My thoughts on the new D&D “red box”

The Essential Dungeons & Dragons Starter It recently came to my attention (mainly by means of fellow RPG Blogger Greywulf’s post) that WotC will be releasing a new D&D 4th Edition Starter Box later this year.

I have to admit that the box itself looks pretty cool and the box art has some old-school vibe to it, BUT this will no more an old-school product than the rest of D&D 4th Edition. I believe Greywulf’s excitement got the best of him in this case (No offense meant!).

Reducing the available number of classes and races to four and putting everything into a neat boxed set is not what old-school is about. The system used in D&D 4th Edition is still based on the d20 System that was created for D&D 3rd Edition and that is definitely a modern system. You can turn the base system into something more “old school” as Microlite74 etc. has shown, but I really doubt that’s what WotC is aiming for. If they want to retain compatibility to the D&D 4th Edition game, they will have to include the powers systems, healing surges etc. And in order to please the target demographic they definitely will not adopt notions like “Challenge the player not the character” and “Rulings instead of rules”. On the other hand I expect something which is closer to the D&D Miniatures game they released around the time D&D 4th Edition hit the shelves. It was basically a slightly simplified version of D&D with everything non-combat stripped out.

If you ask me WotC is not really interested in get the grognards into D&D 4th Edition, but they want people who played D&D as teenagers (and who remember that red box from back then) to get the game for their kids. It’s a marketing ploy, not a change in direction.

That said, I actually applaud any attempt at getting new people excited in the hobby. If you already play one roleplaying game, you are much likely to give other games a try. But I just don’t believe that D&D 4th Edition was mysteriously turned into an old-school game while I was not looking. 😉

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

14 thoughts on “My thoughts on the new D&D “red box””

  1. Yeah, I'm not sure I understand the logic of Greywulf's whole "4E is old school" insistence either. It seems to be trying too hard to make 4E into something it's not and is unlikely to convince anyone: "old-school" players don't want 4E's playstyle any more than they wanted 3E's. Similarly, 4E players don't really want to play "old-school" style. Having run and played both in the same time period, I don't see the overlap at all. I can appreciate Greywulf's enthusiasm and his attempt to "unify" the parties but it feels very forced.

    However, I like 4E (for what it does well) and really think the box set looks pretty damn cool, so much so that I am very tempted to pick one up for my son for Christmas since it would be his first box set, much like Star Frontiers was mine.
    .-= MJ Harnish´s last blog ..4E D&D Box Set =-.

  2. I don't think (obviously I don't know) that Greywulf meant reducing the the races and classes to 4 each is what makes something old school. I think he was just saying that they are making obvious changes to the packaging to make it more old school. He already thinks that 4e is old school (, and this is just bringing the presentation of the product in line with his views of the product itself.
    .-= Aaron´s last blog ..[SPUC] Week of February 3, 2010 =-.

  3. We bought the original red box at Gen Con last year, and it was in great shape. It was one of the wax pencil editions, and the books were even in good condition. We got it because that's how both my wife and I learned to play, and we were looking to introduce our daughter to it. It was scary that I could still remember the encounters from 20 years ago.
    .-= Mike´s last blog ..bySwarm update – January 17, 2010 =-.

  4. Credit where credit is due, this is a good idea and the box artwork is nice.

    An actual game with everything you need to play it that comes in a box and you can buy someone as a gift is *much* better for introducing new players than a bunch of separate books… and dice… and maps… and minis. 🙂

    * 32-page book for players, with rules for character creation and a solo adventure

    Awesome. 32 pages is about the same as a "big" board game. And a solo adventure. That's great.

    * 64-page book for Dungeon Masters, with the rules of the game, advice on how to run the game, and adventure content

    64 pages is better than 640 pages for new DMs.

    * 2 sheets of die-cut tokens for characters and monsters

    * Cardstock character sheets and power cards

    I hope they're up to the quality of Fantasy Flight Games or at least Magic: The Gathering.

    * Double-sided dungeon map


    * 6 polyhedral dice

    Essential. Can you imagine some 12 year old getting a new D&D book for Christmas from a relative only to find they don't have any of the D&D dice to use with it?

    I doubt this will be my game of choice, but I think it's a really positive step forward for WotC.
    .-= Stuart´s last blog ..The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeois RPGs =-.

  5. I fully agree with you there. This boxed set has some solid contents and may help bring more people to the hobby, but it's just "fake" old-school. The game inside is still slightly simplified D&D 4th Edition.

  6. Wotc has already put out a 4th Ed. starter set, and it was excellent. I bought each of my nephews one, and they love it. I don't really understand the obsession with finding a new "Old School D&D". I have seen this in a hundred different places lately. If you want an old school experience, go back to the source. Next tuesday I'm starting a AD&D campaign arc with just the player's handbook. Should be fun.

  7. Hehe! You're of course right. 😀

    I think my wording was perhaps a bit off. But I am sure you understand what I was trying to say. 🙂

  8. Hah, Stuart, I disagree with you sometimes, but on this one, I'm right there – anything published with a consciously "Old-School" structure is fake old-school. There is no reason that the 4e ruleset can't be used – to a certain extent – to echo the old-school feel in the same way.

    I started playing around the Red-Box period, so it has a certain attraction to me – I might pick this up to introduce my 8-year old nephew to D&D next summer.

  9. I don't disagree with anything you've written. I am tempted to add a 'so what?' though, in the nicest possible way! Old school is a label, and it seems to me that WotC aren't courting that segment of gamers, and if they did, I'm not sure that an intro version would be the best way to do it.
    .-= RPG Treehouse´s last blog ..How to Host an RPG =-.

  10. "If you ask me WotC is not really interested in get the grognards into D&D 4th Edition, but they want people who played D&D as teenagers (and who remember that red box from back then) to get the game for their kids. It’s a marketing ploy, not a change in direction."

    I think you're about half right. However the other half is that I think that WoTC is beginning to see how bad the "not your fathers D&D" backlash is increasing. You can't go a day without seeing another "OD&D product" being offered.

    I see the "new" Red Box as WoTC trying (badly) to regain some of that street cred by saying "See… we can do that, just like the old days."

    Where they fail miserably is that it's what's *inside* the box that counts… and we "Grognards" are simply not that stupid.

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