Sadly, since I had to cut my Gen Con trip short, I wasn't around for the Saturday seminar where the folks from WotC announced a bunch of new products for 2011. But I did eagerly follow every Twitter link and blog post I could find.
I had some initial reactions to the announcements, but decided to sit on them for a while before writing down my thoughts, and I'm glad I did, since some of my initial reactions changed the more I thought about it.
One thing that didn't change was my sub headline for this blog post:
2011 - The Year Everything Changes
Technically you could say that things are changing right now with regards to D&D 4e, but it wasn't until I saw the product list for 2011 that I realized that what we'll be seeing in the upcoming months from WotC for 4e sets the stage for the "new normal".
What I'm specifically referring to are the game changes that will be part of the new D&D Essentials line. We've known about the Essentials line for a while now, but only recently with several online previews (and a significant general rules update) were we getting details on what to expect. As I point out in my post on the Gen Con Delve I played, I like many of the changes that we'll be seeing in the new products, and look forward to picking up at least the new Red Box starter set (and if you don't already know, that starter set will only have this "throwback jersey" design for the first printing. Additional print runs of the set will have a cover treatment more in line with the other Essentials products).
Looking at these changes, I see a significant shift in character mechanics, as compared to their 4e counterparts. At this point I'll add the obligatory mention that Essentials does not render previous 4e materials obsolete (as the 3.5 launch did to 3.0 materials), but 4e characters can be played along side Essentials counterparts. Time will ultimately tell how much support the new and old continue to receive.
And looking at the new products for 2011, I see a similar shift in what is being developed. Not appearing on the 2011 schedule is anything like PHB4 or DMG3 (though I read somewhere that their might be an Epic Level DMG in 2012). Instead there's going to be an Unearthed Arcana-like options book for Players and DMs (Champions of the Heroic Tier) and a magic item book with more detailed items, possibly for more role playing value (Mordenkenian’s Magical Emporium), along with a name change for the yearly monster book (Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentir Vale).
Clearly there is a shift in the product names to move away from the bland "book #" format, to titles with more evocative and interesting names, and I certainly applaud this minor change. These names are already more inspiring than Martial Power 2 or Monster Manual 3.
Another interesting change in the upcoming products seems to be the inclusion of more cards into the game. The Fortune Cards, along with the Despair Deck (from Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond), not the mention the granddaddy of all card decks, the Deck of Many Things (available in the Madness of Gardmore Abbey mega-adventure) look to add new elements of randomness and variation into the game.
As for the Fortune Cards, I'm not sure what to expect, but it seems like we've already seen this type of product before. Will this be more like the new Plot Twist cards from Paizo, or the older Atlas Games Dork 20 cards for D&D 3.5? The only difference here is that these will be sold in booster packs instead of complete decks, a decision I don't approve of. While WotC says these aren't meant to be collected, I can image more than a few people eager to get a complete set regardless.
The other major shifts we'll be seeing next year are more Box Sets, something we haven't seen in quantity since the days of 2e. Supposedly, Box Sets were very expensive to produce and had a higher return rate over books as they would dent more easily and major book store chains would return large numbers of damaged product. I for one am happy to see the return of the Box Set and mega adventures with plenty of maps and tokens and space for my own hand written notes and additions.
Also making a comeback is a setting specific print product, specifically the Neverwinter Campaign Guide for the Forgotten Realms. This marks a change from the previous position that each setting will only be supported by two books. I like the idea that a given setting might need more than the two book limit, so long as it doesn't open the floodgates of old. What I don't want to see is half a dozen FR or Dark Sun books coming out in a given year.
Something new we'll be seeing next year are a few books in a 6 x 9 softcover format. I like softcover books and for some time thought that WotC should have a cheaper softcover version of the PHB available for cost conscious players or as a second travel book for players and DMs. It now looks like I'll be getting this with the new Rules Compendium. I hope this is priced accordingly and turns out to be successful.
Lastly, one of the products that I was initially bearish about was the new campaign setting, Ravenloft. While I like the setting, the news that this new version would feature playable vampire and werewolf characters wreaked of pandering to the Twilight/True Blood/Vampire Diaries crowd. After thinking about this for a while, I changed my position. Plenty of d20/3.x products allowed players access to these iconic monster types, and if it helps bring new players to D&D (as Vampire did to the RPG hobby in general), I don't see this as a bad thing.
Certainly I don't want to see the overall mood of the Demiplane of Dread altered into a teen angst setting, but I have enough trust in WotC to find enough game space in the setting for all kinds of play in the Gothic horror tradition.
2011 certainly looks like an interesting year to be a fan!
P.S. This will be my last post-Gen Con article. While there is much more I could comment on, I'm sure other people have already made mention of this or that aspect of the con. I now return you to your regular blog...