You are viewing freeport_pirate

Ex-Teenage Rebel Redux - 4E and New Players [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Chris Pramas

[ website | Ex-Teenage Rebel ]
[ userinfo | livejournal userinfo ]
[ archive | journal archive ]

4E and New Players [Jun. 13th, 2008|05:15 pm]
Previous Entry Add to Memories Share Next Entry
[Tags|, ]
[music |The Clash "Compete Control"]

Note: I want to be clear up front that this is not a review of 4E in general. I am critiquing it as a vehicle for introducing new players into roleplaying. I am not saying it's a bad game or that you are a bad person if you like it. Nor does this bear upon Green Ronin's plans to potentially support 4E with product. That's a whole other discussion (the gist of which is, if it makes sense, we'll do it).
 
D&D occupies a unique place in the RPG ecosystem. It was the first RPG and created the entire category it continues to dominate. It also tends to be the entry point for most people into the hobby. While there have been some alternate avenues, most notably Vampire: The Masquerade, most roleplayers get their start with D&D. Despite this D&D has a checkered history in attracting new players since the days of the original Basic Set. TSR and WotC after them have had acquisition strategies that were either confused or ineffective. When I heard that 4E was going to radically rebuild D&D, my biggest hope was that the new iteration would be good acquisition game. The hobby needs more roleplayers, plain and simple, and I hoped 4E might help deliver them.
 
My assessment after having the books for a few weeks: it fails.
 
I say this because ultimately the new Player's Handbook is not a viable entry point for most new players. Now I know there are some entry products coming down the pipe, but to my mind a new player should be able to read the PHB and learn how to play the game. Entry sets come and go and stores may or may not have them in stock, but the Player's Handbook will always be there. It is the cornerstone of the line, the book that sells better than all others. It should be approachable and friendly to new players.
 
The 4E PHB, however, has some issues. Let's take a look at them in detail.
 
No Sales Text: I remember when we got in the 3E PHBs at WotC. I immediately flipped mine over to read the back cover text. I was appalled that it made no attempt to sell D&D. It basically said, "Hey, it's the new edition of D&D." Imagine my surprise to find 4E repeating this same error. Most of the back cover is empty. There are two short paragraphs of text and again they do not even try to sell the game. They don't explain what a roleplaying game is or why it's fun. It is apparently assumed that anyone looking at this book already knows that. You can tell someone that the book "provides everything players need to create and run heroic characters through legendary dungeons of dread," but that means nothing to folks new to roleplaying.
 
The Great Wall: Chapter 1 does have a reasonable, if short, intro to the game. Then the book gets into character creation. It's a little hinky that the races chapter has a bunch of powers in it when they haven't been explained yet, but I can see why they are there. The trouble starts in Chapter 4: Classes. This chapter is a killer. Since each class has 80-90 powers and all of them are nested here, this chapter is enormous and daunting. It is 125 pages, or almost as long as the entire 1st edition PHB. I've been gaming since I was 10 years old and my eyes glazed over the first time I tried to make it though Chapter 4. The powers soon started blending together. Also, a huge number of them use the [w] notation and this is explained nowhere in this chapter. You don't find out what it means until Chapter 7: Equipment, in fact.
 
No Newb Class: In every previous edition of D&D there has been at least one easy-to-play class that you could start people off with, fighter being the classic choice. 4E gives an equal number of powers to all classes, which means that playing any of them is like running a spellcaster in previous editions. There are at least some suggested builds for each class, so that's something but playing a 4E character for the first time still requires a more decision making than I think is advisable for new gamers
 
Not Enough Examples: Good rulebooks should have a lot of examples. You might think a rule is clear when you write it, but it often isn't as crystal as you believe. There are very few examples in the PHB until the combat chapter and even that really needs more. There is no character creation example that follows through the entire process and no extended combat example. Showing a new player how it all comes together is key, so leaving these out is a mistake.
 
Poor Reference Tools: This is a 320 page book and it has a 1 page index. Not helpful. Nor does it have a glossary of terms. Oh, and all those powers in Chapter 4? There's no alphabetical list of those with page numbers so you can look them up by name. All of this is bad enough for experienced players but it's deadly for newbies.
 
