Saturday, November 12, 2011

D&D 4E dying?

OK, let me set some expectations here. This isn't a value judgment. I'm not interested in an OGL 3.5/Pathfinder vs. 4E edition war. When I run D&D, which is not often, I run 3.5. I like Pathfinder, but haven't taken the plunge yet. I've looked at 4E, and while I think it's a dramatic departure from 3.5, I'd suggest it's actually less of a departure than 3.0 was from AD&D2. Still, in my mind, it's a perfectly serviceable, if complex, system for running a Heroic Fantasy RPG. If I were just starting out, I'd probably pick Pathfinder, but I have no strong feelings against 4E.

We all know about the WotC layoffs. I'm not sure that alone they tell me much about where WotC is going, other than we're in tough economic times, and that WotC is going further down the road of a freelance model than they have in the past (and as just about every other RPG publisher already has for some time).

What I'm really surprised by is what I discovered yesterday. To back up a bit, when it comes to print RPG books, I'm a bargain hunter. While I do buy things from an FLGS, for every new print title I buy, I'm liable to buy a lot of PDFs via RPGNow or others (the iPad makes reading a PDF about as easy to deal with, if not easier, than a printed book), and if its an older system, I'll often buy used. To wit, I often will troll the shelves at Bookmans, a great Arizona-based chain of used bookstores that beats Half Price Books all to hell.

Yesterday, I breezed in for a few minutes, not with the idea of purchasing anything specific, but just to see what might have been turned into them in the intervening few weeks since I've been there.

Bookmans has about 16-20' foot of typical bookstore shelving devoted to used RPG books. You can find some great bargains, particularly if you happen to hit it on the right day. I've amassed a solid collection of 3.5 stuff I missed the first time around that way in recent years. The mix of stuff that their shelf traditionally has had in recent ventures can be summed up by a lot of D&D 3.0 stuff, a lot of Old World of Darkness, some old GURPS 3rd Edition stuff, a lot of older White Dwarf and Dragon issues, some really old Champions/Hero System books (all 4th Edition or older), way too much RIFTS stuff, much of which looks like nobody's ever cracked the spine, and a smattering of odds and ends (old Traveller stuff, odds and end sourcebooks for Spycraft, Shadowrun, third party OGL 3.0/3.5 stuff, OCR/RCR Star Wars sourcebooks, even a few of the old d6 Star Wars). That was until yesterday. Typically, the WotC/TSR published D&D stuff takes up about 4 feet of shelf space. In the past, it's been about two-thirds 3.0/3.5 D&D (more 3.0 than 3.5, as the 3.5 stuff tends to fly out about as quick as it comes in), maybe the occasional d20 Modern book (those don't last long either), and about 1/3 older editions of D&D (mostly AD&D 2nd Edition stuff that will probably be there years from now, by the looks of things). I've never seen a Pathfinder book there. Star Wars Saga Edition books wind up there once in a while, but those fly off the shelves pretty quickly as well.

That was, until yesterday. The 3.0/3.5 stuff had shrunk down to about half of what it normally was (not surprising, as I've noticed the stuff getting thinner in recent months already). There was still a sprinkling of 2nd Ed AD&D (that stuff's been slowly selling down, and most of what's left likely won't sell anyway until they cut the price further), and there was an entire shelf of 4th Edition D&D books. Four copies of the Players Handbook. Four copies of the Players Handbook 2. Three copies of the Monster Manual I. Five copies of the Dungeon Masters Guide. A large sprinkling of other books. All of them used, all of them formerly belonging to different people.

I also used to shop a whole lot of Used music stores. There are some great ones in the Phoenix area. Back when I was doing a lot more CD buying back in the 1980's and 1990's (iTunes and Amazon has pretty much killed my desire to do record hunting that way anymore), I noticed a phenomenon I call the Used Record Store Review. It works like this. If a new album from a popular or semi-popular act comes out, and you visit the local Zia Record Exchange a week or two later, only to notice a dozen used copies of the CD or LP sitting in the used racks, you know the general verdict amongst people who bought the CD is that it was terrible. I found it be a lot more reliable indicator of what I might think of a CD I was on the fence about buying than any music critic.

Again, I haven't played 4E, and haven't looked at the game beyond thumbing through it on the shelves of the FLGS. I can't comment and won't try to comment first hand on its qualities or lack thereof. But it's a very bad sign in a used bookstore where getting your hands on a core rulebook of any edition of D&D is challenge (they don't last long), and where I've never seen a Pathfinder book of any stripe, that I can lay my hands on enough used copies of the 4E Players Handbook to outfit my whole gaming group.

My question, to those who have played 4E in the past, is are you still playing it? Are you thinking about giving it up, or have you given it up? If you have given it up, what has pushed you to this point? I'm curious to know if this admittedly anecdotal evidence is backed up by anything more.


  1. Over time, I think I've gone from liking rules heavy systems to rules light. 3.0 and 3.5 became so cumbersome that it took far too much time to create characters or scenarios due to the balancing issues and the slog of content. Pathfinder is pretty much the same beast and is like dating the sister of an ex-girlfriend. More of the same but different enough that you forget why you broke up with her sister in the first place.

    Right now, I've become enamored with the Savage Worlds system due to its simplicity and quickness in combat. I just don't have the time to waste anymore. I would have long dropped my Star Wars Saga Edition Game had I not found a spreadsheet that helped making NPC's a breeze.

  2. I'm kind of somewhere in the middle. I'm at the stage where my desire for rules light systems is tempered by my laziness in terms of sticking with the systems I know.

    My experience with 3.0/3.5/d20 Modern is tempered by the fact that I really didn't go much farther than a few books down the 3.5 road. Plus I know those systems pretty well and can generate a lot of the stuff pretty easily. I will say that I can't get excited about Pathfinder at all.

    To me, SWSE ended it's line at about the right time. 14 books was just enough to give some variety, not enough to become the mess that 3.5 was, 4th Ed is, and Pathfinder is quickly becoming.

    As far as new systems, most recently, I've dabbled into FATE, and One Roll Engine. Simpler systems with a whole lot less cumbersome requirements to build an NPC.

    On the other hand, my view of Savage Worlds is my same view of many strictly point buy systems. The couple of times I've run it, and played in it, I find myself and others building the same character over and over. Admittedly, this can happen to some extent with any system, but with Savage Worlds it seems especially acute because there aren't as many options.