Sunday, 23 October 2011

Third level cleric with a crossbow on Facebook?

I meant to post this a few days back when the Hasbro vs. Atari news seemed just a little newer.
Hasbro and Atari resolve D&D dispute (News WotC site)  I really hadn't realised that most of the D&D PC game titles I own have the Atari logo on the spine, and apparently they're bringing out the new game Daggerdale (official release news).

Like many players (I guess), I'm not too bothered about which parent company holds copyright or franchises as long as console and PC games are published regularly and are of a decent quality.  In the case of D&D, it's always preferable that computer games include something resembling the actual dice mechanics in the tabletop game.  So one naturally hopes that the brand won't be just used to sell first-person fantasy shooters.  I don't need graphics of actual d20s being rolled on the screen but I like seeing a character sheet and a get a strange satisfaction with acquiring a ring of "+1 protection" - I'm in a familiar zone.   There's always something a bit clunky about those game mechanics being represented in such a dynamic way, like in combat, but I was more than relieved to see that Neverwinter Nights 2 was working out fiddly 3rd edition Attacks of Opportunity for itself.

The closest I've come to playing AD&D 2nd Edition was through Baldur's Gate (which I have yet to finish and get on with BG2 - shameful admissions time!).  I'm not a MMORPG player - I have gaming commitment issues, so a re-creation of a group experience is not why I play RPG-style games on a PC - it's definitely more to do with structured questing, plausible narrative and the acquisition of stuff.

Even with the stunning graphics of Oblivion part of the fun of playing that game was in the stat building.  It's amazing to think that on-screen numbers and primitive health bars are still part of the strategy. Turn-based fights seem like an anachronism in games and yet it's still a big part of the genre.  Familiar attributes, turn based fights, spell durations - this is all the stuff of tabletop gaming, so sometimes this is the closest a solo gamer can get to exploiting all of their games system knowledge borne from dusty rulebooks.

D&D on Facebook Heroes of Neverwinter
with seasonal additions
- God know what Christmas
will bring. ;)  Link to Fb App
The (Atari) D&D Heroes of Neverwinter (Beta) on Facebook surprised me after playing a previous D&D app (which I've forgotten the name of) which lamely took a reader from one paragraph to the next, with perhaps a combat dice roll.  I mean, would a bit of multiple choice been too difficult?  At least Heroes' actually has graphics - actual dungeons!  They're retro-isometric, too. :)  It's a fun distraction, logging in to collect gold and climbing the levels is addictive in a not-quite Diablo way.

For a very naive and optimistic moment I thought it might be like a morpy-multi-thingy, but the play-with-your-friends side is all to do with borrowing other people's characters, hence the social pressure to maintain a half decent character.  The option to watch your character in someone else's game is interesting in terms of seeing other people's playing style, and the fact that when your character is wounded they my choose not to heal it - the cheek! 

The sinister financial aspects of the game are a less exploitative than in some Fb games, but who knows, one day, in the middle of the night, at an adventure's zenith, a character revival by cost of diamonds, purchased by Paypal might actually tempt me.

It's been a bit stop-start playing the beta - the window can go blank - possibly a problem with server communication (?) and sometimes I've had Flash crashing, which reminded me a lot of the memory leak problems I had with CafeWorld which had nothing to do with the different computers I was using (hmm, Zynga, stop promising the world and telling me to "publish to profile"...).

There's been a couple of extra dungeons set up along a Halloween theme - one is so buggy that it crashed three times and when I log back in I'm asked to return to the adventure which then doesn't load.  Abandoning an adventure can lead to a loss of hired characters and energy points.  Perhaps I've been unlucky, but it can put you off a bit.  Seasonal themes are the disease of Facebook games.  I assume that designers feel that players easily become bored, so they spice up the games with new backgrounds and special seasonal bonus items.  I'm not sure that this is a good idea in the fantasy setting of Heroes, especially if they plan is to slow the game down with multiple welcome notices - perhaps like "Only 2 days left to complete Santas Grotto and defeat the Christmas Trees of Evil" - which is what made Farmville utterly unbearable for me (Gaga-ville was the final straw), that and an emotional attachment to wilting rice crops.

I like my fantasy settings to be played fairly straight and have a consistent reality.  Neverwinter is a well documented campaign world with it's own seasons and celebrations.  I'd be surprised if it's citizens observe pagan or Mexican pre-All Saints Day traditions.  I don't mind the spiders, but please, less masks and pumpkins, if you know what I mean.  Out of all of the Facebook games I've played so far, I'm enjoying it the most, but I shudder at what extra themes and splash pages they are planning.

Does D&D4 PH
make more sense
after playing on
However, what I really wanted to say is that despite the locations and encounters feeling mechanical and a little limited, I'm enjoying learning some of the very basics of the D&D4 system.  Suddenly the new Player's Handbook seems less alien with specific reference to daily- and encounter powers.  I'm still not sure why Clerics or Wizards should be allowed hand-crossbows, but for a very small moment I'm having to put my old-edition prejudices aside and embrace the new laws.

