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DDO -- Savior of Pen and Paper Roleplaying?

Updated Fri, Feb 13, 2009 by Shayalyn

DDO – The Savior of Pen and Paper Roleplaying?

by Zed


When I was asked to handle the community interview for DDO Ten Ton Hammer I spent a good while thinking of a different kind of interview. Normally we plumb for the usual developer interview (great!), the guild leader interview (good to see how and why guilds get formed), or we invite a number of general community members to give their feedback on the game. Those are all well and good.

But then it occurred to me--Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach (DDO) is a pioneering massively-multiplayer online game (MMOG) in many ways. It has a unique combat system, for instance, and it has instanced quests instead of vast worlds to explore. But those aren't the only things it pioneers. DDO, as most know, is “Dungeons & Dragons” the MMOG. 

Basing a MMOG on an existing rule base has so many implications. We can ask ourselves: will it hurt the reputation of the pen and paper (PnP) game? Will it increase sales or interest in the PnP game? Does it capture the game's spirit?  Whilst we all have opinions on these I decided to ask someone whose livelihood is tied into the success, among other things, of the Dungeons & Dragons PnP game; the owner of a hobby games store here in the UK. Here's what Treebeard had to tell me in the short time we chatted about DDO, the gaming market, and the influence one might have on the other.

Zed: Treebeard, thanks for agreeing to answer a few short questions

TB: No problems at all.

Zed: Can you tell the community a little about yourself?

TB: Sure, my real name is Bob, I'm in my mid thirties, have two small children and I'm a game addict.

Zed: We probably all are. Can you sum up your MMOG experience?

TB: My first MMOG was Ultima Online. I started playing this in 1998 on the Catskills server and later on the Europa server. Since then I've been horribly addicted to EverQuest, flirted with Asheron's Call, and have at least tried most MMOGs released up until and including World of Warcraft. I worked in the games industry for a time and so have managed to get myself into beta testing for quite a few MMOGs.

Zed: So you've pretty much dabbled or got seriously stuck into many of the MMOGs on the market. What about pen and paper gaming?

TB: I have played pen and paper D&D since the early eighties. I got involved with a group of older friends who were playing Second Edition D&D but I didn't get seriously involved until the late eighties with the release of 2nd Edition AD&D. I played in a very solid group that stuck together for many years and have continued to play on and off since then. I have also run my own hobby game shop for the last three years.

Zed: Hobby shop as in selling D&D, D20 and other RPG products?

TB: Yes.

Zed: Excellent, I'm sure the community would be interested in understanding your perspective on the pen and paper RPG spin offs several recent MMOGs have spawned, such as a D20 EverQuest game and a more recent World of Warcraft game.

TB: From what I have seen since starting the shop, they haven't worked as well as expected. I find that a lot of pen and paper roleplayers who come into my shop are only vaguely aware of MMOGs or are simply not interested at all. [Note from the writer: Apart from me, who went in and took up an entire Saturday afternoon talking MMOGs!] The crossover seems to be quite thin in my experience although some PnP players obviously do play MMOGs. Most D&D and White Wolf roleplayers seem to see pen and paper versions of games like World of Warcraft as a passing fad that will not last the course.

Zed: A passing fad. I can see that; attempting to interest MMOG players in the pen and paper market by using popular online games is probably going to be a short term proposal at best.  However, DDO is in effect the reverse of this trend. Surely taking an already established set of rules and lore and turning them into an MMOG will attract more people to the pen and paper system.

TB: I'm not 100% convinced that it will. I think it will encourage players who don't play the PnP version to consider getting involved, but it may be quite difficult for [those people] to find a solid, regular group of people who want to play the game in a similar way.

However closely DDO captures the feel of the PnP game, the input and mechanics involved in playing them are worlds apart. A lot of the population of DDO who are interested in the PnP version will probably be playing or would have played it already. For those who will play DDO with no previous experience; I guess their only chance of moving on to the PnP version would be through school, or at a local game shop. In the UK anyway, these shops can be few and far between.

I think what may happen is that DDO [will actually attract] more PnP players into MMOGs.

Zed: Thanks for that insight. As a final thought, do you think DDO captures that ‘huddled around a table' atmosphere we all enjoy so much with pen and paper roleplaying?

TB: I'm amazed at how much it does capture the atmosphere of the PnP game. From making inns the focal point for players getting together to the little messages that pop up during your time in a dungeon depending on your skills and feats, the devs have done a grand job. The choices you make for your character with regard to skills and feats also seem to generally hold true to the PnP game, showing they have managed to recreate them quite faithfully in the MMOG. Incorporating [integrated] voice chat is only going to add to that and help promote a real feeling of table top role playing.

ZedThanks, Treebeard, for your time and your answers.

As you can see, from one very experienced table-top gamer's perspective, DDO really does capture the spirit of its table top parents. However, at this juncture the jury is out on how much of an influence DDO will have in promoting the role playing game, and in encouraging new players to experience the intricacies and strategies of the table top version of Dungeons & Dragons.




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