Jul 072008

Is it just me, or do my subtitles seem to be developing a personality of their own?  It’s like I have this acerbic little side commentator who gleefully deflates anything I’m about to write before it’s even written.

Wonderful.  I’m developing a split personality in my old age.

If the next bit of code works the way I think it will I’ve already contradicted what I said in my “last” Live Journal post and used the equivalent of a cut-tag.  Hooray flip-flopping!

So this morning I read an article by the esteemed Mr. Ross Winn over at RPG.net.  That, in and of itself, is pretty cool.  In moving over to having an independent blog I’ve picked up Feed Demon and started following RSS feeds instead of browsing to different sites.  It’s made my daily reading a heck of a lot easier, and it’s given taken the guesswork out of following sites or columns that don’t update on a daily basis (like the one Ross writes).  I’m a fickle sort of chap, and I tend to forget to visit web sites I don’t frequent on a daily basis.  The best part about Feed Demon is that it integrates with their online service News Gator and if you set up an account there you can synchronize your feeds online and use their web interface to follow your reading list if you aren’t at home.

Ok, I’m digressing a bit here.  My apologies.  I’m still geeking out over my new toys.  It will pass.

Anyway, the bulk of Ross’ is a Fourth Edition Dungeons and Dragons review, of sorts.  I say of sorts because it’s really more of a slaughter than anything else.  I honestly think that Ross was pre-disposed to dislike the game before he even saw it.  I remember him telling me about it about a year ago when the rumor was that is was going to be utterly and completely miniatures based using the D&D Minis rules.  Fortunately he was wrong.  Well, sort of.  Despite the fact that the rules claim you can play fourth edition without miniatures, the fact is that far too many of the combat mechanics are based on using them for it to be truly viable.  This is nothing new, though.  Miniatures were a huge factor in the game play of the third edition as well, so while it’s an annoying factor it isn’t one that I think is a “slap in the face” to people who were playing D&D with the third edition rules already.

What really seems to stick Ross’s craw, though, is that Fourth Edition is a very clear attempt to take the game mechanics of an MMORPG and put them into pen and paper format.  In this, I have to agree with him 100%.  Considering that he has never played an MMO and has always been a fairly vocal detractor of them I can fully understand why this particular aspect of the new version is a problem for him.  As an MMORPG player, I obviously don’t have the same bias towards the mechanics changing in that direction.  I’m actually pretty happy about the majority of the changes in the game so far.  My group and I have had two sessions with the new version to date, and the big criticism we’ve had is that combat seems to take an exceedingly long time.  This may just have something to do with the fact that in this edition you can face goblins that have over 100 hit points, but I could be wrong (note, there was a wee bit of sarcasm in that statement).  We’re all learning the ropes on the new rules, though, and I fully expect combat to go a little faster as the players begin to realize what they can and cannot get away with.

Ross did bring up several points about MMORPG’s in his article that caused me to stop and think about where my mental state is in regards to them recently, though.

The first comment he makes is that “the vast majority of players get ninety percent of the fun for ten percent of the effort” while playing an MMORPG.  For a while there I would have agreed with Ross.  The big appeal of an MMORPG for a traditional gamer like myself is that you could get your “fix” at any time.  You didn’t have to work around schedules, clean your house, find a baby sitter, or prepare an adventure for your group if you were the Game Master.  You didn’t have to go out and buy snacks for anyone but yourself and, for that matter, if nobody wants to play with you there’s plenty that you can run around and do by alone.

Ross goes on to say that “the camaraderie and social aspect” of MMORPG’s are “sorely lacking in comparison” to tabletop gaming.  This is where I have to disagree with Ross, and as he’s never played an MMORPG I can’t blame him for thinking of them in this light.  I have pointed out on many occasions that I have developed some amazing friendships while playing MMO’s, and I have also had the opportunity to refresh my connections with older friends who don’t live locally and I had infrequent contact with.

The fact of the matter is that if it weren’t for the social aspect of games like World of Warcraft I’d have quit a long time ago.  This is where Ross goes next in his article, and it’s the bit that really struck home with where I’m standing right now.

Once you have gamed the system, and done all of the necessary quests to get your magic boots and your divine steed. Once you’ve reached the top level and have nowhere to go. Once you become bored enough to just stop playing, they may begin to realize that the point of RPGs wasn’t just to kill things and take their stuff, it was the storytelling and the friends that they made that mattered. No MMO has ever held the possibilities of those little paper books.

