Mike Mearls on the Red Box


4th Edition

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>>> http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/issues/issue_271/8109-Red-Box -Renaissance <<<

Red Box Renaissance
by Alexander Macris

Interview with Mike Mearls on the Escapist website.


Full Interview

It'll take you 10 times longer but the full interview gives a far more balanced version of what was said then the cut down version. You literally come away with different impressions.

For example the two page version seems to say that 4E will now basically be designed along the lines of older versions of the game. In the long interview you realize that a big part of what he was actually saying was - I looked to OD&D for some answers to issues with a starter set. For example we needed a class that was really simple at the table to play, back in OD&D fighters were really easy to play and we new we could do that with 4E.

the two page article also seems to high light material that appears to be more 'we wandered down a blind alley' in the long interview. Needless to say when that element is presented as 20% of an article it takes on a great deal more weight for where D&D is heading then when you read it in the longer interview and realize that not only was it about 5% of the total but might also have really been more of an anecdotal back and fourth.

Honestly the 4 page version seems edited to be some kind of shock journalism. I'm not surprised to read that its spawned 20 page or whatever threads over at Enworld. Its to the interviewers credit that he then went back and put up the whole interview - though I think he did so after noticing that there where 20 page Enworld threads exploding about things that Mike Mearls had said...but not in the context that Mike Mearls said them. The full interview is positively tame by comparison - it encompasses the same things but now in context.

Dark Archive

I played Essentials during Red Box day over the weekend. In fact, I played the fighter (slayer) class. Was it OD&D? No. It is still 4e. I can see how Mearl and WotC, though, with Red Box and now Essentials to ape the past not only to capture the attention of potential new gamers but those grognards who left after the discontinuation of 3.x.

Will it work? Not really, but not due to lack of trying. A bunch of my peers purchased the Red Box due to nostalgia. However, in the long run, DnD numbers will continue to be, well, slow, for the same old reasons: DnD is competing in a whole new world with its portable video games, MMO, collectible card games, etc., much of which weren't present during OD&D's heydays. Sorry, but one can't recapture the past. And, worse, grognards have support for their favorite system especially via the Internet and POD.


joela wrote:

I played Essentials during Red Box day over the weekend. In fact, I played the fighter (slayer) class. Was it OD&D? No. It is still 4e. I can see how Mearl and WotC, though, with Red Box and now Essentials to ape the past not only to capture the attention of potential new gamers but those grognards who left after the discontinuation of 3.x.

Will it work? Not really, but not due to lack of trying. A bunch of my peers purchased the Red Box due to nostalgia. However, in the long run, DnD numbers will continue to be, well, slow, for the same old reasons: DnD is competing in a whole new world with its portable video games, MMO, collectible card games, etc., much of which weren't present during OD&D's heydays. Sorry, but one can't recapture the past. And, worse, grognards have support for their favorite system especially via the Internet and POD.

Where do you get the idea that sales have been slow?


Jeremy Mac Donald wrote:

Full Interview

It'll take you 10 times longer but the full interview gives a far more balanced version of what was said then the cut down version. You literally come away with different impressions.

For example the two page version seems to say that 4E will now basically be designed along the lines of older versions of the game. In the long interview you realize that a big part of what he was actually saying was - I looked to OD&D for some answers to issues with a starter set. For example we needed a class that was really simple at the table to play, back in OD&D fighters were really easy to play and we new we could do that with 4E.

the two page article also seems to high light material that appears to be more 'we wandered down a blind alley' in the long interview. Needless to say when that element is presented as 20% of an article it takes on a great deal more weight for where D&D is heading then when you read it in the longer interview and realize that not only was it about 5% of the total but might also have really been more of an anecdotal back and fourth.

Honestly the 4 page version seems edited to be some kind of shock journalism. I'm not surprised to read that its spawned 20 page or whatever threads over at Enworld. Its to the interviewers credit that he then went back and put up the whole interview - though I think he did so after noticing that there where 20 page Enworld threads exploding about things that Mike Mearls had said...but not in the context that Mike Mearls said them. The full interview is positively tame by comparison - it encompasses the same things but now in context.

Worst thing is, the thread on EN World is a joke thread about people who will take any little news about Mearls and blow it up to assume he ruined everything.

So the article took that thread and blew it up to assume he ruined everything.

The mind boggles.


I like the selective quotation on the first page, where he takes a quote and only emphasizes the part that isn't the case: "No one at WotC ever said, 'WE SHOULD DRIVE AWAY ALL OUR EXISTING CUSTOMERS'. That was never our goal."

The writer seems relatively good-natured in the follow-up and the replies elsewhere, but yeah, that first article is just a terrible exercise in journalism, even outside of the bias itself.


I do like that they are starting to tweak the system as the foundation is solid, so it does offer hope in regards to future development. But the harshest critics will never be appeased, as emotions build up over time, and those are the hardest bridges to cross.

Dark Archive

ProfessorCirno wrote:
joela wrote:

I played Essentials during Red Box day over the weekend. In fact, I played the fighter (slayer) class. Was it OD&D? No. It is still 4e. I can see how Mearl and WotC, though, with Red Box and now Essentials to ape the past not only to capture the attention of potential new gamers but those grognards who left after the discontinuation of 3.x.

Will it work? Not really, but not due to lack of trying. A bunch of my peers purchased the Red Box due to nostalgia. However, in the long run, DnD numbers will continue to be, well, slow, for the same old reasons: DnD is competing in a whole new world with its portable video games, MMO, collectible card games, etc., much of which weren't present during OD&D's heydays. Sorry, but one can't recapture the past. And, worse, grognards have support for their favorite system especially via the Internet and POD.

Where do you get the idea that sales have been slow?

I'll have to find the links. Apparently, Wizards itself has expressed disappointment in the sales numbers.

Dark Archive

Uchawi wrote:
I do like that they are starting to tweak the system as the foundation is solid, so it does offer hope in regards to future development. But the harshest critics will never be appeased, as emotions build up over time, and those are the hardest bridges to cross.

Pretty much. Personally, I enjoy 4E and the tweaks found in Essentials. My biggest beef has nothing to do with the system, but the focus of the adventures.

Dark Archive Bella Sara Charter Superscriber

ProfessorCirno wrote:


Where do you get the idea that sales have been slow?

I haven't had a chance to read the longer interview, but the following statements implied to me that things were not going particularly well for 4e:

1. The fact that the interivew focused so heavily on efforts to keep 4e from floundering/failing.

2. The lack of statements to the opposite effect - when someone has good news, they shout it from the rooftops. Paizo drops the number of print runs they've sold of the core rules every chance they get. The (short) interview didn't have any "4e is doing so well, better than we imagined!" type statements.

