Monday, April 21, 2008

D&D & MMOs

A very interesting, if somewhat self-congratulatory, interview with Bill Slavicsek, Scott Rouse, and Chris Youngs about the fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons. The interview is with a reporter from MMO Report and focuses to a great extent on what 4e has to offer players of MMOs. Some of what the WotC reps say makes sense and some of it is just claptrap, but I have to admit the virtual dungeon designer does look awfully nifty (even if I think the character visualizer is still woefully sub-par).

Here's the interview:

Lots of food for thought there, but I have to live up to my grognardism and wrap Bill Slavicsek on the knuckles for not knowing his D&D history. The game has most emphatically not had four classes since the beginning, as he claims. OD&D had only three to start: the fighter (or fighting man), the cleric, and the magic-user (not wizard, as Slavicsek states). The thief (not rogue, as claimed in the video) didn't appear until Greyhawk. I realize this is persnickety and that WotC doesn't give two figs about the history of the game anymore, but it still burns me up when I hear people say stuff like this as if it were true.


  1. You are right about the character visualizer, it's stuck right there in the uncanny valley. Ugh.

  2. The thing that really strikes me is his unbridled enthusiasm for the game and the hobby.

    I have to cut him some slack and give him the benefit of the doubt. He's not here to discuss the changes in terminology over the years or developments that pre-date the Holmes Basic Set.

    He says "wizard" not because he doesn't know it used to be "magic-user", but becasue the change in name isn't salient to his point. Do you always say "referee" instead of "dungeon master" when talking about oD&D? Especially when you're talking to someone who knows nothing about oD&D? Or do you use "DM" in order to make your point about how great oD&D is without a tangent into terminology?

    He may very well know that the thief didn't appear until Greyhawk, but from the perspective of 4e, Greyhawk is part of "the beginning". Although there are good points to be made about not including the thief, there's no denying that the class has been core to every edition since its appearance.

    For some reason, it bothers me more that they don't acknowledge the history of virtual game tables. They talk about it like it is something they came up with rather than talking about what new features they're bring to that arena.

    Hopefully the dungeon designer will have some "old school" style tiles. Or it'll be easy to import some. That might be something I'd actually use.

    Again with this "an encounter used to be one monster against a party of adventurers" stuff! Where do they get this? I've never seen that in any edition. This, this is what makes me wonder if these designers know history or even play much 3e. I mean, I've seen Bill's CV. He's no RPG newbie. Yet...

    But again, I come back to his enthusiasm. How can a WoW or CoH player not want to log-off, grab some friends and some dice, and play some tabletop D&D after seeing the way Bill talks about it. (^_^)

  3. Actually, I do only use the term "referee" when speaking of OD&D, but I readily admit I'm weird that way.

    I see a lot of enthusiasm for 4e, certainly, but, in truth, I didn't see a lot of enthusiasm for roleplaying. Instead, Slavicsek seems to focus on lots of really peripheral issues that don't get at the heart of why people might want to give tabletop gaming a whirl if all they're used to is MMOs. But I find that's true even of many gamers who aren't trying to sell me something. The MMO challenge is a real one and there are very few people out there who seem to fully grasp the extent to which it strikes at the heart of our hobby, so maybe I should cut WotC some slack from not getting it either.

  4. People that have elective cosmetic surgery because of vanity all live in the uncanny valley.

    And the one monster per encounter comment really annoyed me too. Is that just a marketing mind trick?

  5. Yes, it is just a marketing trick. Gamers have been using multiple monsters of multiple types since the days of OD&D. In fact, Supplement I lists a selection of what it calls "combination monsters" that are just that -- unusual groups of opponents composed of several kinds of creatures.

    What I suspect Slavicsek was trying to emphasize -- albeit poorly -- was that 4e supposedly makes it very easy to gauge the challenge of an encounter relative to PC power very easily, so a DM can pick and choose opponents of any number or types he wishes and know if they're appropriate to the characters in his campaign to face without either the complexity of 3e or -- dare I say it? -- the good judgment required by earlier editions.

    This sounds nice in principle, but, because it depends heavily on "the Math" by which 4e supposedly fixes all previous editions problems. My guess, though, is that it's a parlor trick of the type employed by MMOs. Powers and monsters won't "scale," but will instead be replaced by functional equivalents that just use bigger numbers, so the game remains "even" throughout. If I'm right, that's hardly an innovation at all.

  6. And just to be clear, my comments about Bill's enthusiasm were sarcasm.

    Rather, I'm shocked by his apparent lack of enthusiasm. This is the guy you send to evangelize to the MMO faithful? (o_O)

  7. Re: sarcasm

    Glad you said this, because I wasn't entirely sure. I'm usually really good at detecting sarcasm online but this wasn't one of those cases.