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Where Has the Magic Gone?

Wizards of the Coast has owned Magic: The Gathering for decades, long before it picked up Dungeons & Dragons. Why hasn't there been more synergy between the two? Wizards of the Coast's (WOTC) rise to success was fueled by its card game brand, Magic: The Gathering. So when the company acquired the Dungeons & Dragons brand, it seemed logical that a crossover product was inevitable. Hopes for a Magic: The Gathering miniatures game were dashed when WOTC announced Dreamblade instead. Former WOTC employees have since come forward to share that we very nearly got a Magic: The Gathering miniature or role-playing game.

dreamblade.jpg

It Was All Just a Bad Dreamblade

We may have had the Magic: The Gathering miniatures game all along, we just didn't know it. Dreamblade has a lot in common with Magic: The Gathering:

Similar to Magic: The Gathering, each game represents a battle between very powerful individuals, in this case psychics called "Dream Lords." These Dream Lords battle one another across the landscape of humanity's collective unconscious by spawning dream creatures out of human emotions, in particular Valor, Fear, Madness, and Passion. Dreamblade's restricted landscape and army-building rules (among other things) result in many aspects which are more similar to a collectible card game than a typical miniature game.

Or to put it another way, Dreamblade may have been a rebranded form of the Magic: The Gathering miniature game that never came to pass. It was a hot topic with the WOTC staff back in 2007, when Bart Carroll and Robert Mull wrote a Design & Development article about using Dreamblade miniatures in a D&D game:

While it’s oftentimes verboten to cross the streams around here (I’m still advocating for D&D stats for select Magic: the Gathering creatures), the powers-that-be agreed to let us run the following cross-promotion. If you haven’t seen Dreamblade yet, here’s your introduction to the game—and, we believe, even if you never battle in a dreamscape (a Dreamblade tournament), you can still find a home for Dreamblade minis in your D&D campaign.

According to Michael Feuell, former game development manager at WOTC, Dreamblade may well have been the Dungeons & Dragons miniature game:

There was a similar question about Magic Minis. D&D Miniatures were a big hit, Magic was a big hit, what about Magic Minis? So the story I heard at the time went like this; we gathered all the distributors together for a big product announcement, and there was this buzz, this feeling permeating the room, a wall of excitement if you will, because they just knew that we were announcing magic minis. Instead we announced Dreamblade, and the collective sigh was a fair prediction of how the product eventually did.

Was it a near miss or the same result under a different name? It seems there was a lot of behind-the-scenes politics that hobbled any collaboration between different brands at Wizards of the Coast.

Magic: The Dragoning

Shannon Appelcline explained in Designers & Dragons that when Wizards of the Coast acquired the D&D brand, there was a very specific concern:

There was some initial public skepticism about 3E. Some worried that Dungeon & Dragons was going to become Magic: The Gathering-afied, whatever that meant.

Ryan Dancey, brand manager for Wizards of the Coast from 1998 to 2000, came forward on Reddit to explain that there were, in fact, plans for a Magic: The Gathering/Dungeons & Dragons crossover:

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.

Former creative director of licensed and acquisition games, Mike Selinker, worked hard on the crossover that never came to pass:

On the D&D/Magic crossover front, I calculated once that I had spent a year of design from myself, plus several more years from other team members, on a fruitless quest. Each time we restarted it, I knew it was fruitless, and tried to get people to be aware that they were wasting our time. This never happened until we were done or close to done. Multiple failures from multiple brand teams, over and over.

Lisa Stevens, former brand manager at WOTC and current CEO of Paizo Publishing, explained to Selinker that there were several attempts to create a tabletop RPG for Magic: The Gathering:

As the person in Brand who was tasked with starting up a Magic RPG product at least twice, maybe even three times, in my career with WotC, I feel your pain Mike. I always got my directive from Peter to put a team together and figure out how we could make a Magic RPG. Each time, I thought we did some brilliant work, only to have it yanked away at the last minute. The first time, it was the layoffs that doomed any team that wasn't a TCG one. I am pretty sure you were on that team, Mike. The second time, I remember Jonathan Tweet having a very cool game designed that I was personally very excited about. I think that is the one that Magic Brand squashed. And then there was the D&D/Magic mash-up, which I personally wasn't very thrilled with, but thought we could make a few bucks on and perhaps get some Magic players interested in RPGs. That also got squashed by Magic Brand. After the third time, you would have had to pay me a LOT of money to work on a Magic RPG at WotC!

