The Rose Garden Strategy

I took some time to review the DnD Next playtest rules and components.  My sense was, ok, pretty good.  Actually, pretty safe and maybe uninspired.  It was evident that Wizards wanted to break litte new ground when the much heralded playtest was B2, Keep on the Borderlands. Back to the future! 

Another words they've adopted the Rose Garden Strategy.  For those of us who are apolitical, the Rose Garden strategy is one in which the incumbent presidential administration believes they are well ahead of the challenger.  Consequently, they adopt a strategy of playing it safe and just repeating that which seemed to work in the past.  Nothing terribly new or terribly interesting.  By not making any errors they win re-election.    

This strategy is probably a mistake for Wizards.  Yeah, they got radical with 4.0 and it blew up in their faces.  But that's no reason to go super-safe with 5.0.  The Rose Garden Strategy typically works when you are well-ahead of the challenger.  I don't think WoC is ahead, I think it's a little behind right now.  I think 5.0 needs to be something pretty amazing to win back those of us who now play some other system.  Another words, WoC needs to take some risks and show gamers that it is the pre-eminent game design company.

How do you design the funnest, most realistic feeling, most cinematic, and most absorbing rpg in the world?  That is WoC's challenge.  They won't get there by just repeating tales of past adventures.
 

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How do you design the funnest, most realistic feeling, most cinematic, and most absorbing rpg in the world?  That is WoC's challenge.  They won't get there by just repeating tales of past adventures.
 




WoTC provides a ruleset.  IMHO, the ruleset does not provide fun, realism, cinema, absorbtion...The DM and players do.

I think of 5E as a retro muscle car like the recent Dodge Charger.  Everything underneath the body of a Charger fits very nicely under the body of a recent released Dodge Challenger. 

5E runs on a very basic chasis with the option for DMs to add a body that works for them.

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I expect that more risks and fancy options will be layered on to the core when the rest of the rules are released to us.  I'm excited to see what comes out next.  Perhaps a Redwood can grow within the Rose Garden?  Cheers.

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I'm a huge booster of the ttrpg hobby, and of d&d in particular, but I think the OP has a point. 5e looks like a fairly "safe" edition so far. I don't think that's a bad thing, though, for three reasons:

1) d&d isn't really "behind." It remains the most publicly visible ' face' of the hobby. Pathfinder isn't getting articles in Forbes and the NYT.

2) the goal here, unlike an election, isn't to beat the opposition, but to convince those people who are playing some version of d&d already, even if it's called Pathfinder or OSRIC, to do so under the d&d banner.

3) It's all about the young, new players 5e could attract, and that means it's all about the marketing. If d&d could score just a year or two's crop worth of the players of Pokemon or YuGiOh, they could justifiably ignore PF, 13th Age, and the rest if them. For that, they need an approachable, simple, cleanly packaged game, not a groundbreaking new mechanic to appeal to jaded old-timers. Happily, with Hasbro's muscle, the marketing should be a snap. Think My Little Pony reboot for the d&d series.
D&D is the only game in the genre, as far as a lot of people are concerned.  D&DN could incorporate nothing from any of the previous editions, and it would still be the leader in the field.  If the end product was fun, as well, then so much the better. 

The metagame is not the game.

Happily, with Hasbro's muscle, the marketing should be a snap. Think My Little Pony reboot for the d&d series.



Most of the "marketing" behind the success of MLP was, AFAIK, not a Hasbro thing. The series, like it or not, achieved that much popularity thanks to their fans and internet. I don't remember watching a single advertisement about the series (but I don't watch telly). I remember tons of people talking about the show on internet boards and a few friends who told me IRL that the show was funny and well animated. And, surprisingly taking into account the original source material, it is IMO, quite entertaining for a lot of people of all ages and sexes.

