10
Jan
12

Roll Your Own

Two blue-sky hopes for a new commercially-produced D&D.

Create a common-denominator product

One of the biggest missed opportunities with D&D is the idea of a basic set that remains unchanged and consistently promoted over time such that, like Monopoly, Parcheesi, and Scrabble, every family has a copy in the closet.

It should have been Moldvay, or perhaps Mentzer.  Something simple, presentable, with a look-and-feel.  I am hopeful that part of the new strategy includes a basic book or set fills this role and is promoted properly.

This is a roll-your-own game.  Help the customer roll-their-own.

The recent description of a modular selection of monsters and spells where you select the bits you want and have it shipped to you as a custom-printed book is a move in the right direction.  Why not expand that to the ruleset?  The bare-bones game includes the DNA of D&D – six attributes, experience and level progress, three or four base classes, d20 combat, saving throws, simple d6 initiative, and a basic selection of classic spells and monsters.  Something close in spirit, simplicity and openness to OD&D or Moldvay.  It is relatively clear, uncomplicated, recognizable within wider popular culture, and self-contained.

On top of that can be added layers of additional classes, spells, kits, more complicated initiative systems, ascending or descending AC scales, skills, and a whole variety of other rule variations.  Aerial and naval combat, rules for miniatures and mass combat, commerce and industry, castle construction, etc. Settings information and custom classes or races appropriate to whatever IP you want to add – Dark Sun, Ravenloft, Greyhawk, whatever floats your boat.

A given customer would make the choices they prefer and download their custom ruleset, or have a printed version sent to them from lulu or whatever.  These customizable books could come in standard flavors for those who do not want to fiddle with choices (preset options might include basic, legacy (OD&D!), expanded, complete, miniatures, hex-crawl, naval, dungeon.  Basic would be the default slick version you want in everyone’s closet).  Certain settings could come with default spell and monster lists – “want to play in a default Greyhawk-themed game? Click here!.”  A DM could post a link to her house rules so that players could print out (or download) that specific configuration of rules and show up to the game with a sense of what to expect.

There are a lot of rough edges to be filed off this idea, but the technology exists.  If WotC is really wants to put D&D back into the hands of customers this is one way.


6 Responses to “Roll Your Own”


  1. 1 James Nostack
    January 10, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    Your bit about turning D&D into something that occupies a spot on every family’s cupboard like Monopoly or Checkers is something I very much think is the right direction.

    It’s kiling me that
    * TSR already did this with Moldvay / Mentzer
    * They did it 30 years ago
    * They did it better than almost anyone can ever do (seriously: Mentzer Basic is a masterpiece of editing)
    * and they already own the rights

    I mean, it’s not going to make their $50 million benchmark imposed on them by Hasbro. But nothing will. If you have to fail, then fail easily, quickly, and cheaply. And leave as a by-product of that failure a great, entertaining game with loads of goodwill that’s been enriched by almost 40 years of play and analysis.

  2. January 10, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    Cool idea the way you’ve proposed it, and one that might fit well with WotC’s current strategies for presenting rules. I think 4e Essentials was an attempt to identify a simple core for players interested in that. I also think that 4e overall wasn’t intended to be used in its entirety for every game (which is how most of us use it, resulting in a bewildering array of powers, options, items and etc.)

    I know most people aren’t fans of the online character builder, but imagine something like you’ve proposed — an online game builder? The DM selects the rules to be used for the campaign and players build characters within those established limits. Imagine modules that emphasize combat, exploration, or social RP. Selectable modules that define campaign flavor.

    Whether you go print-on-demand or online, I think such a system would answer many of the complaints that players have with 4e.

  3. January 10, 2012 at 8:00 pm

    A revived Mentzer with a ‘Dungeon’ style board game and pre-gen PCs attached could work as a family game.

  4. 4 maldoor
    January 10, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    @James: Yes, this seems to be a no-brainer to me. In business-school speak this is a low-hanging fruit, positive NPV project. They have the property already. Reasonable people can disagree about a lot of the details involved (e.g., should “basic” include levels 1-3, 1-7, 1-Name Level? Is this a booklet or a box?), but the general idea is sound. The traditional argument against it is cannibalization of the more “advanced” product, but I think time has proven that is a much smaller force vs. making the hobby accessible and introducing new players.

    @anarkeith – Thanks! Putting on my business-guy hat I do think such a system would tie very well into a whole range of on-line systems that would link back to WotC in ways they might find attractive. Hasbro should be providing dice rollers, character generators, and campaign management tools like you can get for free from Invisible Castle, Dicelog, and others. This allows them to keep customer closer, understand what campaigns look like, etc. Ultimately they could use that data to create and deliver products and services closer to what the players are using. Imagine if you got recommendations like, “Your campaign features low-level play and frequent death. Can we recommend “The Grinding Gear?”

    @Barry Blatt: I agree that board game would work well as a family game (I am considering going to Ebay for a copy of Dungeon for my 4-year old soon). This is one of the points where reasonable people can disagree: I would prefer to see a basic set be the D&D game, preferably a Moldvay-sized paperback booklet with an attached sleeve of dice instead of a box. This to keep the cost down for more casual buyers. A $12-$16 game is a much easier purchase than a $25 box. But that is just my gut: someone like WotC can bring actual marketing research to the question of the proper price point.

  5. 5 Scott LeMien
    January 11, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    A re-release of Dungeon is a great idea, IMO! Nice big pieces and simple rules. But its already be done well by Lego, so I’d see about optioning Heroica rules.

    I’d like to see D&D finally embrace all its previous editions with optional booklets. Produce some small bits of material for every edition, see what sells. Produce conversions or means of streamlining rules presentation for previous editions. Never abandon old content.

    I’d also like to see WotC just go out and buy some of the awesome content already made by others in the OSR, so it can see a wider audience. Hire the guys who revised previous editions and offer them to a wider audience. When new content is made by someone else, and it works, why spend the money trying to hire staff to reinvent the wheel? You’re a big company, acquire!

    On the back of a basic box for 5e, you advertise different ‘advanced’ versions:
    Version 0: the way it was played in ???-??
    Version 1: etc.,

    Offer the basic box as a fully playable campaign piece for a year, price it as close to 20 bucks as you can, offer a gateway to lots of other games with a nice catalog explaining the differences of edition.


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