..or rather, it can be. Anything can be a role-playing game if you are willing to forgo the game mechanics and let role-playing trump the game. The famous John Wick wrote an article somewhat recently about how many rpg games, specifically early D&D, are not role-playing games. There have been a lot of discussion on the article, both for and against the article. All of them make good points. Ultimately, I do not agree with it.
When discussions about an OGL for 5E started to be bandied about, WotC said we would have something around January 2015. We now approach the end of February and still no news. Honestly, I didn't expect any real announcements in January on the topic; I understood it as a goal not a promise. I think WotC really didn't know what they wanted to do with a OGL.
So, what are they going to do? Looking at their upcoming release schedule...there is not much product on it. I have to wonder where WotC plans on gaining revenue. Interestingly enough most of the products are being written by third parties. It seems like WotC is planning on using 3rd parties to do a lot of their "in-house" product work. In addition, they recently hired a new employee (after getting rid of 2) with the function of going over 3rd party material. Which leads me to a thought...
Is WotC planning on releasing a very tight and restrictive OGL? One where all 3rd party products have to be reviewed and approved by WotC? One where WotC gets a percentage of all sales from 3rd party products? Is WotC planning to generate revenue through 3rd party material?
One of the rumors going around about a OGL was that only established companies would be able to participate, either from direct approval or by virtue of the fact they would be the only ones who could afford the cost of doing business. Will small 3rd party publishers be cut out simply because they won't be able to generate enough sales to warrant giving them the rights to publish 5E material? The profit margin on a small book would likely be so small that giving WotC a percentage would make it not worth the time to write it.
Of course, the 3E OGL might circumvent certain WotC plans. Necromancer Games has already released some 5E material without being taken to court by WotC because they are following the earlier OGL (or because they have already reached some sort of agreement with WotC). Multiple other publishers are doing the same, even small publishers. The Pandora's Box of 3rd party publishing for 5E may already be open.
I'm not sure why WotC is sticking with Forgotten Realms as the default setting for 5E*. It doesn't look like there will be any specific Forgotten Realms sourcebook coming out for 5E, so there is no money to be made from the setting itself. Is it because FR is generic enough that they can produce any set of adventures and have them set in FR without any extra work? Is it that they think they can slap the Forgotten Realms name onto a generic product and assume they will get some sales just from the name?
I have a bunch of the FR products all the way back to when it first came out. I like the setting, however...I am tired of WotC always going to FR for their setting. I want something new, something exciting - and changing FR is not the excitement I am looking for. New and fresh is the thing I am looking for.
The most recent new setting was Eberron. Did Eberron not sell as well as FR material? I know there were a lot of books out for the setting, but to me it never seemed to reach the heights of FR. Is putting the FR label on a book more effective for generating sales than putting on an Eberron label?
I know there was much talk about the multitude of 2E settings (FR, Planescape, Ravenloft, Birthright, Dark Sun, Al-Qadim, Greyhawk, Spelljammer) as being a catalyst for the downfall of TSR. They simply couldn't support the lines at a profit - too much customer money was spread over too many lines. Are they worried about diluting the 5E customer money by supporting FR and other settings.
or...are they out of new ideas. Are they incapable of producing a new setting that won't be compared to an earlier setting. If they do a dark, gritty setting will people just say its the 5E version of Dark Sun? If they make it generic will it be "just another Forgotten Realms". They can't make a new horror or kingdom management or arabian or plane-hopping setting without drawing comparisons to their older lines. Can they not come up with a new setting that doesn't remind people of other, previous settings?
Is WotC scared of producing a new setting and having it fail?
I am trying to understand why the Forgotten Realms is the default setting for 5E. Or more to the point, why aren't they producing a completely new setting?
I got my current group together to run some 4E D&D when it first came out. At the beginning it was a lot of fun using the minis and maps. Combats were tactical, strategic and another problem to be solved by the players. With the flow of combat being ever changing through the large number of abilities that moved combatants around the board, it kept things engaging for the players even during someone else's turn. Some of my players liked it, especially the min-maxers who liked the extra level of control they could exert. Eventually, the combats became too slow and ponderous and we moved onto other games.
With 5E coming out we decided to give it a try and are enjoying it, especially the speed of combats and overall game-play. However, I have decided to purposefully keep combats in the theater of the mind instead of resorting to maps and minis. While I love the look of minis and believe it helps with immersion by letting the players "see" what their characters see, I also feel it overall slows down game-play. Setting up maps and minis takes time. Players seem to dither longer as they want to optimally move their mini on the map. Math is hard when calculating movement rates/speed.
