Posts tagged D&D
Just as I had posted yesterday, filling out the “non-technical” aspects of a campaign can sometimes be more difficult than dealing with the technical aspects.
It’s relatively easy to put together an encounter: you know the level of the group, and there’s actual rules about the composition of the opposing party. Add it all to a tactical map, compose the intro and finale, and when you string these encounters together, you get a “story light” dungeon crawl.
But come on! That’s OK once in a while, like when your players want to play, but maybe don’t have a lot of time (or want to put in the effort). The rest of the time, you need something with meat on it…you need a story, and as compelling as one as you can muster.
In the process of putting together “Taking Back The Vale” (a continuation of Adventure Co.’s ill-fated attempt to shut down Keep on the Borderlands), I had an idea of what I wanted for a plot, but after reflection (and a lot of work), I realized that the intro was pretty lame. So it was back to the mental drawing board, but this time, I fired up the Background tab of Masterplan and started adding the synopsis to my notes so I would remember things when the time came.
Helpful? Sure! But I think it’s the way in which I was writing it that mattered more than the act of writing them down. Each segment received one or two sentences written in dramatic fashion:
The players find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place: on one side, an earth elemental. On the other, an army of orcs.
Not actually part of my story, but you get the idea. Initially, I thought it would help to raise the dramatic bar and energize the scene, but what happened was that I found myself writing in things that I hadn’t thought of before, or changing other ideas to be more dramatic, more flexible, and potentially more interesting for both me and the players. Now, I not only have the outline of most of the story, but hooks for side-stories as well, all because it seemed like putting it down in dramatic, dust-cover-blurb fashion required more than just the “off the top of the head” synopsis I started with.
One of the “heavy lifting” chores of creating an adventure is the population of the story. It’s not so much an issue if the adventure is strictly a dungeon crawl; there might be a few personalities that the players can interact with, but mainly it’s just cannon-fodder. For anything greater, the DM needs to come up with personalities through which he or she can engage the players.
I don’t know how other DMs do this, but I am one of those OCD kinds of designers who believes that if there are going to be words coming out of the NPCs mouth, then that NPC needs a full character sheet. Who knows if the players are going to gang-press the poor mannequin into accompanying them into danger. Or maybe eventually, circumstances require that the NPC use skills or perform saving throws. Most of those unknowns come from stuff that the players do that require a DM response, and although there’s the old Deus Ex Machina in the DM Voice, responding through the In Game Voice is much preferred, and more engrossing.
Creating a stable of on-hand NPCs, or even random encounters for those times when your players are feeling especially safe and comfortable, is a chore. If you’ve ever been forced to turn a minor, throwaway character into a major plot point, then I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. So for DMs out there, my question is this: Is there an online repository where DMs can post characters/NPCs? If not, is this something that people could see as worthwhile?
Being able to enter keywords to find an NPC that matches criteria could be helpful. Say I need a shopkeeper. Simple enough: BAM! There’s a shopkeeper. But what if I need to flesh out the story a bit? Maybe that shopkeeper is a high ranking official in the thieves guild? Now I might need a whole character sheet for him. There’s a lot of creative people out there, and a lot of them like to showcase their talents. Why not have a place for folks to contribute material for one another’s campaigns?
What do people think?
Virtual tabletops have only recently become big news, with two new players taking the field as Tabletop Forge and Roll20. They’re actually the latest offerings in a rather underground movement to allow older tabletop gamers the ability to reunite with one another over the Internet after years and responsibilities have forced them to far flung locations.
Wizards of the Coast, owners of Dungeons & Dragons, actually had their own VTT. It was more infamous than famous, because it languished and took on more forms than any single person can remember. At one point, it was to be a 3D affair, but the “end” result was more of a traditional, top down VTT system.
I put “end” in quotes because Wizards decided to finally give up on it, which is insanely sad. They’re rather stingy with their IP and licensing, making any VTT that wishes to support D&D subject to a lot of furtive glances and razor-walking so as not to wake the wrath of WotC’s Lawyers (level 1000 Elite Brute). WotC was actually in the best position to make a VTT, though: they owned an iconic system, had a massive stable of resources in monsters, stories, and sourcebooks, and were adept at making quality merchandise like their Dungeon Tiles, which seems like the perfect storm for a VTT system.
