Nerd Rage Alert!!

Wizards of the Coast (TM) a division of Hasbro (TM) announced a few days ago that they have been working on a new version of D&D which they intend to release in the near future, meaning probably in about a year.

Within minutes of the announcement nerd rage erupted across the digital gaming world. Comment threads on the announcements have exploded like Tim Tebow threads on

As of this moment it appears the gaming world has already divided itself into three main camps:

1. The Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition (aka: “D&D 4e” or simply “4e”) fan camp. This camp is mostly at least mildly optimistic about the release. It is pretty widely acknowledged even among fans of 4e that the system was published with several significant flaws and was accompanied soon after by a veritable flood of errata as WotC reacted to the howls of players about “broken” parts of the game. The general feeling of this group seems to be that this is our chance to get 4e “right.”

2. The Pathfinder/D&D 3.5 grognard camp. These are generally older players who did not find D&D 4e to their liking. Their reaction to the announcement is generally one of naked schadenfreude. “See! Even the evil minions of WotC are finally admitting that 4e has been a failure! This is the first sign of the end of WotC’s reign of RPG terror!”

3. The pure RPG gamer camp. This group is not quite sure what to make of the announcement. There is already a profusion of RPG game systems and with the schism that 4e created in the gamer community, there is a reasonable amount of concern that a “5e” version of D&D could further splinter the fan base to the point that none of the major vendors who provide material to keep the hobby fresh will be able to survive. But, at the same time they are intrigued by WotC’s promise to listen to the RPG community (something they are accused of not doing with 4e) and their promise for 5e to be a uniter, not a divider.

I would like to claim to be in group 3, which is probably by far the more rational group compared to groups 1 or 2. However I have to be honest enough to admit that I am probably in a group that might be called group “2.25” meaning that I’m not really a PF/3.5 grognard, but that I do prefer the PF flavor over 4e and I have not been complimentary of WotC’s stewardship of a brand that I consider to have been a pretty significant part of my entertainment for decades.

My personal opinion is that the announcement is an external manifestation of internal demands within Hasbro for the D&D brand to be profitable enough to meet their corporate goals. Although it is probably impossible to know exactly what the comparable market shares of 4e and Pathfinder are today, even 4e’s biggest fans have to admit that Pathfinder has at least a comparable market share of the RPG pie. And there is very easily available circumstantial evidence that Pathfinder has overtaken 4e in some critical areas of the RPG market. Since that market has not shown any significant growth in the past decade (but it hasn’t shrunk either, so it appears to have a sustainable fan base anyway) then since the two companies are competing for the same market that used to be totally dominated by the D&D brand, D&D itself has obviously lost a tremendous amount of market share which has been gained by Pathfinder. I do know that in my own gaming group roughly 1/2 of the gamers I play with are not interested in D&D 4e materials but are actively purchasing Pathfinder materials. These are people who were spending that money on D&D products three years ago.

So to me the obvious conclusion is that Hasbro has given their WotC division a mandate to regain that market share and profit margin “or else.” And the “or else” is likely the shelving of the D&D brand. Hasbro doesn’t typically sell off a game or toy product line, they simply shelve it. I suppose they feel that shelving is a better long term strategy in case a market ever materializes again, but I dunno. Maybe they just don’t like seeing other companies make a profit on what used to be their intellectual property. Whatever the reason, if 5e does not show immediate reversal of the D&D brand erosion, I strongly expect to see D&D branded products essentially disappear.

Which would be a shame, but it’s never been the brand I’ve cared about, except in a nostalgic sense. It’s been the game system. And right now the reality is that while WotC may have kept the D&D brand, it is Paizo, the publisher of Pathfinder, who has carried the D&D game system torch after it was dropped unceremoniously on the floor by WotC.

It will be an interesting year for RPGamers. I expect to see lots of leaks from the game designers to maintain interest in the community. I signed up to be part of 5e playtesting, so I hope to get an early look at what their plans are. No doubt that will include a non-disclosure agreement, so if I get into the play test group I won’t be able to say much about it here.

Wish me luck. I have to admit that I’d like to at least participate in what could either be the final death spiral of the D&D brand, or (preferably) the rejuvenation and restoration of the brand. I’m voting for the second because the only way D&D is going to win back the PF folks who have mostly abandoned 4e will be to return to the roots of the RPG concept and develop a gaming system that is so undeniably superior to Pathfinder that it will overcome the deeply embedded anti WotC attitudes of many PF fans.


7 thoughts on “Nerd Rage Alert!!

  1. I have to say that I went through all three of your groups within the first few minutes of reading about 5e. But you say it better than I could.

    And I agree with your probable conclusion. I wondered what Hasbro was thinking, especially with the growth of PathFinder players.

    I signed up for playtesting, too. I am not sure what it will be like but I really want it to succeed.

