Saturday, March 7, 2009
I am a proponent of the retro-clone movement. Not because Oe or 1e are the end all be all of game design, it is the spirit and imagination of RPG's being re-discovered by the movement that I find exciting. Having played 4e a number of times now, I can see what the fans of the system love, and old school folks do not. In talking to the the fellows at the gaming table (all life long RPG players) about why they enjoyed 4e, here are the snippets of their responses:
"It makes my character unique" "I am not just a meat shield, I'm a meat shield with special abilities" "If I get a special ability I don't like, I can trade it in on one I do" "I don't have to wait around for a cleric to help me, now I can just self heal" and I think the most accurate comment "It's just like an on-line RPG's now."
It is the last comment which I believe colors exactly why I do not enjoy it. When you think about early computer RPG's, they used pen & paper D&D as a basis for development. This transition took a lot of the book keeping, chart rolling, and details of pen & paper task resolution and adventure creation, then made it weightless. It was weightless in the sense that one needed only to type a key, or phrase, or just hit space bar to resolve any element in the game. You didn't worry about all the books, charts, manuals, and spell effects. The computer simply did all the heavy lifting.
Now the pendulum's swung the other direction and pen and paper RPG's are copying their electronic brethren. That is the problem. The weightlessness of ERPG's instant point and click resolution becomes hundred's of pages of min/maxing convoluted gaming when translated to the written page. No offense to the fan's of 4e but I am uncertain why you play it at all? If you desire all the elements of an ERPG, then why not simply play one?
Back in the day, one played ERPG's when you didn't have a group to play with. It scratched the itch, but was not a replacement-it was an alternative. Certainly with the rise of computing power current ERPG's are stunning to look at and are a lot of fun in their own right. Possibly that is the route RPG's must take now, an alternative to their more popular ERPG cousins.
That being the case, shouldn't the role of an RPG be to provide an alternative experience, something unique to its format, to ERPG players? Think of it, Zelda games have RPG traits, but benefit from the immediacy of ERPG design, simple immediate resolutions and unique game play. So too, RPG's by the nature of their shared storytelling and group dynamics must also strive to build upon its unique presentation of an RPG experience.
In the 4e game there was little "adventure" or "storytelling" instead it was about using all the different abilities and feats in combos to over come monsters. A picture perfect recreation of ERPG's. The battle in analog took about an hour, versus the 5 or 10 minutes it would have taken online. It left me wondering why not just play on-line if that is the style you want to play.
My hope is in the retro movements rise, the core elements of playing around a table and sharing an adventure waves as the banner that draws folks to it. It must play to its strength and revel in what it does best when creating an RPG expereince. Pen & Paper trying to mimic the ERPG experience is an exercise in futility. Lessons can be learned from ERPG design to improve the pen & paper experience, but it should not seek to emulate it.
(side note: I hate the term MMORPG-it is needlessly grand and self important. ERPG (electronic) or CRPG (computer) seem more accurate and less like an arrogant advertising scheme)