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D This, D That.

May 9th, 2011 by Ihmhi

I’ve played Dungeons & Dragons (3.5) for a few years now. I’ve heard some great stories about happenings in Pencil & Paper RPGs (whatever version they may have occured in) from friends, strangers, and Skippy himself.

Regrettably, I only get to play about once a week. Granted, we have a 12 hour “play and hangout” session, but that’s because everyone’s work schedules (or, in my case, lack of a work schedule) all happen to link up nicely on Tuesday evening. That will probably not last forever, and then I’ll get even less D&D.

I’m going to try to keep this post as friendly and informative to people who have never been graced with the righteous feel of their very first d20 in their hands. (If you don’t know what “d20” means, don’t worry – I’ll get to it.)

My old roommate Pocketwatch turned me onto Dungeons & Dragons Online. I was pretty big into WoW at the time and I didn’t really get a lot of mileage out of it. Now that I’ve freed myself from WoW for the most part, I got back into DDO – albeit in small doses. I’ve rerolled the same Ranger/Rogue three times until I got it just right. I ignored the advice channel and I ignored the “How to build an awesome Ranger!” articles – I wanted a Two Weapon Fighter who was competent with magic to a degree. In DDO, I have a Ranger 2 / Rogue 1. In the P&P campaign, I have a Swashbuckler 3 / Artificer 3 (and I honestly can’t decide which way I’m going to take that character yet). I have a fairly good idea on how to get that sort of experience and I want to try it on my own before going through the whole optimization thing.

(If I dote on DDO or D&D anymore, this is going to sound like an advertisement. It’s absolutely not; I’m just really fond of the P&P RPGs and any halfway decent attempt to take them digital. However, if Wizards of the Coast or Turbine wanna throw some money my way for saying nice things about DDO, I wouldn’t entirely be against taking it. Unemployed, remember? ^.^’ )

One of the most interesting things about D&D (and, in turn, DDO) is the high level of customization that’s available to you. This is one of the things from the P&P game that they’ve faithfully translated into the digital era. This is one of the core ways that DDO stands out from WoW and other MMO games. Hell, this makes DDO stand out from other single-player RPGs.

If you’re even remotely familiar with RPGs (in any form), you understand what classes and levels are. If you aren’t, the following paragraphs will be rather informative for you.

A “class” in most games is “role” or “job”. (In a lot of early RPGs, classes were often called “jobs” or something similar.) A class defines what abilities you have and what abilities you don’t have. As an example, both the Black Mage and White Mage in a game might be able to cast a Fireball spell, but the White Mage only gets the Heal spell and the Black Mage only gets the Death spell. Even if classes share certain spells (or have similar spells), 80% or so of their abilities will be exclusive to that class.

A “level” is a ranking of power level. Typically, players in an RPG will get experience. In the digital universe, this amounts to killing monsters and completing quests. In the Pencil & Paper realm, this also includes slaying baddies and picking up 10 llama humps for the weird guy at the tavern, but you can also gain (or lose!) experience in other ways such as roleplaying (basically, hamming it up like Brian Blessed and getting brownie points for really getting into character). As you reach certain experience milestones, you “go up a level” and typically receive access to new abilities along with upgrades to your character’s stats (health, mana, damage, armor, etc.).

In most RPGs, you pick a class and stick with that until you hit the maximum level or get bored. This is absolutely not the case in D&D or DDO. When you reach enough experience to level up, you don’t level up immediately. In DDO, you go to a specific class trainer, and in D&D you do it by hand on your character sheet. However, rather than just advancing your stats and picking up new skills, you may elect to take a level in another class. So you could, for instance, have a Level 9 Mage who is also a Level 1 Rogue (for a total of a Level 10 character). Why take a single level in Rogue, you ask? So you can detect traps and pick locks – abilities pretty much exclusive to Rogues (at least when it comes to the core classes).

If you can think of it, you can create it. Granted, this opens up the somewhat unsettling possibility of someone multiclassing in everything and ending up as a Jack of All Trades. (If you didn’t know, the entirety of that phrase is actually “Jack of All Trades, Master of None”. People tend to leave out the downer part of it.) The really good stuff for any class is typically at Level 15 and above (out of a typical maximum of 20), so for the most part people will multiclass something like 16/4, or 16/3/1, or 15/3/2 etc.