In a fit of delirium, WotC has allowed Game Table Online to take over the VTT. The work that was done on the WotC “version” was packed up and moved to the care of GTO, where was unpacked, debranded, and set up as what will hopefully and eventually be a game-system agnostic VTT. As part of their deal, GTO can’t market the VTT using D&D 4E (despite the product being specifically designed for it), but they can offer D&D 4E compatibility, which means you can get access to the Dungeon Tiles, tokens, and much of the 4E “feel”.
Sadly, this is quite possibly the worst VTT you can employ in your service. The entire potential was squandered – no, pissed away – by whatever excuses WotC can muster as to why it took so long, and why it ended up in the state it’s in. Again, it had the potential to define the genre of VTT software, but it kind of sat on the couch in it’s bathrobe eating Cheetos until it’s parents decided enough was enough, and kicked it’s half-baked ass into the street. Hopefully GTO has the source code and will improve on it, because as a dungeon builder it’s very strong, offering a whole lot of tiles to drag and drop your creations into existence. As a usable VTT, pretty much any other option is a better option at this time. Even drawing on paper and holding it up to a webcam.
Basic usage of the tabletop is free. However, many of the tokens and tiles are “buy to use” through GTO’s cash shop. I’m OK with that, because I think GTO is a small business, and they’ve inherited a pretty big clusterfuck. I’m sure WotC requires them to “pay for the privilege” of using the assets they were going to cram into the dumpster otherwise, and since they’re pro-quality assets, anyone who wants to make a go of it should go whole-hog and support GTO in their up-hill battle.
A while back I put out a call soliciting feedback from DM’s regarding how they went about organizing their campaigns. It seemed that a lot of folks use non-RPG specific tools like Google Docs or keep it old school and use plain old notebooks.
I’m kind of an organization freak, though. In college, I took notes in paragraph form because summaries just didn’t cut it for me. I like specialized tools designed specifically for a very narrow set of tasks, which is why I was very surprised to stumble upon Masterplan.
Masterplan is a tool for creating, organizing, and actually running D&D 4E games. It’s not a virtual tabletop, but a DM’s toolbox that allows the DM to write up an adventure by laying down plot points complete with maps, encounters, NPCs/monsters, traps, treasure, and skill challenges. These points are linked together, flow-chart style, to provide an easy way to navigate the adventure during the play session. While it’s not a virtual tabletop, it does have a “player view” which can be displayed on a secondary monitor/TV/projector for players in the room to see.
The app itself is pretty daunting on the surface because it can do so much. The core of it centers around setting up plot points and connecting them to form a coherent roadmap. Each plot point encapsulates DM and player specific text, encounter maps, skill challenges, treasure parcels, and trap information; in essence, it’s a “scene” in the adventure. During the play session, the DM is presented with a nicely formatted output of the plot point along the side of the app. Once a point is set up, there’s no need to click into the editing view to get at the info.
If you’re a DM looking for something to give your campaigns structure in design, you can stop there. If you want to go totally nuts and micromanage every aspect of your campaign, you can create monsters, import player character sheets, and if you have access to tilesets for building maps, you can actually make them available to the app, and build your dungeons within Masterplan. When everything is ready, you can use the app to track initiative, token locations on the encounter map, and damage and status effects.
Overall, the app isn’t as sexy as Fantasy Grounds II, which is designed for playing games over the Internet, but while FG can be used to organize a campaign for use offline and in person, that’s not it’s stregth. Masterplan seems to be tailor made for the overly organized DM to get his or her act together, at whatever level he or she feels necessary to write and execute a custom campaign.
The app is free, but donations are accepted. The author is currently looking at creating a “Masterplan RT” version, which is mocked-up on the app’s Facebook page, and has a very distinct Windows 8 RT look and feel to it. Having something like this on a tablet would be insanely awesome, and an invaluable tool for any DM looking for a specialized tool for campaign organization.
