RPG news out of Gen Con: D&D, Pathfinder and more

Dungeons & Dragons Book of Vile DarknessAh, to be at Gen Con and be privy to all the latest happenings in the tabletop gaming industry. Fortunately we have the technology to help us scry on developments from afar.

Tuesday we learned of Fantasy Flight Games’ acquisition of the Star Wars license, and the first two games they’re producing: miniatures dogfighting game X-Wing (which has since been on display at the con) and Star Wars: The Card Game. (No, I’m not in love with the names either — but they look to be solid games.)

Monday, ever-more-dominant industry heavyweight Paizo announced its entry (with WizKids) into the realm of randomized, prepainted miniatures with Pathfinder Battles. It will nicely complement Paizo’s Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, a serious challenger to Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons & Dragons for dominance in the pen-and-paper RPG market.

And what of D&D, you may ask? No, the long-rumored and hotly debated 5th Edition was not announced — but there were some interesting developments anyway. Blog of Holding has an excellent near-transcript of the Wizards presentation Saturday as does Online Dungeon Master, from which I’ve extrapolated some highlights:

The bad news: Many things that have long been delayed, still are delayed. The Virtual Game Table promised when D&D Insider debuted with 4th Edition still isn’t ready to show. Ditto with digital editions of game books (apparently, they’re struggling to figure out PDF pricing). Hardly surprising with the contraction in the D&D release schedule of late and reports of a considerable defection of players to Pathfinder ranks. A question in the Q&A portion about republishing older editions of the game was met with a no-comment, except to say that there are plans. That is exciting!

The good news: WotC seems to be getting it now. They’re producing board games for people who want that kind of thing (even launching a Euro-style game, Lords of Waterdeep, next year) and appear to really be listening to RPG diehards who felt alienated by a preachy 4th Edition of D&D. There is still a commitment to gimmicky collectible elements like Fortune Cards and Dungeon Tiles (and new map packs at the same price point). But there are also some meaty adventure modules on the way as well (the previously announced Madness at Gardmore Abbey in September and the legendary Undermountain in April 2012). Expect these kinds of deluxe super-adventures to be the ones sold in stores, and the kinds that once were sold in 32-page paperback form to be distributed by subscription to D&D Insider.

Ostensibly to help struggling hobby shops, there will be a game-store-exclusive supplement book called Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium, which apparently returns to the schedule after having been shelved during a release contraction. The Neverwinter campaign setting, naturally, was all over the place as it made its official debut at the convention (and this weekend’s D&D Game Day nationwide). The Book of Vile Darkness (pictured), a guide to evil campaigns that ties in with a Syfy original movie of the same name, won’t be as “dark” as the 3rd Edition version. Players will get supplements focusing on the Feywild and Plane Below. For miniatures collectors, there will be a limited-edition set of chromatic dragons (and another big announcement on minis is below).

No new campaign setting was announced, but look for one in August anyway (they don’t want to unveil it until they’re ready). What we do know: It won’t be Dragonlance; it’s more than a setting, apparently, and offers some kind of new “twist” on gameplay, according to developers. Let the speculation commence!

(Speaking of Dragonlance — sort of) — Tim Barribeau reports for Robot Viking that Margaret Weis Productions has acquired the Marvel RPG license. And Philippe A. Menard, the Chatty DM himself, is on the game’s design staff, in addition to walking away from the con with an award for best RPG blog.)

Back to D&D: Perhaps the biggest announcement, in light of Paizo’s news, was a line of “noncollectible” miniatures, sold in themed sets, that will form the basis of a new tactical boardgame with interlocking Dungeon Tiles. (WotC got a round of applause when someone said that it turns out roleplaying gamers don’t like randomized minis.) What’s really exciting about this is that WotC will make the playtest rules open to the public for free online (no D&D Insider subscription required) with printable cards. This is very similar to the approach Paizo took in the beta stage of its Pathfinder RPG, which was based on the open-source foundation of D&D 3rd Edition that so many loved.

Including players in the process can only be good for everyone and the future of the game itself. This, and other statements from design and development staff, show that if 5th Edition is in the works, it will be a much different product than we’ve seen in D&D before.

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