Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Is Neverwinter still D&D?

On MMO Fallout a fan of Neverwinter is cited claiming that Neverwinter is true to the source material of D&D because "The core of tabletop is in two things: dungeon-crawling and storytelling.". I would say that is a particularly bad definition of what Dungeons & Dragons, or pen & paper roleplaying in general.

First of all, dungeon-crawling is not an essential part of Dungeons & Dragons. Neither are dragons, if you insist on using the name of the game as definition. You can play large D&D campaigns without the group ever setting a foot into a dungeon. There are city adventures, murder mysteries, overland adventures, rule-a-kingdom type adventures, and the list goes on and on.

Second, "storytelling" is a necessary but not sufficient condition. A book can tell a story (and have a dungeon), and that wouldn't magically transform it into a D&D roleplaying game. What D&D is about is *interactive* storytelling. That is no player has 100% control of the story, the story is being generated interactively between the players while playing.

And finally whether another game is true to the D&D source material or not very much depends on whether you can play both D&D and the other game with the same set of skills. To play pen & paper D&D you need imagination and tactical skills. Your character is half imaginary, half made up of stats, numbers, and powers. And to play D&D you need to have a sense of both "what would my character, as I described him, do in this situation?" and "what can my character, with the powers he has, do in this situation?".

As an action computer RPG, Neverwinter uses a very different type of skills, which are a lot less tactical and more related to reaction time and a quick analysis of what is happening around you, aka "don't stand in the fire". It does not require a lot of imagination, as the choices you have as a character are far too limited to actually play a role, as opposed to just playing a class. And even if there is the Foundry, with player-created content, the storytelling still isn't interactive. The creator of the adventure creates 100% of the story, and the player can just opt to either play through this story on rails, or not.

If Neverwinter is "D&D", then every single fantasy computer RPG of the last 20 years is too. And then the point just becomes moot. To me, for a computer game to become "D&D", it would have to have tactical gameplay, and interactive storytelling, between a Dungeon Master and players influencing the game at the same time. Besides some virtual tabletop applications, I can't really think of a game that does this.

"To play pen & paper D&D you need imagination and tactical skills."

The way you play D&D, one needs tactical skills. But not everyone plays that way. I know people who have played for years with dungeon crawls along the lines of "room, monster, kill, treasure".

D&D can be just about anything to anyone. It can be a tactical based game, it can be a dungeon crawl, it can be a political intrigue, or any number of other things. That's the beauty of roleplaying. However, I do believe that the idea of "dungeons and storytelling" really are core to the history of D&D.

The modern iterations such as 4.0 have gone more tactical, but I have to say that any video game claiming to be D&D had better feature some serious dungeon old school crawling if they want me to buy it. These are what video games excel at. At the table with friends, I'd rather spend our limited time on roleplaying and story. But with a computer handling all the math and numbers, combat is a breeze, so I leave my dungeon crawling to the computer anymore.
Well Neverwinter in terms of MMO, is stock standard. They definitely hide all the "complexities" of rolling and maintaining an ADnD character. Even DDO is much more complicated.

I'd say , anyone who is interested in true hardcore DnD character developing with a ton of dice rolling and character sheets and stats will be dissapointed with Neverwinter. Yes, Cryptic covers the fundementals, but your character is going to develop without much input from you. Hence, the action combat to take your attention away from micro managing your character sheet.

HOWEVER, ignoring the "rules" of DnD and assuming some people do play DnD for the story/plot/theme/interaction rather than the technicalities of calculating THACO, i must ask what you think would make the Foundry truly interactive and why it can't be?

Are you expecting the ability to have a real player "GM" in an instance and running the show by throwing mobs at the players "on demand" ? A toolset allowing that ,would be quite impressive.

Now my experience of The foundry. The content does not have to be combat at all. Hell i played the beta this weekend and there was a 5-minute "get my ring back from the mugger" to a 125 minute "senseless dungeon crawl" .

Nothing stops a creator from making a "campaign" based on -your- input. There's already Foundry content designed to be separate adventures in a longer campaign. I don't see why this can't be somewhat dynamic?

When you complete a Foundry mission you get a screen to rate,review and tip the creator. So there's already a mechanism of feedback.

On a micro "instance" level, i don't know how complex the dialog options and the interaction can be on , but the one mission i played did have me investigating statues and giving me a ton of options of what to do with the statue. Not all options lead to an actual answer of what the statue is, and if you do get the answer this will in turn come part of the discussion later on.

