Although Read the Damn Book is specifically focused on Vampire: The Masquerade and the other Classic World of Darkness games, I would like to take some time to discuss other games. And for those of you who have been keeping up with general RPG news, you know that means that I will be discussing Dungeons & Dragons because Wizards of theCoast has announced the release dates and prices for Dungeons & Dragons 5thEdition.
To be honest, I have probably played more Dungeons & Dragons, 3.0 specifically, than any other single system. I may have started with Vampire: The Dark Ages, but I got caught up in the excitement with the release of 3.0. I own nearly every book for D&D 3.0, and I ran my longest campaign under D&D 3.0 rules. I have so many great memories of that system, and D&D 3.0 and the various d20 systems defined my gaming experience from 2000-2007.
Despite my love for Vampire: The Masquerade, Dungeons & Dragons is the iconic role-playing game. When I have had to describe VtM to people unfamiliar with RPGs, I start by saying that it’s “like D&D but…” The industry and the culture of RPGs are changing though. Smaller game companies are now able to compete with the big brands thanks to Kickstarter, DriveThruRPG, and other companies. Pathfinder is now the dominant RPG according to some sources, and D&D may have fallen to third in some rankings behind Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars: Edge of Empire. Yet, the announcement of a new edition of D&D has everyone excited. I've already talked a little about Fifth Edition and my thoughts on it.
Along with the excitement of the release of a new version of D&D, I have heard quite a bit of negative comments too. There are two big complaints that I have heard. The first is the cost of each book, and the second is the time between releases. I understand the negative criticism towards these new releases. New editions are frightening, especially for those cynics amongst us who have been let down by new editions too many times. I had some negative experiences with both D&D 3.5 and 4th edition.
I didn’t like 3.5 because I was heavily invested into 3.0, and I didn’t like having to re-buy all the books once again. This is a personal problem that I have with 3.5, but on a more general note, I felt that 3.5 (more so than even 3.0) focused too much on the rules crunch and not creating new campaign settings and better adventures. I felt like the supplements were more focused on adding more and more prestige classes rather than creating a deeper and better world. The addition of all those prestige classes led not to a power creep but to a power explosion.
Fourth Edition…well, Fourth Edition had its problems, too. I liked the simplified rules, the addition of special powers for every class, and the attempt by the designers to balance all of the classes. However, with that balance came a blandness that I hated. I disliked the emphasis on miniatures combat. More so than 3.0 and 3.5, Fourth Edition required players to have a grid map and minis. I really hated the skill challenge system which was an even more complicated way of resolving noncombat encounters. Any of these systems could be removed or modified, but as written, I found these systems to be a burden rather than helpful. But my biggest problem with Fourth Edition was the way it felt more like an MMORPG than a tabletop RPG because of how the system presented powers and abilities as akin to the hot-keyed powers like those found in MMORPGs.
I did like how the rules were simplified and how the rules attempted to address the biggest problem in D&D, namely the power difference between fighters and wizards over the course of 20 levels. Better known as the linear fighters and quadratic wizards problem, essentially, wizards quickly outclassed fighters because of their access to spells. This problem was at its worst in 3.5 where a wizard could replace nearly every other party member thanks to the variety of spells available. However, the 4th Edition rules changes removed much of the flavor of D&D. The Vancian magic system is what makes D&D distinct. I always felt like AD&D (2nd Edition) handled that problem better with the higher experience point costs for spell casters.
And while I add more kindling to the flame wars that the Edition Wars has become, I am excited about Fifth Edition. Yet, the negative comments, the pricing and the release schedule remain.
I cannot complain about the pricing of a new RPG without being a hypocrite. I just spent $150 on the Mage: The Ascension 20th AnniversaryKickstarter. But, how does that book compare to the cost of the new Dungeons & Dragons books? For the $150 that I spent for Mage: The Ascension, I will receive a complete rule system with everything that I need to run Mage, a PDF of that book, a Storytellers Screen, and thanks to the other backers, I will receive a PDF of several other books. That’s a lot of material for that investment of $150. For the same $150, I will receive everything that I need to run or play D&D 5th: a Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual. Those costs will be spread out over several months, and I don’t feel like I am being ripped off by that pricing, so long as the game is good.
