The scenario might play out something like this:
For whatever reason, WotC is unable to provide third-party publishers with a working draft of the rules until, say, January or so. Our print schedules are so far out these days that that simply won’t allow us time to measure the new game’s impact on our planned storylines for the third Pathfinder Adventure Path. Even under this scenario, we’d likely publish some 4e-compatible GameMastery Modules, but Pathfinder is the flagship of our RPG efforts. I’m NOT switching systems mid-way through an Adventure Path. That would be far too disruptive to our business and our customers are practically begging us not to do so already. So it’s not happening.
So if the very first installment of the third Adventure Path is not compatible with 4.0, NONE of the third Adventure Path will be compatible with 4.0. That’ll bring us to February 2009 without serious 4.0 support in Pathfinder.
I don’t think that would be the end of the world, as a lot of people will be acclimating themselves to the new system in those six months. The question is whether or not the D&D audience “buys” fourth edition as a reasonable evolution of “their” game. And we should have a much better idea of whether or not that’s going to happen six months _after_ fourth edition comes out than we will six months before.
Especially if we haven’t seen the rules.
Given that WotC currently prioritizes getting the rules to randomly selected D&D Insider subscribers and RPGA groups higher than they do getting the rules to significant third-party companies that can help transition their audience, I am starting to get a little worried.
WotC has been very cool about telling us that we will get the rules before they come out, but I am not certain their timetables will line up with ours in a way that allows us to have Pathfinder ready for 4.0 players at next year’s Gen Con.
Let’s take this a few more yards down the football field, shall we?
Let’s say we don’t get the rules in time to make an informed decision before we need to start work in earnest on the third Pathfinder Adventure Path, and we’re committed to supporting 3.5 in Pathfinder through February of 2009. Let’s also say that we continue to sell enough Pathfinders to make it a worthwhile exercise, and let’s also say that the reaction on behalf of the existing audience to 4.0 is underwhelming. I don’t EXPECT that this will be the case, but it certainly is possible.
Despite the flaws of 3.5 (now often trumped up by the very designers responsible for them as part of the 4.0 marketing push), there does not seem to be the same system malaise that existed in the waning days of second edition. Plus, lots of players have a much more significant investment in 3.0 and 3.5 than they did in the earlier editions, mostly due to the overwhelming flow of $34.95 monthly hardcovers coming from Renton over the last few years. The PR and marketing challenge of selling 4.0 to the customer base is far more significant, in my view, than the PR and marketing challenge of selling 3.0 to lapsed 1.0 and 2.0 customers.
I have a lot of faith in the design abilities of the Wizards of the Coast staff. As a former PR professional I have some concerns about their ability to lead the audience where they want them to march. We’ll see.
So, here we are in the early months of 2009 with our flagship product still supporting 3.5. If the audience does not seem thrilled with the changes instilled by 4.0 at this stage, I can see a reasonable argument for continuing with 3.5 for even longer.
Now, 3.5 is not a perfect system. There are plenty of flaws, particularly in high-level play, and sooner or later someone needs to get in there and “perfect” the system.
Wizards of the Coast seems to be taking a “from the ground up” approach to fixing the rules, in many ways starting from scratch and tossing concepts that have been with the game since the 1970s. Further, they are attempting to monetize various elements of the game with “micro-purchases” and online subscriptions to bring the game closer to what they see as their most significant competition: MMORPGs.
I’ve never played an MMORPG, I have no interest in playing an MMORPG, and elements that move the game further from its traditional roots as a social tabletop game give me the heebie jeebies. I am at least a little bit concerned that, while the decisions Wizards of the Coast will make to ensure their game is a success for a wholly owned subsidiary of a major international publicly held corporation, those same decisions might not result in changes that are in the best interest of the game or its existing audience.
Back at Wizards of the Coast in 1999 there was a lot of talk about “firing the existing audience” of D&D with the third edition launch. The logic went like this: “Even if we have to fire all of our existing customers, so long as we replace those old customers with more new ones, the result will have been worth it.”
Of course, 3.0 did nothing of the kind. Instead, largely by harkening back to the “good old days” of first edition (“Back to the Dungeon,” Greyhawk as core, half-orcs, monks, and assassins back in the game, etc.) they managed to revitalize the community of “lapsed” D&D players, bringing them back into the fold.
I have to wonder how prevalent that “fire the customer” mindset is this time around.
So, if 4.0 is not immediately embraced by the majority of Paizo’s existing audience and we’re still committed to 3.5 Pathfinder into 2009, we’ll have to look very seriously at sticking with the system for a year or two.
Thereafter, we might release a “3.75” that smooths out some of the system’s kinks and addresses some of the common complaints about it in a way that is respectful of the game’s 30-year tradition.
The upside then is that Pathfinder would be fueled by a system whose design is more or less fully controlled by Paizo, and we won’t have to worry about what the folks at WotC are doing with D&D, because Pathfinder will no longer be slaved to the official D&D system.
The downside, of course, is that Pathfinder would cease to be a D&D-compatible product, or at least a product compatible with the version of D&D commonly available to new players. That’s a SIGNIFICANT disadvantage and one I’d like to avoid if possible.
But if the end result is something that is comfortable and fun and in the grand tradition of our favorite hobby, it might actually work.
If 4.0, on the other hand, is robust enough to emulate the kind of play we’re all used to I’d much rather go with the “sure thing” and publish Pathfinder in a way that fully supports 4.0. I honestly trust and expect that 4.0 will allow us to do that, so my default assumption, to be frank, is that we’ll convert whole hog to 4.0 at some point or another.
But I haven’t seen the rules and I haven’t seen the new OGL, and until I do I’ve got to keep our options open.
Der kolportierte Wolkenkuckuksplan, ein Triumvirat aus Paizo, Necromancer und Goodman Games eine 3.75-Rebellion zu starten, ist zum Scheitern verurteilt. Zumindest solange James “Railroading” Jacobs etwas zu sagen hat.