What D&D could learn from World of Warcraft

(FYI I’m using the metagaming tag on this post and future posts like it to indicate when I’m talking about improving the game or improving gameplay … not “metagaming” in the negative sense, as it’s become known, where players use their knowledge of how the rules work to exploit loopholes or skew encounters.)

The major time-suck in my life is World of Warcraft. I probably wouldn’t be playing this game if I wasn’t told to learn about it so I could contribute to Upper Deck’s World of Warcraft TCG, but I started playing and now I’m hooked. As a Mac user I wasn’t able to play other MMO’s (PC-only, hooray) but Blizzard has dual-format discs so that wasn’t an obstable. It’s a really good game.

So good, in fact, that it makes me not want to play D&D any more.

Seriously. Me, the guy who used to play in 3 D&D games a week at Wizards, who thinks about D&D in his sleep and gets D&D ideas from everything he sees, would rather play WOW than play D&D. And there are a lot of reasons why, which I’ll cover in various future entries. The thing is, many of these WOW-things aren’t proprietary (WOW doesn’t own them), they’re just smart gameplay choices that D&D could do but isn’t doing, and when you compare them side by side it’s not a surprise why other people (for example, potential D&D/d20 customers) would rather play WOW than D&D.

Let’s take low-level play for an example. The D&D xp system is built around the idea that a party of four same-level PCs must defeat 13 1/3 CR-appropriate encounters before they gain enough xp to reach a new level. It also assumes a typical 4-hour night has 3-4 such encounters. That means that it’s usually 3-4 nights of play between leveling times. That means you play your 1st-level character for 3-4 nights before you see any changes to your character other than what gear you’re carrying. And that means that some kid who’s new to D&D has to sit through 12-16 hours of play before his character gets any better.

Compare this to WOW. Do the initial quests in your race’s starting area and you should get to level 2 within about 10 minutes. While the difference between level 1 and 2 is minor (more health, more mana if you’re a spellcaster, minor ability score improvements), it is still an improvement compared to your 1st-level self. Plus at level 2 you can go to the trainer and learn a new spell or class ability. So it 15 minutes, tops, your character has gained a “power-up.” It’s a simple matter to reach level 5 in 1 hour, and level 2 within about 2-4 more hours depending on your skill (leveling tends to slow down after that but is still faster, as the game supports levels 1-70, so you can think of each WOW level is about 1/3 of a D&D level). That’s nine non-gear improvements to your character in at most 5 hours of gameplay, compared to 1/3 or 1/4 of a level’s improvement in D&D for that much time invested.

Needless power creep? No, it’s just the benefit of the increased granularity of the 70-level WOW class system compared to D&D’s 20-level system. When WOW was 60 levels I just mentally divided my character’s level by 3 to get a D&D approximation of what my character would be … a level 18 WOW char is the “equivalent” of a 6th-level D&D character (in terms of how powerful they are to other PCs or level-based creatures). D&D’s 20-level system simplifies game progression but at the same time limits how often you can reward the characters (in D&D you get larger rewards at longer intervals, in WOW you get smaller rewards in smaller intervals). 

Why do we care? Because Generation Y has a much shorter attention span than previous generations. If you don’t get that player hooked in the first hour, they’re likely to move on to something else. WOW hooks them fast and keeps them hooked until they have several hours invested in the game and can see a drastic improvement compared to when they started. D&D doesn’t do that (case in point, it’s entirely possible to play a session of D&D where you don’t roll dice at all … which isn’t a bad thing in general but is a pretty poor introduction to D&D if you’re trying to convince someone how fun the game is). (And of course there are bad DMs out there who don’t know how to introduce new players to the game, but I hope to work on that as well….)

If we could give more frequent rewards to D&D characters, we could make up for this game compared to WOW. Why is this important? 7 million people pay $15 per month to play WOW … by comparison, your typical D&D release might sell 100,000 copies at best … that’s barely more than 1% of WOW’s market. Even if you don’t care about the profitability of the D&D/d20 industry (and trust me, it’s barely profitable for most publishers), imagine from a player’s perspective what life would be like if D&D were as popular as WOW … you’d basically have 8x-10x as many people to play with as you do now. If a player dropped out it would be easy to find a replacement, even if you were especially picky about who you played with. Wouldn’t that be great?

Fortunately, there are ways to reward players more quickly in D&D. One of them is to break the improvements for each level into smaller packages and hand them out partway through the xp chart for each level (more on that later); this WOW-ifies the level progression (smaller rewards at shorter intervals). Another is to give lower-level characters “freebie” character improvements in those first few game sessions–nothing too powerful, just minor but effective stuff like +1 hit point, or an extra minor spell per day, or a 1/day ability that adds +1 to attack rolls for 1 round, and so on … all stuff that’s significant at lower levels but marginal at higher levels … enough to make the player feel like he’s making progress and maybe give an edge on a single encounter and make him want to keep playing. Make these freebies frequent enough (perhaps even after every encounter the 1st night, every other encounter the second night) that the player can look forward to the next one and interested in the game during the inevitable periods of downtime for selling loot and talking to NPCs. That will make them feel they’re smart for investing their time in the game, and encourage them to come back.

