Friday, September 3, 2010

One hundred and seventeen pages of Errata!?

As a general RPG site the RPG Stack Exchange Site reflects the make up of the general population of roleplaying gamers. D&D 4e questions dominate the site as D&D 4e has the largest gamer concern. It been a while since I read anything extensively about D&D 4e and for the most part the questions are the usual type you find with any game. But occasionally I read about errata, and additions. What made it unusual tho is the degree of change the errata seems to be making to the core 4e game. So I popped over to the wizard's errata page and took a look.

Their current complied rules update is 117 pages! Wow. So I just look at the update for the core set. It been two years since I ran a campaign in D&D 4e so I wanted to understand what I am in for if I ever ran one today. Between all three core rule books there are 37 pages!

Immediately I flashed back 20 odd years to the debut of GDW's Megatraveller. It was intended to be the end all to be all update to Classic Traveller. However one thing that brought it down was the sheer volume of errata to fix broken and misprinted rules. Not just little rules but needed changes to fix the combat system.

I also went through similar experiences with Star Fleet Battles and Battletech. I can tell you it is a source of frustration and a barrier for new gamers playing for the first time.

Bob: What do you mean it doesn't work that what?
Alex: Yeah it was broken so they changed in the errata here.
Bob: Thanks

This is of concern because if the mainline RPG (D&D 4e) sneezes we all catch cold. I really hope that Wizards doesn't have to do this with D&D Essentials. Because this volume of errata for any game is just a millstone around it's neck.

19 comments:

Snarls-at-Fleas said...

So? Back in the days there was less customer feedback, less interaction, no electronic publishing. Now we have all this. I like most of the errata. Good that they try to make the game better.
This is only problem for those who still don't use electronic aids. All errata are instantly in my CB & MB. So what problems it can be?

Tetsubo said...

Will this errata ever see actual print? I know that WotC no longer deals in PDF products. I have no dog in this race, I am not part of the 4E fans. I'm just curious.

Rob Conley said...

The problem comes from when casual gamers interact with the core fans. The reaction by the causal gamer is usually one of "What you mean it doesn't work that way? It is in my book.

There is a reason why excess errata is made fun of in Knights of the Dinner Table.

ghostofmarx said...

It could also be indicative of shoddy editing and hasty publications. That is to say that they are trying to churn out too much product without making sure it's quality.

Alex Schroeder said...

My point of view is informed by Dan Proctor’s analysis: "So, instead of producing a game that's marketed as done, complete, and improved from before, we simply market D&D. The very nature of the game itself will remain in flux to facilitate a subscription-based consumption plan. This way, customers always expect to be paying money and so long as the content changes can be integrated into the subscription plan there are few problems. Customers need to be retrained to think of the game rules and character options as less fixed. That way they expect the game to keep changing and they return to the brand no matter what form it's in. We still give them a static product -- we always call it Dungeons & Dragons -- but customers are loyal to the brand, not the product."

It makes sense to me from a business perspective, incorporates what Snarls-at-Fleas said above, explains why they are trying to embrace the old school with references like the Red Box (after all, it's the D&D brand!), and it provides a solid foundation for the digital initiative business model. The only reasons not to like is are economical ones (if you don't feel like paying for the subscription), or philosophical ones (if you think pen and paper games should be bought and sold like board games instead of like MMORPGs).

Rob Conley said...

@Alex thanks for sharing that.

Which brings to mind what they are doing to Gamma World where, I think, character options are collectible and bought in the form of cards.

I suppose on possibility is that Gamma World works well enough that they decide to apply to D&D. But in a crafty way.

They have the D&D Essential line and since they have two years of experience with 4e it turns out that Essentials has way less errata than the original 4e books.

But after they release all of Essential they retool the main line into collectible game like Gamma World. Figuring their core fans will be happy chasing down the last power card.

They can then manage the line and errata like Magic the Gathering which there is a ton of an experience.

One scene my "crystal ball" is showing ;)

Nick said...

@ghostofmarx Some of it may be shoddy workmanship, but much of it seems to represent changing design ideas. For better or worse, WOTC seems to have decided to make 4e kind of a living design experiment. The example that I'm thinking of is magic missile errata. Originally in 4e, magic missile was a ranged attack that could miss, but this year they released an erratum(?) that changed it to the fairly traditional "auto-hit" mechanic.

Also, my understanding is that the errata will be worked into the new rules book released with Essentials.

The errata are still a problem, don't get me wrong. I just wanted to point out that they partially represent a specific design decision towards frequent revision rather than bad workmanship (at least in some cases).

Also, WOTC must think its a problem because I remember reading that they've assigned someone (Mike Mearls?) to monitoring releases to minimize the amount of errata.

adeptgamer said...

It's been a while since I've role-played but even in the war game industry there are constant erratas. I don't even bother with them. In my humble point of view a system, even flawed, is sustainable within itself with a game master that keeps an eye towards balance. I think the pages of errata and FAQ that have become common place with the gaming industry is really a filthy filthy leper ;) My friend just got the new Warhammer 8th edition book, 500 pages of fluff and rules, and it had a little 6x4 sheet with a single errata on it, I laughed so hard about that.

Joseph said...

I disagree that we'd all catch cold if D&D 4.0 sneezed. If WotC were to go belly-up tomorrow it wouldn't change my AD&D game in the slightest, and all those people playing LL, S&W, C&C, etc. wouldn't bat an eye.

