DDO -- Savior of Pen and Paper Roleplaying?

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...

DDO – The Savior of Pen and Paper

by Zed

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

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: style="font-style: italic;">Treebeard, thanks for agreeing to answer a
few short questions

TB: No problems at all.

Zed: style="font-style: italic;">Can you tell the community a little about

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

Zed: style="font-style: italic;">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.

style="width: 150px; height: 120px;" align="left" hspace="5" vspace="2">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: style="font-style: italic;">Hobby shop as in selling D&D, D20 and
other RPG products?

TB: Yes.

Zed: style="font-style: italic;">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

Zed: style="font-style: italic;">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 src="http://ddo.tentonhammer.com/files/gallery/albums/Site-Graphics/D_Dstarterset.jpg"
style="width: 366px; height: 198px;" align="right" hspace="5"
vspace="2"> 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: style="font-style: italic;">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.

Zed style="font-style: italic;">Thanks, Treebeard, for your time and your

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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About The Author

Karen is H.D.i.C. (Head Druid in Charge) at EQHammer. She likes chocolate chip pancakes, warm hugs, gaming so late that it's early, and rooting things and covering them with bees. Don't read her Ten Ton Hammer column every Tuesday. Or the EQHammer one every Thursday, either.

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