|Firetruck I created for my daughter when she was three.|
“The final word, then, is the game. Read how and why the system is as it is, follow the parameters, and then cut portions as needed to maintain excitement.”
— Gary Gygax, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide, 1979
Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, and their friends and colleagues tinkered with tabletop war games to create D&D. The fact that the hobby remains a vibrant and viable diversion with a dedicated community of players is tribute to that spirit of experimentation.
“This game is unlike chess in that the rules are not cut and dried. In many places they are guidelines and suggested methods only.”
— Gary Gygax, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook, 1978
|Santa Yoda created for a promotion at Gizmodo|
As we play with the bits and pieces of D&D, each group finds the elements that work for them, and those that don’t. But unifying it all are some basic RPG concepts, the “bricks” that make up the game. Like LEGO, you can buy or find these “bricks” individually online, or at your FLGS. Or, you can purchase the kits. Either way, the pieces are yours to play with, and to combine and recombine in any way that you find fun.
I suspect that WotC looked at the state of 4e D&D pre-Essentials and found that some players were overwhelmed by the number of choices and complexity of combinations. I also suspect that part of the intent of 4e was that GMs and players would impose limits on what options were available in their particular campaigns. I think Essentials was a roadmap towards the idea of selective use of the rules. Lesson learned at WotC: Creating a clear system of options for selective game-building is perhaps more important than creating a singular, integrated supergame.
This lesson, combined with the state of the hobby (in the form of active and vocal sub-communities devoted to historic variations of the game) has resulted in a change of course. Rather than continuing to pile options on to 4e, WotC will, with input from the community, endeavor to assemble a kit of rules from which players can build their games.
The Cost of Changing Course
I own a lot of gaming books. Admittedly, the vast bulk of them are D&D-related. If I count only the hardback volumes, I have 40 books. It’s a modest collection, but I suspect it is about average for GMs in the hobby. Assuming the books averaged between US$25 and $35 (accounting for the fact that some were purchased over 20 years ago, or more) we’re talking an investment of around US$1,100. I own plenty of splatbooks, modules, and other gaming paraphernalia (not including miniatures.) It’s pretty safe to assume I’ve spent at least $1,100 on that stuff. I’ve been involved in the hobby of RPGs since 1979 or so. It works out to about 32 years. So, cost per day of being in the hobby? About 19¢.
I know that most of you haven’t been in the hobby that long. Or you don’t have that many books. But even if your cost per day is five times mine, you’re talking a dollar a day. I think that’s pretty reasonable considering the entertainment value.
There are plenty of cynical complaints online about the profit motivations behind WotC’s announcement of D&D Next, coming a mere four years after the release of 4e. I know that many gamers have limited financial resources available to indulge in the hobby. There are so many ways to share the costs of the hobby that I feel justified in saying that I don’t find the complaints a legitimate indictment of WotC. Yes, they’ve mishandled customer relations and marketing, sometimes quite badly. But they also continue to publish useable, and in some cases, inspired material.
I’m happy to welcome D&D Next. Ready to explore the various mechanics that WotC has selected as representative of the game over the years. And, I’m interested in providing feedback to them as they finalize the components of the toolkit.
I still have my LEGOs. Many of them are older than my D&D books. It’s still fun to drag out the box every once in a while and just build something. My daughter enjoyed them when she was growing up, and added to the collection. Sometimes we tinker with them together. I’d love to hear your thoughts on rules toolkits, LEGOs, the state of the hobby, or all of the above!