Core Experience Is Hardcore: All the preceding could have been mitigated to some degree if the core experience was easy to get into. Unfortunately, 4E is for hardcore gamers, not casual players. It seeks to provide a robust system for tactical combat and in so doing it makes the game fairly unapproachable. Or to put it more simply: the game is too damn complicated. There are powers and feats and class abilities (which can be like feats or like powers!), there are multiple temporary modifiers that need to be remembered and tracked, and there are ultimately too many choices for new players to make. I learned (ironically enough, when I was working at WotC) that limiting options is often better for new players, as offering too much choice can paralyze them.
 
What is perhaps most perplexing about these choices on WotC's part is that their new publishing plan involves releasing one big hardback book per month. That being the case, they could have easily pushed the more complicated elements into the supplements and made the core game a whole lot more approachable. That would have given the hardcore gamers what they want, while not pushing away the newbies and the casual gamers.
 
 
Now I understand 4E is selling well and this is no surprise. We are talking about a new edition of D&D here. It's a brand so powerful that even WotC's godawful marketing campaign for 4E couldn't make this a non-event in the world of nerdery. Only a tiny fraction of the people buying the books are new players though. The vast majority of them are current or lapsed gamers. They want to check out the new edition of this classic game and see if it's for them. The real test will come a year from now, when the newness will have worn off. Then we'll see if 4E really sticks.
 
I am sure, however, that WotC will end up with a healthy audience for 4E. Will it succeed in really bringing in new players though? That I am much less certain of. I do not think the PHB is the introduction to D&D is should have been. Titles like the Basic Set may help somewhat, but it's likely that true acquisition will continue to come from existing gamers introducing others to the hobby. That's a shame because I think 4E had a real chance to bring in the new blood the RPG industry desperately needs.
 
linkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: savageplanet
2008-06-14 12:27 am (UTC)

(Link)

My feeling is that new player acquisition isn't really a goal for this version of D&D and that the target audience is the type of player who is part of the RPGA.

If new players come in, great, and there will probable be a product somewhere down the road that will try and be that intro product needed, but the PHB isn't it.
[User Picture]From: blizack
2008-06-14 12:41 am (UTC)

(Link)

Although I'm enjoying the game thus far, I think I agree with a lot of what you're saying here. I will say, though, that I still find this version of the game more approachable for the DM than the last edition. 4E might not bring in a lot of new roleplayers, but it will make a lot of them more willing to run games, rather than just play them, I think.

What I find interesting is that there is a huge thread on RPG.net comparing 4E to Nintendo's Wii - something aimed at casual gamers that isn't hardcore enough to satisfy dedicated, more experienced ones. Weird.
[User Picture]From: codrus
2008-06-14 01:23 am (UTC)

(Link)

In my experience, you build up the gamer pool by having more people willing to run games, so that isn't necessarily a bad approach.
[User Picture]From: codrus
2008-06-14 01:22 am (UTC)

(Link)

I mostly agree with everything you posted here. Some additional comments.

"The Great Wall" -- Maybe they could have organized it a bit different, but in my first read through, I tended to read the first 2-3 pages, and then skipped to the next class -- I didn't see a need to try to deep-dive on any class, and I think reading it that way isn't really a good way to go about it. I suppose one possibility would have been to organize the paragon and epic stuff elsewhere in the book -- maybe even a supplement. But then people would complain they weren't getting a complete game.

"No Newb Class" -- I disagree a bit here. There's no class that only uses basic attacks, but rogues (and possibly rangers) make pretty decent starter characters. The powers are pretty straightforward. As we've discussed before, I don't think starting a new player with 4-5 abilities is particularly bad, but if you really feel players need to be eased in, you start with a teaching session where they just get their at-will powers. I haven't looked at the DMG enough to see whether they have any advice along those lines.

"Not Enough Examples" -- Agreed it would have been nice to have a single walkthrough for character generation, but as it is, you can mostly do it with just a little page flipping. You pick a race, a class and a build, and you are mostly done other than the paperwork. Sadly, stat picking feels a lot more important than it used to be -- it is harder to work around mistakes in initial characteristic generation, since you can't back it up with magic items. If I take a low strength, am I screwed for life because I can't hit anything?

"Poor Reference Tools" -- I was very disappointed with the meager index. Having a good index, a list of all the status effect, and a definitions section would have been far better. I thought 3.x did a decent job there.

"Core Experience is Hardcore" -- all the situational modifiers (especially on feats) seemed like the biggest mechanical sore point for me. Most of the rest of this discussion is organizational problems. It isn't quite as bad as I thought it was going to be, but it still more complicated than it had to be.

