Thursday, August 2, 2012

How I would save the DND license- a brain dump

I was surprised to find a package from Oxfam in England today in my mailbox.  It turned out to be a copy of The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd ed Games Masters guide which I had won for a pittence on ebay what seems like six months ago.  I had actually written that off as lost, but none the less, here it is.  Yay.

I had a coffee at my local cafe and read through it, and it got me thinking.  What if I was handed the Dungeons & Dragons license right now by the bigwigs at Hasbro with a post it note saying 'sort this mess out'.  Now thats a fun mental challenge.

I thought I would share my musings, as its bound to cause an explosion in comments and I do so love comments.  I am a comments hog me.  Oh, I got to paint some stuff last night, so Kings Minis will be back to putting up pictures of old school minis, but in the mean time....


Lets look at the business model, the francise, the fan base, the product line, its competition (pathfinder) and the future.

Firstly I would kick off with a total reboot of the rules.  This would involve cutting the rules down to the bone.  The model where you need volumes and volumes of books to get all the rules is broken- its a law of deminishing returns... players buy the core rules, then a handful of the hundred or so books published.  This means those books are dead stock.  They cost just as much to develop, but ultimately will not sell as much as the core books.  I would focus on making a DND that cherry picks the best bits of the systems from 0e through to the modern game, streamlining it down to a flexible core system that can be expanded on.  This would mean the learning curve, and audience would be wider, and the range of books less threatening to both new players and shop owners.  Lets not forget the days of game and book stores are numbered- PDF, POD and book via mail is the future.  A DND ruleset you can mail is top priority.

Oh and this would be the cover...

So how to make the money if there are less books?  We will get to that.

As an example of the direction I would take, characters are generated from a class initially to give form and direction to the character, but equipment feats, spells and skills are not class restricted- a spell costs a great deal more XP to buy if your a fighter than a wizard, and some spells get a penality modifier if your wearing metal armor.  If your strong enough to weild a weapon, you can.  This makes the game more about imaginative development of the character, and gives players much more freedom to arm, equip and advance their characters.  This also allows feats and spells to be nixed by GMs to suit their campaign world without unbalancing classes.

Thinner rules means less rules to bitch about and less to balance- it also would mean thinner books.
This would place us in a great position versus Paizo's Pathfinder (which I prefer over 4th edition- great work guys).  Paizo sell BRICKS.  To counter this, my thinner books would have less tables and words, but much, much more art.  Rather than new art, I would cherry pick the absolute best art from the history of DND, lets not forget the wonderful Elmore, Eastley and Brom art (plus hundreds of other great artists over the years), plus lots of great Magic: The Gathering art produced that would be under the Wizards IP.  I would using the art to stimulate imagination and really get the juices going- who needs wordy descriptions of monsters when you can place three or four great interpretations in images?  Of course, reusing old art does not mean its free- the artists get their comission- however it does mean a heddy mix of nostalgia that would attract older players back.

The first books you would see from my DND would be...

Dungeons&Dragons: Your adventure starts here    (Based on the original dnd red box, it leads you through solo play into the rules)
DND Players Book:  Character generation, equipment lists, Spell lists, Feat lists, Miniature tips
DND Games Masters Book:  Art of GMing, Making campaigns, Sample scenarios, Npc generator, the core DND monsters.
DND Tables and Treasures:  All the random generator stuff a gm could want, names, items, creatures, fluff and nonesense
DND campaign books:  Greyhawk, Dragonlance, Dark Sun, Ravenloft etc.
The campaign books would include the monster manual stuff for each specific setting, as well as the usual fluff, campaign specific spells as well as suggested nixing for core rulebook stuff.
DND adventures 1, 2, 3 etc.   Each book containing several adventures that GMs can mix and match content from, as well as having encounter options for different levels of players.  These would mainly be available through an automated watermarked PDF download or ebook to registered players on DND website.
DND War:  A mass wargame ruleset that actually can stand up to Warhammer.  This is free to download.
DND infernal:  This would include all the demonic spells, demon classes, Teiflings etc... as a way to make DND more accessable, the overly satanic stuff would be shifted to a seperate book, which is purely optional.  Parents can flick through my regular DND books and purely encounter fantasy and mythological imagery.  Players who want a slice of the infernal plane can pick this gem up.

MyDND Style
The big change I would make to the styling of the game is to make it more roleplaying than ruleplaying, but keep the focus on miniatures.  Yep, its all about miniature facing, distances in squares etc.  I would leave the world of warcraft MMG complexities for online games, not tabletop games.  Let computers do what they do best (number crunching), and GMs do what they do best (imagination and drama).  Though I personally prefer loose rpg without the focus on miniatures (we even use paper minis in my games- ironic considering my collection, right?) the business model demands it.  So strike a good balance and strip it back to essentials.  My DND is a boardgame with a creative, imaginative hobby on top.