Joseph Hauck, former vice president for Magic: The Gathering brand, added that he was present when the decision was made to cease work on the D&D-Magic book. He responded to Selinker's concerns:

Neither the head of the D&D brand nor the head of the Magic brand (an SVP and former head of Magic R&D) thought that the project should move forward. The SVP of Magic developed an articulate and rational presentation as to why this was not good for the Magic brand and why it would be a wasted opportunity cost for D&D with the recommendation to not move forward with the project; pretty much as Ryan outlined in his response on Reddit. The D&D brand team supported the decision.

Dancey laid out those concerns on Reddit:

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.

Dancey came to the conclusion that WOTC was better off not combining the two franchises:

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.


Magic Finds a Way

It seems someone at Wizards of the Coast changed their mind about brand dilution, and it's likely tied to Hasbro's and WOTC's shift from focusing on brands as products to brands as franchises. Hasbro is eager to follow the Marvel model of turning its franchises into transmedia moneymakers, and by that logic Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons differ only in their respective fictional worlds. This is how Hasbro can justify a Battleship movie; it's not the movie at all, but the name recognition and bolstering effect it has on the board game line by the movie merely existing.

Hasbro has meddled with WOTC's brands only recently, when it tasked the company with reviving the Heroscape miniature board game. D&D miniatures were repurposed for Heroscape before the line was cancelled.

But WOTC hasn't given up on expanding the Magic: The Gathering brand. The Hollywood Reporter reported that 20th Century Fox closed a deal to acquire the screen rights:

The studio has enlisted Simon Kinberg, the Fox-based writer-producer who is also helping shepherd the X-Men and Fantastic Four universes at the studio, to produce the adaptation. Kinberg will also act as the franchise's engineer -- or supreme sorcerer, if you will -- overseeing the development of the movie series in concert with Hasbro execs.

Following the format established by Marvel for its comics, WOTC executives will be involved:

Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner and Stephen Davis and Wizards of the Coast president Greg Leeds will act in production capacities. Aditya Sood and Josh Feldman, Kinberg's key execs at his Genre Films production shingle, will also act as executive producers on the movie.

In addition to the upcoming film, Magic: The Gathering has returned as a board game that looks suspiciously like Heroscape. The board game doesn't include Magic: The Gathering cards but does draw on its lore and mechanics, notably deathtouch, flying, and first strike.

In light of these moves, Hasbro may well reconsider branching out of the Magic: The Gathering card paradigm in the future. But until then...

Fine, the Fans Will Do It


As is often the case with tricky licensing issues, fans go where companies can't. A Google search will reveal many half-finished attempts to encompass Magic: The Gathering, but very few make it to completion. There are several approaches each author takes, all of them valid. To see how these approaches apply to creating aD&D/Magic: The Gathering conversion, it's useful to categorize the types of Magic players by their psychographic profiles, as explained by Mark Rosewater:
  • "Timmies" are power gamers, so the Timmy approach to converting Magic: The Gathering involves conversions of monsters, creatures, spells and even keywords. This is no mean feat, given the complexity and power levels of some of the beings you can summon in the card game. This is also why many fans recommend not attempting to emulate an actual Planeswalker (the role the player takes on in Magic: The Gathering) because encompassing all of the powers and abilities requires D&D characters at epic levels of power. You can find a cached example at RPGCrossing.
  • "Johnnies" are creative gamers. Johnnies incorporate aspects of Magic: The Gathering as a rules system into D&D, such as just using the spell cards to replace the D&D spell system. This Reddit post explains how that might work.
  • "Spikes" are competitive gamers who often take an innovative approach to new cards, so the Spike approach creates a role-playing system from Magic: The Gathering whole cloth. 1d4Chan has a standout example.
  • There's one additional type of Magic player named "Vorthos" that is primarily interested in the setting. Of course, they don't call the players Planeswalkers for nothing -- Magic: The Gathering encompasses a multiverse, so fans tend to pick and choose what worlds they want to convert. These Planeswalker Guides are a good start and Rowan Walkingwolf provides a broad overview of how a conversion might work that's useful for any role-playing game conversion.
The Future?