For anyone still baffled by a "Fey Step" or a  "Sly Flourish" maybe Heroes' is a good teaching aid.   For now, my preferences are still with older editions of the game, but at least D&D4 combat makes a little more sense now.

In way of healing the differences between Atari and Wizards, this game may do a lot for introducing novices to the tabletop game (firmly WotC's jurisdiction), possibly more than a dedicated console or PC game.  Facebook app exposure can be massive and egalitarian.  I haven't seen that many good adventure games of Facebook (especially ones where the fights don't look like a card game), so in some ways Heroes of Neverwinter shines.  The bad news is that this is a how many people will discover D&D.  Apart from the odd scene-setter paragragh there's very little here that resembles the creative magic and wonder of a conversation based role-playing game.  But hey, it's amazing that fantasy table-top games still exist at all, even if most of it is just about shunting figures across squares (...says a fan of Warhammer Quest).  Perhaps it's a tactile thing, perhaps World of Warcraft isn't the ultimate be all and end all of co-operative games.

... Yadda, yadda.   ...

Given the choice between this and Farmville, I'd opt for heroes of Neverwinter, but then I was a rubbish farmer.

Almost related ....  (skip this if you're bored of D&D edition wars) ;)

Let's see ... rumours around the return of Monte Cook to Wizards'...

I actually heard about this from Dungeon Bastard on Facebook who was telling us to be "very worried", presumably because those 4th edition power attacks met get pruned back to D&D3.5 / Pathfinder levels - man, I love Dungeon Bastard. :D   He also seems to be on relatively good terms with Mr Cook.

I'm pretty convinced the renewed rumour grenade of a possible 5th Edition, generated by a forum post and taken as verboten "from the horses mouth" is actually a joke or a wind up (?).   Also, it would be very strange if WotC were to suddenly embark upon act of mass wish-fulfillment and return D&D to the 3rd edition style.   But, alack, alas, I'm out of my depth with regards to the soap operas of personalities, joining and leaving games companies.  Upon reflection, the whole Arneson-Gygax-TSR history seems to change subtly wherever I read it on different web pages - naturally revised and recontextualised, which is to be expected.  I am not up to date with the entire bibliographies and work history of Tweet, Cook, Costikyan, Slavicsek, to name a few of the authors and designers names that I actually recognise of the old guard of the 80s (hmm, maybe I should go and check Wikipedia, meh, me lazy), and I know that MC is a significant player in today's gaming products, but he's probably just co-authoring some decent campaign books.   I say all this because even WotC wouldn't be dumb enough to kill the 4th Edition product line so soon...
I mean dropping Dragon and Dungeon as printed magazines was a good move, right?  Damn, I miss printed those monthlies.

I know that some DMs shrug and say "I have a set of rules my players like, and we'll continue playing with that ruleset.  Wizards can do what they like."  The community fear generated by edition change feels similar to fear of new operating systems.  It's about support, and being able to buy compatible products - or even cover design.  If you've spent £200 ($300) on matching shiny hardcovers, interlinking core volumes and campaign settings, there's a considerable emotional as well as a financial investment, and that might be before you've actually played the game.  I know I do this, although I drew the line at PH2 with 4ed, no PH3 for me until I actually play with a group of human beings. (Does that make my opinions about D&D4 redundant?)  There's a celebration of being up-to-date, of being on the cutting edge of the gaming zeitgeist.  My relief at discovering the OSR was immense, that talking about, playing and writing for older versions of D&D is acceptable, because D&D4 had left me baffled, alienated even.  I'd never played any "storytelling" RPGs but suddenly you find yourself hunting about for just an essense of speech, of the "radio-drama", of quirky NPCs, which I'm sure can be shoe-horned into D&D4, but it's certainly not the focus of the game.

Okay, getting side tracked.  My point is that I wanted to see what new D&D was like, bought (and had bought for me) a lot of the rulebooks.    As a dabbler in designing accessories I think I was fantasising about writing OGL products for 4th edition.  Initially I wanted to write solo-text-games.  I had just about felt comfortable with 3.5, but 4th edition was just too bound up with group management and physical space on the battle-mat. Oh well.  However, as a collector, I'm still strangely proud that I own these pretty tomes.

So let's see:  I like older systems or new systems which look like older systems, but no matter what ill guided decisions WotC eventually make, I'll probably end up begrudgingly buying at least the core rulebooks of any new edition because they'll be shinier and more colourful, and I hate not knowing what everyone at the RPG party is talking about (or grumbling about).

4th Edition D&D is right up there with the Star Wars prequels, which I'm glad I've seen and owned, but ... but ...
Oh God, Lucas/WotC (delete as applicable), what have you done to my childhood?!

*Goes off to hug the original red box and browse the net for all-in-one clones*

It's okay.  I'll be fine.

No, really.

Hey, if you're a Facebooker, check out Heroes of Neverwinter, it's harmless fun (if you can repress thoughts about how D&D is not what it used to be).

Thanks for reading. :)

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