Thursday, October 28, 2010

An Honest Question

This is an honest question, even if it seems like a snarky one:

What do you think is going to be the longevity of 4th edition D&D?

I don’t mean “how long is it going to be on the shelves till Hasbro decides it’s time to milk the sucker population once again;” I’m sure that the first seeds of 5th edition have already been planted and are being nurtured as we speak (to be released no later than December 2012).

No, I’m not concerned with how long WotC will continue to support the line; I want to know how long it will be played.

Take B/X D&D, for example. It was published in 1981. I’m still playing it today, nearly 30 years later. Admittedly, I’m a weird dude, but there seems to be a lot of like-minded, strange folks circling the internet these days (at least judging by the sales my book has generated). Plus, there are more people picking up Labyrinth Lord, itself a B/X knock-off, which is bringing people around to acquiring their own copies of the original rules…and, of course, people like myself have been doing our part to introduce new players to the game (like Vince and Randy and Steve and Matt and Zach and Spencer, etc.).

Certainly, there are a lot fewer people playing B/X than there were in 1982…but I’d be willing to bet the number of people playing B/X (or a B/X derivative) has increased markedly from, say, 2001. In fact, based on my Baranof gaming group alone, B/X D&D is being played 900% more this year than last. That’s a tidy little increase, right?

And that’s just B/X D&D. I imagine that 1st edition AD&D is still “king” of the Old School crowd (all you geezers that can’t wrap your head around RACE as CLASS). And that particular version has been around for MORE than 30 years…since 1978 or ‘79, right? If there’s any Old School (pre-2000) version of D&D that’s MORE popular than 1st edition AD&D I’d be greatly surprised.

THAT is longevity folks. That’s what I’m talking about.

I could run a poll, but I’m sure my readership is skewed in a particular direction. If I had to hazard a guess, though, I’d say the various editions rank like this:

1 – AD&D (1st edition)
2 – OD&D
3 – B/X
4 – AD&D (2nd edition)
5 – BECMI (and Rules Cyclopedia)
6 – Basic D&D (Holmes edition)

With derivatives being in their respective category (and for what it’s worth, I’d imagine “Pathfinder” comes in at #2 on the list if you include it).

And by “rank” I’m talking about games actually being played on a regular basis (“regular” being defined as “at least once per month”).

Now part of the reason the list looks like this has to do with the retro-clones produced. OSRIC, Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, Hackmaster, Castles & Crusades, Dark Dungeons, etc. all of these have helped re-kindle interest in the original games from which they were derived. I know Labyrinth Lord has done this for me.

But part of it has to do with clingy “love of the game” coupled with “quantity of resources for play.” 2nd edition AD&D actually had a longer run with TSR (and WotC) than 1st edition AD&D but the early 80s saw a HUGE amount of material published for D&D compared to the 90s. And while the quality of either is certainly debatable, there was a lot of staying power in the old stuff (possibly due in part to nostalgia…even in the 90s!...with old-timey folks).

Now, back to the original question: what do you think will be the staying power of 4th edition?

Not just: how long will the line be supported (3-5 years is a fair guesstimate)?

Not just: how popular will the line be (the thing is being marketed in book store chains across the country)?

But tell me: where do you think it will rank on my list 15-30 years from now? Will people be blogging about it and sharing stories on the internet? Will it still be PLAYED and enjoyed with any kind of movement/following? Or will it just be considered a curiosity like 3rd edition Gamma World or my Friends the TV Show trivia game?

I want folks to really take a hard look at this…or at Pathfinder…or at B/X…or whatever it is you’re playing these days. ‘Cause here’s my opinion on the subject:

1) Role-playing games have value beyond simple entertainment. I truly believe that.

2) Good RPGs can continue to entertain, teach, and inspire long past their cancellation date (I know B/X has done this for me).

