A Momentary Glimpse of Frothing Madness
In my digital travels, I occasionally happen upon certain reviews or responses to criticism. I’ve spent a fair bit of time reading Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition reviews in the run-up to publication, hoping that any of the hype will be worth listening to. As it happens, there’s nothing to back any of the ‘greatest game ever published’ up, and my fears are that we’re going to be subjected to another sub-standard game that managed to ignore the feedback and playtesting that it went through in order to produce a vanilla game with vaguely updated rules. (As far as I can tell, the ‘open beta’ nature of the playtest rules served as much to put people in mind of how Pathfinder successfully did their early marketing as anything else. There are threads on RPG.net that talk about how a number of well-received game mechanics got arbitrarily cut; something that I’ve been hearing for a while now.)
An early post by i09, dating back nearly two and a half years, talks about how the design docs for D&D Next were aiming to ‘unify the D&D audience’ with the idea of a single ruleset that would take into consideration the play styles and complexity of the different editions of Dungeons & Dragons. One discussion with Monte Cook invoked a session where players of differing levels of interest could play at the same table, even though one person had a character sheet with a half-dozen different stats and another had one that looked closer to a spreadsheet. If it had worked, it would have done what the early indications had promised.
None of this early hype will come to pass. The unification that had been promised was the brainchild of Monte Cook, and its day is long done. These days, the biggest point of interest that seems to be touted is that there will be plenty of dragons in Dungeons & Dragons.
Um… yay? Way to flex that brand, guys.
And yeah, I’ve been accused of playing with Edition Wars in my posts. I don’t deny that I have favorite editions, but it’s not like I’m coming into this whole thing unaware or unwilling to flex. I dislike 4e because I don’t feel that it is a product that fits my play style or the interests of my players. But I will also note that I’ve tried my damnedest to find a hook for the system, even if I don’t agree with its design principles. I don’t jump out of my chair to play OSR games because I’ve done my time in those trenches and see no reason to go back to that well. I don’t begrudge people being able to enjoy the stripped down rulesets, but I don’t see them as being superior in any way.
And as a point of note, I’m not going to defend D&D 3.5 or Pathfinder as being the apex of game design. I like them both very much, but each has their own flaws. Pathfinder cleaned up a lot of things that I felt could have been better streamlined, so that’s good. In the mean time, they left in a lot of things that I don’t outright agree with, and there’s a compiled set of house rules that our group keeps and abides by. I’ll gladly listen to what people have to say about these particular iterations of the game, and more often than not, I can add my own criticisms to the fire.
But in all of these, I’ve tried to put my time in on a game, usually through play, to get my facts straight. Yeah, I’m an opinionated jackass, but I’d like to think that my opinions are based in experience.
Which brings me to something I ran across this last week.
Earlier, I discussed John Wick in terms of his newest Kickstarter, Wield. I waded through the video pitch for the game, and I was treated to Live Action hand gestures and dopey conversations about ‘negotiation’ being the core of the game. Initially, this upset me, as Wick is one of those vague legends in gaming. Personally, I own probably close to 100 books that derive from his game design (namely Legend of the Five Rings and 7th Sea), the value of which I dare not even contemplate. (Granted, some of those have gone down in value, which forms part of my hesitancy, but 7th Sea books go stupid expensive. And being that I have the entire run of that, as well as all four editions of L5R, it starts to get pricey.)
See, I only really know Wick from his early days at AEG. I had, up to this point, managed to ignore most everything that he did independently, although I was aware of Orkworld. (One of these days, I’ll sit down and read through that one, just for the sake of a review, but his opinion of it far outshone anyone else’s outlook on it.) And since I hadn’t paid much attention to his games or opinions since that point, I was hit squarely in the teeth by my very own lost expectations.
Since then, I’ve been reading about Wick through the memory of the Internet. There are reasons that I keep this blog vaguely anonymous, so that anything I say herein is that much harder to attach directly to my own actual identity and presence in the gaming industry. I also refrain from saying anything as amazingly stupid as Wick manages to.
Back sometime in 2000, Wick posted a rambling screed about his superiority as a game designer and a writer and a person and so on, the thrust of which aimed directly at the popularity and hype about Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition. Part of it dealt with his hurt feelings about how Orkworld (including, oddly, a point where he intimated that if a reviewer was to receive a review copy, they’re obligated to give the product a glowing and verbose review), part of it went on about his opinions on the art and layout of the books, and part of it whined about how there were too many rules. There was a point where I debated whether or not he would have liked the new edition better if he’d actually had the proper prescription for his glasses, since he talked at length about how badly his eyes hurt trying to read the text.
All of this is fine and good. And if he’d stuck to such things, it would have been a valid opinion piece. As it were, he rambled a lot getting to these points, but it’s an opinion, and there doesn’t need to be any support beyond ‘I don’t like it’ for it to float. For what it’s worth, I stuck with it all the way through, waiting for him to dazzle me with some actual idea that would give me something to think about. (In the mean time, I’m wondering if his editors at AEG were the reason anything he’d written was actually readable. The signal to noise ratio was startlingly low.)
And then it got crazy.
When I say crazy, I’m not talking about the harmless ‘isn’t it crazy weather we’re having’ sort of crazy. I’m talking about the sort of crazy that may or may not harm you as you look for a safe way to exit the room crazy. Wick had already crossed a couple of lines when he was yammering on about how superior Orkworld was as a product, but I can allow for some disillusionment when you believe in a product, only to watch it fail. The gaming industry was busily focused on something that will have serious repercussions for years to come. It’s hardly a surprise that a fantasy RPG published the same year as 3rd Edition would get overshadowed.
The crazy I’m talking about here is the complete disconnect with reality that Wick undergoes in his screed, when he starts to yammer about how he’s going to revolutionize the gaming industry with this one new product. He’s going to make everyone stand up and take notice, holding his superior game design up as being the golden standard by which all D20 games should be and must be judged against. And since it’s already been published, it should be obvious that I’m talking about …
Wicked Press, What’s That Smell?
Seriously. That was what was going to, in his words, make gamers ‘hold that book up at the steps of Wizards Central and shout at the top of their lungs: “Why can’t you make something this good?”‘
If you haven’t heard of it, don’t feel bad. In fact, don’t worry too much about it at all. I’ve seen occasioned reviews of the module here and there, and people have … liked it. Sorta. Enough to buy it and talk about it, but not much else. It certainly didn’t change gaming from this point forward. And it didn’t steal away the customer base from Wizards of the Coast because people saw how poor and uninspired a product 3rd Edition was.
At one other point, he also talked about how there were more people at GenCon playing the L5R card game than Magic and Pokemon combined. So, yeah. Delusional, perhaps to the point of derangement.