Monday, January 2, 2012

Everything Is Doomed Forever

So recently The Escapist published a series of three articles on the past, present and future of D&D. These surprised me - partly because I didn't know The Escapist still publishes content that isn't Zero Punctuation, and partly because they are a dumb-as-bricks extended serenade to the Good Old Days with as little rational thought as possible.

Part 1: The Glory Days

I knew how most of it was going to go when I read the second paragraph:

Confidence in the official Dungeons & Dragons is at an all-time low; on forums, at conventions and at your local game store, players are split into various camps, viciously defending what they believe is the "true" D&D."

Oh man, people are arguing about which edition is better? This hasn't happened before! It must mean confidence in 4E is lower than any other edition!

If articles written by grognards made me laugh out loud I would have busted up by the second page, which basically fellates Ryan Dancey (the guy who has been predicting D&D's demise for years ever since they let him go) and the OGL, WotC's little open source project of good intentions ruined by stupid ideas.

The OGL "boom" did jack shit for the RPG industry in the end. Sure, everyone thought it was a golden era because all those d20 books (like the Book of Erotic Fantasy) clogging store shelves gave the illusion of growth, but once the inevitable d20 bust hit it turned out it hadn't really been doing anything eexcept sucking air away from non-d20 systems. Dancey's goal of having other developers fill "niches" to supplement WotC's content failed as people realised that instead they could just publish their own thing with d20 mechanics. Hell, usually when I hear someone defending the OGL, their first point is "It got us Pathfinder!" Yeah, creating competitors by enabling someone to copy-paste your rules into a new book and encourage people to buy their product instead of yours sure was a smart move on WotC's part! Way to "ensure [the division of 2nd edition vs. 1st] did not repeat" and then hand someone else the tools to encourage the division of 3rd vs. 4th!

And we're only two-thirds of the way through the first article. The last page is basically ignorant grognard talking points ("hurf durf 4E is WoW! WotC is ruining the hobby") dressed up with pretentions of rational thought, with one last tug of Ryan "WFRP is a clever derivative of d20" Dancey's dick because the guy who spied on his coworkers at GAMA is apparently a visionary. What a tone we've set for this series!

Part 2: 4E Sucks! Oh nooo!

So, what we've apparently learned from the Past article is that the OGL was great, Ryan "D&D is doomed any day now!" Dancey is a genius and we haven't explained why yet, but 4E is destroying the hobby. I can't wait to see what the Present article has in store!

Turns out it's an even more thinly veiled grognard rant than the last one.

"But as result of Hasbro's desire to turn D&D into a $100 million business, and the success of fantasy MMO videogames like World of Warcraft, the release of the 4th edition in 2008 changed more of the game than many fans were comfortable with and despoiled the goodwill Wizards of the Coast had built over the last decade. The Ghost of D&D Present still haunts the industry."

The mating cries of the grognard: "4E is WoW!" "Change is bad!" Oh no!

"While 4th edition offered elegant tactical combat and an equanimity between classes never seen before in the game, many of the people who played Gygax's Dungeons & Dragons in the 70s and 80s didn't understand why concepts they held to be sacred were axed."

"While 4th edition is a good game, it changed Gygax's vision!!" Oh nooo!

Oh, and the hot quotes! From "people who actually work at WotC" we have a couple of meaningless half-quotes from 4E designers on being young and modern, followed by half a page of non-WotC people explaining what they think of the new edition.

Apparently Chris Pramas (president of Green Ronin publishing, thinks WotC made some "curious choices" in 4E by changing the cosmology, adding new races and altering existing settings to fit. This happens every fucking edition, but this is 4E! Change is scary! R.A. Salvatore thinks 4E makes roleplaying/writing harder, because I guess I missed the sidebar tellling people not to roleplay. Erik Mona gets a quote, and I have no idea why. "Hey, let's ask the guy who works for WotC's competitor and encouraged people to be afraid of 4E and buy Pathfinder before 4E came out what he thinks of 4E! What a source!"

The second page does get back to actually canvassing people who work at WotC for their opinion, if only because Greg Tito got the opportunity to fill entire paragraphs with Collins talking about how he was disappointed in the GSL sprinkled with more Ryan "EVE Online monocle fiasco" Dancey babble about how great OGL was.

Then it devotes even more time to Erik Mona pimping out Pathfinder. Holy shit, really?

In December 2007, WOTC released Wizards Presents: Races and Classes the first of several preview documents that outlined some of the radical changes to the rules, and initial feedback from fans was not encouraging. "All of a sudden our subscribers started begging us not to convert to the new game system," Mona said.