3. The outreach to players that have already rejected 4e. It almost seemed desperate.

4. The fact that Mike Mearls is in his position to being with. If 4e was doing well, why isn't Andy Collins still in charge.

5. The Essentials line itself - I know the spin is that it's an attempt to provide a new entry point, but that implies to me that the original books were not an adequate entry point and, given that so much of the 4e launch was focused on making the game more accessible and easier to play, that seems like a pretty big failure of the original books. If the original strategy for 4e (martial power, one book a month, etc) was doing so well, why change it so dramatically?

This is all largely speculation, and, like I said, based only on reading the short version of the interview which apparently has some serious issues, but there seems to be enough smoke in the air for me to think a fire may be burning below. I find it hard to tell a story in which 4e is doing well and yet WotC is firing the guy in charge, retooling their publication strategy, and making (long-overdue) overtures to the players that reacted so badly to the initial launch.

Edit: Don't get me wrong - I think that this new direction is a good one for 4e and I hope it finds traction. I hope it is doing well and that my perceptions are just colored by spending so much time here. But from what little I can see, it doesn't look like 4e is doing well. Particularly when I look back at the 3e launch (or the Pathfinder launch for that matter), which seemed to hit the ball right out of the park. 4e may be a quiet workhorse of an edition, steadily outselling 3e, and buried under a lot of ill will (deservedly so, or not) that makes it easy to misunderstand how well it is doing.


Sebastian, you bring some very good points, but I thought of another reason, what if sales are going well, but not good enough for Hasbro? Perhaps 4e is selling as well or better than Pathfinder, but Hasbro has determined that they need to sell a certain number and are not hitting their goal? I know it sounds like "Blame the evil faceless corporation", but I am sure there is someone somewhere that has made a determination about how much 4e should sell.


No doubt WotC would like to get people who played previous editions to play 4e, even if they don't already. But wanting that doesn't mean their sales are necessarily bad. A lot of the books have had reprints, which doesn't imply they sold less than expected. Quite the opposite.

Dark Archive Bella Sara Charter Superscriber

Raevhen wrote:

Sebastian, you bring some very good points, but I thought of another reason, what if sales are going well, but not good enough for Hasbro? Perhaps 4e is selling as well or better than Pathfinder, but Hasbro has determined that they need to sell a certain number and are not hitting their goal? I know it sounds like "Blame the evil faceless corporation", but I am sure there is someone somewhere that has made a determination about how much 4e should sell.

I think that's very likely. I have no doubt that even the worst case scenarios for 4e sales would be considered a phenomenal success for any other player in the market, including Paizo. It may well be that 4e is consistently out performing 3e, but that is not good enough for the bottom line of WotC/Hasbro.

I just don't see the signs I would expect to see if 4e were doing well. Of course, I know jack and s$!$ about the topic. The online tools are a completely new beast and an absolute black hole. Maybe they changed the book strategy to focus specifically on newbies because the experienced players had largely shifted their purchasing to those online tools and are spending more there than they ever spent on 3e books. I have no idea.

But, the general tone of Mearls' interview does not sound positive. If they were doing well, I don't think they'd be reaching out to the old players as much (or putting someone new in charge of the line). I don't remember 3e going through a period of outreach to 2e diehards within a few years of its launch - in fact, it seemed like the number of 2e diehards was very small and most skeptics were won over by 3e within a year or so of the release. I don't think 4e won over the skeptics, and, in my case (and the case of my group), they even failed to retain an enthuisiast.


joela wrote:
ProfessorCirno wrote:
joela wrote:

I played Essentials during Red Box day over the weekend. In fact, I played the fighter (slayer) class. Was it OD&D? No. It is still 4e. I can see how Mearl and WotC, though, with Red Box and now Essentials to ape the past not only to capture the attention of potential new gamers but those grognards who left after the discontinuation of 3.x.

Will it work? Not really, but not due to lack of trying. A bunch of my peers purchased the Red Box due to nostalgia. However, in the long run, DnD numbers will continue to be, well, slow, for the same old reasons: DnD is competing in a whole new world with its portable video games, MMO, collectible card games, etc., much of which weren't present during OD&D's heydays. Sorry, but one can't recapture the past. And, worse, grognards have support for their favorite system especially via the Internet and POD.

Where do you get the idea that sales have been slow?
I'll have to find the links. Apparently, Wizards itself has expressed disappointment in the sales numbers.

Just because WotC is disappointed in the sales numbers dosn't mean slaes are slow or bad it just means that they're not hiting the sales goals they set for themselves.


I think you're taking a lot from the interview that isn't there.

For example, your sales don't have to be poor for a company to try to reach out to another player base. If anything, that should be what most companies do naturally, all the time. WotC has never really bragged about their numbers, be it in 4e or 3e, so you can't really use that as proof either - it's simply their company policy.

People seem to jump to this conclusion that the only reason WotC would make something more old-school-ish is for sales reasons. What if the developers just wanted to make something more old school? :p They aren't in trouble financially, they just see a new avenue to take the game.

I read through the full interview, and I really didn't get the sense that their sales were floundering.

Dark Archive Bella Sara Charter Superscriber

I think everything any real rpg company does is for sales reasons. Now, that's not to say that they might also be making it because the developers/writers like that type of product and are pushing it. I certainly wouldn't say the opposite either - I'm skeptical that a company could produce a product because of sales reasons and have it do well. There's no there there.

The Essentials line is a significant repositioning. Canning the top guy in charge of D&D is a significant change in leadership. You don't mess with success, and if the existing lines were doing well or if the guy in charge was kicking ass and taking names, we'd keep seeing those lines and that guy would still be kicking ass and taking names.

The Mearls interview strikes me as the first sincere apology to come out of WotC for the launch. All the prior comments about the launch tended to be "you just don't know how awesome it really is" or "quit being so sensitive." He seems to be acknowledging a mistake was made in that launch, or that it unnecessarily antagonized part of their fan base. That's a new tact as well and, again, not one you take if you're doing well. If 4e were burning up the charts, I suspect Andy Collins would still be there, and not only would he not be apologizing, he'd be trumpeting the fact that they took the right path in the 4e launch as demonstrated by the sales.

Success doesn't require an apology or an olive branch. It's certainly good business sense to try and get more customers, but this interview strikes me as substantially different in tone and content as compared to prior communications from WotC regarding the launch of 4e. Mearls seems to do a lot to reach out to old players, hat in hand, and that leads me to believe that WotC needs more customers to make 4e a success for them.

