No sinister conspiracy theories here, but I have been wondering who is the target audience for the Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game Starter Set?
At first it seems obvious: new players. The box set only includes rules for a limited number of classes and races up to level three, which probably doesn’t appeal to experienced D&D players. However, it also includes pretty much everything you would need to start a game: character sheets, power cards, tokens (in place of minis), a double-sided dungeon map, and even a set of six polyhedral dice.
Not a bad starting point for a group of new players to the game. Especially if it is a group where no one, not even the DM, has played Dungeons & Dragons before. However, if this is really the target audience, the choice to make the exterior of the box set a clone of the 1983 D&D Basic Set seems a bit odd.
Unlike me (and probably most of the readers of this blog), a new player won’t have any nostalgia for the old stuff. Why not go with a new image on the cover? As much as I love Larry Elmore’s art, it isn’t going to match up well with the art style inside the box. An art style that was a deliberate attempt to modernize the fantasy look and attract a new audience by the way.
Obviously, Wizards of the Coast believes the potential for sales to people who are truly new to the hobby are somewhat limited and are hedging their bets.
The nostalgia factor will help sales with a few groups. The biggest is probably existing D&D players who will purchase the box set entirely because the presentation, not because they actually need the contents inside. This is not a knock on these people- heck I keep waffling over whether or not I want to buy it for just this reason.
I suppose another potential purchaser is the lapsed player. If I hadn’t played D&D in over ten years, the new books might look a little alien to me. Conversely, the new D&D Starter Set would look very familiar and would contain a familiar mix of races and classes inside.
Holiday gift givers seem like another good source of sales for this product. If I had a nephew or niece I wanted to introduce to D&D, buying this product for them seems like a much better choice than giving them a Player’s Handbook.
None of this is a knock on Wizards of the Coast. The need to sell product, so building the new D&D Starter set to appeal to as wide an audience as possible only makes sense. Plus anything that even has the potential to bring new players to the game is only good for the hobby as a whole.
Still, I think it is a shame that one of the best ideas Wizards of the Coast had to get someone new to try D&D is buried in their website. This would be the “Test Drive D&D” webpage. Free quick start rules, a couple of free adventures, and even the trial version of the Character Builder all in one place. Throw in a few printable tokens and you have your own starter set for free!
Personally, I wish Wizards of the Coast built a “Play D&D for free” ad campaign around this idea. Even if they majority of people who decided to check it out never bought a product, certainly the players they did gain would be more than worth it?
Then again, maybe I am just being naive.