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Nerd Watching: Books Are Lying to You!

Written by Nicholas - Published on November 23, 2009

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

I don’t trust anything printed on paper!

Former D&D designer turned Aion writer Dave Noonan raised an interesting question on his blog recently. Should we still be buying 4e books? The crux of his arguement is the November errata that brought the total errata for 4e up to a whopping 58 pages. Noonan argues that with all the errata how can we trust what is written in the printed book? We can find all the same information through the electronic insider tools, only updated with the errata. So why buy books at all?

The point is rather convincing. I have almost every 4e book and nearly all of them have something in them that is no longer true. Even so, I don’t really use the books as a primary information source. I make my characters in the Character Builder and take my monster stats from the Compendium. I use the physical books more like brochures. I’ll pick up a book like Arcane Power to browse my options and get a sense of the new builds. When it comes time to actually make a character, I go electronic. Books are a bigger luxury than they were last edition, but I still enjoy them despite the errata.

Sorry, “Updates”

What I don’t like is the shift from errata to updates. Errata used to be reserved to fixing some bit of miscommunication and was typically employed in only important bits of information. With the ease of distributing information, WotC has moved from simple errata to “updates”. This expanded mission includes altering exploited feats, powers and magic items because they proved too powerful in actual play.

Magic’s banned card list flashes into my head. Is that where we’re heading? My feeling has always been if someone wants to make a broken, cheat-y character they will be able to, even with the errata. It is up to the players to have a group that fits their playstyle, because there’s no way WotC can plug so many loopholes that munchkins will surrender.  Trying to just adds more complications and hassle for those just trying to make characters to a concept. At least the electronic tools make it not that big of a deal.

The One Problem

Of course, ditching books and shifting to the electronic tools only works if they are functional and up to date. Now functional is not an issue. I have had very few problems with the programs. Up to date is another matter. The electronic tools are currently on the holiday update schedule. On this schedule the mid-November update for the Character Builder includes the content from the September issues of Dragon and Dungeon. Content from the October issues won’t be available until mid-December.

I like to make characters, even if I probably will never get to play them. I’ve made many gamers with the same inclination. When I read a great Dragon article, as many of them have been lately, the first thing I want to do is play around with the new options it presents, but I can’t do that. Lets say that I got really inspired by the “Raven Queen’s Champions” article released on October 5. I’m fired up and I want to make an Avenger of the Raven Queen with the new powers from the article. Well that enthusiasm better last because that content won’t in the Character Builder until December 15. I might be alone in this, but I think that’s an unreasonable delay in the digital age!

Do you buy books still? Are you happy that WotC is using updates to change powers and items post-release? Let us know what is on your mind in the comments!

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Written by Nicholas

Nick DiPetrillo is the original author behind the games Arete and Zombie Murder Mystery available at http://games.dungeonmastering.com

Nick is no longer active with DungeonMastering.com, however he is an accomplished writer and published his first game in 2009.

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Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.



14 Responses to “Nerd Watching: Books Are Lying to You!”
  1. brady says:

    I certainly still buy the books. There’s more to them than the powers & monsters they include. Anything written by Robin D. Laws on the subject of gm’ing is ALWAYS worth reading, usually more than once.

    I’m perfectly okay with the “Updates” element to the online material, because it keeps the game from breaking. There’ll likely be a much longer stretch of time before we get to “4.5” because the designers are able to course-correct as they go when a mechanic/feat/power/whatever doesn’t end up working the way the envisioned it.

    What I’m much more troubled by when it comes to all the online content is the game’s longevity. I still have my core 2e books, and will always be able to play from them. Hell, I even still have my Red Box, and should my kids ever express an interest in gaming, I have every intention of cracking that open with them. Those editions are untouchable. But, twenty years from now, when we’re on D&D 9e, or whatever, and D&D Insider has long since been taken down, 4e will be virtually unrunnable. I think that’s a major problem.

