Dice Monkey made me do this. Blame him.

Over on Dice Monkey, Mark (all round good guy and uber gamer) asked what you would do if given the reins of D&D and told to move it to the next Edition of the game. I encourage you to hop right over and read his well-written words as well of those of his commenters. Much yummy food for thought is contained within regarding the possible future of everyone’s favourite (or least favourite, depending on who you ask) role-playing game.

What I’m going to do here is reproduce the comment I made over on his site to throw it open for discussion. I’m fortunate to have the best, most intelligent (not to mention great looking) commenters around and I’d value your input as to whether I’m barking up a tree other gamers would like to bark up as well. Woof woof, etc.

Here’s my thoughts.

I would hop across the hall and talk to the Axis & Allies guys. They manage to fit multiple scenarios, hundreds of minis and an infinitely customizable game into a single game box. Find out how they do it then do that, all in the D&D style. This will inevitably mean changing the scale of the game from traditional 25mm to something more like 15mm. That’s a good thing – more cost effective, more monsters on the table, bigger dungeons. 4e gamers will be up in arms, then love you forever when you release a box of 150 unpainted Orcs and Kobolds for under $30.

Next, make a one book D&D hardback that contains all the rules, char gen and monsters you need to get to 10th level. They did it with d20 Modern, so they can do it for D&D. Then release a hardback for 11th-20th level which features strongholds, Domain management rules and mass combat. Then 21st-30th with Empire building rules, and 31st-40th level with planar travel, and 41st-50th with godhood. Build and expand the game rather than keeping it the same but with larger foes. Essentials is a step in the right direction, but falls far short in where it should be (in my opinion).

Then hop across the hall to the Magic:the Gathering guys and make a one-book M:tG Campaign Setting book. Release a new campaign setting every year, all as one book settings. Cover the existing ones – Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Greyhawk (please?), Dark Sun, Ravenloft, etc then head into new directions. A one book Campaign Setting per year could take the game into Dark Fantasy, Low Fantasy, Modern Fantasy, etc as well as open up potential wider licenses. How about a one book Game of Thrones official D&D Campaign Setting? Or Gormenghast? Or even Lord of The Rings? Widen the appeal of D&D into literate audience rather than pretending that fantasy literature doesn’t exist (as they have insultingly done with Fourth Edition).

Release a printed publication magazine (possibly called Dragon) on the newstands to target new and lapsed customers. Aim it at teens (ie, non credit card wielders) as well as more mature gamers. Offer new monsters, adventures, GM advice, supplemental material and previews for the Campaign Settings and more – all fodder for new and existing customers alike. People buy magazines, and people who buy magazines buy stuff. Simple.

Finally, ditch D&D Insider. Get Bioware or whoever to make a world-class character builder and sell that for $30. Make it the exact same builder as it used for all official D&D computer games and sell subscriptions for them instead. Put the content that would have gone into D&DI into Dragon magazine (which is also available for subscription) and it’s a win all round.

End result: a fantatic edition of D&D that is well supported from the ground up with a clear path for the future and a growing userbase.

Job done.

That’s where the original comment ended. I would also add one thing. Ditch the GSL and replace it not with the OGL (shock!) but with a new license that specifically permits the use of D&D monster stat blocks, traps, magic items and diseases in published adventures. This will allow the third party adventure market to thrive and allow Wizards of The Coast to concentrate on the big picture instead of publishing low-profit (for them) adventure modules.

So there you have it. My vision for how 5e could be presented. Smaller (but more and cheaper) minis, one book, yearly campaign settings, third party adventures and a magazine back on the print stand to support it all.

What do you think?

24 Comments on “Dice Monkey made me do this. Blame him.”

  1. Actually, I LOVE your model. I think it makes a lot of sense, if costs for materials (paper, shipping, etc) could be kept down for ‘you’ to make enough of a profit.

    That being said, lovely thoughts!

  2. I concur with your plan with one exception. Rather than miniatures, I’d prefer to see a line of high-quality counters for monsters. For the same costs to producer and consumer, you could sell lots and lots of high-quality die-cut cardboard counters in better mixes for actual use in play. Then, you offer a series of minis for use by player characters with high options for customization: customer specifies class+race+gender with some cultural options, places order over the internet, and then gets shipped a good quality lead miniature. Customers could pay extra for pre-assemply, and extra for pre-painting, or choose to do it themselves.

    At my table, the only minis are the PCs and allies in a party — all oppositions are counters, made from thin plywood miniature bases decoupaged with colour-printed paper counters (drawn from Fiery Dragon, Paizo PDFs, and other sources). I really like the contrast between the “important” figures and the opposition: it works very well.

