Editorial: Needs More Mindflayers

Adventure Time!

Adventure Time!

A lone woman finds herself in the middle of the forest. She wears nothing but a helmet and uses only her fists to pummel unsuspecting wolves to death. Where is her armor? She accidentally sold it. Where is her sword? Sold that, too. All that remains is her indomitable will and her self-imposed task to collect all the forest’s foliage. Her quest? To discover an alchemical recipe that is actually useful. Should she be looking for her Stormcloak brethren? Probably, but now is not the time for distractions.

A blood elf warlock stands in the midst of a fiery field. The dried, cracked ground is scattered with her wounded companions. All around her hellish fire-creatures battle against an army of druids she has worked so hard to bring together. She heals her fallen comrades. She takes part in a charge on an enemy tower. The raid on the Firelands has begun.

Lightning leaps from platform to platform, heedless of the seemingly endless flow of PSICOM soldiers. She slashes. She leaps. She’s a scantily clad heroine with only one thought on her mind: to save her sister.

There is a single thread that ties these three games together. Skyrim, World of Warcraft, and Final Fantasy XII can trace their roots back to the grandfather of modern gaming: Dungeons & Dragons. When it was released in 1974, Dungeons & Dragons offered table-top gamers a unique opportunity to create their own epic tales, to develop characters as reflections of themselves, and explore a variety of new fantasy worlds. It hinged on the imagination. It was fueled by the collective creativity of a group of players.

But the past thirty-plus years have seen a shift away from the realm of the table-top RPG and towards electronic media. Games like Skyrim give players the same opportunity – the ability to travel through vast, open-ended worlds and develop their own personal hero along the way. MMOs such as World of Warcraft give players the same opportunity to interact with a group of people, to collaborate on quests and goals.

In 2008, Wizards of the Coast released D&D 4th edition. This latest edition’s greatest accomplishment was a streamlinging and simplification of the game. To a girl who had grown up slinging dice to 3.0 & 3.5 this transition came as a jarring shock. As I flipped through the 4th Edition Player’s Handbook, I could not help but shake my head in dismay. Was this how Wizards of the Coast planned on striking back against the rise of the MMO? I felt as though I were looking at World of Warcraft: Table-Top Edition. I could no longer play a sorcerer, but I could re-role my WoW blood elf warlock as a D&D elf warlock if I wanted. But, I did not want that, and neither did a great many fans of the D&D franchise.

Mindflayers. Scary as Hell.

Mindflayers. Scary as Hell.

The roles had been reversed. Mindflayers no longer wandered their way into Final Fantasy encounter lists. Instead, blood elf warlocks appeared on the table making pacts with devils and flinging fire. I half-expected my mini to start shrieking “I need more mana!” up towards my bewildered face.

But there is yet hope at the end of the tunnel. Wizard’s has heard the collective cries for the “old school” game players loved. Last week, they announced that a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons is in the works and this time around they are reaching out to the fans for advice. How far this will go and if it will be little more than a nod towards hardcore fans, is impossible to tell. My only hope is that the developers over at Wizards of the Coast will take the time to re-evaluate their strategies. Instead of emulating the games that emulated them, maybe it’s time to bring things full-circle and offer up something that will redefine a generation.

Then again, I might just be sentimental.

4 Comments

  1. Slab Bulkhead
    Posted 2012.01.18 at 13:59 | Permalink

    No, I agree with you. With the existence of games like World of Warcraft, Skyrim, and even other TTRPGs (like Pathfinder, for instance), there was never any need to make a TTRPG so…bland, easy, and uninspired. We’ll see how 5th edition goes, but I think that it’s best to leave TTRPGs similar to the way they were in previous iterations, though adding new mechanics, changing broken old mechanics, and adding new monsters and races and changing old ones is a must for me. Though I want the basic formula for TTRPGs to stay the same (or at least similar), I do want each iteration to have something fresh, fun, and ripe for exploitation by insane players such as myself.

    If I wanted to play WoW, I’d just pay for my WoW account again.

  2. Slab Bulkhead
    Posted 2012.01.18 at 13:59 | Permalink

    Also: I’m all ABOUT tabletops!

    (Hooray, Adventure Time references!)

  3. Lusipurr
    Posted 2012.01.19 at 00:21 | Permalink

    5th edition will, I fear, turn the entire project into even MORE of a cardboard-flavoured paste than it already is.

    What made D&D successful was its deep rule set that could be adapted to nearly any situation. The DM did not *have* to use every rule in the book, but *having* them there in the first place made the rules supremely useful to gamers of every type. What we have now is only useful to gamers of a particular type: those who want a tabletop MMO.

  4. Slab Bulkhead
    Posted 2012.01.19 at 00:33 | Permalink

    That’s another good point. I love intricate, adaptable rules, both as a player and as a GM. As a GM, when a player questions me, I have an entire rulebook to back me up where I can point out any statement that I can find that supports what I’m doing.

    As a player, when a GM questions me, I can point out the exact rule that says I can do whatever crazy thing I’m doing, and I can explain why that rule says that I can do said crazy thing. The GM is free then to bend the rules so that I can’t do the crazy thing, or they can decide it’s not crazy enough to mess up the campaign and allow me to do it.

    Special rules for things like called shots, curses (which the player is often able to design), and even diplomatic attitudes (or lack thereof) toward players are what separate tabletops from MMOs. In an MMO, you almost never have to worry about the attitudes of NPCs toward you for one (or both) of two reasons:

    1) The NPC cannot possibly have a negative attitude toward you, or cannot have a positive attitude toward you.

    2) There is no lasting penalty for dying in the MMO: Your characters are easy to revive and a sufficiently large or powerful group of characters will destroy any opponent.

    In a tabletop setting, attitudes are sometimes crucial to the survival of players. If the king of a region doesn’t like a player character, he may send his armies after that player, and chances are (if the GM is up to snuff), there will be more than one person in that army capable of killing the player. You don’t want to be on the bad side of the half-dragon shopkeeper, and if you kick a giant in the foot at level 2, you will be eaten.

    It’s a complex (or sometimes simple) diplomacy system that draws me closer to tabletop games than MMOs, and it always will.