Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, August 01, 2012
Promoting D&D with computer games

If you look at the list of Dungeons & Dragons computer games, you will notice that there haven't been many in recent years. It seems that the D&D brand these days is mostly used to promote B-list generic fantasy games in which the gameplay hasn't got anything to do with Dungeons & Dragons. There is not a single D&D computer game based on 4th edition rules, although those would be perfect for a turn-based game. I think that is a missed opportunity. Because as we asked ourselves yesterday how to capture the attention of the people who might be going to play pen & paper roleplaying for the next 30 years, computer games are one obvious answer.

Imagine the following: A free computer game (well, free at least for the first adventure) using 4th edition rules for character creation, combat, skill checks, and all that. The adventure starts in a port, has some typical computer game interaction with NPCs sending them on several quests, and then goes on to a more combat-oriented part where the group fights against pirates and monsters in a hidden cave. Several tactical fights later, there is a grand finale boss fight against the pirate king. All pretty much standard for computer roleplaying games.

But here is the kicker: The same adventure is also available as an introductory box to Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition pen & paper roleplaying. The box comes with all the maps, tokens, and encounter descriptions needed to play through the same port town and pirate cave adventure. But it also comes with lots of advice for a beginning dungeon master on how to make the pen & paper version of the adventure more alive than the computer game version: The NPCs in the port town have roleplaying interaction with the players, and not just a simple quests accept or decline option. There is a table with random plot twists, maybe in some version the pirate king isn't actually the bad guy. And even in combat the pirates do all sort of stuff that computer enemies never do: The table that was fixed in the computer game can be toppled and used as cover by some pirate. Another pirate swings from the chandelier in some daring combat maneuver. And so on.

In short: Pen & paper roleplaying can do things computer roleplaying can't. By having the same adventure available in a typical computer RPG form, but also in a pen & paper form, players better understand what makes the pen & paper version so much more flexible and great. Instead of scripted and limited options, the pen & paper game offers far greater freedom, actual roleplaying, and more fun with real friends around a table. It is by pointing out the advantages of pen & paper Dungeons & Dragons versus the far more static computer roleplaying games that D&D could best be promoted.

My understanding is that there is or was some sort of legal issue with the D&D license computer game license.

Apparently WotC only got back control of the license last year. Hopefully that means we'll start seeing decent D&D games in the future.

My guess is you are thinking of more innovations than the people getting paid to do so. OTOH, book publishers tend to not be the most nimble.


One of my modern annoyances is video - instead of a two page boss strategy, there are 10 minute rambling video guides. And podcasters are going to livestreams. But what if they provided rules and platforms for a pen&paper&remote game?

You have all your pen & paper and a video camera streaming to twitch/own3d.

Users have a windowed environment - a window of the video stream of the table, a window where you send them "paper/printed" handouts and a chat. They could type or preferablely voicechat.

It could even be tiered - you begin with playing your online game, then you progress to the video eremote pen&paper game, then you grab a bottle of port and head over to a friends house with your D20s.

But it seems reasonable you are right - the continuation of P&P would benefit from making it easier to get more people started.
Cryptic's new small-group Forgotten Realms game will be based on 4th edition though I'm not sure how closely it will follow the rules.

Atari was probably behind the recent lack of new games. That corporation has been in a financial mess for years now and it held the rights to publishing (not necessarily developing) digital games with the D&D brand.

WoTC and Turbine sued Atari for breach of contract since they stopped Turbine and Codemasters in Europe from advertising DDO effectively. It was Atari's job contractually to get boxes on shop shelves and to get adverts out there and the corp did neither at all.
D&D requires human randomness, human imagination and human crazy. It is the ultimate Turing Test.

A human DM can create new events on the fly, adjusting difficulty and content while gauging the reaction of the players. A computer DM can only follow the designed paths. Since commercial concerns mean that multiple paths mean more effort for shorter games, a game producer will always produce games that are event heavy, but option light.

Computers make rubbish DMs, but they would make half decent players.

The "game" should be a GM testing kit. You get the pirate adventure with a simple linear script that the game GM follows. You also get to choose some typical gamer personality types (rules laywer, kill/loot everything-guy, xp hunter, RP-girl, new guy) and a box of tools allowing you to invent interactions to meet their demands.
If you want it to be a D&D recruiter you end there. If you want it to be a full game, the DM gets a score for how well you kept everyone happy and can "buy" new mission packs, shiny models, rule books or DM powers (Pizza break, caffine boost).
Curses! You've beaten me to the punch in my own article just days ago.

In a computer version, you have to do all of the development beforehand, and merely guide the players through it (non-dynamically). Almost like an "instance creator" rather than a dynamic campaign.

In fact, Pen and Paper is a complete and utter anomaly in terms of fiction. It's the only medium on earth through which you can have a truly dynamic story influenced by player actions.


But that's the direction we're going in the digital world, you see?

Left 4 Dead has a "Narrator" of sorts that dynamically altered the events according to player needs...

Guild wars 2 uses scalable dynamic events. Just imagine if the events themselves were spawned as needed (not just pre-scripted dynamics, but the whole scenario was made up on the spot).

It's a step. And a long journey might see us with compelling digital versions of PnP as well!
Well, I have imagined a free online game with tactical combat, loosely based on 90s gems such as Baldur's Gate 1&2, Icewind Dale... and come up with Riftforge!

It has 6 party members with different skill specilizations. It's very tactical... with the new skills we're introducing it will be a LOT more tactical and dynamic than a typical AD&D game. Last, it will cover a whole frozen continent - so Icewind Dale's scope multiplied by 10.

I think asking WotC to be web-savvy or to produce a good computer game is just asking too much. It's not their core competency and one look at their site will prove it.

By the same token, game companies are not crazy about having WotC as partner in creating a game for various reasons, mostly the lackluster state of the AD&D brand itself.

Hell, if even Warhammer IP couldn't make Warhammer Online fly, why spend money on existing IP at all.
What about the D&D game on Facebook? To the best of my knowledge that is based off the 4th edition rules, it is free to play and it is on the most widely used platform in the world today. Advertising for it may be a bit lacking but that's about the only negative I have for it. Apparently even allows for user generated dungeons once you hit level 10 (though as expected, most of those seem to be created purely to exploit the rest of the way to level 20)
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