Or, maybe he's just a really cool guy, and Andy Collins was a jerk who deserved to be fired. Maybe this dramatic change from "all classes do basically the same thing" to "the classes have some inherent differences that should be played up" is just a part of evolving and growing the 4e line. Maybe you mess with success because there's an even greater success you see hanging in front of you.

It's possible, but that's not what I see. I see a company making big changes in leadership and product lines, and that is typically a sign of trouble and not success.


Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber

I'm pretty sure Essentials is part of their original plan of making a starting line to draw in totally new or lapsed players. I remember mention of that as part of the long term strategy during the launch of 4E. I think it took a year longer than they expected to get to it. They aren't targeting people who tried 4E and didn't like it. They are targeting people who played D&D 10-20 years ago and fresh newcomers.

Sales are probably not as high as they expected but still very solid. Changes to the format are to be expected as they react to feedback from their customers.


deinol wrote:

I'm pretty sure Essentials is part of their original plan of making a starting line to draw in totally new or lapsed players. I remember mention of that as part of the long term strategy during the launch of 4E. I think it took a year longer than they expected to get to it. They aren't targeting people who tried 4E and didn't like it. They are targeting people who played D&D 10-20 years ago and fresh newcomers.

Sales are probably not as high as they expected but still very solid. Changes to the format are to be expected as they react to feedback from their customers.

Yeah, this.

I can't speak about people being let go and promoted and what not, but Essentials - or rather, something like Essentials and the Red Box - were always planned, right from the start. It didn't just jump out of nowhere.

I think it's not even about messing with success to get a bigger success, because I honestly don't see how they're messing with success. This isn't 3.5 which very drastically - albiet in a subtle way - altered the gameplay. Essentials for current 4e players may as well just be another book series.


Sebastian wrote:
A lot of well reasoned stuff.

I think you make some interesting points, but at the same time, I think you are reading a lot into the article. I did manage to read the entire interview and it definitely has a different feel. It seems to be the interviewer who wants to steer the conversation toward disgruntled roleplayers and an attempt to bring back the game to an old school feel. For example, the interviewer brings up the idea of "old school" feel in the first place, saying that Mearls often writes adventures based on classics and that he likes to blog about old schools stuff. The question then was brought up how Mearls' love of old school might influence the Essentials line. This naturally steered Mearls to talk about such things, but I don't think Mearls was specifically talking about old school stuff as a selling point to bring back old gamers.

I do agree that the overall feel of 4e hasn't been one of overwhelming success in the way that 3e seemed to have been. There's no hoopla about it. 4e didn't seem to "revive" the game like 3e did. There have been a lot of personnel changes. However, I'm not sure what we can read into that. Isn't Bill Slavicsek the top guy in charge of roleplaying design and development? He's definitely still around. In truth, we have no idea why Andy Collins was dismissed.

What the Essentials line feels like to me is that the WotC team has learned a lot over the last couple years. They've probably had some mistakes and successes, a lot of feedback from both lovers and haters of 4e, and things that they've come to notice about their own game. The Essentials line seems like an attempt to incorporate that learning and provide entry points. I wish I could find a quote, but I do remember the 4e team saying that they planned in the second year of 4e to put out products to bring in new players. I don't know if they had the Essentials line specifically in mind.

For what it's worth, at Amazon the red box is currently the top selling RPG product. If you dismiss the obvious 4e haters in the various comments and reviews, a lot of the feedback from people who haven't played the game in years or at all is positive. Some have found success using it and bringing in new players. This is all anecdotal, of course, but seems to be some sign of success, at least for this Starter set.

Not to get off topic, but another trend I've noticed for WotC is the decline in DM references (such as Open Graves) and the desire to design complete games and RPGs. These games incorporate the basic 4e system but are complete in themselves. Examples include the board games, Gamma World, and the Ravenloft RPG. Perhaps they feel they have succeeded with their game system, but need to take a step back on supplements. Don't know.

Dark Archive Bella Sara Charter Superscriber

Having finally read the full interview, I can see now how much was taken out of context in the shorter version. I think you make a good point about the line of questioning posed to Mearls, Whimsy Chris. The short interview (and even the longer interview) read as if Mearls was focused on reaching out to the disgruntled player base, but taking it from the perspective that the interviewer was out to grind that axe, it's more apparent that Mearls was responding as best he could to that line of questioning.

I've heard the idea that Essentials was planned 2 years ago, but it still strikes me more as a dramatic repositioning than an outreach to new players.

I do appreciate and applaud their efforts to fine tune 4e as they go.

I wish them all the best. Who knows, maybe someday I'll pick up the red box and find myself to be a true believer again. Right now, I'm pretty indifferent to 4e. It's not that I hate it, or am offended by it, I just didn't find that it provided what I want in an rpg. Lots of rpgs are like that and, except for Exalted, I don't begrudge them that fact.

But Exalted I hate for no rational reason.


Sebastian wrote:

Having finally read the full interview, I can see now how much was taken out of context in the shorter version. I think you make a good point about the line of questioning posed to Mearls, Whimsy Chris. The short interview (and even the longer interview) read as if Mearls was focused on reaching out to the disgruntled player base, but taking it from the perspective that the interviewer was out to grind that axe, it's more apparent that Mearls was responding as best he could to that line of questioning.

I've heard the idea that Essentials was planned 2 years ago, but it still strikes me more as a dramatic repositioning than an outreach to new players.

I do appreciate and applaud their efforts to fine tune 4e as they go.

I wish them all the best. Who knows, maybe someday I'll pick up the red box and find myself to be a true believer again. Right now, I'm pretty indifferent to 4e. It's not that I hate it, or am offended by it, I just didn't find that it provided what I want in an rpg. Lots of rpgs are like that and, except for Exalted, I don't begrudge them that fact.

But Exalted I hate for no rational reason.

Hating Exalted is a rational thing all in of itself ;p


I know that this isn't a perfect representation at all, but if you look at the bestselling RPGs on Amazon.com at any given moment, it's dominated by 4th ed stuff. Obviously that doesn't take into account brick and mortar stores, and I'm assuming that Paizo gets more sales from their own website then Amazon, but I'm guessing that this indicates that 4th ed is selling alright (though not necessarily as well as wotc or Hasbro want). But then again, maybe I'm just overestimating how much of a market indicator Amazon is.

( Also, White Wolf has never made a bad game :p )


Yeah, I think it's going to be impossible for anyone to say for sure how good or bad the sales are going.

My guess is that they had something like Essentials planned from the beginning. I'm guessing that sales from PHB2 and PHB3 remained good, but sales for the secondary products may have declined, since a DDI subscription removes most need for Divine Power, etc. DM books like The Plane Above may have continued to do ok, though I don't imagine they were ever planned as big sellers. And I'm guessing WotC thus ramped up focus on Essentials to see how it would go.

