settings and give living examples of play of the game. They give busy DMs something to work with, and inspired DMs something to draw from and modify. Create all kinds of adventures - one-shots, adventure paths, mega-campaigns. Low-level save-the-village-from-orcs, to epic level save-the-world-from-the-demonic-invasion. Adventures that comb the local region for lost ruins, to those that travel the depths the multiverse. We want it all.

Make it so, Mearls.
 

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delericho

Legend
There's a lot I agree with here. But...

While there are allegedly millions of D&D players, let's face facts - there are probably only thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of folks that are really into the game, that buy a lot of product. We the Ten Thousand (or so - that's just a symbolic term) keep the game going. We are the Few, the Proud, the DMs.

Well, except that there are apparently, what, 50,000 DDI subscribers? I rather doubt that they're all DMs.

TSR worked out a long time ago, and every publisher since has followed, that there's a lot more money to be made selling books to players than to DMs, especially if those books will allow those players to make a "better" character. (Where "better" usually means "more powerful", but could also mean "closer to what I intended", "more detailed", or some other descriptor".)

It's also easier (and therefore cheaper) to create new material for players - once they'd worked out the format of kits (and then prestige classes, and then powers) it became easy for them to churn them out in great numbers for each individual class; where creating setting and adventure material (especially good material of those types) is harder... and where each individual adventure, setting, etc is pretty much unique, where crunch can be made to various formulae.

That said, there is an economic reason to inspire DMs - an inspired DM is more likely to mean inspired players, meaning they're then more likely to buy product.

2) Bring back the Settings - Even if they are loss leaders, settings create a context, a living world for the game to be based on - a shared language that, even if most DMs don't use it, is at touching point for all to enter into. This is one of the ways in which 4E really flopped, in my opinion. Inspire DMs through example.

Perhaps ironically, back when 4e was being developed, the Rouse said that they intended to eventually bring back all the settings. The reason it didn't happen was quite simple: by the time "Eberron" and "Dark Sun" were out, it was evident that they weren't selling well enough - WotC then returned to FR, breaking their previous "three books and out" model, because there was more money to be made there.

I can't see things being any different with 5e, although they could leverage DDI to provide better support for old settings... of course, they could have done that just as well with 4e.
 

1) Make the Game Easy to Run - this includes anything from simple stat blocks to useful campaign and adventure-design tools. How about an Encounter Builder where you plug in some specifics and you get recommendations on monsters and other factors? How about a guided adventure design machine that doesn't take the creativity out of it, but gives a framework to build from?

Rigorous balance makes the game easier to run. DMs spent time assembling NPCs in 3e instead of just using the pregens in the DMG because the pregens were weaksauce. You couldn't just plop down cool monsters of the right CR either. Too much variation in PC balance, and the splatbook glut only made things worse. I found the process far easier in 4e. I have to make "classed" NPCs myself, but they turn out pretty balanced compared to the already-balanced PCs and don't require me to juggle magic items.

So, my "beef"? D&DN hasn't done enough to match that kind of rigor. It would be like running 3rd Edition again. Maybe a little easier on the DM side (NPCs have fewer moving parts) but I'd still have to deal with a wide array of poorly-balanced PCs.

Paizo makes adventures work. I would probably buy and convert D&DN adventures that are good to my favored edition. I don't know why WotC can't match Paizo in the adventure-making department.
 

Mercurius

Legend
Well, except that there are apparently, what, 50,000 DDI subscribers? I rather doubt that they're all DMs.

TSR worked out a long time ago, and every publisher since has followed, that there's a lot more money to be made selling books to players than to DMs, especially if those books will allow those players to make a "better" character. (Where "better" usually means "more powerful", but could also mean "closer to what I intended", "more detailed", or some other descriptor".)

It's also easier (and therefore cheaper) to create new material for players - once they'd worked out the format of kits (and then prestige classes, and then powers) it became easy for them to churn them out in great numbers for each individual class; where creating setting and adventure material (especially good material of those types) is harder... and where each individual adventure, setting, etc is pretty much unique, where crunch can be made to various formulae.

All of which makes me think that crunch for PCs should be focused on D&D Insider and not countless Complete This or That books. Or perhaps they can come out with new content on the website, then compilations at the end of the year.

But I think you could argue that D&D Insider has been more successful from the player's side in that the best tool has been, by and large, the Character Builder (although I never switched over to the online-only version). I'd like to see WotC provide better tools for DMs, as I've described above.

That said, there is an economic reason to inspire DMs - an inspired DM is more likely to mean inspired players, meaning they're then more likely to buy product.

Perhaps ironically, back when 4e was being developed, the Rouse said that they intended to eventually bring back all the settings. The reason it didn't happen was quite simple: by the time "Eberron" and "Dark Sun" were out, it was evident that they weren't selling well enough - WotC then returned to FR, breaking their previous "three books and out" model, because there was more money to be made there.

I can't see things being any different with 5e, although they could leverage DDI to provide better support for old settings... of course, they could have done that just as well with 4e.

This is where I think we need to look at a broader picture. The economic value of settings is not "primary" - that is, it isn't about how much campaign setting books are sold, but how it impacts and affects the overall health of the game. Look at Pathfinder. On one and we can say that the setting it successful only because the campaign books are part of the subscription plan, and that individual books like Magnimar probably don't sell a lot outside of the subscription plan.

