I’ve just been reading articles on Escapist magazine about the past, present and future of D&D pen-and-paper development. There’s plenty of detail and some great quotes from industry insiders about the different editions and their successes and failures.
The history articles are also interesting for the obvious effect that modern electronic gaming has had on the RPG industry. Back in the 70s, 80s, perhaps even early 90s tabletop gaming was more common. Now most kids have grown up with handheld games, consoles or computers to play. So pen and paper gaming, and the related board game experience, can seem old-fashioned.
I still run sessions of D&D for a small group, though we’re all in our 30s and have played D&D in various editions for half our lives. We understand the real benefits of imagination-led gaming over any MMO on the market. It must be a nightmare to try and market D&D et al to modern gamer audiences, gaming is so visual now, why should gamers be expected to use their “mind’s eye” to see their adventures?
The article also highlights the MMO influences on 4th edition, for the record I stuck with 3rd edition because I was no longer investing regular money in paper gaming (certainly not enough to buy a new set of core books) and because I didn’t like what I was reading in the previews. I’ve noticed on forums the amount of MMO style talk when people discuss their games – character builds, tanks/dps/healer, boss fights. It all seems so sterile and formulaic some how.
Playing any edition of D&D I have never approached the game as I would an MMO player. I never design fights as DM or consider fights as though we were playing a team of characters in WoW. To do so, I would argue, you are limiting your imagination to a tightly defined set of rules and possible outcomes. The beauty of any RPG is the freedom the collective group of players and DM have to create their own collectives stories.
A blog post I read on Thade’s Hammer today highlights a silver-lining where this gap in freedom of choice between D&D and MMOs is fractionally narrower than normal.
One of the good elements of Bioware’s take on MMO questing, with the cut-scene decision points, is that there are sometimes options on how to achieve the same result. Through these choices we’re given a fractional glimpse of the potential that pen and paper gaming offers. Sure we can’t change the outcome necessarily – but at least having choices appropriate to our character on how to get there is a start. It’s also probably the closest the MMO genre has come so far to emulating the real strength of tabletop RPGs.