Friday, July 08, 2011

5e catching up with Castles and Crusades?

If you care to read further, I want to make the following things clear;

1. I do not have any inside information on WoTC and their game development

2. I do not know anyone with inside information. I do not even know anyone who knows anyone with inside information.

3. The following is pure conjecture. Pure conjecture.

4. I do not intend imply anything about anyone or anything or anybody or any organization.

Pure conjecture and thinking out loud.

I do not know if WoTC is developing 5e for DnD. I would assume that they are doing so. At the very, they are likely considering another edition. This would fall in line with their development and marketing history. By this I mean a move from 2e to 3.0 to 3.5 to 4.0. There also appears to be a shelf life of 3 years or so for the editions (by choice or accident I do not know). By the shelf life, I mean that the sales of the core or follow-on products drop off enough that management of the line becomes economically questionable. Considering those two things, I think it likely another edition is being envisioned.

Before I go any further, I want to say something about company profits and margins and investments. When a company invests money,,they generally desire to maximize the investment dollar and profit. They do not just want to just see profits, they want to maximize that profit. So, if there are two product lines, both of which return a profit but one returns more profit per dollar spent, guess which line is going to be called into question?

I am guessing that the Hasbro execs are looking into that profit per dollar spent and comparing it to other product lines and finding it wanting. I do not know that that is the case. I simply suspect it to be the case. So what is Hasbro to do?

I think this is what they have done (again, I have no inside information). They went to WoTC, looked at the dollar in dollar out and came to the conclusion that the rpg line was not producing as much as the game line (I am thinking of Ravenloft). I think a normal course of action is for Hasbro to tell WoTC to come up with a better plan than has heretofore been the case for the rpg line or it will be truncated. Now, herein lies a problem. Hasbro has a valuable IP that they do not want to see die. This makes truncating or ending the rpg line all together rather risky as doing so may kill the brand's market power. So, they keep the brand alive and demand something else. At the same time, they probably also suggested more money and effort go into boardgames. The latter, I think, is being done for two reasons. First, the profitability on a board game is potentially much higher than an rpg and, I think they are hoping to leap the brand name over to boardgames such that it is not first and foremost connected with rgs but rather, boardgames. Doing so will allow them to slowly divest themselves of the rpg market while keeping the brand alive.  

To wit, in this article, Mike Mearls makes reference to ability claiming that if one were to "look at the basic rules of D&D at that time {1974}, all of the basic, administrative stuff in the game had been solved via ability scores." This is something with which I very much agree. Having played since 1976, it seemed rather obvious but, for those who started later (even a little later) the ability scores slowly and incrementally lost their place in the game and their role may be less clear. Then he asks, "What if you applied the same thinking to remove the skill system entirely and instead just used an ability check"

What if indeed?

For those of you who have played or are familiar with Castles and Crusades, you should be able to see how WoTC is catching up with C&C. For those of you who are not, let me offer a small bit of explanation.

When we set about designing C&C, we really wanted to get back to the basic driving force behind the game. Tear down all the rules and look to see where the core of the game lies was sorta of a mantra. What we found (and all the bells went off at once as something lost was rediscovered) was that the attributes were at the core of the game (well, that and the class archetypes).

Hence C&C with no skill system but with an attribute check system- The SIEGE Engine.This runs the game. Its the core of the game. Its sets the pace. Its also the base of the entire game we are so familiar with which is why it is fairly easy to port material over from other editions into C&C without unduly affecting play.

Now, why the collision. This is my guess. There is to be an effort to go back to a basic, more streamlined, simple system without all the bells and whistles.

So I ask myself, if this were to happen, would I play that game or the game I developed?

I do wish WoTC and Mearls the best.whichever direction they are going.


Zachary Houghton said...

