Wednesday, March 8, 2017

D&D: If I were President...

So there was an entertaining thread on Facebook asking "If you were appointed CEO [sic] of Wizards of the Coast, what are some of the things you'd do?"

* Wizards of the Coast actually has a President, not a CEO, as it is a subsidiary of Hasbro.

Of course, among the responses were scads of terrible ideas, many jokesters, some edition sniping, and a small number of ideas that could be up for debate... So I thought I'd chime in just to stir the pot of nerd ragey know-it-alls.

Inexpensive Cardboard Miniatures


Paizo offers about 300 miniatures for about $40...
This is a great deal for new Dungon Masters.
So, this is no-brainer. Paizo’s Pathfinder Pawns are immensely popular because 1) They are cardboard (much cheaper than plastic), but even more importantly, 2) They are non-random!

There is nothing more irritating than having to hunt on Ebay because you need a pack of orcs, goblins, or undead and you have to pay something like $3 to $5 per mini because they are uncommon or out of print. Random miniatures suck. Cardboard stand ups would be so simple for Wizards to produce and the value they give are such that any set WotC might create would almost certainly be profitable out of the gate. They could also create smaller sets for each new adventure, like Paizo has been doing for their adventure paths. They also look much better on the table than flat-lying tokens produced during the 4e era. I wrote an article about procuring cheap miniatures just the other month, and it rapidly became the most popular article on the site. The demand is out there, and accessories could be sold to any consumer playing D&D, Pathfinder, OSR games, or others in the fantasy genre. They could eat Paizo’s lunch on this one. Chris Cocks - are you listening?

Core Book PDFs


This should be another no-brainer. Wizards’ has this unreasoning fear of PDF piracy. Unreasoning, because print-only books have not stopped pirate PDFs from turning up, which means many consumers who are paying customers for the hard backs, are turning to pirated PDFs for their ease of use while the physical books sit on our shelves. That is money for the taking that Wizards is leaving on the table. It makes little sense to not provide PDFs for those that want to pay. Pirates will always pirate, whether you sell a PDF or not. Paizo is leading the market by having everything they make available electronically. Wizards should do so as well.

Player's Handbook II


Although Wizards has shied away from promising anything like this, Unearthed Arcana articles have given us a glimpse into other class specializations that are being play tested. Some of earliest appeared in the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide.  It is likely that more of these playtest class paths will see publishing in some form or other. It would be nice if they put them all in a single book and not dole them out in small bits like they did in SCAG.

It is not certain whether we will get a Player's Handbook II, an "Unearthed Arcana" hardback, or perhaps a PDF-only release via DM's Guild. While they are unlikely to use the PDF approach, that would make the most sense economically. They could release official single classes as a $3 - $5 download, for instance, and only go to the trouble of combining them into a larger hardback when they have enough content to fill a book. That way, they could monetize the pre-published "sneak peaks" (not the UA playtest versions, the full final versions that will see publication). This would be the approach I would take as Wizard's President.

MOAR BOOKS!


Aside from the call of the PHB2, there appear to be a lot of people who want more Feats, something resembling 3e's "prestige" classes, more adventure paths… Basically, people who desire the Pathfinder model of publishing. Honestly, this is a terrible idea. Non-core books sell at a fraction of the rate core books do, and Wizards spends a lot of time on marketing each season's adventure path with miniatures and other supporting games and accessories. Not to mention, that with more splat books comes more power creep and complexity. The current publishing schedule is actually a good one from a marketing and support perspective. Too many books can water down the impact of a new release and add cruft to a lean system.

MOAR SETTINGS!


Alongside the call for more books is the desire for more 5e settings beyond the Forgotten Realms. Commentors cite past gems like Dark Sun and Eberron as ripe for a 5e update (not to mention Greyhawk).