Sadly, from the first monsters in H1, there are some significant fiddly bits to how their shifts and immediate reactions work. Kobolds are cool now, but are probably not a good choice for new GMs. There were MANY questions on enworld about how their abilities work.

WOTC does have some sort of beginner's package on their schedule, so I guess my question becomes "are the goalposts being moved?" If their intent was to sell the PHB to brand new players who would learn the game from scratch without assistance from experienced roleplayers, then they've probably failed. But at this point, they aren't selling to those folks, they are selling to the converted. And as I've suggested, I'm not sure that anyone learns these games entirely from scratch any more.

Did Wizards ever do blind testing with people unfamiliar with pencil and paper gaming? I'd be curious to see the 1-way mirror tests where you give a group a complete set of books and see what they do with it.
[User Picture]From: mysticalforest
2008-06-14 03:48 am (UTC)

(Link)

If their intent was to sell the PHB to brand new players who would learn the game from scratch without assistance from experienced roleplayers, then they've probably failed.
They've said as much that it's not, that the intro product is intended to get brand new players and DMs.

they are selling to the converted.
True.

I'm not sure that anyone learns these games entirely from scratch any more.
Agreed. But, that needs to change.

Did Wizards ever do blind testing with people unfamiliar with pencil and paper gaming?
Absolutely, yes. Have done and continue to do.
[User Picture]From: unseelie23
2008-06-14 04:16 am (UTC)

(Link)

Strictly speaking, I'm not sure the early adopters are also likely to be new players. You aim at the established crowd, let them generate buzz, and then release a newbie book.

The only problem with that, as Chris pointed out, is the PBH is the one book that they'll always be able to find.
[User Picture]From: codrus
2008-06-14 05:32 am (UTC)

(Link)

They've said as much that it's not


I've never seen this explicitly stated -- it makes sense.
From: (Anonymous)
2008-07-05 08:42 pm (UTC)

(Link)

I learned 2.0 rules with the help of friends. I had fun, but I didn't feel particularly accomplished. Everyone already knew how to play. Then 3.0 came out. Everyone was in the dark again (relatively speaking). I learned 3.x from scratch. Took me a week to get the mechanics, two to learn how to whip out a character without too much trouble, and a month until I knew more than my DM, who had been working with the new rules for a while before I could get my hands on the books. Within 6 months, I had an encyclopedic knowledge of the core rulebooks and dozens of supplements, could calculate monster stats in my head, and could quote verbatim from the core books. In short, I was intensely nerdy. Good thing I'm going to library school, eh?

But then 4.0 was released. I was in the dark again, even more so than at the dawn of 3.0. And not a damn bit of it made sense. The books are ugly, to start with. The 3.x rulebooks looked like they could have been bound in leather and monstrous strips of flesh and metal. The 4.0 books just look like giant Magic cards. And this similarity extends to the interior of the books, too. The branching, homogeneous abilities. The constant babysitting that has to be done in order to preserve "tactical superiority." Honestly, I don't want to make a character and be forced to remember offhand how much damage "Hammer of the Unholy Fishwife" does at 7th level, nor try to figure out why I can only do "Meteor Swarm" once a day as a 30th level Wizard (okay, maybe twice, depending on the epic track you take. And I certainly don't want to be shoe-horned into "Paragon" classes at 10th level. Granted, in terms of optimization very few 3.x classes are longer than 10 levels, but at least you still have the option to see them to the end.

The whole systems seems very limiting, and entirely devoid of the flexibility of previous versions. In my limited testing of the rules, it also seems to have killed a lot of the roleplaying elements that have always been an important part of D&D.
[User Picture]From: mysticalforest
2008-07-05 08:51 pm (UTC)

(Link)

I must say I disagree almost in toto with everything in the last two paragraphs.
[User Picture]From: sadrx
2008-06-14 01:26 am (UTC)

(Link)

"It's likely that true acquisition will continue to come from existing gamers introducing others to the hobby."