This is not a dig at WotC, but I don’t think they’re capable of producing a truly streamlined version of D&D, unless they go with a “D&D Expert” and “D&D Classic” line. They have a lot of fans who are used now to picking out powers, feats, and who enjoy some of the min/maxing that can come with that. Again, not saying it’s bad, it’s just a way to play. We’d be talking about them doing a complete 180, in a lot of ways. Even if they did try a “Classic” line, I can’t see them doing it without breaking it into 5 different books you needed to get all the classes/races you wanted, and I have to think they’d try to work in some of the 4e combat system, with its dailies and shifting and lack of utility spells in combat, that I really don’t care for.

Even if they did, anything WotC and I had to say to one another ended after they pulled the pdfs without notice of the old TSR products I wanted. I didn’t like how they handled that, and I didn’t like how they handled the push to 4e.

Btw, it’s “Mearls”. :)

Shane Mangus said...

I blogged this very thing on Tuesday:

Basing everything on an ability check is what I believe makes C&C such an elegant system.

JoetheLawyer said...

The funny thing is the game they are talking about already exists---its every edition of D&D prior to 3.0. I can't tell you how many time I used ability score checks in my games, and still do. It doesn't need to have an integrated skill system with formal difficulty levels based on class and race and all that, just one based off of ability scores that works for the group.

All they have to do is tweak first edition AD&D again and they have the system that Mearls is leading up to with his "random thoughts" type posts, which is in reality the most long winded sales job of all time.

They'll never do that though, because it then becomes subject to the OGL, and they lose control of the product, and anyone can make stuff for the game, most of which will be better than the stuff WOTC puts out.

All that being said, one thing we can all be completely positively in agreement about---whatever they attempt to do, they will fail at it miderably. Of that there is no doubt. The base will be further divided and pissed off. It will be designed for the least common denominator, and the execution in terms of sales, design, and PR will be sure to annoy and disappoint.

Shane Mangus said...

What makes C&C different from the way ability checks were used in the pre-3rd editions is the fact that saving throws are essentially ability checks, instead of being a specific save category with an arbitrary number adjusted by a character's class and level. Ability scores (attributes) are literally the unifying factor that the whole game hinges on. I love it!

Davis Chenault said...

Sorry I have not responded, it turned into a rather hectic afternoon. I just dropped by Steve's and he tells my post brought joe the lawyer out. LOL

"I don’t think they’re capable of producing a truly streamlined version of D&D" - zachary.I agree and for much the same reasons.

Shane - congratulations. I have 3 and one on the way + change girl. 4+ change girl, 1+change boy and currently a negative, but getting less negative everyday. I though u had quit posting.

"whatever they attempt to do, they will fail at it miderably." still making me laugh

JoetheLawyer said...

Hehe. Doesn't take much to bring me out if it involved anti-WOTC stuff, and I have some Capt. Morgan in me. The "miderably", I guess is how I would have said it, had I said it in person, a few shots in (or more)as I was. :)

You should post more Davis, I like the way you think. As I said before, I may not agree with all your decisions (PDF Pricing!) but you guys are some of the coolest guys in gaming.

Joseph said...

because it then becomes subject to the OGL

Why, necessarily, would a tweaked 1st edition become suddenly OGL? I defer to the only actual lawyer in the conversation, but doesn't the OGL only strictly pertain to 3.x, despite the lengths to which it has been stretched by certain folks (myself included)?

JoetheLawyer said...

Well, technically it may have come out under 3rd edition, but the OGL allowed us to clone any of the older editions OSRIC and C&C for AD&D for example. So far WOTC hasn't fought the clones on any of those fronts, but they also haven't come out and said "we agree to let the OGL be used for the uses you are putting it to."

My theory is that the reason 4e looks like it does, with feats, powers, dailies, etc is because that terminology is not covered under the OGL, hence no one could make a module with those terms, which are essential, for 4e. No competition. That's also the reason behind putting most everything digital, If they make DDI essential to playing the game, in terms of errata fixes and new content only being released digitally, and having a game so complex that you need their character generator which implements all that info to play it, that's another form of controlling the competition.

If they suddenly go back to something more familiar, without the funky terminology, how soon would it be before people start making modules and clones of the new system itself?