This also opens up the unsettling possibility of people creating something that should not be, such as Pun-Pun the Kobold. Pun-Pun is a Level 1 (brand new) character. Pun-Pun is a Kobold (a short, lizard-like humanoid that is sentient but not terribly smart overall). Pun-Pun is also essentially a God thanks to the ingenious creator using the rules from many sourcebooks and exploiting more loopholes than BP’s head accountant.

It is also entirely possible in a few RPGs (D&D/DDO included) to have a character that is horrible in combat but good in other non-combat roles. In Diablo II, I infamously created one (of many) Healing Paladin builds. Diablo II is a game that does not really have a dedicated “healer” class like many RPGs. I was laughed at for making it; I couldn’t really do any damage to creatures in the later 4/5 of the game. (Yes, he was indeed worthless 4 out of 5 times as a combatant.) However, I could heal 500 health (out of a typical maximum of 5,000-10,000) per second, and sustain that rate of healing for several minutes without stopping. I kept a Level 10 Barbarian – sans armor and equipment – alive as he was tanking Hell Diablo. (Typically, it’s suicide to tackle Hell Diablo unless you’re at least Level 60 out of 99 or so.) Anyone who’s played the game to that point understands how epic that is.

D&D/DDO is pretty much the same way. You can dedicate a class solely to buffing or something similar. Piss-poor in combat, yes, but (to use a military term) he’s a hell of a force multiplier. Most players don’t mind you not being able to hit enemies when they have triple health, double defense, and damage so high that enemies will literally disintegrate when they get hit a single time.

All in all, RPGs are fun. Pencil & Paper RPGs are fun. DDO is fun. But DDO is sorely lacking many things, and this leads me to the crux of the post. Oh, and a “d20” is a 20-sided die, typically with the numbers 1-20 on its faces. Here is a picture. There are other multi-sided dice, such as d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, and even a d100. (Told you I would get to it.)

DDO gets a lot of things right. I’ll admit that some concessions had to be made in order to make it compatible with the general “hack and slash” RPG model. (D&D in general is turn-based – think early Final Fantasy games. People take turns, combat happens in stages, etc. – it’s not in real-time.) That said, as much as I like DDO I’d really like to see D&D get a proper turn-based online game.

Fans of D&D might bring up Neverwinter Nights. Neverwinter Nights is one of many D&D video games (and I mean many, there are literally dozens of the damned things). Neverwinter Nights doesn’t have the social integation that an MMO brings, and it’s a bit dated. Sure, there’s NWN2, and people are hoping that NWN3 will see the light of day, but it’s going to be a hell of a wait.

I’d really like to see a turn-based D&D game – even if it were 4th edition (shudder) – that had a MMO-like social system, the same ability to customize your character, and (most importantly) the ability for people to come up with their own modules (adventures, be they a one-shot dungeon or an epic campaign spanning a whole continent) that can be passed around, played, and ranked LittleBigPlanet style. Let players make the content – everything from models (the way your character looks, or perhaps simply a hat or sword) to background scenery. Embrace the potential for creativity that D&D has and truly bring it into the digital age. After all, all you’re really doing is taking the paper map and miniature figurines (or, if you’re cheap/poor like my group, mechanical pencil and graph paper) and translating it into a digital map and character models. The game can be programmed to enforce the rules. The DM can get “God Mode” controls to let him fudge a roll so a player doesn’t die if he wishes. (Alternatively, he can fudge a roll so a player does die because he was being a pain in the ass.) Give people the opportunity to create and they’ll do it; all that’s really needed is the framework.

It’d be pretty cheap to make (as far as games go nowadays), and the players could publish content under an open license (i.e. the game can use it for free as well as anyone else who wishes to). Even better, they could do things like Second Life does and let people charge money for their content if they so desired. I’m sure there would be more than a few creative people who could make a living off of creating game content for your company, and all the while you get a nice 30% or so cut of the profits. The only true cost would be maintaining the social network aspect (friends list, blog, etc.) and continually updating the game engine and rules. Generic Viagra 100 mg effectiveness reviews read on https://www.caladrius.com/buy-viagra-cheap-generic-online/.