It’s been many, many years since I’ve DM’d with any regularity, and since it seemed that our recent foray back into the dungeons went well enough for the players to demand another round, I’ve opted to engage in the time-honored tradition of “rolling my own” adventure for them.
Back In The Day™ everything was tracked with nothing more high-tech than a notebook (three ring binder, actually. College ruled). These days, not only do we have the ability to use things like tablets, wikis, online tools, virtual dice rollers, and auto-calculating character sheets, but we don’t even need to argue about the pizza bill with other numbnuts because we don’t have to be in the same room as our players!
But with great options comes great confusion. We’ve got the opportunity to provide our players with an unprecedented level of immersion thanks to minis, furniture devoted to geeking out, and video-game level multimedia. The old three ring binder – while still an option – may not be the best option any longer.
So my question to you, stalwart DM’s, is this: what do you do to organize your homebrew campaign adventures? Are you still keeping it real with dead trees, or have you migrated to one of these fancy-pants online tools? Maybe something in between, like Google Docs or Evernote?
Please leave some feedback in the comments, because as silly as I’m straining to be here, I’m genuinely interested in other’s experiences. Please pass the link around to other DM’s you might know, or who you’ve played with in the past. I’ll even follow up at a later date on people’s replies in a new post about options available to DM’s in the Internet age.
Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition is either something you love, or something you hate, from what I gather from my travels on the Internet. Purists think it’s “too MMOish”; new players appreciate the lack of lookup tables and rules governing saving throws versus getting your junk caught in the zipper of your armor. The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle, as we discovered by playing through the first official 4E module, Keep on the Shadowfell.
We used the Fantasy Grounds virtual tabletop software, with VoIP provided by Google+ Hangouts.
The players – a dragon-born paladin, a halfling rogue, a human mage, and an elf cleric – were recruited by Lord Padraig, a suave, Champaign drinking noble who had to wear a nametag because of a childhood head trauma. Turns out he’s really into maps of old and deadly places, so he sent the team to the old keep to map it out. He plans on photocopying it and selling framed prints through HomeGoods.
D&D of any stripe is complex. Or simple. The glory of PnP RPGs is that you don’t NEED to roll dice at every step if you don’t want to. Ignore encumbrance. Let players get a good night’s sleep on the cold dungeon floor amidst the bodies of the recently slain, or totally fubar the rules for using healing surges. Some rule-bending is intentional, and some is accidental, because whether you use them or not, there are so many rules to govern stuff. We made plenty of mistakes, and most of them benefitted the players.
The biggest issue (at least from my side) was the over-awarding XP. We had 4 players, but the XP rewards are geared towards five players. I divided the listed XP bounty by four instead of reducing the XP award down for four players. They were level 4 – the level the characters should be at the end of the adventure – before they got to the second floor.
We also played pretty loose with reality. There was a lot of full resting without disturbances. Part of this was because a single room took most of the night, and throwing in a reinforced mob to wake the players would have taken several MORE hours to get through, or could extend the adventure significantly. Part of it was that I ran the module as written, and didn’t spend a lot of prep time drawing up random mobs or returned adversaries who got away. Part of it was that although I wanted the module to be difficult, killing the players within the first ten rooms would have totally spoiled the game.
Splug, and the Embarrassment Of Roleplay
Splug was a goblin prisoner who was thrown in the brig for cheating other goblins at cards in the guardhouse. He presented himself to the players as a pathetic victim, and offered servitude if they released him. Of course, they did because goblin footman! And because this was the most lawful good party D&D has ever seen – even the thief didn’t start stealing stuff until the end (and was outted by an accidental click in the VT software by yours truly). The thief could have learned a thing or two from Splug, who took the first opportunity to make an attack of opportunity on the party, and then to run like hell into the depths of the dungeon. Splug became a focal point for the group, who spent several evenings hoping to run into him for some less-than-lawful-good payback. Much to their dismay, Splug met his demise at the hands of a giant slime, and not their own weapons.
