Thursday, April 28, 2016

W is for Wizards of the Coast

(Apologies in advance for getting this post out late. I'll be posting the "X" post later today, so don't worry that I've started shirking my bloggerly responsibilities.)
Some people - past and present - seem to have heralded it as the end of an era when TSR was bought out by Wizards of the Coast in 1997. It's true that AD&D 2nd Edition would soon be on its way out, and the 3rd Edition would make some changes that not everyone liked, but it's not hard to realize that these changes were almost entirely evolutionary.

Grid combat? Six-second rounds? Attacks of opportunity? Those all originated (in official AD&D products, at least) in the Player's Option supplemental rulebooks, specifically Combat and Tactics. The Option books came out in 1995 - at the same time as the revision of AD&D2, and two years before the buyout.

I love this cover; it should have been the cover
to the revised PHB, since it shows actual combat
instead of just busting down a door!

Besides, Wizards of the Coast did keep AD&D alive for several years. They released a booklet allowing for the conversion of AD&D characters to the new 3rd Edition rules (which was slightly iffy, but a nice gesture). They released a number of supplemental books, such as The Scarlet Brotherhood (meant for Greyhawk, but could be used for any setting) which updated and revised the Assassin and Monk classes for the new rules. And, they released an adventure module (The Apocalypse Stone) which allowed DMs to end their 2nd Edition campaigns in a blaze of worlds-ending glory.

Alexis of The Tao of D&D, in his most recent podcast, suggested that the 2000 Dungeons & Dragons movie would never have happened if TSR had still been around as an actual company. I feel that he's both right and wrong on this point. On the one hand, the particular movie that was made is not very good, and it does a poor job of conveying what a good D&D campaign is like (although I just ran the Fast Play Game based on the movie last night, and I succeeded in introducing a complete neophyte to the hobby with great interest). On the other hand, the movie that might have been made in the 1980s - with Gygax's direct involvement - would have been far, far worse, as I read in this article from The Escapist.

True, WotC is responsible for the debacle that is 4th Edition... but that particular cluster of failure is more the fault of Hasbro, who pushed WotC to make a new version of the game (and probably forced them to make it as MMOG-like as possible) after buying them out in turn. WotC is certainly trying to do right by those who have remained loyal to the D&D "brand", and lure people back who jumped ship for Pathfinder (or even earlier cases). The premium reprints are no longer in print to my knowledge, but they can still easily be found relatively cheaply online.*

I salute you, Wizards. You done good.

* Except for the boxed set of OD&D, which (typical of collector's items) has skyrocketed to twice the list price. If I wasn't willing to pay $149.99 USD for a set, who the hell thinks I'll pay $280?


  1. Wizards of the Coast is pretty much the cause, and solution to, all of D&D's problems. ;)

    I think the people who have the most dislike for WotC used feel some kind strong loyalty to the company. But the WotC makes change and suddenly these people feel betrayed. Still, its hard not feel kind of burned when you invest a lot of money into an edition and then it becomes obsolete--which is one of reasons for the dislike of 4e.

    1. To their credit, TSR made sure that the 2nd Edition of AD&D was mostly compatible with the 1st (and likewise with the different iterations of the Basic/Expert rules, including conversion notes for Holmes in the Cook/Marsh Expert Rulebook). 4e was not a good thing for that very reason; even the Dungeon Master 4th Edition For Dummies book that introduced me to the hobby implied that converting characters from 3.5 was basically a lost cause.

  2. Without WotC there would be no OGL. No OGL means that there are tons of great products out there that would not have been made, including all the OSR.
    I feel that people who complain about WotC are the types that would complain about anything anyway. I love my Basic D&D and my 1st Edition, but credit where credit is due; 3rd edition was evolutionary and revolutionary. 5th edition rocks and I even had fun (and still have fun) with 4th ed.

    Tim Brannan, The Other Side Blog
    2015 A to Z of Adventure!

    1. In addition to the OGL for 3e and later editions, they also indirectly allowed a continuation of "old-school" play by licensing the AD&D rules for HackMaster 4e. Plus, they had a number of old adventure modules as free downloads for a number of years.

  3. I did not say that TSR would have made a good movie. I have no better opinion of TSR than I have for the WOTC, as anyone can tell who listens to the podcast.

    1. Very true; you're on record criticizing some of Gygax's poorer decisions. And TSR was indeed guilty of a lot of the things that people attack WOTC for.

      I realize now the wording of the post was a little vague; I didn't mean to imply that you thought TSR's movie would have been good, and I apologize for the misunderstanding.