Sunday, May 13, 2012

Success is where AD&D went all wrong

There's been a lot of discussion over the last year about turning points in the hobby and before history is allowed to warp what little reality is left in the subject, fwiw, here is a personal story.

Giants didn't kill AD&D. The rules didn't kill AD&D.

Success is what killed AD&D.

A company suddenly rife with success and capital coupled with coming onto the mainstream grid undermined the hobby causing knee-jerk reactions to everything from PR to R&D.

Satanic Panic played a large part in this to varying degrees at the time depending on where you lived. In the south forget about being banned as a game club in school. People were burning s*** in peoples yards who played or sold the game, scaring children and parents alike with their rhetoric of 'D&D is Satanism' remarks being printed in everything down to local newspapers. The Tom Hanks film became mandatory viewing in local schools where I lived.

The PR solutions, turning the concept into a Saturday morning children's program, lowering the age range on the actual product and pitching the game as a children's toy, etc and creating self-perpetuating product lines that gobbled money like a piranha on a fat water buffalo killed AD&D.

Even though the Red Box lays claim to the best selling single game product in the hobby it was AD&D, not D&D, that topped the sales charts, brought in people by the millions and created the legacy we know today as the D&D super brand.

And Dragonlance was the arrow in the heart of the gaming beast, now barely stirring in the water as more and more entered the feeding frenzy, causing the same type of overwhelming glut that occurred during the heyday of 3.0.

Past Basic and Expert most went on to play AD&D. That is where the estimated 25 million players came from that formed the base of the industry, now seen as a profitable commodity like toilet paper or dog food.

I understand that a lot of those vocal on the subject started with the Red Box and still connect with it to this day. But I also notice the ages of those who talk about it were 9, 10, 11 years old. You came at it from the perspective of the children that I mentioned earlier who had become part of the hobby in the early '80s. The age group who never seem represented are the young adults who started as teenagers with AD&D and were responsible for fueling the hobby with their own money from crappy jobs and later the same ones who would start companies and open stores and pay dearly for decisions made by major figures in the hobby at the time.

If you scrape at the paint a little too much you find the truth beneath the surface. Remember, truth is not fact but truth can lead one to the facts. And the white wash has been almost complete about that time period from 1977-1983.

Look at the marketing strategy at WotC even today. First a mock 'Red Box', then the reprint of the core AD&D books. Not the Original edition, nor B/X nor BECMI (or even Holmes which would be a great one shot money maker) but the hardest, largest core product to reproduce from the time period. Only one group know the true sales numbers from the brand and they have been slowly acting on those numbers.

Now, this is not to say that these other editions wouldn't see a reprint at some point, but marketing is based on numbers and AD&D was the 800lb gorilla of its time and even today remains the center of fiery discussions from both ends. Original edition players saw it as rules bloat and new school gamers see it as a jumbled mess that they use to point out everything that was wrong with gaming of the period and the thought of not only the reprints but bringing back parts of that system in 5e makes them want to puke.

I honestly don't see what WotC hopes to achieve with this FrankenGame approach. They have managed to alienate the very players they hoped to get back while turning current players against them. It is truly a no-win situation no matter what they do and I keep waiting for someone to stand up and say 'April Fools!' and then lay out the real strategy for bringing D&D back to the spotlight.

But I'm afraid this is a nightmare that we can't wake up from and soon another bloody mess will be pushed onto the stage with cattle prods to dance for people who throw things at it.

If you going to build off nostalgia then do so and show respect for that history. If you are going to build new then leave the past behind, rename the product and move on. Otherwise we get to watch the whole cycle repeat itself like a gaming version of the film Groundhog's Day.

EDIT: Sorry for the typo mess. It's been a bit hectic.