There wasn’t a lot of roleplaying going on in this game. Making weird voices, or getting all comic-book villany with the speeches just felt cheap. Kalarel, the final bad guy, was supposed to be taunting the players and being all about doing nasty things to their corpses, but he didn’t say a word. Partly I blame the embarrassment of talking funny, but also this module wasn’t really conducive to a really fleshed out story. Go in, map the keep, discover a plan to unleash Unspeakable Evil, try to put a stop to it. That’s the nutshell. Everything else was just gravy.
The Final Countdown
So after many weeks of coasting through what ended up being a shooting gallery in which over-leveled players mowed down an irrational amount of 1HP trash mobs, I decided to make the last battle count. There would be no laziness here. I spent most of the evening staring at the pages for stat-blocks for the NPCs, reading and re-reading the tactics when it was my turn, and planning actions based on the NPC’s strengths. Unfortunately for the party, this turned out to be a Really Bad Thing: The paladin was annihilated by being blown into the Orcus portal, the thief was constantly dying and being healed at the feet of Kalarel and his minions, the mage – who never fully recovered from falling 50 feet into the pool of blood – took a necrotic bolt to the back of the head, and the cleric was gnawed upon by a wight who was deft at avoiding his Turn Undead powers. Kalarel and his minions crowded around their healing runes with their backs to the Orcus portal, allowing The Thing In The Portal to take a swipe at anyone who ventured close. It was a bloodbath, and not just the one in the center of the room.
In retrospect, this fight was a lot more difficult even on paper than appropriate level characters probably could have handled. Running it correctly, it was pretty overbalanced. Kalarel didn’t even break a sweat with almost 200 HP, and although he didn’t use it, the wight could have resurrected the one skeleton the players killed. There was just a ton of benefits available to the enemies, and not much for the players to work with, regardless of level. Maybe, in the cosmic reckoning, allowing the players to slide through the 98% of the rest of the dungeon to in order experience the thrill of the game over the number crunching balances out with the brutalization by the last mob, but it still sucks to have a party wipe on the final boss.
Was That An MMO-ism?
The thing that really struck me was how rusty we all were with tabletop RPGing. There was a lot of MMOism going on in the game, mostly in thinking about how something should work if this were an MMO, or taking MMO tropes for granted, as if they had been part of the tabletop RPG scene from the start.
It didn’t help that this module was very linear. Room by room battles with just a framework of a story. Ideally, a better DM would have fleshed out the scenes, done all the characterizations, and made more of an experience out of it, but part of the reason we’re playing online from various parts of the U.S. is that we’re all busy adults, leaving little time to spend writing in notebooks with stacks of sourcebooks in front of us.
If there’s one thing I disliked about this adventure, it’s that we ended up playing it like an MMO. There was little personality in any of the characters, player or NPC. It didn’t really matter that there was only a thin story, because most MMOs have only a thin story: you’re there to bash stuff and take their XP and loot, and you don’t stop until you’ve reached the end of the adventure, when you get to upgrade your stuff so you can do it all again. That’s not what RPGs are about. They’re about putting people into a story, leaving the meta-gaming out of it and taking on a role. Players should be surprised by the things they encounter, the enemies should be epic, and the outcomes always uncertain. Loot is not the goal. These are heroes, after all, and heroes do heroic things, think heroic thoughts, and make heroic decisions that have far ranging consequences. Basically, everything you don’t find in an MMO.
The one thing I liked about this adventure was being able to play, period. As mentioned, adults with responsibilities rarely get to do “fun” stuff. We find tabletop RPGing just as fun now as we did when we were younger, but because of age, or proximity, or because we’ve made friends who think D&D is lame and have lost track of friends who don’t, the Internet has been a godsend. Although Fantasy Grounds did act up, causing us issues while also allowing us to rely on it’s automation far more than we realistically should have, it provided a fantastic tool for playing the game. And Google Hangouts, despite the “Are you still there?” disconnects, worked flawlessly 95% of the time. No matter how much fun you have with people in an MMO, you will never have as much fun as you do when playing tabletop RPGs with friends.
Here’s a new one: Dungeons and Dragons, Fifth Edition.
Here’s one better: Wizards of the Coast wants you to help design it.
