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What's Wrong With MMOs? D&D 4th ed. Has Answers

Posted by Stradden_bak Thursday August 27 2009 at 11:27AM
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I know that I’ve talked about 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons before on the site. When this new edition of the classic franchise made its debut back in May of 2008, I can remember comparing it to MMORPGs. I remember talking about how this new iteration of a classic RPG concept would help to revitalize a flagging pen and paper franchise by making it more appealing to the swath of new gamers that are flocking to today’s MMOs. I remember thinking that, all in all, the system had its problems but that in the end, it was going to be a good thing for both Dungeons and Dragons and MMOs.

I’ve since changed my tune. After taking a good, hard look at 4th Edition and taking in all that it has to offer, I have come to the conclusion that some of my initial impressions were right. Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition was clearly designed to be an MMO on paper. Among other things, it makes use of and actually recognizes classic MMO archetypes (healer, tank, DPS, etc), and it is designed in such a way that group play is necessary. The problem is that, at its core, Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition actually comes to represent a lot of what is wrong with today’s MMOs:

Looking at the rules, and playing through them, it becomes clear that they are nothing more than an elaborate combat system. All of the diverse array of skills and other rules that appeared in earlier editions have been scaled back and boiled down to “what’s useful in combat”. Gone are the multitude of roleplaying-based skills that appeared even in the most recent edition of the game that made characters feel unique, not only in terms of what they could do in combat, but also in terms of who they were, as people.

In previous editions of the game, and most specifically the 3.5 rules system that came before, if I wanted my character to have spent some time learning how to be a master painter, there were rules to accommodate that. If I wanted my character to know about architecture, or engineering, there were rules for that too. Not only were there rules, but in order to have those hallmarks of individuality, in order for my character to have spent time learning how to cook, or paint, or dance, time had to be taken away from combat and combat related training. It was a conscious decision to lean toward roleplay that the old rules facilitated nicely. The new rules, not so much.

If, under the new rules, I want my character to be able to do any of the above mentioned activities, I can just make it up. The books and the game’s supporters will tell you that you don’t need specific rules or tools provided by the game in order to roleplay, in order to flesh out your character to a place beyond simply combat statistics.

While it is true that roleplay, whether in pen and paper or even in an MMO, is what you and your imagination make of it, not supporting rich characterization with official rules makes those of us who care about more than just the combat die rolls feel forgotten. Why create a rich, diverse world when the rules system that the game is built around really just hopping from epic combat to epic combat?

Now, I fully realize that combat is a big part of the fun, both in Dungeons and Dragons and in MMOs, but it hasn’t been strictly the combat that has kept me playing with my D&D group for the last fifteen years, it’s been the world and the characters. The combat, as cool as it often is, and as much fun as I always have doing it, I enjoy it more because I am personally invested in the fictional person that I have created and grown so that the cool combat and all of the kickass things that he can do actually have long term meaning. When the game rules don’t support both aspects, the character building and the awesome combat, I start to lose interest. That’s why I’ve “cancelled my subscription” to D&D 4E.

The problem, my friends, is epidemic and doesn’t stop in the lands of Dungeons and Dragons. If 4th Edition was indeed, as I suspect, built to be an MMO on paper, its mistakes put a magnifying glass to the larger problem surrounding today’s MMOs. They are, essentially, just elaborate combat systems moving characters from one combat encounter to the next with no real time, thought, energy of God forbid, development time focused into figuring out how to make players personally invested in their characters so that they might stay invested in the games over the longer term.

Are hardcore combat systems disguised as roleplaying games (either online or at the table) pushing product right now? Obviously the answer is yes. Otherwise a savvy company like Hasbro’s Wizards of the Coast wouldn’t have drastically changed their D&D formula and MMOs would be more personal character-centric. Are those same systems resulting in the long-term retention of a loyal customer base? Well, I know that Wizards of the coast has already lost at least one long time customer, I can’t really speak for anyone else… And how have subscriber retention numbers been holding out for MMOs these days when compared to their initial box sales? Not so good friends, not so good.

I’m not a business guru, and I can barely add two numbers together properly, but I always thought the name of the game with MMOs and PnP RPGs was retention and profit over time… Maybe someone should look into that.

Personal Note:

All of that being said, if you, like me, are looking for new rules that support role-playing in the same way that 3rd edition and 3.5 D&D did, I highly recommend checking out Paizo’s new product, Pathfinder ( It’s a continuation of DnD the way that I, and I suspect many other long-time DnD players, like the game, with a good balance between combat and world and character building rules.

DataDay writes:

i concur completely.

Thu Aug 27 2009 11:57AM Report
Bartallo writes:

I go back to reading the rulebooks for D&D predessessor Chainmail. ( not the miniature game but the RPG )  and personally 2nd edition was always my favorite rendition. Today's RPG's are so watered down with fluff that it hurts to call it D&D. MMO's have always been this way though, fancy graphics for combat and lilttle else. It is what computer (online ) players want. No true character development just KEWL LEWT.

Thu Aug 27 2009 12:10PM Report
CymTyr writes:

I agree. Nice read.

Thu Aug 27 2009 12:14PM Report
Torak writes:

Pretty good write up. I'm an old geek and have a copy of every version "core" books ever published. (see kids, thats what happens when you get older and have lots of extra cash around, you buy all that nostalgic crap you always wanted lol)

Anyway, I haven't actually "played" P&P since the late 1980's but I did get the new 4th edition when it released late last summer and me and my older daughter played around with it.

My basic impression is while the combat portion isn't really all that bad, but I feel that all the new edition is, is an advance miniatures game tie in to their pre-painted mini - line.

While leaving the actual "role play" to the abstract isn't necessarily a bad thing you still need some basic guidelines.

4th edition kinda reminded me a lot of Warhammer Quest. A straight beer and pretzle dungeon crawler. While that's not a bad thing for a game, it's not a good thing for D&D. They shoulda named it D&D miniatures fantasy quest battles. /shrug

Pathfinder looks to be a great edition to my collection.


Thu Aug 27 2009 12:21PM Report
Mordrid writes:

Being a long time gamer, of not just D&D but dozens of table top games, the loss of the characte building rules has completely turned me off of D&D. I still play 3rd edition, but with 3.5 and now 4, I feel it is more about exploting gamers and pushing trash into the market place. I personally suggest supporting more indie table top game publishers, ones like Eden Studios, or companies that still support roleplaying and their fans, like Chaosism

Thu Aug 27 2009 12:21PM Report
grimfall writes:

I can't agree with this.  There's a couple basic flaws in your argument.  First of all, you compare D&D 4.0 with D&D 3.5.  Throughtout the history of D&D as the editions stay around longer, you get more ancilliary crap, including things like painting and architectual skills.

The other thing is that I have to agree that you can use your imagination to solve most of these concerns.  Write on your character sheet background 'Son of a carpenter' and if your DM works in something where knowledge of carpentry may prove useful you say "I wonder if my knowledge of carpentry can't come into play here..."

Thu Aug 27 2009 12:24PM Report
todayisblue writes:

i agree too. i never played d&d, but i feel more informed after reading this and i do hope the this trend in rpgs ends. however, the current way of structure lends itself better to instant gratification which the majority loves. perhaps now that this issue is gaining some attention, some products will offer the character development and depth that some of us find rewarding. in mmos, darkfall comes to mind. i haven't played it and probably won't anytime soon, but i could see myself giving it a try someday for these very reasons. 

Thu Aug 27 2009 12:30PM Report
MMO_Doubter writes:

I honestly think that MMORPGs might be moving towards a 'quick-score' business model. Liscense a hot IP, Grind out something that resembles a functional MMO, and cash in on box sales and two or three months in subs. I expect to see even more 'lifetime subscriptions' offers like Cryptic's recent scheme. Grab the quick cash before players realize how incomplete and shallow the game is.


I have no hard evidence, but it would explain why so many shoddy works are being released.

Thu Aug 27 2009 12:40PM Report
MMO_Doubter writes:

Sorry, I went way off-topic on that post. I mixed it up with my forum post. Check that out for something more on-topic.

Thu Aug 27 2009 12:42PM Report
Mrbloodworth writes:

Not sure if you know this, but Gygax is dead.


What do I mean by this? So is DnD.

Thu Aug 27 2009 12:43PM Report
Torak writes:

The beauty of P&P is you can do whatever you want however you want. Nothing stops you.

If you like DD 4th edition combat and 3rd edition for everything else the only thing that stops you is you.

The "rules" don't make an RPG anyway, they just set up a defined playfield. The same can be said for MMO - RPG's. You are free to experience the game however you want within the framework of the mechanics.

Absolutely nothing prevents anyone from having an indepth RPG experience in any MMO-RPG aside from their own attitude and pre-judgments they bring into it.

Thu Aug 27 2009 1:06PM Report
neonwire writes:

I agree with this article totally. Everything in mmos these days is geared around combat. If you remove the combat then you remove the game. Oh sure there is often crafting skills involved but what purpose do they serve? Yep thats get better equipment to help your character fight better.

