Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Made for Drones

Over the next six months or so, I do not intend to talk about 5th edition.  The reader may feel confident that this blog is a Next-free zone.  I do have two players who have given me some idea of what's being offered there - it sounds to me as if WOTC has realized that it's had it's head up it's ass for about fifteen years . . . and in an effort to fix it, they've decided to put their foot up there too, in order to have it wedged between their teeth.

I got some spam from the WOTC the other day, regarding some dumb series they have going.  I jumped right back at them and spammed them about my book of essays.  Where upon a real person thanked me for the information.  So perhaps I should stop ganking the WOTC?

Nah, not yet.  I have this bizarre dream - can't really call it a fantasy - where the WOTC discovers my book How to Run, then my blog, then the content rules on my blog, and they offer me a job.  That would be funny.  Me, working for the WOTC.  I think I'd have to tell them the deal would include Mike Mearls being given his walking papers.  Chris Perkins can stay, I think - I want to see how fast I can make him hate me, and then how long after that it will take to make him a spitting, squalling infant.  I'm guessing I can do both in less than four minutes, fourteen seconds.

I cannot begin to express how much raw, unbridled hatred I have for the corporate end of this hobby. I have no real problem with people who want to work to produce products and make some money; no one is going to get rich doing this, me included, so it's just a way of getting the word out there. Nope, what I despise is the process by which we take things that work, that perform the service needed, then rehash them under the label 'improvement,' when all we've done is complicate the re-training process.  Don't like 4e?  Well, there are only about 2,000 different kinds of role-playing games on the market.  Oh wait, a bunch of fucks in an office that don't really play have released a new version.  Let's talk about that for six months.

I say that they don't really play because really, they don't.  If you think they do, then you haven't any personal relationship with the corporate world.  Managers in the corporate world do not have 'lives.'  They have spurts of non-corporate interaction with fellow humans during which they talk about their difficulties working for corporate goals, while trying to figure out how to make the few hours of their non-corporate existence more corporate-purposed.  For example, a corporate person will spend four hours on their weekend cleaning the side of a highway because it means they can wear a corporate shirt, participate with other corporate volunteers, film it, then employ that footage to make others feel guilty for not spending more of their time working towards corporate aims.

The bullshit, non-complicated one-night adventure RPG ideal is perfect for corporate types.  They can be seen to 'play,' this can be filmed, it's only a very minor distraction from their primary motivations and it can be done with pre-made packaged crap that, in turn, sells the pre-made packaged crap WHILE playing.  It is corporate perfect.

Fundamentally, you are playing a version of the game that has been designed for a corporate drone. How does that make you feel?


Matt said...

I'm not completely uninterested in 5th edition. What I've read of peoples' experiences with the playtest materials has been fairly positive. It is possible that there may be some rules or conventions of the game that I may borrow for my own games. I've been wanting to branch out a bit from my regular group and maybe fish for some players out of the local RPG hobby. I could see such people wanting to play with a modern rule-set, and I think I would much rather run 5e than Pathfinder if I had to choose between the two.

I'm not looking forward to the 5e release with any sort of expectation or glee though. I don't intend to buy the books at this time. I was rather taken in by the 4e launch, and I spent a lot of time defending that game to friends and prospective players. I'm not looking to spend that kind of time or money again.

I don't know if the people who work at WOTC play D&D at all. I don't know them. I certainly don't think they play the sort of player-driven campaign-based play that I have been striving to run. I know that player driven campaign style gaming is not a goal for WOTC though. I know because that kind of game is just not brandable the way that adventure paths and pre-packaged campaign settings are.

There is a reason that Mind Flayers, Beholders, Vecna, and Lolth are always going to be huge in D&D products. They are copyrighted. No one other than WOTC can put out a splatbook or adventure that uses these icons. There is a reason that 4e had Tieflings and Dragonborn in the PHB instead of gnomes, and that reason has everything to do with squashing 3rd party supplements and miniature production. For the matter, it's the same reason that the PHB2 and PHB3 each had their share of unusual races and classes. There is less chance you'll find a 3rd party miniature to represent your shardmind artificer than, say, a dwarven fighter.

It's also the reason that the Forgotten Realms has been a hot-spot for D&D videogames and novels for such a long time. The canon of the setting becomes so enforced amongst potential players that DMs or their players would have to shell out for all of the various regional gazetteers and local bestiaries and meta-plot supplements or risk breaking canon.

So whether or not 5e has anything worth my time, I will remember that the current structure of corporate RPGs is one that is designed to make you dependent on the brand. I'm tired of giving a shit about the brand.

Alexis Smolensk said...

The players I mentioned have been playing a 4e campaign on the side at a gaming club; they got interested in D&D about two years ago after getting their feet wet in DDO, and my world wasn't running often enough for them. They're pleased that the club has shifted from a 4e preference to D&D Next.

So it is probably better.

I have to agree about pathfinder. Having had some of pathfinder explained to me some months ago, I'm of the opinion that its a system that needs a bullet in the head.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious about the 5th edition and will probably buy the starter set at least. Maybe I'm just a sucker. Further, I'm hopeful that 5th edition is the final edition and its branding as just "D&D" is more than a marketing gimmick. That hope is probably misplaced. Ideally we're entering a time when the collective "we" stops moving the deck chairs around and instead focuses on sailing the sonuvabitch around the world. Your book might be coming out at an opportune time, Alexis. or, again, I might just be a sucker.