    It also makes storage of lots and lots of tokens much more easy than minis.

    1. I’m with you on the counters – I prefer them too, but from a business sense miniatures are a more profitable option.

      Put a big box of minis on the shelf and they will fly off much more quickly than any number of pop-out counter sets. The key is to get the margins right, and that’s something WoTC have never been able to master when it comes to miniatures.

      I guess there’s no reason why they couldn’t do both; offer both miniatures and counter sets so you can have the best of both worlds.

      Better still, emphasize in the (hypothetical) 5th Edition D&D rules that miniatures,battlemats and dungeon tiles are an entirely optional extra. If you want them, they’re available either in counter or plastic mini form, but if not then that’s cool too.

      Stage two would be to provide adventures complete with the dungeon tiles and counters needed to play it all in one pack. This would increase their both they sale potential and replay value.

      1. Speaking of dungeon tiles: Something I’d like to see are “Bits Packs”, which would be weird shaped areas, etc. Same thing for the minis: All the bits and bobs needed to scratchbuild pretty much anything. See some of the stuff on Musings of A Metal Mind (Not mine) for why.

  3. I like your idea but I wold add a few things.
    First release 1 revised “collector’s” supplements (core rules, campaign settings, monster manuals) for an older edition each year. I think releasing an Rules Cyclopedia version of each edition (1 per year) would go along way in mending fences with lost fans. Embrace the OSR, don’t ignore it. Make the collector’s books available to purchase at specialty shops, conventions and online only. That way there is no confusing in mainstream outlets. If you are shopping for RPGs in your online store or in specialty shops you already know there is a difference between the 5e D&D books and a collector’s edition AD&D RC. Keep the print run relatively low to make it viable, but not so low that there aren’t enough to meet demand.
    Next have staff rotate, each taking turns actually interacting and listening to what fans are saying on the message boards. Take that input into consideration when designing new products.
    Create an subscription option modeled after Paizo’s Adventure Paths that not only provides full adventures (1-20) in the “core world” over a period of time but also provides interesting articles that can be used with the AP or in homebrew games. Extra space could be dedicated to one shot adventures for higher level play. Dragon Magazine could be revived for this purpose.
    Designate at least 1 campaign setting (FR, Eberron, Dragonlance, Mystara, etc) to be released using Pathfinder rules. Then release a reasonable amount of support material for it every year (1 maybe 2 books). Also use the DDi or whatever subscription service you are using to allow for subscription only content, but make it worth the price of admission. If Paizo can make money by using the D&D’s old rules, there is no reason you can’t do the same.
    Off the top of my head those are the things I’d suggest.

    1. Good call on the Collector’s Supplements! I would love to see revised (ie, updated layout and artwork) editions of Classic D&D and AD&D. Make them coffee table books and I would just snap them right up.

      While on the subject of supplements…..

      The thing would be for them to make it clear that any supplements are just that – supplemental to the rules and entirely optional. The 4e edict of “everything is core” was just plain stupid, and I suspect put off a lot of potential early 4e adopters. No one wants to buy into a game where you’re expected to buy everything just to keep up. Bad marketing is always bad marketing, and this was it.

      1. I question who those “Collector’s Supplements” would really target, or mend fences with. The general vibe I get from the OSR community is that if WotC did release them, they wouldn’t care (or would care enough only to be angry at WotC). OSR folk already have their original books (or retro clone books) and don’t need reprints. I understand the call to embrace rather than exclude the OSR, but from a business standpoint it seems silly to market to a niche market, in your already niche market, that already has what you are trying to sell them.

  4. Sounds great, but they should ditch Copyright and slap a Creative Commons Pro License on the entire game.

    Also, they should, again, cater to the roleplayers. They should put the emphasis back into Roleplaying (I don’t think a balanced game that makes it easy for everyone would be right).

  5. I would say, that seeing you have so many possible settings that one a year is a bit small… Two a year would be better, one old, and one newish (being form novels, or completly new)

    Appart from that I would definetly like that direction for d&d :)

    1. Not sure about that. Two settings a year could well lead to Coastal Overdose Syndrome, and that will never do :)

      How about this: one Campaign Setting a year with the next one being playtest/previewed in Dragon magazine to garner feedback from players. Better?

  6. I like the model. I do agree with the suggestion that high quality counters would be better then bunches of little plastic minis. This would also mean you wouldn’t have to change scale. Changing scale would toss out collections of painted minis, as well as already owned tiles/maps in use at 25mm.