I dont think mmos should even be called rpg's to be honest because the only way people can roleplay in an mmo is by typing out pretend stories in a chat channel. That is NOT roleplaying. That is just working around the game itself in an attempt to play a game that isnt actually on offer. You can get the same level of "pretend roleplaying" in an online FPS game. Should the Counterstrike and Batllefield games be classed as roleplaying games as well then? This is why I never roleplay in any mmos. Its a complete waste of time because they clearly arent roleplaying games.

The fact that one of the best original pen & paper roleplaying games has now become "infected" by the braindead approach to game design that has been occurring in mmos is a really sad state of affairs. I used to play AD&D with friends many years back. The most enjoyable thing about it all was the way the story developed and the parts all of us played in shaping that story......the conversations we had with npcs and the situations & problems that we solved through the decisions and individual capabilities we had. Yes there was a fair share of combat in our roleplaying sessions but it wasnt what the game was about - it was just a means to an end. In fact some of the best sessions we had were ones where there was very little fighting and we had to think more.

But then thats the difference between a roleplaying game and an mmo. In a roleplaying you can make progress simply by staying in character and doing things that you genuinely think your character would do in any given situation (aka roleplaying). In an mmo you can only make progress by killing stuff.

Thu Aug 27 2009 1:14PM Report
stine96 writes:

Thank you for posting this. My group is having a hard time with 4th, and maybe going back to 3 or 3.5.

Thu Aug 27 2009 1:17PM Report
Auton writes:

 The RPG game systems I prefer are about as un-MMO-like as they come. I am a fan of Exalted, for example, which runs on the Storyteller system. Combat is hugely based on narration - you get bonus dice for describing your actions in cool terms - and not just restricted to physical activities. There's social combat, where you can embarrass your opponent, and outmaneuver them with your sharp tongue. Characters are much more than a mere set of stats.


What grimfall above calls 'ancillary crap' is to me what makes RPGs worth playing. Some of my most memorable game sessions involved no combat at all, can you imagine?

Thu Aug 27 2009 1:19PM Report
Gilvanblight writes:

I have to say that I don't agree with you on this one.  Have you read the DMG for 4e or even moreso the PHBII.  Both books cover character backgrounds and development in detail, PHBII even has rules for things like being a painter, which does have an in game effect.  Even moreso I suggest checking out what's been released from DMGII.  Things like Flashbacks, Asides, Dramatic Irony, etc are all in there with the idea of improving the roleplaying experience.  What previous edition of D&D suggested starting a session off with a flashback where the players play their parents, or suggest having an interlude in the middle of the campaign where the players take on the role of their adversaries. 

Now I do agree with your complaints about MMO's, I just don't see the same issues in 4e D&D.

Thu Aug 27 2009 1:22PM Report
WriterGuy writes:

Why do we see many games that "are nothing more than an elaborate combat system?"

First, most games coming out have masses of people expecting and hoping for them to have at least one great combat system and probably two (PvE and PvP). That minimum requirement naturally takes a a lot of a company's focus.

Also, with combat systems, enough of them have already existed that a gaming company can easier pick and choose toward what type of gamer they wish. That isn't the same as making their combat design simple to implement, only easier to clearly set down the end goals.

With plenty of money-making games having only been combat, I can't use the logic part of my brain and blame a company for taking the shortest, quickest path to bringing in some income.

But for the long term, that approach loses staying power.

The hard, time-consuming part is creating a consistent world beyond the combat. Create from scratch and "how far to go?" is the constant question. Put in pottery crafting? Give players stores in place of an auction house? What factions exist? How do they affect players?

One shortcut is to adapt from an existing IP. That can eliminate a lot of work in having to create a world and backstory, yet has its own pitfalls. One problem: it is an adaptation. Just because a story works well as a movie doesn't make it a great comic book or MMO. Another problem: 30,000 fans can raise a big protest if "X's hair was red in the book on page 527, the eleventh paragraph, but you made it reddish blond."

Thus, both approaches - create or take - come with a lot of time to invest for the developers, right at a point in game design when the shortest development time is the Holy Grail.

However, IMHO, the time should be taken.

A world rich in many areas gives many "hooks" to tie in future expansions and current plots. It gives more players more ways to be involved. It makes a game more real.

A fantasy being real? Yes, in its own consistent rules and world. We'll accept winged humans if it makes sense in that world. Conan yanking out a chainsaw wouldn't fit in Cimmeria.

As a writer of some of the rules for AD&D 2nd Edition, I agree with your pining for more open options in games. Yet with huge development staffs and costs, we are more likely to see the "safer" moves to a sort of lower middle ground in risk taking.

I applaud those that leap for the higher long-term gold ring. Here's hoping MMOs such as Bethesda's possible Elder Scrolls - shown by the other TES stuff to be a rich persistent layered design - will be successful. There's also hope for Star Wars: The Old Republic's emphasis on storytelling.

If the player gets involved in storymaking ... we have a winnah, whatever the genre.

Story: Still going strong after 30,000 years.

Crossing my fingers.

Thu Aug 27 2009 1:25PM Report
WenTzu writes:

I agree fully.....

Thu Aug 27 2009 1:35PM Report
ThriceShy writes:

D&D Is not dead..

Thu Aug 27 2009 1:48PM Report
Frohheim writes:

This sunday we will again play our DnD 4e Dragonlance campaign and i can only tell you: If you have no RP or social stuff in your DnD campaign its clearly a problem with your DM and players. ;)

If your new and shiny MMO only delivers a good combat system don't blame the combat system - blame the mmo designers for not putting enough energy into the sandbox and immersion thingies they should have been putting into their MMO. The only componant an MMO makes it interesting in my eyes is the social stuff. Everything else i can get in good offline games (rgps, shooters, whatever).

World of Darkness - the next real thing to wait for...

Thu Aug 27 2009 1:52PM Report
silicnsmiley writes:

 Man.  Sounds like somebody has a case of the s'posedus.  Nothing will ever be as good as D&D 2nd edition.  Nothing will ever be as good as Empire Strikes Back.  

Wish in one and poop in the other.  Gaming is not dead.   Your imaginations are.  Why do you need rules to tell you how to learn how to dance?

Thu Aug 27 2009 1:55PM Report
Gloreindl writes:

I've been playing D&D 4E for almost a year now, and truthfully it really is just an MMO in paper & pencil form.  It is fun, and easy on the DM, but the two groups I play in have recently been switching to the new Castles & Crusades 4E and the new Pathfinder rules to get back some of the flavor of the older D&D editions.  We've found that when the Powers each class has tells you what their "Fluff" is, it naturally tends to lead to less role-playing and more I use (power) and hit/miss.  It speeds things up, but lacks the flair of previous versions, especially 1E and 2E.

Thu Aug 27 2009 2:12PM Report
deathyeplccs writes:

Thing is, D&D has NEVER had rich, deep role playing.  It has always been a shallow hack-n-slash munchkin fest.  If you really care that much about role playing in your tabletop game, then why are you even trying to play D&D?  Go pick up one of the games that strikes at the heart of role playing, like Pendragon or Burning Wheel.  Heck, GURPS will give you a much richer support for role playing and still has a nice, crunchy combat system.

Every time I hear folks whine about how any given edition of D&D is worse for role playing than a previous edition, I have to laugh.  If you depend on your rules to help you role-play, then D&D has never supported you very well.  If you think D&D 3.5 had strong support for role-playing, then I'm not real sure you understand what it really means to role-play.

Thu Aug 27 2009 2:14PM Report
mmaize writes:

deathy, ummm sorry but your seriously wrong.  I've played GURPS for a number of years and in fact played with Steve himself and others prior to the infamous Fed raid, and while I did enjoy the game you aren't about to compare it to D&D.  Afterall, there's a good reason that GURPS never had the follwing and definitely not the commercial success that D&D had and for good reason.

Thu Aug 27 2009 2:48PM Report
tommh writes:

 Setting aside 4e D%D , your contending the reason most games peak at release is the fact that they are simply a giatn combat system.  You imply thats whats mission is more social/roleplaying elements (whith out really specifiying what those might  be in the context of a MMO). I'm not sure if the facts entirely support this.

It's true that thats the normal trajectory for a game, and also that most games are also heavily combat centric.  By this is a correlation and doesn't prove causation.  Lets look at some of the exceptions.

WoW - obviously WoW is going strong. While the player base def peaks during expansion releases it doesn't conform to your model. Yet in it's the most similar to 4e of any game (in fact I have a sneaky suspicion that it was the model).  Some would argue that WoW suceeds despite this due to other factors such as a strong brand, license,  polish etc. so lets move on.

EVE- Eve is a example of a game wth a entirely different sort of growth curve, starting small and slowly but steadily increasing in size. While EVE differs in MANY ways from other mmos itsnot due to its social/roleplaying elements at least not in the traditional sense..  