I think they're accepting this to be the way it is, but to be honest, I found the PHB fairly new-player friendly in its layout, flavour, and technical writing. If, however, you accept that the number one source for new players is existing players introducing them, like at the Game Day events, I think 4e is definitely very friendly. Sit someone down with a pre-made character, don't show them the PHB, and if 4e is their style, they dive right into that tactical combat with their friends in no time. 3e might have had the easy-to-play fighter, but then you had to rely on the local DM to allow the new player's PC to shine when he really does the same thing every round. With the 4e fighter, dropping down two minions in a single swing with Cleave or reliably doing 3 x weapon damage in a single hit vs the BBEG will help assuredly give spotlight time to new players in combat scenarios -- likewise for skill challenges. In 3e, new players are often unsure of how to contribute to an open scenario. Consider this quote, which I have found to be very accurate:

Most of us are in agreement that this younger generation -- raised on video games -- has learned to be reactive, instead of active, and worse, they have lost their imaginative abilities and creativity because the games provide all of the images, sounds, and possible outcomes for them. Our students tend to not know how to initiate questions, formulate hypotheses, or lead off a debate because they like to see what 'comes at them.' They also have difficulty imagining worlds (places and/or historical times) unless you (as a professor) can provide them with a picture and a sound to go along with the worlds. . . . In essence, they seem to have lost the ability to visualize with their minds.

-Lara M. Brown, professor at California State University. Game Master, The New Yorker, November 6, 2006.
I have found skill challenges puts the mechanics in the players hands in a way that strongly encourages doing something other than being reactionary. Involvement starts off slow, but people quickly dive in to this mechanic and go around the table figuring out ways to apply their character's strengths to a given problem.

Maybe WotC could have explored other avenues, but if D&D's best source of new players comes through playing with those who already have experience, I feel 4e strongly caters to this kind of first-time play experience.
[User Picture]From: dhw
2008-06-14 01:44 am (UTC)

(Link)

Honestly, I think the number of people who come into the hobby by buying a book and getting started is pretty minimal at this point.

People come in because someone they know invites them to play. The gating factor is GMs, not reading the rulebook. The sheer brilliance of earlier versions of Minds Eye Theater was that it was a mechanically simple, very elegant system, that enabled a handful of GMs to run games for far more people than they ever could tabletop. It was a great entry gateway on college campuses.
[User Picture]From: wordwill
2008-06-14 03:33 am (UTC)

(Link)

It also fostered a sequestered subculture with minimal crossover to tabletop RPGs at large and generated very poor revenue for its size.
[User Picture]From: dhw
2008-06-14 05:41 am (UTC)

(Link)

They certainly failed to monetize the player base. There were some improvements in the Revised time frame when they added Minds Eye Theater rules to the Splatbooks.

That doesn't change the fact that it was a great gateway.
[User Picture]From: wordwill
2008-06-14 03:51 pm (UTC)

(Link)

It was a fine gateway to what is, practically, a different pastime than tabletop RPGs. The crossover was surprisingly low.
[User Picture]From: skaldheim
2008-06-14 03:22 am (UTC)

(Link)

I flipped through a 4e PHB for the first time about an hour ago. I hit the "Great Wall" and my eyes glazed too. Page after page of candy-colored power headings -- it looked more like a Brady guide to an MMO than a D&D rulebook. Meh.

I think that WotC's marketing plan is to depend on what's left of its audience to do their evangelizing for them.
[User Picture]From: mysticalforest
2008-06-14 03:55 am (UTC)

(Link)

I think that WotC's marketing plan
They have no plan. C'mon.
[User Picture]From: mysticalforest
2008-06-14 03:54 am (UTC)

(Link)

his chapter is a killer. Since each class has 80-90 powers and all of them are nested here, this chapter is enormous and daunting.
Only if you're trying to read the totality of the chapter and absorb it all at once, which is unnecessary. That's not at all how I grokked its intention and not how I read it.

In learning the game myself I only read the first one or two levels' worth of powers because they're of no concern right now and then moved on to the next class.

Part of the PH is a reference manual, meaning it's not really supposed to be read every word from page one to last in sequence.
[User Picture]From: mouseferatu
2008-06-14 05:05 am (UTC)

(Link)

No Newb Class: In every previous edition of D&D there has been at least one easy-to-play class that you could start people off with, fighter being the classic choice. 4E gives an equal number of powers to all classes, which means that playing any of them is like running a spellcaster in previous editions. There are at least some suggested builds for each class, so that's something but playing a 4E character for the first time still requires a more decision making than I think is advisable for new gamers

You know, I share this concern. Fighters used to be a great choice for newbies, because they had precious little complexity. But now, in addition to the fact that everyone has (more or less) the same number of powers, fighters have their various "sticky" class features (special rules for opportunity attacks, special rules for people who shift near them). Those new abilities make the class really cool and fun to play, and very effective at what they do--but you're absolutely right that they make the class as complex as any other.