"Feedback from WotC previews was not encouraging! For example, Erik Mona - the guy who works for a company whose business strategy mostly consists of exploiting a niche market of people who don't like 4E, who was telling people to be scared of 4E before it came out - says Paizo subscribers were begging them not to convert to 4E!" (A quick Google search turned up a Paizo forum thread on this very subject... from October 2007. Clearly, it was WotC publishing 4E previews from December onwards that resulted in the feedback Erik Mona received, not the usual "now I haven't read or played the new edition, but change is scary!" mindless edition warring every single edition gets!

On the upside, the next part about pimping out the OSR isn't terrible and Tito at least mentions he is working on an OSR fantasy heartbreaker, like I couldn't already guess he's a grognard. On the other hand, why do OSR dudes keep mentioning Lamentations of the Flame Princess? Raggi can't write for shit. (Seriously, go here and search for Death Frost Doom for an RPGnet poster's Let's Read of one of the worst OSR adventures ever made if you're bored and the Something Awful paywall isn't up.)

Page 3 is basically more "4E is a videogame! World of Warcraaaaft!" idiocy:

Paradoxically, one of the most frequent complaints with 4th edition was that the rules too closely mimicked World of Warcraft or EverQuest. The concept of certain classes described specifically to take or deal damage in 4th edition mirrors the role of tank or "DPS" in MMOs.

4E roles are just the fighter/mage/rogue/cleric dynamic of previous editions with a different name. Certain classes being good at taking or dealing damage is nothing new. MMO roles can trace their roots back to D&D anyway. The people making this "complaint" are talking out of their ass..

Coinciding with the release of 4th edition D&D in 2008, Wizards of the Coast launched an advertising campaign that reached out to MMO players. "If you're going to sit in your basement pretending to be an elf, you should at least have some friends over to help," the text of one ad read over a shot of a bored young man in front of a computer. Paradoxically, one of the most frequent complaints with 4th edition was that the rules too closely mimicked World of Warcraft or EverQuest. The concept of certain classes described specifically to take or deal damage in 4th edition mirrors the role of tank or "DPS" in MMOs.

Greg Tito's quality journalism continues with a quote from Collins pointing out that 4E took inspiration from all kinds of games, citing European board games and card games as just examples. Tito can't even get his thinly-veiled 4E-bashing right, though, and blows a chance to write some "4E is totally a board/card game, oh nooo!" bullshit in favour of changing this to:

"Pulling from so many different sources, especially videogames, may have worked against the reception of 4th edition D&D."

and plastering it on the page in big letters just in case Collins making a coherent point distracts from Tito's "4E is WoW!" screed. Oh, and then we have Pramas talking some more about 4E being a videogame. Is this article even trying any more?

The rest of the article mentions that 4E does have fans and does sell well, though suddenly citations are needed when you make broad statements about tabletop games. Not when you're saying 4E is responsible for every time someone at WotC is let go though!

"The negative response to 4th edition was not without consequences for the people who made it. Rob Heinsoo was laid off in late 2009, and Bill Slavicsek, Director of RPG R&D for more than ten years, left earlier this year. (...) In May 2010, Andy Collins was asked to vacate his position at Wizards of the Coast as design and development manager of D&D."

Also holy shit, this is the best way to end the article.

"Old school gamers rejoiced when Collins' successor was named, but it remains to be seen whether one man can turn the tide."

"Did I mention new things are bad enough yet? We need to turn the tide!"

Part 3: Nerd Rage

Daunted by the release of the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons in 2008, the future of the roleplaying game industry is unclear. The core books of 4th edition sold well, and the game is still popular among a large section of players, but detractors used memes like Hitler's speech from Downfall to illustrate their rage , while game designers like Justin Alexander carefully examined why the dissociated mechanics of 4th edition didn't work for him. The nerd rage has dulled a bit in the three years since 4th edition, was released, but the tabletop RPG industry is still reeling.

I really should stop reading here. Seriously? You're championing Justin Alexander's dysfunctional rambling about how this "disassociated mechanics" bullshit he made up is bad for D&D, when his own definition ("mechanics which have no association with the game world. These are mechanics for which the characters have no functional explanations") applies to most of every edition of D&D ever?

Afterwards we have some quotes from Mearls, and I honestly can't tell which of the dumb parts are Mearls or Tito.