UO - uo is the closetest thing to a example that supports your case. It has a lot of strong rp ands social elements and these do seem to have contributed to its longevity.

I don't believe you've proven your case. In fact, I think you may have it backwards. If a game is suffciently interesting and is not actively hostiile to it, social/rp elements will grow up naturally, but this post is long enough so I'll save my argument for another day.



Thu Aug 27 2009 2:49PM Report
CapnHulk writes:

The people who bag on 4th edition usually haven't played it. It's a lot of fun, and the only thing standing between you and roleplaying is you. The fact that I don't have to use these esoteric skill checks in order to do something fun or meaningful is a huge step in the right direction as far as I'm concerned. It feels way more natural too.

At the end of the day, if you don't like 4th edition you don't have to play it. There's a bajillion other games based on older editions you can play for the rest of your life.

Thu Aug 27 2009 3:06PM Report
mmaize writes:

tomm I think you have it backwards.  The OPs point is that MMOs today are merely Combat centric games with a pretty bow on top labeled "RPG".  He goes on to say that it's a lack of a real model that supports character development that is one of the core issues with MMOs today.

In your examples WoW plays into his points because we all know WoW is extremely combat centric from PvP to Raiding as it's biggest hooks in terms of combat.  EVE is a better example simply because it is a bit unique among the MMOs out there for some of the reasons you have listed but I'm still not certain it would fall in line with or completely oppose his main point.  UO again plays right into the OPs point being that UO (while not the original intention) became a HUGE PvP centric game though it did have it's elements (large fishing community, home ownership, etc.)

All in all he is right in that combat is the center reasoning for a character to even exist in MMOs which is also a problem.  Sure for a fanbase that knows nothing but hack/slash that works since that's the quick win to what is looked at as a model for a games success.  But what does that say about us?  Does it mean we are all a bunch of violence driven people who only care for the quickest way to kill something and gain a level or does it mean that the MMO developers out there haven't found a really good way to entice, motivate us, and really create an environment that allows us to build a real link other than time investment and gear, be it emotional (Think FF6, or Kingdom Hearts...yeah it may seem silly to you but these games broke through the glass ceiling and reached players on an emotional level) or personal level.

Thu Aug 27 2009 3:16PM Report
tupodawg999 writes:

My theory is based on the Bartle types. Achievers want a clear straight, fast road to max level or max skills and they shout for it. This is fine unless they get their way too much in which case the game gradually gets boiled down to being about the fastest and most efficient way of gaining xp which generally revolves around combat.

I think MMOs are generally headed in that direction.

I think the socializers will gradually drift off to games like free realms or gatheryn if/when those games hit a critical mass of people to socialize with. The killers will be stuck on the PvP servers of games designed for PvE. The explorers will quit and learn to program.

However, that end result isn't viable long-term. On a balanced server even the suckiest achiever will be higher level and/or better equipped than almost all the socializers and explorers so they'll all feel special. Left alone though, the top 20% of achievers will be at the top laughing at the bottom 80% and there'll be no one below to feel better than. So when the achievers do get what they think they want then most of them will be miserable and quit.

Thu Aug 27 2009 3:41PM Report
Babylon9000 writes:

I totally agree. Excellent post. I mean really... we don't even call them MMORPG's anymore they're just called MMO's now. Where's the role playing gone? Where's the coll character backgrounds? Most games limit the number of characters you can even include in back ground info for your character down to the size of about a trading card. There's just not alot of depth possible there.

I stopped playing AD&D When TSR sold the rights to Wizards of the Coast way back in the day so I never got experience 3.5 or any of the other editions, but I REALLY miss AD&D 1st and 2nd Editions which I played for many years through childhood and into adulthood. they were both very open ended and allowed you to basically do whatever your DM would allow, heck in 1st edition you were encouraged to do so with the DM sort of overseeing things and moderating.

I would like to see an MMO really focus on the idea of character development instead of combat related skills. Don;t get me wrong I enjoy some of todays games, but I hate the majority of them due to the fact that it's all slash and hack power levelling and that's not my thing.

A character needs some kind of skill points and skills to choose from. ( In CO I like the points you receive each level and the little explanations they give for the bonuses they provide, and I like that I get to choose them myself and distribute them as I see fit rather than all my abilities simply going up a bit each level.)

Your character should be able to do some really cool things but just plain shouldnt be able to do others, while all the while the game should be balanced in a way that a player can play either solo or play on a team. Not all missions should be soloable and not all missions should be team oriented. Infact there should and could be such a vast mutitude of missions to choose from in an MMORPG that it shouldn;t be neccessary nor should a player feel left out if they don;t play all of the missions available in a gmae. (CoX and AE could have achieved this vast amount of content but the addon was explouited into a farming and power levelling tool. From the sounds fo things they plan to squelch this a bit, but it still soured the game for me.)

A good Sci- Fi/ fantasy crossover could accomplish satisfying the genre likes and dislikes of virtually everyone out there and would include a literally endless supply of opportnities for storylines and skills both mundane and obscure to build that unique feeling character that gives the player that sense of ownership which in turn makes players want to keep playing their characters.

Another aspect really lacking in most MMO's is transportation. In a modern MMO players need vehicles available right out of the gate and a wide variety to choose from. Eve older versions of the GTA game engine supported in and out of vehicle gameplay, why can't a new MMO? for the fantasy player a horse is a must and, mounted combat should also be a must. A vehicle or a mount is not just a means of conveyance but a part of the character that gives the player a sense of pride and ownership.

Anyways just a couple of suggestions, I really should be working. lol

have a good afternoon all!

Thu Aug 27 2009 3:55PM Report
Cassric writes:


It's an overglorified combat system with very little real meat to make it enticing over a long period of time.

Thu Aug 27 2009 3:58PM Report
theAsna writes:

I don't know the 4th Ed. rules. But you can always tweak/change the rules and thus make your own house rules. The same goes for the campaign world and adventures there.

I like the basic concept of D&D and the rules. But too many rules make it only a wet dream for bureaucrats and number crunchers.

I'm not sure you can really blame software companies for delivering the CRPGs/MMORPGs that we had and have today. What you have to keep in mind is that software development is getting more and more complex (because it's lots of work) and companies have to resort to formalized development processes. How many projects have you seen fail mid way? I am not sure that this helps to maintain the creativity required during the development process.

Thu Aug 27 2009 3:58PM Report
ericbelser writes:

I have to agree and add that really the genre needs to split a bit. All the short-attention span combat junkies can have their games, just get someone to publish better products far people interested in actual roleplaying and real characters.

Thu Aug 27 2009 3:59PM Report
Lobotomist writes:

Hey Stradden. Didnt know you are D&D affectionado (like me).

I must say I totally agree with your post. And 4th Ed rules marked the moment i stopped looking at new WOTC books. They completely lost track... Well we still have 3.5ed. And OGL.

And lately more and more people are comming back to original D&D rules , or what they now call OD&D.

Nostalgia ? Or was it some kind of magic only Gary Gygax had capacity to produce ?

Thu Aug 27 2009 4:16PM Report
Death1942 writes:

ugh i hate it how MMO's are pretty much 100% combat games.  Why can't we have a game even remotely close (in gameplay) to a traditional RPG game (Oblivion, Two worlds, Neverwinter Nights)

Thu Aug 27 2009 4:44PM Report
GrumpyMel2 writes:

Agree with you about 4th Edition Rules.... but I never really liked D&D anyways....always gravitated more toward systems like Fading Suns or Homebrews.

Your point about MMO's is correct.... although I suspect another driving factor there is simply technology. It's tough to write a computer program that knows how to interact with another human being dynamicaly in a social way. Games also seem to have a tough time with Dynamic content. It's alot easier to figure how to write a program that determines whether  Attack Strength + d20 > Defence Strength.

In order to really support the social stuff need games that aren't afraid to have real live human beings function as Game Masters (and not some sort of glorified technical/customer support avatar)..... and have the functionality to dynamicaly and permanently effect the game world.






Thu Aug 27 2009 4:45PM Report
Sovrath writes:

What Torak says is truth:

The beauty of P&P is you can do whatever you want however you want. Nothing stops you.

If you like DD 4th edition combat and 3rd edition for everything else the only thing that stops you is you.

Even in the old rule books G. Gygax said "if you don't like something change it, or add something or ignore it".

To many players today are becoming rules freaks and bean counters.

If a player wants to do something else than combat and there isn't anything tthen work with the game master and come up with something fun. easy as that.

Thu Aug 27 2009 5:04PM Report
deathyeplccs writes:

mmaize - You really focused on the wrong point of my post, but whatever.  Pendragon or Burning Wheel support RP a LOT more.

Regarding GURPS, what I was saying was that, while GURPS isn't an RP focused ruleset, it's still better than D&D for it because things like Advantages, Disadvantages, etc. help you to flesh out your character more than D&D - which IMO is a pure combat game system and always has been.