  2. I am afraid that I have to admit that I am not greatly impressed by Wizards of the Coast’s promise to be inclusive and unite the community that they divided. So far my evaluation of WotC’s attitude towards the RPG community could be described most accurately as “contemptuous.” I’ve seen multiple reports from the 4e open beta play tests that the testers input was almost universally ignored. Most of the complaints about 4e were raised as major problems by most play test groups if reports can be believed, yet in spite of near unanimous concern about the direction 4e was going, WotC rammed ahead with their plans without even acknowledging the concerns until the backlash hit and PathFinder began picking up disenchanted D&D fans in droves.

    Sure, maybe they learned their lesson. They did lay off a good number of the folks who made those calls with 4e, so maybe this time they won’t be so quick to dismiss actual customer input. But once bitten, twice shy is not a bad way to address things. WotC has a long, long LONG way to go to convince me that they actually care about the RPG community as more than a potential bucket of consumers spending money on their product.

    But I can hope.

  3. I wonder if WoTC will pin the previous debacles on Bill Slavicsek? Even if he was not to blame, they could certainly use him as a scape-goat to focus the nerd rage upon. I do know that those in charge now, are friends with those in charge at Paizo, so it will be interesting to see what happens.

    I’m sure Paizo is making tons of money on PF, and I’m sure PF fanbois will not want to switch back, I just don’t see an impetus for them to do so. I think they will be curious about 5e, but to get them to change will be a momentous undertaking.

    All this has done is get me more interested in PF. What is really driving people to play it? Is it really that superior a product, or have the other, often mentioned issues caused people to migrate to it? I know they fixed the death problems with low levels, but they did not fix the upper level time-sink issues.

    I think I’m starting to ramble so I’ll quit now 🙂


  4. Heh, I am the king of ramble…

    I can speak for myself and can relate what others have told me about their own reasons for preferring Pathfinder over 4e. Usually though people who don’t immediately have those sorts of reactions to the game systems don’t seem to fully grasp the distinctions that are driving the preferences. In many cases PF fans are accused of being irrational because no matter how hard the effort is to communicate their reasons for their preference, it simply doesn’t seem to make sense for those who don’t have that same sort of preference.

    It’s almost like a taste thing. Someone who enjoys lima beans probably finds it hard to understand why someone would gag on the taste of them.

    Here are my own personal rationales for preferring PF over 4e, in no particular order

    1. The use of the identical “at-will, encounter, daily” power mechanic with similar effects no matter what the class makes all the classes feel the same to me. I don’t get any real flavor of a wizard when compared to a fighter. Both can do amazing things the same way with the same sort of combat impact. In my opinion every class in 4e is a caster class. There is no martial class. My ranger, as one example, as a daily power can create teleporting portals usable by every member of his party. There isn’t even an attempt to make it plausibly a martial power. It’s just magic. Fighters and rogues have the same sort of abilties.

    2. Separating out rituals and combat abilities has some merit, but the end result is that the combat abilities of spellcasters in 4e feels terribly constrained and limited to me. Wizards don’t feel like wizards in combat. They don’t wield awesome cosmic powers, they just do things that are more or less the same as any other character but it has more flavorful fluff text.

    3. The quality control of the product was absolutely abysmal. While I do appreciate that WotC did develop a fast and effective errata system, the sheer volume of broken items, powers, feats and even classes is just mind-boggling. They’ve finally got this settled down somewhat, but OMG did they even go through the motions of play testing some of this stuff before inflicting it on players? It seems not. To make things worse, the typical means of “fixing” a broken item was just to nerf it into absolute uselessness. If your character happened to have one of the broken options, when the errata came out, you were an absolute fool to keep the option after the “fix.” Things went from wildly overpowered to totally useless with no in-between. The impression after several instances of this is that the design team literally was unable to find the “sweet spot” for these options and just threw their hands up when they were confronted with a broken item and just deliberately nerfed it into oblivion instead of making it actually WORK the way it should have in the first place.

    4. I wont get into all the issues with WotC exploring 4e products or add-ons that appeared to be nothing but naked greed-mongering. I’ll just say that I agree that there were enough such examples to give me a sense that the corporate attitude was that RPGamers were not very bright and that they would spend money on just about anything with a D&D logo on it.

    Those are the main things that struck me as unpleasant about 4e. Now, there are lots of things I DO like about 4e. I love the detailed tactical options that 4e provides. I love the way that classes are designed to cooperate to be more effective. I love the online tools and support for things like creating and updating characters. I love the ability to expand character abilities beyond the strict class boundaries found in older versions.

    I like 4e. But that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize its limitations.

