Monday, May 25, 2009

Episode 18

Despite the fact that I'm working on one o' them eeevil MMO computer games, I'm a paper RPG player at heart.

My eldest brother first mentioned the original Dungeons & Dragons books to me back when I was in grade school. He tried to explain what it was like, but I wasn't invited to attend his gaming club with the older kids. So I tried to play D&D with a friend, based just on my memory of how he'd described it. Boy did I not get it right. For one thing, the 'dungeon map' I drew was a cutaway cross-section. As I recall, that made it very hard to describe things to my player.

I did eventually get to participate in a one-shot game with my brother's group, but not of D&D. They were playing Chainmail, the miniatures game from which D&D evolved. I got to control one very tiny unit of troops, led by a knight. The troops all got wiped out, but my lone knight leader figure tromped all around that map, and I role-played my heart out through that little guy.

The first paper RPG I ever ran was TSR's wild west themed Boot Hill. Not because I'm particularly interested in the genre, but because it and Empire of the Petal Throne (which I mentioned in a previous blog) were all that my brother left behind when he left for college.

I still remember a moment in that game when a skilled gunslinger, armed with a shotgun, managed to miss an enemy who was standing right in front of him. That was the moment when I first understood that the rules of an RPG are important. If they allow ridiculously improbable things to happen, they can spoil the fun.

A lot of paper RPG players denigrate the rules, thinking of them as (at best) a necessary evil, or (at worst) an actual impediment to having a good time. I disagree. To me, the rules of a paper RPG are the physics of the world. They're what enable the player to grasp what we all feel instinctively in real life: a sense of the odds. If the rules can provide that in a way that feels right, without being very complex, then that is (in my opinion) a GOOD set of rules.

-Jeff Dee

14 Comments:

At 6:43 AM, Blogger By The Sword said...

What drew me in back in those early days was the artwork. As an eleven year old kid with very few friends, I found the rules to be daunting. What made me stick it out was the incredibly imaginative artwork that depicted not only heroes battling fierce monsters, but fantastic characters doing every day things.

Those early D&D artists really helped bring the game to life for a casual reader like me, who was not sociable enough to be popular and not smart enough to be a geek.

 
At 9:31 AM, Blogger Jeremy said...

Most of the people I've played with in the past have labeled me a "rules lawyer". I'm fine with that for the reasons you have stated. Also for the fact that I have seen way too many games go to hell almost immediately or lose its flavor because one seemingly insignificant rule was changed or discarded so casually.

 
At 12:42 PM, Blogger Adrael said...

Speaking of RPGs, what do you think of D&D 4th Edition?. It'd be interesting to know the opinion of, not only an old-school gamer, but one of the first-generation D&D artists.

I was never a paper-and-pen kind of geek. I was more of the Zelda-Nintendo variety with a little bit of anime thrown in. Until I heard the two series of Penny Arcarde podcasts where they got to try 4e before it came out. It sounded like they had a lot of fun and after checking out the books I felt I had to try it.

I'm just about to start playing in my very first campaign online and I'm getting a lot of conflicting information. :P Some welcome it as a much more succint, balanced and easy to understand set of rules. Others whine about it being too easy, simple and constraining.

Just listening about the differences between 3/3.5 and 4e from other players, my first impression is that it was a change for the better. I don't think I would've ever tried it had it not been for changes like the(ironically, oft-derided) WoW-like system of combat roles, simplification of defenses and skills, etc.

So, if you've already tried it, what did you think?.

P.S.: I hope you're on the Non-Prophets a bit more often.

 
At 9:25 PM, Blogger Jeff Dee said...

Adrael said...
"Speaking of RPGs, what do you think of D&D 4th Edition?"

Well... D&D has *never* met my criteria, that a set of RPG rules should function as a shorthand for the physics of the world. It contains too many obvious absurdities, such as armor that prevents you from being hit rather than blocking damage after you've been hit, just for starters.