Thu Aug 27 2009 5:17PM Report
bazak writes:

i must say that i have ben wondering how to word the definition of what i think would be the prefect mmo for me and i have to say you hit it right on target and your right that is a big problem with mmo's plus everything and anything that is an acomplishment is a horrible boreing grind

Thu Aug 27 2009 5:57PM Report
trancejeremy writes:

GURPs is really the game the popularized "munchkinism", by encoding it into the rules. Because your characters would gain points to use towards making them more powerful by taking disadvantages, people would take all sorts of weird things that wouldn't affect them in combat as penalties.

Thu Aug 27 2009 7:28PM Report
JYCowboy writes:

This has been both entertaining and informitive thread.  I stopped riding the D&D edition roller coster with 3rd edition.  I do have 3.5, however.  What one post said here proves what I thought about so many versions of D&D.   Like many of you, I have been PnP roleplaying for decades with many games.


They can be liken to comic books.  Older books have way more story and art than the new.  Wizards of the Coast finally made the full leap of delivering a shorten book with detail on base desired mechanics (combat) and followed up with a different volume to sell us the other parts of our character rules.  2nd edition did a lot of additions to the rules such as all those Class Books.  4th edition is takeing the core books and breaking them up with basics and advance skills/rules in seperate volumes.  Yes, 4th ed. reads differently and can be paralled with MMO's but still has the same material just spread over more book$.


In the early 90's there was a period of comic book boom as the Burton Batman Movie spurred on interst in the pulp form.  The down side was an accelerated push for books with fewer pages, panels of art, and story that could be spread out over 4 comics instead of put in one.  The industry is now use to this standard though there are some that resist.


MMO's are on a simplefication trend because Blizzard showed how it worked.  This created a buzz that simpler is better.  The word Achievement is used to discribe a simple reward in the standard MMO today.  Achievement is something you WORK for, Strive with effort to gain through trial and error or/and persistent grind for both personal satisfaction and reward.  The meaning is lost to those who do a grind and don't appreciate the effort.  Todays MMO is quicker and easier to build as long as the "World Simulator" is left out.  No rules for civil play but only uncivil play.


The concept of a MMORPG before WOW was released was exciting as you might be able to play a contributing member to a world that you liked.  You didn't have to be a fighter but have other roles as well such as crafter, politician, ferrier, pilot, rancher, farmer, prostitute, doctor, etc. etc. etc. that gave you options and abilities beyond your sword or gun.


Today MMO makers are very absorbed in profit margens and capitalizing on an idea (orignal or IP) as quick as possible before the public forget it exists or investment is consumed.  MMO then will turn out like the modern day Action Movie.  Three Week play then out and a public looking for the next fix.


On a positive note for PnP RPG's, you can always return to privious edition of a game that was sold to a used book store.  Most used RPG's can be found in resellers on eBay as well.

Thu Aug 27 2009 7:32PM Report
kilun writes:

The problem with MMO's is simple.  You can create more than one character.  That alone makes roleplaying take a secondary aspect.  That has been my issue with most games.  In a D&D game, you don't reroll your character.  You don't start a new character.  You continue to focus on that one character and have him/her be what you want.  In MMO's the scripted path is nothing but 01010101 and nothing allows for that personalization to speak.  Reason why some singleplayer RPG's have the upper hand in this regard.

I hated the thought of 4th edition.  I never bought it and never will, I thought it took a good rpg and made it into a combat piece of crap.  Probably be the last D&D game I ever bought was NWN2, as the rest will all be based on some crap fourth edition.  Hell bring back 2edition, I prefer that anyways.  BG was a superior series anyways.

Thu Aug 27 2009 7:51PM Report
Stradden_bak writes:

Hey guys,

I really appreciate all of the feedback on this one. I want to be clear though. I'm not slagging those people who like the 4E rules. They just aren't for me. I had hoped to convey the problems in the MMO genre that seem to make the dynamic combat simulators rather than full-fledged role-playing games. I completely understand a number of the points made, about development cycles, and even about imagination, but in the end, for me at least, it comes down to actually taking on the role of another person and rules support helps that. Moving away from supporting multiple core activities, including character development, can only serve to make MMOs more shallow, and in the end, less appealing to multiple kinds of players.

Anyway everyone, again, thanks. I really have enjoyed reading your comments on this one.

Thu Aug 27 2009 7:58PM Report
Vanpry writes:

Spot on, we have enough mmos that have the depth of mud puddle.  It is time for something more then just killing.

Thu Aug 27 2009 8:08PM Report
Blurr writes:

I have to disagree on this one. I've played MMOs since the genre was invented, and done D&D off and on since AD&D (2e). If anything I think that their move toward a more MMO style gameplay improves the pnp rpg. I think perhaps you're looking at it the wrong way.

The reason MMOs start losing an RPG feel isn't because the developers have turned it into a combat-based game, it's because the players have. How many quests do you actually read the quest text on? Do you think about your characters actions and allegiances when you take quests? No, you just take every quest and look at the completion text because that's what gets you to the next level. Or look at the item rewards and think which makes you a better player. That's to be expected though because as is the nature of video games, you're having fun by traversing though the content.

The fun with PnP RPGs is that you are creating a story with your friends, not just trying to do a dungeon crawl. Though there are people that have plenty of fun just doing that. The rules for combat are there to make combat feel epic. You're supposed to be an awesome hero at the center of the story, with heroic abilities and amazing feats that make you more than the average person. They wanted to make it more than just a math game of rolling dice. They took away the rules on the non-combat stuff because it was too restrictive. Like you said if you wanted to be a painter or a blacksmith or whatever, you had to take points in crafting or performance or whatever. This way you're much more free to play your character as you see fit. It gives you a lot more room to create the story around your character without having to worry about how many points you have in this or that. They are putting the freedom in the hands of the player and the DM rather than making you adhere to detailed rules on how well your character can juggle or not.

You get to actually role play your characters non-combat skills instead of roll-playing them.

I think if you're having a problem with the non-combat aspects of the new D&D 4e ruleset, it's a problem with either you or your DM because all they've done is remove the restrictions. When I play my 4th level Rogue, I choose to play him as a swashbuckling sea captain who's lost his ship in the war, looking for adventure in hopes of buying himself a new ship and finding a new crew. I don't need to have some stat telling me how good I am at seafaring, especially when it tells me I can only have so many points in it at low levels, telling me that if I'm not experienced as a rogue then I'm not allowed to be experienced at anything else.

The new rules are there to make combat feel heroic and fun. The rest of the rules have been stripped back so that you can actually roleplay non-combat stuff as you will, rather than be forced into it. If anything, it's made it so you do more Roleplaying. Not just making Craft (Pottery) checks.

That is, of course, supposing that you and your DM prefer to make the game about roleplaying instead of just dungeon crawling. How can you not like a system that gives you more freedom instead of less? It puts the power in your hands, making it your fault if you don't have a good time. As it should.

Thu Aug 27 2009 8:56PM Report
Wrayeth writes:

As someone who has been playing D&D since vanilla 2nd Edition, I've got to agree that the game lost a lot in the translation to 4th Ed.  The new edition neutered just about every reason to play the game.  As such, I haven't bought a new WotC/Hasbro product in ages.

All in all, I'd have to say the 3.5 rules system gave the greatest flexibility in playstyles and scope, though the 2nd Ed. Player's Option system was nearly as good.  Vanilla 2nd Ed. was very limiting, but at the same time had that undefinable D&D feel that I felt was occasionally lacking in the 3rd and 3.5 Edition rules sets.  4th Ed., on the other hand...well, it's not D&D.  It would've been better if they'd just scrapped the name and called it something else.

Thu Aug 27 2009 10:04PM Report
badgerer writes:

I went through various phases of like and dislike of 4th edition, and presently, I think its the best one by far.

I disagree entirely that the lack of rules relating to non-combat activities turns the game into a mindless hackfest. If you base your game soley around the rulebooks without spending equal or more time on character and story development, what do you expect? As the above posted has pointed out, creating a rules system around anything is ultimately creating a system of restrictions. You need that in combat since its always been the game at the heart of D&D. Combat in 4th edition finally makes tactics interesting. But that's just the start.

The roleplay and character development barely needs a rough framework of rules. If you had a game which listed 147 secondary careers, a player would be out of luck if they had thought of something that wasn't on the list. But then they'd be less inclined to use their imagination at all if they had spent their development time poring over the rulebooks.

I think like most of us, you've become too reliant on the rules to define the reality of your gameworld. Its a necessity in an online game, but merely a tool in pencil and paper games.

In any case, take a closer look at the now very long lists of rituals in 4th edition. You'll find just about everything you mentioned was lacking in there. The separation of powers and rituals I think was a masterstroke because it opens up so many possibilities.


Thu Aug 27 2009 10:17PM Report
Yauchy writes:

 Seems any commentary on such a thing will stir up the swarm :)

I agree with you generically, but personally as a power gamer I'm happy to see the change.  Also older materials become cheaper, easier to aquire in clumps (it rolls over into CCGs as well)...mostly...and become a niche for those who love it (which personally I know alot more power gamers these days, than I do old harcore RPers).