    I noticed you avoided splat books. As a player/GM I think this is a huge plus, though I wonder if your product output would be enough to financially sustain the company (I know, this is all wishful thinking, but that’s what popped in my head). If splat materials were offered in the magazine instead, would it be worthwhile to annually compile that material in a softback compendium?

    1. Agreed. They could release Dragon Annual (or Biannual) hardbacks which compiled the best splatbook style articles (new classes, player options, etc) and another which collated the best adventures and GM information.

      That would cater for the players who don’t necessarily want to buy the magazines each month but do want new content to play with on a regular basis.

      I’m not convinced that releasing more books = more profit. Releasing great quality books then focusing on increasing the circulation is a far better way of increasing profit, imho. Release hardbacks, six months later release updated softcovers. Produce coffee table editions with more artwork and designer’s notes, etc. I would kill for a large format coffee table edition of the Monster Manual, for example :)

  7. Greywulf: Just pay Kobold Quarterly to go all D&D…

    I’s say, “Stop listening to the accountants.” Actually, I’d yell it.

    Selling crappy adventures is penny wise, but pound foolish. The Nine (H1 to E3), are like the undead Nazgul of the Gaming Industry.

    Selling bland settings is penny wise, but pound foolish. (Forgotten Realms 4e, I’m looking at you.)

    You need to look at the whole picture, and not just whether each book makes reams of money. What I hear from most negative reviews of 4e is, “I didn’t like the adventure.” (Hint: I’m a 4e fan who doesn’t like your adventures.)

    Copy some of your competitors.. produce system-less setting books, and guides for your current edition. (I’d love to use 3.x Forgotten Realms in 4e… How much do I have to convert?)

    Good adventures and settings are what really ignite imagination. They can cause that undercurrent of interest in your games and your products. This will strengthen and lengthen your sales curve. They are also the on-ramp for new players to get on to bigger and better game play.

    Letting down any aspect of the whole product line lets down the whole product line. (Even if character builder makes it quick and easy to play a game, I still have to burn time creating adventures. Ergo, I haven’t gained anything.)

  8. Lots of good ideas! I’d make a CCG, where your deck was your character, and you played around the table, like multi-player MtG. Keep something like Essentials, buy one of the existing virtual tools and slap a D&D logo on it. And release boardgames like the Ravenloft offering for each of the D&D settings.

    Then, as others have suggested, release a setting each year, in the form of a setting-specific DM guide, player guide.

  9. Lots of good ideas! I’d make a CCG, where your deck was your character, and you played around the table, like multi-player MtG. Keep something like Essentials, buy one of the existing virtual tools and slap a D&D logo on it. And release boardgames like the Ravenloft offering for each of the D&D settings.

    Then, as others have suggested, release a setting each year, in the form of a setting-specific DM guide, player guide.

    The CCG is for the char op crowd. Cheaper than splat books. The boardgames for the time-crunched crowd. Online so I can play with the folks I meet online. Covers most of the audience for things D&D, I think.

  10. This topic and the previous one about Pathfinder seem to indicate a profound disenchantment with 4e. I’d refer you here for a topic and discussion about the possible future of D&D at WOTC.


    I love your ideas for 5e.

    I don’t have a blog, but I wrote this a few weeks ago from a more Old School perspective.

    4e Might Be Right

    Notice how most people who don’t play 4e, don’t call it D&D? The brand may start to disintegrate into tribalized factions: 4e, Pathfinder, Old School. All of them D&D. None of them the true heir. What I mean is that the market has never matured. (Some of the players have, though perhaps not emotionally.) RPG’s are still more hobby than game. Meaning, you can’t just take the box down from the closet and play it on a rainy afternoon.

    Players might take this as a feature rather than a bug. I would never advocate for doing away with DM’s and players producing reams of useless background material for adventures as long as people are enjoying themselves. What I’m talking about is people who don’t want to spend large amounts of their free time preparing for the game. Certainly D&D has been around long enough and been popularized by online RPG’s to the point that most non-tabletop players implicitly get the concept.

    Why isn’t there a mainstream version of the game? Something along the lines of having pre-made or mix and match powers characters with pre-made adventures (with multiple options for encounters) that can be played in two to three hours. The rules would have to be rock solid and simple to learn (that is they keep the math to a minimum, like only one modifier per roll). There can still be a hobby version. More options and details, with about the same rules.

    Characters can advance from adventure to adventure by a simple general enhancement or new characters could be used just for each adventure. Adventures can be modules, made up by the DM, or even randomly rolled. (Imagine a book of pre-made encounters and options.)