Given that WOTC has been entrusted with a new board game, is there a possibility for a Magic: The Gathering role-playing game setting supplement for the Fifth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons?

When I interviewed Mike Mearls, lead developer of the latest iteration ofDungeons & Dragons, I asked him about why there wasn't a Magic: The Gathering campaign setting for the game. His response:

I don’t like to say never, but I think that both Magic and D&D are best served by focusing on what has worked for them over the years. I wouldn’t want to put the Magic design team in the position of worrying about roleplaying in their worlds.

Until an official version comes out, we'll have to make do with the fan community's efforts. For now, it seems Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons will continue to follow their own separate paths.
 
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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

Something about all those aborted attempts at a Magic RPG reminds me of TSR's constant attempts at a "Buck Rogers" RPG. The particular hobby horse of someone in upper management?
 

Zaran

Adventurer
There was some initial public skepticism about 3E. Some worried that Dungeon & Dragons was going to become Magic: The Gathering-afied, whatever that meant.

I find it funny that people were worried that MtG would change D&D if they tried to mix them and we got 4th edition a few years later anyway.
 

smiteworks

Explorer
I'm a sucker for cross-overs. It may not make sense from a business standpoint, but I would love to see a Magic RPG with setting books released for each of the planes. I think my players would love to see a campaign that ends in an epic battle with a single, but powerful Eldrazi or which places them in the middle of faction vs faction politics on Ravnica. Similarly, I always thought it would be cool to expand on the other Hasbro brands with RPG products. G.I. Joe and Transformers would make fantastic RPG games that would very likely make it much easier to bring in a whole new generation of gamers who otherwise may never pick up RPG gaming. Heck, even a My Little Pony RPG would be great for fans of those series.
 

Kramodlog

Naked and living in a barrel
There's a fear in sales that the higher the price, the less volume you sell.
That bit of info seems to have been forgotten along the away with SCAG having 160 pages for 40$.

It is a shame that other brands can't be "dragonized". Dragon mag dragonizing some of China Miéville's Bas-Lag and it wasn't a boring issue. It certainly made me buy and read the novels. I never got my hands on D&D's version of Fritz Lieber's Lankhmar, but the bits in Legends and Lore sure got us interested.

A MtG beastiary would have been a must buy for our group. Same with a bestiary containing NPCs and magical items of the Lord of the Ring, Round Table myths (Legends and Lore was great for that), who knows, maybe even Harry Potter.

In the article it is said a lot that dragonizing MtG would be bad for the brand, but it isn't really explained how it would be bad for it.
 

thexar

Explorer
"the Fox-based writer-producer who is also helping shepherd the X-Men and Fantastic Four universes at the studio"
... because those have turned out so well. How about you call the brain child behind Avengers instead.
 


"the Fox-based writer-producer who is also helping shepherd the X-Men and Fantastic Four universes at the studio"
... because those have turned out so well. How about you call the brain child behind Avengers instead.

FF maybe, but X-Men is doing pretty well - seven films in, with two more on the way, and only a semi-reboot required along the way.
 

Pauper

Explorer
Something about all those aborted attempts at a Magic RPG reminds me of TSR's constant attempts at a "Buck Rogers" RPG. The particular hobby horse of someone in upper management?

The Buck Rogers thing came about because Lorraine Williams, who met Gary Gygax when he was running TSR West back in the 80s and trying to find ways to turn D&D into a 'transmedia' brand, also owned the rights to the Buck Rogers character via her father's syndication of the comic strip. (This is documented in Shannon Applecline's 'Designers & Dragons'.)

As for 'where is the D&D themed Magic set' -- people seem to not want to accept that *every* magic set is basically a 'D&D themed' set.
 