These companies are businesses and as much as the 'old school' would love to cling on forever, power gaming is the thing of the future...but just like fashion, give it a decade & your RP might be back in full force :)

Thu Aug 27 2009 10:18PM Report
hogscraper writes:

In 12 years of pnp d&d I can only remember one group of players, out of maybe 25, that insisted on playing 'by the book'. These guys had just got 3.5 and decided all things before it most go. Every single other group of people I played/play with have been completely open to playing by what my friend David calls 'house rules'.

Once I was exposed to this idea I've brought it to every group I've been a part of and people have been very open to it. When a new rules set comes out we decide what we're not going to use. How is this possible? Because unlike an MMO, you make the rules. It blows me away that people seem to always overlook the obvious: D&D Official rules books are guidelines and nothing more. 

One time that sticks out in my mind is our DM deciding that if we failed a particulary hard fight against werewolves, (and we did fail), he moved us seemlessly into White Wolf's Werewolf the Forsaken. The world we were playing in stayed the same, but he just decided to use a different set of rules. We played as werewolves for 5 months before we got bored of it and our DM put us on a holy quest to rid ourselves of the curse. Right back into D&D 3.0 rules set. 

For new players who decide to roleplay without other players to guide them, the books are a great starting point. But they are just that, a set of guidelines to help you build your own world to play in and are by no means where the world has to end.

Thu Aug 27 2009 10:45PM Report
grimfall writes:

Hogscraper, don't give your friends too much credit for coming up with houserules, since every D&D addition, since AD&D has told you to do that pretty much on page 1.

Fri Aug 28 2009 1:23AM Report
Loke666 writes:

I think D&D took a great step backwards with 4ed. What we need is a Runequest MMO instead. If current MMOs looked on the development of pen and paper RPGs the games would be more fun.

And we should really have smarter mobs than that could be handled by a tank, a little more realism is not too much to ask for. Guildwars have no tanks and the combat still works fine.

As I see it, the reason for WARs flop was that they didn't used the rules from the RPG but instead used rules from Wow/EQ. It both turned away the actual Warhammer fans and created a game we seen before, why change from one game to a almost identical?

Fri Aug 28 2009 1:59AM Report
Fuerchtegott writes:

Great Entry, Stradden. Back when I read your entry on the new DnD 4th i totally disagreed and felt it was a huge departure from classic PnP-RP.

What has happened to DnD will soon happen to Warhammer RPG. There is a 3rd edition in the making and it looks as if the authors took 4th DnD as the new how-to-do-it. Old Warhammer players are outraged of course.

Some ppl mentioned here that leaving out the fluff is ok, since your imagination takes care of that part. That is true. But leaving out the fluff by the author's also means they don't care about it. And they won't care in the future. So all supplements will be combat related, even sourcebooks and such.

If you leave out the fluff in a MMO there is no way the players can pretend it is there. Look at WAR. I cannot pretend to be a carpenter's son, even if i wanted to.

According to Paul Barnett ("This is WAR!!! People don't fish or build houses when there is WAR!!! They fight!!! Constantly! Always! Everywhere!!!!")

That is the mindset that has infected MMOs and now PnP-RPGs.

Good Night and Good Luck!

Fri Aug 28 2009 3:44AM Report
Fuerchtegott writes:

Edit my previous post:

According to Paul Barnett fluff is not necessary, since it is always about war and combat. That's all we want to do.

Fri Aug 28 2009 3:47AM Report
TatsuOyama writes:

D&D 4th seems like a cold heartless grindfest. After running JUST 2 HOURS OF IT my player group decided to go back to 3.5 with the 3.8 house rules set. It was sickeningly sparse for lack of a better term. It felt very hand holdy and like they wanted to have it fold into an actual MMO. Basically so that if you played the MMO and wanted to play the table top you could do so really easily and vice versa. Like you could print out your stats from the MMO and play it in on going campaign. It was odd. I also agree that has gone totally miniature crazy. Still that isn't all that bad as those rules enrich the table top experience nicely without fudging up the core too much.

I just guess we are stuck with our old stuff or will have to convert new stuff carefully.

Fri Aug 28 2009 6:26AM Report
Staatsschutz writes:

while this article is nice and all..... but the majority of onlineplayers just want to rush from combat to combat. so there. Thats why most games are that way.

It is as it is, and it will never change.

Fri Aug 28 2009 6:52AM Report
Lightknighti writes:

Let's boil RP'ing down to an example of it's original source. As little boys, many of us would play cops and robbers or cowboys and indians.  Now, we used our imaginations to create our own ideas of what kind of character we wanted to be, how that character would act.  We didn't need rules to tell us how to do that, it came naturally.  But where rules were needed was when CONFLICT arose, when the eventual, "I shot you first" arguments arose.  And so it has been with role-playing games, you don't need a set of rules to define who your character is or what profession or non-combat skills he might have, you need only your imagination.  It's only in the resolution of conflict that you need rules to help maintain a sense of fairness.  If you want to rail against MMO's and RPG's for only doling out or focusing in on combat rules, you need not blame the games, you need to blame human nature.  As far as I am aware, there is no "rule" stating you can't play D&D w/o tossing any rule out the window and just using what you find fun, in fact, the authors of 4E encourage the GM and players to do so whenever they feel like it.  The onus of responsibility for role-playing anything other than combat is completely on the GM and players, not the system.  MMO's are a bit trickier since you can't role-play anything skill wise unless it is built in the game, but if you want that kind of experience, you need to be table-topping it anyways. 

The author is right, 4E holds a magnifying glass up to the population, we like and WANT combat, and they have done a superb job in making the adjudication of conflict as fair as I have ever played.  What he didn't acknowledge but the designers of 4E did, is that true role-playing cannot be adjudicated by rules without cheapening it, they tell you to ignore/toss out the rules, whenever they get in the way of fun.  As a GM, I encourage and support character backgrounds with non-combat skills, in fact I requested them to pick a major and minor profession they have and can practice in their character's "down" time.  And then I incorporate it into the game. 

Conclusion - 4E only represents what the majority want and need.  A system to fairly adjudicate conflict.  The rest is up to each person's imagination.  Like Luke in the cave on Dagobah, you take in only what you bring...

Fri Aug 28 2009 7:41AM Report
xmojo1 writes:

I have no experience of 4th ed. D&D, I'm an old-skool 1st ed. player, so I can't comment on 4th edition. But I do feel MMOs now are dumbed-down RPGs with a huge emphasis on combat and character levels and XP, with little focus on the other elements that make RPGs so interesting. Maybe a reflection on today's "I want it all and I want it now" mantra. Oh, maybe a crafting system is tacked on to keep the less-combat oriented players happier, but beyond that an MMO will never give the same rich experience that a P&P RPG will. MMOs are really nothing more than combat, crafting, and a chat system to communicate with other players.

Fri Aug 28 2009 7:42AM Report
Lightknighti writes:

Ok, I screwed up the dagobah thing,  there is only in the cave what you take with you....


and know, I'm not quoting exactly.

Fri Aug 28 2009 7:44AM Report
benyanhua writes:


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Fri Aug 28 2009 10:50AM Report
nightfallrob writes:

I agree.  Fourth edition D & D is a sadly watered down version of the original game.  And Grimwood, it's never the DM's job to "work something in," for a character's skills.  It's the character's job to see how their skills can be applied.  And "son of a painter," doesn't cover having actual artistic skill.  Yes, combat is at the core of the game, but it shouldn't be the whole game.  

As for MMOs, essentially they will always be combat grinds because they're video games.  That's not exactly fixable currently, RPers in MMOs aside. 

Fri Aug 28 2009 12:21PM Report
maplestone writes:

For me, pencil-and-paper RPGs are about world-building: maps, stories, history.  I find most of the best games I''ve run or played have been low-level, slow-advancing where you get a lot of buildup to each new level/ability.  4th edition feels very hostile to this type of play - the low-level content is thin and weak and there's practically no attention at all to world-building.  Monster description give no ecology, no sense of society other than a few random scraps.

I absolutely loved the chaotically organized 1st edition DMG ... it was so full of little systems that could be used, charts and tables to stimulate the imagination and punch through writer's block.

I think that fundementally, the company (through its various owners) mistook what market they were in.  The modules and worlds created for D&D were like sample templates - I knew lots of people who bought them, but rarely saw them used.  People wanted to tell their own stories, build their own worlds.  So when D&D started focusing on making money off their IP instead of on creating world-building tools, it felt as if I was watching Microsoft decide that Word was a good platform for selling books.

Fri Aug 28 2009 1:04PM Report
Stormbow writes:

As the late E. Gary Gygax once said:

"Life's too short to spend 60 hours a week crouching in front of a typewriter writing rules. The more you explain, the more you have to keep explaining. Use imagination and initiative, for heaven's sake!"

and, as much as I love the man I never personally knew, I can't help but believe that there should be some guidance in there as well.