Hell, we might be better off.

Rob Conley said...

@Joesph it will choke off the supply of new gamers into the hobby and the recruiting of older games. No other company has the marketing reach of Wizards.

We would experience a crash similar to what happened to wargaming between 1980 (the death of SPI) and the early 90s (the death of Avalon Hill). Only recently (within the last 5 years) a stable hobby market has reemerged for wargames

StevenWarble said...

The over-errata-ization of D&D 4E is the reason why I have decided to stop buying the game and supporting the line. To actually play the game, you would need to make sure that everyone you play with is it the same level of update.

It's also why I will not play MTG with a hardcore player. Once he starts explaining that my cards don't do what the text says, but rather were errata-ed several years ago I loose all enjoyment from the game.

Will Mistretta said...

"it will choke off the supply of new gamers into the hobby and the recruiting of older games."

Again, how is that going to make my gaming worse? Fewer gamers with WotC-influenced experiences and expectations might even make it better.

As for recruiting, Raggi said it best: They'll always be plenty of players for me to draw from because I can simply *make* them.

http://lotfp.blogspot.com/2008/05/i-cant-find-any-players.html

Rob Conley said...

@Will

"They'll always be plenty of players for me to draw from because I can simply *make* them."

Having been involved in Live-action roleplaying That statement is simplistic. To put together a group even only of a handful of people requires opportunity. Opportunity to meet people that either share your interest or have the potential to share your interest.

Without vibrant industry or hobby around RPGs this will become more and more difficult for people.

You and James may not have this problem now. But as your life circumstances changes you may not have same amount of the time or the resources to get a group together.

In a shrunken hobby with few gamers the amount of time to find and recruit new gamers goes up considerably.

Then there is the community factor. RPGs are a social game and people like being part of growing and expanding community. The demise of Wizards would put a gloom over all of roleplaying.

The last time we saw this was in the late 90s with TSR faltering and collectible card games. Wizard's turned this around with D&D 3.0. It a marked contrast between how the hobby felt in 1997 vs 2002. In 2002 it was a lot easier for me and my friend to recruit gamers for our groups. In 1997 was a very different story.

Because I was involved in managing live-action roleplaying I got see what was happening from the view of multiple gamers over the
period.

After D&D 3.0 hit suddenly every LARP gamers was involved in a tabletop game as well and there was animated discussion and pickup games all over the place.

Saying that "It doesn't effect me" is short sighted in my opinion.

anarkeith said...

I don't know if it's just me, but I sense a growing interest in tabletop RPGing in general. I'm hearing about booming ticket sales for PAX (the 'younger' gamers), and hearing more of my non-gaming peers (people in their 40's) talking about "trying D&D again", usually with their kids.

Errata gets in the way of this momentum, while Essentials overcomes it by slimming the options and correcting the mistakes. Errata is OK with the hardcore, while more casual gamers are content to do without.

As Rob C said, problems arise when casual and core players interact, but in my opinion that's usually when either a new player is just starting out (and has chosen to play with a core group) or when a casual player has chosen to 'up their game'. In the first case we'll probably lose the casual player because core RPGs are often newbie unfriendly. In the latter case, the core is strengthened.

I think Essentials answers the problem, and provides a bridge for new casual players to eventually become core players.

Robert Fisher said...

I’ve got the Megatraveller errata printed out somewhere around here. I don’t remember how many pages it was, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t anywhere near 37.

I suspect one of the big reasons for this is the remnants of the “take the DM out of the equation” attitude leftover from 3e. Hardcore 3e/4e fans and designers can seem to be pickier than the pickiest Traveller fan, and that’s saying something. ^_^

Honestly, at this point I think my hobby and whatever the Essentials line is introducing people to are different enough that I am pretty unaffected by Wizards.

brothershinrin said...

@Nick
Also, WOTC must think its a problem because I remember reading that they've assigned someone (Mike Mearls?) to monitoring releases to minimize the amount of errata.

There was alot of negative feed-back from players in regards to the amount of errta that was coming out. The July errata was the straw that broke the camel's back. So WoTC proclaimed at GenCon during a seminar that Mike Mearls was now in charge of keeping errata to a minimum or that it doesn't happen at all.

Seems to me that WoTC needs to playtest their own product extensively before publication. They are the designers after all. Who better to know how something is going to be broken or not than the designers of the game itself? Seems like sheer laziness to me. And whoever holds the title of Editor over there need to be fired.

Will Mistretta said...

"Seems to me that WoTC needs to playtest their own product extensively before publication."

I dunno, man. Asking people to churn out crap like that for a paycheck I can forgive, as long as they have the opportunity to drink away the pain afterward. But asking them to actually *play* what they produce? I'm pretty sure that would violate some OSHA regulations about exposure to workplace toxins.

Andreas Davour said...

MegaTraveller was an interesting issue.

GDW didn't have the time and resources, so they gave the mission to DGP who had been the biggest provider of third party stuff, and it was when they took it in house that troubles began.

Apparently GDP was a digital pioneer, and had done all their writing and layout of tables in modern DTP software. GDW on the other hand had an old typesetting machine, which they had paid so much for they could not yet move to a newer modern production system.

This meant that somebody had to manually re-type every table already done for layout. Imagine the pain, and imagine all the opportunities for new errors...

Andreas Davour said...

BTW Robert, there are more than one errata document for MegaTraveller. Do you have them all? ;)