In fact, one thing that MLP did very well was distancing itself from the original show in a lot of ways. And it worked. Sincerely, if WotC wanted to attract new customers, young and not so young, I think they should partner with Cartoon Network and work on Adventure Time: The RPG. And make a REAAAAALLY EASY and REAAAAAAALLY ABSTRACT/SILLY roleplaying system to act both as a gateway "drug" for children and as merchandise for older fans of the show.

Right now, with their goals in mind, I think D&DN won't be simple enough to be understood by (nor cool-looking enough to grab the attention of) most of the children nowadays. When I was 10, yes, drawings of dragons and books full of classes and monsters and numbers were awesome. For me. And... maybe 5% of the people of my age. But I also looked at 8-bit graphics as technological marvels.

But D&D Next, unless it changes A LOT, I doubt it'd look interesting to 5-10% of my friends, and they already play TTRPGs. And I doubt that people 8-12 y.o. will look at the books, marvel at their awesomeness, and put down their 3DSs and PSVs to read through the XP tables, class features, spell descriptions, etc. Even with very goood marketing. Unless WotC is ready to make the game much more flashy and visual than what it seems to be their intent right now. Magic, Yu-Gi-oh, Pokemon and other games popular with players of that age are VERY visual and flashy.

So, I very much doubt that DDN will have half the success with people of all ages that MLP had. Although it will possibly enrage just as much people...
I agree with Miladoon - WoTC provides a ruleset.  IMHO, the ruleset does not provide fun, realism, cinema, absorbtion...The DM and players do.

I've used ideas and concepts from shadowrun, cyberpunk, palladium, rolemaster, D&D, dangerous journeys and Call of the cthulhu in each of the other games.

It's not the game it's the way you play it. Hopefully with all this debate and playtesting, the modules system should allow people to do that with a shared core system to tie it together.

Yes WOTC wants to sell their product to the majority, but that's not a bad thing. It's nice to be part of a hobby shared and enjoyed by millions in different languages over decades. Most of WOTC are players and DMs too.

So sure they will keep some sacred cows, but also throw in some spicey modules to garner interest and fire up the imagination.

I have no doubt they have learned from the mistakes of the past, there's been enough financial turmoil in the world the last two decades for most of us to learn from. These forums are active and WOTC are heavily engaged with us and the core playtesting, too me post reboot has a good success chance.

Key things for D&D - Where is the character from and why do they do what they do? / Recurring NPCs - allies and enemies / Plot, World and Personal Events.

The political analogy is fitting. 

The majority of the D&D player base is convervative (not meant in any negative way), meaning they value tradition and continuity.

4E went for a clear departure in several areas, more than any other edition before, and thus created a major edition schism.

DDN priority is to reassure the conservative wing first, which they intend to do it with a 'safe' core.
The 'risks' will be left to modules, which are by definition optional.

Then there are the 'median electors', which mostly means casual players who associate the D&D brand with RPG. For them the key part is making the game accessible (easy to pick up and play) - another goal of the DDN 'core'.   

So, all sorted, on paper.
In reality a truly modular system is much more difficult to design. And because the 'core' cannot be compromised it is likely the 'progressive' camp of the community will end up suffering disappointments (sweetened up by some of the modules). But as long as you get the majority and a significant portion of the medians on board you have the numbers. 
         

            
@OP
I agree with your analysis but disagree that they are doing what you describe.  What we have is a basic playtest packet that doesn't even have character creation.   I'm sure more innovations are coming.  

There challenge is the follow....
1.  Make a game that looks and feels like D&D.  The "conservatives" know it when they see it.  So far so good.
2.  Make a game that has a variety of options that appeal to the "liberals".   Still waiting to see this but of course you can't expect it in playtest packet #1.
3.  Make a game that appeals to people playing other games most notable Pathfinder, 13th Age, DCC rpg, and a slew of retroclones.   

Those are three steep challenges when put in the same basket.   I think their target is 3/4 of the current 4e playerbase (half of which are those electors who always vote for D&D), 1/2 of the 3e/PF crowd, and 3/4 of the 1e crowd.   The 3e/PF crowd will be the toughest to get because Pathfinder is a good company that knows how to run an rpg business.  And that goes without commenting on Pathfinder as a game.  I'm talking business not game design.

