Sometimes in life, it all comes down to having the right skills to cope with an unforeseen change, a tipping of the playing field.Paizo
and Wizards of the Coast
have announced the winding down of the popular D20 magazines Dragon and Dungeon. It's an interesting move, and all signs
indicate that it's a decision by WotC, and Paizo are suddenly without a flagship product. That's the front page story, anyway. I imagine there was a certain aspect of panic when the board at Paizo learned they were about to lose the official sanction of Wizards, but fortunately the Open Gaming Licence (OGL) rides to the rescue, and this might be the best thing to happen to roleplaying periodicals since Future Publishing released Arcane all those moons ago.
The real story today isn't that fantasy roleplayers have lost a resource, but look set to gain two.Pathfinder
is the publication Paizo plans to fill the hole in their ranks with, and on paper it looks like a very interesting prospect. A monthly, 96 page full colour perfect-bound adventure module, with back-up material, published with the sort of gloss and finish we have come to expect from Paizo is an interesting prospect. Their previous adventure path output has been very well received in the goblin-spitting circles, 'Shackled City'
being the one I keep hearing about.
There are some very interesting business decisions being made in choosing to go this route. One of the most obvious is that they are retiring from the business of industry reportage wholesale, something that makes a certain amount of sense in light of the rising costs of producing such content, the limited amount of news generated by the industry and the delay in getting that news to an audience that has already digested and discussed it online for nearly a month. It's largely the same dilemma that faces the computer gaming magazines, and the next couple of years are going to see a lot of them cease to be going concerns on the magazine rack. Wizards and Paizo are smart to see that for what it is, and migrate accordingly.
The format Paizo have chosen for Pathfinder is probably the bravest decision they have made regarding this new move. While some might see it as making lemonade when all you have is lemons, it's the difference between good lemonade and bad that will really matter. Maintaining their usual high quality presentation (Check out those sweet Wayne Reynolds covers
.) indicates that they intend to keep on trucking in that mode for the time being. You'll know you're in good hands as long as that continues. If the art drops or goes black and white in six months time, say your goodbyes and start thinking up your next campaign world.
Staying monthly, but putting all their efforts into one big serial adventure, rather than three discreet scenarios for different levels of character is risky. They are no longer offering a handy pick-up-and-play collection that people can plug into their game when they need a break from creating content for a week. Instead they are asking readers/users to commit on a per month basis, and hoping to hook them with the first installment, or run the risk or losing them for the 6 month cycle. Ballsy. Personally I can see a great deal about this that would be tempting for anyone running a gaming group, with fresh content and a definite, coherent, story mapped out and waiting to be used. Your mileage may vary.
Then there is the issue of price. This side of the pond an issue of Dungeon is something like 7 or 8 quid, but it has the advantage of being in the bigger newsagents, and besides White Dwarf, is just about the only Gaming material occupying conventional shelf space. With a move to this format and a significant increase in price, (20 dollars over there, it will be interesting to see how that translates.) does this mean that Pathfinder will retreat into the specialist shops, gaming and comic book stores? Paizo might have some hard work ahead of them convincing conventional bricks and mortar newsagents to put a 20+ euro magazine on their shelves, and maintaining the small number of orders they currently entertain. Are Gamers willing to pay what this material is worth?
Another question linked to price is this; Will a 'waiting for the trade' mentality develop amongst the audience? The 'Shackled City' and 'Savage Tides' adventure paths appeared as a series of linked adventures in 'Dungeon', and proved popular enough to warrant collecting into hardbound editions, which is a format which has gained traction with this generation of roleplayers and offers very real practical benefits for the person running the group. These collections currently run to 60 dollars a pop and offer about 400 pages worth of material. How will the new Pathfinder series stack up against this? Will there be a collected edition every 6 months and what form will it take? If Paizo offer six 96 page modules at 20 dollars a piece, that comes to 120 greenbacks for just under 600 pages of content. You see how this presents a problem once the question of collections arises.
My bet is that the answer lies in the backup material that Paizo are offering. It will be pushed as the incentive offered to encourage people to buy the monthly, and it's exclusion from the collected book will keep the page count and associated printing costs down, and place the Pathfinder 'trade' in the same arena as their existing adventure collections. Not a bad idea, just ask Warren Ellis
, who's owes as much of his success in the comic writing game to clever reformatting and a willingness to experiment with formula as he does his undeniably entertaining stories. Kieron Gillen
(Phonogram) reports similar success.
So that's Paizo's reaction to this development. I mentioned that Gamers were in for not one, but two new resources. So what's the second?
It's Whatever-WotC-Do-Next, which is a bit of a mystery at the moment. They seem to indicate that they have no interest in continuing Dungeon or Dragon, or launching a replacement, which is fair considering magazine publishing is not something to be entered into lightly, and as their Senior Brand Manager, Scott Rouse says, "Today the internet is where people go to get this kind of information.
" Fair point. Whether this means more web enhancements for print products, or a new magazine-style news site dedicated to D20 (And hopefully other OGL) content or if they even have something in mind at all remains to be seen.
Is there anything in this move by Wizards to signal their intentions going forward regarding D20 as a whole? Someone is going to read this as the first steps of a company looking to withdraw from the roleplaying industry, but I'm sure we'll see another cycle of D&D before that happens. The product is quite mature at this point, and 4th Ed. may well be the last piece of the pie WotC are willing to cut. Even if it's their last, it's more than likely they'll look to hand it all off to an interested buyer as a tidy package. Who knows, Paizo might even be sitting on a Pathfinder-derived revenue mountain big enough to invest at that point.