I believe the 2nd Edition Dungeon Master's guide said it best:

"These rules are only guidelines."

but at least 2nd Edition had the guidelines.  And as such, it will always be my very favorite edition.

If 4E truly has gotten away from the more RP aspects of the game, it will never stand even the tiniest chance of picking a single dollar out of my pocket.

Fri Aug 28 2009 1:23PM Report
MMO_Doubter writes:

It's a bad for Role players for sure. Even though I like lots of comabt (especially PvP), it means more when you are immersed in the world by participating in non-combat content.

Too bad MMOs aren't looking to PnP games for more depth and variety in gameplay. It will probably happen eventually, as movie and book IPs run short.

I'd love to know what 38 Studios and Blizzard have planned.


Fri Aug 28 2009 1:39PM Report
Babylon9000 writes:

Wow good to see alot of other game geeks feel the same way. I read alot of posts over lunch today.

One post in particular really struck a cord with me in that it said that alot of gamers are going back to OD&D I'm guessing that's old Dungeons and Dragons as I haven't heard the term before. he also said that maybe it was a magic that only Gary Gygax and his team could muster. It was new then. I think that's the real reason, but the magic was there with the original development team without a doubt.

I hate to belittle anything that came out of  TSR but I think that 2nd edition onward were simply ways of reinventing the game and boosting sales (don't get me wrong I loved 2nd edition, and played it for years, but 1st edition wasn't broke, it just required imagination and a skilled DM). I remember that the shelves at the local game store  at the time ( Then called "The Wizard's Corner") was filled with primarily AD&D books figurines and dice. In just a few short years other games started to pick up sales, GURPS, DC Universe, Champions, The Palladium Hero System, and many others ( I even bought and tried out a Batman RPG based off the DC hero system thatc ame out right around the time the Michael keaton/ jack Nicholson movie hit the screens, not bad but not good.) Some of the new new games put a dent in the sales of TSR's AD&D game and they had to try and compete by sort of reinventing themselves.

Remember the big hype on Warhammer when it was gaining popularity?


Remember the hype with Magic the gathering? heck it's magic that ended my AD&D group, they all went and played Magic and I wasn't interested.

Remember when Vampire the Masquerade came out? It's still got a small but loyal fan base.

All of these new concepts stole away alot of AD&D fans that were looking for more specific niches to play in.

It's too bad but RPG's juts evolved. As technology developed they began to include the RPG genre. As the years rolled on and as the designers became more RPG design savy they began to evolve into waht we see now.

The sad thing is that salesmen sell what people want to buy because that's what makes them the most money. People wanted to carve up monsters and blast eachother with super powers so that's what the MMORPG marketing teams gave them.

We've seen that now and are growing tired of it, and the genre is ready to evolve again. It'll happen, heck to a very small degree Champions is breaking a little ground in their next generation character creation system with open ended templates and the point system during level advancement. It's far from where it needs to be but this is jusrt the begining of the next level of evolution.

I think big things are right around the cofrner for the world of MMORPG's and we are going to see a reversion back to a more role playing centered style of game play.

In closing the biggest and most positive change any game could make today is to hirea team of really good fiction writers and start pushing out alot  (and I mean alot) of really good content. I don;t recall ever playing the same adventures twice in AD&D, as a DM and a player we always made uop new adventures, or bought new modules and kept things fresh. taht's what kept us going back for more. It was always different.


I said it before and I'll say it again; CoX almost got it right with Architect Entertainment. the unfortunate part was that they didnl;t put countermeasures in place right out of the gate to inhibit power levellers and farmers. ( Neither of these had anything to do with classic PnP RPG's, and these people aren;t role players, heck they're not even very social usually not sure why they are so drawn to online gaming.)

Player generated content = player involvement = a sense of ownership = giving the customer exactly what they want in going so far as letting the customer build what they want.


Long post but this topic has me excited.

Fri Aug 28 2009 2:28PM Report
Ginaz writes:

You do realize that the rules of D&D are only guidelines, right?  Which means you can do anything you and your GM want to do.  Anyone who thinks otherwise are free to disagree with Gary Gygax because thats what he said himself.

Fri Aug 28 2009 7:50PM Report
Tykero writes:

This article is pretty much entirely wrong when it comes to DnD 4e.


It's clear that Stradden has missed the entire point of the changes to Dungeons and Dragons for its latest edition: to make it more fun and give it wider appeal. I'm sorry that you somehow feel that your ability to roleplay is hindered by the fact that you no longer have to limit your character's combat effectiveness in order to develop backstory and character fluff. I'm confused about how you came to the conclusion that DnD4e is all about combat when there still exist a multitude of skills that are used out of combat for a great majority of their application (Arcana, Bluff, Diplomacy, Dungeoneering, History, Religion, Streetwise); there are entire game systems that are entirely based around not being used in combat, such as Rituals; there exist player character abilities that are entirely based around interesting roleplaying applications (such as Wizard's cantrips).


The fact is 4e streamlines and balances the Dungeons and Dragons experience, while still allowing plenty of room to be expanded upon and altered to the players' wishes.


It means that new players can enjoy the game more easily, inexperienced Dungeonmasters can build adventures with greater clarity and fewer hiccups, and overall, more players can be brought into an experience that, before 4e, was slowly dying.

Sat Aug 29 2009 4:53AM Report
Leodious writes:

 They do feel like combat simulators, but they also try to make everyone feel epic, but still have no real vested interest in the character. WoW is the cause and the biggest example of this, I think. D&D lost me as a player when 4th came out. It's all combat, and not the characters. But then, I never saw more then 2% of the population roleplaying. It's all about phat lewt to most of them. They don't care about the characters, and that leaves me wondering what they do care about, and why they are in a role playing game. It's not to play a role.

I want to note the thing I like least about 4th edition is the alignment. They essentially cored out everything nuanced and interesting about alignment. My friends and I even tend to use Alignment when referring to real-life people and situations. It was very nearly a perfect way of describing how your character felt and behaved. Now you can be a paladin, neutral, or a bad guy. There is nothing in between. No Chaotic Good bard running around helping people with no rhyme or reason; no Lawful Evil crime lord that plays the law against itself and feels superior as a result.

It is truly disheartening, because they are smart, and they see this as the direction games are going. I really do think they intend to make a 4th edition MMO as soon as they can. I shudder to think.

Sat Aug 29 2009 8:11AM Report
Buckarama writes:

I still like the 2nd edition the best, but that just means I'm old :)

Sat Aug 29 2009 9:57AM Report
Vesavius writes:

I'm not even gonna eneter the 4e debate, everything that can be said about it has been, but my group, long time D&D fans all, now plays Paizo's Pathfinder RPG...

Take what you want from that.

Sat Aug 29 2009 10:45AM Report
WriterGuy writes:

I don't believe the point  in the OP - regardless of its title - is what is the best D&D version?

What he's asking is how can MMOs keep the RPG.

The big question boils down to: What steps can computer games take toward immersion and involvement beyond combat?

A computer can handle a large number of players at once, a person running a game only a few players at once. There won't be arguments charging favoritism, irregular unfairness, or "hey! you forgot rule 47b!" while playing a computer game. The same can't be said for a pen-and-paper session. The advantage of pen-and-paper is its flexibility with lots of options, the hallmarks of immersion and game longevity.

Since computers must reduce everything to an equation in order to process and function, true roleplaying in a computer game has two options. One is avoid the computer decisions by having live events with a GM, just like roleplaying around the tabletop. That allows a GM to give rewards/punishments on the spot without regard to programming them.

That's also one of its biggest failings for MMO use.

Nothing starts argument quicker than, "but you didn't give that to me when I did something similar." There's extra cost for a company employee to do a live event. One live event with one live person running it can still reasonably handle only a set number of people. For larger numbers to enjoy, there need to be many GMs at once. Costs shoot up with every one. And, since they all are different people, the players won't be getting the same experiences. If everyone pays the same amount of money (and I'm not getting into the microtransaction/RMT argument here, please save it for another thread), don't they all deserve the same game? And what about those who log in at odd hours? What will be their reaction to missing out?

But what about having player volunteers as DMs? Can't get cheaper than no cost. A wide door to playing favorites and other abuses already opens when a paid company employee plays the GM. It's a much larger door with larger abuses coming through it when the players (and gold farmers) start playing Monty Hall.

For either approach with GMs in an MMO, there are still built-in limitations. The GM can tell a player, "Nice roleplaying. When you strum that particular song in the future, everyone in the tavern will laugh." But for that to happen it needs to be programmed in the game. The GM can't give any meaningful reward unless the game can handle it.

So let's peek at the second approach to address our big question: have more options in the game. If a game has crafters, then it's certainly easier to roleplay a crafter. If it has singers, then it is easier to roleplay a singer, etcetera.

No, it's not perfect but over a long time it can make a decent approximation. The "analog" tabletop RPG has an unlimited number of options. The digital MMO can't go unlimited but - just like drawing an angled straight line in your paint program - the more steps it can handle, the more it approaches looking like the analog original.

