Saturday, July 17, 2010

Milking the Old Ca$h Cow

So I went back to Gary's Games in Greenwood, and took a long, hard look at the new Tomb of Horrors. Like I said I would. This time withOUT laughing out loud.

Okay, so let's get some stuff out of the way. Despite the name, this is NOT the Tomb of Horrors. It is NOT a 4th edition conversion of the classic module or even a re-imagining of it. The book says so right up front, explaining that would be a disservice to both the original adventure module AND to 4th edition D&D (I infer this to mean, the potential for slam-bang 4E action).

No, WotC is simply cannibalizing the name of a classic adventure in order to launch something better called Die, Acererak, Die! or something like that. Or Acererak's Revenge. Or Return to Return to the Tomb of Horrors.

And I suppose that if one is going to milk the creative cash cow of recycling classic villains (Acererack, Vecna), monsters (the 4-armed gargoyle, the floating skull), and iconography (the "green devil face" features prominently), you might as well recycle the original name, right? Easy identification in the reader's mind with the legendary classic.

But, hey, all disgust aside I have a much higher opinion of the work knowing it's NOT an attempt to re-do the original S1, "4E Style." It really is its own thing. So here's the skinny:

The book is 160 pages, but is actually 4 full adventures...a mini-campaign, really. 40 pages per adventure is still a lot, but whatever...that's just how 4E rolls.

There are several double page illustrations, so it's not just 160 pages of text. As with all WotC stuff, the production value is high (though actually I find the art less cool than some of the 3E/Pathfinder stuff)...but I generally don't buy books based on artwork/production value alone.

The mini-campaign is designed to take characters from 10th level to 22nd. The Animated Campfire Logs (yes, this is a "new monster," not a spell), along with its companion, The Animated Canvass Tent (yes, really) is a 10th level encounter within the 1st of the four adventures. Personally, I think 10th level characters have more dangerous fish to fry than that, but I play a different edition. By the final adventure characters are playing against "Aspects of Demogorgon and Orcus" (whatever that means), so there appears to be quite a range of critters.

[I find it amusing the campfire logs have a perception stat...I just picture a cartoon log looking around for a thief hiding behind a tree]

There are sidebar rules for making things more "challenge the player," suggesting things like making the game harder by not giving the characters "intelligence checks" to figure out riddles and such, as well as ways of making the instant death more permanent. Um...this is pleasing to me(?) I least an acknowledgement that there may be more to showcase here than how to best stack one's deck of character stats. I mean, it's hard to imagine people playing 4E that way (if they wanted a game like that, wouldn't they play something different?) but it's cool that they present the option.

Regarding the adventures It's a bunch of linked "set piece" encounters. It seems just fine. Really.

I honestly can't judge if it's a "good 4th edition adventure" or not. The stat blocks with their little symbols and such are mostly gibberish and it's not a priority for me to learn that particular game system. But several people devoted a lot of time to making the book, and it has a lot of pretty colors, and I respect the artistic effort that went into its production. While I'm not a good judge of 4E material, it certainly appears as though it might be a good buy for players of that edition.

[See? I can acknowledge that people play something I don't and may want to put money into accessories for their game of choice...and even that THIS might be a "good accessory" for the particular game called 4th edition D&D]

But in a lot of ways, it's yet another example of how and why 4th edition and Wizards of the Coast are a major source of irritation to me.

NOT because they want to design an RPG that plays like a video game. I think game designers should be able to design whatever they want, however they want, and I've seen plenty of poorly designed games out there, even some that I like (for example, Heroes Unlimited).

And definitely NOT because they want to make takes money to keep those production values high and if their plan to deconstruct and reconstruct editions keeps 'em in business, I suppose that's fine and dandy. Eventually people get tired of it (I personally stopped purchasing Warhammer 40,000 products with the 4th edition and Games Workshop can go F themselves...). They're allowed to run their capitalist enterprise however they like and the market will either bear it or not.

What I DO object to is the use of the Dungeons & Dragons name and the use of its IP. Yes, they bought it, they own it. They can wipe their ass with it or set it on fire or make Saturday Morning Cartoons with it or whatever they want. But it really, really chaps my hide to see them pushing a game system that is so, so, SO obviously NOT Dungeons & Dragons. And acting as if it is. And pushing it on people who have heard good things about D&D and who want to try it out and then get saddled with this shit.

