A Hard Rain Is Gonna Fall

Goodman Games recently announced that it will be one of the “early adopters” for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Outside of the gaming industry this doesn’t have much significance, but on the micro level of game design freelancers, it means that there is a select core of folks that are going to be working very hard between now and Gen Con. Today I've corresponded with freelancers, made art requests for covers, and even *gasp* tried getting some writing in.

One of the implications of the change in the rules set is a corresponding change in the campaign settings. WotC’s flagship CS is the Forgotten Realms. Sometime around August the new setting book will be released, unveiling the sweeping changes that took place to make the Realms compliant with 4E.

Still with me? If this is too esoteric, hold on, I’m getting to the point.

Campaign settings are compelling when they are persistent, when they are just as stable and tangible as the real world. Devoted players come to love these worlds, investing countless hours over scores of years, and even decades. Whether or not this is healthy, I’m not qualified to say, but their devotion does drive the multi-million dollar franchise of books, games, comics, and toys, that is the Forgotten Realms.

I too, have been fortunate enough to publish a campaign setting, the home of Goodman Games’ DCC adventures. If the Forgotten Realms is elephant, than Áereth is a fly – the two are alike only in name.

In FR, they’re advancing the timeline by a little less than 100 years, to account for the differences. Fans on forums everywhere are in an uproar. Everything they once knew about the Realms – everything they’ve invested their lives in for the last 20 years – has changed.

In Áereth, the changes are disarmingly simple. By planning a setting birthed out of old-school pulp conventions, ala Howard and Lovecraft, we were disturbingly close to the vision of 4E. A tweak here and an introduction there, and suddenly we’re compliant again. Ta-da!

Even despite the slight changes, I've taken pains to assure folks on the forum that their 4th edition DCCs are going to be just as good or better than the old ones. With a very finite pool of folks interested in our world, I need every single one of them to stick around.

Put another way, I need my customer more than he needs me. There are tons of other worlds to play in.

Is this also true for the Realms? And if it’s not, is the inverse of the statement – the customer needs the Realms more than the Realms need the customer – true?

I hope not. It is a little ugly to think about. And yet, here are fans whose devotion I would kill for, lamenting the coming changes.

I'm not suggesting Wizards should kowtow to every fanboy's request. Absolutely not. But it does seem that the fans deserve a concierge, of sorts, someone to show up on the forums, assure the gamers that all will be well, and help make the shift a little less daunting. Keeping old customers is cheap. It's getting new ones that's expensive. A small investment now would pay for itself ten times over when those legions of fanboys and girls start singing the praise of a new edition.

Just some thoughts to muse on while I head back to work. Here’s hoping whatever world you live and play in makes you happy. Otherwise, what’s the point?



At 9:41 AM, Blogger Mike said...

I know we talked about this while designing the DCC World setting, but for me, a good campaign setting is a toolbox devoid of metaplot. Give enough detail and story to let somebody use it without difficulty, but subsequent adventures/supplements/rules changes should never invalidate what's come before in the original setting. A good campaign setting should be easy to customize - keep what you like, drop what you don't.

I think that's why I always like Greyhawk better than the Forgotten Realms. Playing in FR always felt like I was playing in somebody else's toybox. Your characters were essentially competing with the likes of the Harpers, or Elminster, or Drizzt Do'Urden. (In my own humble opinion, anyway.) When some "event" occurred in FR, you suddenly had to figure out how that fit into your version of the FR.

Greyhawk, on the other hand, had heroes like Mordenkainen or Bigby, but they always seemed like the heroes of long ago. The player characters became the heroes of the present.

I've been pleasantly surprised by how well the whole "Points of Light" ideology of 4e dovetails with our original concept of DCC World. I'd like to say that we were brilliantly prescient with our design philosophy ... however, I think it's more a case of "better lucky than good". :)

At 10:19 AM, Blogger saurus said...

I never cared for the Realm's, much for the same reason Mike mentioned above. No matter what my character does, he's always going to be second fiddle to Wulfgar. Wulfgar for God's sake! His only claim to fame is that he whacked a wolf once and he can't spell! Cripes...

Where was I? Oh yeah. Wulfgar!

Anyhow, random side note - at the 80's night in Durham this past weekend and I end up meeting a guy and his other half. Turns out they're huge DCC fans and my infamy score goes up 10 points.

At 10:32 AM, Blogger Grimbones said...


That's so cool. Tell him I'll send him some DCCs if he hooks up my little bro ...


At 10:44 AM, Blogger Jeff LaSala said...