Rogues have a similar problem, in that their primary abilities function better if you're playing the rogue as a highly-mobile character, and/or doing a lot of skill use in combat. Again, something that I find adds a lot of fun, but could prove intimidating to a new player.

I'm honestly not sure what the solution is. I've actually given some thought to creating a new class specifically designed for newbies, something with very simple class features and only two powers to choose from at each level. The problem is that, even if I could figure out how to do it and still make the class exciting to play, I'm not sure where I could publish it. Dragon Online and third-party companies would both be viable options, but neither is likely to reach the audience for whom said class is intended--specifically, newbies to the game.
[User Picture]From: jedisoth
2008-06-14 10:34 am (UTC)

(Link)

The old-style fighter is still my favorite class to play, despite having played D&D since the early 80s. I never liked playing spellcasters.

So, it's not just newbies that like simplistic classes (though, I agree, those are ideal classes for someone to cut their teeth on).
[User Picture]From: gamerguy
2008-06-14 05:13 am (UTC)

(Link)

I was appalled at the one page index, which doesn't even cover some of the basic stuff. The 3E index was pretty darn good; in fact, probably the best D&D index ever.

I still think that 'D&D', the first book you pick up, should be much like the Blue Rose book or Savage Worlds. All the rules you need under one hood: characters (Fighter, Wizard, Rogue; all the others should be done as templates from these), monsters, treasure, adventure creation, DM advice, etc. One book. Then branch out from there.
[User Picture]From: aeforge
2008-06-14 05:13 am (UTC)

(Link)

What got me is the godawful layout and general page structure, in all three books. I can see them simplifying it for online viewing, but compared to the 3rd edition books the 4e stuff is, well, amateurish. It looks like someone opened InDesign, dumped in all the text, and sent it to the printer. Not to mention that the typography is all wrong - the headings don't stand out enough, and the skill/feat entries with their multi-colored bars draw the eye in all the wrong ways. And don't get me started about the bugbear being found under letter G in the MM.
[User Picture]From: daidoujimiako
2008-06-14 05:18 am (UTC)

(Link)

I cannot agree more here. I was not impressed at all. (Really, I just really liked those lines in the background of the early 3.5 books, the ones that made it look like the words were written on lined paper :3)
[User Picture]From: richgreen01
2008-06-14 08:13 am (UTC)

(Link)

I really disagree with this. I think the layout of all three books is crisp and much clearer than 3.x. However, I do agree that the index is too short.

4e's powers in the Classes chapter of the PH = 1e, 2e & 3.x's Spells chapter. I can't face reading these all the way through either but I don't think there's a better way of presenting all that crunch.
[User Picture]From: daidoujimiako
2008-06-14 05:17 am (UTC)

(Link)

Reading previous posts to see if this has been mentioned? Hah.

While I agree to almost all of your points, I see one other thing.

4e is very easy for beginners to learn, if they have an experienced player guiding them.

My game is introducing three people brand new to roleplaying, one of which doesn't even play video games. In turn, I helped each of them make a character, and then we played a quicky random dungeon, and it went surprisingly well. Character creation is actually a lot easier if you are there to explain what [w] means, and that "well, most monsters will have X HP and you'll be doing between Y and Z damage if you hit with this" and so forth.
Of course, it's daunting for a brand new player to buy a PH and be expected to come to game day with a fully functional character. (Chances are, they'll use pen on the demo character sheet in the back, like one of the players did before I could help them.) But if there is someone to explain all of the things that you take for granted, it is not a bad beginner system.
From: http://openid.aol.com/winningerr
2008-06-14 07:06 am (UTC)

(Link)

The comics industry nosedived about 15 years ago when the inmates finally took control of the asylum. The industry reached a generation where all the major creators had grown up as obsessive fanboys and when their turn came they produced stories geared toward other obsessive fanboys. Soon casual readers couldn't hope to follow the convoluted storylines so deeply steeped in decades of comics trivia and the whole industry was no longer attracting enough new readers to replace the old readers inevitably lost to attrition. Today a mid-list DC title sells about a quarter of what a comparable title sold in the mid-80s.

I fear that the RPG industry has succumbed to this same temptation. Its audience is also dramatically smaller than it was in the early 90s and it's no wonder. 4E (like 3E before it) is a love letter to hardcore gamers. It's undoubtedly true that the PHB wasn't designed to be an acquisition product but that just begs the question--what is WotC's acquisition strategy? The 3E strategy was abysmal.