According to the NYT article, conjecture is that the D&D franchise has been slipping for years due to dilution of the product (card games, board games, video games, etc), competition from upstarts like Pathfinder, and, of course, video games. I personally thing that It’s more of a case of relevance than it is a case of “what’s better”, although I could write chapter and verse about how tabletop gaming offers a different outlet then video gaming. The problem is that D&D is relevant as a cultural touchstone for many geeks my age who played it when they were younger, before the rest of the noise that the franchise is fighting was ever conceived. We have fond memories, and many of us would really like to get back into it, but we don’t have the time or the people nearby to play with, so we shrug and go back to our video games where we can play (alone) with millions of other people. The experience of tabletop gaming is still relevant to us, but we don’t have the time or the resources. Then there’s the case that a lot of D&D purists didn’t like the 4E direction, complaining that it was capitulating to the dominance of the video game mentality and pulling the imagination out of the product. So Wizards is crowdsourcing the design of the 5E to the community.
The idea is that they’ll be engaging players in play-testing, and then will take the feedback to mold the 5E, and by doing so, Wizards hopes that the players will feel invested in the experience because they’ll have made it their own. This investment in making the game personal is the real hallmark of tabletop roleplaying games, and is something that no video game has really ever been able to provide.
The problem with this plan as I see it is that we live in the Internet Age. You know, where people create screen names to hide behind so they can toss out spittle-flecked rants with virtually no ramifications whatsoever? Where everyone is quick to blame someone else, because everyone else is a moron? The Internet is great in that it’s allowed people from all over the world to come together and share their individual thoughts, beliefs and ideas; it’s also been one of the worst dehumanizing inventions ever created because it’s allowed people from all over the world to come together and share their individual thoughts, beliefs and ideas – and then to belittle, insult, and demean the individual thoughts, beliefs, and ideas of others. D&D has long “enjoyed” the stereotype of the “rules Nazi”, that guy (usually a guy, of course) who memorizes the rules and believes that the game can only be played through strict adherence to said rules. Marry that guy to the World of Warcraft generation that believes in the “I Win” strategy of only one right way and a billion wrong ways to play, and I’m thinking that putting a bunch of these people in a room to help shape the future of D&D is going to end up being a rule-Nazi, I Win Button, Internet forum slap-fight of the highest magnitude. In the end, none of them will agree because every one of them will have their own pet peeves and pet wants for obscure minutiae that will invariably butt-heads with the peeves and wants of a whole host of other participants. I think I’d rather hang out with mind flayers then to sit in on those conversations for even 10 minutes.
I really hope Wizards knows what they’re getting into. The other night, I mentioned to our D&D group that I’d like to see more roleplaying and imagination then what we’re getting from the current module we’re running, which was designed to be little more than a string of tabletop-miniature combat scenarios. I do think that Wizards realized that they did alienate a lot of old-school players by making it more visual and tactical, and less imaginative and free-form, but they’re not willing to let go of what they see is the trend towards the “one way to play” mentality gleaned from the legions of guides written and consumed by online gamers. They want the best of both worlds, which is why these play test sessions will put players in the “advisory” position – a sounding board for design decisions that Wizards makes, to see what flies and what thuds, and not really as an open forum regarding what should and should not make it into the 5E. At least, I hope so. Putting these cooks in charge of the kitchen is going to lead to nothing but health code violations. However, I’m sure a lot of players are expecting to actually be allowed to write the rules – complete with peen-stroking, line-by-line credit for their contributions – and are going to raise holy Internet hell when Wizards releases a 5E that doesn’t look anything like what they suggested.
To be honest, I’m OK with the 4E. I remember the days when there were so many goddamn numbers and tables and charts that I just said “fuck it”, and played entire sessions without ever touching the rule books. We winged it, with the DM setting the scene, and the players running with it. The 4E can be used this way; in fact, I think it’s more suited to this seat of the pants play style than any edition that’s come before it. I’m afraid that the franchise will return to it’s roots of rigidity driven by the barking of a generation that’s cut their gaming teeth on pushing each other around based on gear scores and demands that things be done “just so”.