What types of steps should we be going for?

Rewards which give more than combat skills. You reap what you sow. In a combat game, rewards naturally go to helping one do better in combat. If a roleplaying game was "Basket Weavers!" you'd expect rewards to help you be a better weaver. If a MMO had both combat and promoted roleplaying basket-weaving, you'd expect it to have rewards for both.

Factions and reputations. More of them and more consequences for the player. How a character acts influences multiple reps in multiple area. Games already give badges and achievements. Use those to affect the reaction of every encounter.

Different ways to complete quests. Add 3, 4 or 5 ways instead of "all or nothing," complete success or complete fail.

Move away from "get Object X" meaning "you must kill Monster Y to get Object X." How about stealing it? Or distracting the monster? Or talk the monster into giving it to you?

Again, the approach can't simulate every possible in-person tabletop roleplaying benefit. That's unlimited in that space. In the computer realms, we can only add more options. Just like that paint program, two steps in that "straight" line are better than one. Ten better than two. One hundred better than ten. Eventually it can look good enough to pass muster.

Let's head in that direction with MMOs and see what happens. After all, we've come a long way in computer gaming to here from Pong. EVE Online allows a lot of player choices in economy. It's also grown in players since release. LOTRO has characters playing music for tips.

Roleplaying is literally making story. If the text in the quest giving affects you, it'll be read. If it doesn't, of course it's skipped.

Immersion and involvement result not from being told the story but from making the story. That's what I look forward to in MMOs.

Sat Aug 29 2009 11:48AM Report
Eisdrache writes:

I fully agree.

Darkfall is a perfect example. A mid-size world, good realistics, few rules. You could do everything. But if you take it seriously...there is nothing more than combat. And of course combat. Oh, I forgot combat! Its so "epic hardcore" that crafting is just a joke, aswell as roleplay.

Sat Aug 29 2009 11:48AM Report
lilune writes:

Role playing in MMOs has always been incidental and not a direct product of the game's design, but one of player's efforts.  An MMO in itself has never captured the strength of a story driven table top RPG, and I believe the industry has completely given up on that.  The pen and paper industry has never captured the enormous cash flow of a successful MMO like WoW, and I don't think they're ever going to give up on that...

Even the most skillfully crafted adventure in pen and paper, being run by the most talented DM,  is completely dependent on player participation for the story's sake. A story takes work, and the customer clearly doesn't want that in their entertainment.

Where both pen and paper and MMOs are now is exactly where demand has taken them.  As far as D&D goes, the acquiescense to that demand began as soon as Wizards of the Coast took over for TSR.  As far as MMOs, it's always been that way.  They haven't ever really captured that table top role playing element, and you can see their efforts towards that end have seriously tapered off. 

Sat Aug 29 2009 3:22PM Report
anthrorob writes:

Truly, D&D 4ed is the "New Coke" of RPGs.  I have never seen such a divisive edition in any rpg game...perhaps an MMO equivilant would be SOE's Star Wars fiasco (although I have scant details on that mess)...


Sat Aug 29 2009 4:42PM Report
Hellscream07 writes:

I agree completely. It's been a few years since I last played DnD, but just about a week ago I started talking with a friend of mine, who showed me some of the new rules for the 4th Ed. When I started reading the definition of classes and how they're divided up by roles and I noticed no RPing skills whatsoever...I almost craked up laughing. I was about to ask him why playing that if he could get a sub for WoW and be able to play with alot more people.

Because even though I think a good DnD afternoon session can be a lot more fun than playing an MMO, it's no use if the rules are only designed around MMOish combat.

Sat Aug 29 2009 6:55PM Report
Tykero writes:

And the ignorance of 4e keeps rolling in.


Keep it coming, guys. I, too, enjoy judging entire game systems by a quick glance.

Sat Aug 29 2009 10:35PM Report
Kalmporos writes:

PnP RPGs actually are what you want them to be.

Ive been playing, and still playing, 3rd ed. for lots of years and comparing it with White Wolfs storytelling games, D&D is a joke RP-wise. But that never stopped us from RPing for countless of hours, maybe even more than fighting. The game had flaws. Why the hell should I increase my level as a paladin to increase my craft skill??? So while there were some RP skills their implementation were poor and It was actually annoying that you had to roll all the time. Is this what you call RPing guys?

I haven't played 4th ed. yet so I cant comment on it but if it gives more freedom RP wise without limiting you as 3rd often did and offers a well rounded and interesting combat system I think I have to give it a try.

Sun Aug 30 2009 9:30AM Report
lilune writes:

It's not that there isn't any role playing covered in the 4th edition rule set, in fact there are three mighty paragraphs on PHB pg 18, followed by the new alignment descriptions. Compare what's written there to the entire chapters of previous editions.  The emphasis is now fully on combat where it was once the opposite.  Chanting "the game is what you make it" doesn't change the fact that this thing comes off the shelf as a paper MMO, and it will remain that unless you invest serious effort into making a system for your campaign.

Sun Aug 30 2009 12:58PM Report
Korhindi writes:

I feel you John, as veteran DM and gamer for 32+ years, I know what you mean.  It is hard to explain, but yes, the whole genre, be it MMO, or DnD is lacking something.

I find I like 4E better than 3E due to balance issues, but yes, neither edition has lit my fire.  You are right, the whole thing comes across uninspired and 'flat."

"Change if you don't like it," the pundits say.  Well, for 3 decades I have been doing just that, and I find I must do it more and more with each edition.  It makes wonder why I even bother with buying expensive books if I am gonna have to rewrite most of it anyways?

I think the problem is not so much in the rulesets, but more in the simple lack of imagination being displayed by developer and player alike-- especially in a genre built solely upon the foundation of pure imagination.

We need something new dammit.  I must say 4E has tried, but in its taking inspiration from the MMO genre, it has the feel of a copy of a copy.

I think a fair amount of the issue is not in rulesets, or in MMO progrmming, but in the settings such code and rules are being used in.  All the current DnD worlds are very old (Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun, Dragonlance, Ravenloft being made in the '80's, and Glorantha and Greyhawk in the '70's), or are simply copies of what was done before.  The last DnD setting with any imagination was probably Eberon, and even it was watered down when published.  MMO's have it even worse in this regards.

PS, I double dog dare you John, to post this on the 4E General discussion forums.  The fireworks there would be grand if you did.

Sun Aug 30 2009 10:23PM Report
Frittison writes:

 These discussions are pretty moot if I may say so. This subject is always going to boil down to 'a past moment of glory.'

People who complain about the failings of future products always regress to moments of passed days; when the heights of enjoyment were had.

A perfect example can be drawn from movies. How often has anyone heard the discussions about how bad the Star Wars Prequels, or the new Indiana Jones are in contrast to the originals of our "childhood?"

The harsh truth people need to seek is by asking themselves, "Am I stuck in the past?"

If you are, there is no shame in that. Enjoy the past and look to the future for more of those 'fun' moments. Just do not try to cripple an effort put out by people, whom pour heart-and-soul into, by saying, "Why didn't this game make me feel like I did in the old days?"

Mon Aug 31 2009 12:38AM Report
jus123 writes:

i agree


Mon Aug 31 2009 5:30AM Report
mutombo55 writes:

Yep, as others have alluded too, you're a bit off the mark in regards to 4ed simply because in Pen-n-Paper you can break the rules, change them, whatever you, your group and DM want.

You want to add non-combat "worldy" skills like master painter (zzzzzz), go ahead. Have players give up one skill selection or lose a feat, and bam there's the combat non-combat tradeoff you so desperately desire. Or just rip some character background tables out of another rpg and mesh it in.

Also, the Skill Challenge system they added, IMO, is a nice mechanic to assist or inspire roleplaying when used correctly. Or, if used badly, it can turn an RP situation into a few dice rolls. But then some players may not want to act out a Shakespeare play every session.

Again, its pnp, so its flexible. Atleast now in 4ed, the bard isnt useless in combat and the rogue doesn't wait three long game sessions for that one time in a fight when can finally use "backstab", only to miss.

Also, as another pointed out, each edition of DnD slowly grows and becomes bloated with rules for everything from master painter to porn star.

So your mighty post basically boils down to "MMOs concentrate on combat too much". And you offer no suggestions or ideas, you just point out the obvious.

Meh dont play 4ed, save your money and stick with 3.5, all good, 3rd parties will support you and the OGL.

Me, I'm looking forward to some Dark Sun in 2010, and not seeing master painter and poet in an MMO.

Mon Aug 31 2009 7:02AM Report
oxybe writes:

i agree.

because nothing says "roleplay" like:
perform (dance) 5 ranks
craft (basketweaving) 4 ranks
profession (sailor) 7 ranks


perform did not to say how well you danced, only how much you made in a day doing street performance, as did profession (it had a line where it allowed you to do the tasks associated with the profession, but a sailor needs to know knots as part of his job.  does that superscede the "use rope" skill when tying knots or can you only use it to tie knots in a sailor-type situation?). craft had nothing to do with how well the finished product was made, but how long it took you to make it.

call them RP skills all you want, but they did nothing RP wise really. i can now write out a background for my fighter and say that he learned how to play music without having to worry about being unable to jump or climb due to low skill points.