    Now, as for Pathfinder, here are the things I like:

    1. Classes have distinct mechanical differences. This is, of course, the core of the “unbalanced classes” argument against older versions of D&D and Pathfinder. But I’ve never considered that to be a bug, it’s a feature. It simply makes sense to me that in a magical fantasy realm, full-blown spellcasters SHOULD BE the most powerful force in the world. Swinging a pointy stick should not compare in power with deciphering the arcane secrets of the universe, or building a personal relationship with an actual deity. That’s what a fantasy magical realm should feel like.

    2. Pathfinder content is generally very high quality. For example, I ran the 4e “Keep on the Shadowfell” module and the whole thing was just a mess. I hated it. Paizo’s quality control for their content seems to be much, much higher, and the talent level of their game designers seems to be much, much higher than WotC. It feels to me like Paizo is infused from bottom to top with a respect and love of RPGaming, while WotC gives me the opposite vibe.

    3. Pathfinder has a more consistent feel of the D&D I played in college and for decades. There’s a comfort level there that I suppose reveals that I have some level of grognard in me. I intuitively grasp things in Pathfinder about encounters, spells, powers, etc. where I don’t have to think hard about things. I can build a Pathfinder encounter on the fly in my head and it will be appropriately balanced and challenging. I feel very comfortable “winging it” in PF. I am quite certain that I could run an entire session with zero prep and zero materials and it would be a fun and engaging session. I can’t remotely do anything like that in 4e.

    But there are things I don’t like in Pathfinder. Class restrictions are too tight. Silly things like traps that ONLY rogues can detect. The explosion of archetypes and variants which are clearly an attempt to overcome some of those class boundaries creates a confusing mess of options for players when they try to build characters. There is a real premium in Pathfinder in knowing the game well. It is EASY to build a sub-optimal PF character, especially in certain classes. This is, by the way, seen as a feature, not a bug, by the primary PF designers. They have publicly stated that they want to reward Pathfinder game expertise and that the existence of sub-optimal choices are known “traps” that they feel give expert players an advantage. There’s a sense of geek smug condescension against newbie players that I think makes PF less inviting to a totally new RPGer when compared to 4e.

    But I still prefer PF overall.

  5. So, if I hate 4e with the heat of a thousand burning suns, does that make me irrational? Heh.

    Well, for me 4e just feels too much like World of Warcraft for the table top. It felt like a “dumbing down” to me, and in my book that is a very great sin — be it movie plot, game system, or what have you. I suppose I’m an elitist jerk… but I’m also a paying customer so I get to be picky, right?

  6. I really dislike 4E. I like your post– actually, I also like a lot of the posts you’ve made on Paizo’s boards (liked them enough that I checked your profile there and followed the link here). I’d love to claim to be in group 3 (after all, I play a lot of different RPGs, not just D&D and Pathfinder), but in regard to D&D and its descendants, I’m in group 2– love PF, don’t see any hope for VotC (Vultures of the Coast).

    Short answer for why I really don’t like 4E: “If I want to play ‘Diablo’, I’ll turn on the computer!” (longer answer: PF may not be realistic, but it still makes for a game that draws me into the world it portrays much better. 4E went totally video-game AND totally fight-club/card-power cartoon mode, and it really turned me off. I tried playing 4E for about a year, so yes, I gave it a chance. All the classes are the same, except for fluff– the system really discourages role-playing in the way it makes EVERYTHING into “grab the dice and roll a skill-challenge” (yes, you can still role-play, but that’s not the way the system appears to have been designed); sure it’s got nifty “tactical” options, but not in a way that interests me– particularly not with the “non-euclidean geometry” for combat movement. They made a game that is an excellent (if hideously slow compared to the computer) table-top tactical simulator for video-game/card-game combat. It (IMO) doesn’t do ANYTHING ELSE well. Oh, and like some other posters here, I don’t like the way they completely “dumbed down” the system either. I’m reasonably intelligent, and I refuse to enlist in the “dumb and dumber” generation. Not the kind of movies I like (I prefer intelligent humor), not the games I like either.

    Pathfinder– it’s not perfect, but Paizo (IMO) ironed out a lot of the bugs present in 3.5, and their quality control and story-writing expertise is superb, so I am enjoying PF as the true heir to D&D (whether it has the name or not). “A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet” (Pathfinder). “You can try to call a pile of s*** a rose, but it’s still going to stink!” (4E). I started playing RPGs with the original D&D a long long long time ago (1976)– Maybe I’m a bit of a grognard, but if so, I’d say I’ve earned the right nonetheless to call it like I see it.

  7. Welcome Finn K! Hope you check out the blog in the future too.

    I really do view 4e and PF as totally different games, but both are role playing games in a fantasy world, so they both provide the basic needs for a great time of fun with friends. I had a real good time today in the 4e campaign. I do prefer PF but 4e is fine. And there are some things in 4e I would like to see in PF. I like the non-AC defenses much more than I like the PF save mechanic. As the player, I like rolling the dice to see if the effect works instead of announcing the attempt and letting the GM roll a save. It just feels more active.

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