4E: Can I has playaids?

June 9, 2008

As a game, 4E looks like it’s got a lot of good things going on. I am surprised, though, at a lack of support for three sorts of play aids which I think are pretty much going to be indispensible to play.

Power Cards

Cards detailing the powers seems to be the most obvious necessity to play. The fact that WOTC guys were using index cards and fans are making their own is kind of disappointing. I’m not even asking for printed cards, I’ll take PDFs and print’em myself.


Second, though there are D&D minis, the random collectibility factor of the minis game is at odds with the needs of the D&D roleplayers. (There is a reason GW doesn’t sell randomized Warhammer figures, and that’s cause it would piss off the player base). Minis in general are an expensive hobby to follow, it’s irritating that I ultimately have to rely on resellers if I want 12 skeletons, or goblins, or orcs or basically any kind of common creature that does show up in D&D.

Does the minis game bring in that much more money than the rpg? I don’t know, maybe. In which case, maybe us roleplayers could get printed pogs or something like John Harper’s Tokens, in which case, you don’t really have crossover with the minis guys.

Or maybe the thought is that the online play will quickly eclipse face to face play? It’s hard to say, especially since us mac-users have no mac friendly map programs to work with… (and 20% of the market doesn’t sound like all that much, until you think about how much of that 80% is business use computers and not personal use…)

Condition Markers

Third- tracking conditions! Though the many designer and playtester blogs show them using Alea Tools’ markers it seems strange that WOTC didn’t think about having their own set of markers, especially since their own minis are not metal- why not just have some plastic stackable disks, pack’em in with your power cards and sell it as a kit? (or, more ambitiously, maybe include an adventure, the dungeon tiles to play it, and the minis as well?)

What will be interesting to see is if:

a) the player base is left to flounder and come up with their own solutions (what’s the RPGA doing, anyway?)
b) Some savvy 3rd party company slaps together a bunch of tools and play aids into a single package
c) WOTC produces something, akin to the dungeon tiles, and whether they do so within the next year, before the player base has already established their own solutions and decides to hold onto their money rather than buy another product that came too little too late?

I don’t mind a lack of play aids when I’m playing some small press game that exists as a single print and not a line of products. The fact that WOTC hardcore playtested it, and intends to run D&D as a product line, and isn’t taking advantage of it is strange to me.

Oh well, I bet a year from now we’ll see which way it goes.

ETA 2/2/2010- Noticed a bunch of folks landing on this page- obviously, WOTC has both started selling their own power cards, giving print out options from their builder, and done away with the randomized minis. So, yay. Late, but yay.


  1. I’m pretty sure that the miniature thing, at least, is intentional. I understand they sell something awesome – which is logical, because you’d need to buy a lot to get a proper collection. Hell, I’ve probably bought well over a hundred boosters and around fifteen of the starter sets over the years.

    Also, with the random distribution and the miniatures game in the background they can also produce the really weird monsters that get used in proper D&D once in a blue moon and would not be economical to produce as singles. The secondary market is part of the design, and the common stuff like orcs and skeletons are pretty cheap over there, even in large amounts. This is probably one of the areas where WotC knows what they’re doing – after all, they kinda pioneered this kind of thing with Magic: the Gathering.

    The power cards will likely show up in pdf, downloadable from DDI, sooner or later. I give it three months. This is WotC we’re talking about.

    The RPGA is currently struggling to wrap up Living Greyhawk and Xen’drik Expeditions by Origins 2008 and to kick off Living Forgotten Realms at GenCon Indy.

  2. In the retail space, Mac currently has a 60% market share… no joke. Macs are also the laptop du jour for the college set, which is a key part of D&D’s target market. WotC is making a huge mistake by ignoring the Mac.

    But, their resources are not infinite. Let’s hope they get something implemented at some point.

  3. Hi NiTessine,

    The secondary market makes perfect sense when you’re talking about gamers. It makes not much sense when we’re talking about new folks to roleplaying or rpgs with minis. (Assuming, of course, that the rpg side actually brings in money and isn’t tertiary to the mini’s sales. In which case, fuck us.)

    Hi Buzz,

    Geez! Go Mac! I knew about the college set, wasn’t aware of the retail factor. God, WOTC, market research much?

  4. My understanding is that the miniatures have been selling better than the RPG, as is typically the case with D&D’s spinoffs. Same thing with the novels. Larger audience, smaller unit price, and you only need one of a sourcebook while you’ll end up buying cases upon cases of the miniatures if you get into DDM.

    Yeah. Fuck us.

  5. Aw suck. I still think they could throw us a bone and give us packs of goblins and skeletons or something. You know, mini’s that really no one is buying for the sake of ass-kicking in the mini’s game.

    Minis-guy: “Aw man. I got another ShitFace Goblin…”
    RPG guy: “Man! I got 12 ShitFace Goblins! Awesome, I can run that goblin dungeon now!”

  6. The D&D Insider character generation program, once it goes live and if you pay the fees for it, apparently will auto-create power cards for all of your abilities.

    Which may be why we’ve not seen a lot of free and easy ones from Wizards, seeing how focused they’ve been on promoting the Insider.

  7. Eh. That makes sense. Keep the game aids as the continuing cost.

    Since it seems unlikely that they’ll let you print them, it would seem to me that they’re giving the tabletop face to face groups the shaft, unless they want to have laptops at the table.

    Which means they’ll be using the free fan made options instead.

  8. Having gotten a tiny amount of playtime (1 hour to build characters, 1 hour to play, maybe another hour built around figuring out the rules), I totally wanted to print up cards for the abilities and then to tap them like in a TCG, and it’s ridiculous if WotC didn’t see this coming.

  9. Yeah. Between the fact that White Wolf had power cards for the Streetfighter RPG back in the 90’s, and the various playtesting accounts where they’ve made their own cards, I really am surprised there wasn’t even a blank template in the back of the PHB.

    I played around making a couple of pregens for some folks to play with this weekend and found myself cursing at the idea of filling out tons of fiddly crap on the character sheet.

  10. It’s interesting to note that on the condition markers, the color “black” is associated with the most evil of conditions. Why is that the case? Is it because most game designers hate the Afro-American community? Shame on anyone that buys into that stuff!

  11. While they may have used the condition markers for the worst condition, what you get when you buy it is some magnetic, colored chips, which you can assign to any condition you want. (Sorta like building blocks).

    Interesting enough, for the D&D power sets? They use red, black and green and black is the most powerful powers. When I first heard about it, I naturally started hearing X-Clan in my head, (“…with a key, sissy!”)

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