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DnD4e: the CCG

WotC has announced that they are adding a collectible card mechanic to DnD4e. They will be released to the general public on February 8th, though sycophant bloggers will undoubtedly be given some earlier.

Here’s the official announcement.

I wasn’t going to write anything about this, but I read a post on geek related, and it got me thinking.

So here’s the good — and the bad — of adding a collectible card mechanic to DnD4e. I’ll start with the good (yes, I actually think there are some good aspects to this):

Good Point #1 — DnD Bennies

Anyone who’s played Savage Worlds knows how the Bennies system adds a fun and heroic element to the game. Hero system also has optional rules for Hero Points (same thing), as does Burning Wheel with Artha.

For those unaware, let me explain a bit: In each of the above-mentioned systems, there is a system to give the PCs a mechanical advantage in the game. These can be tokens, poker chips, cookies (according to one of our listeners), hash marks on a character sheet, whatever. You spend these points during the game to gain some sort of advantage: a die-roll bonus, a re-roll, etc.

It definitely adds to the fun of the game. When I run Savage Worlds, I put a big beer glass on the table in front of my GM screen, as players (or I as the gm) spend bennies, we throw them in the glass, letting everyone know the situation is about to change (hopefully in an unexpected way).

Using a benny system can encourage the players to try things they otherwise might not. It often encourages MORE acts of heroism. And in the end, it can make the game more exciting. I’ve certainly found this to be the case with Savage Worlds. We even used such a system when my friend Brian ran a GURPS game back in the 1980s. If you did something he felt worthy, he’d give you a point. Gain 10 of these, and you’d earn a character point (there were other benefits for them as well, but age has a toll on my memory.

Good Point #2 — a boon to FLGSs

We all know that brick-and-mortar game stores are suffering with the rising dominance of the .pdf, and the stores that sell them. Many of the FLGSs that survived the recession have come up with way to stay in business by providing extra value that only a physical store can. Our own Game Empire, in Pasadena, has nearly half its floor space devoted to gaming tables, and they host events nearly every night of the weeks — be they DnD nights, Warhammer nights, Magic nights, etc.

There’s nothing like going down to the FLGS and browsing through the RPG section. Maybe you’ll pick up the latest book for your game of choice. Maybe you’ll finally buy that core book for the system you’ve always wanted to try. You might find half a dozen Orc minis in the used bin you can pick up. Maybe you’ll pick up that first edition DMG in the used book section. Whatever it is, FLGSs provide a value that on-line stores cannot emulate.

I think the DnD Fortune Cards (as WotC is calling them) will provide a boon to many a FLGS. I have no doubt that many (if not most) DnD4e players will embrace these cards (even if their GM finds them distasteful). Thus, this WILL provide a new revenue stream to the FLGSs.

And you know what? They deserve a boost. I love my FLGS, and I make a point of buying something there, rather than buying the book for less on Amazon (or the pdf from Drivethru). But I’m in a position where I can do that, and I know a lot of other players aren’t. So I dmy small part to keep my FLGS in business.

Bad Point #1 — DnD power creep marches on…

Most people are familiar with power creep in DnD. The higher the character get in level, the more powerful their foes become. It’s a mechanic built into the math of the system. A band of 3rd-level PCs have no hope of defeating Orcus, just like a band of 1st-level Kobolds have no chance against a party of Paragon-level PCs.

The DnD Fortune Cards will give the PCs an advantage in the game — a game that prides itself on game-balance. GMs who design their own scenarios will eventually find themselves having to “level-up” their combat encounters, to compensate for the advantage the players gain from the Fortune Cards.

On other systems, like Savage Worlds, the villains get bennies too, and a smart GM will spend them wisely during the game. I’ve seen no mention of collectible cards for GMs to use for their monsters. Maybe they could use the regular cards, or maybe WotC plans on coming out with DM Monster Fortune Cards (please, Bahamut, no!).

