Sunday, May 27, 2012

Rose coloured glasses

Wizards is putting out a new version of Dungeons and Dragons sometime in the next year or two.  It is currently being playtested and I have some information on how it will work.  Essentially what they are doing is giving up on modern innovation and going back to the dreck that they put out in the good old days.  The reason they are doing this is that a few years ago they put out DnD 4th edition which was a huge deviation from their historical offerings and people complained - a lot.  On forums everywhere there was whining about how the new system was too hard, too easy, too simple, and too complex.  Of course the real issue for most people is that it was different from what they were used to and no attempt at objective comparison was made.  The people have spoken and what they apparently want is what they remember from when they were kids so Wizards is going to serve that to them and hope they like it.  It won't work at all well.

People have irrational ideas about how things were in the good old days.  Memories fade and only vague recollections of good times and general happiness remain, which is a good thing because it softens the blow of tragedy and lets us continue on with our lives in the face of things never going quite right.  Although this is a useful mental defence mechanism we should try not to use 'the good old days' as an argument in any serious setting.  Marriage has been going down the drain and young people have stopped respecting their elders for as long as humans have had marriages and respect; though many things in our society change we can be sure that a rosy and irrational view of the past is a constant.

When a company decides to base their product decisions on people's nostalgia I think they are really headed for a cliff at high speed.  If you polled people about whether or not life was better back in the days when they were young you would regularly hear about how great it was but if you actually try to implement anything like that it will be a complete failure.  You liked the 1970s?  Care to turn in your cell phone, cut off your internet, ramp up discrimination, decrease environmental quality, and have 2 channels on TV?  Didn't think so.  There are usually small things that you can pick out that are actually feasible like having a person answer the phone when you call a company instead of an answering machine - turning back the clock on that was actually very successful for many companies.

It is sensible to look back at the past and find things we liked to try to improve modern products and systems.  There are lessons in the past that we never seem to get through our heads - see financial meltdowns of 1929 and 2007.  That doesn't mean, however, that when people talk about the good old days that we should actually try to recreate them wholesale.  Figure out what specific small things that worked and try to use that information.  Going back to the bad old days is a recipe for disaster for Wizards in particular because we don't need slightly different rules for 1970s roleplaying games - we have those already everywhere we look.  We need the best game, not the one that old gamers remember fondly while wearing rose coloured glasses.

1 comment:

  1. The fact that they are keeping at-will spells gives me a bit of hope. That was the thing that sold 4e to me.

    That and a really integrated alternative to Vancian casting would take me half way.

    The other half probably hangs on making the fighter interesting... pre 4e no one played a plain fighter for a reason, at the very list you needed a prestige class, or multiclass or something to spice it up (NB: I have no experience with PF, maybe they fixed it there for all I know). 4e fighters were awesome, they did stuff, they shaped the battlefield, they were bloody effective. Even the Essentials fighters were much more interesting that pre-4e ones.

    They had in fact a couple articles on the fighter, even. It is the litmus test: if they manage to make their '0ld sk00l' fighter interesting, the other classes have to be the roxxors.