Well, I don't feel like a Luddite...

>> Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Boing Boing has an rosy-cheeked article on D&D 4.0 up today, along with a dinky video (see below) of a preview Wizards Of The Coast did for the new product.

Basically, for those who haven't been following the announcement, Wizards recently announced the new edition of Dungeons And Dragons, 4.0. Or maybe it's just "4." Wizards created a great deal of bad blood the last time they published a fourth edition, which they called "3.5," shortly on the heels of the third edition of the game. It's a long story.

The thing that Boing Boing is focused on is something that's causing some of the greatest displeasure among D&D gamers: the new edition is being closely tied to an online service variously known as "D&D Insider," or (more hideously) "Gleemax" (a name obviously chosen by picking random Scrabble tiles out of a bag).

What this service does, is it gives you the chance to make your character online, create an online character sheet, create an online image and corresponding "virtual mini," create online dungeons, and play over the internet. It looks (at this stage) like poor knockoff of Falcon's Eye.

Well, here, see for yourself:

The service, from a certain point of view, doesn't cost anything. Of course, those of you who recognize the Star Wars reference probably realize the phrase "a certain point of view" is a euphemism for what people who aren't dead Jedi Knights call a lie. At this point--while the service is getting off the ground--is that there won't be a monthly subscription. (We'll see if that model lasts, once Hasbro needs your money and Wizards has your character as a "virtual hostage.") But to get online and use the service, you'll need to use codes that you get out of your D&D books. So you will be paying the $30 to access everything, and you'll only be able to access information from books whose secret codes are associated with your account.

So what? That doesn't sound so bad, someone said.

The problem--and where I think Joel Johnson at Boing Boing is possibly wrong when he implies this will help the hobby's numbers--is that this is how most players probably get into the hobby: one guy (let's face it, it's almost always a guy) gets these books and recruits a bunch of people to play this weird, board-less game with him. The people he invites all look pretty skeptical--there's no board, no pieces, just all these dice and books and stacks of paper. But they play for a couple of hours, and some of them start to get it. This is pretty cool. So the group has a few sessions, and eventually someone else in the group decides he's tired of looking things up in the DM's books, or that he wants to look under the hood at what the DM is doing; so, he goes and buys his own copy of the Player's Handbook or whatever they're playing. Eventually, it spreads like a bug--other people buy books, too. Except, maybe, some of them don't buy the same game, they buy other games for the group to try. Maybe one guy never actually gets his own Player's Handbook, mooching off someone else, but he does pick a copy of Call Of Cthulhu and starts Keeping that on off Saturdays.

In short, I tend to see Wizards' emphasis on the online side as being a barrier to play. It's not really going to be interesting enough to draw in the video gamers they're trying to draw in, the books are still going to be too expensive for interested newbies to want to join in, and older gamers like myself are going to be alienated.

And we are--yes, I see the point that groups scattered all over the country can now play. The problem is, if I want to go online to play D&D with friends scattered all over the country, we're more likely to play Neverwinter Nights. Pen and paper gaming is, for many of us, still what it sounds like: we consider minis optional, Doritos mandatory, and we like it that way.

But what do I know? I imagine the bottom line is that Wizards will squeeze a few more drops of blood out of Gygax and Arneson's grandchild before discarding the corpse, while my old college pals play 3.5 once a year.


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