If they succeed they will grow their marketshare.   They also have the board games they are releasing to increase sales in addition to the rpg.  That may push up their sales figures to the number Hasbro wants.
 

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My little pony of D&D. 

 If they make a cute version of D&D, I will buy it. 

It would be funny if they did made a cute and simple D&D to target younger group, but attract another group instead? >.> 




WoTC provides a ruleset.  IMHO, the ruleset does not provide fun, realism, cinema, absorbtion...The DM and players do.




It is true that the DM and players must deliver the fun -- after all, any rpg is but a collection of printed materials.  But the system facilitates the fun.   Systems can encourage and facilitate a realistic, cinematic, absorbtive experience -- and a lot of other adjectives appy here too -- or not.  Some games are just not as much fun to play as others.  As a recovering 4e player, I can attest to that.  

Based on my experience with a variety of systems, I think the rules matter -- a lot -- as to whether players ultimately find the game fun. 

My guess is that DnD Next is returning to some of the things that made previous versions fun to play -- they're attempting to return to their roots.  In many ways there is nothing wrong with that.  

My point in writing this was not to debate whether some games are more fun than others but to provide a cautionary note.  I think WoC was stung by the reaction to 4e, which was a real departure from earlier editions.  My concern is that they may overreact and produce something that is nothing more than a retroclone of itself  when they need something that is much more.  

What cued me to this possibility was the playtest materials.  I was honestly shocked to see B2 by Gary Gygax as the adventure they selected.  That was certainly a signal that WoC has its eyes set on the past.  

These guys can afford the best game designers, writers, artists, etc.  They should be providing us with the best game, not something that is only a rehash of the best parts of previous editions.  Certainly, the next editions should include the past but also the future.     

Whether they do this remains to be seen.       

WoTC provides a ruleset.  IMHO, the ruleset does not provide fun, realism, cinema, absorbtion...The DM and players do.

This is not at all the case imo.  A bad ruleset is a bad game.  If the people playing bring all the excitement they don't need the game.  We could just go out for drinks or whatever.  If we got together to play a game it better be fun by the rules, or we'll play something else.

They need to make the game able to do all of the above without requiring experienced players with their own additions to the game or they haven't really done anything.

All roleplaying games can be fun with the right group, the goal is to make it fun for the most groups possible.  Otherwise why would I pick this over 13th age, dungeonworld or any other fantasy rpg?
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Agreed.
My point in writing this was not to debate whether some games are more fun than others but to provide a cautionary note.  I think WoC was stung by the reaction to 4e, which was a real departure from earlier editions.  My concern is that they may overreact and produce something that is nothing more than a retroclone of itself  when they need something that is much more.  

What cued me to this possibility was the playtest materials.  I was honestly shocked to see B2 by Gary Gygax as the adventure they selected.  That was certainly a signal that WoC has its eyes set on the past.  



That's kind of the point I'm making here: community.wizards.com/dndnext/go/thread/...
I hope they will turn this around in the next iterations of the playtest.
Did I hear someone say "Adventure Time RPG"