Personally, I plan on keeping B/X alive and passing it on to the next generation as best I can. That’s my Quixotic nature, okay? Likewise, I plan on doing the same with other RPGs I find entertaining and worthwhile. Role-playing may be a niche hobby, but it’s one I wouldn’t mind seeing survive a few more decades.

I don’t think 4th edition fits the bill.

That doesn’t mean that (some) people aren’t going to find it fun to play…I’m sure some will. But similar to WotC’s version of Chainmail (remember THAT? Anyone still playing it?!) I don’t think anyone is going to pine for 4E when it’s gone. I don’t EVER expect to see a retro-clone of 4th edition D&D…but you know what? I don’t play the damn thing now.

Some of you DO play 4th edition, some of you have put money into Hasbro’s pockets encouraging them to continue their production, and I ask YOU folks: will you still be playing this game in 20-30 years?

Let me know. Thanks!
: )

[oh, and by the way: if you’d asked me in 1987 if I’d still be playing AD&D in 20 years I would have told you, “hell, yes…why would I ever stop?” Certainly, I went through a long, dry spell from 1989-1999 but even then, I never got rid of my old books, believing I would someday go back to it. On the other hand, the only reason I keep my 3rd edition books (besides their beautiful artwork and production values) is to remind myself why I will NEVER play a later edition of D&D EVER again, and to prevent myself from making an impulse/nostalgia purchase. Meanwhile, I buy up every copy of B/X I come across (not many), despite owning two-and-a-half copies already...because one never knows when they’ll all be gone!]


  1. As a person who is also a champion for a (supposedly)'dead' iteration of a system (in this case, Star Wars D6 from WEG), I certainly understand the kind of loyalty and connection a person can have with a system that they spent so much time with.

    I also do not understand the appeal of 4th Edition- but I have a feeling that it may very well have a fair bit of longevity based on players who are even now 'growing up' with it. I know that I am heavily influenced by those 'gateway' games that brought me into the world of roleplaying. Even relatively obscure titles like Star Frontiers take on huge proportions in my mind, when for other people, it was just a minor blip on their gaming radar.

    I personally believe that a good, solid gaming system is just as important as nostalgia, however. That's one of the reasons that I too still love my B/X. I just think that a lot of people who play 4th Edition like that kind of game. It isn't D&D, but they like it. So (as depressing as it seems to me- because people could be playing something so much more fun), I feel the game will continue for some time.

    I just wonder if a 5th Edition is going to be as markedly different from 4th as to (yet again) make it a whole different game in the eyes of players.

  2. I predict 4e will mostly die once Hasbro moves to the next edition.

    Why? In my region at least, the majority of 4e play appears to be associated with sanctioned RPGA events where players keep track of sessions and character advancement using the official D&D website. For players to stay plugged into this highly formalized community they have to stay up to date with every change and new edition Hasbro makes. This aspect of the larger 4e culture is so strong I have actually been turned away from convention sessions because I didn't bring a character generated on the official D&D website.

    Conversely, in my region, it seems that the majority of "non-sanctioned" FRPG games are based on non-4e systems - especially Pathfinder/3.5e. I think this might say something about the nature of 4e vs. non-4e players. I think a lot of people are attracted to 4e because of the communal aspects of the RPGA system. 4e has built into it an international network of instant game buddies. There's an RPGA "Encounter" at a nearby gamestore at least once a week where I live. Once that's gone, I predict the players will be gone.

    This is all purely anecdotal, of course. But on the other hand, I've been to a fair number of conventions, meetups, and gamedays in the L.A. area so I think I kind of know what's going on...

  3. I don't think it'll last. The people who seem to like it most seem to be fans of Progress, and I suspect they'll likewise move on to fifth edition when it comes along. There might be a handful of players of "retro D&D4" but it doesn't strike me as the kind of game for which you'd have nostalgia.

    I do say that with a bit of bias though, as I really did not get on with D&D4, and wouldn't ever go back to playing it, given the choice.

  4. I think 4E has been designed to be the MTG of roleplaying, and that it will continue to evolve, like MTG. Thus, 4E is the final version of the game, but will continue to be errata'd forever.