  2. Quinn says:

    I will still buy books, though I to find them less and less a necessary when actually sitting at the gaming table. Part of this is because I use a lap top as my gm screen. My ideal would be to have an ongoing updated pdf version with the revisions being available for download for the life of the game. On the other hand when I am prepping a game and looking for information and inspiration I like to be able to thumb through a book and let something just catch my eye.

  3. The Gneech says:

    Insert gratuitous “should we have ever looked at them in the first place” joke here. ;P

    -The Gneech

  4. Stitched says:

    I bought the core books for 4e and that’s where my purchases stopped. I honestly felt I couldn’t keep up, financially or otherwise, with all the new source material.

    Thankfully, I invested in DDI, and that coupled with many online free tools (RPTools, the great free adventure paths, Asmor’s tools, thie tools online here…) never really felt the need to invest further. With the constant updates on DDI, I never felt the need to.

    I can totally see this as the future for the big players in RPG’s; release the sourcebooks as usual but the real money will be made on online services like DDI.

  5. Jason says:

    Does Errata/Updates really matter? It’s a role playing game, not a competitive gaming environment. You play with a few other players, and have fun. I’m not competing with the DM, nor am I trying to outplay the rogue.

    I’m a DDI subscriber myself, but I still buy the books.

  6. Swordgleam says:

    I’m a big fan of the “if it doesn’t work for you, don’t use it” school of thought. I think the only thing from the errata that has made it to my game is the updated DC for one of the diseases, since I experienced first hand that the original was way too high and the fix was appropriate.

  7. Kelsey says:

    I still buy the books, because the Compendium and the Character Builder don’t include the fluff, and I enjoy the fluff. This is especially true for the DM focused books like Open Grave and Draconomicon that are more fluff than crunch.

    And I’m not worried about these things disappearing in the ether if there is no hardcover book. That’s like fearing the disappearance of music because I no longer have a cassette player. It’s just a medium, if the content is worthwhile, it will out-live the medium.

  8. Scott says:

    I’m a hoarder, if i buy one of something i usually try and buy all of that something. Since 4e came out i have purchased every single book they have released. That being said i haven’t used a single one as intended, i use each book as a large stockpile of information and inspiration and make my own adjustments to anything before placing it in my game.

    I’ll personally continue buying the books and using them this way. I believe that WotC are trying to cater for my style of gamer that is focused more on fun, casual gaming where rules are more guidelines as well as the hardcore min-maxing gamers where the rules are everything and beating the rules whilst still using the rules.


  9. Jason says:

    Scott makes some good points, and I agree. =)

  10. Steve says:

    But just think – Munchkin has a new card: “Updated Rulebook”. Adds +2 to any item by permanently updating the item! (If the item goes to the graveyard, so does the update)


  11. Neuroglyph says:

    I think this is a clear sign that WotC should consider publishing books electronically as PDFs – say something you can’t download but can browse – and then WotC can update them as much as they want – then you don’t have to fuss with errata ever.

    I do most of my DM prep and character gen on my laptop anyways, so it’d be really natural to puruse an online book.

    Frankly, it’d be worth more to me to pay a monthly subscription to the “D&D Online Library” than to buy book after book that is so “erratified” that its about useless within 6 months.

  12. Quinn says:

    @Neuroglyph For me i would prefer to have a downloadabul pdf or even something formatted for an ereader, i would much rather be able to carryall my books around in a kindle or a nook then to have to hall 50 lbs of hardcovers with me when i go out to game.

    The other problem with browse only is what if you like a rule for your game and then they change it you would have no record of the revision history. On a related note i think they would still need to issue an errata report like a change notice on a updated software program.

  13. Neuroglyph says:

    Quinn – I’d prefer a downloadable pdf too – but after the recent piracy that WotC experienced, I wonder if they are going to be gun shy about making their products portable.

    Kindle would work too, but I’m to cheap to go out and buy one yet :P

  14. Yax says:

    I don’t like the whole piracy thing. There’s always going to be a free version available somewhere. Personally I buy my music on iTunes instead of downloading it just because it’s less of a hassle. Same thing for PDF books. There’s always going to be piracy. Why penalize good customers because of a few pirates? Bleh.

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