Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"Video Games" compared to MMORPG's and their influences on our expectations for our PC's

I received one of those "Back in My Day" spam emails the other day, but unlike the rest, this one was written for guys my age, 39, who grew up in the 70's and 80's. I guess I' m officially old now, since I have one of those spams for my age group.

Anyhow, one of the sections read something like:

"And in our video games your "guy" was a little square on the screen, and you never won the game. Ever. The game just got faster and faster and harder and harder until you died. Just like in real life. Then you had to start all over again at the beginning."

Remembering all the paper route quarters lost into Asteroids, Pac-Man, and Centipede machines, I am forced to agree with the truth of that statement.

Picking up D&D in the early 80's after such experiences, when a character died, we chalked it up as part of the game. That's just how it worked. Re-roll a new guy. First level.

With MMORPG's today, you die, lose some xp, but you don't really ever die, as in everything you've done up to that point is lost forever. I can't help but think that affects the expectations of D&D players these days. Maybe that was partly behind shift in game styles in 3.x to put more power in the players hands.

Whaddaya think?


  1. I agree with you, Joe. In its early versions, D&D was written and designed with the assumption that characters would die. This was inspired by the bloodthirsty, ruthless combat of pulp fantasy fiction and wargames that had a loser and a winner, and units that died based on tactics and die rolls.

    There's no doubt that D&D 4E draws its inspiration from MMORPGs and other computer games, in which you can "save" and start the game over at the place from which you "died." The WOTC design team decided that this was more fun, and so here we are.

    Fun is a matter of preference, but I can say without hesitation that I prefer the older style. The risk of dying makes success all the richer, and dying also gives you a chance to try out new characters and classes. Plus I find it fun to recount all the creative ways in which our PCs died, and to celebrate those characters who managed to survive and retire as Lords or Arch-Mages.

  2. Brian, in what edition of D&D has there NOT been the possibility of "reloading" a dead character through resurrection? That's been a staple of D&D play for quite a while now. In what way do you feel has 4th Edition made it so that death is no longer something to be feared? And in what way does the game reflect the "save and reload" process more strongly than previous editions?

  3. Back in the 80's and earlier it was fairly standard practice to bring a few characters to every gaming session. There was an expectation that you would lose a few to death before you were through with the dungeon, and bringing extra saved the time of re-rolling during the game session.

    When's the last time you saw that in a 3.x or a 4e game?

  4. Hi Scott, although I in full disclosure have not played 4E, I have perused the rules, and my opinion is based on hit point inflation and healing surges, which make low-level characters far more robust than early editions. Also, in 1E, permanent death was always a possibility due to resurrection and system shock rolls. In addition, raise dead would permanently reduce a character's CON score by 1.

  5. Scott, Joe said it and I heard it

    "When's the last time you saw that in a 3.x or a 4e game?"

    Part of the system of control created by newer editions is the time consuming complexity of creating a character (esp a higher level replacement). Also in 4E in particular there is a high degree of PC interdepedence during combat. Finally combats themselves are much longer, regularly consuming an entire session and bleeding into the next.

    You can ignore the edition power creep question. Combine the above elements and, while it is nowhere explicit, DMs have an overwhelming incentive to preserve PCs. Killing one can easily sink the entire session and, given the fetish for 'balanced encounters', the DM will likely be blamed for it.


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