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What Will It Take to Get Old School Players to Convert to 5e?

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WOTC seems to be trying to attract old school players as well as 3.x players to D&D 5e. I think it would take most of the following -- at a minimum -- to attract large numbers of old school players and GMs to 5e.

1) Little to no 4e in the 5e core rules. The more they put 4e-like stuff in the core to satisfy the 4e fans, the less likely I suspect pre-4e players/GMs are to switch. This includes "abstract" things like too much stress on "by the numbers balance", the weird 4e "we need our own IP" monsters, or designing the game around the needs of organized play (with the needs of "home play" seemingly an afterthought).

2) The 5e core rules need to be usable with all 0e-2e era settings and adventures with little to no advance conversion by the GM needed. With TSR D&D most GMs could use any adventure/setting with any TSR edition of D&D, performing whatever conversions were needed in his head. As a lot of old school players still use these settings and adventures, I believe this is pretty much "a must" to have any chance of wide adoption from old school players. However, old school players and GMs generally do not object to doing basic math in their heads (like converting between ascending and descending AC) which might make this easier to achieve. To get 3.x folks, 5e will need to be able to do this with 3.x materials as well. Although, as 3.x requires more GM prep to begin with, 5e can probably get by with some minor in-advance-of-play conversion from 3.x work needed. If 3e folks can't use Paizo adventure paths and the like easily, I doubt many are likely to convert to 5e.

3) There must be an easy upgrade path to 5e. Old School groups will want to probably want to be able to easily convert their current campaigns and characters. As their current rules work, they are unlikely to be willing to end their current campaigns and start over just to use a new edition of D&D. Personally, I suspect 4e lost a number of players by simply being too different from what had gone before for a nearly seamless conversion of 3.x campaigns to be possible. 5e must not repeat this mistake.

4) The GM must "own the game rules". The game must be complete in published rulebooks (purchasable -- without a subscription -- PDFs count as game books). The game must not be constantly changing via online errata/updates which are added without GM permission to an online character generators or other tools. Most old school players and GMs I know do not want their characters, settings, and/or adventures in constant flux because of reams of errata (or worse, retroactive rules changes needed to support new splatbooks or the like) are being added to the rules/tools they need to access at the whim of the publisher. Errata is great, but the choice to use it or not -- on an item by item basis -- needs to be up to the GM and the players in a given group.

5) The 5e system must be very friendly to both house rules and third party material. This would include any WOTC character generators and similar tools -- players need to be able to easily add their house rules and third party rules. 5e must also have a third party license that, if not the OGL, is at least much closer to the OGL than to the 4e GSL. This license must be available to third party publishers no later than the day the first 5e book goes on sale.

However, to be blunt I think WOTC is going to have a very hard time getting a majority of old school players (and probably Pathfinder players as well) to drop their current system and use 5e. To do this, 5e will have to offer a much better game for their campaign, group, and style of play before they will actually switch -- just "as good as" or "just a little better than" the rules they currently use will probably not get a large number of people to convert. Unfortunately, I have real doubts that WOTC can pull this off. 5e sounds like it may be a pretty good game, but I doubt it will be considerably better than what old school or Pathfinder players are playing now. If it isn't, there will not be much reason to spend the money and time to convert to 5e.

However, all is not lost for WOTC even if I'm correct. If 5e can manage at least the first two items above, most of the adventures and settings WOTC might publish for 5e would be usable by players of other editions, which would mean WOTC would at least get some sales from some of the people playing older editions even if they don't play 5e. This is something they did not get much of with 4e.

6 comments:
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Andreas Davour said...
March 31, 2012 at 3:04 AM  

I think you can summarize most of those points with "reverse most of the changes done during the 4th ed era".

That is the odd one out that breaks all expectations of the fans of all other editions.

Interestingly, unless WotC have hard numbers to prove that they brought in serious amount of new customers with that edition, they are the easiest ones to boot if all others can be kept happy.

In general I think your points are good ones. I have heard too many times people who should know talk about how "Organized Play" have created substantial value for me hoping it going away. Personally I have never seen the benefit of it.

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Erik Tenkar said...
March 31, 2012 at 8:45 AM  

Personally, the talk of the "One Hour Game Session" makes me think they are definitely designing this with organized play in mind.

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cibet said...
March 31, 2012 at 9:13 AM  

You have a well thought out list here but I just don't think Hasbro can pull this off. Pathfinder just did too much damage to their customer base and have built too loyal a following, so the 3.x crowd is gone forever. That leaves the vast majority of current D&D players being 4E players, which means Hasbro can't just abandon them to support "old schoolers". 4E and 1E/2E are just too far apart in spirit to ever co-exist.

The best Hasbro can do at this point is to keep the 4 players happy and make 5E look close enough to 1E that it grabs some lapsed old school players. That's it.

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-C said...
March 31, 2012 at 9:42 AM  

You hit the nail on the head here. There are so many really good games I'm not playing, in addition to my favorite.

The only real question isn't if I'll play 5e, but if they'll produce a single book that will pique my interest. They won't do it by rehashing the shit I already have.

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instantapathy said...
March 31, 2012 at 9:19 PM  

"They won't do it by rehashing the shit I already have."

Which is part of the catch 22 for WotC, in regards to the OSR. OSR folk tend to lambast them for not doing the old stuff, but then say "Well, I already have this old stuff so I won't buy what I already have." It doesn't leave a lot of room for them.

As for organized play, I don't doubt that the are thinking about it. It's a big part of the business plan, but it also is about people who don't necessarily have long stretches of time to dedicate to gaming. An hour here, a couple of hours there. If they can cater to a level of casual gaming like that they have a market to sell to.

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Philo Pharynx said...
April 2, 2012 at 3:12 PM  

What Will It Take to Get Old School Players to Convert to 5e? Randall


1) hmmm... It's 4e that has the weird monsters? Really? I have to give the crown to the AD&D era. One word - flumph. :)
1) If they want to appeal to both audiences, they will have to have an option for the "by-the numbers" balance. This means that balance will have to be a consideration in the design phase. It's easy to take a game built with some balance in mind and tell the GM that these are guidelines that can be easily ignored than it its to build a game with no design balance and bolt on a balance system after the fact. But I agree it doesn't have to be as rigid a balance as 4e.

2/3) Agreed.

4) If you are going to have an online generator, you need to have a certain set of assumptions. You can't reasonably have a working generator and have all errata be optional. Otherwise they'd have to test every possible change with all errata versions of every rule. It would be impossible to do with timely updates. The best case would be a generator that allows you to customize something back to an older version. Of course, if the game is usable without an online generator this problem is lessened.

5) Preach on, Brother!

6) It's going to be interesting how they format the rules. People who want a more old-school experience would probably like a core rulebook with the basic options only and expansion books with the optional stuff. New-school people would want the optional rules to be placed near the rules they are used with. I don't think they'll do it, but I hope that whichever style they do, they publish PDF's in both styles.

I think it will be hard to design a working game with the flexibility they are asking about. Making a good game under these constraints is going to be much harder. I can't see a lot of 4e people converting to the game they are talking about either.

@Andreas, I'm not so sure that just booting the 4e people will make other people happy. Also, by the best numbers we have, 4e is about the size of Pathfinder in numbers. That's a big chunk of market to alienate. If they can't convert enough OSR/Pathfinder players, this is going to tank big time.

@instantapathy, Organized play is a way to help the FLGS's with something that can't be bought on Amazon. It's also a way to attract people interested in gaming and keep a few lapsed gamers. We have a niche hobby and this is advocay for it.

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