WotC-published adventures will be even more complicated. I doubt WotC had the foresight to build their adventures with these cards in mind. So what happens to pre-Fortune-Card adventures? Do the DMs level them up? Do they become cake-walks (or at least easier)?  Will WotC re-figure the combat encounters to compensate for the cards? Or is this a way to fix a balance problem that’s existed since the system came out?

Whatever the answer, it’s a mess.

Bad Point #2 — They ignored the whole concept of bennies!

In every other game that I’m aware of, Bennies are a REWARD for good role-playing.

In Savage Worlds, you get them for good role-playing moments. You also get 3 at the start of the session, but if you play your character well, you can expect to earn more.

In Burning Wheel, players are rewarded Artha for complicating their character’s story. If you as a player decide to do something that will make your life more difficult — as long as it’s consistent with your character concept — you are rewarded Artha points.

It’s the same in Hero. And GMs around the world who have house-ruled such a mechanic use it to encourage good role-playing.

The point of this reward system is to encourage the players to play their characters to the hilt — to make them real — to make them true to their concept.

The DnD Fortune Cards only reward one thing …

Bad Point #3 — I got my mind on my money, and my money on my Fortune Cards…

Yup. He who has the most money wins. Don’t get them awesome rare card that would totally fit your character? Buy more boosters!

Can’t afford more boosters? Tough shit — hope your dice roll high.

Me? I’d rather spend my money on loaded dice. I don’t have to buy a dozen “booster packs” of dice to get a loaded one. I know what I’m getting when I buy it.

But my point is this: The best role-player in the world, with the most interesting and complicated character, will find himself on the sidelines if he can’t afford to build a good deck.

Is that what the RPG hobby is about? Who can spend the most money on their gaming shit? It used to be that the rich kid at the table had the best mini for his character. Maybe he had a cool  pre-printed “character folio” for his PC. Maybe he had cool-looking dice.

The point is, none of these things game him an advantage when it came to game mechanics. Now, little Johnny Warbucks can show up with a case of booster packs and build himself the ultimate deck.

I don’t like this idea at all. A good role-player with a good tactical mind should do well in my game. I don’t give a shit what he does for a living. It’s not like I’m co-signing a car loan for him — we’re playing a friggin’ role-playing game!

In the end, I think this is going to drive more players away from DnD4e and toward other games. And I hope that’s what happens.

Conclusion

I get why WotC is doing this. It’s for the money. They are a business after all, and they have payroll to worry about. Maybe Hasbro is breathing down their necks — “this DnD thing was supposed to be huge! Why isn’t it more profitable?!?”

But I don’t like what it could do to the hobby. It supplants good role-playing with hoarding instinct. Don’t get me wrong — both belong in the hobby (my wife can attest to that), but one shouldn’t replace the other.

Written by

Stu Venable is the producer of Happy Jacks RPG Podcast and writer and editor of DoucheyDM.com. He is founder and director of the Poxy Boggards and a member of Celtic Squall. He holds a degree in Journalism and Public Relations from California State University, Long Beach. He is a husband and a father. He hates puppies.

Filed under: Misc

10 Responses to "DnD4e: the CCG"

  1. SamNo Gravatar says:

    Nailed it Stu! I totally agree. We are switching back to 3.5/D20 untill I get my nerve up to run GURPS.

  2. JazzIsBluesNo Gravatar says:

    You have exactly utterly and completely nailed the entire reason why I have no desire and have had no willingness to try 4e. They have taken a perfectly good roleplaying game and turned it into a trading card game. I realize that that’s what they do and what they’ve made their money at. But if they didn’t want to get into the rpg business why did they buy one? Answer they wanted the name recognition of the most visible game in the entire universe.

    Just my 2 krupplenicks on the subject, your mileage may of course vary.