"It's all about player power now - the DM is just the rules guy - and the DM can't contradict what the players say. [The game] is taking away from the DM, and that's where I worry because other types of games can do that better. I might as well play a board game, 'cause I'm just here enforcing the rules. Without the DM as the creative guy, what's the point?"

Yeah, the DM can't be creative any more! 4E lets the players overrule the DM!

Seriously, was Mearls smoking something when he said this or is Tito twisting his words? Get fucking real.

"Mearls admits 4th edition might have gone too far in creating a perfectly balanced game. "We've lost faith of what makes an RPG an RPG," he said, admitting that in trying to please gamers with a limited imagination, 4th edition might have punished those with an active one. "There's this fear of the bad gaming group, where the game is so good that even playing with a bad gaming group, you'll still have fun.""


Neither of those Mearls quotes have anything to do with imagination, or balance, or anything Greg Tito says Mearls is "admitting".

What the fuck?

Also, 4E punishes people with an active imagination? Get fucked, Tito. What part of 4E do you think punishes imagination? Easy power reskinning to fit any character concept? Better game balance that doesn't punish people for picking non-casters or trap feats? Faster, easier encounter design with less focus on pointless number-crunching?

It sounds like a previous edition killed your creativity, and now that 4e asks you to use it, you are lost.

Most of the rest of the page is about WotC exploring new options and ways to appeal to more audiences, which is odd, because there's nothing here about how WotC is alienating true gamers by going against the holy word of Gygax.

You have to go straight to page 3 for that!

"With all of these options, it seems that the biggest hole in WotC's catalogue would be a product for those players who grew up with the game."

"But with products like Paizo's Pathfinder, the many games of the Old School Renaissance, and Chris Pramas' RPG lines from Green Ronin already serving their communities well, it will take more than lip service from Wizard of the Coast employees to heal the loss of hit points that 4th edition caused."

"A lot is going to depend on whether D&D can rebound from its current state. The game has had a troubled few years and it'll help everyone if WotC can turn things around," said Pramas."

"Paizo will continue to innovate as well, while still holding onto the principles that made Pathfinder successful.

"said Erik Mona, publisher at Paizo. "I hope Paizo is still at the vanguard of the tabletop hobby in 5 and 10 years, pushing forward with new ideas and new expressions of the game, but always focusing on story first."

"The vitriol seen during the launch of 4th edition now just leaves a bad taste in gamers' mouths."

"D&D, and by extension the whole role-playing industry, has been through a rough patch in the last few years, but there is a glint of great things ahead. Like the characters in any fantasy adventure story, passing through the dark times will only make us stronger. Despite the anger and resentment fostered by the release 4th edition, optimism on the future of RPGs has begun to bubble to the surface. We are on the verge of a golden age of tabletop gaming we haven't seen since fantasy roleplaying roared out of the minds of Gygax and Arneson and took over imaginations of gamers everywhere."

If D&D - not the RPG industry, D&D - has a problem right now, you know what it is?

Shit like this.

Arrogant grognards who think that D&D needs to cater to them and it's more important to preserve "sacred cows" than actually try to make a good game, who are less interested in the hobby actually growing and improving than they are in polluting it with conceited horseshit about how the "good old days" need to be preserved for their sole benefit and fuck everyone else. It's a vocal minority that WotC - hell, every developer - needs to ignore, and I hope to God that if I ever become this groggy about an RPG they leave me in the dust and do what they think is right.

This isn't an insightful series on the past, present and future of D&D. It's a poorly-disguised rant by yet another grognard upset that someone changed his RPG, with the same stupid rhetoric and incoherent talking points grognards say every single time there's a new edition. And it's on The Escapist, which claims to be "the internet's home for high-quality journalism and insightful commentary".

There are not enough laughing acronyms in the world.


Jenx said...

The only really interesting and decent RPG related columns The Escapist has had were the ones by Keith Baker about his travels. Everything else - meh.

Ran said...

Doesn't R.A. Salvatore write novels? The changes to FR's setting for 4E (unrelated to rule mechanics) *would* make writing harder, IMO.

But more to the point, I find any vitriol against open source gaming licenses absurd; Eclipse Phase seems to be doing better than alright under the creative commons license, and is a very fun system, as you know.

Heck, a lot of "indy" games are doing amazing work with other open source systems like FATE.

Whatever Pathfinder does with it will hardly damage 4E, as I suspect their fanbase would otherwise be staying with 3E in any case.

I think whatever damage "open source" licensing the SRD did... it wasn't to WotC, which seemed or was the "first party" brand for all d20 books, but to their competition, which seemed to only be playing in WotC's playground.

