4th Edition and the 3rd Party Publisher

13Jun09

It seems to me that the utility, convenience, and thoroughness of DDI’s D&D Compendium and Character Builder work against the success of 3rd party publishers.

While I’ve no scientific evidence to back up this claim, it does seem on some accepted level a good number of 4e players & DMs use the compendium and certainly the Character Builder (for it doth rock!).  These are very useful tools that give you everything published by WotC in a ready to use computer application. So thorough and useful are they, they even limit my desire to buy WotC books.

Doesn’t the prevalence, convenience, and restricted nature (WotC material only) of these tools put a bit of a crunch on 3rd party publishers? For example, Adamant Entertainment’s Warlock Pacts are awesome. But unless I manually update my Character Builder with the needed information (and in this sense the builder is still a bit of a chore), my players would rather capitalize on the flash and functionality of the abundant material already presented.

Other player options fall under this umbrella as well. While it is all fine and well if a 3rd party publisher produces a book of magic items, there still seems to exist a tendency to rely on those readily described, easily inserted items that are constantly updated on the character builder. Same goes with new powers, rituals, etc . . .

DMs face no less temptation. The D&D compendium is chock full of more monsters than you could use in 50 campaigns. They are fully developed, printable, copy-ready, and easily accessible. In addition, there is a certain fun and fancy free draw to creating your own enemies in 4th edition. This temptation is buffed by myriad tools to assist in that endeavor. Monster books are great, and still have a draw, but it seems their utility may be lessened.

Now, admittedly I am being bleak on some levels here. You can still enter in houseruled (i.e. 3rd party supplement material) into the character builder. You can easily use monsters from another publisher, and even enter their stats into certain tools to produce a viable, copy-ready statblock.

The difference exists in 4th Edition’s emphasis on the use of their digital tools. Before you had to manually enter a lot of things regardless, unless you were using some webtool to create characters . . . often a restricted or dicey proposition in and of its self. Now the publisher of the game offers a great, easy-to-use, and comprehensive builder, so a small chore becomes evident when dealing with publications that fall outside the realm of WotC.

Me? I still use 3rd party material because I am a D&D geek. However,  I think where 4th edition is practically begging for 3rd party support is not in class functions, more monsters, or treasure, but in story/campaign elements and adventures. Books that can speak directly to the game, or provide a rich campaign or ideas for the DM, and adventures that give DMs with little prep time what they need to play . . .

I don’t know. I am done rambling. What do you think?

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13 Responses to “4th Edition and the 3rd Party Publisher”

  1. 1 Wyatt

    I never thought about this before, until the other day when a player of mine asked to make a character using the character builder. I know of IPlay4e, which can read character builder files for you, but I told him no, I wouldn’t accept it. Mostly because I felt it was kind of annoying that he, knowing that I’m not subscribed to DDI (and he knew because I told him) and that I use a plethora of homebrew material, would still want to use that when it wouldn’t mesh well.

    So I agree that you’re quite right about your assessment, and that I have a bad future coming as a 4e DM since I’m never going to subscribe to DDI and I use and write a lot of homebrew material (which is the equivalent of third party material as far as as these tools are concerned) while the players I encounter will more increasingly often be entitled to their use of these things.

    As for where 4e is begging for material, I kind of disagree. For example, looking at the rituals you’ve made on this very site, as well as other contributions from various people just on RPG Bloggers, I feel as though the masses playing D&D 4e are more creative and daring than Wizard’s will ever be, and that this creativity is basically unsupported.

  2. Wow. Good points.. both of you (and on your blog Wyatt)… hadn’t really considered that much either. Can companies offer install packs? is the data structure open? I doubt it.. maybe 3rd party publishers should just stop worrying about what system they are supporting… [/wink]

  3. 3 The Last Rogue

    @ Jonathan – That is one of the reasons I am really excited about what you are doing Jonathan. I love the idea of material that is fundamentally system-free; it sparks ideas and gets the GM’s creative juices flowing . . . then the followup of offering a variety of popular system’s mechanics to match that . . well, it is just a damn good idea because it puts the emphasis not on a system, but on the players of the game, and that is a winning situations. Another point you bring up is the data pack . . . I thought of this too, but I doubt WotC would go for it. Nothing against them, but it does not seem to be their thing.