(FYI, this reward-at-low-level stuff already has a precedent in D&D; see the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, where if you play a PC with a class appropriate to your home country–like playing a wizard from the metropolis with the mage academy or a barbarian from the land of the ice nomads–you get a free piece of gear at 1st-level worth 300 gp. That’s a significant boost to a 1st-level character, helps reinforce the flavor of the various regions, and is almost irrelevant compared to a 3rd-level character who has 2000+ gp worth of gear. Net effect: FR players who take advantage of this feel cool, but FR character’s aren’t significantly more powerful in the long run than a core D&D class … which makes the designers and brand managers for core D&D happy, as FR isn’t “poaching” core D&D players.)

41 thoughts on “What D&D could learn from World of Warcraft

  1. More Levels

    I think you’ve just hit the nail on the head in terms of my biggest complaint with D&D. There is little more frustrating to me than to have a really great session right after leveling up because that means either a big jump in power perhaps a little too quickly or no improvement as a result of a very cool session.

    More levels might be the fix for that. As a starting point, it seems to me that we could divide D&D levels into about three or four segments anyway. One segment might be attack bonus, saves, hit points. The second might be skill points. The third might be class features. The fourth might be spell-casting. Break the level chart into smaller increments, and you could maybe even slow down the speed at which the “high levels” are reached while still adding to the feeling of constant improvement. For classes that don’t have much in the way of class features there might be some truly dead levels, though, which kind of sucks.

    LStyer

    • Re: More Levels

      GMTA, I’ve actually developed almost those exact breakdowns. :)
      Classes with dead levels wouldn’t really suck … as it is, you get 3 of the 4 categories all at once at long intervals. With these smaller increments you’d have three short intervals where you got an ability and one short interval where you didn’t.
      It looks like the only core class this affects is fighter (depending on how you break down the level’s abilities into categories), and you can fix that problem either by giving them feat points or adding a minor class ability at the “blank” levels, maybe something like the stunts from Dragon Fist or the maneuvers from the Book of Iron Might. Even something as simple as a “test drive” of a feat for which you don’t qualify yet, which you can apply one (a one-use ability, like a scroll but not actually an object).
      For example, take a fighter that is thinking about selecting Whirlwind Attack (but doesn’t qualify for it yet); he gets a free “stunt” at level 9, useable on any one feat that he could perceivably qualify at level 10. In the middle of a fight he’s surrounded by goons and realizes this would be a good time to test WA, so he uses his stunt to do so (expending it forever). If he likes the result, that may cement his decision to select WA at level 10; if he doesn’t like the result, that may steer him to take a different feat at level 10. The one-use thing means it’s a marginal power-up compared to the baseline fighter and doesn’t result in power creep, but as you probably get a mini-level every game session it still gives the fighter something new to use for that session while he waits for next level when he gets some other mini-level’s worth of benefits.

      • Re: More Levels

        Classes with dead levels wouldn’t really suck … as it is, you get 3 of the 4 categories all at once at long intervals. With these smaller increments you’d have three short intervals where you got an ability and one short interval where you didn’t.

        True. The dead level wouldn’t hit as hard, and the “mini-levels” with the boosts to combat and skills might feel better than the dead levels do in the base system.

        Luke

  2. One thing I really like…

    Druids don’t have animal companions. That’s restricted to hunters. I LIKE that. Druids are arguably the most powerful characters in a D20 game (with healing and good direct damage spells, as well as excellent indirect damage (such as Poison), and the ability to take the form of powerful animals), and adding an animal companion on top of it, which are often times physically more powerful than the druid is just icing on the cake.

    I’m seriously tempted to drop companions from druids, and move them over to rangers only, at the same power levels they get from druids. Even if we don’t introduce them until 4th level, as they are now, that’s fine. I think it will help to reduce the power of the druid to be more on par with the rest of the party, and buff the ranger a bit without adding on anything really new.

    • Re: One thing I really like…

      Druid power is mitigated by the fact that shapeshifting rules are so horrifically complicated that people effectively don’t do it.

      And by “people” I mean the last three people I’ve either played with or run who’ve rolled druid.

      They were all initially excited by the idea of shapeshifting—one of them a great deal. When they took a good look at the complications involved in re-figuring all that stuff, well, one was completely deflated on the spot and wanted to change character class, one just never shapeshifted—ever—and the other tried his very level best to accommodate the rules and was overwhelmed and resigned himself to changing into only three of the forms he’d taken the time to figure out.

      Ugh. Shapeshifting pushes my rant button.

      (The four most retarded things in D&D for my other rant issues.)

      • Re: One thing I really like…

        Good point. That’s partly why I wrote Curse of the Moon … lycanthrope shapechanging (where you just have two alternate forms) is a pain in the ass. Druids, with potentially limitless forms, are far more of a pain in the ass.

        And everyone go read Eric’s entry about the four most retarded things in D&D — all good points, and all of which I’d like to address at some point. :)

      • Re: One thing I really like…

        I could not agree more.

        But to me, the most ridiculous thing about this is the change in the magic item slots and the fact that your magic items fall to the ground or not when you change your shape. Nothing makes D&D look stupider than a wolf with a cape, bracers, rings and an amulet, except perhaps an adventuring party that dresses a dog like that, because the druid needed his magical gear not to meld into his new shape. Hahaha …

      • Re: One thing I really like…

        The most ridiculous thing to me is that you change type. So, if you’re a human druid and change into an animal, you lose your bonus feat and bonus skills and have to re-calculate your whole character. You did keep track of which skills you got from your class and which you got as bonus ranks for being a human, didn’t you?

        Awesome. And by “awesome” I mean “retarded.”

