Monday, June 09, 2008


So there are people who state that D&D4E is heavily influenced by computer games. And they're right. And there are people who claim that D&D4E is heavily influenced by miniature games. And they're right. And there are those people who claim that D&D4E is influenced by collectable card games. And THEY are right.

And I think all of that is a good thing.

Let's look at the influences, starting with the computer games. MMORPGs in general and WoW in particular have entered the national consciousness in a big way, and are based heavily on the archetypes that D&D had back in the 1970s (with a big heavy hat-tip in the department of Orc design to Warhammer). A lot of the bones at the heart of these games comes straight out of D&D campaigns from the dawn of (hobby gaming) time.

Now it comes full circle, with roleplaying games looking at what works in computer games. One sign of this is the use of roles within the party - Striker, Leader, Controller, Defender. While this assignment of roles stretches back to original roleplaying itself ("Quick, we need a cleric in the party!"), the assignment of larger meta-roles comes from the computer games, and allows the classes that fill those roles to show more variety.

From computer games we get a similarity of user interface among the classes. I mentioned before that I prefer the old-school Dwarf Fighter for its ease of utility, aware that that cleric or magic-user requires more things to keep track of, and indeed has a completely different ruleset affecting its actions. In 4E, we see all the classes have a similar interface - a listing of at-will, encounter, daily, and utility powers set at particular levels. At first this gave me pause, that we were looking at a homogenization of the classes. But just as the WoW rogue has a different play experience from the mage, so too does the D&D wizard differ from the cleric or fighter.

And before I move on, I am a fan of D&D's system marking, which is a good simulation of drawing and holding aggro in computer games. Yeah, there can be a lot of counters on the board in a typical fight, but it does keep the bads off the wizard.

The debt to miniature games is more obvious, given that the game, like 3.5, makes extensive use of the D&D miniatures, and the ubiquitous nature of the grid. But D&D was originally a miniatures game, way back in the day, where distance was measured in inches and gamers were expected to have tape measures close at hand. And back in the days of Original/Classic D&D, it was possible to play without miniatures and measurements, but this depended more on relying on the DM to make a far estimate of locations and distances, of how far you can move and what you can do in a round. And you can do without miniatures in 4E as well if you're willing to deal with that same relationship and workload on the DM. Use of miniatures (and the eventual virtual gametable) increases the common ground between players, and in a game which rewards positioning so effectively, it is recommended. This does not make D&D a miniature game, but it does give it some strong miniatures support.

Lastly, CCGs. If you think of the various powers, exploits, and spells as individual cards, the comparison comes easily. You are building a deck with your abilities, which are played for free (At-Wills), Tap (Encounters), or Discard (Dailies). In addition, you can add additional powers/cards as the game expands.

That last bit, I think, is going to be the design challenge. CCGs have to contend with real and inadvertent power creep as more cards are added to the set. Further, killer combos can be constructed that might overbalance the game and given more cards, the chances of that increase (Go ahead, create that human Rogue with a Pack Initiate Feat and the warlock's Eyebite ability, and just get it out of your system now). However, 3E weathered the rogues with spiked chains, so the game should manage this.

A greater challenge for DMs can be that, after the initial blush of everyone learning the game, the players will be building customized decks, while the DM will be challenged with playing with a series of precon decks. The players have to master one style of play - the DMs will have to bring a wider variety of styles. Depending on what style of gaming you like - variety versus creating a single cool deck, you may be better suited as a DM or a player.

So yeah, 4E shows its roots dramatically, and well it should. The original game came out of the warm, fertile earth of the hobby at the time. We used miniature wargames, rolled polyhedral dice from educational games, and even had a name-check for Avalon Hill's Outdoor Survival game. As the flavors of the hobby have expanded, so too should the sources that influence the new game.

I've made the statement that game design is a conversation, and 4E was not developed in silence. It represents the world around both the designers and the players of the game.

And I'm good with that.

More later

And finally