So what should WotC do: bring back Dungeons & Dragons! The classic variety. The version that you can explain in 10 minutes and that allows you to create a character in 90 seconds. With the new 4E core books (and so far, I think I like what I see; huge improvement over 3E), WotC should have brought back the *AD&D* brand. D&D is the acquisition game; AD&D is for the hardcore. Even though their execution was pretty poor this simple strategy worked well for TSR for a long time. -- Ray W.
From: doccross
2008-06-14 01:51 pm (UTC)

(Link)

Wow! Talk about hitting the nail on the head. I agree with everything you said, especially the part about bringing back good old classic D&D.

Of course, many small companies and some individuals have rejiggered classic D&D already, in some cases barely filing off the serial numbers. Maybe some larger game company (with better resources to promote products) ought to buy the rights to one of them and run with it.
[User Picture]From: iamnikchick
2008-06-14 03:05 pm (UTC)

(Link)

The industry reached a generation where all the major creators had grown up as obsessive fanboys and when their turn came they produced stories geared toward other obsessive fanboys. Soon casual readers couldn't hope to follow the convoluted storylines so deeply steeped in decades of comics trivia and the whole industry was no longer attracting enough new readers to replace the old readers inevitably lost to attrition.

Dead on, I think. I just received an e-mail from a friend who hasn't touched D&D since AD&D. He played AD&D for 15 years, played (and hated) GURPS for a while. He's no dummy and no "newb" to RPGs. He and his buddies have decided to get back into gaming with 4E and he's appalled. An example of his complaints: "The DM's Guide constantly refers to a DC number. This begins on page 12, with an example of pushing a lit brazier onto an orc. Fine. I can tell it's some sort of skill check. I'd rather the DC were spelled out, but I can live with that. But then there are THIRTY PAGES of material that make reference to whatever DC is in varying contexts, etc. Again, I can tell it's some sort of arbitrary skill check, but I don't know what DC means and I don't know where to find the rule for it. The index is no help. (The index is rather poor, actually.)

FINALLY on page 42 we get a small bit about Difficulty Class. And at the bottom of that page there's a table about Difficulty Class that indicates DC is the abbreviation. But there's nothing there that really explains it."

He's convinced that the books were written by people with intimate knowledge of the rules *for* people with familiarity with the rules. He has no axe to grind, he's not a 4E "hater", he's just a guy who wanted to get back into D&D and he's meeting frustration and disappointment in the process.
From: http://openid.aol.com/winningerr
2008-06-14 11:40 pm (UTC)

(Link)

I feel your friend's pain. I almost wore out my fingertips flipping pages to figure out what that "[W]" means in those hundreds of pages of power descriptions.--Ray W.
[User Picture]From: boymonster
2008-06-15 03:04 am (UTC)

(Link)

I knew what all the new lingo meant because I'd been glued to the ENWorld preview postings for the past 6+ months. :)
[User Picture]From: varkiasinflight
2008-06-15 06:23 pm (UTC)

(Link)

That would be becuase the first reference to Difficulty Class (and the abbreviation DC) is on pg. 25 of the *PHB* - normally a prerequisite for the Gamemaster's Guide in any game that has both.

Hmm... have there been any games where the role of the GM is considered to be different enough from the other players that the GM's book DIDN'T assume familiarity with the Player's book? (ie., "You read this book, and everyone else reads that other book.")
[User Picture]From: wordwill
2008-06-14 04:01 pm (UTC)

(Link)

Man, I was with you up until the call for AD&D. It's a needless division of the player base, I say. If the advantages of the classic variety of D&D are "explainable in 10 minutes" and character-creation in "90 seconds," then a good Red Box-esque starter set can still do that with D&D 4E—the system IS very simple to play with, and I find optimization emerges naturally through play. The DM is there to make sure that monsters play at a level that matches PC investment.

The trouble, I say, is not how 4E is devised as a system, but how it is explained in the books. They are intended for easier reference than reading, good or ill.

A D&D starter set could be written specifically to get the game across in 10 minutes to a ready-to-play noob with character creation consisting of "pick two of these, one of these, and one of these—now go be a hero!" The trouble is that, if Keep on the Shadowfell is our indicator, the starter set may not be written quite this way. It needs to come packaged with a good DM.
[User Picture]From: misuba
2008-06-14 05:23 pm (UTC)

(Link)

The problem is that people, kids especially, don't want a starter set - they want "the real game," even if that doesn't serve their needs. Convincing them that a starter set is better takes a hand-sell, which D&D almost never gets.