      • Re: One thing I really like…

        I never thought that it worked that way — I assumed it worked like adding a type-changing template to a creature … the type changes for the purposes of spells and effects, but you don’t recalculate all of the stats from scratch based on the new type. So a druid who takes animal form simply has the Animal type (so you can meddle with a druid by casting hide from animals and the like) but doesn’t recalc skill points and saves and stuff like that.

      • Re: One thing I really like…

        In searching for the citation I discovered that it’s been errataed back. You do not lose your bonus human feats and skills when you change… :)

        Other problems, of course, remain.

  3. To play devil’s advocate for a moment though, why adapt WOW mechanics when it requires more bookkeeping and a restructuring of the system? I remember when D&D games used to last for years. Wizards research in 2000 was that the typical campaign lasted for 2 years (lower than my experience). Now anecdotally I have been seeing campaigns getting half-lives from the 2000 research. Many posts appear on message boards talking about games lasting 10 or 11 months.

    • I remember when D&D games used to last for years.

      If I were going to go this route, though, I’d probably use it as an opportunity to slow advancement down a bit. 3rd Edition advancement seems to be both too slow and too quick. Too slow in that there is too much lag between advancements, and too quick in that it takes no time to finish out a career.

      I’d probably divide the XP requirements by a number one smaller than the number of increments I used. So if I divided each “regular level” into three mini-levels, I’d have each mini-level “cost” half what a normal level costs. My instinct is that because the characters are advancing more often, the fact that they’re actually advancing more slowly wouldn’t really be noticed.

      In other words, I think this may be a way to recapture the “epic grandeur” of long-lasting PC careers without players being bored by long periods with zero improvement.

      • slowing advancement

        LS I can see why you’d want to do that, but at the same time if you divide 20 levels — well, 19, as you get all of 1st level at once — into 4-part increments that’s 76 increments, and if you award one per game session and play once per week that’s 1.5 years of weekly games. I don’t think that’s too fast. And that assumes you’re getting one increment *every* game.

  4. Atypical campaign experience

    Var, I think your group/groups is/are the exception, then, as while I’ve heard several people say “yeah my old group still gets together once a month” for the most part campaigns are much shorter duration. WotC research actually found that the typical campaign lasted six months, partly because around that time you’d hit the mid-levels in 1st or 2nd edition and that’s where the rules start to break down and your level advancement is artificially slowed (by increasing XP needed per level). So posts about campaigns lasting 10-11 months actually mean *longer* campaigns than before.

    As for more bookkeeping, if you do it right it’s not really more bookkeeping once it’s on the paper. Take the difference between a Ftr1 and a Ftr1 who has one increment toward Ftr2 (say, the +1 HD and corresponding hp and BAB) … once those values are written on the character sheet, you only need to note which increment the fighter took; if A = HD/hp/BAB then the character is a Ftr1A rather than just a Ftr1. If he next takes increment B = skill points, then he’s a Ftr1AB. Minimal restructuring of the system (I’ve written it up, it takes about three paragraphs), minimal bookkeeping (just add a letter after your level, and it actually makes level-based increases easier because you’re changing fewer things all at once).

    • Re: Atypical campaign experience

      The idea of a quick, in-game reward is what makes games like Savage Worlds and Faery’s Tale work. Rather than an ability, you give the players bennies or essence, which allows them to influence outcomes in a more fluid way. In terms of video games, they act like temporary power-ups rather than level-ups, which you can use at your discretion. Maybe D&D could incorporate a meta-game currency like those in addition to the in-game currencies of gold and XP. In a sense, they act like one-use items but without regard to character wealth.

      -Geoff Nelson

      • Re: Atypical campaign experience

        Not unlike Hero Points either. Giving the players some control over the outcome like this is a really cool mechanic. I’ve seen PCs hungry for this.

    • Re: Atypical campaign experience

      You know, after starting this discussion I remembered a while back thinking of rewriting D&D to have only ten levels, but to give everyone a feat ever half level, so that you got two feats per level. So I can see the appeal. The issue of course becomes one of tradition versus rules advancement. I suspect that there can be plenty of arguments on both sides. One of my theories for years was that classes should spell out in their tables all the abilities gained per level. Some classes on paper don’t look like they’re getting as much. It isn’t until you get to actual play that you see it.

      Interestingly enough, I played in a homegrown game system like this about ten years ago. You increased your abilities constantly. It did require more bookkeeping and rewriting of sheets, making it a lot harder to track back to find mistakes. In some respects it was a nice reward system, but overall it didn’t feel as solid as when you gain that level in D&D. I suspect that my prior experiences are coloring my approach to your idea, which certainly has enough merit to try out.

  5. What D&D could learn from World of Warcraft

    Sean, I know that you are thinking about this from the standpoint of making the game more appealing to the masses and to younger players, but I have to question your assumptions.

    You seem to assume that quick rewards is the main reason why WOW is immensely more popular than D&D (I am sure there is much more subtelty to your thinking, but that’s what your text says). I probably don’t need to mention that the real difference between these games is not the game mechanics, but rather the platforms (or media). MMORPGG, or video games in general, are more popular than good old archaic table-top RPGs, period. I would not put that either on the shoulder of the so-called “attention-challenged” current generation of young gamers. I think that online computer games simply have more to offer in the context of today’s society (gorgeous visuals, instant access to millions of people, no scheduling necessary, no bookkeeping or rules to learn, etc.).