    @ Wyatt – I just got in from work, and I will read our blog ASAP. But as for these comments, I totally agree. I homebrew too (mainly monsters, feats, and stuff), and it can be frustrating to make this material easy to use for the player whose dependent on DDI

  4. Excellent point, well made.

    The Wizards’ Character Builder is a pretty good tool, but it falls far short when compared to Hero Lab. That’s open, infinitely customizable and actually outputs character sheets that don’t look like a dog’s been sick over an excel spreadsheet. I’m looking at you, terrible official D&D sheet. Oh yes I am.

    I’d kill for a decent Hero Lab 4e generator. Oh wait……… it’s already got one! Annoyingly though, you need a D&D Insider account to be able to pull the content in from Wizards to use it.

    Come back OGL and a Wizards of the Coast which encourages creativity and industry growth, all is forgiven.

  5. Interesting post – for whatever reason, I’ve bought much less 3rd party stuff for 4e so far than I had done in the first year of 3.0. You’re right though – we definitely need new campaign setting stuff and adventures, not more class expansions!

  6. @greywulf – about Heroforge… did you happen to see the interview I did with Robert Daneri, the co-founder of 4E heroforge? Lots of juicy bits in there;

    http://www.thecoremechanic.com/2009/05/interview-with-robert-daneri-of.html

  7. 7 The Last Rogue

    @ Richard – And fortunately those type of 3rd party options exist via Goodman Game’s Points of Light and some other stuff brewing on the horizon.

    @ Greywulf – You know, I’ve never considered Herolab, and I do not know why. I also wholeheartedly endorse your final statement!

  8. @The Last Rogue I’ve got a couple of Goodman’s Punjar adventures (and ran Sellswords of Punjar successfully) but haven’t checked out the Points of Light stuff. Any good?

  9. 9 The Last Rogue

    Well, the one I have is good. The best thing about it is that it is system-neutral, and really it just provides a lot of seeds for the GM who wants to run his own homebrew campaign. Ultimately, it offers the skeleton and lore for 4 campaigns or options.

  10. 10 andrewplus

    Does Wizards get any money off of supporting 3rd party stuff? I mean, having Wizards integrate stuff from other publishers is something that’s going to cost them money to implement, in terms of paying dudes to program this stuff and in getting it all legal beagle to let you download their character builder with material from some third party publisher.

    I mean, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. It’s like complaining that Ford ought to build their cars so that you can put in a GM engine or something, you know?

  11. @andrewplus Bad example. What we have now is like Ford building their cars so that you can only put in Ford gas and drive on Ford roads. Ok, maybe not that bad, but I do feel that Wizards are in danger of heading down that slope.

  12. 12 The Last Rogue

    @andrewplus – Methinks you mistake my contemplation for complaining. I am fully aware, and almost wrote, that WotC has little to gain financially from the inclusion of 3rd party publishers, though, as I write this I realize it is a debatable point. I do not really expect Wizards to do any such thing, nor am I going to hold it against them if they do not.

    It seems like 4e is going well for them, therefore if 3rd party supporters are having difficulty in this new market, fairly or unfairly, the onus is on them to change. I expect some very interesting stuff in the future.

    @ Greywulf – The oddest damn thing about this discussion is the tension. On one hand the convenience and quantity of WotC material is crowding out or making life difficult for 3rd party material, but on the other hand I cannot think of a gaming system or mechanic system that is so damn inviting to tweak, tinker with, and all out design things from the ground up. It is like they are asking us to make materials, but giving us little space to shop our wares . . . and I do not begrudge them, because I doubt it is intentional.


  1. 1 D&D 4e’s DDI Hypnotism « The Spirits of Eden

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