Tuesday, March 3, 2009

4th Edition "Classic" – Necromancer Games

Last week I posted about the Beta testing that Paizo completed with their Pathfinder Role Playing Game (PFRPG). I remarked that this was a significant event, and that I thought it was important for businesses to actively seek feedback from their customers. There are a lot of businesses that claim to put their customers first, but with this open Beta testing Paizo is backing up their claim with action. With that said, there are probably dozens of companies that would like to do something similar to what Paizo did, but lack the resources or expertise to make this happen. I closed with a comment that this maybe the start of something new in this industry.

After posting two blogs on the topic, I suppose I should not have been surprised to see the announcement on Necromancer’s board that Clark wants to follow in Paizo’s footsteps with open playtesting. Clark "Orcus" Peterson is the CEO and founder of Necromancer Games, which was created around the time of 3rd edition. Necromancer’s tag line has been 3rd edition rules, 1st edition feel. It’s a catchy slogan, but it captures what Clark and team were trying to do with they started up Necromancer. They are old school gamers that wanted to apply the same philosophy to the new rules. Were they successful or not, that is probably the topic of another blog, and depending on who you ask, you will probably end up with a different answer.

Now, whether or not one agrees with their slogan, one has to give props to Clark for engaging with the fan base and Wizards of the Coast, and really being an advocate for both. He has always said that he is a gamer first, business man second. This is true as he has a full time gig as a lawyer, and I suspect he is a very good one, and Necromancer is more of a hobby for him. This puts him in a good spot to reach out to fans and to the larger companies. On the message boards, he comes across as someone that cares about were the game industry is going, usually offers well thought out positions with some insider insight. As a result, he has created a significant amount of good will for himself. He is probably one of the few folks that can just call up Scott Rouse and tell him what he thinks about Wizard’s latest GSL, and Scott will actively listen and engage in the conversation.

One of the foundations of Necromancer is to support the latest version of the game, and impart into it old school feel. To a certain extent, this is the theme of my blog as well. In my “What is D&D” series, I posted a bit about adventure types, character roles, and mechanics. One of the questions I was asking in the series was on the topic of evolution and is it good or bad. Clark holds the position that evolution can be good. Mechanics can be improved over time. I actually hold a similar view in that mechanics can be improved, but that not all new mechanics are good. Clearly not everyone agrees with this line of reasoning, which is fine. This is not to say that I would not argue a rule over two at Gencon (or any other convention) over a beverage of choice, but I digress.

Even before the announcement that 4th ed is here, Clark had stated that he would support the new rules. Initially the GSL was delayed, and then the first iteration was terrible, but it now looks like we have a version that is usable. That is not to say that it is perfect, but some of the objectionable sections were removed. My understanding is that Clark was able to get a preview copy of the new GSL, and he deemed it acceptable to move forward on. With a new GSL in hand, Clark is basically relaunching his web site with the announcement that he would be working on his own version of 4th ed, which he is initially calling 4E Classic. It feels like what he is trying to do is come up with a supplemental Player’s Handbook that would a move 4th ed closer the old school versions of the game. As he says, he wants the old school feeling, but with the new tech. In order to accomplish this, he is opening up his forums for feedback on the concept. He wants to run this exactly like how Jason ran it over at Paizo. Since he just announced it, I will cut him some slack on the organization side of things, as I am hoping that he puts some structure around this, and he makes an Alpha document available for review.

While I am not ready to jump right into a 4th ed campaign, I applaud Clark for taking a stab at making a 4E Classic. I have no idea if he will be successful or not, but to be honest, it almost does not matter. He is following Paizo on the path of open play testing, and who knows if other companies will also follow this lead. If this becomes a trend, perhaps we will see WotC open up play testing for 5th ed, when ever they decide to move in that direction. At this moment, I believe that this is a win for the fans of the game, as it means we can have some say in the direction of our game design and development.

As a final thought, I would like to welcome Necromancer Games back into the hobby. They have been very quiet since late 2007, and I suspect that they will be updating their product schedules, and maybe, just maybe we will see something from them come August. In any event, I will be watching them very closely to see how this all plays out.


Dwayanu said...

Having considered it for a few months, my conclusion is that trying to get a "first-edition feel" from 4E is a fool's errand.

All the designers' rhetoric about what was "not fun" in D&D is borne out in what they have produced.

Their answers are so much the opposite of old-school players' that we're looking at a thoroughly different game. There may be some overlap in the demographics, an opportunity for co-existence, but to suppose 4E a fit replacement for traditional RPGs seems to me absurd.

Mr Baron said...

That is the challege that Clark has in front of him. This will not be an easy task, and there are a number of folks that share this view. I will be watching, as I am curious to see how it will all turn out.