The PHB and DMG are brands with their own appeal, just like D&D; splitting the D&D brand back into D&D and AD&D could give people the PHB they want without overwhelming them. At the same time, you can explain to more sophisticated readers that there is no actual rules incompatibility between the two anymore.
[User Picture]From: david_chunn
2008-06-14 07:04 pm (UTC)

(Link)

I agree with pretty much everything you said.
From: louprosperi
2008-06-15 11:35 pm (UTC)

(Link)

Hi Ray,

As others have noted, you're spot on with this. Of course, this is something that has happened in other mediums as well, and I would even suggest it's not the first time it's happened in gaming. I found the following on a site describing the history of jazz (bebop in particular). The idea of jazz performers being more concerned with developing the technical aspects of their art rather than with enlarging their audience seems somehow... familiar.

Start Quote:
Bebop marks the stage at which jazz completed its transformation from entertainment into art. Although there was certainly much in jazz music that qualified as art prior to bebop, during the 1930s swing music to a large extent played much the same role as rock music has since the 1950s--entertaining masses of youth. Jazz was usually tied to dancing or to backing entertainers who sang and danced. (There were exceptions, of course. For example, John Hammond promoted jazz "concerts," a novel conception at the time, in venues such as Carnegie Hall.)

Bop marked the point at which both the musicians and their audience became widely conscious that jazz was an art form. For the first time serious listening to the music, especially the improvised solos, became primary. The musicians concerned themselves, for the most part, more with developing the technical aspects of the music and increasing its aesthetic qualities, rather than just creating something that would enlarge their audience, and therefore their wallets.
End Quote



Take Care,

Lou
[User Picture]From: jedisoth
2008-06-14 10:30 am (UTC)

(Link)

Oh! Would that I could get away with a mere 1-page index on a 320 page book! I think my record is 12 pages for a 400-page book (and I had to resize the text and shrink the leading so that it would fit the 400-pages for printing signature purposes).

People like you, and JD Wiker are so much better at articulating the things that bother me about 4E. I'm glad y'all have blogs!
[User Picture]From: thebitterguy
2008-06-14 01:01 pm (UTC)

(Link)

There's always The D&D for Dummies book.
From: fabio_mp
2008-06-14 02:53 pm (UTC)

(Link)

I think the idea is

miniatures/videogames -> boxed basic d&d -> D&D

miniatures and the boxed basic D&D should be the starting game for totally newby groups

try the basic D&D to get a feel of what is beyond the miniature game

I suppose they are giving out a simplified version with fewer races, fewer choices and a lot of walk in
[User Picture]From: david_chunn
2008-06-14 07:17 pm (UTC)

(Link)

I agree with what's said after flipping through the book at the store, and returning it to the shelf.

After seeing The Wall, my wife said we wouldn't be trying 4e. She's done. We've played all the other post 1978 editions, save 3.5, but now we're likely finished. (I think I can persuade her to try it out for a few sessions later, just to say we played, but that's it. But someone else in our group will have to fork over the money for it. I won't.)

This isn't a good game for newbies. It's not a good game for those who missed 3.5 and last played 3.0 in 2001/2002. It's not good for folks who can only get together with friends every 3 weeks to play. That's not enough time for rules mastery. No one in my group has stayed in touch with the ever increasing complexity of D&D, so we have to learn it from the book alone.

Took me forever to figure out those stupid [w]'s. Does WotC not employ writers and editors? Is it just designers?

Note: I think 4e is probably one of the best designed games ever, but I don't care for all the complexity or for the poorly written text nor the arrogance coming from some company employees and ad campaign. I also don't like the lack of a 4e in the title, as if it's the only edition that matters.
[User Picture]From: david_chunn
2008-06-14 07:21 pm (UTC)

(Link)

Oh, and 75% of the art is shockingly bad. Especially the digital crap. What happened to WotC's resources? Art is a great way to bring in new folks.