Mon Aug 31 2009 8:25AM Report
Korhindi writes:

Heh points to mutombo55's post above... here comes the 4vengers...  A group of fanbois more rabid than Darkfall fans, and far worse to talk to because they like to think they are smart.

Looks like this blog has already stirred up the hornet's nest over at the 4E boards...

Looks like i get to watch some fireworks on to sites.

Mon Aug 31 2009 8:32AM Report
Timberhick writes:

I was amused by the OP needing points in a 'skill' in order to use it


However, when it said "Among other things, it makes use of and actually recognizes classic MMO archetypes (healer, tank, DPS, etc), and it is designed in such a way that group play is necessary."

Well, DUH.

It's the point of RPGs, a group siting down to play together...

Then I saw loving of 3.5 and pukefinder and it all came together,

Mon Aug 31 2009 12:44PM Report
tkobo writes:

Im sorry, i just dont see where the big revelation or suprise here is.

Didnt Troop leave Turbine and join WotC after his disasters of DDO and AC2 ?

Was his arrival at WotC somehow supposed to stop their recent trend of making their game seriously more dumbed down and hollow ?

Seems to me anyone looking at this reasonably, would have thought that the addition of  someone who had failed so badly in the MMOrpg field would bring more of that to the Pen and Paper field with his joining of it.

Its like hiring an Enron accountant to do your books.....

Tue Sep 01 2009 2:17PM Report
rev_lazaro writes:

I'm just going to leave this:

Wed Sep 02 2009 12:27AM Report
rev_lazaro writes:

PS -- I didn't write the above article, but I couldn't say it any better than how Greywulf put it.

Wanna see the downfall of the MMO industry by using a 4E analogy? Okay, like a lot of games out there, it's written off as a WoW clone and nobody bothers to look under the hood.

Wed Sep 02 2009 12:28AM Report
lilune writes:

When he put the blame squarley on the PHB  he hit the nail on the head, I'd say.  They screwed up with that big time, and I'm glad to hear they've admitted it and are working to correct it.  I wouldn't be so quick to call the naysayers dismissive though, after all the PHB is the first book you read....

Wed Sep 02 2009 7:04PM Report
Korhindi writes:

To rev_lazaro:  Thank you for the link.  That was insightful and the site itself is quite cool.

Wed Sep 02 2009 11:08PM Report
Eindrachen writes:

I generally agree with the article that D&D 4th edition has screwed up... but it's not precisely the combat that is screwed up.

Let's back up a bit and point out the obvious thing that 4th edition finally got right: magic.  Wizards aren't limited by some stupid magic system invented by Jack Vance in the Stone Ages of fantasy genre.  No offense to Vance fans, but the "spell slot" concept is about as dated as the old D&D concept that elves, dwarves, and halflings were their own character class.

So having casters who gain more use of spells and whatnot is a good thing.  Few (if any) of the archtypical wizards in fiction seem overly concerned about things like daily spell use, and it was definitely high time to kick that concept down the literary garbage chute.

But in this case, 4th edition threw out the baby with the bath water.  They've actually reverted to a more primitive game, the one we used to play in basic, red-box D&D.

4th edition is basically a bastardized war game.

I'm sure plenty of the proponents of the new game will disagree.  Unfortunately for them, every single D&D 4th ed. product that is coming out these days supports (you guessed it) the miniature war game playstyle.  Nobody can point to any 4th edition product that supports the kind of old-school large maps that we saw before 2 years ago.  While 3rd edition might have changed up some things radically, one thing it adhered to even in 3.0 was the old-school dungeoncrawl: the elaborate deathtrap, lovingly drawn out and stocked full of unpleasantness to the tune of fifty or more rooms (and those were the somewhat smaller adventures, sometimes).

Now, some of the "4vengers" will no doubt haul out that trite, overwrought argument: "if you don't like it, you can just add to or change it".

Why?  Why should I first spend all that money on rulebooks, only to have to spend additional time and effort jury-rigging the rules and bending them backward to do what another game already does more successfully?  Being a master painter is, admittedly, somewhat silly.  But what if you wanted to play a more political/strategic game with the same character?  What if the farm-town hero does beat the dragon and get all that loot, and decides to become a noble.  Are some of you really going to sit there and smugly tell me I have to invent rules for this kind of a game, when they already exist in 3.5?

Sorry, no.  It's just plain stupid to reinvent the wheel because someone refuses to sell you one.  The reason some of us disdain 4th edition is because it is literally retarded.  It is underdeveloped when compared to almost any other veteran PnP game out now.  Christ, it's almost a regression back to the original red-box D&D rules.

It's not the players of 4th edition that I dislike.  It well and truly dislike the actual 4th edition content.  I definitely dislike the company that sprung it on us without much forewarning.  But rather than trying to debate the issue on the internet, I found a much more productive way to protest: I boycotted WOTC products in general.  If they want my money, they're going to earn it on my terms, not theirs.

When they come out with 5th edition in a couple of years or so, we'll see where things stand.

Thu Sep 03 2009 4:17AM Report
bverji writes:

I stopped reading after Stradden claimed that 4th forces group play. Both an ignorant and supid statment.

Thu Sep 03 2009 2:51PM Report
Tisiphone writes:

I entirely agree with this post. Excellent read.

Sun Sep 06 2009 9:32PM Report
Sir_Lysander writes:

mutombo55 writes a lot of stuff, above.  This is in reply to that.

You don't get it.  Really, you don't.  Everything you wrote is geared towards roll, I mean combat oriented "skills".  Sure, if all you want is a hack'n'slash, that's fine.  It is a perfectly legitimate style of play, just one that not everyone follows.  And yes, a DM could take hours revamping the rules to make them less combat oriented.  However - who has the time, or the inclination to back-engineer a whole ruleset when someone who's played a while already has rulebooks to work from.   I remember the promos for 4th talking up the point that non-combat spells (like the Divination School) were out - not in the book, and if you wanted to include them, go ahead, on your own time.  While I don't know if that made it into the production version (I had other uses for the cash) that was NOT an encouraging thing to see.

See, if your bard or thief (sorry, rogue) wasn't good in combat before 4th Ed, YOU, not the rules, were doing it wrong.  By "it" I mean matching your play style to the character class.  Go see the movie "Gamers: Dorkness Rising" - a Fighter and a Bard play the same, right?  Of course not.  But that is what you suggested in your post.


Oxybe, the whole point in putting points in non-combat skills is that your character has a limited amount of time, and you can learn one or the other, not both.  If you want to be a master blacksmith and weapons-crafter, you'll need to put ranks in profession(Blacksmith) and craft(weapons) that you could have put in Tumble or Jump - but since you were theoretically learning how to craft weapons as a blacksmith, you weren't bouncing around as an acrobat. 


In Pen and Paper, the rules exist to serve the game the DM is running - Story Trumps Rules.  The Rules give a guideline, a framework, but ultimately it's the DM's call, not the call of a writer and editor nowhere near the gaming table.


Eindrachen, I tend to agree.  The only utility I saw in daily spell slots is that it kept a wizard from continuously burning through his entire spell-book each encounter - but that's why I favored 2nd Ed's optional Spell Point system (what probably was the early progenitor of the 3rd Ed Sorcerer), to give more flexibility.

Mon Sep 28 2009 1:10PM Report
Shealladh writes:

Well after playing D&D for 25 odd yrs it's sad to think of what it's become. What next, a card version with even more water-down BS.

Aside from being a role playing game ruleset I fear it's turned into a glossy set of rules that aren't even worth burning or using as toilet paper.

After reading your argument it would be nice to see a reverse article on how MMO's should be like old school RPGs instead because this way DOES NOT WORK, just look at those MMO's available. Stupidified gank fests with no sign of RolePlay to be seen.

The art in a basic MMO looks better than those shitty pieces of ink splashed in the D&D books. Yep, they even broke that rule, D&D's artists used to be a benchmark for art and from my perspective there are better artists on DevianArt than all those in the rule books combined!

All I can say now is I have fond memories of the past in role playing and I can predict the D&D 5th edition;

Poly Dice set ~ Make the rest up who needs rules.....

Thu Oct 15 2009 9:53AM Report
Riqita writes: 4E is still giving me plenty to RP - perhaps I learned from 3E to make the RP work with just skills and feats. The flavor text for powers is a great boon. Much easier to describe my actions and infintely easier to move beyond swing/hit/miss. I'm actually envisioning moves from computer games to add to the flavor text. I think we need pnp, mmos and crpgs to continue to build off of each other to create more enriching experiences all around. Wed Oct 19 2011 12:31PM Report writes:
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