Mike and Saurus, you guys would probably like Eberron for exactly the reason you don't like Forgotten Realms. They went the opposite way. The novels have little or no impact on the campaign world, so no author's heroes are going to get in the way of the PCs. And even in the sourcebooks the setting is laid out such that the actions of the PCs will always matter most.

Not that I'm trying to win you on Eberron or anything. ;)

But I heartily agree, Áereth worked out so that it's pretty easy to adapt anything to it, so long as it's relatively high fantasy.

At 10:51 AM, Blogger Grimbones said...

High fantasy?! Pfft.

Just for that insult, I'm running you and Marissa through my [NDA] adventure in August. Bring an eraser and a backup characters.


At 11:28 AM, Blogger Kameron said...

100 years? Seriously? I had heard 10 years. But 100? That's freakin' ridiculous. I can't imagine the kind of havoc that does to the fiction line. Or perhaps they did it to provide a sandbox for writers to play in, though that wouldn't fit with the philosophy they seem to hold of writing in the present. But what would I know?

And is it just me, or does anyone else think it's telling that Drizzt is now the coverboy for FR instead of El?

At 11:29 AM, Anonymous Dieter said...

Yeah, Aereth is kind of the anti-Realms for the reasons already mentioned.

I've never really understood the sort of gamers who like the FR (and World of Darkness)...who love the metaplot and love having every bit of information about the setting handed to them. Even with metaplots I really liked (such as 7th Sea and Dragonlance) I always completely ignored them in my campaigns.

I'm sure there are other viewpoints, but to me RPGs are about having an outlet for my creativity, and there's no creativity in having intricately detailed plots and settings handed to me.

Because of Aereth's openness, it attracts fans different from the FR sort, I think. Someone DMing Aereth is largely left to his own devices and the players' perception of the setting is going to depend a lot on the DM. I consider that a plus, but it is a bit detrimental to the "having legions of rabid fans" plan.

And though DragonMech Battles is keeping me pretty busy right now, I'm keen to jump on the 4e train as soon as possible...so if there are any mysterious 4e projects going on that could use additional writers keep me in mind. :)

At 9:51 AM, Blogger saurus said...

See, World of Darkness I could get behind but mainly for reasons that I was the one person who bought 'Snakes on a Train' (that's Train folks - not plane - and yes it's bad). Take the dark poet angle out of it, and you get to run around killing humans one by one. Blingo!

And then came the LARPs. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? Yeah, those lost me.

Should go off and make a Tremere named Wulfgar grumblegrumblegrumble....

At 10:50 AM, Blogger Ken Hart said...

I've played in two campaigns set in the Forgotten Realms and actually had a good time in both of them, and oddly for different reasons. In the first, my DM was my friend John, who was a frequent WotC contributor and wrote the '80s sourcebook on the Moonsea area of the Realms. But despite this (or perhaps because of it), he never let us get overwhelmed by the metaplot, and he treated the Big Names as DM tools and plot devices. I don't think our characters ever met any of them; our PCs had plenty to do with guarding caravans, exploring mines, saving villagers from bandits and monster attacks, etc.

In the second campaign, once I moved back to this area, my friend Kevin was kind of the opposite of John: He wasn't a professional and knew next to nothing about the Realms' metaplot. He simply liked the deities, the organizations, and the locations, and he liked the Salvatore novels.

As for the 100-year jump, I dunno. I'm keeping an open mind since I figure that if you're going to make a big change in the setting, then don't go half-way. But as Kameron said, it certainly does screw with fans of the fiction lines, e.g., half of Drizzt's supporting cast just got wiped out.

At 1:44 PM, Blogger Grimbones said...


I think you're right. The "uber-NPC" issue has more to do with GMing styles than the nature of setting. Pick any setting out there, and we could pull out personalities that could dominate the table at any give time.


At 12:01 PM, Blogger Steinkel said...

Very interesting comments here, for sure. Well, we have been playing in the Realms for a long time and we don't like at all those big changes that people are talking about in the Internet. Nevertheless, since we stumble upon DCC marvellous adventure modules, including the Gazzetteer of the Known Realms, we used it instead of FR. I offers us more options to work and make our own personal setting, with those things we really love -dungeon crawling- and much less magic level than in FR. Actually we're using now something in between DCC Aereth and Wilderlands of High Fantasy.
Ah, we're waiting for those new modules from Goodman Games using fourth edition rules. We shall buy them all, as we did with 3.5 DCC modules -we own them all-. They are great. Keep up with the good wrok there, guys.

Sorry for my bad english.

Take care.


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