Matt said...

The short of it is that Pathfinder is 3.5 D&D continued. That isn't a bad thing if you like 3.5 D&D. I made the switch to 4th edition D&D because I couldn't stand the bloat and the power creep. Basically I needed 4 or 5 splatbooks on hand to keep my players happy, and anyone who went with a core class was quickly outmatched.

Pathfinder tried to fix some of the power-creep, but the bloat is there for sure. There are tons of Pathfinder products, and it is all compatible with anything from 3.5 or anything published under the OGL.

Of course, 4e eventually had the same bloating and power-creeping issue. The only thing that 4e had going for it was that I could pay for a D&D insider account and use the character builder rather than buying hundreds of dollars in splat books each year. Yeah. I thought that was a selling point. I was a tool.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Well, Matt, this should help put the whole gaming world right now into perspective.

Instinctively, I think I understood where this was going all along. I never consciously considered it would go this far.

Jeremiah Scott said...

I used AD&D and half a dozen other systems as a jumping off point for making my own system about fifteen years ago. The system I have--and love--now little resembles any of those other systems, though it certainly borrows elements from each.

Every time WOTC regurgitates some new crap and rebrands it in pretty hardcover books I have this intense feeling of relief wash over me that I never bought into their bullshit. At first because I was too poor. Now because I'm too smart.

I'm sometimes sad, sometimes gleeful watching WOTC struggle and squirm for relevance. Gleeful, because I couldn't agree with you more, Alexis, about corporate gaming. Sad, because I worry about the game losing its appeal and relevance.

But then I remember who ushered it into its current state in the first place, and I think that the best thing that could happen for the game is for WOTC and their ilk to go the way of the dodo.

Alexis Smolensk said...

There was perhaps a small chance that it might pass on before the Internet, Jeremiah . . . but if WOTC had given up in the late 80s and packed it in, DMs like me would have still carried it on and revived the hobby through the social network. I think if that had been the case, there'd right now be a powerful resurgence for freely produced materials supporting OD&D and AD&D. Imagine a world where 2nd Edition never happened because some hairdos in a boardroom said, "I don't think we're going to make money on this. Let's just sign it off and make Magic: the Gathering."

Today, we'd be arguing about the same things, but we wouldn't have an unnecessary voice muddying the water.

Clovis Cithog said...

lets be fair to WOTC late 1999, many of our blogs , retro clones and the OSR community,
would not exist except for the generous and visionary
Open Gaming Lisc
created by Ryan Darcy

Alexis Smolensk said...

Hm. I thought this blog was invented by Blogger.

I am a believer in inevitability, Clovis. We didn't really need anyone except ourselves.

Stephen Grey said...

I think you how way too far complaining about this sort of thing. Yes, it's all true, but what do you really expect from games that require so much imagination to run properly? What do you think the percentage is of dnd players who can run the game according to our definition of rightness, 1%? Less?

Who really cares what we think, and in the dimly lit cool of our own basement game rooms, does it really matter what Corporate America does to make money?

The SRD let the game out of the bag, and when they did that they allowed the diaspora to flourish. That's us. Personally is be much more likely to read your blog if it featured content rather than bitching. The amount of time I have to spend on this sort of bitching while the bitching is true, approaches zero.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I guess it really depends on what you consider 'content,' Stephen. There are over two million words written on this blog. Much of it is very descriptive of the content that I think you're looking for. You might look at the links list on the side; some of the headings might appeal to you.

At the moment, I am pouring every drop of pure imagination I have into a book I am writing, that is due for completion in early July. I'm a bit tapped for really productive blog content. I'm writing the equivalent of a term paper, complete with research, every other day. Or a thesis, if you prefer. This sort of thing, what the blog features this week, relaxes me, as I give my opinion.

Moreover, I think that discussing this material is educational, as it encourages people towards thinking of their game and the approach they have to the corporatization of their game philosophically. Philosophy is a long-standing field of study. I recognize that it may seem like "bitching" to you, but if you look carefully, you may recognize that I'm making a point about human motivation, interest, ethics and design. I consider this content.

I do understand your misgivings. I would probably be putting out something about maps right now, or trade, or perhaps gritty campaign design or social background material for adventuring and such, as I have for eight years now. But like I said, I have this book.

If you'll give me another couple of months just to get this thing out of the way, I'll get back to the kind of blogging you like.

Dave Cesarano said...

I have this bizarre dream - can't really call it a fantasy - where the WOTC discovers my book How to Run, then my blog, then the content rules on my blog, and they offer me a job. That would be funny. Me, working for the WOTC. I think I'd have to tell them the deal would include Mike Mearls being given his walking papers. Chris Perkins can stay, I think - I want to see how fast I can make him hate me, and then how long after that it will take to make him a spitting, squalling infant. I'm guessing I can do both in less than four minutes, fourteen seconds.

This.... This is one of the best paragraphs about the Wizards of the Coast that I have read in... well... quite some time. I laughed, I cried, I laughed some more.