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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Stuff and... nonsense?

He is The Law!
Passing through Borders bookshop the other day in search of a classic 20th century novel and that search proving futile, I made a beeline for the graphic novels there to surrender gleefully to the impulse I'd carried over from my last visit to those same shelves, picking up what I know will only be the first of many more: Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 01 (59 progs' worth of strips in 320 pages for £13.99?-: a real bargain!).

Moments when a cultural encounter profoundly define a person are relatively few and far between I reckon and become rarer as the years go by, for simple reasons I would suggest:
  • There is naturally some kind of limit to people's self-definition through cultural consumption; a limit determined both by the dynamics of human growth and maturation on the one hand, and by the available cultural wealth on the other.
  • I would aver that there is too a limit to people's capacity for reinvention; a limit imposed ultimately by age.
Perhaps rarer still even in our increasingly rich and diverse culture are those moments when you can get in right at the very beginning of something that proves to be a genuine phenomenon.

Judge Dredd was my first experience of this ilk. I mean to say: I can still remember the first Airfix kit I built and painted all by myself; and my first game of Risk?- well I was reminded of that when the game returned to the table here not long ago. Definitive moments for yours truly these might've been, but their importance was entirely a personal matter.

And Judge Dredd? Well, back in February 1977 (10 months before Star Wars too made sure that nothing in geek culture would ever be quite the same again) 2000AD was just another new comic which had caught the imagination of a couple of young teens. And Dreddy was just a character who'd made his first appearance in issue Prog. 2. Who'd've thunk it that all these years later Judge Dredd would turn out to have been the first iconographic British comic character ever to stand up there beside Superman, Batman, Spiderman and the other great characters we all knew and loved as kids, and which made American comics bigger even than America itself?

And with the boardgame, Judge Dredd continues to entertain even though I no longer read 2000AD. What can I say? Oh yes. Maximum thrillpower! Zarjaz! :0)

Idle rumour and cheap speculation?
It's been more than 3 years since RD/KA! featured the doings of internet cage-rattler and self-appointed cultural crusader- the RPGpundit. He appears now only by virtue of a rumour he's peddling about problems FFG are having with their GW RPG licences, to wit:
  • Rogue Trader: volume 2 of the 40KRP trilogy.
  • WFRP3: FFG's big new box of... RPG, or is it boardgame?
I wrote back in August about the geek rage the news of WFRP3 initially evoked in yours truly, and of how I became interested in what the game might offer once I found out more. I've been keeping up with the news since then, and the geek rage continues to echo across those intarwebs. Meanwhile I confess I remain interested in what the system might deliver.

My continuing interest notwithstanding I cannot deny that there are certainly good reasons why people could (perhaps even should?) be dismayed with the nature of FFG's WFRP3 project. There is more to this than the mere matter of money, although 'mere' is hardly a tag applicable to the price of a workable set of WFRP3:
  • The Core Set: $99.95
  • The Adventurer's Toolkit: $29.95
  • Dice Accessory Pack x2: $23.90
  • Total: $153.80
This is compared to $104.85 for D&D's 3 essential volumes: the DMG, PHB, and the MM. OK you need dice but that cost is relatively trivial and 832 pages of hardback book strikes me as offering extra content sufficient to compensate for that minor additional overhead.

At least as important as all that IMO is that the marketing approach which patently drives WFRP3's design and production is one that strikes to the very heart of something taken utterly for granted about RPG's since the earliest days of D&D: the initial buy-in- often but not always a single book or box; this buy-in was a self sufficient game which could be used for the enjoyment of as many as wished to join in. All the cardboard bells and whistles FFG are adding to WFRP3 mean that this isn't really true, however interesting might be the mechanics these parts support.

This is the rational kernel of the otherwise rather ludicrous complaints about WFRP3 being more boardgame than RPG, and it is a fair point. What FFG clearly hopes is to find some way of doing with WFRP3 what GW proved unable to do with 1st edition WFRP in the 80's- ie. reap rich rewards; an economic dilemma the solution to which was to turn GW into the hardnosed miniatures company so well known today.

What I imagine this means is that a major plank of FFG's marketing strategy for WFRP3 might be the assumption of a high turnover of customers who don't take the game any further than the initial buy-in. This is pure speculation, naturally enough; but that's how GW worked (and still work AFAIK). The Milton Bradley co-productions and so on got the Warhammer brand into the public eye so that aunts and uncles, grandmas and grandpas etc. would buy Warhammer games for young relatives. So GW's growth was based on a customer base for whom Warhammer was just a youthful pastime and not a geek's hobby. In other words: brand recognition in the same league as that of D&D which makes the brand a money spinner not because of hobbyists' interests, but regardless of them.

The fly in the ointment now for FFG is the recession. It is a truism that leisure and entertainment do well in hard times, but Rogue Trader and WFRP3 are high-end products, which surely can't be in their favour. I know I'm interested in both; but I can easily see myself going for the minimal buy-in and then mining the games for ideas. I really don't know. But then again, if I'm right about FFG's marketing model, they won't give a tuppeny ha'penny damn, will they?

Finally for now: the RPGpundit's thread is worth checking; as much for the sake of the later sensible comments as for the original rumour itself. ;)

Related@RD/KA!
- Something rotten? But where?
- This, that and the other
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