Saturday, January 8, 2011

The DnD Fortune Card Debacle

I had resolved myself to avoid blogging about the recent news of the inclusion of "fortune cards" into the current version of Dungeons and Dragons.  For starters, I'm a bit apathetic to any current product created by WotC.  The company, now a subsidiary of Hasbro, took the reigns of the Dungeons & Dragons franchise, but it is DnD only in name.  It ceased being the game we all loved many years ago. 
My initial reaction upon hearing about these fortune cards was the same as many of my old school contemporaries; I turned my nose up to the idea.  I had the "how dare they" knee jerk reaction initially, but then I came to realize, as I said above, the game they produced stopped being DnD ten years ago.  They've already spit, soiled, and desecrated the game anyway, so while the news of adding "collectible" cards in an effort to cash-in on the name of DnD was appalling, it wasn't unexpected.

I can't say I fault Hasbro or WotC for this move.  They aren't in the business to make old codgers like me happy.   They're in the business of making money and frankly, they need something to keep a revenue stream coming in.  Table top gaming as we once knew it, has been dying a slow, painful death for many years now thanks to things like World of Warcraft and the like.  So, while I hate the idea of commercializing my beloved game of Dungeons and Dragons to turn a buck, I can't be angry at them from a business perspective.

Perhaps my biggest complaint with the use of fortune cards in DnD is how it can impact the game itself.  Years ago, I jumped on the Magic: The Gathering bandwagon.  Revised Edition had just hit the streets and the game was still relatively underground at the time.  Within a year it blew out of control.  People were buying them left and right, purchasing rare cards, and building super decks and the driving force behind the game suddenly stopped being player skill and, instead morphed into player income.  The more money you had, the better cards you could buy, thus the better decks you had and the better shot of winning.  It wasn't a game of skill and became even less a game of chance.  If you had the bucks to drop on the game, you could win and win a lot.  I see this taking the RPG down the same dreadful path. 

We like to emphasize "player skill" when we talk about our beloved hobby.  It doesn't matter how badass your miniature is, or how cool looking your dice are, if you're not skilled as a player, you won't last long in the game.  It's always been the one thing that really sets our game apart from others.  Fortune cards remove this to an extent.  Because of the "collectible" nature of them, suddenly he who has the money to lay down for ultra-rare power-ups suddenly replaces his skill in the game, with said power-ups.  Player skill becomes secondary to playing a trump card in the game to get a re-roll or a staggering bonus.  It also changes the way players react or deal with certain situations.  If they know they've got the handy power-up to let them re-roll they'll take chances they may not have otherwise taken based on their skill as a player.

The one saving grace about these fortune cards is the fact that they're optional, which means, hopefully wise DM's will see how ridiculous they are, and restrict their use in their home campaigns.  If that happens universally, then people will stop buying the fortune cards, and they'll disappear from the shelves never to see the light of day.  In this new generation of gaming, however, I don't have much confidence in that happening.

But as I said, WotC can go on and do whatever the hell they want to with the game they call Dungeons and Dragons.  I'll cling to my old dusty books and worn dice, because the game I grew up loving is the same game I play today.  Keep your fortune cards.  I'll take the skill of a good player any day.