17 Feb 2011

Does Format Matter?

Blog 78 Comments

One of the more startling changes that came with 4th edition was the game’s look. Perceptive fans might have anticipated some of the changes (stat-blocks for example), but powers with their multicolored striped took many by surprise, myself included. Outside of art and map orders, I have no say about how a product looks. I wonder, though, if 4e had looked more like 3rd edition would folks had an easier time embracing the game?

I do have some experience with formatting matters. Near the end of my time as WFRP line developer for Green Ronin Publishing & Black Industries, I was looking ahead to the 3rd edition of the game. One area I thought needed improvement was the statistics block. Stat-blocks in that game looked simple enough, yet they posed several challenges too. The big one for me was that you couldn’t just run with the stat-block as written. You had to refer to another source to get definitions for the embedded mechanics. For example, an enemy with the Strike to Stun talent would just have that. If the GM wanted to use the talent and didn’t have it memorized, s/he’d have to reference the core rulebook every time. While some mechanical elements were fixed (+10 Strength for example), spells, skills, traits, and talents often concealed exceptions that required reference during game play at least until the player/GM nailed down the exact effect. Not a big deal given the game’s general simple tech, but it was something I had wanted to address.

My first step was to change the stat-block’s structure and holy crap did I get push-back from the fans. They widely hated it and clamored for a return to the old one. I learned inertia was more powerful than I and the invested fans were just not going to embrace even a format change without me or someone else shepherding them forward with assurances and explanations.

Fourth edition’s presentation abandoned nearly everything familiar about the game’s look. Eight years of 3rd edition, I think, created strong expectations about how the game should read and since the game didn’t match the visual expectations, it certainly must not match the play experience. Yes, there are considerable mechanical changes that alter the play experience somewhat, but compare how the game plays now to how the game played in the twilight of 3rd edition. Just look at Tome of Battle, Complete Arcane, and many of the variant rules presented in Unearthed Arcana (complex skill checks, healing surges, and so on). In them you can find the proto-rules that would eventually evolve into the mechanical underpinnings of 4e. They are different, but not as different as I imagine some folks believe. I wonder if those changes might have been more palpable had we shifted back toward the old presentation, even if doing so meant that the game would be harder to learn.

In the attached file, I’m fooling around to see what 4e might look like run through the 3rd edition wayback machine. You can grab it here: Format.

Having looked at the file, what do you think? Does format matter to you?

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78 Responses to “Does Format Matter?”

  1. Arcane Springboard says:

    It matters quite a bit, though I’m much more flexible on dealing with format changes.

    I never had an issue with the format changes for 4e, but what it did do, especially when it comes to the Monster blocks, was make me realize how awesome it is to be able to run a monster without having to look at anything else.

  2. Matt James says:

    I don’t miss lugging around 10 books to game sessions. It’s hard to say how receptive consumers would have been, but I think you could argue it would help. I have played very little 3e since 4e came out, but just looking at your attached file, it has flooded back memories of the prior edition. This, I assume, means that it could have been a good thing to do in 4e–speaking only for myself. One item of note, I’m actually a fan of how distances were standardized in 4e. Though, I prefer the references in squares, not feet. Unfortunately, I think some people see this as a particularly sore spot, and ammunition for their MMO/Board Game references.

  3. Sarah Darkmagic says:

    As a relative newbie, I see that file and yearn for the new style. I know to some that may make me evil/bad/wrong/a hippie but I’m used to that. I wish there was an intermediate change we could make, something that lets the invested fans still feel at home while providing an opening for those of us who ran away from the earlier edition styling.

  4. Matt Conlon says:

    I don’t know, is probably the best answer I could give. My disdain for 4e was mostly because I prefer smaller groups of players, and especially the occasional solo adventure (one DM and one player). 4e does not accommodate this well.

  5. Sarah Darkmagic says:

    @Matt I’m curious about your reasons for saying that. I ran a game for 2 players and it worked pretty well. What doesn’t work well for a 1 DM/1 Player game in 4e?

  6. Emmanuel D. says:

    God, I do not miss that. It’s not that I hate the D&D3 way to present technical information, but the way introduced in Ed. 4 if so superior that I wonder how I was able to find the informations I needed.

    There are still some minor quirks that are a bit annoying (how keywords are handled, for instance ; their number is growing, growing, growing. At some point, one might have to find a new way to introduce them and to use them, as it’s going to be quite complex to oversee the relation between different keywords. A separation between energy and other keywords would be a good beginning IMHO).

  7. Daniel M. Perez says:

    You know, put my in the column of Would Have Looked At The Game Differently with that formatting. Or something more transitional. The 4e formatting, visually neat as it is, was very jarring.

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  9. Arcane Springboard says:

    Thinking on this some more, there is one area where the format made a big difference, and a bad one IMO.

    It’s one you’ve already touched on: the encounter format.

    I think a lot of the complaints about how 4e is presented come down to that, as was mentioned in the Adventure Design seminar at DDXP.

  10. Arcane Springboard says:

    One thing though about formatting, is that people hate changing…but come to accept the changes fairly quickly.

    Whenever Facebook changes it’s format, people start complaining, but then after a few days, it goes away…only to start up again when the format changes again.

  11. Frank "darth Jerod" Foulis says:

    I makes me go hmm why it looks cool but I also like the new system. Would it have helped, I will say how 4E looks right now was a stumbling block for me to get my head around when playing 3.5 and Saga Edition. The color bands had me scratching my head and I just could not take the time to actually read the books for up to a year after having them. I am still playing 3.5 but after the ease of finding an at-will daily and encounter vs the old system I like the new.

    There is no point in crying over spilt milk. If say the talked about 5th edition were to become a reality and they took a step in this direction they might gain old fans but loose the new ones. I dont know. I have always said the attraction is the artwork and the graphical look of the books. I always found the look of a book made or broke whether I bought a book or not. Companies like Dream Pod 9 for example ushered in fantastic looking books back in the day when I was playing the king of cut-n-paste and black and white Paladium games. There was just no comparison. Mutants and Masterminds vs the poor look of Champions products at the time of its release made me never look back.

    I just do not think a throwback to the look the days of old would have mattered. You might be able to throw the old look on something but modern day Pepsi still tastes better than Pepsi Thorwback no mater how you label it.

  12. Matthew Brenner says:

    The styling in 4e really turned me off at first. 3e just felt much more readable, and there were fewer bright colors that really jumped off the page to distract me. That said, once I began playing 4e, I gained a newfound appreciation for the 4e stat blocks. I especially enjoy the new monster format, separating out actions by type.

    Maybe a near-future generation of RPG books will be electronic and come with changeable styles? That could be a solid way to keep old fans while still allowing positive change in terms of playability.

  13. Rhettro says:

    I’ve always seen the difference between 4e and 3.5 fans as similar to the difference between Apple and Linux fans. 4e fans like lovers of Apple play up the functional and ease of use of their systems, 3.5 and Linux users talk of the greater control one has if some time is spent learning the system. In that sense, I think both groups have a valid point. As an older player who cut his teeth on 1st edition, I would say there is a definite nostalgia for the older charts and pen and ink artwork of the older editions, but one need only listen to the Penny Arcade podcasts to understand how 4e really helps the players stay in the story, without a lot of interruptions to consult the manuals. My hope for future editions is that the accessibility of 4e stays in place, with the ability to easily added in additional action modeling as the DM sees fit and presented with a variety of art styles. I don’t think every art piece needs to be color or that color renderings need to be completely eliminated.

