D&D history and MMO gaming cross-overs

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.

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6 Responses to D&D history and MMO gaming cross-overs

  1. thade says:

    This is often on my mind as I play video games; D&D – really, table-top RPGs in general – will always offer something that video games and pencil & paper games can’t offer, which is true variety and surprise. The options players have in video games are not only finite, but minuscule: you’ll have some set of choices (very often three or less) on how to accomplish a task. What’s more is you will often see these choices clearly defined for you (e.g. dialog options). In a table-top RPG, the player can do something that will (for the foreseeable future) remain impossible to other mediums: you can surprise the DM (and other players and even him or herself) and compel an on-the-fly revision of how things are to play out. Improvisation and character development are the hallmarks of tabletop RPGs, and that’s something video games can’t really compete with.

    That said, SW:TOR is the first time I’ve ever felt that my avatar actually has *character*; has motivations, goals, and desire which are both clear and may not always align with what I might want for that character. It’s an impressive step in what I feel is the right direction for the medium.

    • Telwyn says:

      Agreed on both points. I guess I’m slightly biased in that I like the d20 system that underpins both D&D (3-3.5) and also the ruleset of the KOTOR games. I like in Neverwinter Nights and KOTOR that you had certain dialogue options if you had certain skills. So someone with the diplomacy skill might have a non-combat solution available, someone with intimidate could bully NPCs to do something.

      Of course the same ideas in my post apply to all pen-and-paper RPGs. I do hope SW:TOR doesn’t stand still now it’s launched. They really should be building on the 4th pillar and looking at further refining it.

  2. wraithe says:

    I worked in a comic/game store when 4th edition hype was rolling and even when it came out and I remember that’s all we would talk about, how WoW like it was becoming. While I couldn’t really add much to the conversation because I’ve never had the opportunity to be part of a Dungeons and Dragons crew I am an avid reader, even went to school for English Literature so I may be on the younger side but I understand and love the advantages of table top gaming. There’s something a lot more satisfying in what your brain can envision than what something else can give you, most of the time. Just reading about 4th and the little I knew of previous editions from reading the rulebooks and what not, I felt like a critical part was taken away. Maybe like they were trying to play part of the game for you.

    • Telwyn says:

      There’s definitely the feeling of 4th edition being more combat simulator than RPG I think. I read the Eberron forums a lot on the Wizards website and this has been discussed a few times. There’s plenty of love for 4th edition’s balance between classes but also I often read stuff like “oh for 3rd edition’s skill system”, that is to say that 4th edition improves on combat but does other things not so well.

  3. thade says:

    Not really related to your OP, but man do I dislike d20 and 3/3.5. I actually hate 4th ed as it goes in a warped direction, but insofar as dice systems are concerned, I don’t like d20. Linear systems are bonk; no way a trained warrior always has a 1 in 20 chance of fumbling. There are better systems which are just as easy to teach; for example, Shadowrun 4th ed.’s dice pools, or the FATE system, which operate on normal distributions. Just the math nerd in me though.

    Ironically the 4th ed. rulebooks had some really good sections in it re: role-playing, how to do it and why it was awesome. Even better than the 3rd or 2nd ed books did. However the system itself wasn’t conducive to it at all. The very idea of “combat bugs” is so insane; the system shouldn’t be perfect as it’s meant to encapsulate events that are by nature not well modeled by any system, allowing players to surprise the DM and the writers of the rules themselves.

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