Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Is WotC Afraid of B/X?

Amazing. All of the major editions of Dungeons & Dragons are now back in print, or will be shortly. Actual, real, material print. Yes, books:


Except one... Notice anything missing? How about the best selling (by far), and many would argue the best, version of D&D ever printed: The 1981 Basic / Expert sets. B/X - only the most popular RPG of all time. A game that sold millions of copies and changed the entire culture of gaming by bringing to a massive popular audience concepts like hit points, levels, character classes, etc. B/X is far and away the most played RPG ever.

It is true that B/X is now available for purchase as a PDF download. And the interesting thing is that it has been the hottest seller at RPG Now for weeks. Obviously there continues to be a hunger for this game.

So why doesn't WotC do a "Premium" print run of B/X for the types of nostalgic geezers that snapped up the AD&D reprints? If WotC wants to move books, surely a B/X reprint would be a no brainer, right? I mean, why in the world would they reprint OD&D before B/X? It doesn't make sense.

Well, there are two possible explanations that immediately come to mind. The more benign one is that WotC wants to do a B/X re-release right, and they are simply taking their time to design a great product.

The second explanation is that WotC is afraid B/X is too good and it will take market share from the 5e Basic Set (and, by extension, 5e Advanced). There are millions of us with B/X backgrounds that could easily jump right into this beautiful game. The two little books - B and X - are all you need for years of gaming. This game is so easy to understand. So well written. For the same reason that Labyrinth Lord is the most popular retroclone, I suspect that new and returning players would be much more attracted to B/X versus OD&D, AD&D, or 2e. And for 3.5 they would just go with Pathfinder.

WotC probably should be afraid of B/X and probably should not print it. And, despite the fact that I desperately love the old 1981 boxed sets, I actually would not be upset if WotC left B/X sitting simply as PDFs. Assuming 5e Basic will essentially be like B/X, but with a few updates like ascending AC and revised encumbrance, I would want it to succeed and to serve as a bridge between younger and older players. B/X is such a powerfully great game, a reprint might only contribute to the edition-driven fracturing between generations.

13 comments:

  1. That's been my theory all along. B/X is far too threatening to reprint and treads the same ground as 5E basic. All those other editions have significant warts that differentiate them from 5E.

    I wouldn't be surprised to see a Rules Cyclopedia at one point, the BECMI compilation.

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  2. You may be onto something here. B/X sets one heck of a benchmark to beat in both legibility and utility. Sure, they might not be as pretty-pretty as modern full-colour books, but the old books are still a model of clarity.

    Another thought: their marketing drones may simply want to minimize possible confusion between the legacy 'Basic D&D' and their forthcoming 'Basic D&DNext'.

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  3. I doubt there is fear.

    What there MIGHT be (if one has their marketing down right) is making sure all of the other versions get bought by collectors BEFORE they release a premium B/X.

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  4. I think Zzarchov has the right of it.

    Also, as you note, B/X is available in PDF now. If they were worried about competition for use at the table, they would have done an expensive collector's edition. Cheap PDFs are the most accessible format.

    Though there will be a basic 5E for newcomers and OSR types, I suspect that most of WotC's Skyrim-playing customers want more character build options, and B/X will not satisfy that.

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  5. B/X is also a much more awkward game to package. Do you just sandwich the books into a single volume and repaginate? To you do a new layout with the content interleaved and destroy the two-tier separation?

    For all the physical books they have reprinted so far, they have been able to respect the original presentation without any trade-offs. I think a PDF release was just the natural choice for B/X. In terms of presentation, the Rules Cyclopedia seems like it would be easier to manage. I'm hoping we do see a premium reprint of that at some point, despite the fact that the interior art is pretty bland.

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  6. There is no fear. The B/X books are not only available in PDF form on DriveThru/RPGNow/DnDClassics, but they are also selling very well and are featured products.

    If anything WotC has not reprinted them because they are simply not on their internal radar.

    Also what Brendan says. The books are nice, but what makes B/X so attractive? The boxes. And that is expensive to do.

    There could even be internal issues of B/X vs. BECMI boxes. Which one to do? There has to be diminished returns on these after a bit.

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  7. Fear of a B/X Planet, heh heh...

    That's all I got. j/k ;-)

    In all seriousness, you'd think WotC would release a reprint of B/X early in their new "reprint craze" push, simply because it was/is so popular. In that way, the could ride on the coat-tails of B/X reprints, because (my theory goes) B/X being what it is, it would get more sales than the other versions. Thus, reprints of other editions might get the cash of those who got the B/X reprint. I'm not sure if that makes sense or if anyone agrees with all that I just wrote...

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  8. I expect they'll reprint the Rules Cyclopedia. I'd prefer Moldvay/Cook B/X but Mentzer was even better selling, I think

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    1. I really hope they do reprint the RC. I would buy that up, especially if they leave the art alone. HEAR THAT WOTC?? WE WANTS FRESH COPIES OF THE RULES CYCLOPEDIA!!! They're waaaay too expensive these days.

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  9. My theory as to why OD&D before B/X? Swords & Wizardry is OD&D redone. Sword's & Wizardry just released a complete version via Frog God Games. The complete version is basically everything in the OD&D re-print box. Labyrinth Lord is B/X redone. Labyrinth Lord is put out by Goblinoid Games. the OSR recognizes both of these publishers. Pathfinder players (possibly the bigger cash cow) recognize Frog God and are familiar with Swords & Wizardry as many of the modules released by FGG are released on both S&W and PF. There are quite a few PF players who have already invested in S&W. I would say it is a grab to get these players attention away from Paizo and back to WotC.

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  10. Less conspiratorially, I think they just may be pacing out their premium reprints. They haven't got but so much oil in the well, after all.

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  11. I really hope that the basic 5E rules are nice and lean and hackable. Another hope of mine, which I doubt will come to fruition, would be a fully integrated edition of B/X. I started working on one myself, but man, what a pain in the ass! But really, with the PDFs now available, it's a trivial matter to print up some copies of B/X and bring them to the print shop to get them coil-bound.

    On a side note, I always thought BECMI was the most widely played and sold version. Anecdotally, amongst the random gamers I encounter out in the real world, AD&D seems by far to be the most popular.

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  12. Roger is right, I think. With still a year (and more) between now and the presumed release date of 5e, it seems quite likely that they're just pacing out their offerings of classic reprints.

    Given, also, that the Basic line is the most difficult to pin down (in terms of "which version do we print? B/X? BECMI (CMI notwithstanding), RC?") it could very well be that the Basic line is the most difficult to print, as well (at least compared to their more ubiquitous Advanced counterparts and their predecessor).

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