Sunday, February 20, 2011

Mearls: Legends and Lore

I came across what should be a hot topic across all gaming blogs this morning and had to chime in. Mike Mearls, who has shot to prominence designing 4th edition D&D has a new column at Wizards called "Legends and Lore." You do not need a DDI subscription to read this column. In it he tries to repair some of the fractures in the D&D community with some profound quotes and nostalgic appeals of commonality. As others have pointed out by now, Wizards and Hasbro needs to show they mean well through action not just words. At this point in my D&D playing life I wonder though, what do I demand of a company I barely patronize anymore? The two blogs I linked mention putting PDFs of older edition material back online for sale. I can get behind that idea, but I think Mearls may have tripped up in this article and gave me another idea that directly applies to Greyhawk fans or fans of any game setting languishing on the shelf right now:

"This may sound strange, coming from R&D—but it’s easy to mistake what Wizards of the Coast publishes as the core essence of D&D. We might print the rules for the current version of the game, or produce accessories you use at your table, but the game is what you, the community of D&D fans and players, make it. D&D is the moments in the game, the interplay within a gaming group, the memories formed that last forever. It’s intensely personal. It’s your experience as a group, the stories that you and your friends share to this day. No specific rule, no random opinion, no game concept from an R&D designer, no change to the game’s mechanics can alter that."

Yes, Wizards has shown for many many years now that publishing rules (crunch) is more lucrative for them than setting material (fluff). So, as he says in this quote, the community of D&D players whose experience together is intensely personal, should make the game what they want. Said another way, if Wizards wants to be forward thinking and win back quite a few fans, the World of Greyhawk should be licensed out to a company or group who will give it the attention, care and fan input that it deserves.

This is not an empty plea. The best Greyhawk material of the 3.0/3.5 edition did not come from Wizards, it came from the authors of the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer. It came from the host of authors with the RPGA's Living Greyhawk Campaign, and it came from Paizo in Dungeon Magazine, the company which Wizards now competes with. As it stands now however, the best Greyhawk fans can hope for the future is one calendar year of setting releases, which as we've seen from 2010, can be cut down at a whim. Let's not settle for PDF scraps. Wizards can have their rules R&D, no one will ever begrudge them that, but the devoted fans of world settings should be put in charge of their future development.


Anonymous said...

As a member of the "choir," allow me to say that I never tire of your "singing," Mort!

Right on the money, my friend.

If only it would really happen!

Mystic Scholar

Greg Gorgonmilk said...

I'd love to see Greyhawk (and other classic settings) given the treatment you describe.

Michael said...

Very well said and as true for Greyhawk as it is all the other settings they (WotC) have left lay fallow.

Sam said...

The problem with that plea Morte, is that if WotC licenses out Greyhawk, or any other setting for that matter, then they will be creating a competitor for themselves just as they, and you, perceive Paizo is competing with them.
The only way they could theoretically avoid that would be to prohibit the inclusion of rules crunch in the licensed products, which, while theoretically possible, defies all the CW regarding game products, so no one able to pay the fee they are asking for would want to bother. (Especially if they realize such a setup would also leave them competing with the other licensees since they'd be producing setting material without rules crunch too.)

mortellan said...

Your argument is strong Sam, yet there is room for compromise for Wizards. If it were bargained right(in the new era of DDI), it could actually be a return to the era of Wizards rules supported GH play like we had with the inception of the LGG, the LG Campaign and through Dungeon. Sure Wizards is naturally going to yank it back someday if it gets out of control but in the meantime they get years of 4e tie-in support from a rabid GH fanbase that will certainly want more than the one year that the official D&D crew can offer. This may possibly even steal back some coveted 3.5/Paizo GH fans if they advance GH from where LG left off.

Sam said...

They can't advance GH from LG left off - at least not from the vast majority of where LG left off. At best they can advance from some of the Core stuff, but the regional stuff is simply lost unless they make an absurd effort to contact dozens of authors, some of whom left on bad terms, and try to buy up all the rights from them. Mind you, more of the stuff I did for the Core is available than a lot of other stuff, so obviously I'd love to see that kept (such as the revisions I made to the Oligarchy), but I see where they are going and it is not there.

As for the rabid GH fanbase, that is even more unlikely. What they will get is the rabid organized play fanbase, most of whom will have more invested in OP and 4E than anything else, and likely include few if any that know more about GH than what they've read in the 4E books. Of course they will all claim to have been playing since the Folio, but we then hasn't every 20 something game been doing that?

Look at it this way though - if it actually does happen, everyone gets to hear me say I was wrong. So keep hoping, but I won't be updating my apology template for this.

Valkaun_Dain said...

I'd love to see some new GH material produced commercially. Until then, I would be satisfied with getting back to 'Hawk with whatever YOU come up with in our home campaign.

But I digress... I doubt WotC will do anything to fuel their competitors, especially Paizo. I'd love to see Paizo overcome WotC and buy the D&D brand away from Hasbro. It's unlikely, but one can dream.

Bobjester said...

A few weeks ago, someone asked a Greyhawk question or two on the Piazza forums that ties into this discussion very well: "If WotC were to start publishing GH material again, what would you like to see?" (paraphrased). The choices ranged from the '81 Folio pre-Wars material, current time-line & history or GH set sometime in the future.
There was also the question of GH deities represented with 4e rules question, which I think is a simple enough thing to do, considering that I am such a minimalist.

So, this discussion brings me to my point: "Why can't a Third Party do a "minimalist" Greyhawk setting, based upon the IP that WotC owns, and not the LG authors who left with grouse?"

Say Piazo (as an example) is the 3rd party and they start out with something simple, akin to the 1981 Folio. They lace it with several adventure/plot hooks and wait to see how well these are taken by the players, and based on demand, know which adventures/plots to flesh out for future publication.

This would serve two things: 1) Fans like me get to have a 4e version of a bare-bones campaign for our own development and 2) Piazo won't have to develop more than necessary beyond what the fans want to see & play.

I'm not in the business of game development or design, and I know nothing about the business, and my views may seem naive, but my peanut gallery comments is what you get on a public forum. ;)

Boz Shulun said...

They wouldn't even have to produce it in physical form. I would buy it in PDF if it were well written.

That would eliminate a glaring problem with the retail of setting material, and that is the fact that many shops are leery of wasting valuable shelf space with a product that may not move for months.

Darva said...

I beg to differ. The best material in recent years came from fans on Canonfire and other online venues, not from the RPGA or Paizo :-)

mortellan said...

I wholeheartedly agree Darva. I guess what I should clarify is the best we've had that could be published. I for one would love to see my Ull scribings become published canon and in my modest opinion I'm at the tail-end of CF's(or DF, etc) best all time writers.