  14. The Gneech says:

    I won’t get into all the old edition war stuff here, but I will say that the format was the least of my problems with 4E. Having the “at-will/encounter” stuff broken into clearly-delineated colors was handy. It was the rules of the game I didn’t like.

    -The Gneech

  15. Will says:

    Format matters to me, and 4th edition’s format is vastly better than 3rd edition.

    The class formats are pretty similar. I find 4e’s class features format to be more readable. I do miss the class level table a bit, although this speaks to a deeper design issue (should classes have unique feature/power/feat progressions, or all share the same table?).

    The power format — well, I think 4e has a long way to go here (power blocks look like entries on the periodic table of elements), but it’s still way better than 3e (power blocks look like source code file headers).

    Your Warhammer fans did themselves a big disservice. I wonder how they like their stat blocks now. >;)

  16. Adam says:

    3rd Ed. formatting may have worked alright for 3rd, but I think it just fails for 4th. The thing that’s good about 4th’s formatting overall is the uniformed and quick presentation of the crap you need to know right at the beginning followed by the more expounded on crap that affects the crap you need to know. With 3rd, it was always a bit of digging to get to the important little bits of data.

    So, no, I feel that 3rd style formatting fails miserably for 4th. But, on the other hand, I don’t mind formatting changes, since it only usually takes one play session or so for me to adjust to the new style, so what do I know?

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  18. Enjolras says:

    The 4e format blows the 3e format out of the water. 4e’s format is more concise, easier to read, and frankly, prettier.

    It’s true that people resist change, but sometimes they are foolish to do so.

  19. Charles Ryan says:

    When you talk about format, I think you’re talking about two different things.

    One issue (particularly in things like stat blocks) is usability. The 4E stat blocks and general presentation are light years ahead of 3E in this regard; the key information is easy to get to and use. Grognards may whine or be put off by changes like this, but in the end they’re wrong and they’ll be left behind.

    But there’s another issue, which is the aesthetic presentation. The style. Here things are a bit murkier, and in the 3.5/4E comparison I’m not sure 4E stands out so well. 4E is cleaner and simpler, but it’s also, frankly, somewhat more juvenile. Where 3.5 looks exotic and sophisticated, 4E looks like it’s for young readers. A subjective issue, but it helps shape the image we each have of the game. So in answer to the post’s title, yes, I think it matters.

    A side anecdote: When I was brand manager, GE ran an ad campaign featuring an uber-geeks’ relationship with a supermodel. In one commercial, they asked our permission (which we happily gave) for the uber-geek to give the supermodel a copy of the PHB. When the commercial was released, we were surprised to see they’d Photoshopped the PHB to make the D&D logo much easier to see and read. Surprised, in the sense of “why didn’t we think of that?” I’m dead certain that commercial, and its lesson, was influential in the design, brightness, and prominence of the 4E logo. But you can have too much of a good thing, and the new design (inside and out) robs the game, I think, of some of its mystique.

  20. Camelot says:

    Format really does matter. I got into roleplaying games with 4e, and if it was formatted like your example, it might have deterred me from playing. Even if it didn’t, I know a number of my current players would not have wanted to play if they saw such a format. The structure was very helpful to new players; it used smaller numbers and related to what you would see (5 squares instead of 25 feet, since most play with a board, it would be easier to count five squares instead of count by fives, even if only a little), it color coded different types of powers (good for new players to stay organized), and instead of a table, presented everything directly in order of when you get it (Essentials has improved upon this, and also includes a table). Your example’s table makes it seem like the increasing numbers in the base attack and defenses columns come from some secret equation that would make it harder to understand how the game works, when really it’s just adding half the character’s level and a +2 bonus to Will.

    4e may have deterred 3e players from transitioning by changing the format, but they encouraged people who didn’t play anything to be introduced into the hobby, and I think that is a much more fruitful result for the hobby in general.

  21. Yaldabaoth says:

    I think that Essentials tried to put this sort of presentation back into 4e. I’m not sure who was pleased by the change, though.

    Note a subtle change… in pseudo-3e the power description shows what is going on _in the game world_. “Lance of Faith” is a ray instantly shooting towards a creature within 25 feet. In 4e, the power description shows what is happening _in the game itself_. Lance of Faith is a ranged attack targeting a creature 5 squares away. I think _this_ change is what some folks did not like. For some, the 4e presentation leads to less immersion because it emphasizes the tactical wargame nature of D&D and not what the characters are experiencing. For some folks, 4e presentation is better. The description block precision and presentation means less deliberation is neccessary to know what a power does. One can then focus on the non-rules portion of the game, which increases immersion and emphasizes the role-playing nature of D&D.

  22. Pworthen says:

    I think format matters a lot, but content matters more. My first perceptions of 4e were of dragonborn wearing steampunk/comic book styled armor. That was, initially, a huge turnoff for me, and I’m still not a fan of the 4e artwork. I felt pretty much the same way about the way the stat-blocks and power lists looked. However, after using them (once!) I found that their increased functionality more than made up for the strange new look. I think different players have different levels of buy-in, though. Some people won’t buy a book if it’s new and different, and that’s all there is to it.

  23. callin says:

    Yes. Format does matter. It was one more nail in the edition wars. The rules changed, and the way the rules were presented changed as well. The immediate knee-jerk reaction was that the game changed from what it was. In reality this is not even remotely true, but perception can define an entire edition war.

    Would a “retro” formatting style have helped ease the angst? On some level yes. It would have been one less jarring thing that was Different. Maybe some people would have looked at the rules and realized they are essentially the same as previous editions. One of the complaints of previous editions was that a monsters stat block was difficult to use, so the designers set out to make it easier and hence better. Some people were not prepared for the change though they may have been some of those calling for the change. I am not saying formatting was the sole cause of the edition wars (or even a major component), but on some level it was a factor.

    This formatting issue continues even now with the cards WotC has added to game play. Broken down to its component parts the new cards are nothing new, just the formatting of them is.Instead of seeing a list of special abilities players have access to in a print Dragon magazine, they are being released on cards.

    @Matt Brenner you never got back about Rhode.

  24. Da' Vane says:

    The format for 4th Edition isn’t that big a deal. Taken in a stand alone manner, the formatting is actually quite helpful when it comes to seeing the different types of mechanics.

    The major issue is that there were significant changes in 4th Edition which took it away from what 3.x did. Ironically, in 3.x vs. 4th Edition discussions, claims of simplicity from the 4th Edition camp always come down to things which could easily have been achieved with 3.x – and many were done so using the sourcebooks you’ve listed.

    Yet, despite all these changes, key areas of the game were radically changed – in particular, classes. Your formatting file is biased, showing merely a sample of each type as formatted, but misses a big point that caused many 3.x players to balk at 4th Edition – classes grew from being a few pages to taking up massive chunks just to list powers, be they prayers, spells, or whatever.

    For all the simplification of 4th Edition, much of it was lost with the changes to classes and encounters, and the way the game works, as there were many more demands on what needed to be tracked now. This is not something that was affected by formatting – but by the game itself.

    Players in 3.x were used to seeing half the PHB filled with spells – and if you wanted to play a spellcaster, that was your domain. If you wanted to play a non-spellcaster, you needn’t worry about any of that. Instead, what actually happened was that every class suddenly became a “spellcaster” – despite whatever name they used to define their powers, and quite frankly this drove people away, especially as for many, it left the classes being virtually the same, with what resulted as minor tweaks.

    None of this was affected by formatting – except maybe the decision to put powers right in the middle with the classes (which I consider to be more layout than formatting, but still…) but even so, once every classed played the same, 4th Edition drove off those players that appreciated the difference between different class types – the fact that fighters were simple to play, that wizards had all the cool utility spells, and so forth.

