09
Jan
12

you heard it here first

Sign-up image for Wizards of the Coast's 5E open playtest.

Today’s pieces by Ethan Gilsdorf in the New York Times, David Ewalt in Forbes, and Greg Tito in the Escapist – as well as the Legends and Lore column by Mike Mearls – bring confirmation that the OSR has won sooner than I expected. Apparently there is some inaccuracy in taking a summer temperature by counting the frequency of cicadas chirping, or in predicting the arrival of 5E by how often people are crying that the sky is falling.

Here are folks I know have been listening to what the OSR has been saying, talking about the announcement:

“The long open testing period for the next edition, if handled correctly, could be exactly what’s needed to make players feels invested in D&D again.”

“I’m not a fan of fourth edition. I find the combat slow, the powers limiting, and the rules inhospitable to the kind of creative world-building, story-telling and problem-solving that make D&D great. But so far, the fifth edition rules show promise. They’re simple without being stupid, and efficient without being shallow. Combat was quick and satisfying; we got through most of an adventure in just a few hours.”

  • David Ewalt, one of the participants on the “The World Dave Built” panel at the Arneson Memorial Gameday.

“It’s a compliment to the new rules that I was rarely aware of them. It might have been Mike’s expertise as a DM, but the new D&D does feel like a pleasant amalgam of every edition and the elegance of the rules allowed us to concentrate on the adventure’s plot… Many of us fell in love with the game through the adventure modules released by TSR in the early days of the game. Gygax’s Against the Giants modules are still regarded as a crowning achievement in how they planted plot details in the dungeon along with exciting combat, and Mearls said he wants to get back to that level of story-telling through new published adventures.”

  • Disgruntled 4E playtester Greg Tito, in his own piece.

Are these not some of the things that we’ve been asking for?

I don’t think that the OSR’s every word has been taken to heart. It’s certainly not that our size or market impact has made any kind of meaningful impact on Wizards of the Coast’s business projections; I’m not even sure our OGL ally Pathfinder can claim that distinction.

What I do believe is that the OSR represents the same zeitgeist that is putting like-minded souls into art galleries and theaters and sports teams and the leadership of WotC and Paizo. And I believe that our cacophonous, insanely divergent group of loudmouthed blind men provided an unusually complete description of the elephant in the room throughout the 4E era. Facing an insanely difficult task of design and marketing as they try to usher in the new age of creation, not even WotC would have the hubris to completely refuse to drink from the OSR’s pool of free advice and analysis.

Of course, WotC’s capacity to screw things up often seems limitless. If in trying to give the OSR what we want they make a complete mockery of everything we believe in, feel free to say I was among the first to get egg on my face.


14 Responses to “you heard it here first”


  1. 1 James Nostack
    January 9, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    They are so fucked.

    Pathfinder and the OSR have taught long-time gamers that they don’t need to give WOTC a penny; much of the OSR stuff is easier to understand, plays faster, is built on decades of open play-testing and analysis, and is being given away for free. If you’re already a gamer, WTF do you need Wizards for, especially when 40 years of this stuff is available on the secondary market?

    To me it seems like Wizards of the Coast has two valuable things: the trademark, and traditional distribution channels (the latter being less valuable every year it seems). What that suggests is that their core advantage is reaching new players, people who may be curious about D&D but don’t know anywhere else to get it. (Or what to do with it once they have it.)

    Seriously, Wizards: we ran D&D for like ten elementary school kids and all 10 of them loved the shit out of gaming. The problem is that even when we distilled the rules to 2 pages, that was about all they really needed and in any case far more than they were willing to read in one go.

    So there’s a hugely important role to be served here by a big company with serious marketing power and access, which is, cultivating a new crop of gamers. But the way to do that is by distilling your product down into something affordable and accessible. And maybe some magazine like Fight On! or whatever aimed for a younger audience. That is your product. Everything else is cruft.

  2. 2 James Nostack
    January 9, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    From Tito’s article:
    Other than my name among the hundreds of play testers in the back of the 4th edition Player’s Handbook, nothing I submitted made it into print. Our feedback was summarily ignored, and Mearls admitted that was essentially true of all the feedback Wizards received from the 4th edition play test.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

    In the mid-1990’s, my local newspaper, The Philadelphia Inquirer hired an “ombudsman.” As the Inquirer explained it, they wanted the paper to be more sensitive to reader input, and to correct flawed practices so as to produce more accurate stories that better reflected the needs of their readership.

    Every week the ombudsman had a paragraphs on the editorial page, and every week it said the same thing. “Hundreds of readers wrote to us to question our coverage of the _____________ story. The Inquirer deeply appreciates this input, because listening is an important part of communication. Another part of communication is honesty: your moronic ponderings will change none of our practices. We look forward to reporting on this and similar stories in the exact same manner, but thank you for caring enough about good journalism to write to us anyway.”

    Good luck on that crowd-sourcing, Wizards.

  3. January 9, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    Greg and I were part of that playtest group together, and even the admission that we were being ignored represents progress. Maybe this is part of slagging the old as part of promoting the new: you should trust us to do good because we admit we are bad. But the level of honesty surrounding this launch seems to me substantially higher than it was for 4e. I think this is a real priority for Mearls, who I know has been frustrated by marketing-imposed messages that bore little resemblance to reality – although given the number of core employees WotC has fired and left with lots of damaging information and little reason to love their former employer, honesty could just be making the best of a bad deal.

  4. 4 James Nostack
    January 9, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    I wonder what kind of meaningful input crowd-sourcing could possibly provide. This is a hobby where people have passionate opinions on Ascending versus Descending Armor Class, Race-as-Class, and the use of percentile dice versus 2d6 for Thief skills. WTF.