    But to come back to rewards, I don’t know that D&D would be a better game with more frequent, smaller rewards. There are obvious drawbacks such as the time it would take to do frequent leveling-ups during sessions, the book keeping, the higher focus on rules as opposed to story, the increased unrealism, etc. Personally, leveling-up is not the reason I play D&D. I play table top RPGs because I love the social gathering, the cooperative building of a story, and the potential for expressing creativity. Leveling-up is nice, but I would never want it to interupt game play during a session or to be frequent enough that players constantly think about it. And I would certainly feel like a useless DM if the main reason my players kept playing was that I give them frequent cash and power rewards.

    Your other (minor) point, that one of D&D’s flaw is that newbies may not even roll a die in their first session is hardly a flaw in my opinion. This all depends on what players expect. With a MMORPG, you expect nothing but fights. If you expect that when playing D&D and your DM is a more story oriented role-player, then the problem is not D&D, it is the miss-match between player and DM. But if you are told by your DM what to expect, and that your love story driven games, where is the problem? Rolling dice is fun, but I don’t agree that it is the most important appeal of that type of games.

    • Re: What D&D could learn from World of Warcraft

      {Sean, I know that you are thinking about this from the standpoint of making the game more appealing to the masses and to younger players}

      Partly that, and partly trying to address the main problem of D&D: it is, as someone I know once described it, “A half hour of action crammed into 4 hours of boredom.” There are stretches of any D&D game where NOTHING is happening, whether it’s because the DM is addressing one player privately, or your character is unconscious, or even in between your turns in a combat. Boredom does not lead to a fun game experience. Boredom, in fact, makes you want to find something else to do.

      {You seem to assume that quick rewards is the main reason why WOW is immensely more popular than D&D (I am sure there is much more subtelty to your thinking, but that’s what your text says).}

      Well I don’t think it was the main reason, but it certainly is a significant reason.

      {I think that online computer games simply have more to offer in the context of today’s society (gorgeous visuals, instant access to millions of people, no scheduling necessary, no bookkeeping or rules to learn, etc.).}

      I agree with all of that — it’s all stuff I mentioned in my original WOW review on my site, in fact.

      {But to come back to rewards, I don’t know that D&D would be a better game with more frequent, smaller rewards. There are obvious drawbacks such as the time it would take to do frequent leveling-ups during sessions}

      I’m not suggesting frequent level ups *during* sessions, I’m suggesting that rather than having one big level-up after every four sessions, you have one small level up after *every* session.

      {the book keeping}

      Already not an issue, as I mentioned in a prev comment. :)

      {the higher focus on rules as opposed to story}

      I don’t see how this follows. If anything, this allows a DM to more easily reward story progress instead of just monster progress. If you break a level into 4 increments, a night where the PCs advance the story, whether or not it involves combat, means they gain 1 increment. A night that’s a big step forward or a regular step plus a combat = 2 steps. You don’t need to track XP at all (unless you have an item-crafter in the game) so the game is focused less on numbers. And it has the benefit that the players can see significant progress every time they play.

      {the increased unrealism}

      I don’t see how a tiny bit of progress every game is any more unrealistic than a big amount of progress every four games. “I just gained an arbitrary amount of experience, and am now more powerful!”

      (to be continued, LiveJournal apparently limits the size of a post)

    • Re: What D&D could learn from World of Warcraft

      {Personally, leveling-up is not the reason I play D&D. I play table top RPGs because I love the social gathering, the cooperative building of a story, and the potential for expressing creativity.}

      Then you should be equally comfortable playing a rules-light or even a no-rules live-action RPG. But the basic premise of D&D (it’s in the books) is that PCs kill monsters, take their stuff, get more powerful so they can face bigger monsters, and repeat. And the model we use for that (the rules) could handle it better so it maintains new-player interest.

      {Leveling-up is nice, but I would never want it to interupt game play during a session or to be frequent enough that players constantly think about it.}

      I don’t know about “constantly” think about it, but if your players aren’t spending at least *some* of their time leveling up, I’d wonder why they’re playing D&D instead of some rules-light storytelling game. Anyway, I wouldn’t want it to happen during play either, any more so than “regular” leveling should take place during play.

      {And I would certainly feel like a useless DM if the main reason my players kept playing was that I give them frequent cash and power rewards.}

      If that’s the main reason, I agree. But then again I suspect you’re not a teenager or college student whose mind is frothingly distracted by girls, homework, girls, video games, girls, parents, Mtv, and girls. When someone like that looks back over three weeks of gaming where their character didn’t make any tangible gains, they’re going to wonder if that wasn’t time better spent chasing skirts, doing homework, trying to beat the latest Xbox game, talking their parents out of some more money, or simply hanging out with friends at the mall.

      {Your other (minor) point, that one of D&D’s flaw is that newbies may not even roll a die in their first session is hardly a flaw in my opinion. This all depends on what players expect. With a MMORPG, you expect nothing but fights. If you expect that when playing D&D and your DM is a more story oriented role-player, then the problem is not D&D, it is the miss-match between player and DM.}

      Actually it’s a mismatch between the DM and the game — if the DM is consistently running games where what is on your character sheet doesn’t matter (you’re not rolling dice so your bonuses and penalties are irrelevant), why have a character sheet at all? Why play D&D at all? I could easily run a game where players describe their character in general terms without having any specific numbers and they could fight, pick locks, or whatever perfectly well without those numbers … but it wouldn’t be D&D. I’ve argued many times that I can run a game in any genre with any RPG rules and make it work (it’s a better fit for some combos, but still doable) … does that mean that D&D is designed for a romance-novel campaign? Or a gritty man-vs-nature survival game where you’re fighting the elements rather than ogres? No. D&D is designed so that you can have frequent tactical-placement battles between heroes and monsters; the game assumes you’re going to have 3-4 fights per game session! Saying that not rolling dice in D&D isn’t a big deal is like saying not collecting money in Monopoly isn’t a big deal — on the contrary, it’s a major element of the game.

