Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Radical D&D Idea: Going All In

Recently I did a post discussing why Wizards only has the ability to focus on one D&D setting currently and how this amounts to specific settings only getting minor token articles in the forseeable future. Then there is this post on Big Ball of No Fun by Callin which sums up the frustrations of classic setting fans everywhere. Callin asks a few questions which lead into my rather radical idea:

"Are they worried about diluting the 5E customer money by supporting FR and other settings.

or...are they out of new ideas. Are they incapable of producing a new setting that won't be compared to an earlier setting. If they do a dark, gritty setting will people just say its the 5E version of Dark Sun? If they make it generic will it be "just another Forgotten Realms". They can't make a new horror or kingdom management or arabian or plane-hopping setting without drawing comparisons to their older lines. Can they not come up with a new setting that doesn't remind people of other, previous settings?

Is WotC scared of producing a new setting and having it fail?

I am trying to understand why the Forgotten Realms is the default setting for 5E. Or more to the point, why aren't they producing a completely new setting?"

The answers for all those questions above seem to be yes, because they are in a position where D&D does not take any risks. Wizards recognizes that it has several established brands of which Magic the Gathering and Forgotten Realms are their flagships. One might just as well wonder why the two haven't been merged already. It's probably because their media doesn't fit well, but moving on...Wizards doesn't seem to be in sourcebook mode right now (not even FR has one slated) but rather, have their focus on rules, novels and adventures which is perfectly understandable and okay. So with that in mind, my radical idea to respectfully incorporate all worlds of D&D is to go "all in" and tie their ongoing series of 5E storylines into the overall multiverse.

One of the biggest successes of the last several years has been comic book movies and their shared universe appeal. It worked for Marvel and now DC movies and TV shows have moved to this format. Studio squabbles aside, it makes sense when you consider the source material. There is very few comics nowadays that are self contained and not part of the larger multiverse. Applied to RPGs it should be easy because Wizards (or rather Hasbro) owns all its properties and can use pretty much anything it wants however they want. So why stick with generic, Forgotten Realm-only products when the whole of D&D existence could be their playground? It's not like there isn't plenty of precedence.

Planescape and Spelljammer as "settings" already tested the waters of trying to mix all game worlds together and they met with limited success during a time when many people say TSR was spread in too many directions. These two settings were all superb in their own right, but didn't help the base game worlds they glues together otherwise, especially considering some worlds were intentionally kept apart like Dark Suns' Athas. I hate to say it, but Planescape and Spelljammer weren't necessary to bring D&D together they just add more weight. All a DM needs to achieve this is a Gate or two.

Around the same time in the pages of Dragon, Ed Greenwood was already mixing up the Realms and other worlds with his The Wizards Three articles. Top mages, Elminster, Mordenkainen and Dalamar (Dragonlance) and others would meet time to time to share stories and spells. This is the way Wizards should approach using their D&D properties. All worlds, characters, magic, dungeons, etc. should be in play across the board. Of course back in the Wizards Three article era, all the settings used contemporary timelines and since then I know Dragonlance, FR and Greyhawk's meta-plots have progressed at different rates. Still, if done right this could create epic storylines that can span many popular worlds and bring memorable and exciting threats into play.

So far in 5E we've been introduced to a Tiamat/Cult of the Dragon plot and now the upcoming Elemental Evil story. Both are potent local threats, but they are also both multiversal threats that could simultaneously affect more than one world. I can think of one previous storyline that experimented with this to limited fame and the main villain was none other than Greyhawk's Vecna. The module Vecna Lives! started the arch-lich's scheme to become a greater god under the World of Greyhawk masthead. This adventure was originally self-contained, but later it was possible to follow it up with Vecna Reborn set in the Ravenloft setting and the generic D&D module Die Vecna Die! Three modules across potentially three worlds with one over-arcing storyline. This method of cross-world adventure writing combined with the charm of the Wizards Three could keep Wizards' writers busy and its fans guessing for years to come. The best part is no new worlds have to be created and all current worlds and concepts are back in play, plus given a share of the spotlight that they deserve.


Alan Kellogg said...

The don't want the bitching. Please remember that adolescents are very insecure and insist that things must be just so.

Anonymous said...

I don't mean to be too much of a debbie downer but I don't see much of a point to this.

Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Mystara, Forgotten Realms....they're all kitchen sink fantasy settings. So unless you're in serious mode, they're all just a generic backdrop for D&D's spells and monsters.

And there's a danger of putting all eggs in one basket. If galactus shows up in Forgotten Realms suddenly Greyhawk fans have to keep tabs on this and deal with this potential threat to their favorite dimension?

On the other hand...the named spells from gygax's home game appear in all the dimensions...that's obviously a minor oversight, but in game is evidence that they're all connected in some way. And I love that. I don't need WotC to tell me I can do it. I don't need them to do all my imagining for me.

Mike Bridges said...

Absolutely. When it comes down to it in actual play I like my Greyhawk separate from everything else. This post was a thought experiment to show it can be done, not necessarily it should be done.

Jeff M said...

What they need is a great intergalactic /interdimensional threat- the Borg or the Githyanki or such. Something that starts by destroying the Elven Imperial fleet and then consumes Athas and then continues to steamroller through worlds until the D&D Multiverse unites to fight it.