There sure are a lot of angry geeks out there. I’m not sure what it is about our particular demographic, but boy, do we get unreasonably angry about things. Maybe it’s the relative anonymity of forums. Maybe it’s emotional attachments to brands and products that have been around in some form since we were children. Maybe it’s attempts to apply logic to subjective matter bent to suit one’s cognitive dissonance between their opinion and the limited and/or flawed information available. Or maybe we all have tiny fire elementals in us that only come out on the Internet. It’s been like this a long time. With each iteration of D&D, each generation of game consoles, and each new Batman, the flames rise. They never really go out completely. I still know people who make sour faces when D&D 3rd Edition gets mentioned, grumbling about the glory days when there was only one Tarrasque and THAC0 was king.
One of the nerd-infernos currently blazing on the forums is about the new Fortune Cards. I hear the same arguments that I did last year about the Gamma World booster packs.
- “ZOMG! WotC IS TRYING TO TURN D&D INTO MAGIC!”
- “ZOMG! YOU CAN JUST BUY AN ALL-POWERFUL CHARACTER!”
- “ZOMG! MONEY GRUBBING OMG NICKEL AND DIMING US ALL OMG OMG!”
I can understand concerns about a system that allows your character to be more powerful simply because you bought more stuff with real money. I do have an issue with the Fortune Cards in that you can tailor a deck to your character’s strengths and give yourself an unfair advantage over the other players. Either the other people at the table follow suit, or they suck comparatively. Granted, it’s not like you “win” D&D like you might a game of Monopoly (although the concept of putting hotels on one’s bracers of defense is intriguing) – but, as any seasoned World of Warcraft player can tell you, within every human being lies the desire to beat an obsessive-compulsive minmaxer into unconsciousness in the absolute least efficient way possible.
I’ve played several games that used this mechanic. Years ago, I played an Artillery Duel / Scorched Earth-style game called GunBound. There were 2 modes: one where everybody was just like everybody else (with cosmetic differences), and one where you could buy gear to boost your stats. The barriers for entry in the second mode were very steep. You could expect to lose 90% of the time even if you were a great shot, and the 10% you won were because the other guy disconnected. While perhaps not as extreme, we still see this sort of thing these days in “free-to-play” MMOs like Champions Online and Dungeons and Dragons Online. You can play all you want, but there’s just some stuff you can’t do or use if you don’t start. This mechanic is interesting to me in that I don’t know one person who thinks it’s a good idea, but I know tons of people that have paid up to get the “real” game.
Sometimes, Twitter proves it has more uses than being able to tell everyone while on the toilet what you had for breakfast. The Fortune Cards are a way for players to beef up their characters by buying stuff. I do not deny this. Then, John Du Bois (of Living Forgotten Realms writing directorial fame) posed a question that shifted my paradigm. Like six whole inches. It hurt.
@direflail With books and DDI costing $, real $ created in game advantages before Fortune Cards… -@JohnDuBois
An interesting thought, though not one I necessarily agree with. I think it’s relatively safe to say that the designers of most RPGs don’t intentionally make new classes that are incredibly more powerful than the old ones. Yes, I know it happens. I had Unearthed Arcana for 1E. I really don’t think TSR meant to give Paladins horse-mounted death lasers. I think expansion sourcebooks are more about alternatives than advantages. At least, the text on the back never says anything like “Get an edge over the rest of the party and steamroll your way through your Dungeon Master’s puny obstacles! Swim in a sea of nubiles while everyone else weeps!” (Admittedly, I would buy that book.)
Then, like a bolt from the heavens:
books mean 1 payment & everything is available. Cards mean multiple payments & no guarantee of getting everything. –@mmaranda
Believe it or not, WotC is watching Twitter like a robotic hawk, and this struck home. Consequently, the obvious solution to this problem that I’m sure will be released in Q4 just in time for the holidays – sourcebook booster packs. No longer will buying D&D books be boring and routine. Each pack will contain 5 books (3 common, 1 uncommon, and 1 rare) and cost just $75 per booster pack. Every few months, a new setting will be announced, changing the flavor of the setting and the metagame. This is really exciting to me because it revolutionizes D&D Organized Play – no more Encounters or LFR, now we all draft in tournaments! (As a bonus, this also completely eliminates all problems with players stacking their deck with Fortune Cards.)
Crazy foil-wrapped hardcover predictions aside, the fact of the matter is that tabletop RPGs tend to be a living, transforming endeavor rather than a game you buy and play unchanged for 10 years. All changes affect the balance of play in some way, though hopefully they have been playtested thoroughly and the changes are for the better. Though my gut reaction to the Fortune Cards is that they can unbalance things, it’s not as though a Dungeon Master has to sit there while some pieces of card stock unravel all his plans.
First, it’s probably a good idea to know what your players have in their decks and to prepare for it. Maybe there is an ultra-rare “the campaign’s final boss suffers heart failure” card. Make sure your big bad eats his veggies and takes a baby aspirin every day.
Secondly, there’s nothing to say that you have to use these cards as prescribed. My intention is to have a communal pool of cards that everyone draws from, perhaps rewarding an episode of Most Excellent Roleplaying with copious air guitar and another draw from the deck. What, are they going to kick me out of the DM’s Union? (P.S. if this organization really exists, all this was in jest. OH GOD NOT THE BEES.)
Third, if it’s apparent that these cards aren’t working out for your group, don’t set yourself up to be the bad guy by saying the players can’t use them. Simply demand that, at the beginning of each encounter, they build a setting-appropriate dwelling out of their Fortune Cards in order to gain their effects – scaling the size and complexity along with the PC’s income level. While this might give players with architect-skills an unfair advantage, chances are they will never finish the house and all the landscaping by the time the encounter is over. In this way, you can avoid having to worry about the Fortune Cards entirely. You can also use this play mechanic for sourcebooks, but to do so effectively requires a significant financial investment by the player and hard hats for the rest of the group.
In the final analysis, making sure all the players at the table are wearing adequate safety equipment is what D&D is all about. I don’t care what Mike Mearls says.