AD&D was not OD&D, but it was a complex version of it. AD&D2 was not AD&D, but it was a steam-lined, "kid-ified" version of it. D20 was an attempt to take AD&D into the 21st century, adding things found in the skill-based games of the 90's, adding back some of the flavor of 1st edition AD&D, and giving the thing a cooler/sleeker image...while still keeping a lot of the core and base assumptions and expectations of the RPG first published in the '70's.

4th edition is a different game. It is a DIFFERENT GAME. If I play Palladium Fantasy and have an elven warrior and fight dragons and cast spells, I am NOT playing a different edition of Dungeons & Dragons...I am playing a different game that bears a LOT of similarities to it, that obviously rips-off or draws inspiration from it, but is definitely, most certainly NOT it. It's a game called Palladium Fantasy and it functions much, much differently from the game originally created by Gygax and Arneson.

"4th edition" is superficially similar to D&D...yes, you can play an elven warrior, fighting dragons and casting spells. It obviously rips-off and draws inspiration from D&D, but it most certainly is its own game and plays much, much differently from the game created by Gygax and Arneson.

Calling this game system "Dungeons & Dragons" is disingenuous. It is calling a cow a horse. It is not a new is a different game. Just like Palladium. Just like BRP. Just like Burning Wheel or Death Dealers or Exalted or any other fantasy-style RPG published by a different company.

Yes, it has elves and fighters and wizards and, too, does a shit-load of other RPGs. I salute game designers designing other games...I like to PLAY other games, or at least try them out.

But don't sell labradors and call 'em beagles. Don't try to pass off a minivan as a muscle car. Don't pretend that one is carrying on some grand tradition when what you're doing is using the IP you purchased to sell a completely different product. Like China calling some book Harry Potter in order to sell a book that is most definitely NOT written by J.K. Rowling.

There are new editions of a game and there is designing new games from the ground up. What WotC has for sale is a new game design. I don't know if it's any good or not, 'cause I haven't got around to buying it or playing it. But I can say for sure that it is NOT "Dungeons & Dragons."

The book called "Tomb of Horrors" looks nice. It appears it might be a good adventure for this fantasy game known as 4th edition. But it is definitely NOT Tomb of Horrors, and calling it such equates to false advertising, in my opinion.


  1. It's LOG! It's better than BAD -- It's GOOD!!

  2. It's kind of sad, because they could have maybe introduced a new generation of players to a classic module by maybe converting it to 4E, or at least paid homage to it in some way. Instead they chose to just rip the name because hey, it does sound cool after all, but take away everything that made it such a classic in the first place. :\

  3. I applaud your effort to make a fair and balanced review by saying good things too about the product, but when you say "it has pretty colors" I can only chuckle and wonder if there was anything lower in the barrel you could have found to say about it.

  4. I played dnd in 1981 and I play it now. Its dnd to me. Incidentally, I made a discovery a few days ago that if you take away pages 2 thru XX of a character sheet (i.e. the powers) you basically have a character sheet that could work for any edition.

    Ass for Tomb, great write-up, I intedn on picking it up. But to clarify a point, I wish they had named it To0mbs of Hooror, as it is a series of Aceraraks tombs, I believe.

    However, that said, they also just released ANOTHER Tomb of Horrors, for 9th level PCs that is a DM Reward for playing public games, and it attempts to be a faithful adaptation of the original, and it looks to be pretty bad-ass, with some great translations of deadliness into 4e methodology.

    Sorry to be disagreeable, I like your blog.

  5. "The Animated Campfire Logs (yes, this is a "new monster," not a spell), along with its companion, The Animated Canvass Tent (yes, really) is a 10th level encounter within the 1st of the four adventures. Personally, I think 10th level characters have more dangerous fish to fry than that, but I play a different edition. "

    Then again, the 1st ed mimic can be up to 10 HD, and that's effectively a piece of furniture with an attitude.

  6. @ Scott: Of course, I could have gone lower in the barrel! I WAS going to title this post "Tomb of Shit," but I really did try to take the "high road."
    : )

    @ panzer: You are entitled to your opinion, and that's totally cool...thanks for reading my rants!

    @ Jon H: that's a fairly good point, man. Thanks for pointing it out.

    What was more crazy (to my mind), was the half page of stats for the tent, and the logs, and the camp tools. The original Tomb had animated swords (for example), too...and all it needed to list was AC, HPs, Damage, and HD (for it's attack percentage). I mean they're damn inanimate objects! How much detail do you need?