  25. Trampas Whiteman says:

    Yes and no.

    I think format can be jarring, as it rips us out of our expectations and places a whole new dynamic in front of us. At the same time, you need a format to make sense for your product.

    I know that 4e is different, but I like that the powers you can learn at a given level are presented right along with the level. I remember thinking that would be a huge benefit back when I started playing in 2e.

    I do think that 4e would have kept more folks around had it looked more like 3e.

    Just remember, we are visual creatures. We define a lot of what we encounter by how it looks. Sometimes we do judge books by covers.

  26. Eric Anondson says:

    Format, and presentation, mattered to me. It was a strong initial turn off for me.

    It took me a couple years to even want to try it.

  27. Daniel Chapman says:

    Da’Vane, if you look at the new Essentials books, you’ll see a return to the idea that some classes are simpler to play than others.

    If you play a Slayer (a fighter that focuses on dealing damage), you’ll see a very basic mechanic that makes your regular old base attack do extra damage some times (“Power Strike”). As you go up in level, you get more uses of that new ability. You also get a stance which basically translates to a permanent bonus to something.

    This corresponds very closely to the level of 3.5, where a fighter might get a feat with a complicated mechanic that they might need to decide when to use, like Power Attack, and another feat which is just a static bonus, like Weapon Focus.

    You get VERY few additional powers as the Slayer, but I would argue that the limited use of them (and when you get them) corresponds to the same level of extra thought that goes along with a 3.5 player trying to decide tactical things, like whether to move to use cleave effectively or stay still so they can use an iterative attack, how much to power attack for, and other such details.

    I do like the idea that the classes that usually don’t cast spells now get “cool nifty abilities” that give the spell caster a run for his money, and the new presentation and philosophy of Essentials seems to be a decent balance between not overloading a player that wants a simple character while still giving them (an increasing) selection of interesting things to do other than “I roll a d20, then I roll 1d12+6″ every round.

  28. newbiedm says:

    I love SW Saga Edition, but damn those stat blocks suck. The way that game is laid out, with feats and talents spread out over so many books, makes the stat blocks horrible for me. The constant cross referencing over so many books gets old.

    So yeah, 4e stat blocks are just fantastic. Anything else that moves away towards a legacy style would be ridiculous.

  29. Malcolm Northwinter says:

    I’ve liked the formatting of each in their own way. The rules changes were less broad from my perspective, but then I jumped right into designing 4e material while everybody at EnWorld was still working with the 4e PHBLite; man those were fun times.

    Over all, I agree the rules should be written in whatever manner is best suited to the masses. I also agree that everybody would have been more accepting of 4e had it appeared as 3.x. Finally, I see WotC’s reasons for changing the model to represent the different rules set.

    So, in short (kinda), I agree.

  30. Waylander says:

    Re: twilight of 4e- those experimental books sold poorly and books such as ToB created a lot of contreversy since it changed the style and feel of the gsme. As such, what you stated above is overly simplistic. Also Charles Ryan has a very good point regarding the distinction between style and fomatting.

  31. RobCooper22 says:

    I think format does matter and I think that the format of 4e is fantastic. I couldn’t get people to play 3e. My regular group that I played 2e with all grew up and moved away. When 3e came out I bought all the books and tried to get a group together… fail. 4e came out and now we play almost every week. The stat blocks and power cards are sleek, simple, easy to use and all in one place. I think it may also speak to the formatting that, the majority of my group are new players and half of them are women, which is a much higher ratio than I’ve ever played with before. Some of these are the same people that I tried to get into 3e, when they saw the new format of 4e they decided to give it another try. We all like that you can pretty much run the game right off your character sheet and your DM notes w/ exported monster stats and don’t have to do much book reference.

  32. bluremi72 says:

    I personally love the format of 4e. I would love to see WotC re-format 1e using the 4e format, call it 5e, and release it on April Fool’s Day just to listen to people complain how its not real dnd and that gygax would be ashamed what WotC has done to his game.

  33. Brian Gibbons says:

    I think you’re right that format matters, although I do prefer the 4e style over 3e. I think the best example of how formatting changes can matter is seen between 4e and Essentials, where fairly slight changes in style (e.g., adding an extra dose of flavor text before a power’s name; having class abilities level by level instead of at the beginning of a class description) by themselves make me recoil away from Essentials, seeing it as much more juvenile in style and a step backward in formatting.

    However, I think your reformulation of 4e in 3e terms shows the biggest shift wasn’t just in style but how the game fundamentally looks at abilities.

    In 4e terms, for example, Knee Breaker (Martial Power, Fighter Daily 1) is a power that deals damage and slows the target. There’s also some flavor text about it hitting the target’s legs, but that’s just fluff without any meaning or effect. It really doesn’t matter if a target didn’t have knees; Knee Breaker is just a name, something a little more descriptive than “2[W] damage plus slowing” power.

    In 3e terms, Knee Breaker would be a power that hits a target’s legs, and there would be some rules issues to deal with what that meant (e.g., what happens when you hit a target without legs). Hitting a target’s legs would have consequences, represented as damage and slowing the target.

    In 4e terms, a power has a game mechanical effect. In 3e terms, a power does something in the context of the game world, and that has a game mechanical effect. 4e powers have an effect on game statistics; 3e powers would have an effect on the game world.

    It’s a subtle difference, but a very real one for some players.

  34. symatt says:

    I for one Love they lay out of 4E, its captivating any yes as Charles Ryan says ” frankly, somewhat more juvenile”.
    That is and has grabbed me from the moment I got the first two 4E taster books, Races and Worlds.
    The blocks are easy to use and everything is there for me at hand. I have at least 100 monstar stat cards printed out for easy reference, no other game could do that for me.
    As I get older I yearn for games that I played in my youth. Not the systems,I want things to be better for me to arrange and play, I no longer have untold hours to troll through books and supplements.
    my understanding of game rules has never been my strong point so 4e has helped me through to a level of enjoyment that I have never achieved as a GM.
    If you are able to understand rule-sets and complications, people that just GET IT then I applaud you. But not all of us want or need so much complication.
    So back to lay out. D&D 4E, Thanks.

  35. Da' Vane says:

    @ Daniel: Unfortunately, the damage is already done, and having been unable to justify 4th Edition, I now find it even less justifiable to the Essentials line. Limited funds, a poor impression, and a step too far in the wrong direction has driven me away.

    Maybe if I get some more funds, I’ll check into Essentials to see how it’s changed 4th Edition – but with all my income tied into DVOID Systems, that just doesn’t seem like a realistic opportunity right now.

    It’s one thing for Wizards to call to those who have left saying “Come back, we’ll fix things for you!” – but they probably shouldn’t have broken it in the first place.

  36. Stuart says:

    I’m not actually that keen on the suggested revision. With all that data you need to be using good design, icons, colors, etc to help players interpret things and find the relevant info they need more quickly.

    I found the 4e design a bit *too* antiseptic and separated from the theme of the game… it has a rather stark MS Office feel that would benefit from a bit of “Fantasy Flight Games” TLC. ;)

    From what I’ve seen of the Fortune Cards that’s a definite step in the right direction.

  37. ryven says:

    @Da’Vane: Classes had huge lists of powers in 3e. The difference was that the powers were listed in the back of the book, and some classes just plain didn’t get as many toys. The only classes in 3.5 that didn’t take many pages to list were the underfeatured ones. (I once saw someone try to work out how many bonus feats Fighters should actually get, if they were going to have parity in number of class features with Wizards, and by twentieth level it was something like 50, which I think is more than there were useful fighter feats in the book).