Thus I have been keeping things as narrative as possible. I have even forgone simple things like movements rates by and large. Instead of saying "the enemy is 40' away", I say "the enemy is 2 rounds of movement away, though you can get there this round if you run, but then you can't attack". I feel this takes away the math ("my speed is 30' and if I run..."). I don't really bother with the math, but rather am more narrative.
And it is hard for my players to play with this more narrative/theater of the mind approach. They seem to instinctively want to go tactical on me. They want to maneuver to avoid attacks-of-opportunity, even though it only activates when they leave the threatened area (as they learned last night night they can move into melee and then circle the enemy as long as they stay within 5') - basically they are trying to avoid something that no longer exists in game mechanics. They want to flank even though there is no mechanical advantage for doing so (I have decided to not use the optional flanking rules). They want the fleeing enemy to be blocked by the mage that was near the exit door (even though she just got shanked down to 1hp in 1 blow the round before and was trying to stay safe).
Last night, one player's character moved up next to an enemy simply to gain the the game system mechanic of being engaged with them (he couldn't attack since he had to spend an action moving to reach the enemy). It wasn't a case of "I move to keep the enemy busy and distracted" - it was a case of "I move so I can get an attack-of-opportunity if the enemy tries to flee and so the rogue gets an advantage to her attack since I'm in base-to-base with the enemy".
There is a disconnect between the narrative and the game mechanics going on here. However, this is mostly because the min-maxer of my group looks at everything from a game system point of view rather than a narrative point of view.
Basically, min-maxers seem to love tactical maps because it allows them to control the fight in another way. By going more narrative they lose some of that control. They want the enemy constrained by the map and a theater of the mind tends to be looser than that. Some of my players are having a hard time readjusting to the new format of theater of the mind. We briefly discussed the use of minis and they verbalized that they were fine with not using maps and minis but we'll see how it pans out over time. Near the end of 4E I was trying more off-the-grid combats and they worked somewhat so my players have seen it before (and they are old 1E games so it is not a new concept). Still, it will take some getting used to for them.
So the "big" news from WotC last week was them letting go 2 long-time employees (editors) by eliminating their positions. A couple of weeks before this was the news that they were "cancelling" an upcoming book (Adventurer's Handbook) when they stated the book was never in the final release schedule. According to WotC, they are going light on book releases for the rpg (about 6 a year).
I have to ask why.
The obvious comparison is Paizo and Pathfinder, which sees a sustainable and high release schedule. They release several books every month to enough sales to easily sustain that many products. It is my belief that WotC is attempting an Adventure Path style of releases, sort of similar to how Paizo does it. They have 2 "events" a year that provide 2 adventures each. These adventure books are to provide the adventures along with supplemental information on setting and character abilities...sort of the same way Paizo releases setting material in the same book as the adventures.
The difference is that Paizo does their adventure paths over 6 books (with a multiple of additional material books - more setting, adventure character primers, monster tokens, maps, etc).
Princes of the Apocalypse, the first of the two adventure books from Wotc, is going for roughly $34 on Amazon. Fires of Creation, the first of the latest complete Adventure Path from Paizo is going for $16 on Amazon. In all, WotC stands to make $68 from their customers for their Adventure Path....Paizo will make $96 from their Adventure Path (plus a bunch more from all the supplemental material). It is my belief that Paizo is running a better product release system than WotC.
Right now, 5E is new...and it is looking like the company that makes it, WotC, is not planning on supporting the product. Right now, people want to spend money on 5E, but it seems like WotC doesn't want their money. I understand their fear of over saturating the market with 5E; they want to avoid the glut previous editions have had (and frankly, what I believe Paizo is facing right now - which they are attempting to mitigate with their Core Campaign). However, I feel they may be over-reacting to this fear and it will hurt them and 5E in the long run.
The thing is, and Paizo learned this long ago, adventures are not glut but still a viable product. Sure, adventures have an even greater reduced market niche, the DMs and not the players, but Paizo (with a larger employee base) is able to keep it profitable. Adventures keep their product in the marketplace and in the eye of the customer; it feels as if Paizo is certainly supporting their core product. Glut is really nothing but rules expansions, but there are other ways to release new product other than new rules. This is something WotC needs to learn.