Thursday, 25 June 2009

Dungeons and Warcraft... sorry, I mean World of Dragons...

Let's face it - the new D&D is tabletop World of Warcraft.

I've been playing the new Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition and I've had a stab at a couple of characters. In my main group game I've started fresh with a level 1 Tiefling Cleric, and to have a stab at a higher level (and play the game more like a tactical boardgame) I've also got a level 12 Human Fighter. I'm enjoying the new system (no more THACO! Hooray!) and, considering that I swore I'd never play D&D again twenty years ago, I'm incredibly surprised at how much I'm enjoying it.

Now, I've played a lot of Warcraft - my other posts in this blog are a testament to that - and I also enjoy that. It's fun and easy, and the ability to log on at a moment's notice and do some adventuring is extremely handy, especially since I'm now a husband and a father and time is precious. As an old geezer tabletop roleplayer I don't really see WoW as 'proper' roleplaying, but it is a great computer game.

A lot has changed for RPGs in this new century. Ozzie Osbourne and The Shat are advertising WoW on primetime television and they have millions of online users. That's the kind of publicity and paying fanbase that the current tabletop RPG companies would kill for. How on earth could they compete with that kind of muscle?

It's easy. Where once there were computer MMO's emulating tabeltop RPGs, now there are tabletop RPGs emulating MMOs. This is a contentious issue - a recent review of the Players Handbook on http://www.rpg.net/ generated a few heated replies - and the general feeling is that 4th Edition is in no way like an MMO. In fact, to suggest that the world's favourite tabletop roleplaying game was emulating the bastard lovechild of RPGs and the PC was heresy.

When I first opened the 4th Edition D&D book the first thing that struck me was the art. My first impression was 'Warcraft!' but this is by no means surprising - I had recently come out the other side of a few days of heavy MMO gaming and my visual cues of any fantasy art was Warcraft-based, that kind of high-fantasy, big-muscley-armoured-dudes-and-dudettes kind of thing.

But it wasn't until I played the game the similarities really hit me. As hit points dwindled and surges were used, as encounter powers were thrown out and at-will powers were slammed on the table I could almost see the on-screen equivalents - little red health bars falling and rising, powers cycling through their cooldowns after use, powers being casts to aid striking, damage and other party members like buffs.

And do you know what? This is a good thing.

A lot of D&D fans flatly refuse to hear that the new 4th Edition is WoW inspired but the I think the truth of it is that they know it is and don't like it. They do not want their D&D associated with 'that game'. But what's the worry?

Maybe I'm biased, based on the fact that I've not played D&D in 20 years and I enjoy WoW, but I think it's a good thing. It's a good thing because the game is fun to play, everyone has their roles to play and the element of good ol' dungeon bashing is back. It's a good thing because it bridges the gap between two things; the way we used to play RPGs and the MMO.

When I first started playing RPGs I wasn't really that interested in the roleplaying side of it - I just wanted to crawl through dungeons and fight bad guys. The game was, to me, a boardgame with no board, in the fact that I was rolling dice and fighting with tactics and victory in mind. All that personality and characterisation stuff came later. The new edition of D&D harks back to those days and the rules are conflict and adventure orientated. As with Old D&D all that roleplaying stuff will come later as the games progress, the rules become second nature and the character's develop a history within the game. As a way to get new gamers involved, which is what core rulebooks are supposed to do, there is nothing wrong with that.

And the new gamers they are trying to get involved are most likely the imaginative youngsters playing MMOs, and as far as the influence of MMOs is concerned, well... let's be realistic. WoW is probably now the biggest fantasy game in the world as regards to public awareness and accesibility. Most, if not all, kids know how to play a computer game and that's what WoW is. It's little wonder that the new D&D reaches out to these players with the promise of the same experience but in a three dimensional world where you share your experiences with other players in the same room.

Folks... this is a good thing. We're all into this kind of gaming for the same reasons. We like the creativity, the imagination and the adventure. And we like to kill things and take their stuff.

If anyone playing World of Warcraft right now asked me what tabletop game to play I'd tell them to pick up D&D 4th Edition - it's the closest thing they'll get to their online adventures in the pen and paper world and it's the game that I, a 25 year veteran of tabletop roleplaying games, am really enjoying playing right now.