  38. Tom says:

    Well, Essentials is at least in part a return to a format similar to the one you posted. Personally, I like the original 4e character class format better.

    It wasn’t the format that made my friends refuse to play 4e, it was the content, and lack there of. The #1 complaint was that it was just too combat focused. Every power does damage, even mind-controlling powers and Clerics “hit an enemy to heal a friend”. Almost anything that wasn’t a damaging power was either relegated to the long, expensive, seeming-afterthought stuck-in-an-appendix Rituals, or removed from the game completely. Crafting rules were removed, and many skills were consolidated or removed. To us, it looked like “kill, kill, and more kill, and if it ain’t killin’, it’s not important.” The 1st adventure, Keep on the Shadowfell, largely reinforced that image. For a group of older players that like a game of much more intellectual and moral challenges, that have gone multiple sessions without any combat at all, it just didn’t seem like the game for us. Everyone did say they really liked the look of the books though, so format/design didn’t seem to be the problem at all. It was just that the game seemed entirely focused on a style of play at odds with what we wanted.

    Since those early days, I’ve begun DMing 4e Encounters for the FLGS while still playing Pathfinder with my old group. I think a lot of our initial impressions of 4e were correct, and the Encounters format has distilled it down to an even more combat-centric game than regular 4e would be. I can still have some fun with it, but I do think it would not fit my other group without massive changes.

  39. Interesting theory says:

    Honestly I don’t think there is one unifying reason why so many people are skipping 4th edition.

    For me it was the base structure of the game, the roles, powers, and power sources where all a real turn off. Other changes like the fluff changes, gnomes as monsters the base setting changes, and the elf/eladrin spit are minor things to me, nothing to get worked up about.

    I feel the same way about the layout, it’s such a minor thing why fuss about it. But, I can’t speak for everyone. I know others who skipped 4e just because they where tired of buying new book when their old ones still work, for others missing classes and race, and still others hated the points of light fluff, and so on.

    Basically you just can’t force a person to like something, it never works.

  40. Da' Vane says:

    @Ryven: Correction – SOME classes got huge lists of powers, and these were generally combined and shared between many of the classes as well. They were separate from classes, not innately tied to them. In reality, what each power-using class got was the ability to use certain powers in a certain way. For example, the sorcerer and wizard share the same spell list, but cast spells differently. In 4th Edition, the sorcerer and wizard get different powers “spells” innate to their class. These were not shared between classes (at least, I hope not, otherwise that’s just pointless content duplication).

    Which brings us to another factor against 4th Edition – Multiclassing. Quite frankly, it sucks in 4th Edition, yet in 3.x it was a very fulling part of the system for customising and tailoring your character, especially if you used balanced classes. There was a very organic approach that allowed you freedom you just do not get in 4th Edition unless you are willing to put up with some really half-arsed mechanics.

    In the end, whereas 3.x contained a systematic overhaul and consolidation of the previous systems, thus resulting in moderate changes across the whole system, 4th Edition consisted of quite drastic changes to a few core areas of the game that you simply couldn’t get around. In both cases these were big changes, and for many, they won’t like the change, no matter how it is presented.

    It’s got little to do with whether or not the person likes change in general, but more to do with what the changes do and whether they are in the right areas and the right direction. For me, 3.x was a change that was well designed and well worth embracing, but 4th Edition wasn’t – it takes the game and the system in a direction I don’t like, and don’t care to support. No amount of formatting will change that perception.

  41. The Alexandrian » Blog Archive » Does Format Matter? (A Response) says:

    [...] J. Schwalb has a post hypothesizing that 4th Edition would have been more widely accepted if it had been formatted [...]

  42. Justin Alexander says:

    Count me in the “I like the format, I don’t like the rules” camp for 4th Edition. For purposes of comparison, consider these 3rd Edition spells done up in 4th edition format.

    In fact, let me go one step further: You hypothesize that 4th Edition might have been hurt by its radical formatting shift. I think the opposite is true. I think 4th Edition’s superior formatting has attracted people who would otherwise have stuck with 3rd Edition. Significant chunks of the utility 4th Edition gets praised for (like including all of the rules necessary for running a monster in the monster’s stat block) is stuff that can just as easily be done in 3rd Edition.

  43. Da' Vane says:

    @Justin: I’m not sure that people would have been attracted to 4th Edition by the good formatting – rather, they were probably already predisposed to sticking with 4th Edition anyway.

    Formatting is good, but I don’t think many people would consider buying the same material again just because the formatting improved – look at the reactions that D&D 3.5 received when it wasn’t all that much superior for 3e. In some cases, you had like 75% of the book was already written and untouched from the previous edition, and it was a minimal amount of new or revised material, that you often had to dig for to find. Few people liked that – because they distinctly felt ripped off by it, and justly so. This was possibly even worse than trying to find all the little changes that had occurred between 3e and 3.5.

    In virtually every case, people will look at what new and what’s different, and judge the contents of products based on that. Bad formatting can be tolerated very easily, bad rules are much harder to cope with.

    But I do agree with you, and mentioned earlier, that vast chunks of what 4th Edition gets praised for, both formatting and rules-wise, are easily achievable in 3.x. Unfortunately for 4th Edition, these do not outweigh the aspects the 4th Edition gets criticised for, and because they are easily achievable in 3.x, it is often easier for the advances to be house-ruled into 3.x.

    Another thing that has come up as well when it comes to 3.x vs 4th Edition debates is not to do with the rules or the formatting, but the legal status of the system itself. Many people simply play 3.x because it is still the only Open Gaming System in existence, and therefore for those budding developers that want a sound basis for their own system and setting without dealing with Wizards, it is the system of choice. For many, if you only have time to learn a single system, they learn that one.

    Wizards shot themselves in the foot with 4th Edition and the Gaming Standard License – after opening a floodgate with the Open Gaming License that rejuvenated the industry, they went on and turned that industry into their competitor, literally snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

    Nintendo did the same when they pulled out of a deal with Sony on a CD drive for their console during the Nintendo-Sega console wars – and they ended up creating Sony as a competitor with their Sony PlayStation. By rights, Nintendo should have owned the Console market, instead they now have new competitors from Sony and Microsoft.

    None of this is to do with formatting – it has to do with rules, and business practices, which don’t seem to be two of Wizard’s strongest points right now. They seem to have lost their touch, and if they don’t turn it around soon, they may soon lose everything else as well.

  44. Matt James says:

    Da’Vane, you belong near me in the Washington DC area. That was some major league political maneuvering to get this topic on the GSL/OGL. Regardless of how easy it is to port one edition’s stat-blocks to the other, the fact remains that 4e streamlined much of the game in this regard. I’m not debating whether one system is better than another, which company does a better job at managing their system, or the use of the open system principles. The 4e stat-block provides the nitty-gritty, must-need information for running that monster. It is a quick reference improvement over the prior edition.

  45. Da' Vane says:

    @Matt: To be fair, this article and series of comments is about format, and asks the question “Does format matter?” The problem is that this is a flawed question, because the follow up to that question will always be “Compared to what?”

    Formatting does matter, but it matters a lot less than all all the other elements that have been discussed so far. This point cannot, and should not, be avoided. 4th Edition made good improvements in the way the information is presented, but looking good is worth less than actually being good – few people want a good looking car that lacks seats, breaks, or an engine, for example.

