Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Thought Experiment on the Future of the D&D Brand and TSR Properties

Recently I was reading that Wizards of the Coast cancelled some product in their release schedule. The D&D website says this “Three D&D RPG products have been removed from the 2011 release schedule—Class Compendium: Heroes of Sword and Spell, Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium, and Hero Builder’s Handbook.” 
This lead me to think that perhaps sales of 4e D&D were not doing as well as anticipated.
Check out Cyclopeatron for some more interesting details regarding D&D’s market share.
The addition of collectable cards to the D&D game, as introduced in WotC’s D&D Gamma World, confirms my initial reaction to post TSR D&D product: Wizards is turning D&D into Magic. With 4e I started thinking they were turning it into a Magic video game. I’d barely call what they have created an RPG, at least in the sense that I define an RPG. I’d call it something more like a Character Based Adventure Game. This kind of game has balanced rules sets for “fairness” (a concept that has no place in a game with no winner) and cards you can play for added excitement like the “chance” or “community chest” cards from Monopoly, another Hasbro property.
With the apparent loss of market share for D&D and the trend of moving toward the collectable card game format of Magic, it would make sense for Wizards/Hasbro to dump the D&D brand, if D&D is not going to be profitable, and re-market the game they have created as something like Magic the Roleplaying Game. This would be a great home for some sort of Magic based campaign world and free up the D&D brand and properties for use by some creative entity who is interested in doing something more worthy of the name Dungeons & Dragons. Wizards would have a better opportunity with a new product under a brand that makes them a lot of money i.e Magic
Personally I’d like to see the following, as several of these properties (especially the TSR ones) should only have been licensed in the first place and ownership belongs to their creators:
• Dungeons & Dragons - return the brand to the estates of
  Gygax and Arneson
• Mystara should revert to the estate of Tom Moldvay or be released 
  to the public
• AD&D, Dangerous Journeys, Boot Hill and Greyhawk, return
  to Gygax’s Estate along with Dragon magazine (and possibly
• Blackmoor - return to Arneson’s Estate
• Forgotten Realms - return to Ed Greenwood
• Ravenloft - return to Tracy & Laura Hickman
• Dragon Lance - return to Tracy & Laura Hickman and
  Margaret Weis
• Ebberon  - return to Keith Baker or use for Magic RPG
• D20 Including D&D D20 Modern D20 Future ect. (These
  products are no longer supported and should be sold (with an
  initial offer being made to designer Monte Cook of Malhavok
  Press along with Jonathan Tweet and Skip Williams) for further
  development or continued publication, with D&D renamed as
  D20 Fantasy
• Planescape, Spelljammer, Dark Sun, Birthright and Al-Qadim
  should be sold as support material for D20 or given to public for

Also consider the following non D&D related TSR properties:

• Gamma World should revert to creator Jim Ward
• Star Frontiers should be released to the public
• Top secret should revert to designer Merle M Rasmussen or be
  released to the public
• Gangbusters should revert to designer Rick Krebs or be released to
  the public
• The SAGA system should revert to designer Sue Cook or be
  released to the public as this system would be too much like that
  of Magic RPG for Wizards to market
• Alternity should revert to designer Bruce Heard or be released to
  the public
• Amazing Engine and Kara-Tur should revert to designer David
  Cook (Cook also worked on Star Frontiers, Indiana Jones RPG,
  Planescape, and Conan RPG for TSR).

Dragon Tails

The other day I was working on a set of Deities for my campaign setting and wanted to include my version of Asmodeus. When building the description I looked at historical sources that described Asmodeus as having three heads ,one of a bull, one of a goat and the other of a dragon. This eventually led to the classic humanoid devil made up of these three creatures, having horns, hoofed feet and a barbed tail. Its that last characteristic I want to focus on because that’s what got me thinking. A dragon’s tail is barbed. I know of no real creature that has a barbed tail i.e. shaped like a spade or spear-head on the end. This detail, like the horn of a unicorn, denotes it as a magical and unique creature (and probably why these creatures are both used in heraldry). What I noticed is that its been a long time since I noticed any dragons appearing with barbed tails in any contemporary RPG art. The barbed tail is only seen as a demon or devil characteristic (and thus of the annoying tiefling as well) these days but any research will show that descriptions of devils with a barbed tail indicate that they have a dragons’s tail. At some point the dragon has evolved into a spell-casting dinosaur and lost its defining physical characteristic, the barbed tail. Although there are several images from the past that show dragons with un-barbed tails, from what I have been able to quickly research, medieval drawings and paintings appear to have a greater frequency of barbed tails than renaissance and especially modern and specifically contemporary depictions of dragons. If this trend continues then the dragon may lose its tail altogether and become a kind of hornless unicorn.