So I don't think it implies any great commercial failure on 4E's part (and I think most quotes in the interview that might imply that were taken somewhat out of context). Instead, I think WotC is just in the midst of experimenting to see what can make good offerings alongside DDI, and something to get new players into the game (and eventually subscribed) is a good way to go.


Wow. Interesting interview, including all the other links and threads others have pointed out in this thread.

I don't play 4E. I have read the rules and don't like them but I never felt 4E was the disaster certain groups made it out to be. For me personally it was a disaster but I just assumed I was no longer in the majority when it came to RPG style.

But now I think 4E is WoTCs "New Coke" and due to the OGL Paizo has the formula to "Coke Classic" and is selling it as "Pathfinder".

The fact that Pathfinder is so successful and doing such a good job of keeping 3E alive must really be a thorn in the side of WoTC. In the past when D&D changed editions TSR had complete control over the previous editions and could essentially force a migration due to attrition of material. Since that is not the case with 3E it must be very frustrating for WoTC management. I don't envy their position at all. It's like if Apple could legally (and technically) continue to sell and support XP when Vista came out. Ugh if you're at Microsoft.


cibet44 wrote:

Wow. Interesting interview, including all the other links and threads others have pointed out in this thread.

I don't play 4E. I have read the rules and don't like them but I never felt 4E was the disaster certain groups made it out to be. For me personally it was a disaster but I just assumed I was no longer in the majority when it came to RPG style.

But now I think 4E is WoTCs "New Coke" and due to the OGL Paizo has the formula to "Coke Classic" and is selling it as "Pathfinder".

The fact that Pathfinder is so successful and doing such a good job of keeping 3E alive must really be a thorn in the side of WoTC. In the past when D&D changed editions TSR had complete control over the previous editions and could essentially force a migration due to attrition of material. Since that is not the case with 3E it must be very frustrating for WoTC management. I don't envy their position at all. It's like if Apple could legally (and technically) continue to sell and support XP when Vista came out. Ugh if you're at Microsoft.

I really, really don't see this as being very applicable.

"New Coke" lasted, what, one week? 4e is going on what, three years? The "New Coke" title has been given to it probably every day of those three years. It was wrong then. It's not any more correct now. Vista comparison really doesn't work either - Essentials is no Windows 7.

I doubt Pathfinder is a thorn in WotC's side. Pathfinder sells incredibly well...for Paizo, which is an absurdedly different scale then what WotC works on. Most of the developers at WotC are friends with the Paizo staff.

Grand Lodge

ProfessorCirno wrote:
I really, really don't see this as being very applicable.

Seems someone took things a tad too literal…

While I don’t care for the “New Coke” title myself, I think it is a very apropos analogy because at its core, it is taking a brand and slightly redefining what it is…

To me, this is exactly what 4e is to 3e; a slight redefinition of what D&D is…

It's still D&D, it's just different...

In fact...

From what I've observed, 4e is just different enough from 3e for people to take notice and make a decision to whether or not they like it…

Just my two coppers…

-That One Digitalelf Fellow-


Digitalelf wrote:
ProfessorCirno wrote:
I really, really don't see this as being very applicable.

Seems someone took things a tad too literal…

While I don’t care for the “New Coke” title myself, I think it is a very apropos analogy because at its core, it is taking a brand and slightly redefining what it is…

To me, this is exactly what 4e is to 3e; a slight redefinition of what D&D is…

It's still D&D, it's just different...

In fact...

From what I've observed, 4e is just different enough for people to take notice, and make a decision to whether or not they like it…

Just my two coppers…

-That One Digitalelf Fellow-

It's not a good example though. Certainly, 4e is different enough for people to take notice and make a decision on if they like it or not. Or there's crazy people like me who enjoy 3.5, Pathfinder, and 4e.

But New Coke isn't that example. New Coke is an example of a product that is technically proficient yet flops due to poor marketing and a large cultural backlash. And as much as people who hate 4e want to paint it in the same like, it really isn't. Was there a backlash to it? Of course. But there was a backlash to 3e too (No seriously read some of the complaints about 3e before it was released, they are so hilarious and wrong about everything).

4e has been around long enough for us to all admit "Ok, it's not flopping anytime soon." Those claims were tiresome two years ago. They've only gotten more irritating since.

Grand Lodge

ProfessorCirno wrote:
But New Coke isn't that example.

Analogies are never perfect...

Yes, New Coke failed. I dare say it failed epically...

And 4e is not going anywhere anytime soon...

One failed, one did not...

So what?

The analogy is in essence, still about a company taking its flagship product and giving it a slightly new flavor...

I don't think that the end result of what happened to New Coke was the reason for its use in the original post we're discussing (of course I could be wrong, but I didn't get that feeling from it)...

A perfect analogy (no matter what the situation) simply does not exist (as one can always find some hole in it)...

-That One Digitalelf Fellow-


Digitalelf wrote:
ProfessorCirno wrote:
But New Coke isn't that example.

Analogies are never perfect...

Yes, New Coke failed. I dare say it failed epically...

And 4e is not going anywhere anytime soon...

One failed, one did not...

So what?

The analogy is in essence, still about a company taking its flagship product and giving it a slightly new flavor...

I don't think that the end result of what happened to New Coke was the reason for its use in the original post we're discussing (of course I could be wrong, but I didn't get that feeling from it)...

A perfect analogy (no matter what the situation) simply does not exist (as one can always find some hole in it)...

-That One Digitalelf Fellow-

There are a million examples of "the company took their main product and changed it" that aren't New Coke. Hell, that's what companies do all the time. Watch:

"4e is the 'Tim Burton Had The Joker Kill Batman's Parents' of tabletop games"

"D&D is the Stanley Kubrick's: The Shining of tabletop games."

"4e is the Doctor Who season (whichever one isn't the first) of tabletop games"

"4e is the MST3k Without Joel of tabletop games"

"4e is the Radiohead's Kid A of tabletop games"

I can easily keep going

Grand Lodge

ProfessorCirno wrote:
I can easily keep going

LOL...

Alright, we disagree...

But I won't hold that against you (besides, it's too early here for that) ;-)

It's all in good fun...

-That One Digitalelf Fellow-


Accurate analogy or not, my point is the words out of the WoTC mouth are now CONFIRMING what the anti-4E masses have been saying. See this quote from Mike Mearls himself:

"If you are a disgruntled D&D fan, there's nothing I can say to you that undoes whatever happened two years ago or a year ago that made you disgruntled - but what I can do, what's within my power, is that going forward, I can make products, I can design game material, I can listen to what you're saying, and I can do what I can do with design to make you happy again; to get back to that core of what makes D&D, D&D; to what made people fall in love with it the first time, whether it was the Red Box in '83, the original three booklets back in '74 or '75 or even 3rd Edition in 2004, whenever that happened, to get back to what drew you into D&D in the first place and give that back to you."