    In fact, making something look better than it actually is has gotten people into trouble in the past, and gives companies a bad reputation for being all flash and no substance – assuming it’s not regarded as false advertising. For many, Wizards appeared to turn around and say “This is the new D&D.” – and the existing player base turned around and said “No, it isn’t.”

    As for the 4th Edition stat-block providing the nitty-gritty – think about the 3.x stat block for a moment. It’s not hard for the 3.x stat blocks to provide the nitty-gritty, but Wizards and 3.x deliberately started the trend of NOT including everything in the stat blocks, to save space and repetition of content in their products. They had a priority shift, and you are applauding them for this, when they could have done this at any time. In fact, many other 3.x-related publishers dropped the Wizards stat blocks and developed their own versions with more information that they considered relevant.

    When discussing 4th Edition in any context, there needs to to be some thought given to what makes 4th Edition different from 3.x – that is, what couldn’t, or wouldn’t, be feasible in 3.x – and what was simply put off from happening in 3.x, because Wizards had decided they were releasing 4th Edition and winding down 3.x across the board anyway. This should include formatting and any evolution of stat-blocks.

  46. Ifrydontice says:

    Yes, format does matter. I, for one, don’t mind the rules changes from 3.x to 4. And I rather enjoy using the new, simplified format for powers and such at the game table. But I just made the switch to Pathfinder anyway.

    For me, where format really matters is physical versus online. With the advent of Essentials, WotC seems to be starting a trend where they are removing as much as they can from the physical books and still have a “playable” game. Where does the rest of that content go? In a digital format behind their paywall. This, more than anything else, was a no-go for me. I’m not shelling out money for a book that doesn’t even include the whole game anymore, and no, I am not okay with their half-arsed online tools for managing all of the digital additions to the game.

    So, I chose to support a company that still gives me what i want, in the format I want. No matter how sleek the presentation is, I’m just not okay with being strong-armed into paying a subscription fee to play my game, especially when there is a viable competitor who does business in a way I can understand and support.

  47. Tom says:

    @Ifrydontice: I certainly agree about that, and I noticed it too. When you have a closed set of choices, such as the 4 seasons for Druid builds, you should put them all in the book. If you only give 2 in the book and say “go online if you want a Fall or Winter Druid”, and do the same thing with Cleric Domains, Wizard schools, Warlock pacts, etc, it’s a real turn-off. Previous games gave you all the really necessary choices in 1 book, and then more optional ones in later books, but there were enough Cleric Domains in the main book that a good variety of Clerics could be built. Now there is only Sun and Storm, see online for more.

  48. Da' Vane says:

    @Tom, Ifrydontice: To be fair, two builds per class seems to be pretty standard for 4th Edition, and the idea of web enhancements for print products is fairly standard as well.

    However, I totally agree with the disagreement against the paywall – if you are forking out for a product, you should be able to get the product. It has been noted that the Gleemax, DDI, and other forms of Wizards’ paywalls haven’t been the big revenue makers they hoped for, and tacking on a lot of material to these was a big risk that simply hasn’t paid off.

    Getting back to the OGL/GSL part of the discussion – this also has an impact, because there’s not a lot of third party support for 4th Edition thanks to the GSL, and most developers need access to DDI to get the most of it. The bigger third party publishers for 3.x seemed to have opted to either embrace Pathfinder, or go it alone if they felt their own brands were strong enough to do so.

    It seems that Wizards have gone from being the leader of a large, out of control empire, to the sole controller of a much smaller group that isn’t really going anywhere. The OGL allowed people to push the boundaries of the d20 system and see what they could do with it, bringing more recognition and favour to Wizards, where as the GSL seems to be along the lines of “you can do more of what we do, to save us from doing it,” even when what they do isn’t all that great.

    None of the formatting in the world is going to change this perception…

  49. Matt James says:

    Sorry Da’Vane, but you’re using too many argument fallacies for me to keep up with. The original discussion is about the 4e stat block and it’s improvement over its predecessor. One of the design philosophies, according to Rob and other I spoke with, was to make the stat block a better self-contained representation about the creature. This discussion was not about OGL/GSL as you keep bringing up. I can’t help but sense you’re trying to troll for one reason or another. I invite you to reread Rob’s article on formatting stat blocks, his thesis, and his supporting information on why they came out the way they did. I did not see anywhere in there the corollary between improving the stat block and changing the perception of something utterly unrelated. I can only assume that you have some grievance against Wizards of the Coast and thus feel the need to try and steer this conversation in another direction. If you could divorce yourself from that non-related topic and try to focus on the design elements and evolution of the game’s stat block, that would be more beneficial.

  50. Da' Vane says:

    @Matt: Actually, you are trying to limit the argument to something to can actually stand on, when it has not been defined as such. The original discussion is about whether formatting matters. The problem is that this is a closed question, which can be answered yes or no, unless it is compared to some other aspect.

    The article itself assumes the answer is a given ‘yes’, and then moves on to discuss formatting differences such as the stat block. However, this in itself is an argument fallacy, because for many, the given ‘yes’ is not correct, and the argument simply falls down here at this point. The alternative answer to such a closed question is ‘no’. Formatting doesn’t matter.

    But most interesting of all, which you seem to be trying to pull away from, is that in order to keep the original question from being a closed question, it needs to be compared to other aspects – such as rules, business policies, open content, and the like. These are not argument fallacies, these are just points you don’t want to tackle, because the one good point, which is the 4e stat block will get lost amongst the many bad points when these comparisons are made, because it is quite clear that in comparison, formatting really doesn’t matter all that much.

    Formatting is of little importance – it has some importance, when taken on it’s own, which is why comparison to other areas are not desired, but when the other more important factors are placed alongside it, formatting simply fades into the polish that it really is, and the flaws greatly outshine the merits.

    Considering that the article isn’t just about formatting, but about whether the formatting had an impact on people embracing it, the comparisons become even more important. The conclusions shouldn’t be drawn that people stayed away from the game because the game looked different or the formatting was off, despite what you and the original article try to imply. Instead, many stayed away because of other, more important issues than formatting that impacted their judgement.

    You think I am trolling because I disgree with you and 4th Edition, simply because I am bring up so called non-related topics. Unfortunately, discourse and arguments don’t work like that – it’s called ‘seeing the bigger picture’ – and this is pretty much what Wizards failed to do. Quite a few small tweaks work fine, but overall, in several critical key areas, 4th Edition fails to deliver – formatting is not one of them.

    If you are having difficulty seeing what is going on here – I will highlight them for you. Let’s take it from the top, shall we?

    ‘Does Format Matter?’ – This is a closed question, and all closed questions in discourse become open questions with the implicit question ‘Why?’

    ‘I wonder, though, if 4e had looked more like 3rd edition would folks [have] had an easier time embracing the game?’ – Another closed question, but this time the implicit question is actually ‘How?’

    ‘Having looked at the file, what do you think?’ – This is an open question. In fact, it’s so open, it’s actually too open – so it’s more a call to answer the above closed and implied open questions, which is reinforced when the first question is repeated once again.

    These are what is actually being asked, and what is actually being answered, even though Rob actually talks about the Monster stat block. He doesn’t ask about the stat block, he just talks about it, because that’s where his expertise is. It’s merely one person’s example of a formatting change and how formatting might have made a difference.

    The issue remains that the article itself assumes as given ‘yes’ for formatting being important, in order to feed upon the second, which is that was the change in formatting a factor that kept people away from 4th Edition.

