Thursday, November 23, 2017

Things I Wish They Did More With, #2: D&D 4E & Video Games.

Hello again, all. Fortunately my long silence since the last post was not due to a freak bus accident, though the height of one of those death-wagons does make it feel like every other vehicle on the road is directly under the wheels when you have the perspective of a window seat. I've been busy with my second-to-last month in the semester, and all that that entails.

EDIT: By the way, I hit 3,000 total blog views earlier this month. You guys are swell. Thanks again for stopping by.

But I've come back to ramble a bit more about another thing that I'm a strange mixture of wistful and grumpy about.

This time, it's D&D 4th Edition.

Hold your cheers and/or righteous indignation a moment, Burrowers. I don't think any system is necessarily better or worse than any other, and I'm not here to spark another skirmish in the Great Edition War (despite the fact that simply acknowledging that the past arguments happened can in fact cause them once over). Though I will be picking slightly at one of the prominent ideas which came up in that debate circa 2008. Specifically, D&D 4E's similarity or lack thereof to certain video games.

It was commonly stated with wildly varying levels of convincing argument that 4th Edition's combat was designed to appeal to the video game crowd. Some even went a step forward and claimed that it was a direct attempt to compete with the MMORPG market, which then as much as now included the monolith that is World of Warcraft. I think that MMO argument is a little silly personally, because they're still too fundamentally different beasts for there to be a clear comparison between 4E and WoW. Unless you widen the conversation to include 4E-derived material, of course.

Hush, you. I'll deal with you separately someday.

I find it odd that besides Neverwinter the MMORPG, the majority of video games released during the high-point of 4th Edition support and popularity were re-releases or enhanced remakes of older games based on older editions, such as Baldur's Gate 1 & 2 or the Neverwinter Nights collection. The sole exception, to my knowledge, is Daggerdale.

Daggerdale was a real-time action RPG and hack-and-slash loosely based off of 4E the same way that Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance 1 & 2 were based off of 3E. Daggerdale included 4E-esque racial traits and class powers, as well as the Tier system which limited the initial "Heroic" level progression to 10, and would have ascended to level 30 if the game's planned expansions had panned out. They did not, apparently due to the game's poor reception and the subsequent closure of its developer, Bedlam Games.

The fact that Daggerdale (as well as Neverwinter) used real-time combat was a very odd choice to me, when D&D 4E was as tied up in the tactical, map-and-miniatures-based combat as it was at the time. You couldn't abstract combat or separate it from a grid of 5-foot squares in a very satisfactory way, unless you include conceptually similar game systems and pseudo-spinoffs like 13th Age. So why didn't 4th Edition games just go with what seemed to me like the most natural choice for a video game adaptation?

That natural choice--again, to me at least--was the classic Tactics RPG.

Though, probably a little less pixelated.

Both use grid-based movement, operate in turns, have oftentimes byzantine lists of powers and abilities which each character could use and keep track of, etc. Character orientation is often a component of TRPG combat, but that convention could be easily ignored in order to line up with 4E rules, since "facing" has been optional since 3.5E.

With a few considerations, the 4E ruleset could have been applied to a video game wholesale, serving even better to bridge the gap between digital gamer and tabletop gamer (if indeed that was the attempt). This could have produced a very good game for one, as well as potentially smoothed over some of the issues which had been caused by the rocky start of the ill-fated D&D Insider digital platform and subscription method. But trying to answer a bunch of marketing "what if"s is a little too far beyond what I'm capable of, so I'll leave it as one of the great unanswerable questions of the 2000s.

But I can at least plug a spiritual successor game which did an admirable attempt at filling the void left by that edition's peripherals.

Conclave was a TRPG created by the appropriately-named developer 10x10 Room and explicitly styled on classic tabletop campaigns. It included grid-based combat, an interesting story, scaling multiplayer with up to 3 other people, and the occasional out-of-combat plot branching which could be caused by Skill Challenges. I was especially fond of the satyr-like Trow, and the molten golem Forgeborn. Conclave hasn't received anymore content updates since its release however, so the base campaign is all you'll be able to experience. Still, the romp may be worth the $10USD, and the soundtrack was nifty.

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