    The main thing you’re not going to be getting from crowd-sourcing is the opinions of non-gamers about what might appeal to them. And which is, I think, the only thing that really matters in the long run if the hobby is to survive past our deaths. 4e, Pathfinder, the OSR, and the indie scene are all basically that 3 Kelvin’s worth of background radiation persisting past the late 70’s D&D fad. Eventually that explosion will stop reverberating.

    What a crazy, crazy business. I feel really bad for the people who have to design this monster. Talk about a thankless job.

  5. January 9, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    Pathfinder and the OSR have taught long-time gamers that they don’t need to give WOTC a penny; much of the OSR stuff is easier to understand, plays faster, is built on decades of open play-testing and analysis, and is being given away for free. If you’re already a gamer, WTF do you need Wizards for, especially when 40 years of this stuff is available on the secondary market?

    This is so very true, but I bet there will be many who will go running right back to them nonetheless.

  6. 6 Bargle
    January 9, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    “4e, Pathfinder, the OSR, and the indie scene are all basically that 3 Kelvin’s worth of background radiation persisting past the late 70′s D&D fad.”

    Ha, that is awesome.

  7. January 9, 2012 at 9:06 pm

    Is it still grid based? That is the biggest question I have right now. I don’t see how they’ll be able to break away from the grid in post 3.0 world. The grid has been the source of a majority of the problems with post 2nd ed D&D (many of the problems with D&D do in fact have their roots in the mid to late run 2nd ed stuff). The grid is constraining and I say this as a historical wargamer, a decades long fan of Games Workshp games, etc. I love minis, I even have a special nostalgia for minis based D&D. But the grid based versions of D&D have lacked that special something I think in large part due to the big derailing, game interrupting nature of grid based, very complex combats. Story and RP defacto have to take a back seat in a grid based, crunchy combat game. I do not believe it will be possible to please all the various groups … the deeper RP/Story folks on the OSR side AND the crunchy grid/minis based combat guys on the 3.0-pathfinder-4e side … all at once. Yet that is what is being said is the aim of 5th ed. So I’m deeply intrigued to see how this seemingly impossible task is going to be pulled off … this is either going to be a really historic game … or one of the biggest flops we’ve ever seen. The stakes are high in nerdland :)

  8. 8 James Nostack
    January 9, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    @ Bargle
    Thanks. I think that D&D Big Bang thing connects to all this “let’s talk about money” posts around here lately.

    I got into Dungeons & Dragons at age 9, thanks to the Mentzer Basic set, sold as a mass-market publication through mainstream toystores. I’d already been softened up through the Saturday morning cartoon and the Dungeons & Dragons (R) Endless Quest (TM) line of choose-your-own-adventure books. (“Mommy, what’s a ‘basilisk’?” “Hmm. Probably a typo for ‘obelisk.'”)

    It’s tempting to denounce mass-market popularizations and transmedia licensing, but in selling out Gygax enriched my life in a way I can’t begin to fathom. I’d be a totally different person if D&D was restricted to 20-30 dudes in their 60’s living in Wisconsin. I suspect that a large percentage of the OSR is in the same spot.

    So I think big companies, and the commodification of Dungeons & Dragons(R) can be a good thing, particularly for reaching new people. But as has been endlessly discussed, the existence of a large business hierarchy, the need to maximize shareholder value, the arguably unethical need for game designers to not design themselves out of a paying gig, etc., have also deformed the hobby in significant ways. So: everything in its proper place, right? Man must never serve the machine!

    (The question of operating small businesses, and what kind of small business, is in my mind a very different issue but also interesting.)

  9. 9 NUNYA
    January 10, 2012 at 3:00 am

    WHAT YOU AM MEAN AN OSR HAZ WON? WON WHAT? THE 115 PPL IN A OSR MOVEWMENT MAKE AS MUCH NOISE TO A HASBRO SUIT AS A FART DOES IN A HURRICAN!!!1

    :p

    -NUNYA

  10. January 10, 2012 at 7:05 am

    “The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don’t need any rules.” – Attributed to Gary Gygax

    @NUNYA, the secret we should never let the 11.5 people who push their agenda through the decision-making process of the RPG industry know is that the opinion of 115 blowhards is totally meaningless. Obviously they should listen to their own market research data instead of what the cool kids think is cool.

    Fortunately, the suits have never figured out why RPGs made so much money in the ’80s and why so many people still care passionately about them. Until they do, they will be at the mercy of geeks like us to tell them what to do with this weird D&D stuff. Since one defining characteristic of geeks is eagerness to be accepted by cool kids, the OSR will matter as long as our coolest kid gets paid to have sex with pornstars when he is not playing D&D with pornstars or preparing for his next acclaimed exhibition of maximalist contemporary art or just having a much more complete and satisfying life than is standard for a game industry professional.

    4e has the Robot Chicken guys; Penny Arcade is a fairweather friend, easily falling into Pathfinder’s arms; but since Stephen Colbert and Vin Diesel’s tastes in RPGs were set many decades ago, old-school fart-sniffing is likely to be the easiest route to figuring out what will appeal to the influencers that matter to middle-aged game designers.

  11. January 10, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    It’s probably worth noting that the Penny Arcade “Pathfinder” episode ends with everyone rage-quitting the game en masse.

  12. January 20, 2012 at 1:44 am

    Thought about making a post about how the republication of the AD&D books is further proof that the OSR has won, but decided to just make it a comment to this one – hopefully this counts as a loophole when I file my Joesky taxes.


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