Fifty dollars per book is not an outrageous price. Pathfinder’s Core Rulebook’s price was $49.99 in 2009. While the Pathfinder Core Rulebook has everything that a player would need, a DM will still need to purchase at least one of the Bestiaries and perhaps some adventures or another supplement. Role-playing games are not cheap, and they never will be cheap again. Players who complain that AD&D wasn’t as expensive haven’t taken into account the rising inflation. While the core rulebooks for AD&D may have cost $20 in 1989 when it was released, adjusted for inflation, those books would now cost over $38. That figure only takes into account inflation and not the improvements in the quality of printing and paper. I used the CPI Inflation Calculator for this math.
A much better comparison, quality wise, might be a comparison with D&D 3.5 because 3.5 included many full color pages, mostly color artwork, and was printed on high quality paper with excellent binding. Sold at 29.95 per book in 2003, the cost of a 3.5 Player’s Handbook would be $38.95 if adjusted for inflation. That’s still an $11 increase in price, but that’s only taking into account simple inflation. Other factors affect the cost of printing a book. Not to sound like a grumpy old man, but in 2000 gas was around $1.00 per gallon. Currently, I pay nearly $3.50 per gallon. Inflation only accounts for 38 cents of that price increase. If the cost of RPG books had a similar increase a PHB could cost over $100.
None of this math is really relevant to this argument. It’s not a question of cost, but a question of value. Are the new core rulebooks for 5th Edition worth $150? That’s a question that each gamer has to answer for himself or herself. The initial investment in any new RPG is going to be relatively high. Fifty dollars is a lot of money, regardless of one’s job, but the value of that investment is what I consider. Will I use the book? Will I play D&D? Those are the questions that I’m asking myself.
However, the most important question for many others is “Would I be happier if I’d bought another RPG rather than D&D 5th?” The RPG market is glut with games, and many of us have our favorites. Personally, I am still struggling to catch up with The Onyx Path releases that I missed. Nevertheless, I am going to give D&D 5th a chance. I’m excited at the possibilities of a new edition. I don’t know if I will like it, and I certainly don’t have any insider information about the new edition. Fifty dollars isn’t too that expensive, and if I don’t like the Player’s Handbook, then I just won’t buy the DMG or Monsters Manual.
Now, as to the negative comments regarding the release dates, I am also in disagreement with the naysayers. If you haven’t heard, the Player’s Handbook will be released on August 19, the Monster Manual will follow on September 17, and finally the Dungeon Master’s Guide will finish the set on November 18. My problem isn’t that the books’ releases are separated by several months. I actually like that, and they’ve been doing that since at least the release of Third Edition when the core rulebooks were released in August (PHB), September (DMG), and October (MM). The early printings of the PHB included an appendix with a few low level monsters for DMs to use.
The staggered releases schedule helps everyone. I really can’t afford to spend $150 all at once. When I backed the Mage: The Ascension Kickstarter, I had to save two paychecks to afford it. Currently, I buy one new gaming book with every paycheck and I usually spend around $20 to $50 depending on the book that I am buying. The new Edition of D&D and its release schedule fits into my budget for games. However, I am not happy about the order of the releases, nor am I happy about the two month wait between the Monsters Manual and the Dungeon Master’s Handbook.
Perhaps I’m too set in my ways, but the DMG has always been and will always be the second book when I think of Dungeons & Dragons. I understand that the Monster Manual is more useful, but in my mind, it’s PHB, DMG, and then MM. It’s written in stone or at least on paper. I’m willing to forgive the order of the release, a little, but I don’t understand why there is a two month wait between the release of the Monster Manual and the DMG. That seems a little excessive.
Overall these are small problems, and honestly, I can’t wait to get my hands on the books. I’ve heard very good things from playtesters bout this new Edition. And yes, I will be reviewing D&D 5th as soon as they are released.