Here's a thought---what if 2 days after a more familiar 5e comes out, someone makes a clone of it using the OGL as legal protection, and WOTC goes after that person saying the OGL doesn't cover clones? Would they then be forced to go after OSRIC, LL, C&C, and all the other OGL derived games and clones?

Rhetorical Gamer said...

Not to take anything away from C&C, it's a really great game and one I'm happy I bought -- but -- other old D&D "clones" did use the Attributes are the core of the system, and, Attributes as Saves before.

Bard Games, Arcanum (still a personal favorite) did this, for example.

If WotC is looking at the possibility of a 5E, my own impression is that it will be an even more "essentialized" version of the current Essentials line.

I also agree that there seems to be a definite attempt to slide the D&D brand name onto other properties to attempt to divorce it from being strictly associated with RPGs. This is disheartening, but visible.

Shane Mangus said...

@Davis - Thanks! Ellie is three months old in two days. She has been running us through baby boot camp, which has been a challenge, to say the least! She is my first.

@Rhetorical Gamer - You know, I forgot how great Arcanum was! I did not get to play the actual game but once, but I loved reading the main rulebook and found it inspirational at the time. Alas, I do not own a copy anymore... Maybe I will try to fin a used copy somewhere.

Shane Mangus said...

@Joe - I agree with your theory behind the reason 4th edition was designed the way it was. If 5th edition is being designed, and I am sure it is in the pipeline as we speak, I wonder if they would take a step backward and start using the same terminology as 3rd? It wouldn't make much sense if they did, but it is not beyond the realm of possibility. I do not think it is a coincidence that 3rd/3.5/d20 had such heyday when it came to sales. The OGL fueled this. I don't have any proof of this of course, but I don't really see how anyone could argue against this point. Maybe, just maybe, WotC has discussed this, and is considering taking another crack at an OGL product with 5th edition. Wishful thinking on my part, I would imagine, but it is an interesting thought experiment anyway.

Davis Chenault said...

The Arcanum from the 1980s?

That was a long time ago.

Joe, is see the rpgnet thread is back up. steve said he is going to double all pdf prices just stir the pot. LOL

Rhetorical gamer - No offense. I know we are not the first to do so. Nor are we likely to be the last. But maybe we will be the last before WoTC does.

Shane - have fun with that baby, but remember, agile as a monkey, dumb as a rock and no survival instincts but dang they are fun. Wait until they start using kid reason and out think you. You will be surprised how many times you say "B/c I am you dad/mom, and I make the rules."

As for WoTC going OGL? I'm guessing not. But I think you are correct in that the OGL at 3.0 did add fuel to the fire of interest and increased sales.

Steve the Priest said...

WOTC (and/or Hasbro) should be ashamed of themselves. I bought and tried the 4th Edition, both initial and the Essentials line. It was a step too close toward boardgaming imho and even though it was a nice game, it's stiff mechanics are what led me to the warmer bosom of C&C. The thing that really caught at the back of my throat was the DDI content. I subscribed as you really HAVE to use the character generator in order to play 4th Edition. It didn't work very well and it didn't print. They robbed me of $80 or whatever it was, money that could have been spent on adventure or supplements etc. Anyway, a few months ago, I sent them an email suggesting a scalable idea for 5th Edition. Basic, Expert and Advanced rulebooks/sets. Each split in three sections with rules for Player, DM and a Creature/Treaure section. This would keep the 'heritage' element, appealing to the 'old school' crowd. So 'Basic' = pre 3rd style options. 'Expert' adding Feats and expanded options and dungeoneer survival guide type campaign info etc. 'Advanced' = new ideas (powers) from 4th and more 'optional' content. The whole thing built from the 'core' of the 'basic' version, whatever that might be. All three books would have content that could still appeal to the 'Basic' purchaser (monsters etc) to increase the likely hood of buying all the books. I think even if they haven't read my email, this is probably the direction they will try next...but what do I know? Just my novice guess :-)