- So Mr. Mearls is saying that 2 years ago mistakes were made and he's sorry for that.

- He says he can now "listen to what you're saying" implying in the past WoTC was NOT listening to what you were saying..

- He's saying "I can do what I can do with design to make you happy again" inferring that WoTC NEEDS YOU BACK.

- Most telling he says "to get back to that core of what makes D&D, D&D; to what made people fall in love with it the first time" flat out saying that the core of D&D WAS TAKEN AWAY by 4th edition!

- He ends with "to get back to what drew you into D&D in the first place and give that back to you." admitting that 4th edition TOOK THAT AWAY.

As I said before Wow. These are some serious admissions that for the first time make me wonder about the future of the "Dungeons & Dragons" RPG brand. If lead designers at WoTC are thinking the way Mike Mearls is the damage must already be done.


The one thing I don't think anyone has pointed out yet is that WotC has to keep producing new products to stay in business. They simply have to. It doesn't matter how successful 4e has been; they can't keep producing splat books forever. It's not a sustainable business plan. They have to come out with something new every now and then, not to get the people who have left D&D back, or to get new players in, but to maintain the customer base that they already have.

And that requires new material that isn't going to contribute to buyer fatigue. Essentials can accomplish that in a way that a 5e would not (it being too soon). They can't keep publishing successive PHBs and DMGs or they'll be in the same place they were after the Complete series was finished. Too many classes that can't maintain the power scale that doesn't appropriately satisfy their buyer base.

So yeah, Essentials probably was planned to some degree when all this started because they need to keep their sales up. They need to keep bringing new material that people will buy. The Red Box appeals to the nostalgia faster and encourages new players. The essentials line will (WotC hopes) encourage more new players and already existing players to buy in.

Paizo doesn't have the same issues because, as others have already pointed out, they don't have the same financial demands. They also happen to tap the market in a different way. The APG isn't their primary source of income; they've got the APs to do that, and that allows them to continually bring fresh material without needing a Red Box or new line.


cibet44 wrote:

Accurate analogy or not, my point is the words out of the WoTC mouth are now CONFIRMING what the anti-4E masses have been saying. See this quote from Mike Mearls himself:

"If you are a disgruntled D&D fan, there's nothing I can say to you that undoes whatever happened two years ago or a year ago that made you disgruntled - but what I can do, what's within my power, is that going forward, I can make products, I can design game material, I can listen to what you're saying, and I can do what I can do with design to make you happy again; to get back to that core of what makes D&D, D&D; to what made people fall in love with it the first time, whether it was the Red Box in '83, the original three booklets back in '74 or '75 or even 3rd Edition in 2004, whenever that happened, to get back to what drew you into D&D in the first place and give that back to you."

- So Mr. Mearls is saying that 2 years ago mistakes were made and he's sorry for that.

- He says he can now "listen to what you're saying" implying in the past WoTC was NOT listening to what you were saying..

- He's saying "I can do what I can do with design to make you happy again" inferring that WoTC NEEDS YOU BACK.

- Most telling he says "to get back to that core of what makes D&D, D&D; to what made people fall in love with it the first time" flat out saying that the core of D&D WAS TAKEN AWAY by 4th edition!

- He ends with "to get back to what drew you into D&D in the first place and give that back to you." admitting that 4th edition TOOK THAT AWAY.

As I said before Wow. These are some serious admissions that for the first time make me wonder about the future of the "Dungeons & Dragons" RPG brand. If lead designers at WoTC are thinking the way Mike Mearls is the damage must already be done.

I don't think he admitting to any type of "mistakes" in the least. Saying that they can do something better isn't the same thing as saying they were doing it wrong to begin with. (Especially since it's highly debatable they every did any "wrong".)


cibet44 wrote:

Accurate analogy or not, my point is the words out of the WoTC mouth are now CONFIRMING what the anti-4E masses have been saying. See this quote from Mike Mearls himself:

"If you are a disgruntled D&D fan, there's nothing I can say to you that undoes whatever happened two years ago or a year ago that made you disgruntled - but what I can do, what's within my power, is that going forward, I can make products, I can design game material, I can listen to what you're saying, and I can do what I can do with design to make you happy again; to get back to that core of what makes D&D, D&D; to what made people fall in love with it the first time, whether it was the Red Box in '83, the original three booklets back in '74 or '75 or even 3rd Edition in 2004, whenever that happened, to get back to what drew you into D&D in the first place and give that back to you."

- So Mr. Mearls is saying that 2 years ago mistakes were made and he's sorry for that.

- He says he can now "listen to what you're saying" implying in the past WoTC was NOT listening to what you were saying..

- He's saying "I can do what I can do with design to make you happy again" inferring that WoTC NEEDS YOU BACK.

- Most telling he says "to get back to that core of what makes D&D, D&D; to what made people fall in love with it the first time" flat out saying that the core of D&D WAS TAKEN AWAY by 4th edition!

- He ends with "to get back to what drew you into D&D in the first place and give that back to you." admitting that 4th edition TOOK THAT AWAY.

As I said before Wow. These are some serious admissions that for the first time make me wonder about the future of the "Dungeons & Dragons" RPG brand. If lead designers at WoTC are thinking the way Mike Mearls is the damage must already be done.

I think your over reading what is being said here. Much of it has been said repeatedly though usually more along the lines of 'try it we are sure you'll like it.' Beyond that its their job to try and get as many D&D players as possible, including disgruntled players. Within the current edition they can do some in that regards, making the Magic Missile Power an auto hit power and such but there is only so far that they can go within this context without invalidating the design.

Beyond this I doubt there is any really perfect way forward for WotC. Obviously they lost some percentage of their customers with the switch to 4th. The problem now is that if they made 5th basically 3.95 they'd suddenly loose a big chunk of the customers they retained - probably around what they lost in the 3rd to 4th switch.

Certainly that'd be the case for myself. If 5th is a refined version of 4th I'm on board, if it is instead a return to 3rd then this is where I get off the bus (if its neither then I'll take it or leave it on its merits). Beyond this there is no particular reason to think all the Pathfinder players would suddenly switch back to D&D.

Further I don't think any of this is really news to WotC. They are where they are. Mike Mearls mentions Design and one might presume that means the whole brand...but in WotC it doesn't. Mearls is head of Design - but its Development that makes sure that things work within the rules and frame work of the actual game. Its Design that proposes a Magic Missile that auto hits as a nod to older editions but its Developments job to make sure that this is an at-will power usable by the Wizard.

