Wednesday, July 09, 2008

I'm gonna cast Magic Missile

Friend David has started a very cool social media blog, and he recently posted an article about the Penny Arcade Dungeons and Dragons game that Wizards of the Coast hosted as a pre-release promotion for the new 4th Edition D&D set. They recorded the entire session as a series of podcasts, and I just finished listening to the sixth installment.

The recordings are fun to listen to, but this is solely because of the eclectic personalities of the players (Gabe and Tycho from Penny Arcade and Scott Kurtz from PvP Online). It has little to do with the game itself. Despite using two different "professional" Dungeon Masters who work directly for Wizards of the Coast, the adventure was nothing more than combat-heavy dungeon crawl with virtually nothing in the way of interesting puzzles or anything that would inspire actual role-playing.

It's the standard first-level "you're adventurers, and you go into a dungeon, and here are a bunch of rooms full of goblins and zombies" fare that an first-time (and uncreative) Dungeon Master might come up with. Every time the players tried to go off-script, the DM just laughed it off and kept the adventure going the way he had it planned out.

It has been a while since I've hosted any sort of RPG, but I like to think that I can do a better job than these yahoos (who, don't forget, get paid for this).

I’ve always been opposed to combat-heavy adventures, because the mechanics of dice-rolling and chart-referencing aren't nearly as interesting as thinking creatively and role-playing your character. Combat should add an element of danger and a sense of mortality to a game, but this only works when players are already attached to their characters. When your game consists solely of wading through room after room of basic "kill them until they are dead" encounters, you cheapen the tension that combat can introduce and take valuable time away from character development and player interaction.

So, it seems that I have some pretty strong opinions on running a D&D game. Why don't I run one, then? Well, the main reason is that trying to get any of our friends in one place on even a semi-regular basis is like herding squirrels. I’d love to host an old-school RPG group, but I just don’t think anyone else would be willing to commit to playing regularly.

Wizards of the Coast may have a solution to this problem in the near future. They’re working on the D&D Game Table software, which allows users to host their own D&D game, complete with maps, dice rolling, and real-time chat (both voice and text). The software doesn't do any of the game mechanics for you -- combat and skill checks are still up to the DM and players to work out -- but it provides tools for communication and visualization that you normally wouldn't have when trying to play an RPG online.

I'll definitely give this thing a shot when it's released. Of course, it'll never be a substitute for sitting around a table with a bunch of friends, dice, and empty pizza boxes.


Post a Comment

<< Home