Friday, November 20, 2009

Musings on the Nov. 17 D&D update

Last week, my former colleagues at WotC published a big patch to the D&D rules. And this was a big one--not big in the sense that any single change is overwhelming, but the accumulation of mid-range changes is...big.

Big enough that the good folks over at the Character Optimization Board have a lot of revising to do on those terrific class guides.

Big enough that, thanks to a respec from a kindly DM, my githyanki orbizard became a warlock last night. (I'm pouring out the proverbial 40-oz. for my dead bloodclaw and orb of ultimate imposition homies.)

Big enough that even if I were strictly a "civilian" D&D gamer (and not a former D&D game designer and occasional adventure author), I'd definitely pay for D&D Insider and stop buying the actual books. There are enough changes this month, spread out over enough books, that I don't think I could trust what's on the written page anymore. Each discrete change wasn't huge, but they weren't just fixing typos, either. The bulk of the Nov. 17 changes matter. They would noticeably impact play at your table.

If you've got the Character Builder and the Compendium, you're good to go. Especially if you're using something like But so much has changed in the dead-tree versions of those books. The updated, electronic version of the game is substantively different now.

I'm glad I don't have to worry about the D&D business model anymore. (And to be clear, I have zero insight into what it looks like nowadays.) It's certainly conceivable that those DDI subscriptions make up for lost physical book sales among those of us who are going the all-electronic route. Given the way game stores are disappearing from the landscape and given the way book chains are getting hammered (will there be a Borders after April?), it's clear that WotC needs new ways to get their stuff out there.

But I do know this: Opting for DDI is definitely saving me money (some of which would have wound up in WotC's pocket), and it's delivering a better experience at the table. I wonder whether the bean-counters in Renton are as happy as I am, though. 'Cause I sure would be buying actual D&D books if DDI didn't exist.

Oh, and on a side note: I'm writing a 30th-level adventure right now. God, I love the deep end of the pool.

Out of Context: Four things greater than all things are/Women and Horses and Power and War.
Music: Miles Davis, Kind of Blue


  1. Do those without DDI (and even many of those with) really care about the magnitude of change though? 4E remains the game it was at release, just patched and polished. With some (rare) exceptions, the game is almost never seriously impacted by errata.

  2. Thanks for that. I love DDI, and I love the books. I do think what I want is fluff in the books and crunch electronicly.

    Can't wait to see the adventure.

  3. Well...

    I know the comparison may not be the best but...

    Just like MMOs, I do think most serious RPGs should actually be "patched" more often :P. Of course I would prefer that no errors were made in the first place, but since that is impossible, I actually hope every single mistake gets corrected in erratas...

    Implementing "patches" in pen & paper RPGs is always harder than implementing them on MMOs, but I don't think we can actually avoid it completely.

    As for the DDI, it is as if the whole thing was a badass version of the previous System Reference Document. It's very good, but it's not exactly like having all the fluff and the books on your shelf, isn't it? :)

  4. This is one of the reasons I'm glad I got PDF versions when I did. I can annotate the PDFs with errata.

    When will Wizards join the 21st century and start publishing PDFs again? I want to be able to annotate more than just the original 3 books.

  5. DDI is $11 to $15/month. A D&D book is $20 to $30 (or so). Assuming WOTC's cut is the same if you stopped buying books and subscribed to DDI you would be a net loss if you bought a book MORE then every other month or every 3rd month (depending).

    However the cut isn't the same. Books in stores wholesale for about 60% of the cover price, so the $30 book is $20 to WOTC, the $20 book is $12. WOTC gets very close to 100% of the retail price for DDI (I bet they pay about 2% to cover the credit card transaction). So if you pick up a DDI subscription and stop buying books you are close to break even.

    That is assuming printing costs and shipping are free.

    So it isn't hard to believe that DDI is a cash cow, even accounting for lost print books...

    It wouldn't be hard to believe that is isn't' for other reasons though. Hopefully it _is_ working out for them.