As President, I'd take the PDF approach here as well. Through DM's Guild, WotC could  offer a 32 to 64 page update and conversion guide for various settings, and then link customers to the 2e, 3e and 4e PDFs of the older settings. People could buy the older books for all the fluff and get the crunch and timeline updates in the conversion guide. Old settings do not need a full new hardback. Supporting multiple settings became a money sink during the end days of TSR. We do not want that mistake repeated. I would love to see a Greyhawk update in PDF form. It would be nice to have a hardback, but isn't particularly needed. A series of short PDF guidebooks for 5e could be a great way to resurrect the most popular settings from bygone days. Print-on-demand could be offered for these guides as well.

+Dyson Logos suggested that WotC should have another setting contest like the one the produced Eberron. I think WotC's sole focus is almost entirely on the Realms, but they could do something like this through PDF and Print-on-Demand which would reduce their risk of producing a full hardback (which may not sell well) while still allowing them to highlight an awesome setting produced by a writer of high regard. It reduces their risk, since it would cut the production cost dramatically. There would still be art, layout, and editing required though, and with WotC's small staff, focus on the Realms will likely continue.

MOAR ADVENTURES!


I've been a proponent of more adventures, but not more adventure paths. While the upcoming Yawning Portal release helps along these lines, it's not exactly what I'm wanting as a fan. My desire is for the smaller 1 to 3 session adventures that used to appear in Dungeon Magazine.  I'd like to see some kind of Dungeon resurgence.

Dragon+ is awful, but some more adventure content could really help raise its profile. In the print days, before Dungeon was its own magazine, it was a separate section within Dragon Magazine. One could do the same with Dragon+ today. Each issue, Dragon+ should publish one small adventure using the Dungeon branding. These could even be 5e conversions of Dungeon adventures published during the 2e and 3e days. There was a truckload of fantastic, short adventures that could be dropped into any campaign because they are generic, as opposed to adventure paths which tie-in tightly with their setting. Since a plurality of DMs use game worlds that are not the Forgotten Realms, these more generic adventures could really help out the homebrew DMs. If one takes a look at the PDF era of Dungeon Magazine during 4th edition, there was an amazing amount of excellent content being provided to DMs. For all the guff 4th Edition takes, D&D Insider started to hit its stride after the first couple years.

MOAR GENRES!


One other intriguing suggestion noted that Wizards could resurrect some other TSR intellectual properties through a 5th Edition translation of d20 Modern. Properties like Boot Hill, Top Secret, Star Frontiers and Gamma World could be brought back using 5e. Gamma World saw a new edition under the 4e rules, and it was actually darn good, but the support from Wizards did not last very long. I’d have this fear with any other non-D&D property. Wizards has a history of putting out a non-D&D game and then fairly quickly abandoning any other production support of it. However, the DM’s Guild could give flexibility here as well. Test the waters with PDF and Print-on-Demand.

MOAR MMO!


This one befuddles me. People seem to be demanding more D&D MMORPGs, but there has been D&D Online, Neverwinter and Sword Coast Legends all of which are still running, but each with a somewhat meager audience. One commenter even suggested Bethesda build and “Elder Scrolls” style MMO, but that already exists as Elder Scrolls Online, which is also still running, but only just maintaining its own niche audience. I’m not sure what else can be done in this market. D&D already has its selection of online games. The new President, Chris Cocks, has a lot of experience in the digital games market, so I’m interested to see what may be in store, but it likely will not be another D&D MMO.

Revolution: Virtual Play Space
I’ve already commented in the past about what WotC isn’t doing in the virtual tabletop market, so I don’t want to retread that discussion much… However, a fully 3D VTT with dynamic lighting and tools to make it easy for a Dungeon Master to build both indoor and outdoor encounter areas would be a nice addition to the VTT field. This are a couple tools that are close, but are neither easy to use nor geared specifically toward D&D VTT play. Anyone remember they VTT they were supposed to debut alongside 4th Edition? That code base probably still exists somewhere...

Final Thoughts


Wizards of the Coast is a lot more averse to profit risk than they were during the 3rd and 4th edition days. However, there still seems to be a fair amount of low hanging fruit where the risk-reward factor would seem obvious - cardboard miniatures, PDFs for the core books and adventures, and leveraging the DM’s Guild for more experimental publishing initiatives.

So what would you do as President?

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