When I showed the books on the shelf to my wife, her response was, "I don't see the 4e books." She thought the 4e books were 3.5 supplements. That's poor branding. After she realized what they were, she agreed with me that while the covers are somewhat striking and interesting, they're not distinctive or grabbing enough for a new edition.
[User Picture]From: boymonster
2008-06-15 03:05 am (UTC)

(Link)

Weird. I think they look completely different. No fake "tome" look, etc.
[User Picture]From: david_chunn
2008-06-15 05:21 am (UTC)

(Link)

Oh yeah. Different from the last core books, but not all that different from the supplements following them.

I liked the 3.0 tome look, though I thought they went overboard with the gem stones. Obviously, 3.5 upped the bling with those and made it worse.
[User Picture]From: david_chunn
2008-06-15 05:23 am (UTC)

(Link)

I feel I should add: The art that I said was crap isn't truly crap. It'd be pretty good art for most game publishers, and it's better than what I could afford to buy for a project. Still, I expect better from WotC. Especially since good art is your best gateway to bringing in new people. The Stormbringer 4e cover by Whelan drew me into fantasy rpgs when I spotted in a comic shop when I was 14.

I do like the new clean, easy on the eyes layout. That is much, much, much improved from previous editions.
[User Picture]From: pwca
2008-06-15 11:30 pm (UTC)

(Link)

Interesting how this new version of the game is now "Dungeons & Dragons," when every roleplayer is not to refer to it as such, but rather as 4e or Fourth Edition, or Fourth Ed.
[User Picture]From: brown_ant
2008-06-17 11:02 pm (UTC)

(Link)

I wonder if the GSL would allow one to create a "Basic Set" like the Red Box edition. I cut my teeth on the Moldvay Basic Set and I firmly believe that the 'Introductory Kit' approach is the best way for a newbie to learn the ropes. The Red Box introduced me and the neighbourhood kids to a life-time love of the hobby. I've heard and read similar stories about the other flavours of the basic set (Mentzer) and the 3 Little Brown Books (though that last wasn't as accessible to the uninitiated.)

The D&D Basic Set was available through mainstream stores, I remember ads in comic books, youth magazines and apparently there were TV ads as well.

I'm not saying that a 'Basic Kit' has to be a commercially viable product on its own, but it doesn't HAVE to be. It can be a 'loss leader' to encourage sales of your 3 Big Core Books.

I remember seeing 3.5E Basic Game sets on book store shelves so the Introductory Kit approach has been in play recently. However, I also remember those same 3.5E Basic Game Sets languishing on shelves (the plastic cover was torn and the box corners and edges were all roughed up).
So availability isn't the issue. There needs to be something that motivates the buyer to pickup that basic set off the mainstream shelf and actually play. Isn't that the role of marketing? To make the consumer aware of the product and influence their behavior (i.e. BUY the product)?

I had friends who played AD&D first. Then again they had the college guys (who owned the books) guide them. This mirrors what daidoujimiako mentioned above "4e is very easy for beginners to learn, if they have an experienced player guiding them."

The other problem is that only a very small number of the hard-core, experience D&Ders would buy the 'Introductory Kit'. Of those who buy them, only a fraction of those would go out and round up newbs for game using the Basic Set. Hard-Core players are more likely to drop the PHB into newb hands.


Edited at 2008-06-17 11:03 pm (UTC)
From: mxyzplk.wordpress.com
2008-06-18 08:22 pm (UTC)

(Link)

Yeah, they put out a basic/intro box in 3e too but no one bought it. The Red Box etc. was the only "starter" version that was significantly marketed and bought, and it was really marketed as a complete and parallel game edition, not "Now you're ready for AD&D!".

I agree that they seem to be making it harder, not easier, to attract new players with or without existing player help - someone above moted that well, the PHB is a "reference book" and all of it isn't meant to be read. Does that sound newbie friendly? Because it's not...
From: granger44
2008-06-23 02:03 pm (UTC)

After running for some new players

(Link)

I just ran the game for my wife and son this weekend. My wife isn't sold, but she caught onto the basics pretty quickly. Meanwhile, my son was pestering me to run more "battles" all the rest of the weekend. And he caught on quite quickly as well. I did simplify things a bit, but did get into concepts like opportunity attacks, charging, the different types of actions, and why which power you use might be situational. I even taught them how to read the dice notation.

I agree that the PHB could be hard to digest if you're new to the game. Then again, it was just as hard in the previous editions; the previous edition had better opening examples, but I think the prose in this game is better at explaining the basic concepts. I think having an experienced person helping teach the game is the ideal. Otherwise, getting a group of people and learning together would be my second choice.