DMRT: The Geek Ken Opinion for Jan. 2012

The folks over at 4 Geeks 4E have a pretty fun podcast covering different topics on D&D. One part of the Dungeon Master’s Round Table show is taking twitter questions from listeners. As a semi-regular series of posts I’m throwing in my 2 cents and cherry picking a few questions to address or my opinion on some topics brought up in the podcast.

Twitter questions were not brought up in this episode. D&Dnext was the topic of discussion for most of the show. There is a lot of discussion (and conjecture) that can be brought up about WotC’s announcement of a new edition for D&D. I’m going to avoid going into much of that and instead make a plea to WotC about the planned audience for this new edition.

I like the philosophy of getting an edition that is modular and has rules with enough plasticity to accommodate just about every play style. I like that WotC is trying to get everyone under one banner for D&D. However if it is a choice between retaining older players that have been with the game for years or trying to wrangle in new players, I’d be kicking old fans to the curb.

Some folks will never let go of past editions. Nothing wrong with that. You should play what you want to play. However I believe a slender fraction of them cling to older editions simply out of nostalgia, and it is less about the game itself and more about the memories associated with playing it.

Paraphrasing the guys over at Role Playing Public Radio, while some might pine away for a love of an older RPG game, much of that adoration is aligned with friends and fun times of the past. No game is ever going to get that experience back completely. More importantly, while you might enjoy a quick session at the game table with an old rpg, after a while some things might creep in to sour that experience. Certain mechanics viewed again might be clunky, or house rules might have to be introduced again as a work around, or quite likely you’ve just found your tastes in games have changed.

I especially feel this way about folks that claim 4E no longer ‘feels’ like D&D. I tend to wonder if it is really about the game design, or more about how it doesn’t match up with past experiences playing D&D. And if it doesn’t match up with those past experiences how much of those memories are about the game itself, or are they really lumping in the time spent with friends being goofy and having fun around the table and just not realizing it.

This balancing act of trying to appease older fans created some missteps for some products. I have neither of the sets (this is based on all the unboxing videos, reviews, and official product announcements floating around) but the impression I’ve gotten with the red box starter set was a little confused about the audience it was trying to draw in. It seems while it was an introduction set for new players, much of the design seemed to churn up those nostalgic feelings of the old 80’s red box (and come on, with TV spots like these you have to realize older fans were part of their target consumers).

The pathfinder beginner box seems to have gone in completely another direction. Older players? What older fans of the game? The design of that product pops. If I were a 12 year old kid, I’d think the D&D red box starter set was pretty cool, but the pathfinder beginner box is full of awesome. I’d be spending my allowance on the latter even if the other game was the official ‘D&D’ game.

About ten years ago plenty of my miniature wargaming buddies grumbled about this new skirmish game of pre-painted figures called Mageknight. It was cheap, plastic, Chinese-manufactured crap with hack paint jobs. It had a stupid gimmick dial base. Now they would have to share their tablespace with these snot-nosed young kids that had no idea the game they were playing was some cheap marketing ploy to sell them plastic toys.

Me? I loved seeing those kids playing Mageknight. Sure it wasn’t something I’d be interested in playing. I really didn’t care for the pre-paint jobs either. However what some of my other stick-in-the-mud wargaming pals didn’t realize was that you had this entire generation of kids essentially playing miniature wargames. They were going to grow up. Their tastes were going to change and likely want some rules slightly more sophisticated, and would certainly be picking up the paintbrush and taking a stab at the modelling aspect of the hobby too. What I saw in those kids was the extension of miniature wargaming for at least another 15-20 years.

That is my plea to WotC. Try to get folks of all editions together if you can, but don’t get bent out of shape if you get a ton of hate mail about D&Dnext (or is it 5e?) from guys that have been playing the game for 20+ years. That fanboy boat has sailed. You likely won’t ever get a dollar out of them again and if anything, that market is shrinking. There are too many smaller fantasy RPGs out there and these guys all ready have a game library of too many books. It is the young kids and teenagers you want. That is the lifeblood for the hobby. Get them playing D&D and you’ve got an audience for your game in years to come. It is the younger kids that are the future for D&D. Spark their imagination and get them excited about playing RPGs.


Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Geek Ken likes games. Sometimes he likes to blog about them too.


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About Geek Ken

Geek Ken likes games. Sometimes he likes to blog about them too.
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One Response

  1. Two things:

    First, I’m not entirely sure the TV spot was official. So it’s hard to fault WotC for nostalgia that was really only limited to their website and some box art.
    And it could be argued the point of the box was to encourage people who grew up with the Red Box to buy it for their kids/ nieces/ nephews.

    Second, old players are an established audience, they’re an “actual” marketable group. They’ve spent money on the hobby, have played, and might still be playing.
    New players are a “potential” audience. If you market and design and focus books towards new players they might sell. Or they might not.
    How many new players are being introduced to the game? How many new players are there who are financially independent enough to rely on as the core audience?

    New players are a perk. You make the game accessible enough so as not to terrify new players and have ways to ease new players in (simple classes, default options, etc) and hope that established players can help. They’re a bonus, something added on top of the existing audience.

    If you make a good game, people will always want to play. Established players will want to share their hobby and their excitement will be infectious.

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