Plastic, plastic, plastic.
Okay, with that huge spring cleaning comes the miniatures stuff.  Yes, though my DND books would be more about atmosphere and imagination than tables and rules, rules, rules- we have to make money somehow, right?  Well, Hasbro is a plastics company, and thats where I would refocus the business model.

Taking a leaf out of GW's huge success, I would relaunch DND as a miniatures kit hobby.  Instead of prepainted plastics (which would still be sold under my iron rule until the kits take off), I would focus on small box sets containing plastic sprues with enough components to make several figures with heaps of equipment options.  Player packs would be things like human fighter, elf ranger, dwarf warrior, female human fighter, etc.  Each player pack contains enough parts for 3 figures, with lots of bits left over.
There would be low level and high level versions, all intermixable.  This would allow you to not only assemble a figure that closely matches your idea of your character, but could be magnitised to allow mid game switching.  What this means for the business model is simple:  Multiple sales for less tooling, less cost as prepainting is not required, players buy multiple kits to get all the bits they need to create their characters.

Players only buy a few miniatures, but it is the GM where my business model kicks in.  My DND would actively encourage GMs to collect and build dungeons, taverns and villages and stock them with treasure, scenery and of course, monsters.  My business model would be about PLASTIC 3D DUNGEONS.

Hasbro is a toy company.  They flog plastic.  My DND would be about selling lots of boxes of plastic sprues and paint.  Modular plastic dungeon sections, kobolt kits, gnolls, bugbears, orcs, big monsters and all with a focus on mixing, matching and customising.  Yes, the rules for monsters would be flexible to allow this.  And yes, the wargame rules can then kick in to enourage even more sales of the kits to players as well as GMs.
The modular dungeon parts would have neo-d-magnet holes, be lightweight and stackable for storange.

This model is proven.  GW do it.  They do it well.  Unlike warhammer, where players focus on one, maybe two armies, DND players would be tempted to buy it all.  Who wouldnt want a fully stocked dungeon?  Dozens of NPCs to pick from?  Armies of bugbears, Mindflayers, Githyanki, oh my.  What a rich IP to collect and paint!
Who wouldnt want a beholder construction kit?  Yep, everything you need to make beholder kin in one box, or go apeshit and custom create something new with the bits.

Ultimately, plastic makes more money then paper.  MyDND would be about flogging lots of boxes.

Evil stuff
Okay, now the bastard stuff.  All business requires some dastardly moves, here are mine.  Of course I wouldnt announce this if I was in charge, but this would be my thinking....  ;)
The modular terrain would all be based on 3.3cm square instead of 1 inch.  This gives more room for bigger models, as the 1 inch basis was set during the 25mm mini era.  This would make it incompatible with other makers of 3d terrain initially and make all the paper encounter stuff redundant.  But hey, who cares when the (Daves)DND box terrain sets are cheaper than resin, lighter and much more customiseable, right?

Secondly I would switch to true 30mm for the minis- not heroic 28.  Uhg!  Yes, it would make older minis look a tad small next to the new ones, and it would mean GW stuff does not fit the DND plastics quite right.  The bonus of this is that the models are easier to paint for beginners, can have more detail and look good on the game table at the distance one normally plays dnd.
Encounter kits.  Yes some creature or scenery sprues are only available in encounter sets, which inlcude a bunch of regular sprues, like goblins.  Mindflayers, for example, come only in an encounter set.  These sets encourage you to get into 3d dungeons too, as they have one or two bits.  once you have a few bits, you want more.  I know I would.  ;)
Dear, that Dragons back...

I would reinstate Dragon magazine as a thin, glossy printed mag to act as an entry way for new, young players much like White Dwarf does.  It would focus mainly on the hobby of collecting, painting and customising your plastics, but rather than just be a glossy catalogue like white dwarf it would also include some content- not much, but some - these would include scenarios, encounters and stats for new released monsters, plus encounters to use them in and suggestions for new player feats, skills and spells.  Older issues would be available as PDF downloads once off the shelves and a best of would be published yearly online to registered members.  It would also have room for wizards collectable card game stuff.  The magazine would be a write off, but as an attractor to the hobby it would be front and centre.

New directions
Embracing ebooks, character generation apps and strengthening the old licenses would be a major focus.  Remember the DND cartoon and toy range?  Those characters would reappear in the modern DND.  Old IP legends such as Warduke, Kellek, Ringlerun, Strongheart, Dungeon Master, Drizzt, Goldmoon etc would all find themselves in app games, video games and ultimately a decent film.
IP expansion and condensation would be a major focus for me.  A reboot of the tabletop would also mean a reboot of the online MMO.  I would also start pushing the reboot DND into war gaming, encouraging tournament style gaming to lift mini sales.

