Why D&D Needs Zendikar

So…the big announcement from the folks over at the D&D offices was the release of the free setting Zendikar. Now, many people heard the word “Zendikar” and thought, “what the hell is that?” I was included in that number. However, the moment I clicked on literally ANY link or article, I understood. Zendikar is one of the many planes native to Magic: The Gathering.

“Ah…” I said to myself, now understanding the gravity of this announcement. “Took you bastards long enough.”

I don’t play Magic: The Gathering. I used to, but since gave away my cards. I think it’s a fine game, and I own a couple of pre-made decks out of curiosity more than anything else. But you know who does play Magic? A SHITLOAD OF NERDS! And there’s a BIG chunk of those nerds that, for some inexplicable reason, don’t play D&D. It’s produced by the same company, it’s a similarly-fantasy-inspired table game, and most Magic players are already familiar with the d20 as a life counter. Surely, there are a large number of Magic nerds that don’t play D&D because they’re, say, not familiar with the rules, or the setting, or what a role-playing game even is.

THIS is why Zendikar is important for D&D.

Now, when I say that Zendikar is important, I don’t specifically mean Zendikar. I know basically nothing about Zendikar. It’s a setting like any other. What’s important about Zendikar is what it represents. Plane Shift: Zendikar should be a herald. The D&D team and the Magic: The Gathering team should IMMEDIATELY start working together to merge these games in ways that have never been done before.

I want free pamphlets at game stores advertising new D&D gazetteers that detail the various settings of Magic: The Gathering. I want these things in PRINT! I want official, awesome layouts with stat blocks for Eldrazi and Slivers. I want a whole new class based around using color-based magic. I want every spell in the Player’s Handbook assigned a color. I want D&D to become the OFFICIAL ROLE-PLAYING GAME OF MAGIC: THE GATHERING.

And I want to see things go the other way, as well. I want to see Faerun introduced as an official plane in Magic: The Gathering. I want to see a set of cards based on Eberron, and Mystara, and Ravenloft! I want Magic: the Gathering cards for Beholders and Mindflayers! I want Magic: the Gathering to become the OFFICIAL COLLECTIBLE CARD GAME OF DUNGEONS & DRAGONS.

And I want that advertised EVERYWHERE! I want to see it on the backs of M:tG decks and inside the covers of Player’s Handbook re-prints. I want to see it in card stores and game stores and comic stores. I want to see it advertised at freaking Target and Wal-Mart! I want flyers. I want posters. I want free pamphlets detailing how to transition from M:tG to D&D, and vice-versa.

  1. Want. All of it!

A lot of nerds probably take issue with this. D&D nerds look down on Magic, and M:tG nerds look down on D&D. But the fact of the matter is that neither of these games are as pervasive and influential as they want to be. But by combining them? By integrating them with each other and allowing the teams to learn from each other? We’re opening the door to a world where D&D could become as popular as Magic, if not moreso. ARE YOU GUYS HEARING ME!? Ever moved to a new city and had one HELL of a time trying to find a new group? I can guarantee that it would be a lot easier if all of the Magic players in the local area also played D&D, because it suddenly became accessible to them. Expanding the hobby’s audience can only improve the environment for us gamers.

And I want to make something else clear. D&D has an accessibility problem. Do you know how hard it is to get into D&D? This game is incredibly inaccessible to a vast audience. I have friends who have been playing RPGs almost their entire lives who still haven’t purchased a Player’s Handbook, because the idea of shelling out $50 for a single book is ludicrous to them. Especially when, in order to run a game, they need to by two more $50 books! The only affordable thing in D&D is the dice, and that’s only true if you buy the cheap chessex sets! Sure, for new players there’s always the $20 starter set, but that frankly pales in comparison to the $35 Pathfinder Beginner Box, which is better in basically every way. It’s a higher-quality product that comes with more cool stuff. Sure, D&D is ostensibly a better game, but I cannot in good conscience recommend the Starter Set over the Beginner Box, and that’s a problem.

Now, I’m sure you’re going to tell me that there are other options. The new SRD has almost all of the rules, after all. Plus, they’ve released the Basic Rules as PDFs for anyone to download, right? That’s all free!

Except the Basic rules are the most bare-bones things I’ve read since Microlite 20, and the SRD is, by the D&D team’s own admission, basically a developer tool for publishers to reference when they create their own products. It’s not for players. And, not to beat this dead horse, but Pathfinder’s been doing a better job since 2009. They offer literally EVERY non-setting-specific rule for free, neatly organized on their website.

