Friday, June 20, 2008

If RPGs Were Cookbooks

This link comes from Jeff's Gameblog: Killjoy Cooking With the Dungeons & Dragons Crowd.

If you don't know much about the roleplaying game community (at least, as it manifests on the internet), this is a pretty accurate translation of what we're all too often like into "normal person" language.

If you have any familiarity with the roleplaying game community, you will recognize your own.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Maybe I'll Just Get Into It When It's Old and Cheap?

I'm pretty sure I've already said so on this blog, but I'm giving 4th Edition D&D a pass. I'm skipping this edition, and perhaps may be ending my investment in any "current" edition of D&D with 3.5. I've got enough invested in 3rd Edition / 3.5 that I'll probably never need another version of D&D; besides, I've got enough variations on that system - including the version I'm currently using for our Xaria campaign, the super-stripped-down Microlite20 - and previous editions of D&D that I am satisfied. I could easily and happily game with what rules systems I have for the rest of my life.

Having said that, I've got the latest Alpha copy of the Pathfinder RPG from Paizo, which promises to be a sort of "D&D 3.75". I could be persuaded to purchase that after they've finished it, since the quality of their publications is quite high, both visually and content-wise.

Anyway, I just got an email today from one of the online games shops I frequent, announcing that the long-awaited 4th Edition D&D books are now available. It could be that I'm just an old fuddy-duddy with long out-of-date perceptions of how much games cost, or that I'm a cheapskate with very little disposable income any more, or that gaming is simply not as much of a priority in my life any more (, it's not that), but I'm a little appalled at how much money Wizards of the Coast expects their customers to spend to get one single RPG.

In order to play 4th Edition D&D, you'll have to pay:

$34.95 for the Player's Handbook
$34.95 for the Dungeon Master's Guide
$34.95 for the Monster Manual

= roughly $105.00, not including tax.

...Oh, and if you want the introductory adventure, that'll run you another $29.95. That's thirty dollars for a freakin' module!

Maybe I've completely forgotten what it was like in the old days of gaming - perhaps the old 1st Editions of these books were comparable in price relative to 1970s/80s prices - but I cannot conceive of spending $100 for a single RPG. When there are SO MANY game systems available on the market for a heck of a lot less (if not free), paying this much just seems like insanity to me. On the other hand, Monte Cook's 672-page hardcover setting book Ptolus: City By The Spire sells for $120 - if you can find it - and it remains a consistent best-seller. So that theory about being an out-of-touch old grognard may be true.

But I can live with that.

In other news, I'm becoming a World of Warcraft addict, and it's all Slusser's fault. I got a $30 gift card for Target as a graduation gift, and Slusser - who recently bought the game - sent me a ten-day trial version of WoW to play. After getting duly hooked, I used my card to get the Battle Chest version of the game, which includes the first expansion set, The Burning Crusade. My first impressions are as follows:

If you're interested in roleplaying a character, there are far better ways to do it. WoW isn't necessarily opposed to roleplaying - they have servers that are designated as specifically for roleplayers - but it suffers from the same problems that all MMORPGs suffer from, in my opinion: the players.

There is nothing to stop you from roleplaying a character and getting into it; in fact, there are several emote commands which allow you to express yourself pretty fully. The NPCs speak in-character, even though the conversations are completely scripted (unlike in Neverwinter Nights, where you usually have your choice of responses that may affect the outcome differently from one another). You could have a real roleplaying experience, even if it's the experience of playing under a very evocative but heavily railroading GM.

But no one does. Almost no one on WoW roleplays their character, even on the RP servers. Most of the time, they'll speak out-of-character, in games/rulespeak. They're too busy running around killing things and completing quests given to them by automated NPCs to bother with any sort of character depth. In fact, last night there was even a guy who was complaining about our roleplaying that was going on around him: "I have got to get off of an RP server!" His decision to be there in the first place makes me scratch my head, especially since he was a 70th level character, so it's not like he hadn't been there for a while...

While the setting itself is beautiful and immersive, the players in it will yank you right out of that immersion and make you feel like you're in some sort of elaborate amusement park populated by snotty teenagers. It seems to be the exception rather than the rule when you encounter a player character who has a name that would actually fit in a fantasy setting. Most everyone is Frankthatank, or ihategnomes, or Ninjhahz... It says something when you meet a Dwarf character named "Dawarff" and think to yourself, "Okay, that could work..." But I think Blizzard shares a little blame for this: the game manual specifically says not to give your character inappropriate or joke names, but then, on the very next page, there's a screen shot which includes characters named "RobM" and "IcyShiva". And though they threaten to change characters' names that are like this, I don't really believe them. Many of these guys are 70th Level, which is like the highest level or close to it, so either they've been playing straight for the past week, or Blizzard prefers cash over atmosphere - which is perfectly fine. It seems to be working out amicably for them.

But for every snotty flamewar that goes on in the general and trade chat channels (the open chat dialogue that runs at the bottom of your screen no matter where you are, but are especially noisy in the big cities), foaming at the mouth with ridiculous one-upsmanship or political talk (highly verboten according to the Terms of Service and manual, but again, nothing I've witnessed any sort of moderation reacting to), I've run into players who are quite generous, casting beneficial spells on your character, offering to help out, etc. I was playing one of my characters when someone rode up to me and gave me a gold piece - which, in WoW, is quite a lot of money for a character not even past 20th level - and said, "Twink to your heart's content" ('twinking' being a term for equipping your character beyond their normal means using stuff from higher-level characters). And we've even run into one or two people who were actually roleplaying their character. So while I was anticipating a lot of nastiness, for the most part I've been pleasantly surprised.

Someone referred to WoW as "a treadmill that makes you fatter." I get that. I agree. But at this point, the scenery is new to me, and the progression in power and ability is quite entertaining. At first I was concerned about buying a game that I'll have to keep paying for in order to play. However, I have a group of like-minded friends that I play with, and this also gives me an opportunity to connect with my brother-in-law and nephew, who are both really into WoW. So it's worth it. It'll never replace my tabletop RPG sessions, but I don't think it's really meant to, either. There are things that MMORPGs simply can't do.