Within this edition, and I think Mike Mearls is talking about this edition as opposed to speaking about what will be taking place 4 or 5 years from now when 5th comes out, he can make changes to the game that are essentially nods to older editions but the frame work remains the same. Presumably he hopes to win over converts that are wavering - those standing on the edge, maybe those that would actually like 4E but where unhappy with some other marketing blunder WotC made such as the time line changes to the Realms.


Jeremy Mac Donald wrote:
cibet44 wrote:

Accurate analogy or not, my point is the words out of the WoTC mouth are now CONFIRMING what the anti-4E masses have been saying. See this quote from Mike Mearls himself:

"If you are a disgruntled D&D fan, there's nothing I can say to you that undoes whatever happened two years ago or a year ago that made you disgruntled - but what I can do, what's within my power, is that going forward, I can make products, I can design game material, I can listen to what you're saying, and I can do what I can do with design to make you happy again; to get back to that core of what makes D&D, D&D; to what made people fall in love with it the first time, whether it was the Red Box in '83, the original three booklets back in '74 or '75 or even 3rd Edition in 2004, whenever that happened, to get back to what drew you into D&D in the first place and give that back to you."

- So Mr. Mearls is saying that 2 years ago mistakes were made and he's sorry for that.

- He says he can now "listen to what you're saying" implying in the past WoTC was NOT listening to what you were saying..

- He's saying "I can do what I can do with design to make you happy again" inferring that WoTC NEEDS YOU BACK.

- Most telling he says "to get back to that core of what makes D&D, D&D; to what made people fall in love with it the first time" flat out saying that the core of D&D WAS TAKEN AWAY by 4th edition!

- He ends with "to get back to what drew you into D&D in the first place and give that back to you." admitting that 4th edition TOOK THAT AWAY.

As I said before Wow. These are some serious admissions that for the first time make me wonder about the future of the "Dungeons & Dragons" RPG brand. If lead designers at WoTC are thinking the way Mike Mearls is the damage must already be done.

I think your over reading what is being said here. Much of it has been said repeatedly though usually more along the lines of 'try it we are sure you'll like it.' Beyond that its their job to try and get as many D&D...

+1, You're hearing only what you want to hear.


To me, the most accurate comparison would probably be windows vista. Both Vista and 4E were significant breaks in the continuity of their respective products lines that, while probably necessary to keep those lines from completely stagnating, caused a great deal of uproar. Both also as they developed have reincorporated things from the older versions that people liked, but in a way that was compatible with a forward looking system. Neither will go down in history as the most popular or well liked version in their product line, but just like the Vista had to occur before Windows 7 could, an edition of DnD that completely broke all the previously established rules was probably necessary to see which ones were still relevant.


sunshadow21 wrote:
To me, the most accurate comparison would probably be windows vista. Both Vista and 4E were significant breaks in the continuity of their respective products lines that, while probably necessary to keep those lines from completely stagnating, caused a great deal of uproar. Both also as they developed have reincorporated things from the older versions that people liked, but in a way that was compatible with a forward looking system. Neither will go down in history as the most popular or well liked version in their product line, but just like the Vista had to occur before Windows 7 could, an edition of DnD that completely broke all the previously established rules was probably necessary to see which ones were still relevant.

Look, I'm going to say something.

Some people here will disagree with it, perhaps very strongly!

It has to be said anyways.

People like 4e.

I get that you don't. Really, I do. I dislike a lot of popular games myself! But I comprehend that my disliking something does not equate to everyone disliking something.

Me? I think 4e will go down in history as being very popular, very fun, and very well liked. Just like 3e did.

4e isn't New Coke. 4e isn't Vista. 4e is "A new edition you dislike," and nothing else. It's not a marketing flop, it's not widely criticized and disliked, it's not "just a stepping stone" to something else.


I never said people didn't like it. However, I suspect that once all is said and done and all of the editions are looked at, 4th edition will probably not be at the top of the list. That is not to say that is bad or wrong or anything like that, but the fact is the launch of 4th edition annoyed a lot of people, just like Vista did, and even though ultimately Vista was far better by the time its replacement came out, it never really lost that stigma. I see 4th edition going the same way, and the same is true of many mmos as well. Rough, unpopular launches can hurt a product no matter how long it survives or how much it improves.
None of my comments are really directed at the gameplay itself, which I understand a great many people like and probably with good reason; they are more directed to the ongoing marketing/distribution of it and the reception of that marketing/distribution. Completely trashing 3rd edition before 4th edition was released did nothing to help their cause, and the fact is the meat in the initial release was not enough to make people forget that trashing. That is the kind of thing I am looking at, not the actual rules or gameplay.


ProfessorCirno wrote:


Me? I think 4e will go down in history as being very popular, very fun, and very well liked. Just like 3e did.

4e isn't New Coke. 4e isn't Vista. 4e is "A new edition you dislike," and nothing else. It's not a marketing flop, it's not widely criticized and disliked, it's not "just a stepping stone" to something else.

I usually don't agree with the Professor but I do agree with him here.

I don't like 4e that much myself but I know a lot of people who love it, I've seen a lot of new players introduced to RPGs through it and I think it's going to have a lasting significance. It's not a stepping stone game and people who consider it to be so are just too blinded by their dislike to realize that.


Ultimately it depends on whether you're judging the system by itself or in context with its predecessors. It is a very good system for a lot of people, and has many, many good features about it. However, in the context of the overall DnD line, it is a major break that many people felt went too far. I'm not going to try to argue that they are right or wrong, just pointing out that that view is out there and has strong support.
I will admit that I tried 4th edition at launch and found it disjointed and lacking what I was looking for in a game. How much of that has been remedied or how I would feel if I were to pick the game up from scratch now, I honestly don't know. My schedule doesn't really have room for any more games right now, so I'll just have to give the developers the benefit of the doubt on the quality of the gameplay.
What I can watch and measure, however, is how well their various marketing strategies and distribution methods draw in new players and maintain old ones. On that front, while it certainly has not been a disaster, it has been far from what I would have expected from someone with WOTC's experience. Therefore, based on the fact that a game's legacy is determined as much by it's PR as the actual gameplay, I would have to say that the devs have their work cut out if they want to keep it from disappearing from the public conscience when the next edition comes out. This isn't a reflection on the game itself as much as the perceptions of the game held by nonplayers or would be players. Of course I could be wrong; this is all based on what I'm seeing right now and a lot can change over time.