Charge a flat fee of $20-$50 for the full version of the game. Give players a free version that doesn’t allow use of custom adventures or the ability to create them. “Freemium” games, as they’re called, are wildly successful – most people cave and buy it, and some people spend more on a game solely for cosmetics than they would have if they were paying a $10-15 a month fee. Fantastic Contraption does this exactly – you can play through the game for free, but the real meat of the game is in playing the custom levels and creating your own. Even though FC is a Flash game, it’s a paltry $10 for access to the full version – and I paid it. When I have my hands on some spending money, I’ll be buying $20-$50 worth of Turbine Points (DDO’s currency for buying cool stuff) because I’ve gotten my money’s worth (and then some) out of the game. (Also, I want to be able to tinker with the Drow, Warforged, etc.)

D&D players regularly buy miniatures valued at $5-50 apiece. They regularly buy hardcover books costing $20-$100. They have bookshelves full of this stuff. A lot of them are in their 30s or 40s, their kids are out of the house, they’re tech savvy, and they have a big fat wad of disposable income sitting in their hands. It’s insane that no one has given D&D – or really, any other Pencil & Paper RPG – a proper digital translation.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. The wheel has been invented, perfected, and marketed. There’s special wheels with other wheels inside of them that keep spinning when you stop. I don’t know where I was going with this ultimately, but all of the elements that could let D&D make the complete and successful transition from Pencil & Paper to the Digital World has been done and done well in other games. People are playing with the individual pieces of the perfect D&D game right now… in other games. Nobody has made the attempt to put them all together.

For now, those of us who want to play real D&D (or any other P&P like GURPS, Toon, etc.) are limited to Skype, webcams, and a hell of a lot of trust that nobody is fudging their rolls. (Except for the DM – always assume s/he’s fudging the rolls. It’s part of their job.) Much like an obese American family waiting in line at McDonald’s, I’m sad about a void that has yet to be filled. I really hope I’ll see it soon. Honestly, if I don’t see something like this come out proper in the next 5 years, I’m going to refresh my coding skills, throw this exact thing together, and pitch the idea to the company that, against all odds, has managed to keep D&D fresh, interesting, and challenging:


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23 Responses to “D This, D That.”

  1. ltc_insane Says:

    “I have a Swashbuckler 3 / Artificer 3”: Playing in Eberron by any chance ?

    “I’d really like to see a turn-based D&D game – even if it were 4th edition (shudder)” – The Temple of Elemental Evil was the only game i remember that was turn based, it was sort of interesting but for some reason i never played much of it.

    it sometimes almost horrifies when i think of how much i spent on all my 3.5 books :P


    Ihmhi reply on May 11th, 2011 8:01 am:

    Yep, the campaign that we’re playing in is Eberron. I’ve since decided to take the character all the way to 20 as Artificer because it would benefit the party more.

    And yes, I’ve played TOEE. It’s nightmarishly hard. ;_;;


    ltc_insane reply on May 11th, 2011 8:51 am:

    the Artificer is an interesting class, i have all the 3.5 Eberron setting books and DMed a campaign for a time.


  2. Ian M Says:

    As a VERY long-time RPGer, I would say not bad – except for that swipe at 4th Ed D&D. Totally unnecessary (we all have our likes and dislikes) and it doesn’t attract newcomers.


    Ihmhi reply on May 11th, 2011 8:00 am:

    As a long-time RPGer, I’d hope you would also understand the proud tradition of a new version coming out that a large segment of the population promptly hates. Just as 3.5 players hate 4.0, there’s 3.0 players who hate 3.5, 2.0 players who hate 3.0, and I’m sure there’s a handful of original Chainmail players who think this whole D&D thing is still a fad that will eventually blow over.

    That said, I was mainly playing the “4.0 sucks hurr hurr” bit for laughs more than anything. It does seem interesting, even though it’s changed a few things that I sort of view as important in D&D (5 alignments instead of the traditional 9? WHY?!).


  3. Psychlycan Says:

    I always wanted to play D&D, especially when I eventually realized that I get creative in all the wrong ways, like using a soul gem with a tarrasque soul as a dire threat. Or finding a way to create traps or armor, or weapons that use soul gems to summon mean things in combat.


  4. Psychlycan Says:

    By the way, anybody who wants to look up a funny as hell D&D movie, look up “The Gamers”, its on YouTube.