    Unfortunately, the first yes is not given at all – ‘no’ is just as appropriate, in which case the second question makes no real sense to have any answer other than ‘no’. In asserting the given of the first question, it must be backed up in relevance according to other factors – these non-related topics you like to refer to them as – as they are the ones that determine whether or not formatting is or isn’t important, otherwise this is “just for the same of argument” and there’s no point in actually discussing what is just one person’s opinion.

    This is because, even if we do accept the given ‘yes’ for the first question “for the sake of argument” – you still have the second question of whether or not more people would have embraced 4th Edition if the formatting had been different, and this too requires a look at those so-called non-related topics to try and get an answer to. If you can’t do that, then there is no argument, and everybody here might as well just go home, because really this is just then about Rob talking about creating a monster stat block.

    Unfortunately, formatting is a minor thing, because the presentation of the products themselves is a minor thing – Dungeons and Dragons is not a piece of art, so it’s core principle is not it’s aesthetic appeal. You could argue that the formatting relates to how that information is presented, but in the end, Dungeons and Dragons is a game, and it’s primary focus will always be the game and how it plays. It’s no good giving the players easy access to information if the rules system itself is a big complicated mess or goes in the wrong direction from what the people who would be inclined to look into Dungeons and Dragons want. If anything, the easy access to information just seemed to highlight the issues with the system even more.

    You can discuss about formatting in it’s own right, but you cannot answer the question on whether it matters and whether more people would have switched from 3.x based on formatting alone. These are more complicated issues that require looking at the bigger picture, rather than discarding things we don’t want to hear about as non-related topics.

    Because if these are non-related topics, then the answers are non-related topics, which means the questions are non-related topics. This just leads to the conclusion that you are the one actually trolling, Mike, because you aren’t actually interested in letting people talk about the very questions provided in the article itself.

  51. Celebrim says:

    “Just look at Tome of Battle, Complete Arcane, and many of the variant rules presented in Unearthed Arcana”

    Changes that were themselves not universally greeted with satisfaction.

    It’s worth noting that I’m a 1e player, and when I prefer game material I condense the 3e stat block into something that looks a lot like the 1e two line state block (usually, with 3 or 4 lines instead of 2). And to a certain extent, I still me this older more condensed notation like “F2 (11, 8, 3)”. That older notation is now not particularly useful, but at least the 3rd edition stat block fits on 3 or 4 lines fairly easily in most cases. I don’t know where to begin with the 4e stat block, and it certainly would look like a 1e stat block when you were finished with it.

  52. Nathan says:

    The worst thing a publisher can do, in my opinion, is start messing with the size and shape of the books. I played 4e from the time it came out, right up until they started messing with the book formats with this Essentials line. I have no interest in purchasing what is basically 4.5 with differently formatted books. I don’t care if the text, etc. look different, but the actual shape and tactile feel of the books is a huge deal.

  53. Dominic Amann says:

    I think format is just one of several issues. I embraced 4e from before launch (I was a regional admin), but it split my gaming group. All tried it, but one has moved back to pathfinder, another to straight 3.5.

    For the Pathfinder individual, I believe he straight out prefered wonky character generation options (he calls it flexibility), and found that whatever he did with 4e, he couldn’t create characters that were “out there” enough for his tastes (his character preference is for huge melee damage dealers).

    For the 3.5 guy, he couldn’t get over healing surges, the notions of dailies and ecounter powers and several other items – but then he didn’t get Warforged either. (I know, not logical, but then preferences often aren’t).

    For many players of magic users, they cannot achieve the level of game domination they previously enjoyed. Taking power away from people once they have enjoyed it is always painful.

    Personally, I have purchased less 4e as the essentials line has rolled out, because I am quite content with the character coverage from the existing hardcovers, and I don’t much like softcover RPG books. I still play and run a couple of homebrew 4e campaigns, but I am starting up a Pendragon campaign (which is still my favourite RPG of all time).

  54. Anthony P says:

    After looking a little at your stat blocks of 4e with the 3.5 format I have to agree, it would probably been palpable to holdouts. Heck I immediately felt more comfortable. Still don’t see how it matters, just a couple years off from 5e, the total online experience.

  55. Cyric says:

    You know, I allways thought that what you describe is a more or less typical german behaviour when it comes to new things. I does not matter if it’s easier to read, better to use, nicer to look at – it’s new and that’s why it must be a fault. The old stuff was allways good enough to play and have fun with so why change it now.
    The strange thing is that most people change these things for their own games but the moment the company changes stuff to make it better it gets worse in the eyes of many.

    But I think the problem with 4e is a different one. It’s not the change that is typical for a new edition to make it reasonable to spend alot of money for new books – 4e is too much change. Even if everything gets smoother it just feels like a completely new system that uses 6 attributes and a d20, too. And, yeah, it’s named after the 3 editions before it… but that’s just it.

  56. Todd says:

    “I learned inertia was more powerful than I and the invested fans were just not going to embrace even a format change without me or someone else shepherding them forward with assurances and explanations.”

    In the introduction at GenCon, they praised Vecna for keeping things under wraps. This was the problem. People were betrayed. A new version? So soon? It’s been 5 years since 3.5 was put out. First and Second Editions lasted 12 years without a new eidition (if you don’t count Player’s Options).

    When 3e came to surface, it was announced. People were kept in the loop about enhancements and updates to the system through Dragon Magazine. You knew the changes that were coming. With 4e, it was a slap to the face. “We’ve been working on this for the last two years.” Essentials, a much bigger slap. “It’s coming, but it’s not 4.5. Everything will be compatible.” When we had Essentials in our hand, Fighters and Rogues no longer looked the same. And this is the way of the future, no going back. Regarding hardcovers and high prices, they are hard selling points for new players and this makes sense from a business and consumer standpoint. But a change was made with a “lie”.

    We live in a different world than we did when 3e came out. We are more connected. We have more input. Instant access to everything. We live to be informed (Twitter, Facebook, RSS, email access, texting, you name it). We don’t like to lose that control. Shut off your phone and internet for a week, you’ll see.

    Getting on topic, I agree that the Essentials format (not the overall reasoning) was a bust. The book format is unwieldy, just like the Star Wars books. The Power blocks and Stat Blocks are too wide. Smaller seems simpler. A full page width looks complex. For the 4e powers, there were too many on a page. But to change it to a 3.X format? Well, I believe that’s what they tried with Essentials.

    Gamers are creatures of habit. Everyone knows there are people that hat 2e, 3e, 4e. It’s the nature of our industry. Change is evil. Go anywhere and shake the tree and people will scream. That is human nature.

  57. Stuart says:

    Wow, I totally agree with Anthony P. I felt more comfortable with that look.
    I’ve played 2ed, I changed to 3rd when released; then I’ve moved to 3.5 as soon as was printed. I didn’t had access to magazines like Dragon or Dungeon, so it took some time to get familiar with the rules and the format at the time.
    I begun to experiment 4ed a few weeks ago. my players are not so happy, as they have to learn to deal with the new format of powers in colorful boxes and how some of these had effects after hit or miss or when bloodied. I guess they wouldn’t mind to move to 4ed if the format looked more like 3.5

  58. Mike says:

    I guess I’m one of the few that actually LIKE the trade paperback format of the new Essentials line, if you have a lot of books to tote around to play at other peoples houses, having a lightweight format in hard-copy (outside of a PDF) is really handy.

    I rarely played any 2e, I was introduced to the hobby as it was switched from 2e to 3e. I played 3.x right up until 4e and now that is what my gaming group plays and the campaign I run. The format of the game doesn’t really bother me, but then again I’m used to looking at so many different RPG game formats 4e isn’t really outside of my realm of understanding or adaptation.

