Tuesday, April 19, 2011

MMOs and Tabletop RPGs - Sharing Ideas Part 2

In my last entry, Part 1, I touched lightly on the evolution of online RPGs like "World of Warcraft" (WoW) and their relation to their tabletop brethren. I also mentioned that modern tabletop RPGs can learn some things from this newer genre of RPGs that can improve the fun and mechanics of our favorite RPGs. Today we're going to talk about that a little more.

Games Within the Game: I've often noted that one of my favorite things about playing Pathfinder or 3E Dungeons & Dragons is that each class has the potential to play very differently. A Fighter, Druid, and Sorcerer all play very differently, for example (at least in Pathfinder where sorcerers get sorcerer bloodlines); but a number of classes often don't feel different enough to some players; or too different.

Games like WoW could teach us a lot about game design from a class perspective. As of writing this, World of Warcraft has 10 different classes (warrior, mage, priest, rogue, hunter, paladin, warlock, shaman, druid, and death knight) and 3 major specializations to each of these classes (think archtypes) for quite a few options. While I'll touch on this diversity a bit more later, I would like to draw attention to class roles for a moment.

Like in traditional fantasy RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons, you have four major roles: The warrior, the healer, the spellcaster, and the skill user (traditionally the fighter, cleric, wizard/mage, and rogue/thief). Generally the warrior deals physical damage and protects his allies; the healer casts beneficial spells for the group; the mage casts offensive spells; and the skill rounds out the group by tag-teaming with the warrior and using various tricks to outwit obstacles.

WoW has these sorts of roles too (though due to the nature of that game, the 4 primary roles are adjusted a little, into damage dealer, protector, crowd controller, healer). However, most of their classes can preform at least two of these roles as their primary focus; even though the two classes play nothing alike. For example, the Warrior vs Paladin.

  • The warrior has no magic ability. His buffs are limited to battle commands and war-shouts (morale effects, essentially). 
  • He uses special attacks by using a resource called "Rage" which he generates by actively fighting. As a battle goes on, he generates more and more rage, so as long as he doesn't run out of HP, he will actually get stronger and have more options.
  • Has 3 different combat stances: "Battle Stance", "Defensive Stance", and "Berserker Stance" which determine what kinds of abilities he can use, and also provide passive bonuses (battle stance is normal, defensive reduces outgoing and incoming damage slightly, and berserker stance increases critical hit chances).
  • He generally is specialized in dealing damage and protecting allies. Has some crowd control (he can shout and frighten enemies back for a moment), and can break out of fear effects, and can apply some negative status effects with certain attacks (he can slow your movement speed for a short time, make you bleed out, etc).
  • Wears heavy armor and wields a variety of weapons and shields.
  • Is widely considered a powerful but complex class to play because of the need to change stances as you adapt to the battle, as well as having to manage your rage resource.
  • Since he uses no magic, he is virtually immune to being silenced.
  • The Paladin relies on divine magic. He has a buff that's good for virtually every class.
  • His special attacks and/or spells rely on a mana resource which regenerates continuously, but stops regenerating while he's casting or using it, so while he begins frontloaded, the longer a fight goes the less power he will have unless he can recover mana.
  • Has several different auras which provide different benefits, and can choose one to be active at a time (one aura improves the armor of allies, one punishes enemies for attacking you, one makes it easier to cast spells while suffering damage, etc).
  • He generally is specialized in dealing damage and protecting allies. He has little crowd control (he can only turn undead), and can break out of movement imparing effects, and can apply some negative status effects with certain attacks (he can stun enemies for a short time, or increase the chance of landing critical hits on an enemy, etc). 
  • Wears heavy armor and wields a variety of weapons and shields.
  • Is widely considered a fairly simple class to play because most of the skills/spells are fairly strait-forward. Keeping track of the amount of mana you have left is easy. 
  • Since most of his power is gained via magic, he is vulnerable to being silenced.
Looking at these two classes, we can see they have a lot in common, and both tend to take on the same roles. Both are slightly better at different things, and both have slightly different weaknesses, but the main differences is how they work. The warrior's mechanic is completely different from the paladin's mechanic. This is a good thing because the warrior appeals to some players, while the paladin appeals to others, while both can play a melee character they enjoy.

Two classes that preform the same functions while working completely differently. Both are rewarding to play for different reasons, and both allow a player to try different games within the game itself. This allows players to pick and choose the classes that feel the best to them, while being a source of new interest for those who like to try things that are different. A game within a game.

In my own games, I allow players to play Wizards, Sorcerers, and Psions (essentially a spell-point caster). All of these classes fulfill similar roles, and can do similar things; but each plays a bit differently than the other, and some of my players love one, and dislike the others. The moral is, everyone has something they can find that they like, and that way everybody wins.

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