The Increasingly Difficult Buy In
I was sitting in my parents' living room staring at the enormity of the third edition Player's Handbook and contemplating suicide. I had never made a character before and now that I was left to my own devices I found the matter incredibly frustrating. The book is obnoxiously long, filled with esoteric terminology, and has the most piss poor index and glossary I have ever had the misfortune of using. So I threw the book on the table, took the time to make myself an Akins Screw, and contemplated all the wrongs I had committed in my life. They are numerous though not without number.
It was around that time that I remembered that Wizards of the Coast posts their contact information in the front of every book they publish - as did TSR and basically every company you ever purchase anything from in this modern world. As it was my first day off in the last 85 days I decided to call.
"Thank you for calling Wizards of the Coast, this is Corporate Facade, how may I help you?"
"Son your god damned game is fun but too fucking hard to learn. Can you do something about that?"
"Well, what seems to be the problem?"
"Your made up words and lack of a workable glossary."
"Ah, yes. That is a problem."
One of the worst decisions in our hobby was made when Wizards of the Coast decided to stop publishing the Basic, Expert, and Companion Dungeons and Dragons games. Now I am sure that part of this decision was based around the release of Third Edition and their experiences with Magic: the Gathering and competing product lines within the company diffusing sales.
It was a mistake.
The Basic game, whether you're talking about Holmes, Moldvay, or Mentzer, is a fantastic introduction to the hobby with a very minimal buy in for new gamers. The Expert and the Companion volumes are steady expansions on the initial game and provide players and Dungeon Masters alike with an increased level of difficulty and game complexity that come with mastery of the Basic game. Even going from the Basic game to Advanced or Second Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons is an easy transition. The entirety of the product line builds from an easy introductory set for new players through varying levels of complexity and difficulty in later products - that's what we call synergy in modern business models.
Neither Third nor Fourth edition Dungeons and Dragons provides this sort of introductory model and I would argue that it is to the detriment of the game and of the hobby as a whole. Without that easy introduction new players are forced to find existing groups, groups that are notorious for being hesitant with introducing new people into the fold, to teach them the hobby; but what do you do when there are no groups around?
The simple answer is that you don't join the hobby because the buy in is too high.
The Holmes Basic game is only 49 pages long and includes all the rules you need to play at early levels, monsters, and a sample adventure. Moldvay's Basic game is only 64 pages long and provides you with everything Holmes brought to the table but with better formatting. The Mentzer Basic game boxed set is only a 120 pages which includes all the rules you need to play, monsters, a sample adventure, a separate Dungeon Master's guide, and a hell of a lot better art throughout the booklets. Contrast that with the three basic books for third edition: Player's Handbook I, 319 pages; Monster Manual I, 319 pages; Dungeon Master's Guide I, 320 pages. Fourth Edition is just as bad when it comes to page counts so there is a ridiculous amount of effort that a new player has to put forth with these games - not to mention cost. Third edition started out at $30.00 a book while fourth edition started out at $40.00. By contrast I can buy a used copy of the Moldvay Basic game today for less than $10.00 on Amazon and can pick up both PDFs of the Mentzer Basic game for $10.00 through Dungeons and Dragons Classics.
So how does any of this get fixed?