In Convenient Chart Format
I’m working on a much longer article, one of my walkthrough-review thingies, though not my long-promised Alma Mater one (coming soon!), but I wanted to share this little tidbit. In Friday’s 4e game, the Big Fight consisted of the usual — Helena Bonham Carter as “Insane flame wielding sorceress”, two demons with tridents that spent most of their time stabbing at the fighter (which is her job) or belching poison gas, and a swarm of high-level minions since the whole plot involved bringing in a small, elite, army, and while minions are easy fodder for level-appropriate PCs, a guy with an AC of 27 is going to take down a LOT of first to fourth level city guard types before he’s killed.
Anyway, 7 of 8 minions were dead by round 2, though to my surprise, most of them survived to act at least once. Then something extraordinary happened. Everyone was bound and determined to take out the villainess, who had been teleported into a swarm of melee types thanks to the PC chaos mage rolling a natural 1, and I really have to wonder how the fight might have gone if she’d been able to stay back out of reach for a few more rounds, but as Archie Bunker might say, that’s not German to the conversation.
The one last minion (who has been missed by a few area attacks) was standing back, and kept plinking with his crossbow. And hitting. For whatever reason, he was ignored for round after round, and each time, managed to hit a PC from distance, doing 8 points each time… nothing spectacular at 11th level, but more effecting than the god damn (irony sort of intended) mezzodemons who managed to roll 2s and 3s with remarkable consistency.. I think both of them rolled natural ‘1’s in their first round of combat, and one spent most of the combat blind and hoping his poison breath recharged.
Several of the players had commented on how lucky that minion was, and without really planning on it or intending to, when his turn came up, I said something like, “Well, it’s worked so far… Heinrich is going to fire on the druid…”
And, bingo. He was no longer a minion. He had a name, and that meant he was destined for greater things. The druid decided to go into melee with him, and managed to miss with her first attack, giving them time to parley and work out a bit of respect. Turns out he’d been trained in the borderlands of the nation he was from, so he’d spent some time dealing with elves (in my universe, elves occupy the same trope space as Native Americans do in westerns… except they talk like trailer park rednecks and settle internal disputes like Klingons). When he realized that the demons and his commanding officer were dead, he surrendered. And of course, with a name like Heinrich and wielding a pike, he had to have a Goot Cherman Achsent. With a ‘1’ on his Bluff check (“I do not know anything about the invasion plans, for I am a lowly foot soldier and was not told such information”, said in a flat, dull, monontone, obviously repeating a memorized speech), I suspect there will be some Interrogation next.
He’s got stats now. He has made that rarest of all transitions; he has survived minionhood. He still might not survive the PCs, but at least he can take more than a hit point of damage. He’ll probably end up part of the Watch at the player’s home fortress, or maybe in the city they’re currently in, given that it’s having a bit of an open enrollment session at the moment…
So why am I posting this? Because it’s one of the Cool Things About Gaming, the thing that brings me back to the tabletop again and again and again, as a DM and as a player — the allure of the unexpected. In online games, the unexpected is expected — there’s hard-coded lists of all possible events, and even the lowest probabilities occur over and over again, mostly because you’ll keep farming that boss until he drops the uber-item you want, and you know there’s exactly a 1.54 percent chance of him doing so each time. Only in a tabletop game with a human gamemaster can you truly interact with a world in whatever way you choose, and have the world respond as it should. That’s why it saddens me that a major focus of WOTCs apparent design and marketing efforts are on trying to make tabletop games into limited, quick-to-play and quick-to-finish encounters, disdaining worldbuilding, character depth, improvisation, and fun for straightforward “Enter the dungeon here, kill these monsters, exist here, collect your treasure at the gift shop.” If that’s what you want, WoW does it better. You can’t compete with an online game for get in, kill monsters, log out, play. You can’t. You have to focus on what’s different about tabletop games, not what’s the same, only slower paced and with no cool particle effects. However, Hasbro is almost certainly looking at the money WoW makes and the money D&D makes and is saying “Hey, they’ve got elves, you’ve got elves, why are they making more money? Elves is elves, right?”
So D&D 4e has nerfed languages. Bah! There’s still accents.
Eladrin Accent:”Surely you do not intend to attack me with that weapon. Put it down, and I might forget your impudence!”
Elvish Accent:”Y’all better think twice afore you try to use that thar pig-sticker on me, less’n you want it shoved up your ass, sideways.”
Drow Accent:”Oh, like, wow, that longsword is sooooo last century. If you don’t, y’know, drop it, I am going to freak. Totally.”
September 12, 2004
I’ve been seeing previews of your new “World of Warcraft” game, and I think you’re wasting the rumored 50 million dollars you’ve put into it. It’s nothing but a clone of the market leader, Everquest, and there’s really no way you can overcome the huge advantage EQ has on you in terms of subscriber base and development time. They’ve had over five years to constantly refine and improve the game experience; you’ll be starting out where they were five years ago, and doing nothing but playing catch-up. You’ve got the same “Go kill 10 rats” gameplay and the same endgame, except you have almost no raid content ready and I hear that your “innovative” PVP system, using the same “instancing” technology that Everquest implemented years ago in their Lost Dungeons of Norrath expansion, will not be ready at launch. Only something totally new and radical will work — have you considered making it over into a twitch-based FPS game? Just doing what’s already proven to be popular and genre defining, but doing it better, cleaner, sharper, and faster, is no recipe for success. Originality is far more important than competence, and building on your competitors work and taking advantage of all they’ve learned the hard way, and then bettering it, is a foolish gambit. Only the totally new and totally unproven, especially if it’s not what customers have previously demonstrated they’re willing to pay for, will win the game. You may want to look at Tabula Rasa, which has been in development since 2001 and will probably release soon. It’s so original and groundbreaking even the developers aren’t entirely sure what kind of game they’re making — that kind of shattering of genre boundaries is the best way to have a mega-hit. I feel sorry for the developers, artists, and so on who will be laid off when World of Warcraft bombs, dismissed as just another Everquest clone in a field already crowded with them (Asheron’s Call, Dark Age Of Camelot, Horizons, etc). I wish you luck — you’re going to need it.
For those wondering what the hell that was all about, it’s a response I posted on this Slashdot page which was itself discussing this article about how KOTOR (Knights Of The Old Republic) was going to fail, fail, fail because someone who played part of one starting zone which is still in beta didn’t like the quests.
I’m not claiming it won’t fail, mind you — just that if the arguments you make for its “inevitable” failure are exactly the same as arguments you could have made (and I’m sure some people did make) in 2004 to Blizzard, you might want to check your premises.
This was submitted for the Blizzard 2010 writing contest; it did not win, place, or show. Sigh. The version below is very slightly different than the one actually submitted, mainly in that it was not cut back to 7500 words to fit the contest guidelines. Much as I’d like to delude myself into thinking otherwise, I doubt the extra 500 words would have made much difference. This story references places, characters, events, etc, in World of Warcraft and is not intended as an attack on their copyrights or trademarks yadda yadda yadda, the actual story is mine and remains copyright to me, etc, you know the drill.