    4e has taken D&D the closest to this possibility. The rules of the game are as clearly defined as they’ve ever been (except for skill challenges). It has only fallen down in that the game exclusively appeals to hobbyists. It is still filled with a bewildering array of character choices and options. That’s for the RPG’er, but a hard sell to the non-gamer. Would you play Monopoly if you had to spend any time rolling up and building your piece?

    To play 4e you need at least three hardbacks. It is somewhat implied you need the others, along with minis, mats, and other physical pieces. Essentials trims to two softback books (maybe three), along with minis, mats, and other physical pieces. Either way it’s a substantial investment for someone who isn’t already a player.

    Essentials was an attempt at building a simpler game. However, it’s still totally compatible with the full version, therefore making it functionally just as complex. While it makes characters easier to build and play, they still work and progress in the same fashion as regular characters. In short, I don’t know who this version of the game was written for. It’s less options for the gamer, while still too complex for the non-gamer.

    Perhaps Essentials was only a further gouge of the hard core gamer, who is buying it for the rules update. And there are two more reasons for the non-gamer not to buy into D&D: constant mandatory updates (and the always impending threat of the new version) and having to pay for them. This segues into the worst problem of 4e in terms of new players, having to buy a subscription to the website. Oh no, it’s certainly not mandatory. You can make up a new character by hand. You don’t have to have the rules updates. Sort of. That experienced players turn to the character builder to create and advance their characters is a pretty harsh indictment. Essentials may make it easier to create, but not so much advance. The rules updates are for geeks, who you’re inevitably going to run into when you’re playing (or you are one). Since they have the rules to back them up, everyone has to go along with them.

    As an aside, this is something of an improvement over 3e. You had to do your math yourself there. If there was a bunch of rules updates you’d have to buy a whole new set of books called (.5). It’s hard to fault WOTC for exploiting gamers, given their willingness to shell out for half-ass new versions of the game.

    3e set the tone. The D20 mechanic really is an improvement in playability over older versions. Right up until you add in a bunch of modifiers, which are very hard to keep track of. Skills and feats are the ultimate in customizability and useless time wasting in character creation, advancement, and actual play. The worst aspect is that the player now plays a China Doll. After all the time that the player has put into creation and maintenance, the DM dare not kill them out of hand.

    Bang, you’re dead! That’s Old School. You know what, it’s wrong. People get into this to indulge in an heroic fantasy, not an historical one. You play dumb and get your character killed, too bad. Your character goes down in a pitched battle with the big villain or protecting the helpless from a hoard of Orcs, you can write a ballad about it. “Ooops. The random encounter with the giant rats has overwhelmed the entire party. TPK. Okay, everybody roll up new characters.” Nobody plays the game for that thrill, not even the most sadistic DM.

    The reliance on minis and mats, the craftsmanship involved in making up a character, and the unwieldy nature of creating and using NPC’s and some monsters has had a largely unrecognized effect on the 3e and 4e game. DM improvisation, players taking adventures of the rails, and random encounters are almost play styles of the past. Encounters have to be set up and planned to some extent in any version. 3e and 4e encounters require so much set up, that even the players understand that if they go “rogue” in an adventure, there may not be any encounters. Both version have made some attempt at making encounters “easier” to create and more “play balanced” for the party. The amount of effort expended in following those formulas and in playing them out, ensures that there will be few of them and they will be virtually mandatory if there’’ going to be any adventure.

    Since characters are had to replace, if the dice have fated that they’ll die, it’s got to be meaningful. So no random encounters. That’s okay. As established, encounters are hard enough to make and mandated to the point that players can’t do whatever and DM’s can’t BS encounters in reaction. This sort of short circuits the current en vogue play style of Old School, the sandbox. This is where the DM does large amounts of prep work for an adventure setting and then the players immediately head straight off the map. How is this different than any other Old School game? In a larger sense, there isn’t any. For all the extra work, even if the players go along, the DM will still be improvising the whole session and each succeeding one. Over prep and under prep, the worst of both worlds. The properly run sandbox is essentially the DM playing by himself in a setting without the characters when the players aren’t looking.

    As stated before, in 4e player choices amount to either engaging the DM’s planned encounters, or not having any encounters. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The typical low level, nearly helpless Old School characters getting wiped out by random encounters, while trying to figure out where to play in the sandbox, isn’t fun for anyone except the most cautious (and tedious or lucky) players. People are exhorted to be cautious in real life enough. Time to find some glory!

    By contrast, low level 4e characters are nearly indestructible, assuming the recommended play balanced encounters. They’re not going to be able to take out Orcus, but it’s going to take a couple of rounds for him to kill them. The encounters and adventure will be mapped out well in advance. Player decisions will basically be all tactical. But they will look good and probably feel pretty superheroic cleaving through their opponents. Of course the trade off for this are fight scenes that play out like an epic paper cut death match. There might be a few too many hit points in 4e.