And here, my friends, is where Ross really drives the point home.  In a manner that I frankly cannot argue with.  That equation that he mentions above about the game being ninety percent of the fun for ten percent of the effort falls down once you get to the “end game.”  At that point the game becomes work.  What kind of work?  One of my officers spent several weeks developing a spread sheet recently to try and relieve some of the stress I had attempting to juggle the schedules of scores of individual players who wanted to raid with us every week.  We spend hours pouring over strategies and figuring out what items we need to acquire in the game to improve our characters (mostly by relative inches at a time).  We go out and run the same quests that we’ve done over and over again to acquire more in-game gold so that we can purchase the items we need to make a stab at the next big dungeon (or spend even more time farming the materials instead of buying them), and…why?

So that we can either run the same dungeons we’ve run so many times we can do it with our eyes closed or so that we can spend 3 hours or more beating our heads against a wall and feeling frustrated because we can’t get down one boss in a relatively new dungeon.

And even if we could get that boss down, the incessant “why?” crops up again.  So that we can get a few more shiny purples and go see the next boss?  So that the process gets repeated all over again?  Prepare for weeks.  Fail repeatedly.  Finally get to a point where you’ve learned the mechanics enough that you can consistently get the encounter down.  Move on to the next challenge.  Rinse.  Repeat.

There was an old man name Michael Finnegan…

Is it rewarding to get a new boss down?  Yes and no.  We’re not a ground breaking kind of guild.  We’re not the folks who see the encounters first.  We’re not doing anything special.  We’re reading what other people have done and copying it – that’s it.  The most that can be said for us is that we take bits and pieces of what other people have read and morph it into something somewhat unique of our own creation, but even that has its own set of frustrations (“This guide says you should do it this way!”  “Well my sisters brothers cousin has a guild that does it this way”).

It’s very much like playing a single player game with a game guide.  Yeah, you get to see all the neat cinematics and say you’ve beaten the game but you haven’t done anything special.  All you’ve done is copy what others have done before you.  I could certainly ask those in my guild not to read the strategies before we hit a new encounter, but that wouldn’t happen.  I tried it once when they released Zul’Aman, and it became pretty clear right near the beginning that several of the players on the run had already read all about the dungeon.  This kind of mentality is something that Rafe discusses at length in his latest column over on Massively.com.

We could be the kind of guild that gets to that level of content first if we really pushed for it, but that’s even more work and at that point you’re almost completely removing the social aspect of the game.  At that point you’re required to give up whatever meager social life you already have in exchange for being on and raiding 4-5 nights a week.  At that point if someone isn’t the most skilled player or doesn’t have time to get the best gear before going in they are sidelined for someone who is, even if the unskilled player kicks ass personality wise and the more skilled one is just an ass.

So if you’re looking at it from my perspective (which is something I tend to do amazingly enough), it really starts to tilt in the other direction.  I can spend all that time preparing for 3 hours of time in which I have no guarantee of having fun or I could put that effort into something more productive that would be less frustrating where I wouldn’t have to deal with temper tantrums, pouting, passive-aggressive behavior and people pointing fingers at others when we fail.

And this is where, in this long and rambling post that I have made, the beauty of something like fourth edition can really shine.  Maybe that MMORPG style of play is enough to get folks like me to take a look at tabletop gaming again in a while new light.  Maybe it will help us to remember that you can have that social aspect AND tell a good story at the time time. Maybe we’ll start to remember that it’s not just doing the same thing over and over again and that if things are going badly for the players the game master simply has the ability to change the rules for the sake of fun.  And maybe, just maybe, if Wizards of the Coast ever gets around to releasing the online aspect of the new version of the game we can do all of that with those friends who live far away and cannot come over for the Saturday night game.


Or maybe my jaded attitude will change when Wrath of the Lich King comes out and I’ll be Blizzard’s bitch yet again, paying my 15 dollars a month to kill 10 wolves for the next shiny piece of loot.  All I know is that this new version of Dungeons and Dragons has really sparked my interest in getting back into tabletop gaming and really thrown my frustrations with WoW into a pretty sharp contrast.  Of course, when coupled with my recent dissatisfaction with Live Journal and my decision to strike out on my own in the blogosphere I could just be going through an online mid-life crisis.

Am I really that old??

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