Chad Perrin: SOB

13 August 2009

P-Day

Filed under: Geek,RPG,Writing — Tags: , , , , , , — apotheon @ 09:03

This is part of my RPG series of entries here at SOB. See the inaugural entry in the series for more details.

I found the way Paizo named today “P-Day” on the front page of the site amusing. The people at Paizo are, of course, referring to the fact that today is the official release date for the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook.

Here’s a screenshot of the relevant announcements at the top of the main page of paizo.com:

In case of difficulty reading (it should be clear, but I know I sometimes get visitors using Lynx or something like that), the smaller text in the topmost paragraph says:

The PDF for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook is now available for purchase and download. We are experiencing a lot of traffic today, and the messageboards are disabled to help keep the site running smoothly. Anyone who can wait until Friday or later to get their PDF is encouraged to do so.

Since we already have one hardcopy of the book, with another expected to arrive by mail any moment now, I’ll probably wait a couple days. Apparently, Paizo didn’t expect the kind of traffic hammering its servers as people download the PDF in record numbers, if the company had to actually shut down the forum temporarily to cope with it.

PRPG has been the number one bestseller in RPG books for a while at Amazon. I sent an email asking for details about how amazon calculates its bestsellers, but haven’t heard back. Color me curious.

I rather suspect that the $9.99 introductory price for the PRPG PDF will introduce a metric assload of players to the game that might otherwise have given it a pass. $50 might seem like a pretty hefty price to invest in one shot, even if it is a pretty good deal for the money, so those hesitant to fork over the full price for the hardback CRB might be a lot more willing to pay a fifth that for the PDF to evaluate it before paying for the tangible product. Of course, since the SigO and I have been using the playtest PDFs for a while and have quite a few other Paizo products (so we know the production quality first-hand), we knew we’d like what we got when we preördered two copies of the CRB (plus the “complimentary” PDF that comes with the book we ordered directly from Paizo).

Toward the end of the P-Day: The Invasion of Gen Con! post in the Paizo Store Blog, more stuff is announced:

  • Pathfinder RPG Reference Document — the PRPG version of the D&D SRD, containing the OGL material from PRPG

  • Pathfinder RPG Conversion Guide — “that will show you the best ways to use your existing 3.5 library with the new Pathfinder RPG rules.”

  • Pathfinder RPG Bestiary Preview — the Bestiary will be PRPG’s version of the Monster Manual, of course

  • Updated Character Traits — a system of “mini-feats” used to help flavor a character and define its background

  • . . . and other stuff. That’s just most of the freebies; there’s a crapload of other announcements of recently, currently, and soon-to-be released books.

The release of the PRD on the same day as the release of the CRB itself is a nice symptom of one of the things I like so much about Paizo as a game company: it really seems to get the open content development model the OGL facilitates, whereas the executives and managers at WotC/Hasbro seemed to have their heads up their fourth points of contact on the whole matter even before they basically started trying to “undo” the release of D&D under the terms of the OGL.

31 March 2009

What if 4E was open?

Filed under: Geek,Liberty,RPG — Tags: , , , — apotheon @ 01:54

This is part of my RPG series of entries here at SOB. See the inaugural entry in the series for more details.

Chris, over at 6D6 Fireball, has a recent piece called What if 4e was free? In it, he floats the idea of building long-term success for the Dungeons & Dragons brand by giving away all the core books as black-and-white PDFs. The idea is that this would make it easier for more people to get into the game, and would build a lot of goodwill, as well as providing a bunch of fans with the impetus to buy more non-core game books and merchandise.

Part of the reason something like this sounds like a good idea is the fact that WotC/Hasbro has burned a lot of gamer goodwill by reversing its position on open gaming. With 3E, Wizards of the Coast introduced the Open Game License, which essentially made the core rules of third edition Dungeons & Dragons into an “open source” game. While the contents of the WotC books themselves were covered by copyright, all rights reserved, WotC released the System Reference Document, which consisted entirely of materials subject to the terms of the OGL.

As pointed out in Dungeons & Dragons: The gamers are revolting! Rebecca Bryant points out what many of us already know — that, after years of declining sales, 3E and the OGL was a shot in the arm for D&D sales and for the RPG industry as a whole. Accompanying the rise of D&D, though, was the rise of third-party publishers of D&D compatible game books, and even of competing, nearly compatible systems, such as Green Ronin Publishing’s True20, all made possible by the OGL. Dozens of small, essentially basement-run publishers sprang up to create new gaming materials that would otherwise never have existed, producing a cottage industry that owed its entire existence to the OGL.

Well, darn. Rejuvenating the D&D brand also generated a whole new community of small publishers making money off of ideas inspired by, and usually dependent on, WotC’s D&D books. WotC/Hasbro decided things had to change. As Rebecca Bryant said:

But it didn’t last long. Perhaps threatened by the upsurge in competition, Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast attempted to recall the open license and revoke the rights of third-party publishers, and supporters of the open license were fired en masse. When they found that the license could not be revoked, they began work on a new edition of D&D that would not fall under the open license. They banked on the brand name’s popularity forcing the industry to comply with their new standard and created an almost unusably restrictive “game system license” allowing minimal third-party support for their new edition.

Like many industry dominating corporations, the WotC/Hasbro collective decided it was in its best interests to make sure that nobody else got to make any money off its core brand or anything spawned by that brand. I keep seeing this sort of thing happen — in music, fiction publishing, online news, and other industries dependent on copyrightable works — and, pretty much every time, I find myself shaking my head in incredulity at the short-sighted stupidity of such business strategy. Fans and customers get alienated, and other businesses are destroyed, all for no real benefit in the long run. Getting all the profit for oneself doesn’t ensure you’re going to make more money. If your business dominates 90% of an industry, and you decimate (literally, “reduce to one-tenth”) destroy a 90% majority of the industry, gaining total control of the whole industry means you’ll be left with a ninth of your previous profits.

