Yesterday, I posted a reactionary piece called D&D Player’s Strategy Guide: How Much Will It Suck? which garnered some thoughtful comments. Often more thoughtful than the original article so I felt it appropriate to give the subject a second, more considered look.
The title of my article was unfair because I not basing my opinions on the book but on the book’s blub. The copywriting designed to make the book appealing to would-be buyers. Without the book itself, I and all of the commentators cannot make informed comments on the content. Despite some further digging I’ve not found any previews, table of contents or other information of what is going into the book.
So a fairer title to my article would of been:
D&D Player’s Strategy Guide:
How Much Does This Blurb Suck?
Because it is the blurb, and what it implies about the book content, that I find deeply annoying. But more of that later. First, an issue various commentators brought up.
Humourous, Entertaining, Tongue-in-Cheek
Based on the blurb “… includes entertaining sidebar essays written by celebrity gamers and a distinctive comic art style …” and the fact that the cover art is by Gabe of Penny Arcade fame, there was an assumption by some commentators that this book will be tongue-in-cheek or humourous in nature. Well, there is simply no evidence for this.
Apart from the mention of “entertaining” sidebar essays, there is no mention in the blurb that the book is meant to be anything else than a serious guide to D&D. Author James Wyatt is D&D Design Manager at Wizards and has no history of being involved in humorous or tongue-in-cheek writing before.
Oddly, none of the celebrity gamers writing the sidebars are identified. The point of using celebrities is that their names grab people’s attention which is why you often see “With introduction by …” on books. Yet no names are listed. This is just another indicator that the book is a serious supplement, meant to be no different from any of the other 4e books.
An Odd Choice of Artwork
I admit that I did not recognise the Penny Arcade style of artwork when I saw the cover. What I saw is what I suspect a lot of average gamers will see, artwork that does not compare well with the other 4e supplement books. Sitting next to the PHBs and DMGs, the cover for the D&D Player’s Strategy Guide does not look good.
The problem is that though they have gone for a different style of art, everything else about the book is standard. The position and font of the tile, the D&D logo, even the size and format of the book is the same as all the other books.
This is a mistake. Wizards clearly wanted to give this book a distinctive look but they were not radical enough. After spending the last 2 years building a well defined 4e look and feel, changing the art style does is just not enough. It is like adding drag-racing wheels to a family car. They look out of place and they don’t make the car go any faster.
The final word on this subject goes to the artist themselves.
I was really surprised that they asked me to do this. All the D&D book covers have such a strong and classic aesthetic. I was nervous about doing the cover because my style doesn’t really match up with the rest of the books, but they assured me they wanted this particular book to have a different/distinctive look.
Source: Dungeons and Dragons on Penny Arcade.
The Blurb Sucks
You may be thinking that I’m over-reacting to a hundred words used to sell one book and you would be right. However, the blurb is symptomatic of Wizards approach to selling in recent years.
For comparison, here is the full text to D&D Player’s Strategy Guide side-by-side to the nearest equivalent book from an earlier edition: Hero Builder’s Guidebook published in 2000 for 3rd Ed.
One hundred and sixty pages of Dungeons & Dragons® hotness.
The D&D® Player’s Strategy Guide is aimed at D&D players who crave the envy of their gamer peers. If you want a character that’s jaw-droppingly cool, this book is for you. It provides tips and tricks for optimizing your D&D characters—to make them more awesome and fun to play at the game table.
In addition to character optimization tips and player advice, this book includes entertaining sidebar essays written by celebrity gamers and a distinctive comic art style unlike other books in the D&D game line.
Give your character every advantage.
When you sit down to create a character, let your mind do the work — don’t just leave it to the dice. The Hero Builder’s Guidebook puts at your fingertops everything you need to know before your character’s first adventure. With this book, you will:
Maximize your character’s potential with step-by-step character advancement guides.
Create a compelling backstory for your character, including family, friends, and enemies.
Pick from more than 70 variants to the class descriptions in the Player’s Handbook.
Choose personality traits to bring your character to life at the gaming table.
Both players and Dungeon Masters benefit from the detailed character backgrounds in this book.
Whilst both clearly are being sold to power gamers (see below), the one on the right actually attempts to sell the book on making your character a better character. On other hand, the one on the left is about looking cool and being “awesome”.
I don’t know about other GMs but if I’m going to have a power gamer at the table, I want the player to be doing it because they believe it makes a better character, not because it makes them cool.
Power Gamers! What Are They Good For?
The D&D Player’s Strategy Guide is clearly aimed at want-to-be power gamers and this is what really annoys me. The hobby is called role-playing, not power-playing. Mechanics are part of the hobby and getting the best of out of the rules is part of the game but it is not the game itself.
The people who buy this book, based on this blurb, will be the sort of people who believe that buying the same type of golf clubs that Tiger Woods uses will make them better golfers. In both D&D and golf, it is not the type of club that matters, it is what you do with it.
One final thought …
If nothing else has convinced you, ask yourself this question.
How many times have wished there were more power gamers in your gaming group?
1d12 questions with James Wyatt
James Wyatt on D&D Wikia
Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Strategy Guide: A 4th Edition D&D Supplement (Hardcover)
Hero Builder’s Guidebook (Dungeons & Dragons d20 3.0 Fantasy Roleplaying) (Paperback)
Is D&D 4E really like WoW …? from RPG.Net
Player’s Strategy Guide: Your opinion
A 4e book I want, but at the same time, want to never have existed from the LJ Roleplayers community
Image Credit – Thoughtful Conversation by Don Harder – CC-BY-NC-2.0