No, not fourth edition – bundle over to Enworld if you’re expecting the news on that. Lately I’ve availed of Steam’s id Games pack and I’m munching through the entire back catalogue of classic first person shooters in roughly chronological order. Right now, I’m halfway into original Doom. It’s got me thinking about the similarities between the game and D&D, which I’d be hard pressed to believe is fully a coincidence.
You, a lone soldier of unusual toughness, must traverse enclosed mazelike buildings, looting weapons, armour and supernatural enhancements to fight monsters and make it to the exit while negotiating locked doors, secret rooms, and the occasional trap. Sound familiar? Don’t expect me to cry “plagiarism!”, though – after all D&D itself can hardly claim it didn’t carve huge swathes of inspiration from the fantasy sources before it. What’s interesting about Doom is how, despite being over a decade old, its lessons can be applied to the D&D game.
Doom’s weapons are interesting in that different weapons actually work better against certain opponents. The shotgun is Doom’s equivalent to D&D’s greatsword – offensively powerful, downs weaker foes in one hit, but leaves your defences open if you miss. Naturally, just like in D&D, players use it regardless, relying on hit points, armour and defences to avoid damage. In Doom’s case an experienced player learns the monsters’ patterns and dodges carefully, something easily represented by a “defense roll” system as in Iron Heroes. In a first-person shooter, unlike an RPG, player skill traditionally substitutes for character skill.
You later acquire the chainsaw, a weapon designed as a more powerful “out of ammo” backup but which became popular in its own right. Surprisingly, it’s actually defensively superior against individual opponents since many can’t attack you when you use it – careful use of the chainsaw becomes a point of strategy, allowing you to conserve valuable ammunition. The similarly fast chaingun, which in an elegant design move uses the same bullet pool as the game’s otherwise obsoleted handgun, is of similar effect at longer range but spends bullets frivolously. Surviving when resources is depleted in this manner is likewise an interesting tactical part of D&D.
Unfortunately, the offensive/defensive weapon dichotomy doesn’t apply very much to players, at least in the current edition. Ignoring historical realism, the game doesn’t give much benefit to offensive/defensive choices. A shield’s bonus is rarely worth the reduced damage of wielding a two-handed weapon, so like shotgun-wielding Doom players, most D&D players decide that the best defence is a good offence.
What other lessons can be learned? For one, players don’t always know what lies around the next corner, and that’s interesting. It adds risk, and risk is exciting. Players may over-reach themselves or wander into an ambush. However, this can work against you if overused. Players begin to expect the unexpected, can leave them over-cautious.
Darkness is occasionally used to good effect in the first Doom, which can be interesting. Stumbling around, you suddenly see a massive pink demon inches from your face! Even with Doom’s now primitive graphics, it still makes me jump – perhaps because you know it didn’t just teleport in, it’s been here all along, and was watching you intently since you stepped into the room. Players have no time to prepare, and even switching to a more specialized weapon can take too long. Again, risk is exciting.
I mentioned secret rooms. These work just like in D&D and reward players for being perceptive. Usually – perhaps originally as a graphical limitation – the sliding panel is visible if you look carefully, or it’s in an obvious place. Nothing stops players in a D&D game from taking the time to search everywhere, however – a laborious and painstaking search attempt is reduced to convenient d20 roll. This is another spot where D&D and first-person shooters diverge. One interesting game feature, however, is the inclusion of a complete level map as “treasure” – In D&D, this can clue players into secret doors they didn’t bother finding. Even if you only describe the locations to your players rather than give a complete map handout, the dungeon map is as valuable a treasure as whatever you hid in secret compartments.
My top tactics for Quake 2 also work in Doom: Trick monsters into fighting each other, and lure monsters into traps meant for you. Monsters in D&D tend to be too clever to fall for either of these, but a clever plan should warrant a fair chance of success. More like D&D, however, is Doom’s enjoyably exploitable capacity for jamming monsters in narrow passageways in order to take them on one at a time. Creatures without ranged attacks are effectively taken out of the fight for several rounds, and even the ones who do risk firing on their own allies.