Saturday, June 07 2008

Brand Identification

As a dedicated fan of old-fashioned tabletop roleplaying games, I had to pick up a copy of the new 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons just to see how much the game has changed in its new incarnation.

Before I get to my thoughts, a little tangential story, which does relate back to Dungeons & Dragons.  Twice a week, I eat at Subway for lunch.  It's generally better quality and variety than other fast food restaurants, but I still lump it in the same general class with McDonalds, Burger King, etc., and not with more trendy quick-service establishments like Panera Bread, Quiznos, or Chipotle.  While all are not traditional restaurants, the differing price point and style is such that I view the latter chains as a separate class.  Having eaten there twice a week for years, I'm something of a regular, and on good terms with the manager.  At one point, I commented to the manager favorably on a new menu option, and was rewarded with the candid observation that the chain was looking to adjust the menu and correspondingly increase prices to be more comparable with places like Panera or Chipotle.

To me, this seems a major mistake.  Subway, for me, is the best of the fast food class of restaurants, which for me is defined by low cost, fast service.  When I go out for lunch at work, these are the two traits I am looking for.  That Subway has added quality and variety are bonuses and as such the deciding factors in my preference for Subway. They are trying to establish brand recognition in the more upscale trendy quick service restaurant class, which is defined by having better quality and more variety than the limited fast food menu, but at a higher price and with a longer wait.  Subway doesn't compare as well with the restaurants currently in this class on quality or variety, so I'm not as likely to think of going out to Subway when I could go to one of the other restaurants in the class, and its value over other fast food restaurants has lessened because they've increased prices.  Subway has traded established brand recognition away in one class for the hope of developing new brand recognition in another class.

Wizards of the Coast is likewise trading away the established brand recognition of Dungeons and Dragons among the general roleplaying game class, because the fundamentals of the game system has changed significantly from the previous edition.  That's not to say that the mechanics themselves are worse or wrong, but given the magnitude of the changes involved, there's no reason not to look into other systems at this point.


  • The game has gone to almost a purely board and miniatures driven tactical combat system.  If I want to micromanage combat that badly, I'll play a boardgame built for the purpose.  I want RPG combat to be quick.  I'd much rather say, "I attack the monster with my sword", roll to hit, roll to damage, then spend an hour pouring over the board micromanaging tactical combat.
  • With that being said, the addition of one hit - one kill minion monsters changes combat dynamics, in part in a good way.  I hate micromanaging hitpoints for monsters that won't last more than two hits anyways.  This is more of an odd change for some players than others.  I know one old school roleplayer that can't wrap himself around the idea that a monster fit for a high level party can have 1 hit point.  It is odd, however, as most of these high level minions should be suitable as boss monsters for lower level parties.  The whole minion idea makes more sense for more realistic genres than high fantasy where most bad guys only can take one hit anyways.
  • Likewise, the mechanics of the rolerplaying aspect of the game has been diminished in the emphasis on tactical combat.  There are fewer skills and non-combat abilities such as spells, and these are managed less and are built for "adventuring" in dungeon or wilderness environments, not roleplaying.  I like roleplaying my characters.  I find it fun.
  • In some respects, the game is more MMORPG like, with all characters having a number of spell-like powers they can use, these being the source of the tactical micromanagement.  All characters have elaborate power tables and so forth.
  • The combat system is changed dramatically, with the 'to hit' system combined with most of what was the 'saving throw' system to form a unified mechanic that, while it makes the general flow easier, requires more memorization of details for specific powers, and requires relearning the basic system.
That's my impressions of a quick run through of the Player's Guide.  Overall, there are a lot of changes, and the game is very different than 3rd edition D&D, so much so that it's an entirely different game.  Aside from the stats, everything you know is wrong and will need to be relearned.  While I won't go and say the game is not Dungeons & Dragons, it most definitely is not 3rd Editon Dungeons & Dragons.

Posted by: Civilis at 09: 47 PM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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