    To those folks that complain about 4e limiting their “flexibility” or “role-playing options” I have a pretty imaginative group and there is little we haven’t encountered, combat or RPG-wise, that we haven’t been able to accomplish with 4e rules and mechanics.

    I’ll say this, I think 4e is really grabbing new players, my local game shop runs encounters there every Wednesday and some of the employees had NEVER played D&D but were enticed (and summarily hooked) by trying out 4e. I say whatever keeps newbies interested and perpetuating the hobby is OK with me. :)

  59. Dave says:

    I will say that formatting made it difficult for me to even try 3rd when it first came out. The layout was not and still not the most logical, but at least now I am used to it. Formatting may have helped me adopt 4th, but truthfully with the introduction of 4th so soon after my getting 3.5 core… Wizards and Hasbro have ruined me on their “promises” of less books… I think between 3/3.5 Wizards put out just as much if not more than TSR when they ran with 2nd Ed (which was at least passably compatible with the previous edition, always a plus in my book.)

  60. Jacob Zimmerman says:

    I agree with your assessment, but I for one, was so excited to see the formatting of 4e. It’s clean, quicker to reference, and still clear to read. I’m also thoroughly enjoying the new paperbacks because of them being paperback (which i love), and because of their size. It’s so nice for them to fit on a shelf without that shelf’s height having to be dedicated to DnD book size. I’m torn about the Essentials page formatting, but I don’t really care either way.

  61. Steve says:

    Can’t speak for anyone else (besides my entire gaming group). Format had nothing to do with it – it’s the over-simplified identical class mechanics. We play many systems in our group, we play systems we like, presentation is tertiary. We’ll take the time to work out a badly written/presented system if we like how it works.

  62. Elliott Ashburn says:

    Once I initially commented I clicked the -Notify me when new feedback are added- checkbox and now each time a remark is added I get four emails with the identical comment. Is there any manner you’ll be able to remove me from that service? Thanks!

  63. David says:

    To your question, “Does Format matter to me?” — Format absolutely matters!!
    It matters so much, that I transfer all my PCs powers, including item dailies, from the 4e ‘card format’ to an excel spreadsheet that I can easily review (19th level and all powers are on two pages) as my turn is coming up and then execute the actions quickly.
    To your associated question, “Would 4e have been accepted more broadly by the 3.5e gamer base if 4e had been presented in a format that was similar to 3.5e?” — Yes, I think they would have. 4e’s presentation was obviously heavily influenced by WotC’s desire to tie all their games to a CCG format. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last time, that WotC’s executives will make decisions based on over-inflated egos and delusions of game-design genius (reference: Magic the Gathering releases on different occasions). Just because it looks good in a power point presentation doesn’t mean it’s a good idea – but I digress.
    I think the 3.5e gamer base would have been more receptive to the 4e mechanic changes if the format had been more like 3.5e. I think the smarter strategy would have been to introduce those only those changes – let the player base absorb the mechanic changes first – then, as WotC released errata and game tweaks, use that opportunity to present a new, 4e format.

  64. Charles Ryan says:

    You hear this “WotC wants D&D to be a CCG” sentiment a fair bit on the internet, but I think it says more about the commenters than it does about WotC.

    How do you reconcile this supposed strategy with the fact that WotC seems to be using D&D as the entry point into the board game market? Are they trying to get a foothold there just so they can turn around and make board games into CCGs?

    WotC has published powers on cards, and they’ve published blank cards on which powers can be written. Both of these followed the release of the main game by such a wide time period that it’s clear they weren’t on the schedule until early comments from players suggested it to them. (Working in games distribution at the time, it was also clear from the way they were solicited and brought to market that WotC was hurrying to capitalize on the idea.)

    Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes an effort to fit all the relevant info into a small space in a two-column layout–a space conveniently similar to a card–is just that.

  65. Jacob Zimmerman says:

    Hear hear!

  66. Da' Vane says:

    @Charles Ryan: And sometimes, it isn’t. There is a world of difference between having powers and other information on cards, and turning D&D into a CCG.

    One of these major differences is in the sales model – take the new Fortune Cards. These are NOT presented as decks of cards containing new powers that people can buy and have all the information on powers on relevant card formats. They are sold as randomised booster packs, using the CCG sales model they’ve established with M:tG.

    If you want to see how the idea of Fortune Cards should be, if Wizards were really just putting information on cards, then look up Pathfinder’s Plot Twist cards. They are sold as a standard deck – no boosters, containing the relevant information.

    As for WotC entering the boardgame market – obviously you don’t recall how the early initial introductions to D&D were presented for 3e. These were also packaged as boardgames – D&D, with it’s increase on tactical combat with every edition – is becoming a boardgame.

    Don’t believe me – try comparing it’s gameplay to actual fantasy boardgames like Warhammer Quest. What happens there is as the game becomes more roleplaying like, it relies less on the physical aspects of the game – such as the boards, cards, and miniatures. D&D is taking the opposite approach – it is relying more and more on boards, cards, and miniatures, that it is devolving towards a boardgame.

    Wizards aren’t the only one to do this – it’s becoming realised that books are easy to produce and sell, and thus there is a lot of competition and reduced profit margins. Therefore a shift towards things not so easy to produce is on the way. Games Workshop remains an industry leader in the gaming industry because they focus solely on their miniatures lines, which are notoriously hard to reproduce and compete with.

    In this instance, you can say that format does matter – but it is not the format between 3.x and 4e editions, but the format between roleplaying books and boardgames/CCGs.

  67. Charles Ryan says:

    So WotC’s randomized fortune cards are evidence of an attempt to turn the game into a CCG.

    If WotC is so keen to do that, why don’t they just, you know, do it?

    They’ve owned D&D for nearly 15 years now. So either their CCG plan is a masterpiece of ultra-long-term strategy, or they’re not very good at carrying it out.

    On the other hand, over the course of 15 years, is it surprising that when your R&D team is just down the hall from another team that makes a highly successful game–and that maybe those guys are sometimes friends and eat lunch together and play games together and so on–that maybe sometimes they’ll talk about things that make their games work well? Share ideas? Cross-pollinate? Frankly, both teams would be foolish not to.

    As for comparing the fortune cards to Pathfinder’s route, a randomized, open-ended set of potentially hundreds (or even thousands) of results is not the same thing as a closed set delivered through a deck or a chart, mechanically or in terms of game experience.

    A deck is closed and fixed. It has X many possible results. Anyone who has read through the deck or played long enough is aware of all possible results.

    A set of cards is open. There is a large and evolving set of potential results; by building a deck (or simply going with what you got out of a booster pack) you choose a subset of that set to create a smaller number of possible results.

    And this mechanism adds an additional experiential element: Unlike a fixed deck, it can deliver surprises. Open a new booster pack at the table, and your deck may deliver results you’ve never encountered before.

    I make this distinction to point out that there are explanations for choosing to release a product in this format (an accessory, I might add–not a core product) other than “WotC wants everything to be a CCG.” In fact, given the board game releases and the many comparisons of 4E to board games and WoW, the body of evidence seems to suggest that WotC’s approach is to look at every game category, and try to bring the best ideas from all of them into D&D.

    YMMV on whether they’re succeeding in that regard, but either way it’s sort of the opposite of trying to make D&D into one particular thing.

  68. Jacob Zimmerman says:

    I think you’ve finally hit it on the head. Until I see the complete removal of the other elements, I refuse to think that WOTC is trying to make D&D into anything that it’s not. They’re just using elements from board games and card games in order to make the presentation cleaner.
    Also, I’ve heartily embraced every step that they’ve done in that direction. Every step towards a cleaner interface is a good step in my book.