You know how D&D could win this? They could follow the Magic: The Gathering method. It costs $20 to get into Magic. You go to your local card shop or department store and buy two pre-made decks. Congratulations! Now you and your friend are capable of playing Magic: The Gathering. You’re able to duel each other, trade cards, try out various strategies, and enjoy the game! Spending the same amount of money on the Starter Set gets you three weak-sauce levels of four classes, a few monsters, and an admittedly-good adventure. What it does NOT get you is any ability to explore the game as a whole. And that is where these two methods differ. Buying a pair of decks gives you a lot of options. Like I said, you can trade cards between them, build new strategies, and create a lot of cool possibilities. The Starter set does not offer this.

I propose something simple. A published, formatted, softcover version of the rules in the SRD. Break it up into two books: The Hero’s Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Manual, and sell each one for 7-10 bucks. Keep everything inside the books black and white to save on costs, and use old TSR-era art to give them that authentic D&D look while also saving on art costs. Staple a set of dice in a plastic baggie to each cover, and I think you have an instant hit. Are all of the rules in these books technically free online? Yeah! Of course they are. But they’re also difficult to read and very poorly formatted. I, for one would definitely shell out ten bucks to buy a new player a Hero’s Handbook, and I make garbage money as a wage slave. And I know several people who don’t play D&D, but probably would if they didn’t have to drop fifty dollars on a book that they might not use more than once. It’s a lot easier to eat the cost of a meal at Denny’s than the cost of several six-packs of beer (or 4-5 grams of now-legal-in-my-state marijuana).

Of course, they couldn’t just MAKE the books. They’d also have to make them accessible. This is why I suggest learning another two lessons from M:tG.

  1. Put the books where people actually buy books.

Seriously. Why can I only find D&D books at game stores and Barnes & Noble? Why aren’t there any Player’s Handbooks at my local Fred Meyer or Wal-Mart? There’s actually an easy answer for that. It’s expensive to put books in big locations like this. Especially big, hardcover manuals like the D&D core books. Tell you what, though. It’d be a helluva lot easier to stock softcover books like the Hero’s Handbook at the local department store. Back at the tail-end of 4e, I saw the essentials books—which are basically what I’m suggesting for these SRD-books—at the Fred Meyer down the street. In the book section. And the monster book was missing, meaning somebody actually BOUGHT IT! And that’s why I still don’t have a copy of the Monster Vault.

And I REALLY don’t understand why D&D isn’t more heavily advertised. I’m not asking for commercials during prime-time, but why don’t I see D&D ads before youtube videos? Why don’t I see D&D ads as sidebars on sites like Kotaku or Giant Bomb? Why don’t I see D&D posters up in the windows of book stores? Why is D&D only advertised in locations where PEOPLE ARE ALREADY INCLINED TO BUY D&D BOOKS? I want ads in gaming magazines, and on websites, and before youtube videos. I want viral marketing campaigns from people like Vin Diesel and Stephen Colbert who play D&D. I want Mike Mearls dressed in a giant, foam beholder costume doing stupid dances on Ellen.

And I want John Oliver to do a 15-minute report on the inevitable backlash against this marketing. I want it to go viral. I want every rebellious teen in a religious household to take their last $20 and buy a pair of D&D books instead of a couple grams of weed so that they can play “Satan’s Game” with their friends.

…and how, exactly, does this all relate to Zendikar?

Zendikar is a proving ground. If the Zendikar setting proves to be successful, then what I view for the hopeful future of D&D becomes a possibility. Because Zendikar opens the door for more Magic: The Gathering crossovers. And more Magic: the Gathering crossovers leads to a wider audience. And a wider audience demands a more accessible product. And a more accessible product demands greater advertising.

I want D&D to succeed. I want someone else at work to bring it up in conversation, for once. I want to read stupid fluff-pieces about the campaign that George Clooney is running on the set of his new political thriller. I want a D&D Expanded Universe of movies. I want to see Drizzt movies and Bruenor movies. I want to read about the worrisome production of the Artemis Entreri movie. I want to see the Dragonlance TV show. I want to watch the 8-episode Netflix series about Strahd Von Zarovich. I want Dungeons & Dragons to become something it’s never been before.

Because I have the foolish belief that inviting more people into the hobby is a good thing.

Download Plane Shift: Zendikar here: LINK.

If you share my belief, then please share this article anywhere and everywhere that you can. Click the like button, and maybe think about reblogging this on your own page. And if you don’t share my view, then share this article anyway and watch your friends cackle and mock me. Because, as D&D learned in the past and hopefully will learn again in the future, there’s no such thing as bad press.

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