Desperate & Delusional?

As per usual people are upset at how Wizards of the Coast is marketing their Essentials lineup, with the majority shares of animosity directed at their "desperate retro labeling" in hopes that lapsed and butthurt edition diehards clinging to their outdated, out of print games will rejoin our ranks. 'Cause, you know, it's good business practice to dump a shitload of time and money on a fraction-of-a-minority gamble. As has been said over and over again, Essentials is for current, new, and (potentially) lapsed players, not hypocritical grognards who keep their heads in the sand and seem to believe that any innovation outside of their own houserules is an affront to the hobby.

For example, take minis. There are the guys that bitch about how D&D uses apparently obscure implements such as battle mats, markers, and miniatures for managing combat despite the fact that every other edition did so as well (I myself owned a shitload of Ral Partha minis "back in the day"). On the other hand, some like to prattle on about how powers in 4th Edition are "too samey" (by an imagined standard) and that you "just button mash at-wills", disregarding the fact that most (if not all) characters in older editions had one attack that involved a straight d20 roll and only differed in the weapon's damage die. Make up your minds; is it okay or not? You can't negatively criticize it in one edition and not the other.

The developers at WotC aren't stupid. They know that the only way to get the "old school" guys back into the fold is to release--unedited--the same game they already own. Of course no matter which edition they re-release fans of every other edition are still going to be up in arms, so logically they have every incentive to go for what's best for the hobby, which is to say forward. Squatting on dated material fraught with clunky, unbalanced, nonsensical rules is not good for a game company. You need to innovate, which is what the designers at WotC have been doing for the past 10 years. You might not like it. You might like a game where wizards render other classes obsolete in the span of a few levels, where classes cannot do what it was purported to do, and where you can randomly die for no good reason due to one bad die roll.

That's fine, because the game has continued to evolve and I'm glad that you're not a part of it.

Having played Basic and 2nd Edition, I can say that yes, Essentials does provide a somewhat nostalgic experience. The classes have mostly fixed abilities gained at fixed levels, knights and slayers lack the variety of attacks that fighters do, warpriests are melee-oriented (whereas clerics can opt to use ranged attacks), thieves are thieves, and there's a random treasure table in Rules Compendium (which I've been using in my current game without creating some kind of game mechanic singularity). The difference between Essentials and any other edition you care to name is that it looks like an enjoyable game, and I wouldn't be upset to play in an Essentials-only campaign since there is a lot of flexibility and variety in that little book.

I read on another blog that someone believes that they used the classic art from the original red box because, and I'm fucking serious, "that's when the game was it's most popular," which is a pretty delusional statement considering that if the game was doing so great in the past, then why did TSR flop? Why didn't WotC just sell the game as it was after picking it up? Why did they move even farther away from 3rd Edition with 4th? I suppose WotC just enjoys wasting time and losing money on such an unpopular game. I'm sure if they went back to basics they'd be rolling in profits, amirite? Another person asked why they, "don't give people what they want?" They are. The majority doesn't want what older editions had to offer, which wasn't much. We want a fun, accessible, balanced experience that doesn't punish or push away newcomers.

Have fun with your little "renaissance".


  1. The vitriol of the "edition wars" is distasteful no matter where your allegiance lies.

    1. I agree that 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons is just as much "D&D" as any previous edition. "Grognards" who protest otherwise are just grumpy old men and women.

    2. No edition of D&D prior to 4e REQUIRED the use of miniatures. I never owned or used miniatures for playing D&D until 4e. Sure, some people claim to play without miniatures, but I can't imagine doing so, given the direction of the 4e combat rules.

    3. I hope "the majority" of D&D 4e players you speak of DO want what previous editions had to offer, or else why the heck even play?

    D&D 4e is the continuation of a long tradition of fantasy role playing games which will hopefully continue well beyond any future editions of the rules.

  2. As a disclaimer, I'm a 4E lover, and I'm completely thrilled by Essentials. Personally, I don't think it will bring the end of the world, but I've seen quite a bunch of people who think otherwise. That said...

    It is possible that Essentials is stretched out too far. It is attempting to appeal to a lot of different groups: current 4E fans, kids completely new to the hobby, and players of older editions who didn't like 4E for whatever reason. And somewhere in between, there are contradictory requirements.

    The new kid asks for simpler gameplay. Sure, 4E may be the most streamlined edition ever, and many of us have introduced newbies with ease, but... there is still room for improvement.

    Some new players don't have someone to teach them, and even some current 4E veterans occassionally get overwhelmed with the range of options, both in play and in character creation. So Essentials provides the added simplicity that those players need... and some 4E fans feel alienated.

    The lapsed veterans (and I mean people who found 4E unappealing back in the day, not the active haters that can still be found in most forums) may dislike 4E for different reasons, but they all share something in common: they liked previous editions of D&D. So anything that evokes classic concepts makes the game more likely to attract these players.

    There is a lot of space to 'go classic', mostly because 4E was such a big departure from the past, to begin with. Of course, the trick is to manage that while keeping the current core more or less intact. Merely flavorful changes, like using ancient names such as Thief and Backstab or old school concepts like schools of magic help in that regard, and are mostly harmless, but can fall a bit short.

    Some old schoolers had genuine mechanical concerns, and you can't wave that away with a change of names. The 'samey class' issue is the big one - differentiating classes by style and function while keeping the exact same framework works for many people (myself included), but it lost some veterans along the way. If that framework can be tweaked so that resource management feels different without changed all that much, you can get that people back in the game. As long as you don't break the game in half, that is.

    And then you have the loyal 4E fan, who sees all those changes not targeted at him, and wonders what will be left of HIS game afterwards. Frankly, I think the answer is 'pretty much the same, with a couple more options, and maybe more people to play with'.

    People are worried that the new class styles will kill the balance, because different resource systems can get messy. Me, I think it may be a problem for campaigns with very long or very short adventuring days, but it looks like it could just work.

    Others are annoyed that a new book they don't care for brings errata to their PCs (i.e. Melee Training). Yet this has happened before: Daggermasters got nerfed because of Sorcerers, and Pit Fighters because of Avengers, and nobody is blaming PHB2. Small conflicts with older material are all but inevitable, particularly when you're trying out brand new ideas.

    Finally, there is that vague statement about 'future classes following the Essentials model', which could mean almost anything, and many just read as 'Don't expect anything but Slayers and Thiefs in the future!'. I always thought the developers were talking about trying out different resource systems and giving out features as you level (i.e. more Mages, or more Psions) but, as I said, they've been pretty vague.

    I'm fairly confident in the success of the line, as there is some very clever design in there. Unfortunately, the Edition War will probably just go on forever.

  3. Well said. I'm really excited about Essentials, because while I'm a huge fan of the 4e combat system, I've always felt that it lacked some of the classic "D&D feel" that has marked the earlier editions (notably 2nd ed.) It sounds like the Essentials rules allow you to bring back that nostalgic feel while still using the absolutely excellent 4e combat rules.

    That said, I think there's a lot to be learned from the "old school renaissance" OD&D is a fun game in it's own right.

  4. I agree with much of your feeling about 4E, but should mention that, by sales/profit, D&D's best years were: 1982 & 2001. WOTC got D&D because of bad management and lawsuits that led to TSR's demise.


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