So as I mentioned yesterday I've been following the D&D 4e leaks with slavish nerdevotion. There's a book coming out next month called Wizards Presents: Races and Classes, a 96 page teaser that 'reveals' some information about the (gasp) Classes and Races for 4e. Well it seems that the Hungarians get all the cool toys before we do, because the Races and Classes book is already out in Hungary and thus, the info has been seeping out to the rest of the world.
The biggest of the big news from the R&C book is the identity of the "mystery race" which has stirred no small amount of controversy as nerds all over the internet. The new race are the Dragonborn, who are apparently egg-laying lizard-people (despite laying eggs it seems the lady Dragonborn still have boobs judging from the halters they are wearing in the book art) and ostensibly replace the now-absent Half-Orcs as the Strength boosting race, although the class that they are most suited towards according to the book is the Warlord (which is a post for another time).
This got me thinking about the D&D brand. I'm not one to normally think in such crassly commercial terms (which is largely true) but let's be honest here, commercialism not withstanding, branding is important, it's what separates products and even something as nerdtastic as D&D is ultimately a product. As near as I can tell, so far as fantasy RPGs (and maybe even RPGs in general) go, D&D is the baseline that all others are measured against. I don't know that I'd go so far as to say it's the default but in a way it is, other fantasy RPGs seem to be differentiated chiefly by the ways in which they are different than D&D, different classes, different (usually furry) races, different something. D&D is classic Tolkien-esque fantasy; dwarves have beards, axes, beer and like caves. Elves are poncy fucks with ears and magic.
So how does D&D compete when it ultimately defines its own competition? I think this is one of the reasons we're seeing the Dragonborn race; it's different. It doesn't fit in with the established D&D tropes (ok well it kinda does but they usually reserve something like that for a splatbook a few years into the game) it's distinctly different and, thank the gods, it's not another fucking kind of elf. I'm not wowed by the Dragonblooded myself but I'm not in fanboy rage over them either. Like everything with 4e I'm largely reserving judgement until I see the crunch and fluff side by side. It's not a safe choice, and I applaud that even if it fails, they could have gone with hobgoblins or half-giants or (gods forbid) Drow. Will it work? Maybe, the development team for 4e is truly an excellent group of designers who are really trying to learn from the victories and failures of 3rd Ed and 3.5, and I think they just might pull it off.