      (to be continued)

      • Re: What D&D could learn from World of Warcraft

        {If that’s the main reason, I agree. But then again I suspect you’re not a teenager or college student whose mind is frothingly distracted by girls, homework, girls, video games, girls, parents, Mtv, and girls. When someone like that looks back over three weeks of gaming where their character didn’t make any tangible gains, they’re going to wonder if that wasn’t time better spent chasing skirts, doing homework, trying to beat the latest Xbox game, talking their parents out of some more money, or simply hanging out with friends at the mall.}

        Okay, you raise a really good point about attention spans that I hadn’t considered here. Or rather, that I dismissed because it’s not my experience. (I wonder if they’ll find changes in the brain between folks raised pre-computer age and post. Anyway.)

        Trying to appeal to that is a good thing, even if it doesn’t appeal to me. I know anecdotally from playing with my ten year old that she loves just killing things and pretending to be a little flying spryte winter witch. She’s a born lever puller. But that’s one kid. I can’t speak for the vast majority. And D&D can help keep a lot of kids engaged and not doing alcohol and pot all the time. It has the advantage of being social over WoW too (although I know some guilds meet up in real time, etc).

        What really needs to happen is some research. To test over a span of time if the levelling rewards change has any impact on long term interest. It would be cool research because you’d also have to somehow factor in DM ability.

    • Re: What D&D could learn from World of Warcraft

      Now, I’m not saying that having a D&D night with no fight isn’t a bad thing; sometimes you need to investigate stuff, or hear lore, or craft items, or whatever. One of those nights every few sessions also lets you start anticipating the next session where there *is* a fight (and similarly, the nights with fights let you anticipate the next session where there’s a lot of noncombat plot development). To continue using the Monopoly analogy, it’s ok if you go don’t collect any money on your turn … you know you’ll collect some eventually, perhaps on your next turn or perhaps because another player lands on one of your properties. But if you go for a significant part of the game without collecting any money, that’s not fun.

      To use a cooperative rather than a competitive analogy, let’s play a game of football (aka soccer). You play with your friends, you’ve played together a long time and you play well. You’re a fullback. The forwards and halfbacks on your team are so good that you never actually get close to the ball (it’s always on the opposing team’s side of the field, or when your team is on defense they quickly recover the ball and go on offense). You’ve spent an hour out in the sun standing around. It may be a nice day, you may be out with your friends, but was your goal to get a suntan or was it to kick a ball around? Answer: you were there to kick a ball around, and you didn’t get to do that.

      {But if you are told by your DM what to expect, and that your love story driven games, where is the problem?}

      Is that how you recruit new people to D&D? “Hi, we want to hang around and talk and advance a story, and we rarely fight monsters”? I don’t think so … when convincing people to try D&D, don’t you tell them, “It’s like creating your own fantasy story with magic and monsters, like Lord of the Rings or Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, Conan, Monte Python and the Holy Grail, Clash of the Titans, or the Princess Bride”?
      What do all of those movies have in common? Story … and fights. Lots and lots of battles. Small battles, big battles. Lots of conflict that requires dice rolling. And if you promise a new player an event like that and they spend their entire first session walking around Hobbiton discussing rumors and they never actually get to *do* anything about it during those four hours, you have cheated that player, if not actually lied to them.

      The whole point of my original entry on this topic is that you have to hook new players quickly or they’ll lose interest. And four game sessions where their character is the same as he started isn’t interesting. Especially if you promise them an action movie and make them sit through a historical period drama.

      • Re: What D&D could learn from World of Warcraft

        (As an aside, here is where I make a sniping comment about the old Traveler RPG, where all of your character improvements happen during character creation and you don’t actually change or improve during gameplay. You could play the same character for 2 years of weekly games and the only thing that would change is your gear. Bah! What’s the point, might as well play Super Mario.)

      • Re: What D&D could learn from World of Warcraft

        Yes, original Traveler was the most fun for character creation. We used to sit around and roll up PCs for hours, then never play.

  6. Shouldn’t you be writing HtBS instead of posting huge anwers like that … LOL

    {half hour of action crammed into 4 hours of boredom}

    What you are saying makes sense, but my point is that table-top RPGs are never going to be as satisfactory as WOW to the audience you are targeting. Whatever the mechanics you implement in D&D and however fast you make rewards, D&D will always be a slow game. You can not compete with computer games on that front. For D&D to survive, I believe designers have to put emphasis on what makes D&D unique compared to computer games, and not on trying to make D&D like computer games.

    {the basic premise of D&D (it’s in the books) is that PCs kill monsters, take their stuff, get more powerful so they can face bigger monsters, and repeat}

    I agree with you that tactical combat is an important and essential part of D&D. My comments on social gathering and story was meant to explain why I play D&D much more than WOW, and not to say that I don’t like to fight monsters. But to me, that is not related to how frequent the rewards should be. Fighting really cool monsters in many different situations is incredibly fun and rewarding by itself, regardless of changes on your PC sheet. Having more changes on your sheet will not make the fights more interesting.

