Thursday, January 1, 2009

RPGs in 2008

It has not been the best of years for table-top gaming. 2008 saw the death of D&D creator Gary Gygax. It also saw the release of the 4th edition of that same game, as well as a rather pitiful scattering of decent releases. It’s a bit difficult to really analyze how the year’s been for most of the gaming community because you tend to focus more on those systems you play. As a result I don’t really know how RIFTs did this year, release-wise. However I did keep an eye on some of the big ones.

As I mentioned, this year saw the death of gaming great Gary Gygax. Now if you’ve ever played any sort of RPG, on the table or on your Nintendo/Playstation/Etc, then you’ve been influenced by this man’s work. He and Dave Arneson co-created Dungeons and Dragons from what was basically a modified version of H.G. Well’s “Little Wars”, a war game played in a sandbox or on a table using toy soldiers. The two then began to sue each other over royalties and other issues and eventually they went their separate ways, leaving the company after it fell into the hands of Lorraine Williams’ family, thanks to the trouble with Blume, and from there into the clutches of Hasbro. Gary continued to be involved in gaming and wrote many more books on the topic after he left TSR. With his death this last year, it was announced that the new 4th edition of D&D would be dedicated to him. A lame gesture as Gary was not happy with the direction they took the 3rd edition in and would have been pissed regarding what they did in 4th. There are a lot of bad jokes out there about his death, mostly pun quality D&D references, but then as a group, it’s not uncommon for gamers to dick around, waste time, and tell god awful jokes while at the table. So it’s probably ok.

Speaking of 4th edition D&D. It sucked. Good? Good, now as for other things going on…
...Oh fine, I’ll explain.

1st edition D&D can be said to be a bit harsh and limiting. Your character choices are based heavily on the stats you roll and the adventures were quite unforgiving. 2nd edition D&D was more structured and more varied. It was still harsh at times though. It was also a bit broken as it was put out under William’s reign over the company so there was more emphasis on putting out material than on keeping it consistent. 3rd edition had a similar problem as Hasbro had them pumping out book after book after book. 3rd ed. was a much more varied and wonder filled system. It was a lot more simplistic and the aim was to make it easier to learn. The downside to this was that they released books about everything imaginable, making the system a rules lawyer’s dream. And you again had the consistency problem considering how much material they were pumping out. Now D&D aside, the d20 system they used was great and before their buyout by Hasbro less than a year after they bought D&D from TSR, Wizards of the Coast set it up so the d20 system would be open source. Meaning if you want to use their rule system to produce a competing game, then go right ahead. Hasbro was not happy about that one, but it means that tons of small gaming companies could pop up and the system’s not half bad.

But then 4th edition was finally released this year and it looks nothing like its predecessors. The initial reactions from most of the game reviewers made me suspect that Hasbro was sending out hookers with the reviewer copies of the game. They hype was huge and 4th edition could do no wrong. It was the perfect, ultimate, super new version of D&D and if it didn’t add 3 inches onto your cock then you were a sad little troll. Needles to say, a month or two after its release many reviewers changed their tone.

4th edition is a board game that uses Hasbro brand miniatures and does its very best to imitate World of Warcraft. Everyone has magic spells now, and every character can heal himself magically a couple of times a day. It’s all about the combat, and nonweapon skills are pointless. The designers pretty much said that if you’re using a skill like Woodworking or Navigation in the game, then you’re playing it wrong. Thieves are a joke, and wizards were just ruined. Hasbro decided to throw away their core players in favor of getting some new ones. However they forgot that table-top gaming isn’t a money making industry. It’s a hobby, supported and carried by those that love it. Game designers struggle to get stuff published while working second jobs. Monopoly doesn’t even come fucking close. They are also setting up an online GM helper service on their website. The way they’re explaining it, in order to run a truly excellent game, both the GM and the players need to join this service and pay the monthly fee. Just like WoW really. Here’s hoping it fails miserably.

Similarly, one of the great up and coming game developers has fallen. Eden studios, publisher of the zombie survival RPG “All Flesh Must Be Eaten” has failed to do a damned thing all year. With AFMBE and the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” RPG they made some big waves in the community a few years back. But last year they lost the license for Buffy and that only left them with some great games to lean on. So they stopped publishing books. 2007 was a sad year for releases and 2008 didn’t see a damned thing come out. The company isn’t at risk of going out of business as far as we know, however they appear to be having a lot of trouble starting up again. It’s a shame as the company’s a great one, and their games are usually pretty clever.

This year also saw the end of both D&D magazines, Dungeon and Dragon. While this wasn’t a great loss as following the sell of TSR, both magazines had become little more than ad space for whatever Hasbro was pushing, it’s still a bit sad. We also saw layoffs over at Hasbro this year and there are rumors of another round of layoffs over at Wizards of the Coast.

Oh, and Wizkids, producer of those little HeroClix games, was shut down by their parent company Topps. So their gone now. However there’s currently legal action towards the company or Topps pending as they owned the IP for the Battletech series. Battletech is a miniature game, video game, RPG and book series about a future where armies fight using giant robots. It’s a classic series and a decent setting. Well they stole and screwed over one of their writers and are now liable for a couple of hundred thousand dollars in fines. The author has made it public that he’s intending to sue for ownership of the IP if possible. Here’s wishing him luck.

While alot more went on this year, these are some of the events that stood out. Many companies stayed afloat and one or two vanished, and not a whole lot went on that impressed me. D&D’s big release made the mightiest splash in the wake of Gygax’s death. But then they failed to deliver.

Here’s hoping 2009’s better.


Richard R. said...

"It was the perfect, ultimate, super new version of D&D and if it didn’t add 3 inches onto your cock then you were a sad little troll."


I love your writing Chase. You have that cynical gamer edge that especially comes out when you are a DM. Good stuff.

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