On a "macro" level in terms of creating loosely split adventures in the Foundry and stringing them together in a larger campaign, possibly resulting in you going down a specific path does not sound that difficult to do.
The overall emphasis on tactical gameplay in 4.0 is the reason why me and my group stayed as far away as possible.

Actually, I'd agree with the original statement: as long as I've played D&D, it was 60% storytelling/character building and 40% dungeon crawling (of some sorts, exploring a mansion is the same as exploring a crypt/dungeon).

Also, you underestimate the power of the Foundry. Seeing what it can do in Star Trek Online (which is, I think, even more limited than the one in NW), I expect that the majority of the really good content will be almost exclusivey Player-made. No seriously, there are mission arcs in STO that just stomp anything Cryptic has put into the game so far.
My wife's been playing through the Neverwinter Beta and she is very happy with it. She's a big fan of 4E, and misses the fact that I no longer run it due to the overwhelming popularity of Pathfinder locally (which she is less fond of). Anyway, her assessment is that Neverwinter has all the "trappings of D&D," circa 4th edition, which is to say it evokes the senses and aesthetics of the game to her, and in watching her play I'd have to agree. I don't think (well, I hope not) that anyone really misunderstands the difference between tabletop gaming and computer gaming in this regard. On the other hand, its really important to remember that for a lot of computer gamers, D&D is defined not by the tabletop experience but instead by Baldur's Gate and the other CRPGs from Black Isle, or the old Gold Box games.....and their formative experience with the tabletop edition (if any) may have been molded by the CRPG experience instead of the other way around. So for those gamers, "dungeons, dragons and stories" are probably their experience...D&D is.
One has to ask the question: Is NW aimed at the classic D&D crowd, or is it hoping to bring in an entirely new group of players? I'm seeing a big disconnect in that regard, because if the developer is pursuing a specific direction with game play, then there has to be some kind of game dynamic that will bring back the "old school" players to foster and support the learning curve for the hew generation of D&D players...regardless of which edition it's built around.
Hello Tobold. Nice to meet you.

I believe the following things are necessary to make a pen & paper RPG session a "D&D experience":

1) A Game Master. This has been true since the beginning.

2) Character Classes as opposed to "build 'em with Skills, and Feats and Traits and Packages of numbers". And Alignments. And Spells. And Monsters. And Saving Throws. And Treasure: Not merely as an minor extra (something you might or might not find when you defeat a monster), but Treasure as one of THE main themes of the game.

3) It must be in the spirit of D&D. D&D is about Adventure not endless orgies of "character interaction". And Adventure(whether in the dungeons, the planes, the wilderness or some city), not about showing the other players what a lame, under-talented actor you are, while you force your oh-so-"fascinating", quirly quirks of your character on them. Sorry, but the worst thing Gygax ever did was to emphasize "Immerse yourself in your character!" This caused Gaming to stumble onto the path that leads from belonging to a imaginative people to belonging to a community of idiots. Today, they can't even enjoy computer RPGs without those "RPGs" giving them a per-packaged character with picture, character quirks and even a per-packaged character voice!

4) It must be in the spirit of D&D: The character starts out very weak, but becomes noticeably more powerful with each level. Yet character death remains a clear probability, unless you use your brains while you play. And you need to use those brains for something more than merely thinking up that new, "elegant/quirky/realistic" response to what another character or NPC said.

5) It must be in the spirit of D&D: Not playing verbal sparring as if you were some politician in training but going out in the game world and *do* something.

6) And, yes, it must have dungeons. Sorry about this, but if you've been playing for years yet never once stumbled upon and cleaned out a dungeon, you haven't been playing D&D. Only something that utilizes the rules but none of its spirit.

In other words, you had the empty shell, but without those things that *made* it D&D.

So, while I don't consider NW a true "D&D" game (it has none of the "feel" of D&D), at least it had the all-important dungeons.
I played on a friends account today and well, I'm in the MMO industry so I'm pretty biased but I couldn't detect a lot that was significantly different than playing Lord Of The Rings Online or Guild Wars 2.
There was less keyboard-hammering and more mouse interaction when fighting but it's just more of the same to me. Predefined quests galore. Small zones with portals all over.

There's of course some D&D feeling but the half orcs could just have been from Skyrim. Levelling to 60? How's that D&D? That's WoW.

Anyways. Personally I think Wurm Online is more D&D.
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