    As for your analogies with Monopoly and soccer, I don’t buy them. In soccer, if you don’t touch the ball or otherwise be part of the action, there truly is nothing to do. In D&D, if you are not fighting a monster, there are tons of fun things to do. I really don’t think that the character sheet is the be-all end-all of D&D. The character sheet is important and requires whole books to develop, but this is because the tactical rules are much more precise and detailed than the role-playing rules. But a D&D game can be fun even when the character sheet is not used, and spending parts of a D&D session whithout using a PC sheet does not mean that a rules-light game is better for me. You can very well make use of the great D&D rules when you need them (and I use them every session), and role-play the rest of the time. D&D need not be unidimensional. Actually, I believe that this is the sole reason why D&D still is popular, because if it was only about fights and PC sheets, there would be no reason not to play MMORPGs instead.

    {The whole point of my original entry on this topic is that you have to hook new players quickly or they’ll lose interest. And four game sessions where their character is the same as he started isn’t interesting.}

    I just can not agree that the only thing that is interesting to a player is how his stats change. What about how cool the fights were? What about how interesting and intriguing the story is? What about how much fun it was to hang out whith friends and goof around? These are the things that make people come back, not changes on the PC sheet.

    • {Shouldn’t you be writing HtBS instead of posting huge anwers like that … LOL}

      I wish, but when I’m up with insomnia at 4:30 I feel like talking, not writing. :)

      {What you are saying makes sense, but my point is that table-top RPGs are never going to be as satisfactory as WOW to the audience you are targeting.}

      Right, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to drag D&D out of the stone age so that it’s in the same leage as computer games.

      {Whatever the mechanics you implement in D&D and however fast you make rewards, D&D will always be a slow game. You can not compete with computer games on that front. For D&D to survive, I believe designers have to put emphasis on what makes D&D unique compared to computer games, and not on trying to make D&D like computer games.}

      Unfortunately designers can’t write manuals on how to make engrossing stories with detailed plots that make players forget their daily troubles. Some things just can’t be taught, else Keanu Reaves would be getting the Oscar for best actor every year. So as a designer I’m trying to fix what I can: an obvious D&D drawback compared to the game that is 10-100 times as popular.

      {But to me, that is not related to how frequent the rewards should be. Fighting really cool monsters in many different situations is incredibly fun and rewarding by itself, regardless of changes on your PC sheet. Having more changes on your sheet will not make the fights more interesting.}

      I’d argue that if the character isn’t changing, you may as well just run fights over and over again with the same PCs against different monsters to see the outcome. But then you’re basically playing a wargame.
      Anyway, I’m not talking about making *fights* more interesting, I’m talking about making *the experience of having a character that is supposed to improve and grow over time* interesting. Which do you think is more fun, a character that once a year gets new cool things to do, or one that gets them once a month? Which is cooler, getting them once a month or once a week? Logistically you don’t want it more often than that (else you spend in-game time upgrading your character) but improving after every game (week) is already something we’re used to in the real world … you get paid every week, sports statistics update after every game, movie sales info comes out every week, you know you total points in class after every assignment, etc. Our entire western culture is focused on immediate feedback. Leveling once a month isn’t immediate in any sense of the word.

      {As for your analogies with Monopoly and soccer, I don’t buy them. In soccer, if you don’t touch the ball or otherwise be part of the action, there truly is nothing to do. In D&D, if you are not fighting a monster, there are tons of fun things to do.}

      Sure there are tons of fun things to do … when it is your turn, assuming your character is built for doing that sort of thing. In a group of 4 players, each player probably gets only about 25-50% of the DM’s attention for the whole night (this adds to over 100% because sometimes the DM can address two or more players at once). And that’s if the DM is good, which is often not the case. It’s easy for the DM to end up talking to one player for 30 mins with the other players have to wait. You can have the same problem with fights — I watched a game where a friend of mine DM’d a 4-hour random encounter battle with 4 ghouls; that really wasted everyone’s time because they weren’t doing anything relevant to the plot. If RPGing is about story, and you’re not moving the story forward, you’re wasting time. You might as well just be chatting and not playing a game at all. My time is precious to me. If I spend 4 hours doing something, I want to have something to show for it, whether it’s a game, seeing a movie, making a meal, or taking a trip. Reward me for my time! I don’t care if that reward is a big clue to move me closer to resolving the plot, or some sort of numerical benefit on my character sheet, but when I get neither, I am unsatisfied.

      (continued…)

    • {I really don’t think that the character sheet is the be-all end-all of D&D. The character sheet is important and requires whole books to develop, but this is because the tactical rules are much more precise and detailed than the role-playing rules.}

      “Much more precise” because there are no rules for roleplaying. :)
      I agree, the character sheet isn’t the be-all end-all of D&D. But it’s an easy way to measure progress. And it’s tangible, and points directly at a character’s survivability, moreso that “+300 XP” does.

      {But a D&D game can be fun even when the character sheet is not used, and spending parts of a D&D session whithout using a PC sheet does not mean that a rules-light game is better for me.}

      That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that the most exciting parts of gaming are accomplishing things and getting rewarded for it. One reward built into the game is leveling. Rewarding people sooner is better than rewarding them later, even if the reward is in multiple smaller pieces.

      {I just can not agree that the only thing that is interesting to a player is how his stats change. What about how cool the fights were?}

      I can get cool fights playing a video game or watching Die Hard. Why play D&D?

      {What about how interesting and intriguing the story is?}

      I can read a good story in a book or watch a movie with a good story. Why play D&D?

