A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer



Appeasing the Ones Who Matter

If you're like me and not yet part of the "D&D Next" (referred to as "DDN" from here on) playtest, in the past week or two you've probably been curious for some information on it. And when you went looking for it, you hopefully found a source of good information (EN World's "D&D 4E Info" page, Critical Hits, even Sarah Darkmagic's Joining the Party articles on the WotC site, etc.) and did not fall in to the abyss of despair that is the Wizards of the Coast online forums.

As you've come across information regarding DDN, you've probably formulated your opinions on whether you like or dislike what you hear. Most of you may have withheld your opinions, and some of you may have expressed joy or concern through some of the comparatively discrete venues (Twitter, for example). But some of you - especially those that disliked something they heard - took it to the extreme and began writing with an intense, seething hatred of all things DDN.

Wizards of the Coast has a seemingly ambitious goal: create something that appeals to everyone. But if you have ever been on the Internet (if you're reading this, I imagine you have) you know that it's virtually impossible. No matter what the topic is, there will always be someone who hates it and will be very vocal about it. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the Wizards of the Coast forums; there's actually a thread there that lists individual topics in their most generic fashion ("ability scores", for example) followed by a long list of how many forum goers thing it's "good" or "bad" as described  in DDN. Everything has multiple people that disagree with it, no matter what the topic may be.

WotC needs to make a choice: for each and every element of DDN they have to decide one way or the other how it's going to be implemented. And no matter what they choose, they're going to upset somebody. So how they decide how to implement things? Majority vote? Board meetings with marketing folk? Dart board? D100? How do they decide who to appease?

The answer is simpler than you think... The group they must appease first and foremost is themselves.

I'm going to sidestep for a second and ask a general question to everyone that is reading this: if you currently have a job, do you enjoy it?

Some of you, like me, might actually enjoy their job. And, as a result, you are constantly doing whatever you can in order to make the job experience better. You show a level of enthusiasm in what you do that is unparalleled, and you love walking in to the office in the morning. Needless to say, you're a rare breed.

Now many of you hate your job, and only work for the sole reason of getting a paycheck on a regular basis. While working you can't think of anything beyond when the next break or the end of the shift is. Some of you have given up to the point that you make no effort to improve the situation, so you slog through one work day after the next without trying to better what you see is a hopeless cause.

Picture yourself as a Wizards of the Coast employee, working on the design and development of DDN. How would you feel if you're forced to create a game you dislike? Wouldn't you prefer a game that you enjoyed enough to want to contribute to its growth?

I myself have been a game developer creating a game I disliked, and it was a miserable depressing experience. As soon as the game was done, I honestly didn't want to have anything to do with it, and moved on to my next project without looking back. This is exactly the sort of the thing we don't want from WotC; we want them to create a product that they themselves are enthusiastic about so that they continue to support it enthusiastically. The more the creators enjoy the project, the more it shows in the end result and in subsequent product releases.

So what am I saying with all this? You all are welcome to voice your opinions on the good and bad parts of DDN, but please do not forcibly insist that they do things a certain way just because you want it that way. If WotC capitulates to every request and ends up creating a product that they are internally not big fans of just to make everyone happy (which, as I said, is impossible), future support for it will suffer. Since the design team at Wizards of the Coast knows more about game design than pretty much any of us, I'm pretty sure they already have the tools needed to finish DDN in its entirety. Let them do what they enjoy, and through that enjoyment let them put every ounce of enthusiasm they can muster in to the final product.

And, when that's done, thank them for it. Only then will you see DDN grow in ways you cannot possibly imagine.

Filed under: 5E, Design, DnD, RPG Comments Off
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  1. You make an excellent point. I think we all need to keep in mind that the game designers are making a game that they should want to play. I have tried to give my opinion respectfully and with an eye to encouraging good debate. I have to say I disagree with you on one point though. If something is going to be a deal breaker for me I don’t really care if they support DnDnext if it includes my dealbreaker. So far nothing has been, but I haven’t actually played the game yet.

  2. So, I must first admit that I’ve only done light reading on the aforementioned boards and blogs, but from what I have read, those that are actually getting a chance to play DnDNext are under NDA, so anything else is just speculation about the game. How can you hate something that is only speculation? I suppose anything else would just be the standard edition war hoo-hah.

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