View Full Version : Avoiding the Culture Shock Traveling to Xen’drik from Pen-and-Paper

09-27-2007, 10:44 AM
The Eberron Travel Guide presents an article to those that have recently arrived in Stormreach on what to expect and what not to expect based on the cultural differences when coming from the world of Dungeons & Dragons.

Dungeons and Dragons Online (DDO) is quite a unique gaming experience in virtual reality. It has many elements that are taken from its Pen-and-Paper (PnP) cousin, Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) and from many other popular Massive Multi-user Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) but DDO, instead of trying to be like one or the other, is a virtual reality experience that is a very complex blending of the two. What many newcomers find is that the DDO experience is so unexpected and not what they are accustomed to, that they almost immediately return back to the docks of Stormreach port and venture back out of the world ne’er to return…which is a shame.

As the differences between D&D and DDO are quite dramatic and may be overwhelming if you are not prepared.

The first thing that you will obviously notice is while D&D is a turn-based game, where you are dealing with decisions and actions based on segments of time (rounds, turns, etc.) and every character makes decisions based on their turn, DDO is a real-time virtual environment where decisions and actions are free-flowing in regards to time. This one fundamental change in how the game is played has led to many consequential changes to some other basic PnP game standards which I will discuss in a bit.

A second thing you will notice is the nature of the Dungeon Master (DM) has changed dramatically. In D&D, the DM presents a setting, the players interact with the setting, and the story unfolds as the players and DM interact dynamically. In DDO, the DM is the writer of a play where the details of the script are left to the actors. The setting is heavily scripted and the experience is limited by the script. Instead of collectively creating your own story, you are instead an actor playing a roll in a play. This has advantages and disadvantages. As an actor in a play, you can experience a story as a communal experience and you can repeat that experience over and over again from different perspectives. One mention of “Waterworks” to anyone and you can strike up a conversation sharing your adventure there. The downside of course is the thrill of discovery is lost quickly and, if you allow yourself to do so, can get lost in just exercising the base mechanics of the game instead of becoming immersed in it.

Due to the fact that DDO is a real-time game, one of the most important issues that have to be considered is the perception of time. In D&D, time is for the most part ignored. When time is taken most into account in D&D, which is combat, it is severely distorted. Actions are based on rounds which approximate out to 6-second intervals. In a round you can remove a sword from a hilt, cast a first level spell, fire an arrow, move to close in for a backstab attack, etc. But those-6 second rounds can easily take anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes of real-world time to resolve depending on what is happening and how many avatars are interacting. While this works perfectly well in the turn-based world, in a real-time environment a 6-second interval is slow and is perceived unrealistic. Actions are then adjusted to what is perceived as a reasonable time according to reality. Granted this reality does not have roots typically based in the real world but are often based on realities created by other popular video games. The consequence is that DDO is a much more fast-paced game than D&D.

Speeding up combat though has created another consequence and that is of monster/adversary statistics. In D&D, taking on a creature that is likely to die in 2-3 rounds is considered an acceptable challenge as this can take about 15-20 minutes of one’s life to resolve. In DDO the same scenario is done in less than 10 seconds. While nothing in reality has changed, this is a dramatic plunge in the perceived difficulty of the challenge. So to make combat feel more challenging, the length of combat needed to be extended. This was done by exaggerating the statistics of the monsters – greater hit points, higher saves, and higher attributes. While a highly controversial change, I think it has been for the right reasons and done with a sense of balance.

Due to the fact that split-second decisions are needed to be made now in split-seconds and more actions are needed to complete a challenge as well as there is much less time for players to strategize and coordinate in the heat of combat, DDO is actually a lot more forgiving when mistakes are made than in D&D. A few swings lost because you were not facing your adversary are not typically the tipping point between winning and losing a melee and it is quite possible to recover.

In D&D, time has a way of being easily warped. As I presented earlier, 6 seconds are typically stretched out to 6 minutes of real time. On the flip side, an 8-hour evening’s rest, a week’s worth of travel, a month of studying a spell in a library, a year of waiting in a prison cell for a rescue party, etc. can be resolved in a matter of a few seconds. In a real-time environment like DDO, an hour is an hour and waiting 8 hours to rest so you can cast spells or spending an actual week traveling to that dungeon in the middle of nowhere is a real drag on enjoyment of the game. So to make up for that, iconic short-cuts have been put into the game world. Spending a few minutes in a tavern or a few seconds at a rest shrine during an adventure gives the same benefit as a full night’s rest. Visiting a doorway or a teleporting non-Player Character (NPC) instantly places your character at the center of the action instead of spending hours, days, or months traveling to those far-flung places. Using these icons is exactly the same as the DM saying, “The evening has passed and (roll of dice) you wake up refreshed as you made it through the night without incident.”