      {What about how much fun it was to hang out whith friends and goof around?}

      I can do that at a restaurant or the mall or a bar or museum. Why play D&D?

      Because part of the fun of D&D is that your character is rewarded for the stuff he does.

      {These are the things that make people come back, not changes on the PC sheet.}

      Then do away with the character sheet. Never reward your players with changes to their character — and see how long they keep coming around. If the character isn’t changing in some way, how are you playing a game? Aren’t you just talking?

      • Before the last part of your last reply, I was reading along thinking “yeah, ok, I see his point, it’s a slightly different take than mine, but I kind of agree”. But then, I read the ending, and what can I say … I don’t think that makes any sense!

        {I can get cool fights playing a video game or watching Die Hard. Why play D&D?
        I can read a good story in a book or watch a movie with a good story. Why play D&D?
        I can do that at a restaurant or the mall or a bar or museum. Why play D&D?
        Because part of the fun of D&D is that your character is rewarded for the stuff he does.
        Then do away with the character sheet. Never reward your players with changes to their character — and see how long they keep coming around.}

        You are basically saying that D&D is nothing but a game about leveling. Come on!!?? Tell me with a straight face that the only and main reason you played in Monte’s game was so that you could level up your character.

        Of course there are other ways in life for playing throught fights, getting good stories and hanging out with friends. But D&D is a great and almost unique way of getting all of that in one event. Something you can not get as efficiently in WOW, for example. The emergent properties that come from all of these aspects, including but certainly not limited to leveling-up, is what makes D&D a fun game.

        {If the character isn’t changing in some way, how are you playing a game? Aren’t you just talking?}

        First, since when is this the definition of a game? I know a lot of games that are based solely on words. Having a character that changes is not the definition of the word game, and is not the only way a game can be fun.

        But this is getting into rhetorics, and far from the original point. I am not advocating that D&D should do away with leveling, in fact I have not said that in any of my posts. I am saying that I don’t know that leveling up after every session instead of every 4 sessions is going to make the game more fun and appealing to today’s teenagers. The reason being that even if you implement that change, the core of how the game is played is still incredibly slower than computer games.

      • {You are basically saying that D&D is nothing but a game about leveling. Come on!!?? Tell me with a straight face that the only and main reason you played in Monte’s game was so that you could level up your character.}

        Not at all. But I am saying that that is an easy HOOK for people that are new to the game, especially people promised exciting adventure and used to cool rewards. You today are not the gamer you were 10 or 15 years ago, and I suspect your younger self had different goals for and wants from their gaming experience.

        {{If the character isn’t changing in some way, how are you playing a game? Aren’t you just talking?}}

        {First, since when is this the definition of a game?}

        Well in this context I was talking about a D&D game. There are many games where there are no goals or rewards; “how to host a murder” games are one (it’s all about story and plot). But a big element of D&D is improving your character and if you’re not doing that then you’re taking away part of the basic idea of D&D.

        It’s like the difference between playing a game of baseball and just “playing catch.” One has goals and tracks improvement, the other doesn’t. Playing catch may be fun but it’s not the same as baseball, right? If I invite you to join my baseball league, but every week we just end up playing catch, you’d be disappointed.

        (Or compare playing basketball to just “shooting hoops” … one is a game with goals, the other is merely an activity. A fun activity, but not the same thing.)

        {I am saying that I don’t know that leveling up after every session instead of every 4 sessions is going to make the game more fun and appealing to today’s teenagers. The reason being that even if you implement that change, the core of how the game is played is still incredibly slower than computer games.}

        Fair enough, but I think *trying* it is worth a shot rather than assuming “we can’t compete with them” or “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” :)

      • {I think *trying* it is worth a shot rather than assuming “we can’t compete with them”}
        yes, definitely.

        Alright, enough of my complaining.

        You have made your point, and I see where you are going and why. Like others in this thread (and despite my posts), I am actually curious about how you plan on making these rules changes … but don’t start on that before you’ve finished HtBS ! :-)

      • I think joy of D&D is that it is about the cool fights & the story & the social interaction & the advancement. It’s about ALL of it. D&D for just the fights is like warhammer, for just the story is like telling scary around the campfire when you were kids, for just the social is like playing craps at home w/ really weird dice, and for just advancement is kinda stupid since it doesn’t really happen all that often. tho, i do agree that advancement doesn’t happen often enough to hold people’s attention. looking forward to seeing firmer ideas on how to split up levels from you, sean.

    • What you are saying makes sense, but my point is that table-top RPGs are never going to be as satisfactory as WOW to the audience you are targeting. Whatever the mechanics you implement in D&D and however fast you make rewards, D&D will always be a slow game. You can not compete with computer games on that front. For D&D to survive, I believe designers have to put emphasis on what makes D&D unique compared to computer games, and not on trying to make D&D like computer games.

      This is an interesting point, but it brings up something I’ve run into myself when I advocate modernizing D&D.

      Modernizing D&D hinges on the assumption that the target audience for D&D are teenagers. I’ve been told that this is not D&D’s target audience for new players.

      The feedback I get is that D&D’s target audience is college-aged people who’re interested in hobby gaming. Therefore, I’m told, one doesn’t need to make D&D more like a video game. Anyone who’d be interested in short attention span theater is not someone D&D is supposed to appeal to in the first place.

      Therefore, there’s no need to modernize D&D but, instead, to keep it like it is.