But if we stopped there, we'd miss the overall impact that Golarion has on the Pathfinder game. It is a unifying factor for the fan-base. Even if one doesn't play in Golarion, Golarion sets the tone. It is the "Pathfinder archetype" - in a similar way that Greyhawk was for AD&D 1e and the Forgotten Realms was for 2e (and 3e).

In a similar way, I think it was a mistake to do away with the print-version of Dragon. Obviously they discontinued it because it was either losing money or not profitable enough. But Dragon had been a unifying factor for the D&D community for 30 years - a place where D&D players felt like they are part of a larger community.

Now perhaps we can say that Dragon as a community builder is less necessary in the Internet Age. I think that's true to some extent. And perhaps D&D Insider somewhat fulfills that need. But the point is that Dragon was cancelled because it wasn't profitable in a clear and direct way, but I think it damaged the game overall.

(Actually, as an aside, it is interesting to note that Dragon was cancelled about a year before 4E came out; it might have "softened the blow" of 4E if it had still been around in that people would have had a better sense of how different 4E was from 3.5E)

I go back to the idea of a loss leader. Campaign settings are loss leaders, but they are necessary - or at least quite beneficial if done well. They bring the game to life. They provide a shared language of myth and story.


Adventures for a similar function, but have the added benefit of providing practical value for a wider number of campaigns. And of course they have to be well-written - they have to evoke wonder, magic, and, well, adventure.
 

Mercurius

Legend
So, my "beef"? D&DN hasn't done enough to match that kind of rigor. It would be like running 3rd Edition again. Maybe a little easier on the DM side (NPCs have fewer moving parts) but I'd still have to deal with a wide array of poorly-balanced PCs.

I don't think this is quite fair to say yet, because all we've seen of Next is the playtest - the work in progress. Balance, and better resources, will come with the final product (hopefully!).
 

delericho

Legend
But if we stopped there, we'd miss the overall impact that Golarion has on the Pathfinder game. It is a unifying factor for the fan-base. Even if one doesn't play in Golarion, Golarion sets the tone. It is the "Pathfinder archetype" - in a similar way that Greyhawk was for AD&D 1e and the Forgotten Realms was for 2e (and 3e).

Sure. But isn't that an argument for having a setting, but not necessarily all of them? And they are - a new Forgotten Realms was announced right along with 5e, wasn't it?

In a similar way, I think it was a mistake to do away with the print-version of Dragon.

IMO, cancelling Dragon was the single worst mistake WotC have made since they bought D&D. Though perhaps not for the same reason - my logic for that one is that it led directly to Pathfinder, and turned their biggest cheerleaders into their strongest competition.
 

Rhenny

Adventurer
As a DM (and sometimes player), I agree with you Mercurius. I dropped 3.5e as my game for 4e because it was just easier to DM. Now, I'll drop 4e for 5e because it seems even easier to DM (among other reasons).

Of course, WotC needs to court players too, so giving them variety of classes, feats, options, multi-class ability so that they can create the exact PC they want to play will also be important.
 

MJS

First Post
The popular notion of "balance" is acidic to my inspiration. I hate that word with boundless passion.

1st level characters running from a basilisk - good times. I don't need mathematical "balance" when I know what makes for fun adventure.

Setting material is cool. I think its a loss leader, though, because so many GMs prefer to make their own. I have a hodgepodge of it I use for source material, and maps.

What is inspiring to me: quality of writing, quality of art. Basic mechanics, open architecture. Empty hexes, blank sheets of graph paper.

I am inspired by the tone I hear from 5E developers more than the rules I am seeing, which beyond the Basic D&D framework are just glorified house rules. What I find refreshing is, they seem aware of that, even if some player/DMs are not.
 

Ahnehnois

First Post
One one hand, I agree that the subgroup of regular DMs is very influential and makes a lot of the purchasing decisions. Influencing them (us) is very important.

I'm also on board with making the game as easy to run as possible, and I despise bookkeeping.

I don't agree at all though, about settings and adventures. What drew me to 3e (and keeps me with it) is the open-ended nature of the d20 system. Just pick an applicable modifier, make up a DC, and roll the d20. It's generic. It's since been adapted to non-fantasy rpgs. There was also an important naturalistic element to the basic rules wherein they began to more clearly represent a simplified version of reality, rather than some arbitrary gamist nonsense.

A DM is a storyteller. As a DM, I'm looking for a set of rules that helps me organize my ideas, and helps me relate to the players, and helps me resolve conflicts quickly. 3e is decent for that. 4e is intolerable on all of the above. 5e is mediocre (thusfar). I'm not looking for anyone to provide ideas for me, or to try and create any experience other than the story I'm trying to tell.
 

I don't think this is quite fair to say yet, because all we've seen of Next is the playtest - the work in progress. Balance, and better resources, will come with the final product (hopefully!).

I think it is fair to say. I've got experience playtesting non-core products for WotC. I had always wanted to playtest a core product, because there's more than one round of playtesting and communication.

Basic math should be one of the first things done. There's not enough rigor there. Different DMs are on different pages, diluting the value of their playtesting. It's also aggravating to see old errors that were previously fixed getting unfixed. That's the problem with reinventing the wheel.

The last public playtest document has already been released. People outside WotC have this one last chance to influence the game, and ...

Even if that happens, WotC can't whip up a new set of rules and say "is this okay? Good? Terrible? Did it fix the issue? Can you test them?" My playtesting experience informs me about this. Usually WotC will add extra material after the playtest, so playtesters look at the final product and say "how did X get in there? It's horrible. I never saw it. I could have helped fix that."
 

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