Ettin said...

Already talking about it elsewhere (hi Ran!) but:

"From a roleplaying standpoint, by that I mean a writing standpoint, it's much harder" was the quote, and while I agree with the writing part, I don't think it's fair to say 4E hurts roleplaying.

And I like open source too! I just think in this case the OGL wasn't the raging success this series seems to think it is, and most of the intentions WotC apparently had at the time were either failures or didn't benefit themselves much in the long term.

Paizo is a thorny issue for me to tackle because I think they have some good intentions and I like much of their product. A lot of my issues are to do with a vocal section (probably a minority) of their fanbase and some of their early moves encouraging the fanbase to engage in shitty edition warring. These days it's hard to tell how much of it is just unrelated grognards posting toxic horseshit like these articles, though; I suspect it's less Paizo and more them these days.

And yeah, I think their competition suffered more, at least. (What a success the OGL was for everyone, am I right!)

Cooked Auto said...

The Escapist being generally incompetent. What a surprise.
Even if they manage to fail even more spectacularly with this I have to say.

Mozai said...

"MMO roles can trace their roots back to D&D anyway." I knew I was reading you for a reason. I want to slap the people who think peach-fuzz on their upper-lip is a neckbeard, and they think World of Warcraft is old enough to be an influence on anything but other video games.

Clerics were always about providing enchantment bonuses and medical aid, fighters were always about high AC and hitpoints engaging in melee and pinning monsters by causing attacks of opportunity, and wizards were always about first-strike and utility spells to make the terrain more favourable. Just like the classic cavalry / infantry / archers suites of troops in the wargames that D&D was based on.

Where's the "experts" accusing Saxon longbowmen as just imitating fire mages from World of Warcraft?

Salvatore's opinion on what makes a good role-playing game carries no weight what-so-ever. It's common knowledge "if the players are ruining your plot, you should be writing a novel not being a dungeon master." Salvatore writes novels, which is what you should stop being a bad DM.

Mozai said...

"which is what you should stop being a bad DM."

Correction: "which is what you should do when you stop being a bad DM."

Ettin said...

I am guessing Salvatore just means that the fluff changes made his job harder. It is pretty difficult to write stories in a setting when someone else comes along and makes sweeping changes to the continuity. Salvatore has a right to be angry about that!

I'm pretty sure Tito just has an axe to grind and is fiddling with the quotes to better fit his narrative.

Jenx said...

What's disheartening is that one look at the comments for these articles reveals a large number of posts that mostly say "Hey, I've never really known D&D's history, thanks for explaining it to me", which is just sad considering the bullshit in these articles.

Ettin said...

D&D's history = half a paragraph on the pre-3e days, two and a half pages on 3.5 and why Ryan Dancey is a genius.

Cooked Auto said...

I bought the D&D 30th anniversary book when it came out. Now there is a proper history about D&D that they should've been mentioned for recommended reading instead of just half assing it..

lootsorrow said...

Hello, I don't even know how I ended up here reading this, but it was an interesting read anyway. Even as a near-total outsider to DnD I had an easy time understanding the issues you were discussing, so good on you!

Aside from complimenting your writing, I just wanted to say that I think you could have avoided this entire post, or at least trimmed it down a whole lot, by simply acknowledging the fact that The Escapist is just astroturfing, plain and simple. It's a shitty enough industry practice in videogames, the market I'm more familiar with - I'm relieved to see we're not the only ones who have to put up with it, but also upset that other human beings are getting exposed to it as well. Frowny face.

Ettin said...

Yeah, I was just having fun being a wordy shouty person.

Man, I just realised I haven't actually looked at much Escapist material besides ZP since they got rid of Extra Credits.

Anonymous said...

The Escapist is a bunch of dicks anyway and tries to scam people they've hired out of their own money. I seem to recall that the guy who did Doraleous and the Associates left because all his pays were late and they owed him money.
Extra Punctuation jumped ship to Penny Arcade since there were problems with the money too and the fuckers actually told them they should use money they had been donated, by fans, to help the site since "DURR IT'S MORE THAN YOU ORIGINALLY AIMED FOR" when they started the drive to get money for their artist's fucking arm surgery.
Most people on the Escapist who have dared to commit the sin of not being Yahtzee, their colden fucking calf, are apparently having some kind of problems with them. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against Yahtzee really, but they're more or less pumping money to him it seems.

So in short, fuck The Escapist, and it's no surprise they're being incompetent once again.