    4e has also done away with having to stock the dungeon with treasure. By giving the characters whatever they want as long as it’s level appropriate. This strikes me a singularly lazy or alternately an almost complete dismissal of the DM and his role. May as well go play a board game or a computer game and finish the deal. Skill challenges essentially abrogate the role of the player, their thinking and role playing.

    Collectible card gaming is slowly being worked into 4e, prototyped in Gamma World and now an optional accessory. Between that and the heavy emphasis on combat rules with battle mats and minis, official D&D seems more like a tactical strategy game than an RPG. Along with the lack of improvisation and simple character creation, little wonder fans of previous versions of the game don’t consider it real D&D. Even with some similarity to 3e, Pathfinder fans find 4e taken to too much of an extreme, without the game flexibility benefit.

    But 4e gets it right in some areas. Powers and monsters are precisely defined (even if those powers all seem to involve moving pieces on a board like chess). Characters are built to heroic proportions. Adventures are designed to let them shine and eliminate nonsense and filler encounters.

    Hard (not vague) rules that are easy to use. Characters that are tough and simple to create, play, and advance. Adventures that force the players to think and make decisions, but are free of fluff encounters. Settings that start small and grow via adventures played, not giant pre-made constructs. It’s hard to say if RPG’s are getting closer to something more mainstream acceptable. Or if the next official version of D&D will be a hobby fetish mess mandating minis, cards, and online content. Ooops. Already there. WOTC’s made their choice with the IP. We’ll see where Old School and Paizo take their games.

    1. This topic and the previous one about Pathfinder seem to indicate a profound disenchantment with 4e.

      Not at all. I love Fourth Edition and rate it as the second best version of D&D ever made (after the Classic D&D Rules Cyclopedia, praise its holy name), but I am interested in how the game is going to evolve over the next few years.

      I’m certain that WoTC will be looking closely at where Paizo have succeeded and they haven’t done quite so well. Hopefully they will learn lessons.

      There’s so many directions that D&D could go in, and none of them are mutually exclusive. If WoTC released powers, treasures and more as collectible cards, sold boxes of miniatures, packs of counters and kept them all strictly optional extras to a game that just needs imagination, a core book and a set of dice to play, I’d be all over it.

      That way D&D could appeal to the widest possible audience – one that can build and make their own particular style of D&D that they want to play.

      Thanks for your comments!

    2. Hmm… Well, I’m not sure I agree with you on the fact that it’s too hard in the older stuff. Most people won’t throw five hundred giant rats at the players if an encounter calls for rats. (I’ve personally never died playing AD&D, though that’s largely a byproduct of the fact that the games I played in were so far apart that even though they were done with the same people we did it in different areas, and I never actually got above first level because of it. I came close a couple of times, most notably from a run-in with an animated frog statue, but I made it. And got the rubies it was using for eyes, which was nice, as the whole reason I woke it up in the first place was trying to pry them out) Also, if you hit something too super high above your abilities, you’re expected to run, which means that you won’t have to kill a Shambling mound, even if it shows up on the wandering monster roll/

        1. Geez, what did I mean by that? What was I on when I wrote that rambling mess?

          I think I was thinking of encounters that are put in just to fill up spaces on a map. Of course, it’s not like every numbered encounter is going to be memorable classic as written. You never know, but empty rooms aren’t great for adventure.

          I’m of two minds on random encounters. The Alexandrian (http://www.thealexandrian.net/index.html) has written a tremendous defense of them, but like I said, 3e and 4e don’t seem to do them well, and they just seem like a nuisence in actual play, unless you’ve got a great sense of improv.

  11. Its interesting to think about how expensive the GSL has been for WOTC. For instance, they decided to produce the Character Builder, they’ve now spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on this application. (How many books do you have to sell to pay for that? Was it worth it?)

    On the other hand, after looking around I found a free Pathfinder Character Builder (PCGen). Sure its difficult and obtuse… BUT ITS FREE! I was able to muck around with it, and use it. And it was available for Pathfinder right at the get go. (For legal reasons PCGen does not support 4e.)

    An interesting thing with WOTCs online character Builder is that WOTC is currently mining data on what people are playing and in what quantities, etc. (For instance, I bet they are discovering that all those situational feats that consume 20% of their books aren’t doing so hot.)

    1. There are people at my table who started by using PCGen. We’ve since converted them over to using HeroLab which while costing $20 is a superior product. As with all things you get what you pay for… or in some cases you’re wasting your money.

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