Anyway, thats my two pence.

Nostalgia, streamlined rules, condensed IP and plastic, plastic, plastic.

Love to hear your comments below!

Dave out.


  1. Insert Fry 'Shut up and take my money meme' here :)

    I don't even play D&D but the idea of Plastic D&D monsters and modular dungeons has sent me all a flutter, it's a genius idea.
    You should start one of those kick-starter things that everyone and their dog seems to be running at the moment. I'm sure you could sculpt up some awesome 'not' D&D mini's, I'd definitely buy a Dave King floating-multi-eye-stalked-dungeon-watcher multi part kit.

  2. All sounds pretty badass. I think they'd need to look at their target market: you can do a lot of things with the nostalgia market that you cant with the entry level market. GW made the move to the highstreet really well, i think if D&D wanted to do the same they'd need to aim more at the Heroquest / Space Crusade sort of thing. Did those games tank saleswise? I'm assuming so, which is why we've not really seen any other attempts to break into the Toys R us style market. If you aimed at a higher demographic you could produce very expensive high quality products instead, which as someone with disposable income I'd favour, haha.

    I really like the idea of tons of plastic and modular dungeons, like a much cooler version of Descent.. focus on the titular Dungeons!

    The modular nature of D&D products in the past always put me off - needing to buy a new set when you get over level 10 etc, and needing to buy seperate books for player and GM always seemed unforgivable. If you changed that alone I'd be in for it.

  3. Hmm - Dave Edition DND. I'd pick up a copy and take a look.

    Well what I mean is - I'd download freely all the PDFs some kid has taken 10 mins to scan in. Oops you've just lost a chunk of revenue there, but never mind we'll continue on... Actually if the game were any good, I'd still go out and buy the physical Players Handbook and the DMG. There is nothing like having the hard copy taking up space on the gaming table! - but I'd never go out and but another splat book again.

    I would probably include the Demons and Devils etc in the main book - just to antagonise anyone that might be stupid enough to take offence at it! Why pick on the 'infernal stuff' and not the 'raised from the dead stuff' - ooh the skeletons look kinda scary... :) I mean you might as well take out 'evil alignment' from the game whilst your at it! - But then Im probably not as bright as you and for the future of the company I'd agree that it would work just as well in a separate 16+ or 18's Only book. (that should get the kids interested!). But lets make that book have lots of detail on how to play evil characters too. :)

    DND Terrain sets - err sorry but no thanks, my group have several squared gaming mats and thats as far as we want to go. They roll up nice n tidy and the kids cant break them. Perhaps you could sell nice multi-coloured variants of them with the DND logo? Maybe the young kids on the block get the idea they *should* have these terrain sets so maybe they will sell, maybe they wont. I just query how terrain works if your flying amongst the clouds saving a Silver dragon from some flying demons - But we only got some dungeon tiles tonight. hmm.

    I like the idea of plastic miniatures for monsters. Theres already a large choice out there from the pre-paint ranges. But it would be good to have detailed hard plastic sets akin to what GW produce. Especially those kits that could potentially make 2 different creatures from the same kit (so you have to buy 2 of them to make both sorts!). Im all for getting kids to glue and paint stuff. To me thats just as enjoyable as actually playing the game. In 30mm scale? I dont think it matters for the monsters, however the characters and humanoids I would avoid. Too many reaper and GW 'adventurers' about already!

    Do you know how long it currently takes to create a challenging 18th level encounter, for a group of 5 power gamer geeks with years of play experience. Too long. As soon as you realise Im time-short and you can produce, involving and challenging adventures, that I can download; I'll be all over them like a hungry Octopus. Even having simple tools for creating encounters with all the options in them would be a good start (but program in the ability to increase the difficulty somehow!). Better still is to have complete adventures. I think this is where WOTC went wrong in the first place, and where I feel I would probably spend the most money. Dragon magazine could have the first encounter from each new adventure as a teaser...

    DND wargaming - I think it could work, but I would love to see it in the old battlesystem 15mm scale. Create some plastic troops for that and all too soon I'd be hooked, living in a cold damp alley way, just waiting for my next brigade of bugbears fix.

    I think the future of DND licence has to lie somewhere in the common ground for both the new kids 'soon to encounter their first beholder' and the old guard, I've got pretty much everything I need, but feel things could be somehow made easier/better.

  4. Hi!

    As someone who never actually roleplayed but enjoyed painting even the bendy plastics of the D&D range I would love to see the Dave edition!

    All the best!

  5. I agree modular dungeons are not ideal for roleplaying, but it certainly would shift some plastic for hasbro. It would also mean you buy dozens of the same boxes to create your taverns, villages and dungeons. A great hobby for kids and adults alike- Low tooling costs, repeat sales on same stock.
    Its tempting....

