Sunday, January 8, 2012

[If I Ran the Circus] Operation Back Hall Closet

Since you asked (Didn't you? I could have sworn you did)...
... if I were D&D's product manager, my goal would be to put an entry-level D&D boxed set in every back hall closet in America, sandwiched between the ubiquitous dogeared copies of Risk, Scrabble, and Monopoly. Let's stop trying to make D&D cool. D&D will never be cool, no matter how many tattooed elves we include or how many WoW-isms we slap on it. Hell, WoW isn't even remotely cool anymore. We need to distinguish cool from classic. Cool is ephemeral. Classic is forever.
I'm not talking about reprinting Homes or Moldvay word for word, but dammit, just make an evergreen edition of the game that combines the charm of Holmes and the scalability of Moldvay and be done with it. And sell it at Target next to Stratego and Life and Sorry!, dice and a few plastic minis included. Emphasize family play, with mom or dad as the DM, and kids as the players. Trade on older players' love for the game -- "the classic adventure game you loved as a kid is back, and it's easier to play than ever!" Have the boxed set include several short, thematically linked adventures that can be played in one or two sittings each.
Additional boxed sets would be self-contained adventures or campaigns, with relevant plastic minis and dungeon tiles. If you wanted to slap the D&D brand name on some new-school product, like WotC's recent slew of D&D-based boardgames, go ahead, but D&D the classic game would remain its own thing, apart from the D&D brand.
I've seen WotC groping at this idea, with the retro red box set, but there's a difference between retro and classic. It won't work until they stop trying to please the hardcore gamers (because there's no pleasing them ever) and go after a mass audience of lapsed gamers in their 30s and 40s who want to share a classic pastime with their kids.

3 comments:

  1. This is probably the most concise statement of what I would like to see happen. Bravo!

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  2. Interesting post, and topical in the wake of 5E/D&D Next!
    Sorry for long post.
    Part 1:

    'evergreen edition':

    New corporate buzzword that needs to die, along with 'brand managers', imo!

    'Cool is ephemeral. Classic is forever.':
    Absolutely. But 'classic' D&D isn't a family boardgame!(And was never played as such, to my knowledge. It was PLAYTESTED by members of the Gygax family, and that seems to be about it...) Some part of the gaming community seems to be absolutely fascinated with this odd(and imo, wrongheaded) notion. Perhaps it is to preserve D&D(or the name itself) in amber, so the leet roxxor generation will have at least HEARD of it? ;-)

    'Emphasize family play, with mom or dad as the DM, and kids as the players.':

    This is a GREAT way to get D&D thrown in a back closet with Risk, Monopoly, Snakes 'N Ladders, Sorry, etc.. and never played again. Peer group play is preferable to pretty much everyone, if you check surveys or simply ask players.

    Kids and adults CAN play together, but the watered down awkwardness of 'family play'(sometimes adults and kids want to be 'juvenile' at the table!) is best suited for Heroquest or a re-issue of the classic 'Dungeon' boardgame. Or maybe Descent, if you want to punish yourself and everyone else with a FFG design! :-) Or maybe just a D&D boardgame, like that you mention later in the post!

    The solution doesn't lie in automation, either.(Though PDFs, Virtual Table Tops, and online rules should be supported.) Faddish tablet 'apps'/Facebook games won't help increase the number of players, much, if at all. Look at the crossover from a closely related area: vidya gaem adaptions of (A)D&D. Virtually nil. And how many people started playing because of the ridiculous, but fondly remembered(mostly by those who didn't play) 'toon, or horrors, the two movies?

    The differences between RPGs and Electronic RPGs should be stressed. Kids will play with dice and books, contrary to the current OSR belief.(Young people are not mesmerized by technology that wasn't [supposedly]dreamed of
    10 years ago; computing is part of their lives, and is nothing particularly special to them. It's the older people who are in awe.) This cultural disconnect is just another reason why kids and adults mixing in groups generally is to the satisfaction of neither.

    'Trade on older players' love for the game -- "the classic adventure game you loved as a kid is back, and it's easier to play than ever!"':
    These 'lapsed gamers' don't WANT to go back to the 80's, dude. Talk to the people who were in the gaming clubs of the time, or played D&D at summer camp, at church/temple, and at the 'Y'. It's over for them, like the Atari 2600 is over, fringed vests, sunglasses at night and Vans are over. They might play Runescape or Guild Wars or EVE Online, or occasionally spring for WoW, but they don't care much about the non-combat aspects of RPGs.(Which computers 'do well', in a straightforward sort of way.)

    There's no interest, or more importantly interest in spending money, in the game from the VAST majority of them.

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  3. Part 2:
    'It won't work until they stop trying to please the hardcore gamers (because there's no pleasing them ever':
    The owners/creators/innovators of Call of Cthulu, Dark Heresy, Tunnels and Trolls, Pathfinder, Shadowrun, Runequest, et. al seem to have little to no problem doing this. I would posit it's mostly the 'brand managers' of D&D who are at fault?

    An ossified D&D boardgame will do no one any favors. The emphasis should be on getting PLAYERS for whatever Edition you support and actually playing face to face, and if necessary over a medium like Skype or Google+.

    From my perspective, Wizbro, needs cheap, widely available Box Sets(With PDF and smartphone options, of course.) with easy, understandable rules like B/X, that do not REQUIRE any additional outlay for minis, further rulebooks(these should be optional), functioning PC creation software and VTTs, which they can charge for 'advanced features', if the customer so chooses, and a campaign on kid's cartoons and adult tv shows and movies, in video game mags and sites, the obligatory, pro-forma Twitter feed, Facebook screed, etc... They would clean up if they sold great adventures again, imo. Look at Paizo, that's practically the REASON for Pathfinder's existence!


    'go after a mass audience of lapsed gamers in their 30s and 40s who want to share a classic pastime with their kids.':
    Or a bland beer n' pretzels version thereof. D&D once a year, really?

    The numbers make Wizbro salivate, but this is a pipe dream. They had that chance with the 4E Red Box, and that didn't go too well. D&D is not 'Operation' or Checkers, it's a different type of game that requires a different type of play.

    'If you wanted to slap the D&D brand name on some new-school product, like WotC's recent slew of D&D-based boardgames,':
    (I'm not trying to be vitriolic here, I'm genuinely flummoxed!)

    Yes, the SUCCESSFUL ones, I might add. For a while more popular than the (admittedly moribund) Monopoly on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.... This is what you WANT, isn't it? D&D as a well-known boardgame? Well, here it is, why are the mechanics the issue, and not the gutting of the experience?(Imagination, free-form combat, rules as guidelines, the REQUIREMENT of plastic figs and counters, etc... I.e. immersion, for the creatively inclined, you could say.) This is D&D for the FAMILY. I know of a few local clubs and families that play it in my area, for example. It's 'D&D' to them. And that seems to be what certain people want, to be able to say D&D is 'family fare', and therefore 'acceptable, if not 'normal'.(Which it is, as acceptable and normal as sports, movies, video games, etc... This should go without saying, but pop culture trends....)

    Of course, none of this matters ultimately, as anyone on the 'Net talking about RPGs is the Hardcore Gamer type Wizbro shouldn't be listening to! (Especially given your demographic, I'd say!):-)

    Sorry for the double post!

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