posted Sunday, April 16th 2006 by
Further to my previous post, I’ve been considering why the basic dungeon adventure is still so important to the game after thirty years of progress toward more roleplaying-heavy, storytelling-based game styles.
There’s a progression for many players that goes something like this:
- Non-player: I’ve heard of “Dungeons & Dragons”, it looks interesting, I should play
- New player: This game is new to me, everything is interesting
- Regular player: I have played a few games and enjoy dungeon crawling as long as it’s still interesting/rewarding
- Roleplayer: Dungeon crawling is boring and repetetive, I want something more – plot, or character development
- Ex-player: I’m burned out on dungeoneering, and want to play a different RPG with more emphasis on storytelling and character
Now, many of these interested “non-players” never make it to being D&D players – the high initial cost of rulebooks, the initial rules complexity and the difficulty of finding players are prohibitive. Every place which sells D&D books should provide methods for prospective players to join groups – in my opinion. Wizards of the Coast ought to see to this.
Rather, D&D is losing a lot of its potential players – young people who are interested in the fantasy genre and hack-and-slash gamesiness of it – to fantasy MMOs which cost less initially, have an easy learning curve and don’t require players to know established gaming groups already. These MMOs provide a lot of the co-operative hack-and-slash of entry-level D&D.
That’s basically what a dungeon crawl is – entry-level D&D. New players enjoy the game enough for what it is and don’t care for story or roleplaying – in fact, some players may be too embarrassed to roleplay seriously unless with a regular group. This means that the entry-level, default D&D experience is simple, straightforward dungeoneering. Some regular players don’t grow out of phase and will happily crawl dungeons as long as there’s always something new and interesting, which is why we still have people playing dungeon crawls after twenty years.
A downside to online MMOs, of course, is that you don’t get to be “the heroes” – when everyone’s a hero, you’re just a regular citizen in a land where magic is boringly common. People who take up MMOs could be enjoying D&D instead, or as well as. People who leave MMOs after getting bored with the lack of creativity, freedom and heroism involved, could be taking up D&D. Again, this is an area that Wizards really isn’t marketing to properly, instead it’s trying to compete with WoW with an MMO – a dungeon crawl set in Eberron, of all things!
In my estimation, the main groups of demand go something like this:
- New players want anything that’s not going to be overly complex. Especially so with younger players, they will enjoy looting a monster-ridden tomb without demanding logic.
- Old players who still enjoy dungeon crawls will enjoy the revisiting of the old classics. Even if they now prefer story-based events, they may enjoy the novelty of a one-shot in the old style.
- More experienced players, including roleplayers, who will enjoy some level of combat and dungeoneering but will only be satisfied if that goes hand in hand with a storyline, events that let them feel like they’re the heroes of the show rather than monster-whomping tomb-looters. They aren’t entirely bound to dungeon crawling, and may be interested in alternate playing styles as long as it’s interesting and fun.
- Eberron/Greyhawk/Faerun fans, who will find it of the utmost importance that the adventure feels at home in their chosen setting. Eberron DMs in particular will want to be able to mould the adventure path to fit the style of the setting as explained in Chapter 9 of the Eberron Campaign Setting. Greyhawk DMs will want the game solidly placed in their setting using names and characters of yore, and Forgotten Realms fans will want that epic feel wherein gods are watching the party and occasionally tipping their hands to influence events.
- Hardcore roleplayers, who eschew combat almost entirely and only enjoy freeform adventure, ought to hate dungeon crawls and will probably avoid adventure paths entirely.
- DMs, who depending on their players and their own preferences may be looking for a creative outlet of their own that lets them shape the adventure path, or they may just be looking for something to run by-the-book for their players.