  7. I'm afraid I have to go with Panzer on this one. I do think 4e is still D&D, in the same way that a 2011 Ford Mustang and a 1966 Ford Mustang are both Ford Mustangs.

    However, I still love the old one.


  8. @ David: 4th edition may be a CAR but it's not the same make or model. If D&D is a Ford Mustang, then OD&D is the '66 and AD&D 2.5 is the 2011.

    4th edition is a Hummer.

  9. I think we'll just have to agree to disagree.

  10. @ David:

    Actually, man, I'm honestly curious...why do you think 4E is D&D? I mean, besides the reason that it has the name on the cover? If White Wolf bought the IP and slapped the title on Exalted, you probably wouldn't think it was D&D...or would you? Really, though, I AM interested in your perception.

  11. Give me a little bit to think about it, and I'll give you a whole post on the subject.

  12. There are people who think old school DnD is a set of modules, played one after another. Is that so different from the "set of linked encounters" that 4e is?
    I also note that many supposedly old school folk rely on trap disarm percentages and secret door rolls instead of interaction with the environment. For those that play that way, DnD is pretty much a combat game.

    Granted, I'm with you on preference for a game of exploration and interaction, where combat is just one of many different kinds of challenges.

  13. i'm still out traipsing in dungeons
    i'm still fighting vicious orcs
    i'm still trying to dodge sneaky kobold traps
    i'm still cursing at that darn rogue for not disarming the trap
    i'm still getting the feeling of being a mighty wizard
    i'm still playing engaging characters in a fantasy setting

    it might not be the same rules, but it's still very much D&D. if D&D is supposed to be one particular set of rules, i'm very much glad to NOT be playing D&D, because D&D does not seem to be a game i would want to play.

    but there isn't just one version, so to say X is or isn't D&D is your personal preference, which i disagree.

    why is your version of D&D and not mine? is it because it's older, or because it's got the D&D name on it?

    or maybe, just maybe, because it's a personal preference that you associate with the title?

  14. @ Red: anyone who thinks "old school D&D is a set of modules, played one after another" is pretty darn ignorant. We should help educate these folks!
    ; )

    @ Mark: um...all these things could be done in a different game system...for example, GURPS fantasy. Is GURPS fantasy D&D? By your definition, yes.

    When I say 4th edition isn't Dungeons & Dragons, I mean it is a fundamentally different game. That's not my "personal preference," man. That's a statement of fact.

    The ONLY thing "D&D" about 4th edition (as far as I can tell) is the title and the use of the Intellectual Property. That's not enough for me. If it's enough for you, I can accept that.

  15. Here is my answer to your question:

  16. truthfully? if i can make a better D&D using GURPS, then yes, GURPS is a better D&D then D&D itself.

    what is D&D though? is it Chainmail? OD&D? AD&D 1st? 2nd? 3rd? and what makes you sure your definition is the correct one? is it particular mechanics? is D&D ThAC0? is D&D looking up a chart to see if your bec-de-corbin hits the guy in brigandine armor? is D&D a game where elf, dwarf, halfling are classes alongside magic-users & fighting men?

    yes the mechanics have changed, but mechanics are just a method for task resolution which have been tweaked again and again since the idea first appeared to take combat from an army to the individuals in a small squad. i could personally care less what system i'm running. i've played 3 major editions of D&D since i started RPing, all of which are different from one another (2nd ed AD&D, 3rd ed & 4th ed). i've dabbled in 1st ed AD&D a few times and even tried out the BECMI once. all pretty much different games IMO.

    for me D&D is more an experience then a particular set of rules at this point. D&D is getting together with a group of friends at the FLGS, exploring some ancient cave or ruins based on the hallucinations of town drunk just because there might be something there, pushing back some eldrich abomination from beyond the whatever so it doesn't destroy that little village down the road, stopping some orcs from rallying together and usurping the current power structure, and just all-around having fun. the action can get pulpy and sometimes over-the top but that's our preference and we sometimes overact like theatre-class dropouts, but we like the cheesyness of it all.

    if i can get this from a system other then D&D, then for me that's the new D&D. it could be the Storyteller system, GURPS, BESM or FATAL and i could care less. if it gives me a better experience in fantasy RPing then D&D, then it's a better D&D then D&D.

    so what is D&D then?