    Well after Skulldred is done a rpg system would be a fitting follow up. I am toying with an idea on how to change level mechanics to be relative... You know, I am sixth level - this is a fifth level encounter so I get +1 level bonus. That way you can say a beholder is tenth level, or say, twentieth level and it refers to the level at which a player character is evenly matched. To beef an encounter, just up the level. A ten second upgrade.
    Aaaaanyway, unless hasbro want to hire me I guess the rest is just mootage. :)

  6. As a sort of all new game system I really like the idea, and I could see myself getting hooked if I allowed myself too, but I'm not sure my AD&D nostalgia brain is quite able to accept that D&D is now no longer a paper based affair!

    Really, my biggest worry (as a business, and as a player) would be that the single PC per player versus a whole dungeon of monsters model is rather lopsided. While DMs are always going to be spending more than players in any game by beefing up what they feel they have to spend you could end up pricing out a lot of groups - or pushing them into full-on wargaming as people want to collect their own faction, not just add to the DMs pool?

    So, anyway, my idea to offset this would be two-fold. First, put monsters/scenery in with the PC kits - not enough to make them prohibitavely expensive, but enough to get people into the idea of collecting them, and also to give the DM more money to spend on the tastier models.

    Second, make NPCs and followers a larger part of the game, and integral from the start, not just from 10th level or so. The PC is still the main hero, but followers and NPCs provide assists and buffs and an extra level of strategy in terms of placement. That way players have a sense of something to collect that is their own as well. It would somewhat change the game to one of a number of squads rather than a single group of mighty heroes, but could be a really good way of selling plastic to the whole group rather than just one member of the group. And also, it seems like quite a fun idea.

  7. Oh yeah- I would encourage players to contribute by building different styles of dungeon kits to lend to the game to help spread the load. ;)
    Great idea about Hirelings and npcs mixed in with player character models. Player kits could be expanded to include versions if same model parts for seated, wounded, unconscious and campfire, tent, mounted (horses and other magical steeds). Making kits based on equipment would also spread player purchases- leather armour, metal, etc- and have elf, dwarf, male and female of each armor type- so you buy low level leather pack, chain, full plate etc. That way as pcs die you have other models to access- boxes include five or six player characters if the same level.
    Other player stuff would be player homes and forts, baggage trains.. wizards would like their summoned creatures and spell effects... Heck, what about collectable plastic player inventory items like potions, arrows, coins, gems rings, that you could sit in front of you while you play?
    A gm voice changer wand would be a great branded toy item that would be handy.

    1. Ooh, I like the idea of the player themed dungeon/scenerey kits. If you gave players rules to design and develop their own fort/base/tower/cave (each!), which could expand as they go up in levels and get richer and more powerful then that would get them collecting but the pieces would still be part of the communal pool. As a GM I've always enjoyed attacking players at their homes as a way of shaking them up and getting them into a story. Maybe this could be codified, by allowing players to effectively run a defence game, where the GM throws waves of monsters at them, but this time the players know all the secrets and the GM doesn't.

  8. You know, I never thought of taking ownership of a dungeon I cleared out of evil things. Why lug the treasure away when you can simply install a spa and turn it into a defensible hall to drink mead in and wench? Hell, become the ruler of those kobolds, give them dental plans and better wages (not to mention combat training) and really set yourself up!
    I designed a cool warehouse with a loft for my shadowrun hacker to live in, and Luke P gmed a brilliant siege episode using my plans. It was very much live Blade 2's hang out- (but we did it in 1990).
    Making your own fort was very much part of basic dnd boxed sets- would be great to expand that to include home, shop, tavern etc. heck, why not roll it up when you make your pc? A village generator for the gm to really set the scene and you have something.

    1. That's interesting about the basic sets - I never actually played any of those editions, coming straight into AD&D with a group who had been playing Runequest and then playing quite a bit of Ravenloft so my version of the game has always been much more about baseless wanderers going from fight to fight.

      The more I think about it as well the more I think that there might be something in a sort of squad-based, strategic adventure/expoloration game. With the proviso that I will probably never do it because I don't have anything like the time would you be alright if I did have a go at developing something, seeing as it is spinned out from some of your ideas in this blog? You can say no!

  9. Thats an aspect of skulldred I am covering in the dungeon expansion, funnily enough. Dungeon bash skirmish with squads made from adventurers, hirelings, pack mules and allied encountered npcs. I am for it to be playable solo, gm'ed or co-op. Hirelings can be upgraded to adventurers when one is killed.
    Its also played in cluttered, feature rich rooms rather than empty corridors, so more swash buckle than kill, t-intersection, kill, L turn, kill, etc... Etc... Etc...
    But before that is another expansion, so its a little way off!

    1. Sounds awesome though. I look forward to seeing it. I'd like to get hold of Skulldred anyway - any news on when the official release is yet?