    All bets are off if Hasbro sells or otherwise divests itself of WOTC or the D&D brand.

  5. This post is kinda like a 40 year-old white guy in the 1950s saying "This rock-n-roll crap is a fad".

    Interesting discussion though.

  6. @Fumers, no it's more like folks debating how long California Surf music would be at the top of the charts.

    I know plenty of folks that still play 3rd edition D&D and it's 10 years along now.

    I'm giving 4e about 10 years because I feel like picking a number.

  7. I'm not sure the 'fan of progress' argument is a valid one. Afterall, the same could be said for players of ODD or B/X who 'moved on' to AD&D. At the time AD&D was the 'latest thing' a progression from earlier iterations (even if B/X did continue all throughout). 4th Edition is its own animal, though- not 'moving on' from anything previous (except in name and a few basic concepts). But if a 5th edition is just a refining of 4th, then I can see folks as seeing them as the 'same game' (at least in as much as OD&D, D&D and AD&D are seen as relatives). Even if WotC drops the game entirely, I don't think that will be the last of it. Afterall, AD&D got 'dropped entirely' with the introduction of 3rd and its still going strong. 3rd got dropped with the introduction of 4th and its quite popular. No reason (barring my own personal dislike) that 4th wouldn't follow a similar progression.

  8. What is up with that Friends Trivia game, I have an unopened copy in my closet and I have no recollection on how it got there.

    I have found interesting ideas in all editions of the game, and must be no surprise that I run a frankenstien mashup of my favorite features across all editions. Though 4e is not included in that mix up, as it is not really compatible. I wonder how much the popularity of so many of the older systems stems from others doing the same and not picking just one.

    I sometimes get the urge to try to run an old school style game with 4e, but having sold all my books I cannot justify the required cost again...though essentials...(gah...somebody stop me!)

  9. rologutwein I can attest to the existence of Fans of Progress, as my current GM is one. He point blank refuses to play a game which is not current, so we were stuck with D&D4 until Pathfinder came along, even when we all had problems with it.

    I have encountered similar people online too, who are playing D&D4 because it is the current edition, and will likely move on to D&D5 if it arrives.

    I say "if" because I think there's truth to what Paladin in Citadel says, and I could definitely see D&D stay in a state of constant revision from now on, without ever changing enough to be a new edition.

    Again, my bias is showing, but I don't see D&D4 having enough of a personality to inspire nostalgia ten years down the line. As an example, look at AD&D2; I quite liked it, and there are a few people out there on the internet talking about it -- I believe there's a retroclone in the works too -- but I don't see the surge of nostalgia for it that we see for the other early editions, or even for D&D3. Perhaps that is yet to come, as this whole nostalgia movement is still young, but I don't think we're going to see a significant resurgence of AD&D2 chatter. I have the feeling that the same will be true of D&D4, assuming Paladin's prediction doesn't come to pass.

  10. As a sidenote: if you want to support the current edition of a game, I don't see a problem with that. There's nothing wrong with being a Fan of Progress.

    There is something wrong with my GM and his particular expression of this mindset, but he's a teacher, so his sanity went long ago. ;)

  11. @JDJaris, we don't know until the future if 4E is rock-n-roll or California surf rock, but anyone that hates something will argue that thing will never be a classic.

    Btw, hearing Jonathan bitch about 4E at the gaming table is entertaining. "Kids these days and their 'healing surges'..."

  12. The vast majority of the "kids" growing up with 4th ed now will (if they play anything) in their mid 30's 40's play 4ed(or a retro clone if the books are hard to come by) and create a "movement" of likeminded peoples. Just like we have done with the editions we grew up with.

    I bet you there are more 4ed players than 1st/basic and clones players in 20-30yrs (assuming no longevity increasing breakthrough)

    I also agree with Paladin, 4th ed is designed to be "upgraded" in place. They don't have to release a 5ed to milk everyone for more cash. It will be sold for longer than previous editions.