EDIT: The reason I keep emphasizing perceptions is that the essentials line is not targeted to current players who already love the game, its targeted to relapsed players and new players. To this end, understanding the perceptions that these groups have is critical to evaluating the success/failure of the line.


Raevhen wrote:

Sebastian, you bring some very good points, but I thought of another reason, what if sales are going well, but not good enough for Hasbro? Perhaps 4e is selling as well or better than Pathfinder, but Hasbro has determined that they need to sell a certain number and are not hitting their goal? I know it sounds like "Blame the evil faceless corporation", but I am sure there is someone somewhere that has made a determination about how much 4e should sell.

Change that to "What if sales are going well for the D&D department/division but not good enough for WotC" and you may be on to something.

Hasbro owns WotC. WotC is a division/subsidiary. Hasbro suits have better things to do than micro-manage a single product line within a division. If they are micromanaging to that level, then the Hasbro shareholders ought to be pissed that salaries are getting wasted to have someone do the same job as execs at WotC. Having worked in such an environment (Parent:Divsion corp), the division has to come up with its own business plans. Hasbro has almost certainly set targets/goals for WotC, but it's highly, highly improbable they've done it for product lines within WotC.

If there's a "evil faceless corporation" (and I don't think there is) to blame, it's WotC. They might be overestimating how much D&D can contribute, but that's about it.

This recurring theme that WotC is populated by guys/gals like us and Hasbro is comprised of evil suits is a fallacy that gets perpetuated waaaaay too much.


ProfessorCirno wrote:
People seem to jump to this conclusion that the only reason WotC would make something more old-school-ish is for sales reasons. What if the developers just wanted to make something more old school? :p

Specifics of the article, 4e sales, or WotC policies completely pushed to the side for a moment, if paid developers are creating something without "sales reasons" being part of the mix, they're not doing their job. Forget corporate management bs for a moment, for WotC employees, their (& their families') LIVELIHOODS DEPEND UPON WOTC's SALES PERFORMANCE.

That's not to say developers can't have a side project that they work on that they then pitch internally. But that project doesn't get a green-light unless someone thinks they can generate some sales from it. Unless it's community outreach or providing a tax break, it better generate some revenue at the end of the day or it's wasted resources.

Now I have no idea how well or how poorly 4e is doing. But whether it's a hardback, DDI, or Essentials -- it's a product they're looking to sell & make a profit.

When you're an indie publisher writing stuff as a side business or whim, you can indulge your creative muse without an eye towards sales. When payroll, taxes, benefits, & wanting to avoid downsizing your staff are in play, your goal is to make sales. PERIOD.


BPorter wrote:

Comments on the realities of the business world

I usually avoid seconding other people's comments, but these comments are just too true to be ignored. Couldn't have said it better myself.


In the end I think the attempts to put this into some kind of analogy that decides 4Es place in the D&D cosmos is futile at this point. An editions place in the line is not decided halfway through that editions life span. It is decided after its finished and that is, at the very minimum, three years from now.

Beyond that I think that the interview and what was said in the interview is being taken out of context. The part where Mearls apologizes comes after the interviewers asks him essentially "what would you like to say to any disgruntled fans?'

Its a leading question and he definitely puts his best foot forward in an attempt to acknowledge that there are disgruntled fans and that there are some things he can do to appeal to such fans. Now I'm as much a grognard as most of the other posters here and I think a lot of the 'flavour' changes we see with essentials are nice nods to the history of the game. I actually like that they went back and made it so Magic Missile always hits...because Magic Missile always hits, everyone knows that.

However those of you reading that this means that from now on 4E is going to be some kind of a fusion between 3.5 and 4E are mistaken. The mechanical changes in Essentials are minimal...they even comment on that in the 'long interview'. I'm sure many of these changes where driven in part to give the game some more old school feel but mechanically we are still dealing with 4E. After everything is said and done this still remains WotCs major refrain of 'Try it! (4E) I think you'll like it' (now with twice as many nods to older editions).


I agree Jeremy, but the key to the essential lines succeeding is ultimately how well they manage to convince relapsed players that even if it isn't a throwback to 3.5 it has enough of the traditional elements (magic missile being an auto hit, a significant difference between playing a fighter and playing a wizard, etc.) of the older versions, in both fluff & feel (especially fluff & feel) and crunch, to constitute calling it a version of DnD and not be considered a completely separate game. Personally, since I'm already playing as many games as I can right now, the outcome is going to directly effect me, but it will shape what the 5th edition looks like, and as such I am definitely watching its progress. How well it manages to change perceptions will, to me at least, be the most interesting aspect to watch.


BPorter wrote:


If there's a "evil faceless corporation" (and I don't think there is) to blame, it's WotC. They might be overestimating how much D&D can contribute, but that's about it.

This recurring theme that WotC is populated by guys/gals like us and Hasbro is comprised of evil suits is a fallacy that gets perpetuated waaaaay too much.

I completely agree.

In fact I think you may not have gone far enough. 3.0 was Monte Cooks game. Point Blank. 4E WAS Rob Heinsoo's game - lf you love it you have him to thank. If you hate it then its basically his fault.

My feeling is you can actually get some good impressions on how WotC runs things over there if you pay attention to the Magic side of things. They are a lot more forthcoming on what they where doing internally with Magic (where there are no real contenders for the throne - nothing else even comes close).

My impression is that almost everything is bottom up. If your lead Design then you need to convince your fellow designers that your vision is sound. After that you need to convince Development that your vision can work. Then you need to convince Marketing that your vision is cool. Finally you need to convince the Upper Management that your vision will sell.

No one at Hasbro said 'give the fighters powers'. All characters have powers - including (in fact especially) fighters is Rob Heinsoo based on his vision and influenced by his beliefs and, yes, prejudices. That's not to say that other designers, developers etc. did not contribute, of course they did but Lead Designer sets the tone.


sunshadow21 wrote:
I agree Jeremy, but the key to the essential lines succeeding is ultimately how well they manage to convince relapsed players that even if it isn't a throwback to 3.5 it has enough of the traditional elements (magic missile being an auto hit, a significant difference between playing a fighter and playing a wizard, etc.) of the older versions, in both fluff & feel (especially fluff & feel) and crunch, to constitute calling it a version of DnD and not be considered a completely separate game. Personally, since I'm already playing as many games as I can right now, the outcome is going to directly effect me, but it will shape what the 5th edition looks like, and as such I am definitely watching its progress. How well it manages to change perceptions will, to me at least, be the most interesting aspect to watch.

Thing is I'm seriously skeptical how far we can take this difference aspect.

