Business of RPGs
By Douglas Steves
Assistant Business Manager, Tabletop Roleplaying Games
lived in the worlds of our characters, the game designing wizards here
at Wizards of the Coast would use psionic abilities to know exactly what
customers want, employ spellcasting powers to create perfect products
overnight, and teleport the games directly to players who want them. But
until "game designer" becomes a new prestige class (hey, we're
working on it!), the process of planning, developing, marketing, and distributing
roleplaying products remains a little more complicated. This monthly feature
offers insight into the business side of fun and games.
we first began to examine closer the failures and successes of the TSR
roleplaying game business, we believed that our consumers were interested
in products that contained lots of story and rules that defined specifically
what was and was not allowed.
research conducted in 1997 and 1999 indicated that both players and DMs
prefer products that allow them to use their own imaginations. In other
words, they want tools, not rules. We faced the difficult decision of
rethinking our business model and breaking from long-accepted industry
practices. In spite of naysayers, we moved forward with a new edition
of the Dungeons & Dragons game that featured more "tool"-type
content, and much less story and character material.
of the game's newest edition, coupled with the d20 open gaming
license, has propelled us into an era of renewal in roleplaying games.
This era is about tools over rules and how they empower gamers to both
embrace their creativity and share their creations. A full edition later,
it is easier to see that the 2nd edition of D&D delivered a
complication of the basic rules and established a theme of restrictions
for both players and Dungeon Masters alike. Options, not restrictions,
define the new edition, encouraging greater game and character depth while
creating the potential for much more enjoyment in the hobby. This mock
situation illustrates the point:
"Syri the Mage puts on his full plate armor and goes to buy arrows
for his longbow."
"Um . . . wizards aren't allowed to wear that kind of armor or use
that kind of weapon. See, it says right here on page 30: 'Wizards cannot
wear any armor' and 'Wizards are severely restricted in the weapons they
can use.' Sorry. What about a dagger, staff, or sling?"
"Syri the Mage puts on her full plate armor and goes to buy arrows
for her longbow."
"Remember, full plate armor carries a 35% chance of arcane spell
failure when using somatic components and a -8 armor check penalty. Still
want it? Okay. Now, the shop in town sells both regular arrows and masterwork.
Which do you buy?"
edition tools allow players to create the characters they want. Elements
such as skills and feats not only add depth and uniqueness to PC characters,
but the DM can use these tools to create more complete NPCs and more surprising
of course, still offer players the experience of adventuring in a shared
world setting. Our two primary campaign worlds were created to satisfy
two types of gamers: those who prefer to create part of the world themselves
(Greyhawk) and those who enjoy adventuring in a world with a full
history and established storyline (Forgotten Realms). However,
even in these lines, an increased emphasis on tool- type products will
be evident in the coming years.
does all of this mean to you as a player and/or DM? It means the three
core products (Player's Handbook,
which if you don't have, you are missing out on!) were designed as specific
tools that players and DMs can use to enhance the gaming experience of
their campaign worlds. They work regardless of whether you play in a premade
world from Wizards of the Coast, a world of your own creation, or a world
that combines elements of both. In addition, it means that when you pick
up a supplement for D&D, like the recently released Sword
and Fist, you
will find information on the structure, membership requirements, goals,
and features of many organizations. However, while we give you the basics
for such groups as the Fists of Hextor, the Knight Protectors of the Great
Realms, the Red Avengers, and others, we leave it up to players and DMs
to decide how to make these details fit with their current campaign setting.
We don't know if the organization in your campaign world is extremely
powerful and beginning to grow or is in a state of serious disarray and
ripe for destruction. But you do.
I think to the near future, I foresee plenty of convention and online
conversations with gamers that revolve around how they survived the Temple
of Elemental Evil, as with all good shared D&D experiences.
However, I also foresee new discussions about the cool ways in which players
and DMs personalized the latest D&D release for use in their
homegrown campaigns -- how their take on it was so cool, they are sure
other gamers would want to experience the adventure. That ties into the
open gaming license and our d20 system, which I would love to go
into . . . but that, my gaming friends, is a topic for another article.
Until then, keep your spellcasters in the back, your fighters in the front,
your clerics praying, and your rogues in the upright and flanking position.
you catch last month's Business of RPGs article?
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