    JiB

  3. JulienNo Gravatar says:

    I think i’ll continue to DM 4.0, but there’s no way i’ll allow such cards in my games. Or perhaps a common deck for all players ? with a fixed composition ?

    it reminds me of the cards in Torg, these actually were great for the game…

    1. StuNo Gravatar says:

      DnD4e is a fun game. It’s very tactical, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. And if you ignore the Fortune Cards, 4e will continue to be a good game.

      I think people should play the game system they like. I’m not advocating abandoning 4e at all.

      But yeah, I wonder how may DMs in home games will allow the Fortune Cards…

  4. GetWreckedNo Gravatar says:

    D&D gains even more similarities to MMORPGs by adding MICROTRANSACTIONS!

  5. DizmanNo Gravatar says:

    Even if wotc has published these cards for their players they did it for their needs, and that is cash.

    But looking at this as a player this is awsome. I get to get an extra edge if I’m willing to give some extra cash. Might add more fun to table.

    As gm i think this is unnececery. I fudge some dice in favor of players, with this card thing i think its to much. I might just pump up my monsters, and even stop fudging alltogether if my players want to addopt this. In the end GM can say that these cards are not appicable in their games. These cards are for those tournaments of 4th Edition. So us “Nonofficial Playing For Fun Game Masters” have our say in our game. But i do think this is some what good idea so ill have made some once per sesion cards given to players at random to use in sesion or even a BENNY 🙂

  6. JohnNo Gravatar says:

    I agree with you Stu, and have banned them from my 4e game before any of my players even get a chance to purchase them.

    I do wonder if it is not a Hasbro saying “You are not making enough money on this DnD thing. Magic makes good margins, so make this DnD thing like Magic.” Maybe we will see Hasbro spinning off WoTC. Or closing the line. Then Pazio (sp?) can name Pathfinder what it really is.

  7. Chris CzerniakNo Gravatar says:

    I don’t see what the big deal is. As far as I’m concerned the cards add a fun new way to play the game. Everyone cried fowl when Gamma World added the cards but people I played with love them. Those who had there own decks did not have much more of an advantage than those who used the DMs deck. Even the ones that sucked like “Talk to fish” brought a lot of entertainment.

    DMs creating a challenge is more an art than a science and these cards are not going to give a breaking advantage to the players.

    Finally, those who had more money have always had an advantage. They could buy the supplements with the new classes (this is true for most editions of DnD) or get there own DDi account. These cards are no different.

    I plan on buying a couple packs and adding them to my game and see how it goes. I have a feeling my players are going to love them and overall make the game more enjoyable.

    1. StuNo Gravatar says:

      I can see your point with everything but the money being an advantage thing.

      You are overlooking one important thing: I can borrow a book from someone during the game, and conversely I can lend someone a book they don’t have.

      The scarcity of only having one book at a table does not preclude multiple people from using it. The scarcity of a handful of “rare” Fortune Cards absolutely precludes others from using them in-game — firstly, they may never get the card (or be able to afford to look for one), and if someone else at the table has it, they may want to use it instead of lending it to you.

      That’s the whole point of having “rare” cards in the first place, isn’t it?

      I’ve seen several blogs make this counter-argument to the Fortune Card kerfuffle, and it’s the weakest one. It’s a bad analogy.

  8. Chris CzerniakNo Gravatar says:

    My point on the book is that there a lots of ways to gain an advantage in D&D over other players. In a 3.5 game I’m playing most of the players only had access to the PHB. One player had a bunch of books and ended up making some kind of mage fighter that had a 6d6 range area attack at 1st level. This player had a distinct advantage over the rest of us. I’m sure he would have let us borrow his book but we didn’t really have the time for everyone to pour through it. He also had other books that we didn’t have access to and he would have had to bring his entire collection to even it out.

    DDi has the same effect with players having access to new abilities that others don’t unless that player prints out all the articles to share.

    Also, for a home game that uses them you can make your own cards. I’m sure you’ll be able to find a list of effects and player can write them on index cards.

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