Oh, Monte… It’s good to see that you can learn from a beating. Your most recent Legends and Lore continues to make strides towards being a genuine discussion and less like proselytizing. I’m very happy that you seem to be coming around that there isn’t one perfect spaghetti sauce, there are perfect spaghetti sauces.
“I’m going to argue that a good game writer can do both. I think that game rulebooks and adventures can be presented in such a way that convey the needed information and yet still are exciting and interesting to read. However, I’m going to also argue that this balance is something that throughout the history of the game D&D has only done with moderate success, and usually veers too much in one direction or the other.”
Now, I feel that it’s pretty clear that he thinks that 4e has gone too far in the direction of “dry and boring” as compared to “inspiring and imaginative” and that’s probably a fair criticism. I sometimes forget that thirty years of D&D has made it pretty easy for me to find inspiration anywhere, not just in the rulebooks themselves. Often, when I’m reading or watching something, I’m thinking to myself, “Could I make that as a monster?” or “How would I build him as a character?”
“D&D gamebooks are like no other form of writing. Something like the Player’s Handbook needs to be equal parts teaching tool, reference work, and muse. Someone is going to sit down and read that book to learn how to play. They need things explained carefully and often in detail. That same person will refer to that book over and over again while playing. Then they need everything to be straightforward and succinct to keep the game moving. They also need that book to inspire them to create fantasy characters and adventures. In this case, they need imaginative hooks, references, and ideas that send them off on their own flights of fantasy. All three of those aspects usually come in the form of entirely different books. To ask a book to serve all three at once is a real challenge.”
That’s a very elegant statement because it recognizes that different people approach the PHB with different needs and expectations, something that hasn’t happened thus far in any of the “pre-5e” discussions. The same could be said to be true of every aspect of D&D. Therein lies the problem. The PHB is an expensive book, so expensive that people are going to be pissed off when errata and system tweaks make their copy obsolete. Again, the same could be said of every D&D book.
Well, that’s not exactly true. This is where I’m going to pitch a suggestion that makes everyone happy:
Here’s the thing, there’s a full-color 300+ page book sitting here on my desk. It’s the size of a trade paperback, instead of the full letter-sized page of the more traditional D&D book, but it gets the job done. In fact, in some ways it’s better, because it’s far more portable. It also only cost me $20. You’ve probably guessed what it is…
My theory is that, if you dropped the page count down to 125-150, you might be able to get the price point down to $10, then put in a coupon for $1 off future versions of that same product. This way, you could do racial and class-based splat books and people would not be so resentful of errata and rules changes. It’s easy to say “$10 != $35”, but the idea is to change how the customer feels about the purchase. A $10 price point moves it to the territory of impulse purchase.
How does this relate to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups? For the longest time, their marketing strategy was combining two things that normally didn’t go together. With regard to D&D, these two things are crunch and fluff. Going to a splat book model increases the amount of room you have by rather a lot, without the customer feeling that they’re being punched in the wallet. One of the things you can – and should – do with all that extra space is add in more fluff. I think it would be liberating.