All that D&D has *ever* had going for it was that the rules were simple. I prefer systems that are both simple *and* sensible, but to be fair, simple and stupid is better than complicated and stupid.

Unfortunately, D&D's one advantage has eroded with every new edition. It has gotten more and more complicated, without being balanced by eliminating fundamental silliness such as the way it handles armor. Given a choice, if I *had* to play D&D, I'd pick the original version.

I'll add that even up through 3rd edition, I could still tell that the game I was playing was a descendant of the original D&D. As of 4th edition, I can no longer recognize it as D&D.

Apparently they felt that they needed to turn it into a pen & paper version of an MMO, which I honestly think misses the point. Paper RPGs and MMOs are different things, just as movies and computer games are different things (see a recent post for my rant on that subject).

-Jeff Dee

 
At 10:46 AM, Blogger Eternal Critic said...

I've been an RPGer since 4th grade and cut my teeth on one of the more complex systems I've seen to this day: Rolemaster. It's a good system, but really heavy on the mechanics. The crit tables were alot of fun though.

 
At 4:06 PM, Blogger By The Sword said...

Jeff, you should probably give D&D's 4th edition a look. The first thing i said to myself when reading it was; "What a great superhero game this would make".

Can you say V&V D20? Haha!

 
At 6:37 PM, Blogger Jeff Dee said...

I own a copy of the 4th edition, and I've played it.

I don't agree that it would make a great superhero game. I mentioned my objection to the way the D&D lineage of games handles armor, but that's just one of many, many things wrong with it. Things which, sadly, 4E still hasn't fixed.

I never would have swiped so much from D&D when I wrote V&V if I hadn't been 17 and still pretty ignorant. I intentionally got away from the D&D model when I wrote Living Legends.

 
At 9:23 PM, Blogger By The Sword said...

You are definitely right about the armor. Traveller was guilty of that too.

 
At 4:18 PM, Blogger Jeremy said...

I never cared for the armor class system, or the hit point system, in D&D. Although I am in a minority on this, I liked the armor as damage reduction and vitality point/ wound point that was used in the previous version of the Star Wars D20 game.

 
At 5:35 PM, Blogger Darknezz said...

It's a little bit scary just how close Jeff's story is to my own.

I love D&D, and I wish I knew people that would play it.

 
At 9:39 AM, Blogger Ing said...

I DM an ongoing long campaign for my friends over the net and love the game. your crits on the rules are spot on (I use some house rules, though we haven't accepted the damage reduction armor) though. The rules as we play them are really just to help the DM "interpret" the story. We treat the HP as "plot armor" and it is a mix of stamina for dodging blows or near misses/non fatal wounds. (we hand wave spells recovering it by explaining the healing spells also take care of lactic acid thus restoring vigor). In the case of your example with the shot gun, the story would probably go that the gun misfired, jammed, or if we were being clever, someone had replaced the ammo with blanks setting up future plot points. We're more of the thesbian variety though, and greatly weave in the role playing and game mechanics. I think with the right DM to interpret the rules can be fun and forgiven...but granted not like that's exactly a big selling point for the system.

 
At 12:36 AM, Blogger Keith Burgun said...

Jeff - I admire your work on AE, but as a fellow game developer, I must recommend that you do a few things.

First, and most importantly, do not make an MMO.

Secondly, if you must make an MMO, please do something *extremely different* (like, perhaps, something with some balls). Your world must be DYNAMIC. Death must be significant. Things must be able to be created and destroyed. Please, we don't need another hamster-wheel museum game.

With that said, good luck on the long, long, LONG road that is MMO development.

 
At 9:30 PM, Blogger Jeff Dee said...

Oh, NOW you tell me ;-)

The game is well into production, and I continue to expect that we'll make an official announcement relatively soon.

-Jeff Dee
Nemesis Games

 
At 11:07 PM, Blogger Simon said...

Jeff I found this blog entry fascinating. I'd be curious to learn how you became an illustrator on D&D? or have you covered that elsewhere in your blog?

 

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