A while back, I had switched gears and had posted a short overview of several virtual tabletop software solutions for tabletop gamers who wanted to play, but who didn’t have local people to play with (or were unwilling to brave the local gaming store trawling for a party). Since that time, we’ve collected a group and have been playing online using Fantasy Grounds II from Smiteworks. After spending time with this product, I thought I’d return to the subject and talk a little bit about how it’s been working out for us.
FG comes with Dungeons and Dragons 4E support built in, which was fantastic, since that’s what we’re running. Before you get all hot and bothered and buy a copy of FG with the idea that you’re getting the 4E source materials included for free, FG only comes with support for 4E; there’s no data, so the support comes in the form of FG tracking things like effects and modifiers as they’re entered into the character sheet. Still, that goes a long way towards taking a lot of heavy lifting off of the players and the DM. Sadly, it also leads to a reliance upon the tools to handle a lot of the rules that we as participants should be keeping track of.
The way to enable these features is not pain-free, however, The system requires that information about an item, weapon, or power be entered into the character sheet “exactly as it appears in the text”, meaning the item or weapon description, or the power block. And they mean exactly. The best option is to get your DM Manual, PHB, Monster Manuals and any other sources you need, and then get the 4E Parser and pony up the cash for a month’s subscription to the D&D Insider. The Parser allows subscribers to basically scrape the compendium and compile the information into a FG library module which contains the information formatted in the way FG likes it.
Once you get the info in there, combat is dead-simple: click on your target, and then double click on your weapon or spell’s attack text (+2 vs AC). The system will roll the dice (visibly!) and you’ll not only see the result, but FG will tell you if you hit or not. Then, double click on the damage roll (1d6 + 2) and the damage will be automatically applied to the target and recorded in the Encounter Tracker! If there are any effects or modifiers in effect (such that might increase or decrease damage, or boost or hamper attack success), the system will automatically take them into account when calculating the appropriate values.
For the Organized DM, FG is the best VT solution out there simply because it’s the only one I had found that not only allows you to collect and share maps, tokens, and visual hand-outs, but it is also a full-fledged module creation system. Using the concept of hyperlinking, a DM can craft his or her own custom module directly in FG, complete with DM notes, text blocks that can be dragged to the chat window and posted en toto to the players, and clickable links that allow the DM to open any document without having to resort to tables of contents or search boxes. In addition, a module can be exported and passed on, or can be exported and then added to a larger module – a campaign – which can also be exported and passed on. Of course, exporting and sharing of modules should only be done for original content, not for translating someone else’s professional or compiled modules.
There’s a few downsides, as expected. The first I mentioned, which is the stringent formatting of the data. We spent quite a few sessions nailing this down until we got our heads around the format, but because any tabletop RPG relies upon it’s ability to not be tied down to singular conventions, there’s always going to be some cases where the text just can’t be formatted as the app requires. The second is that order of operations are critical. Sometimes the way that players and NPCs are added to the encounter tracker leaves the players unable to see the NPCs, or players unable to move their tokens, or to target, attack, or damage NPCs. I’ve found that everything has to be set up “just so” in order for the rest of the encounter to move smoothly. I’d also like a way to transmit the full stats of an item to player, as we do in MMOs using Shift-left click in the chat window. We also haven’t found a way to export server characters to their owners for their personal safekeeping and offline editing. Leveling up takes a while to resolve, and it would be nice to allow the players to export their characters, work on them during their own time, and then just hand-modify their server characters during the next session. And finally, I’d like to see a really, really good manual for the app, documenting many of the things we’re finding out by trial, error, and accident (like how to handle burst and blast application to multiple targets in one fell swoop).
We finally got the Dungeons & Dragons game off the ground. Yee haw!
We had a bit of a slow start which pretty much centered around scheduling. When you hear adults speak wistfully of wanting to get back to their tabletop gaming roots, if only they could find the time, it’s a serious exclamation. Even playing online, where people don’t need to leave their houses, getting a group of people together at the same time every week is no small feat.
