Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
21 April 2008
Gamasutra, don't BS me with RPGs, please
From Gamasutra:

In classic role playing game (RPG) design, there are commonly three primary character archetypes: tank, DPS ("Damage Per Second"), and healer. These archetypes have their roots in old-school pen and paper RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons, and were carried forward into early single player RPGs like Ultima and then into MMOs.

I sure love when somebody looks at the state of things now, mentions a few precursors, and then writes some revisionist history, 1984 style. We have always been at war with Eurasia, as Matt likes to say.

What absolute bunk. What archetype is the ninja-jester-lumberjack from Ultima, again? And thieves in D&D and AD&D didn't exactly work like rogues and druid cat form in WoW today. There was no sustained "DPS". These alternative classes, even races, performed alternative tasks. Can we find a secret door? Call the elf. Lost underground? Hello, dwarf. Need to pick a lock? Call the thief. But when it was melee time, did the thief stick around? Heck no; s/he RAN. There were similar issues -- protect the magic-user squishie, bring in the cleric to heal the ranger, etc -- but these don't feel like they do in WoW. To heal in D&D, you had to back out of battle and head someplace safe. In WoW, in contrast, the healer is constantly dropping spells. And what's the difference between an elf and a Tauren druid? Hrm, one stomps and the other can make itself invisible when it's drinking to restore mana. Oh yea, and one's a cow. What completely different playstyles!!!

Let me put it more succinctly. There was no "threat" in D&D. Threat is, in a nutshell, the formula that makes monsters in WoW keep attacking whatever has caused them the most damage. If your tank keeps wailing, your warlock can keep railing. You have to be careful not to out-damage a monster if you're not a tank, else the monster makes a beeline for you. Keep your damage below the tanks' (again, oversimplification, but it's close), and it's as if you don't exist. Dungeon Masters tended to be a little less, well, formulaic.

Let me add to my succinctness... There were no quests in D&D. Oh sure, you had something random driving the plot, but tell me which one has a better, more memorable plot, Blackrock Depths or Ravenloft (and here I mean I6 in particular)? Why is that, exactly?

The difference between D&D and WoW is that the first is wide open. WoW doesn't copy archetypes; it's D&D on rails. WoW dumbs down role-playing to the point that it's more checkboxes than imagination (see my last post on plot again).

Ultima Online is much closer to D&D than WoW. There's no real class structure at all, which is what I was getting at by referencing the ever-popular "ninja-jester-lumberjack" crack from Worst Ninja's UO log. Obviously this gamasutra author, Mr. Hopson, is more interested in furthering WoW-specific commentary than treating each game on its on terms.

In any event, there was never any "difficult to design" hybrid issue for D&D. The players made hybrids out of every class to a degree. It's called role playing. That someone could now re-imagine D&D as such a close cousin of WoW should frighten those that like the "RP" in MMORPG. What a bunch of bunk.

(The "economic model" approach to party dynamics was about as impressive as the early statement I lambast, above. I'd be more interested in hearing how party dynamics and character creation follows the food pyramid. It'd be original, at least. OH, wow, everything works like money?!! Are you kidding me? This pseudo-academic tripe gives every ludologist a bad name.)

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--ruffin at 17:27
Comment [ 9 ]

Comments on this post:

Looked at 4E at all? It sounds like they're going to add abilities that try and force monsters into attacking the fighter of party; i.e., a monster will take penalties if it ignores the tank and runs for the caster.

By Blogger Dustin, at 21 April, 2008 21:07  


pp 52 (Identifying Class Roles: Defender):

Ideally, a defender ought to have some abilities that make him "sticky" -in other words a defender should be difficult to move past or ignore so that he can do his job

pp 60 (Fighters: Class Role)

Fighters are "sticky" because they gain serious bonuses on opportunity attacks, have the ability to follow enemies who shift away from them, and guard allies nearby through an ability call battlefield control. Once the fighter gets toe to toe with the monsters, it becomes very dangerous for the monsters to do anything other than battle the fighter...which is, of course, what the fighter excels at. Enemies ignore fighters at their peril!

By Blogger Dustin, at 21 April, 2008 21:12  

Five letters: GG, RIP.

I don't like getting so dramatic, but seriously, it's a shame to hear how video games are [imo] unnecessarily influencing a perfectly good pen & paper RPG.