I mean lets look a bit more closely at fighters are different. First thing we notice is that its not so much fighters. Its actually two other classes called Knights and Slayers - that gets confused a lot. Of course there are only Knights and Slayers as martial options in Essentials so we can sort of call these guys fighters (and here in lies the confusion).

...but this is true if and only if you keep purely to essentials. If you actually register with the DDI or buy any other supplements all of a sudden your dealing with the whole brew of 4E classes of which there are 45 or some such...and of that 45 or so classes what we now have are 2 classes which are simpler or different if you will (well its possible that the rogue, wizard, and cleric...err I mean the new Thief, Mage and Warpriest classes are different too).

Even here the difference is in number of powers. Slayers still have powers just like other fighters or wizards etc. Its just that they mainly only have one power and it says 'I hit for a f#!# of a lot of damage every round'.

I mean we can look at this from a couple of angles. If your not playing 4E because you really just want to f$$! some guy up each round and don't want to be a 'wizard in full plate' then there is now an option for you to do that just like in older versions of the game. So in this sense the look and feel has changed...but its changed on an individual level. The guy beside you is still a Warlord with the ability to heal you through the inspiring word power and he can even give you free basic attacks instead of doing his own attacks 'cause he has a power that lets an ally make a basic attack as a standard action. Thus what we really see is not so much - 'characters are different' but instead 'if you want there is a class where your character is different'.

As an anecdotal example of this I just looked over the changes to see what is new and different with my cleric. So far as I can tell the only change on my character sheet is that I'm now proficient with Holy Symbols. Now I've always been able to use Holy Symbols, I'm a Cleric after all. The reason I'm proficient with it all of a sudden is merely to indicate that other people who are not normally proficient with Holy Symbols (because they are not clerics) can now become proficient with them if they meet certain criteria (mainly by multi-classing into a divine caster of some sort I should think).


I hadn't realized 4th edition was driven so much by one individual. It helps explain the sheer lack of gray area in regards to opinions about it. My understanding of 3rd edition is that it essentially grew out of the various house rules from 2nd edition so even if it was led by one person, there was already somewhat of a consensus as to the direction he was going. My sense of 4th edition is that it was a gut reaction of a bunch of developers at WOTC who saw a lot of things in 3rd edition they disliked, and so they decided to completely shift gears even if the community wasn't really telling them that something that extreme was needed. In a case like that, a dominant personality in the position of lead designer can have a far greater, for both better and worse, impact.


sunshadow21 wrote:
I hadn't realized 4th edition was driven so much by one individual. It helps explain the sheer lack of gray area in regards to opinions about it. My understanding of 3rd edition is that it essentially grew out of the various house rules from 2nd edition so even if it was led by one person, there was already somewhat of a consensus as to the direction he was going. My sense of 4th edition is that it was a gut reaction of a bunch of developers at WOTC who saw a lot of things in 3rd edition they disliked, and so they decided to completely shift gears even if the community wasn't really telling them that something that extreme was needed. In a case like that, a dominant personality in the position of lead designer can have a far greater, for both better and worse, impact.

I don't think that's a very accurate read of the situation. I can't say for sure with 3rd Edition (though it was my impression that it was much more a product of the lead designer than you seem to feel), but 4E as a whole very much feels like the product of market research and an attempt to address elements that the community was absolutely telling them were problems.

Now, that doesn't mean every solution that went with was a crowd-pleaser, but trying to wave away the changes as simply gut reactions by a handful of developers pushing their agenda on the system? I don't think that's fair to the developers, I don't think that's fair to the current fans of the game, I don't think that's fair to the gamers who raised those issues in previous editions, and I don't think it is a remotely accurate view of how things actually came about.


sunshadow21 wrote:
I hadn't realized 4th edition was driven so much by one individual. It helps explain the sheer lack of gray area in regards to opinions about it. My understanding of 3rd edition is that it essentially grew out of the various house rules from 2nd edition so even if it was led by one person, there was already somewhat of a consensus as to the direction he was going. My sense of 4th edition is that it was a gut reaction of a bunch of developers at WOTC who saw a lot of things in 3rd edition they disliked, and so they decided to completely shift gears even if the community wasn't really telling them that something that extreme was needed. In a case like that, a dominant personality in the position of lead designer can have a far greater, for both better and worse, impact.

I agree with the idea that there was a significant sense of direction in which 3rd edition should head. I very much disagree that 3rd was just a bunch of house rules that people where using in 2nd. I think that concept seriously undervalues what Monte did. 3rd was the Holy Grail of Dungeons and Dragons - a universal system in which the DM and the players actually played the same game. I used to sometimes read people in the the Letters column of Dungeon or Dragon talking about this idea but you could not get there from 2nd edition (and people had been talking about it since 1st). No amount of house ruling could do that. Oh sure one can see a ton of 'house rules' in 3rd and Monte is pretty much the king of the 'House Rule'.

But I think your missing the forest for the trees if what you get out of 3rd is '2nd with some good house rules'. The vision there is just jaw dropping. Its probably one of the big reasons there was such a stir when it was released. It really was what a lot of us had been looking for all these years. A unified system that actually worked (albeit a bit of a rules heavy one but that was the price one had to pay). The monsters where not random amalgamations - they where created by a specific system, a system that had tons of cross over with how characters where made. If you wanted to make an undead lord to lead the armies of zombies out of the dark swamp you actually made a character, just like a player character, who did this. Even the players could technically make such a character. I could go on and on but the fundamental point is its a unified core system from which everything for both the players and the DM derive.

I really deeply respect what was done with the 3rd edition design...Its just that in some significant ways I ultimately found that it was a case of 'be careful what you wish for - you just might get it'.

Remember that undead guy who was leading armies of zombies out of the swamp that your players could technically make as well? Thing is it turns out if your characters can make him to then he needs to be play balanced...so he can't really lead armies out of the swamp because its not play balanced if your characters can lead armies of zombies. Well unless he's epic level, then it works but if that the case then how can your 8th level players kill him? Well maybe its an adventure for 18th level characters...except then whats the point of the zombies? They are, like, 2 HD creatures.

There came a day when I realized I was pining for the days of 1st and 2nd where the Undead Zombie Lord could lead armies of undead just because I friggen said he could and I'm the DM.

At this point I no longer believe that the players and the DM are playing, or ever have been playing, the same game. They are playing two different games and the interesting bit is where these two games intersect. Fundamentally the players are trying to play some kind of game where they use their skills and wits to overcome obstacles set in their path while taking on the role of adventurers in a magical fantasy world while the DM is involved in some kind of a story telling game where he creates plot and challenges. I'm now happiest when the rules reflect the idea that the rules don't need to be the same for the players and the DM...in fact they shouldn't be unless its the simplest, fastest and most effective method for both types of the game.

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