In order to start the adventuring, we opened the story by using G+ for play by post session. PbP is popular on forums, and usually takes the form of an opening post made by the GM to set the scene. Players participating in that scene RP their presence through replies, and the GM responds in kind. G+ worked pretty well for this, with focused direct messages or inclusion of multiple players eventually merging into one thread where all players were participating. Sadly, the process was a “seat of the pants” affair that was used to both explain how the players met, and to fill the gap of time before everyone’s schedules were free to play the game proper. It lost steam near the end, but everyone graciously agreed to jump to the conclusion so we could get on with the killing.
Again, due to scheduling issues, we opted for a primer adventure, “The Kobold Hall”, which is included at the back of the DM’s Guide. It’s short and light on story, but has been providing us with a few necessary advantages:
- Learning the D&D 4th Edition rules. Some people dislike 4E’s “MMOness”, but what Wizards has done is to streamline the game by making it more accessible and less number-crunching heavy. Purists will moan, but considering the state tabletop RPGing is in, making the graddaddy of tabletop RPGs “more accessible” can only mean good things for the industry as a whole, IMO.
- Learning the tools. We’re using Fantasy Grounds II virtual tabletop, and I believe that it’s helped us immensely by allowing us to offload much of the dice-work and status tracking and application, and solved the issue of how everyone can be on the same page with maps and handouts when we’re not even all in the same time zone.
- Learning how to play the characters. In MMOs, the system keeps track of 99.9% of the info a player needs to be effective, reducing status effects, damage and/or benefits to a simple hotbar key-press, but when you’re wielding a character sheet in a tabletop RPG, knowing your character and his or her powers and abilities inside and out is an absolute must in order to be effective.
- Learning how to GM. It’s been over 20 years since I’ve GM’d a tabletop RPG, so having a training-wheels adventure has been a learning experience for me as well. Again, unlike MMOs, the enemies have the ability, under the GM’s control, to do things that generally don’t happen in MMOs. Enemies can gang up, split apart, change focus, stand and fight, run away, and can interact with the players in all manner of ways. The hardest part is to fill in the gaps between encounters with interesting description, and to respond to the players when they pull the game off-script.
Once the Kobold Halls have been cleared, it’ll be time to travel to the actual adventure, The Keep on the Shadowfell. It’s more story oriented and has less wall-to-wall combat, but because of the great progress we’ve made in the Kobold Halls, I’m expecting that we’ll all be able to focus more on the story and gameplay, stats and abilities that have played only a minor role thus far, and less on the mechanics of combat.
For an excellent rundown of the progress so far, be sure to check out Tipa’s in-depth recap of the trials of Adventure Co.
A little less ranty this time.
Somewhere along the line, the term massive multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG) became, simply massive multiplayer online (MMO). Kids who grew up on World of Warcraft and often only WoW probably won’t know or even care that there used to be an ‘RPG’ at the end of that acronym, but for online gamers with a strong background in pencil & paper RPGs that cast long shadows on our current online gaming, it’s a head scratcher as to when and why we lost the role playing aspect of these online games.
Now, there have been countless posts, arguments, and widespread nerdrage over what RPG means to an online game, or exertions that “role playing” is not dead, or whether it refers to “playing a role” or “acting in a role”. I want none of that here, because I just wanted to alert you online types to Monte Cook’s “Legends and Lore” column at the D&D Insider website today. I’ll let you read it, rather then paraphrase it, because it’s really something that all gamers who play online games should read, because I think it approaches some of the complaints that people have about classes in online games from a historical, tabletop gaming perspective.
That is what I think is really missing when we drop the RPG from the MMO: the connection to the heritage that brought the genre to the place where it’s at. We can’t totally replicate the tabletop gaming experience through an un-curated online multiplayer game that strives to reach a wide audience because a lot of the tabletop experience requires the free form expression and response between players and the GM. But Cook’s article focuses on the interaction of the classes, a concept which has become the veritable bedrock of online multiplayer games, but which hasn’t always been so in the tabletop world. The reliance upon the “Holy Trinity” in MMOs is purely a result of the disconnect from the genre’s roots in tabletop gaming. Just ask the Adventure Co., who tackled a room full of kobolds with only a thief, a wizard, and a paladin last week. Down by a cleric, they managed to survive, but even if the cleric had been present, the party would still be down by one, according to the recommended group size for the adventure at hand.