Regardless, as a Basic D&D and [award winning!] 1st ed AD&D player, I can tell you I never felt bound by some archetypal class structure that resembles the rigid ones I find in WoW [as a level 70 druid]. They're both enjoyable. There's just no reason for the two to converge, I don't think. Each medium should play to its strengths.

Regardless, Hopson's implication that the classic games gave birth to WoW's roles and that they existed in UO is strained at best.

Thanks for the education in 4th ed AD&D. *sigh*

By Blogger ruffin, at 21 April, 2008 21:18  

It's not really surprising. D&D was pretty complex for casual play, they're striving for familiar idioms to expand the player base. If they can make those idioms cross-media through linked rulesets in P&P and CRPG they can leverage both playerbases for synergization111!1!!1one.

Luckily you can still keep using your ratty old books if you want to play old school.

By Blogger Michael, at 22 April, 2008 13:55  

Wow. I knew 4e was bad, but I had no idea dustin.

Great rant there ruffin. We are obviously of the same mind on these issues.

By Blogger JohnH, at 22 April, 2008 14:31  

"D&D on rails" is an absolutely brilliant observation.

By Blogger Josh, at 22 April, 2008 20:28  

Interesting that Hopson doesn't mention the original Everquest's tumultous history with hybrids. I played that game for 5 years, and when I tried WoW, I was bored with a similarly rigid class structure. In EQ, I had friends who did some role playing, at least, and we often provided our own stories for the quests.

One of the problems I have with some of these MMOs and CRPGs is the focus on shopping and hording, whether it's getting more and better stuff or increasing levels and stats. These RPGs have really just one role: player as consumer. And I'm tired of it. Plus, the drop rate and the experience system seemed to cheapen leveling and item upgrades.

It seems hard for computer RPGs to simulate tabletop D&D sessions, at least ones I've played, where the focus is on the story and the situations that the DM is giving us and that we're reacting to and changing. Some, like Mass Effect, have a strong enough story that dealing with levels and items was sometimes an irritating diversion from the story.

At least, that's getting closer to a computer RPG that I'm interested in.

By Blogger guttertalk, at 23 April, 2008 03:51  

I have nothing to say about D&D (it has been too long since I played) and I know nothing about WoW (since I never played it.)

But here is what I do have to say...damn I have nothing to say except I think the whole concept of players have levels from 1 to 80(or whatever they range) is silly. It makes the whole drive of the game level gaining instead of doing interesting things.

Maybe I was playing wrong but when I played D&D when I was 14 with my buddies it wasn't about gaining levels. It was ALL about what will we do next, what will we see, how will we figure our way out this trap back then. We will games give us that instead of grinding?

By Blogger MonkeyKing1969, at 23 April, 2008 17:14  

Sweet lord. I agree with everything Ruffin said twice over. Everyone that agreed with him in the comments? I agree with them too.


See, I just write all those caps as a self-immolation. You can all complain about lusers who type in all caps now, and harmony will return to the Curmudgeon Universe.

Seriously though, Ruffin's exactly right regarding revising history to make your argument seem more wide-ranging than it is. He's also exactly right in pointing out that the current MMO game dynamic of "threat" is what drives the class specialties described as "archetypes" in the article.

As has been mentioned before, Ruffin's description of WoW as "D&D on rails" is also exactly right. (Though the curmudgeon in me wants to point out that this has been my complaint about CRPGs [I hope that means what I think it means] since their inception.)

If I was going to quibble with anything, it's Ruffin's dismissal of economic theory applied to threat dynamic. It's not a horrible analysis, and just because economics isn't original doesn't mean it's a bad way to think about the problem presented. However, I will NOT quibble with this, because although it's not horrible, it's not very GOOD, largely because it succumbs to the jejune failing of many economic bloviations.

It assumes that the rules generating the behavior it analyzes can't or shouldn't be changed.

For example, instead of modifying even the "one enemy, one tank" detail of the threat scheme, he suggests fights which teleport the tank away for 10 seconds at a time. Does that sound like an idea that would make a game more _fun_?

But back to my main point: I totally agree with Ruffin. Apocalypse at noon.

By Blogger Bob, at 26 April, 2008 23:36  

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