    But, really I give a gorgon's ass. Why do you care?

  13. My group isn't a DnD group. At all. We ran 3rd edition a couple of times over the years, but as the game got older, it became more and more unsatisfying.

    Hearing about 4e piqued our interest a bit. So, we tried it out - and found out that it matched our gaming style EVEN LESS than 3e had. Some interesting mechanical stuff, yeah, but on the whole, just not our game. (Technically, I'm the kind of person who's very loathe to call any given game 'not a roleplaying game', but I certainly don't correct my friends when they make that kind of accusation.) I haven't interacted with other players of 4E very much, but I'll be curious to see what kind of 'staying power' it has.

    Actually, 4E might get a little bit more staying power AFTER it's run its course. Not just out of a nostalgia kick, but the fact that, once it's no longer supported by WoTC, than maybe the Official Character Creator will become less and less important, allowing people to ACTUALLY HOUSE RULE their games.

    Interestingly enough, though, this kind of talk is becoming more and more relevant over in White Wolf's games. (I know that's not your scene anymore, but it was the main stuff for me and my friends for years.) The Vampire MMO is apparently going to be set in the 'Old' game, not the new universe they've been building since 2004. We're not actually interested in the MMO, but this is making us wonder if the Old game is going to reappear (White Wolf has said otherwise, but the years have taught me just how often they lie). If so, that puts the so-called 'New World of Darkness' in an odd place.

  14. Well, not counting "Essentials" as a new edition, then I would say 5 or 6 years. Tops.

  15. Well there are a few factors to consider.

    First, those older editions have appeal because they were the first editions we played. Just like the guy ten years younger than me who cut his teeth on a game that I own and played and very likely will never play again (AD&D 2nd ed). That is not a slam on AD&D 2nd ed or it's relative value or merits but rather a commentary that I have many games that fill the same void.

    I play 4e now. I enjoy it. It is really fun.

    Will I be playing it 20 years from (when I am 60?) no idea. Most likely not. Maybe I'll go back to Chill or maybe I'll finally convince my kids that the games I wrote are just as fun as D&D.

    Plus there are other factors. D&D4 does not live in the same world as AD&D/OD&D, they left a significant cultural stamp on our collective awareness. D&D4 has to fight against MMORPGs, the Internet, other games AND it's own legacy. It had an uphill battle from the start. I doubt that even the great AD&D1 (of which I am huge fan) could have fared any better.

    The truth is it is not 1 single edition of D&D that will endure as time moves on, it is D&D has a higher order concept that will. Whether the details are called "D&D4", "Basic D&D" or "Pathfinder" will only matter when you get down to the details.

    Things to consider though, D&D4 is played by a lot of people. A lot more than the Old School community I think likes to admit. Yes there are sanctioned events (like MtG) but there are also plenty of us older gamers that are introducing the hobby to our kids and doing it with D&D4 cause that is what other kids their age are also playing.

    So I guess I am saying, "don't ask us, we are old and set in our ways and will give you the answer you want to hear cause we all read the same blogs" and "ask the kids that are new to the hobby what they will be playing in 20 years."

    Will D&D4 be around in 20 years? I am surprised that people are still playing some of the games they are playing now. But D&D4 as a system has enough going for it, and enough material, to last for 20 years. Though I bet support for it will end when D&D5 comes out (though you can still find material for D&D 3.5 on WotC's site).

    Hell I have enough games for the next 50 years and I am not even sure what we will be playing at my next game session. It could be Traveller, it could be Pathfinder, it could even be something our GM bought the night before.

    I agree with the Grumpy Celt, we will most likely see a new D&D around 2016.

  16. I guess D&D4 will suffer the fate of Traveller New Era and Traveller 4th Edition.

  17. Well, 4e is such a completely different game to me that I find the comparison hard to make.

    When D&D first came out, it had already developed about as far as it needed to (through Braunsteins and Blackmoor and Greyhawk). The idea behind D&D is so simple that it doesn’t really need further development yet provides nearly infinite scope.

