Monday, October 13, 2008

Answering Ike

New Gameblog reader RPG Ike asked a couple of interesting questions in the comments to the earlier post where I suggest that Hasbro should put out a 'vintage edition' of old school D&D. (An idea I possibly unconsciously stole from T. Foster, it seems.)

So, if it isn't nostalgia, why not just crack the AD&D or older books open and fire up a game, rather than buy them again in a vintage package?

I've got more editions and variations of My Favorite Game* than I'll ever need. Sure, I plan on buying at least two more (Swords & Wizardry and Hackmaster Basic), but that's really besides the point. For me the idea of "Hasbro Presents Classic Dungeons & Dragons" is a larger issue. If we're going to have faceless corporate oversight of the biggest franchise in the hobby, why not leverage that corporate muscle to re-position D&D as a mainstream game? I still don't believe D&D will ever recapture the faddishness of the 80's, but then I doubt Monopoly will ever be the national passion again either. But like Monopoly or Risk, I believe D&D has what it takes to occupy a 'classic games' niche. In short, I don't need a copy for nostalgia purposes, I still have the now-tattered Basic rules I got as a birthday present one summer long ago. But how many of the millions of D&D players of that era can still say that? There's your primary audience for such a product.

And your secondary audience are the kids the primary audience can initiate into our weird mysteries. To go back to Monopoly for a second, consider that back when my parents and uncle taught me how to play back in the late seventies, it was already a nostalgia game for them. And now I've played it with my daughter and nephew (albeit haltingly and with difficulty, they're still pretty young for a landlord simulation). Over the years my sister and I wore out our folks' first Monopoly set, so they bought another. And I own at least two sets and my sister has at least one. I've heard people who know more about the business of RPGs call the Players Handbook 'evergreen' because WotC can consistently sell copies over a few measly years. Meanwhile, Monopoly has sold copies for the better part of a century now. (And it sure as hell didn't get that way by rolling out a new version of the rules every five years. Maybe that's a fine approach for hobbyists like us but family games with multi-generational appeal generally seem to have much more stable rules.)

Now I know a major objection here is that splitting a brand is bad business sense and will confuse the customers. But D&D did alright for itself back when half the products were Advanced and half were not. I'm not even asking for that level of bifurcation. I'm asking for a single family-friendly ready-to-run Basic set for sale alongside the rest of Hasbro's classic games. Something I could give my nephew for his birthday or maybe use an excuse to round up some old players. Labyrinth Lord nicely fills that niche for people still neck-deep in this crazy hobby, but the department store visibility and brandpower of a Hasbro Basic release would easily dwarf LL in potential effect.

I've known about your blog for some time, but just recently started visiting it, so forgive me if this is clear to your regulars. How do you feel about 3E?

My 3E campaign ended abruptly due primarily to me not understanding what a different game the new edition was. I had a horrible grip on how Encounter Levels and CRs worked and when Pat's sixth level cleric started cranking out magic items I freaked out. But my 3.5 campaign was rollicking fun, eventually ending in a party of 23rd or so level uber-PCs fighting Ragnarok in Greyhawk. Good times. Some days when I'm feeling particularly idiotic I waste time wondering if what I was running was "really" D&D, but we had a crapload of fun. I don't think I'd run 3.x again, but I still have a few books from the line.

*Some days Encounter Critical shares that title, but calling D&D One of My Co-Favorite Games sounds a little silly.