The Buck Rogers thing came about because Lorraine Williams, who met Gary Gygax when he was running TSR West back in the 80s and trying to find ways to turn D&D into a 'transmedia' brand, also owned the rights to the Buck Rogers character via her father's syndication of the comic strip.

Yes, I know. That's why TSR kept doing those - that was her particular hobby horse. I was speculating that repeated attempts at a Magic-themed D&D product might likewise have been the hobby horse of someone at WotC in the same way.
 

Von Ether

Adventurer
The Buck Rogers thing came about because Lorraine Williams, who met Gary Gygax when he was running TSR West back in the 80s and trying to find ways to turn D&D into a 'transmedia' brand, also owned the rights to the Buck Rogers character via her father's syndication of the comic strip. (This is documented in Shannon Applecline's 'Designers & Dragons'.)

He also documents how she double dipped with both a salary and a "consulting fee" for the franchise. So I'll upgrade hobby horse to conflict of interest.

Wiseman did something similar with Battletech when he joined Microsoft. So these sort of deals seem good in the short term for an individual, but not so much in the long term for the IP. (The CBT rights are a mess.)
 

Dire Bare

Legend
Supporter
As for 'where is the D&D themed Magic set' -- people seem to not want to accept that *every* magic set is basically a 'D&D themed' set.

While both are fantasy games and certainly share some DNA, they are both very different styles of fantasy.

Still, I would love to see various D&D themed Magic sets, and/or a Magic RPG!

The current Magic miniatures game is simple fun, but the minis look terrible! :(
 

Drumheller

First Post
Dreamblade was a very good game, of course not without it's flaws. But in general, one of the more under appreciated games of recent years.
 

Jiggawatts

Explorer
If 4E has been the Magic: The Gathering RPG instead of D&D it would have gotten considerably less hate. They could have slaughtered all the sacred cows they wanted and no one would have really batted an eyelash. They could still do this one day if they wanted, retool 4E and publish it as a Magic RPG, while keeping D&D firmly in its roots.
 

Zhaleskra

Adventurer
I was worried about the possible CCGification of D&D. When I was in high school, Magic killed my RPG group, and those who got sucked in kept calling it an RPG to convince me to play it. A few years ago, I did play a couple games, both of which I lost. I was taught by a seven year old and his dad.

Though college I'd see people with massive Magic collections, and eventually see some of them sell their entire collection off. Also, I was still in the "shiny new toy" phase myself regarding RPG books in college,
 

I was expecting the crossovers to go the other direction... a Forgotten Realms edition of MTG.

I wouldn't have bought that. Nor would I have bought D&D if migrated to the default world being the one from MTG. So, IMO, the right choices got made.
 

Jhaelen

First Post
I wouldn't mind if they released the MtG setting for D&D. But anything beyond that, e.g. creating a hybrid CCG/RPG would be an abomination I'd have no interest in.
 

ccs

41st lv DM
I was expecting the crossovers to go the other direction... a Forgotten Realms edition of MTG.

Exactly, how hard would that be?
Take a bunch of iconic monsters/characters/items/places/spells/factions & make cards out of them....

This is afterall exactly what forms the basis of MTG anyways. Just now they could use D&D branded names.

As for how it would sell? At least as well as any other MTG set. Because Magic players don't give a crap what the cards called, what the picture is (unless that'd mean they could sell/trade it for more), just what it does. Make a weak set? Lower sales. Make a powerful set? Higher sales.
 

Jhaelen

First Post
Because Magic players don't give a crap what the cards called, what the picture is (unless that'd mean they could sell/trade it for more), just what it does.
That's not quite true. Many MtG players care about the artwork, but that doesn't usually affect their decision which cards to include in a deck. That's strictly dictated by a card's effects, of course.

The card titles, though? I'm not sure if anyone takes any particular note of them.

Anyway, this reminds me of my experience with Hearthstone, which I occasionally enjoy playing: I cannot ever recall the name of any card, hence it's quite difficult for me to talk about the game in any meaningful way. I recognize the cards by their artwork, although I often haven't even figured out what's depicted on them. The things I'm memorizing are indeed just the mechanical bits: card cost, attack/life, subtypes, and (general) card effects.
 
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