Tuesday, July 19, 2011

D&D 5th Edition

Don't play with me Wizard! I mean you've taken me in once before. Two times! Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me. Fool me three times and somebody's just an idiot.

I know I said I was gonna get away from the industry stuff for awhile, but this is just too good to pass up. News is a little different anyway; and we can never have too many opinions on the news, right? Just ask Dan Rather, or Ted Kopel, Barabara Walters or, well you get the idea. So bear with me for some exciting news!

Not like this is really news anyway. I mean I'm always the last one to know. Which is another good reason I probably shouldn't be trying to blog on the news. But, regardless this is worth some commentary.

And it's mostly rumor right now. I mean no one knows anything definite -- What's that? Oh, right, get on with it ... okay.

Wizards of the Coast is gearing up for 5e.

Yep, that's the news. Well, okay that's just the rumor part, but you can bet your last drop of spit while crossing the Sahara that's what's coming. Just you watch. The real news is actually a bit sadder, at least for lots of WoTC employees.

Wizards of the Coast just went through another big round of layoffs.

Yep, just like they did before they started gearing up for 4e. And the layoff just aint lackies either. Bill Slavicsek is gone too. Yes, THE Bill Slavicsek. The head of R&D for 4e Bill Slavicsek. Read into it what you like, but Mike Mearls is now head of R&D and doing some interesting insinuating. To be fair we don't know if Bill was part of the layoff, or if he resigned. He announced his departure in late June and the layoffs more or less coincided with that.

I'm not trying to be a conspiracist or anything, but this is just too good to pass up. You can kind of see the scenario where Bill heads up the direction of 4e. 4e tanks and Bill gets the boot. Or is it that he feels like, hey, I did my best, gave you what I thought you wanted, what I thought the fans wanted, and well--it didn't work too well. Sorry, C ya ... Hmmm ... But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Okay, so where did this come from anyway. Well, it'll be more fun for you if you hunt down all the links yourself, so I'll just summarize the development of things for you.

Sometime around January it became pretty clear that Mike Mearls was taking the helm of game design at the company. I really have to wonder if there wasn't a difference of opinion between Mike and Bill, as they did essentially the same thing, but that's pure conjecture. Whatever the case was, 4e was losing players. And by players I mean consumers. This was news to me, but it has been happening for awhile now and obviously that would create pressure at the head office. They tried to account for the loss in sales by Pathfinder, the one big competitor in the field, but it didn't add up. There were either lots of people just not gaming, or they were going somewhere else. Lots of bloggers were thinking that it was likely they were ghost numbers heading to the OSR retro-clone and retro-variant games. It's hard to account for these numbers as there is no commerical reporting available besides download numbers. My feeling is that whereever they were going they were simply getting their gaming fix elsewhere. That was a problem for 4e.

I can even see Hasbro Corporate offices sitting in conference with the Wizards branch and looking at the dismal numbers. "You gotta do something about this." Before you know it we lay off half the staff and are talking about a new direction. And that's exactly what Mike Mearls is doing. Check out his Legends and Lore columns on the Wizards site. He has written about the history of D&D, the foundations upon which the game is built, the core concepts associated with the game, trying to satisfy different types of gamers with one game. And changing the game to be more rules light and flexible. If you ask me he's trying to rebuild D&D in the image of Castles and Crusades. Which is a big credit to Stephen Chenault and the Troll Lord crew. I mean as you read through those entries you get the feeling that he is basically creating design notes for a new release.

And that's not mere conjecture. That's what being echoed on a number of blogs and gaming news sites web-wide. Check it out to get into all the details. Just Google "Wizards of the Coast layoff" "Bill Slavicsek" or "D&D 5e" and you'll come up with enough stuff to keep you reading all night.

What it means for us out here in the trenches is two fold if you ask me.
  1. We made a difference. We voted with our dollar. 4e tanked because it was exactly what we did _not_ want. And though 4e pulled in a new young element they lost most of their hard-core gamers. There's a lot of power in that fact and we need to respect and understand it.
  2. We may get a decent release of D&D again.
Okay it's that last one that really scares me. I keep getting duped by WoTC. They have never satisfied me. Not really. But I always go back and check them out; like a weakened drug addict jonesin' for a fix. And I always end up back in gaming rehab. So, don't screw with me Wizard--just don't do it. If you're gonna do it, do it right. Release a strong core that preserves and hallows our gaming roots. And support it with good, quality well written Adventures, Settings, and Color. NOT with a damn new rule book every 15 minutes!!

'Cause I'll tell you Wizbro, with the OSR going strong and games like C&C, HM and DCC out there it's going to be tough to compete. Tough.

I may have to write a letter to Mike Mearls tonight ...
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