      See, my assumption was that D&D is supposed to get new players into the hobby. And new players = teenagers. I probably think that because my first D&D game was at age 12.

      If the feedback I’ve heard is true, then doesn’t the modernization of D&D argument collapse? If teenagers are being ignored, in a sense, then why try to appeal to them?

      My thought is that’s the only way for the hobby to survive, is by bringing in new—and young—blood, but apparently other people don’t think so.

      • From what I remember of TSR/WotC’s marketing and goals for D&D is that it is intended for (as I usually quote it at conventions and online) “college students and intelligent teens.” If we ignore the teens (which includes 17, 18, and 19 year olds busy playing video games, driving, and chasing girls) we’ve lost a big chunk of our potential audience.

        I believe that most of the people who started playing 3E are former 1E and 2E buyers wanting to see how the new rules are, not a sudden influx of new gamers. Thus, we gotta make the game interesting to “intelligent teens” before they turn into college students and have to worry about finals, jobs, beer, and birth control.

  7. Sean,

    Added you as a friend. Been a fan since your work at TSR, and really like your work and thought processes. Your website is cool (please, please, please finish Blades of Faerun ;) ), and came across your blog.

    Also, have gotten sucked into WoW since Oct. ’06, and agree completely with what you say in this post. Small rewards at small intervals gives a much more palatable sense of progression, and agree that D&D should implement the same.

    Best of luck in your work and your move to LA,

    jw

  8. Talked with Stan! and Hyrum over lunch and really my side of the discussion with ChefOrc is this: The D&D books presume a particular style of play (fight, loot, etc.). A lot of people use the D&D rules system to run their campaign because they’re familiar with those rules, but they’re not really playing the D&D game … they’re playing a storyteller or rules-light game. Which is fine and I know a lot (?) of people like that, but it doesn’t mean you’re playing D&D. The point of my blog entries like the one that started this is that I’m trying to fix problems with D&D, not RPGs in general.

    • {the D&D books presume a particular style of play (fight, loot, etc.)}

      This is certainly one possible style of play, but it is not the only one by any means. Just look at p.7-8 of the DMG, THE core book that explains how to play D&D. It says there that in some D&D games ” … the focus isn’t on combat but on talking, developping in-depth personas, and character interaction. A whole game session may pass without a single die roll”.

      In addition, there are multiple D&D game books that are focused on history and cultures, like campaign settings, as well as official adventures that promote role-play. These are all official D&D products, and therefore the game is explicitely not defined as hack-and-slash followed by loot (although it is a significant portion of it).

      • Yargh, hit the wrong button and lost my post. Short form:
        Yes, you can play other styles of games using the basic D&D engine, but optimally the D&D engine is best for playing D&D games where there are a lot of fights and a lot of treasure (why else do combat and treasure take up most of the books?). You can play American football as “touch football” (without tackling) but that really changes the dynamics of the game — someone good at standard American football is good at pushing on despite people grabbing at them, whereas in touch football such a person isn’t at an advantage because all you have to do is touch them. Likewise in D&D, if you’re using D&D to play a romance game, the Charisma abstraction (physical + social) is not the best mechanic. Heck, I’ve thought about writing a Moulin Rouge!-inspired setting where everyone is a bohemian searching for Freedom, Beauty, Truth, and Love, and you’d have stats based on those four and very little combat … I could use the D&D engine but it’s really a d20 game rather than a D&D game.
        Another example: when you change apartments you can use a Jeep to move your stuff or you can use a big truck. The truck is designed for moving many items, especially big items, and is therefore ideal for moving an apartment. The Jeep isn’t as good at it but you can make do. Not saying that Jeeps suck or that trucks rule, just recognizing that some things are better than others for some purposes. And in some cases if you want a Jeep to act like a truck you have to modify it (like stick a trailer hitch on the back so you can pull a flatbed or trailer).

  9. Stumbled

    Hey, I just stumbled across this post and it interested me because I addressed the same problem in a home-brew setting I wrote earlier this year. Here’s how I did it (cut and paste from my new general rules document):

    Incremental Level Gain

    Option 1 Gain BAB and Skills
    Option 2 Gain HD and Saves
    Option 3 Gain Class Features
    After all three options are taken:
    ->Gain Level dependant feats and score adjustments.

    For example a character who has just attained third level and is on his way to forth; at one third of the way to forth he gets either option one, two or three. At this point he is still considered third level for all intents and purposes, but he has gained a little experience and is a little better for it. At the next third of the way to level four he can choose either of the two remaining options. At the next third, he gets the final option and also gets to select any level dependant feats or score adjustment to which he is entitled. In this case he would get to select one score adjustment. At this point he is considered to be forth level for all intents and purposes until he acquires all three options again and is fifth level. In game terms, the character must rest and study or train for at least a night to gain the new abilities.

    Design notes: I find D&D leveling to be too “all or nothing.” Gaining a host of abilities all at once is unrealistic, even in a fantasy RPG. Hopefully players will find this more organic, and it gives another small layer of strategy to the game. This might also cut down on the amount of paperwork and recalculating that gets done every time one levels up. In this case the recalculating is spread out over a whole level, and might very well serve to speed up game play. I don’t intend this system to be used with experience points, even though it could be. This would work best in a scenario where the GM simply declares when the characters have gained enough experience to gain some ability. This should also helps to measure out gain, so the players get rewards after having accomplished something meaningful after a particular encounter, even though it may not be time for them in terms of the story to be the next level just yet.

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