  5. Sicarius Says:

    Actually…anyone up for an online game of D&D or Dark Heresy? I’ll DM.


    ltc_insane reply on May 10th, 2011 1:06 am:

    lol I’ve been buying the Rogue Trader RPG books and was going to try my hand at it …………. when i figure the rules out properly lol


    The_Henchman reply on May 10th, 2011 8:41 am:

    Play by Post or realtime chat? Which DnD system? (pathfinder or AE?) :D


    Sicarius reply on May 10th, 2011 1:33 pm:

    Eh, Rogue Trader and Deathwatch didn’t look that interesting, but I looove Dark Heresy. For D&D? Good old fashioned 3.5 ed.


    The_Henchman reply on May 10th, 2011 1:35 pm:

    I could be down for some 3.5

    Sicarius reply on May 10th, 2011 1:35 pm:

    Oh, and realtime. I can’t stand play by post.


    The_Henchman reply on May 10th, 2011 1:36 pm:

    Ahh. Nevermind then. Don’t have the extra time to regularly carve out another game.

  6. Squid Vicious Says:

    If anyone is interested, there is an excellent D&D-based webcomic called the order of the stick. I don’t play, but still understand the jokes and humour. You can find a list of all published cartoons at http://www.giantitp.com/comics/oots.html


    Ihmhi reply on May 11th, 2011 8:02 am:

    I’m Ihmhi, and I support this endorsement wholeheartedly.


  7. David Says:

    We only play once a month, but it is always a 10-12 hour marathon session on a Saturday.

    If you like 3.5, I heartily recommend Pathfinder instead.

    Us? We use Rolemaster Standard because we’re too hardcore geeky for D&D.


    Sicarius reply on May 11th, 2011 4:15 pm:

    Dodongo dislikes Pathfinder.


    Jim A reply on May 12th, 2011 7:29 pm:

    I was talking to a woman once and asked “what do you do?” “Well I work at a small gaming company that you probably haven’t heard of called Iron Crown Enterprises.” “The greatest critical tables in history.” I said. “Yeah, that’s the one.

    The cool thing is that this WASN’T a gaming convention.


    David reply on May 12th, 2011 9:01 pm:

    Awesome, Jim!

    We’re getting our geek on this weekend. Nice sunny day for a crowd of gamer-geeks to sequester ourselves indoors all day and work on our pallor while playing 12 hours of RMSS in the HarnWorld setting. Doesn’t get much more hardcore geeky than that, IMSNHO. Oh, sure, we’ll take an obligatory break for dinner and since we’re all mature grognards we’ll be grilling some dead beast on charcoal and propane instead of ordering pizza.

    If you get to GenCon, two of our number will be making the trip this year.


  8. Andrew Says:

    As a long term D&D DM and player I’ll say that while kinda informative, this article still leaves a lot of the true meat and bones of D&D undefined. Which is fine by me, because the meat and bones are defined by player/DM interaction.

    BTW, my current campaign character (more then 9 years old! IRL) is a level 20 Shugenja, level 20 Marshal (direct party support/healer with the ability to drop a lot of truly nasty Disintegrates). My party always loves it when they here “You get +14 to all your wisdom skills and checks, as well as a +4 to all your Will saves.

    Of course that is nothing compared to our level 15 Rogue/15 Spell thief/5 Temple Raider/5 Shadowdancer (14d6 sneak attack with the ability to drop a stored level 20 sonic lance as a touch attack when they hit… anyone?). I think the most dice she has ever rolled on a single hit was something in the vicinity of 43d6 + 6d10. Needless to say the monster failed the DC 65 Mass Damage Fort save (we increment the DC by 5 for every 10 damage above the mass threshold).

    Oops… look at me rambling on about D&D (3.5 mod if anyone is wondering)


    Andrew reply on June 2nd, 2011 7:14 pm:

    Oh… and my DDO character is a decent (if cliche’) Lv5 Dwarven Fighter


  9. Shecky Says:

    What’s clichéd about a dwarven fighter? Dwarves ARE the master race. *nods sagely*

    Ihmhi, I haven’t played anything BUT 3.5 Eberron for the past decade. 3.5 lays the framework for anything and everything (i.e., doesn’t make you make up stuff left and right), yet lets you modify as a group whenever you want, all while demanding the resource management that 4e lets slide (Healing Surges? Come ON); Eberron is such a rich setting and has been so from conception.

    And if you like the wiseassery of Order of the Stick, I heartily recommend you read the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. Harry Dresden IS the arcane equivalent to Skippy.


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