Monday, 8 March 2010

Red Box Thunder Stealing

Lot of buzz going around about this...

...which might look like this in it's first printing.

(I don't think it's a particularly good idea to do this and it certainly seems a bit confused - who is it aiming it? Original buyers of the Mentzer version? New gamers who won't recognise the artwork anyway? But I get a warm inner glow when games companies just decide to do things because they liked the idea and thought it would be rather good fun as opposed to doing it because a focus group or evil masterplan told them to do so).

Unfortunately for the people at WOTC who have finally got the message that if we want to grow the hobby we need a Red Box-style boxed set I walked into Wayland's Forge on Saturday and saw this...

Which is essentially the same thing for a different game. Thunder well and truly comprehensively stolen.

I don't know anything about the game, nor it's world background which is apparently from a PC game. I do know that this sort of thing is long overdue. Forgetting for a moment my opinion that 4E isn't really any form of D&D as I would recognise it, I can think of nothing better for RPGing than a great big pile of cheap slim boxes (Rumour mill suggests a £15 RRP in the UK which would be excellent if the price can be kept down that low in these dark and dismal days of weak Sterling) stacked up in places like Toys R Us, Waterstones, WHSmiths and the Christmas gift displays in department stores such as BHS and Marks and Spencers with the words Dungeons and Dragons emblazoned all over them.

I think the worst thing the RPG industry ever did was to go over to large format books for the core rules. Not for worldbooks and supplements, they can stay in book form, but chasing the book trade's retail channels and shelf space in high street retailers was a move that should never have been made. I highlight two main flaws with RPGs-as-Books.

Firstly, an RPG-as-Book breaks the age-old link with the item being a GAME. Games come in boxes. Parents who don't understand RPGs can still look a box for a box game, it has DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS on it, it has fantasy art and little Johnny likes this stuff doesn't he, all Dragons and World of Warhammer or Fatal Fantasy XIII or whatever it is he plays on his XStation 360 (and since we're in the modern age, I'll add little Janey and her love of unicorn posters and wimpy sparkly vampires to that) and it's a GAME and it will keep him quiet on Christmas Day afternoon. Parents buy GAMES in toyshops. Parents head to toyshops for stocking fillers and birthday presents.

RPG-as-Book doesn't have that. In a high street store it is hiding away in the ghetto of the sci-fi/fantasy section (increasingly the science-fiction/fantasy/vampire romance section, and increasingly getting smaller if my local Waterstones is anything to go by) and it isn't obvious to the untrained eye what it is. Large format book, lurid artwork? Hardbound comic book? Book-of-the-making-of-the-film? Coffee table fantasy airbrush collection? Not clear.

Secondly, I blame books for rules-bloat. Rulebooks in box games are slim pamphlets so they have to be concise and therefore end up being legible and digestible. People expect slim rulebooks in boxed games, they groan when they see thick books. Red Box books were easy reads and a good balance of monochrome art, good layout and ease of reference. They also looked like the sort of thing that came in boxed games.

The problem is that when you put the game out in large format hardback book, it's value for money becomes judged alongside that of other books and it has to justify it's own hardback form and price. It then bloats. It has to grow to match it's size. This is why we end up with horrors like 4E. If it can't do it with the rules, then it has to do it with the settings and huge, rich settings pretty quickly stop becoming helpful and rapidly become overbearing and intimidating to use. An RPG-as-Book carries flab that it doesn't need and effectively just works against itself.

Books. Worst things evar. :)

There is a small part of me that wonders if the proposed WotC Red Box will be large enough to hold my copy of Swords and Wizardry, and if it does then I'll be happy to spend £15 on a themed box to hold that and a small bag of polydice. The original contents can go on eBay.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. I think part of the move to books is also an image thing; I'm sure it appeals to certain adult gamers to feel as if they're laying down the law from a book, rather than engaging in what is, after all, just a game.