    The presentation/packaging got refined until, by B/X, it was good enough. Since the book is just guidelines and it is the concept of the game that matters, there’s really not any need to take the product further than B/X. Some of us prefer one of the earlier expressions; some of us value some of the elaborations; but the basic concept is the same.

    The only real need for 3e came from (and this is all just my opinion) misunderstandings that led to trying to fix things that weren’t broken. So, the result was to really create a different game. It may be a good game, but it is a different game. (And I say this as someone who originally thought 3e was the answers to my prayer by fixing what I thought was broken with D&D.)

    4e has continued the trend and this moved even farther into “different game” territory.

    Labyrinth Lord (and the other retro-clones) have managed to make themselves worthwhile by restating the game with liberal licensing along with some minor updates to presentation/packaging. As well as their original purpose of keeping publishers who want to publish material for the older game from having to reinvent the “how to do it safely” wheel.

    So far, I haven’t found the basic concepts behind 4e as simple and compelling as the older game. So, it’s hard for me to see it as having the same staying power. But maybe it is just that I don’t like it, and it will be as successful, just amongst a different set of players.

  18. Well I have always fallen on the side of play what you like, write about what you like and don't spend energy pissing and moaning about the games I hate.
    Good to know there are always going to be people out there who take the other route.

  19. 4e, 3e, and really anything post-Gygax seems to be something of an obsession amongst the OSR, and I fail to understand it.

    I played plenty of 1e, 2e, and now 4e. They are all fun games. I'm not sure I get the vitriol that is spilled against WOTC, or newer D&D. The fact of the matter is that if D&D had only been Gygax's version, and no other version had been published, it would have likely died out at some point.

    We should embrace that the game keeps growing, new players keep playing, and the hobby (hopefully)thrives. Elitism about D&D ain't cool, and unfortunately, that's what the OSR seems to be at times. Elitist guys who resent the evolution of the game.

    Remember this... 4e is somebody's 1e. And one day 9e will be as well. Let people have their memories and fun without being told over and over again how shitty their favorite game is. That kind of sucks.

  20. To newbiedm,

    You said "Remember this... 4e is somebody's 1e." That is actually a pretty awesome statement. It's also very true in many regards.

  21. I've played every edition of D&D. Any hobby will cost you money, and usually an ongoing amount. Board gamers will buy new board games, console and PC gamers buy new titles, even sport is not a one time fee pastime. Everyone plays at the level they want to commit to I'm time and money. My point is that playing current edition gives you maximum support for your hobby usually for minimum effort but at a cost in $. I'm willing to pay it, D&D has certainly cost me less than my sport over the years.

    My other points are that I don't begrudge WOTC their efforts to make a buck - I still choose if I want to pay or not. And I don't begrudge people their decision about what level of commitment they have to their chosen sport/hobby/edition.

  22. @kelvingreen:
    I can attest to the existence of Fans of Progress, as my current GM is one. He point blank refuses to play a game which is not current, so we were stuck with D&D4 until Pathfinder came along, even when we all had problems with it.

    You should get him to play Labyrinth Lord then, that's current :)

  23. I think 4E is the second stage of an experiment, the first being the Saga Edition of the Star Wars RPG. I think that the NEXT edition of D&D will be the one that has an extended life with players. I think 4E will be something like the Holmes edition: here's where we are going, but this isn't the final "perfected" version.

  24. If any of my comments are read as moaning or vitriol, I didn’t mean them that way. I was simply giving opinions about games I’ve played when asked.

    I don’t resent the evolution of the game. I don’t see it as evolution. Saying that 4e is somebody’s 1e doesn’t impress me. It is kind of like saying football is somebody’s first chess. I’m not going to praise 4e for expanding my hobby because it isn’t. I’ve played it. I’ll probably play it again. But—to me—it’s a significantly different game than D&D. A different hobby.