(edit: as pointed out in comments, I had a brain fart in which I managed to reverse the definition of “decimate”, so I altered the sentence accordingly)

Decimation isn’t what’s happening to the RPG industry, of course — at least, not yet. WotC/Hasbro isn’t proving nearly that effective in destroying the competition. In fact, it seems to be increasing the competition with its actions, turning third-party publishers of materials that supported D&D in the past into first-party publishers of competing products in the present.

If 4E was as open as 3E, there may still have been attempts to create competing 3E-compatible game lines. They probably wouldn’t have been likely to get a chance at as much market share as they do get now, though — because third-party publishers wouldn’t have been effectively driven away from 4E by its restrictive licensing policies.

As someone who prefers the underlying system of 3E over that of 4E, there’s definitely an upside to WotC’s reversal of direction on licensing; Pathfinder RPG, my favorite descendant of the original D&D game, probably wouldn’t even exist without WotC/Hasbro attempts to drive third-party publishers out of business. Still . . . my ideal world would have both Pathfinder RPG and D&D 4E (leaving aside for the moment that 4E wouldn’t be called “D&D” in my perfect world), and both would be licensed under open terms (the OGL would do well enough).

Open licensing helped make D&D 3E the success it was. Restrictive licensing has only stood in the way of 4E’s success. This is the kind of lesson I’ll be taking to heart in the future, as I work on an RPG of my own for publication. It’s also the kind of lesson I don’t expect any industry dominating corporation will learn any time soon.

22 February 2009

What is the importance of RPG terminology?

Filed under: Geek,RPG — Tags: , , , — apotheon @ 06:52

This is part of my RPG series of entries here at SOB. See the inaugural entry in the series for more details.

In Encounters vs. Scenes – RPG Terminology and Philosophy, Rick Neal talks about the differing implications of the terms “encounter” and “scene” as employed in the game books for White Wolf games and D&D:

I really started to notice it starting in 3E D&D, and it’s become even more prevalent in 4E. Adventures for D&D are breaking down to a collection of encounters. That’s the way the DMG addresses adventure creation, that’s the way the majority of the published adventures are written, and that’s the way I’ve been thinking about creating adventures.

He quotes the 4E DMG:

An encounter is a single scene in an ongoing drama, when the player characters come up against something that impedes their progress.

. . . and White Wolf’s SAS Guide:

Each scene is built as a discrete game encounter (or a closely-tied collection of game encounters) for the troupe to play through.

Scene Style

Leaving aside for the moment the fact that D&D 3.5 didn’t present quite as clear-cut a focus on combat encounters in its explanation of what constitutes an “adventure”, there’s some merit to the notion that the choice of terminology in a game’s rulebooks is very important. I just don’t think it’s important in exactly the way Rick Neal assumes — and I think it isn’t as important for how an adventure can play out as some other factors.

More important than the term used for something like the interactive waypoints in a game session, adventure, plotline, or campaign is the design of the system. My (A)D&D games have used “encounters” more like what the guy describes as “scenes” since before the first edition of Vampire: the Masquerade was even published. I’ve been prone to modifying the system with house rules to help support that style of play (among other reasons), but I’ve never felt a particular need to trade the term “encounter” for “scene” in those games. When I’ve felt compelled to change terminology, such as I described in New Attributes, (Mostly) Old Rules, it has been as an accompaniment to altering what the rules whose terms have been changed actually mean.

The greater importance of the choice of terms such as “scene” or “encounter” is the social effect. Notice that, with the significant focus on “storytelling” terminology rather than “roleplaying” terminology, the old-school World of Darkness games produced a far more acting-oriented approach in its gaming community. The flavor of a game’s community is going to be influenced by the game’s marketing — and all that flavor text, including the choice of Official Terms™ sprinkled throughout that flavor text, is part of that marketing. Whereas D&D grew out of a combat-oriented tactical miniatures wargaming tradition, and its terminology reflected that history, Mark Rein-Hagen together with White Wolf consciously sought to engender a very different perspective on how the game is played, and intentionally selected terminology that would foster such a perspective.

Encounter Style

As a result, D&D’s place in the gaming world only evolved toward a more roleplaying approach to gaming at the insistence in changing trends in the gaming community, and its designers have even fought against that community influence (as I feel 4E is an example), while V:tM aimed to land on the far side of where the gaming community sat, and drag it further in that direction.

I believe that tended to have a stronger effect on who played each game than on how people played a given game once they committed themselves to it, however. As the terms’ implications are described in Encounters vs. Scenes, that meant that encounter oriented gamers gravitated toward D&D, while scene oriented gamers gravitated toward WoD games — not so much that gamers found themselves pushed into either an encounter oriented approach or a scene oriented approach based on what game they played. When such acquiescence to pressure did occur, I believe it was more peer pressure from other people already playing the game, who invited a new player into their groups, than it was the terminology in the books shaping the way people approached gaming. Regardless of what terms are used in each game’s books, I have seen people take a more scene oriented approach to D&D and other people take a more encounter oriented approach to V:tM many times, with no hint that they even noticed the implications of the terms used in the books if those implications didn’t fit with their personal styles.

Of course, the differentiation of my New Attributes, (Mostly) Old Rules approach to terminology changes from the encounter vs. scene change in terminology is nebulous and very heuristic. It’s possible I’m imagining a greater point of differentiation there than actually exists.

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All original content Copyright Chad Perrin: Distributed under the terms of the Open Works License