I would go to there.
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Yes, I am expressing my opinions (even complaints - le gasp!) about the current iteration of the play-test that we actually have in front of us. No, I'm not going to wait for you to tell me when it's okay to start expressing my concerns (unless you are WotC). (And no, my comments on this forum are not of the same tone or quality as my actual survey feedback.)
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A DM and the players play a huge role in whether a game is fun/immersive/whatever, but there are still good rulesets, weaker rulesets, niche rulesets, rulesets that are easier to pick up, etc. I would describe my breadth of experience with RPG systems as "moderate" - I've used a handful of different systems, including most of the really big names plus some random stuff, but even from my position it's clear that different rulesets facilitate different things differently well. There are no shortage of games that are either in D&D's conceptual space, in a subset of its conceptual space, or that encompass its conceptual space. D&D is moderately rules-heavy, moderately difficult to pick up, fairly easy to prep for (at least until higher levels), fairly easy to create characters in, extremely cinematic, fairly abstracted, not at all gritty, high character customizability, teamwork-focused, etc. These are more or less all true of at least 2e through 4e and PF. You can certainly force many of these parameters away from where the system naturally puts them, and in many cases it's not at all difficult to do so, but other systems are much more built around, say, ease of character creation (usually at the cost of mechanical depth and/or option breadth). Other systems spike character customizability even higher, at the cost of making characters harder to put together. (GURPS, for example.)

It's honestly not clear to me what their strategy is with Next. I mean, across the hall at the Magic: The Gathering offices they're enjoying their game doing wildly better than it ever has before, and they got there by focusing on the new player experience. Even if the D&D team wanted to try that strategy - which I think is what they were going for with Essentials - I don't think anyone agrees on what's best for new players and how to do that without alienating existing players.  Magic figured it out (there was some initial grumbling about "dumbing down the game", but they figured out a way to preserve actual strategic complexity while removing a lot of "what the heck does this card even do?" complexity), but I don't know what that looks like for D&D. The conservative strategy may be best - just preserve the people you've got and hope they bring in their friends faster than attrition.
Dwarves invented beer so they could toast to their axes. Dwarves invented axes to kill people and take their beer. Swanmay Syndrome: Despite the percentages given in the Monster Manual, in reality 100% of groups of swans contain a Swanmay, because otherwise the DM would not have put any swans in the game.
I think whenever WoC and TSR before them attempted to "baby down" DnD it has largely failed.  Thirteen year olds don't want something "made for kids."  They want something that is cool.  That was the charm of AD&D, the game was pretty simple, really, but it was clearly designed for adults. Kids felt they were getting something cool.  TSR didn't understand it at the time but by not marketing to kids they made it cool.  

A complete beginner could sit down and play the game as long as someone at the table kind of knew what they were doing.  I remember DM-ing AD&D for friends as a kid having never played before.  No one else in our group had played before either.  There's no way you could do that with 4e or 3.5.  There's a steep learning curve, even for character generation.  That is probably the biggest barrier to new involvement -- you have to join an existing group.   

Before you conclude I am making conflcting points consider chess.  The rules are pretty simple but underneath the simplicity are layer after layer of complexity.

WoC has to pull a rabbit out of the hat -- create rules with a minimal learning curve for new players and DMs but provide a deeper experience for existing players and those seeking to grow.

 
A complete beginner could sit down and play the game as long as someone at the table kind of knew what they were doing.  I remember DM-ing AD&D for friends as a kid having never played before.  No one else in our group had played before either.  There's no way you could do that with 4e or 3.5.  There's a steep learning curve, even for character generation.  That is probably the biggest barrier to new involvement -- you have to join an existing group.

See, I had an experience which was almost the exact opposite. I felt that AD&D had a much steeper learning curve, because it was much more lethal. In 3.5, and especially 4e, you could stumble your way through the game a bit, and probably survive a bit. And, besides, the mechanics were nice and simple, so even if I was very sub-optimal, at first, I at least knew, largely, what I was doing.

I am currently raising funds to run for President in 2016. Too many administrations have overlooked the international menace, that is Carmen Sandiego. I shall devote any and all necessary military resources to bring her to justice.

In fact, one thing that MLP did very well was distancing itself from the original show in a lot of ways. And it worked. Sincerely, if WotC wanted to attract new customers, young and not so young, I think they should partner with Cartoon Network and work on Adventure Time: The RPG. And make a REAAAAALLY EASY and REAAAAAAALLY ABSTRACT/SILLY roleplaying system to act both as a gateway "drug" for children and as merchandise for older fans of the show.





Holy.... Radical... Mathematics.....
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