There are aspects of D&D though that are noticeably missing from the world of DDO and there are many reasons for this. You will notice that certain abilities, such as scaling walls, picking pockets, flying, carrying a torch, etc. are missing. Skills are also narrowed down to a core set as well and such things as fletching and mounted combat are not to be had. Although disappointing, there are practical reasons for the missing pieces. The first reason is technical feasibility. Many D&D rules just don’t play well in a computerized environment. Either the D&D rules allow for a lot of dynamic DM interpretation or due to technical limitations of the game code, they were left out. A second reason is lack of control. As I mentioned before, adventures in DDO are carefully scripted plays which often force characters through certain acts. A simple spell like Spider Climb could drastically alter how characters can interact with the adventure in ways not perceived by the author rendering the story a shadow of its original intent. The object of the DM is really to present an entertaining challenge. Flying can have a way of dissolving a lot of that challenge rendering a adventure to little more than a room with a pile of loot at the end.

In the seemingly endless cascade of dealing with consequences based on making the game a real-time virtual reality, the next in line is the issue of the perceived weakness of DDO characters compared to their D&D counterparts. In D&D a single swing of a sword can render a Kobold lifeless or a single Fireball can level a whole room of Hobgoblins – not so in DDO. With elevated monster stats, DDO character appears as wimps to their D&D counterparts. Also with many sub-skills missing from the game, the ability to mold a character into something a bit more unique is lost. On the other side of the coin, advancement in DDO is perceived very slow compared to what MMORPG gamers are used to from previous experiences. 20 levels* just seems a bit…light. To address these issues, a new level of character development not implemented in D&D was created in DDO – the Enhancement. Enhancements are small tweaks to the character that are less powerful than feats and are achieved over the course of earning a new level. So while sticking to the traditional D&D 20 levels, there is a perception that the character is actually earning 100 levels of advancement. Also Enhancements allow for character development to where they are gaining in power to feel more and more like the power these characters would feel if they were living in the PnP world and allows for development refinement allowing for characters to take on a more unique set of characteristics according to personal taste.

Spell casters, such as Wizards, Sorcerers, Clerics, Bards, etc. have to deal with another change from PnP – Spell Points. In D&D, spell casters are allowed to cast a certain number of spells per day. First of all, as the concept of day does not really exist in DDO, spell casters can cast a certain number of spells per rest period. Secondly, the rules for what a spells a caster can invoke are much more forgiving. Each spell has a certain point cost and if the caster has enough spell points to cover them and has access to the spell, the spell can be invoked. Third, lower level characters are given very generous amount of spell points and can cast many more spells than their D&D counterparts. This allows a Wizard to feel like a Wizard at level 1 instead of an intelligent but weak and underdressed fighter that can throw out a few magic missiles here and there.

An interesting note is how DDO departs from D&D in terms of pack space. D&D typically takes a minimalist and practical approach to what a character can carry. In DDO this is not so much the case. In D&D, traveling with a set of armor, a couple of weapons, a few dozen arrows, some scrolls and potions in a pack, some rope, a torch, and some rations is considered well-equipped. In DDO, characters that don’t have several weapons, a few sets of armor, a thousand or so assorted arrows, a few hundred scrolls and potions and several items which casts spells (“clickies”) are considered unprepared.

Another controversial departure from D&D is how DDO deals with the subject of character death. In D&D, when a character dies, the effects of which are wholly dramatic. Returning from the grave is a major event and severely penalizes the character by introducing permanent weaknesses. The effect of which often renders the character to the status of unplayable. In DDO though, character death is common and is perceived as more of an annoyance than any real detriment. Many times characters commit suicide as a cheap man’s teleport to a tavern as the cost to do so is nominal. One of the most common icons in DDO, the resurrection shrine, allows dead characters to be reborn during an adventure actually has no comparative counterpart in PnP. I imagine there are multiple reasons for this change in perception. The most obvious is that such is the model of the typical MMORPG’s and is what players from other games expect. Secondly, until you learn the nuances of an adventure, getting through one can be difficult. The game allows you to learn from mistakes and trial-and-error your way through a challenge and will forgive you for trying. DM’s in D&D have a similar mode of operation where they may fudge outcomes to benefit the player or in drastic cases offer a re-do of the situation if it is in the best interest of the current storyline.

There are many more differences between D&D and DDO but as we examine them they get more and more subtle. One notable example is to-hit bonuses given on swings-per-round. In PnP, the to-hit bonus on swings-per-round diminishes with each swing. In DDO, the to-hit bonuses increase with each swing – another consequence of the real-time environment.

In my perception, Dungeon and Dragons Online is not a replacement for the traditional Dungeons and Dragons. They are vastly different experiences with their own advantages and disadvantages. DDO allows for quick-access, fast-paced, and immersive fun with friends from all corners of the world. D&D allows for imaginative, fun-filled afternoons of hanging with your friends. It is the same difference as experiencing a story through a DVD or through reading the book. Some prefer one over the other but many can enjoy both as they are two views of the same coin.

*Note: as of this writing, only 14 levels have been implemented thus far.

09-27-2007, 11:23 AM
Very nice guide - certainly hits the major points.

10-25-2007, 04:58 PM
The intent behind this guide is very good. There are many grammatical flaws, but the message is still clear. I like it.