  69. Da' Vane says:

    The Fortune Cards are, at the moment, a mere gimmick, and this produce uses the format of a collectible card game. It uses the sales and distribution model. If Wizards are to focus on this idea further, then they are turning D&D into a Collectible Card Game.

    No matter what you say or do, this fact will never be changed. You can romanticise it by talking about opening up a booster at the table and taking the game in a new direction – but you know what other games involve opening up boosters – COLLECTIBLE CARD GAMES.

    There’s a lot of scaremongering, but 4th Edition has a lot of flaws in the eyes of many, and Fortune Cards is just another gimmick – an optional accessory trying to cash in that is most likely to be a lose-lose situation for all but those already committed to 4th Edition: Those who refuse to believe that 4th Edition is anything other than the divine gift of the gods themselves.

    For all the reasons and justifications that Wizards and others give for Fortune Cards, there are better ways of handling it. Yes, a deck is fixed, but it isn’t closed – many card game publishers have managed quite well with providing expansions and add ons to their card games that are also fixed. Paizo regularly releases new Item Cards from it’s latest Adventure Paths in a fixed format. If the idea is to present information on cards, then a fixed deck does that much better.

    I think it needs to be noted that things like the Wrath of Ashardalon aren’t necessarily D&D – rather they are more like a board game released as part of a D&D brand. If this works, then so be it – I’m not sure just how much of these are going to be combined with D&D itself – very little I expect. This is a standard practice, called franchising – if you are going to claim the Board Games are replacing D&D, then you might as well claim Stormreach the D&D MMO was replacing D&D as well.

    But D&D is become more of a tactical miniatures game with every iteration, even though the miniatures are being labelled as accessories. Have you tried playing 4th Edition without them? It’s awkward and ungainly at best, even with the miniatures, and without them or a similar other accessory, it’s a nightmare. With this in mind, is is any wonder people are concerned how long before Fortune Cards stop becoming mere accessories and become a key feature of play?

    After all, the 3rd Edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay by Fantasy Flight Games already has already adopted a card-based system, even without it being a collectible card game. What’s really to stop Wizards from doing this as well, increasing the reliance of cards, and power of collectible cards, until such point that the game becomes pointless without them.

    One must wonder exactly how a collectible card format works with roleplaying – since the idea is not to beat the other players, yet this is what the collectible card format inspires. I’ve known several people try to develop card-based roleplaying games, but in reality, it comes down to the same thing – it’s a card game with some improv storytelling. The cards provide abstractions that simply don’t mesh with the idea of roleplaying very well.

    We will see how Fortune Cards progress, but I am reserving a crap load of “I told you so.” Dissociated mechanics, card-like format, gameplay that look like they have been designed from Magic: The Gathering’s R&D, the collectible card game format, it’s all there. It may only be an accessory now, but that will easily change…

  70. Jacob Zimmerman says:

    I have actually played 4e without minis before, and I’ll tell you something: not only was it not difficult, but it was also one of the most fun set of encounters I’ve ever played.

    It won’t matter how much they integrate the cards into the standard rules; you’ll still be able to play without them. I also don’t think that the fortune cards will sell well enough that WotC would be able to continue making them, anyway.

    As for your assessment of Warhammer, I don’t think you understood the concept of how those cards were really used. Getting more is more like buying one of the Power books than buying cards for a card game.

    I also feel like people have this idea that players will buy their own fortune cards and hoard them all to themselves. I would like to think that it would be more of a shared experience among the players. I know that my gaming group would do it that way.

  71. Tom says:

    I think the Fortune Cards (and the collectible power cards that came both in packs and exclusive new powers that could only be found packaged with their miniatures) are a more mild experiment, designed to test the waters of acceptability.

    A more bold step is to be found in the new Gamma World, where the only way to get mutations and artifacts is through cards, sold in randomized booster packs. This is, IMO, directly analogous to selling D&D character powers only through random collector cards rather than printed in books, and it was the sole reason I did not buy the new Gamma World, a game I have the last 4 or 5 versions of and enjoy.

    If Gamma World, and the cards for it, do well, I expect D&D 5e to move further in that direction. If it does poorly, maybe it won’t, so I’m voting with my wallet now.

  72. Da' Vane says:

    More than likely, members within a gaming group will swap amongst themselves, and then hoard what they want to keep. Many people still play with a very adversarial approach to the GM and other players, and the idea of adding in cards to make you better than the other players will be too good for some to miss.

    As for the cards – I am aware of how they are used in Warhammer. I used the term card-based, not card game, and that is a very important difference. But the fact that the cards are a fixed deck, not collectible is important. Although, it is somewhat ironic that Fantasy Flight Games were laughed at recently when they announced their latest innovation – to release Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay in the format of a series of roleplaying books. Like nobody has ever done THAT before – it seems it’s all a case of going in circles, with plenty of change and innovation for change and innovation’s sake, without much thought into whether it’s really necessary.

    The best things in 4th Edition could have been done in 3.x – in fact, I believe they were if you looked at third party materials. I rather get the feeling the design was all about how things could be done different rather than whether things should have been done different and why, and this shows through immensely. Few people would have complained about a format change for 3.x if it wasn’t for all the other changes that came along as well.

  73. Dominic Amann says:

    Format Shmormat. Folks can figure out a new format – eventually. 3e changed 3 times, 4e is now up to 3 minor format changes for stat-blocks and powers.

    The real problem is much more interesting. The truth (and I credit Ryan Dancy for reminding me of this well known insight) is that people actually DON’T know what’s best for them. One of the “peoples favourite” things from D&D 3rd edition, which has in fact sold loads of books, is feats. I am going to jump right in here and say that feats spoil the game. They are what is responsible for the CCG feel. Lets face it – you can’t make an “optimal” character with just the core rule books, in either edition. Truth be told – you may be less far behind the power curve in 4e than 3rd if you create a character with only the core rules. So the fact is, players are heavily incentivised to buy more books in order to feel parity at the game table.

    Not only that, but feats are also one of the principal mechanisms by which play is boggerd down at the table. The DM cannot reasonably predict what actions his monsters should take without running afoul of some rules-excempting feat a character has. Players cannot quickly shout out their damage when they have a raft of optional and situational modifiers to sift through.

    Powers are a little less problematic, and with “Essentials”, are actually quite a trim way of presenting character advancement – probably no more complex than 3e class features. That said, I note that playing D&D either edition WITHOUT miniatures or a battlemat suddenly feels a whole lot MORE like D&D of old. In spite of people not being able to “see” what is going on – and perhaps because of it, less “tactical wargaming” is involved, and more roleplaying. And many feats become less important.

  74. Blackhand67 says:

    Am I the only one who all of a sudden feels like I need a spreadsheet just to run a mid level character? I don’t mind the use of miniatures and mats (I actually think it keeps everyone involved more “honest”), it just seems like combat has become a huge slog of players and DM rifling through long lists of possible options for each action. Perhaps if my players and DM were the types prone to memorize long lists of abilities and powers to facilitate this we’d move through combat at a much faster, but they are not. Having learned that the ever present next edition will make such memorization useless has kept us from “committing” to such mental investmets. While I was one of the first to embrace the virtues of true character customization that 3e represented, 4e is just too far in that direction. My group now suffers from “paralysis of analysis” with each combat encounter we face. The boxed up old 3e books are starting to look pretty good from right here….anyone else in the same boat?

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