The Business of RPGs
Tools Rule!
By Douglas Steves
Assistant Business Manager, Tabletop Roleplaying Games

If we 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.

When 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.

We were wrong.

Market 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.

The release 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:

2nd Edition

Player: "Syri the Mage puts on his full plate armor and goes to buy arrows for his longbow."

DM: "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?"

The New Edition

Player: "Syri the Mage puts on her full plate armor and goes to buy arrows for her longbow."

DM: "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?"

The new 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 monsters.

We do, 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.

What does all of this mean to you as a player and/or DM? It means the three core products (Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual -- 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.

When 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. Ciao!

Did you catch last month's Business of RPGs article?
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