Podcast: How D&D Influenced Video Games

Recently I had the unexpected pleasure of guest hosting two weekly episodes of the Level Up Video Game RPG Podcast with Zeus Poplar. We discussed Dungeons & Dragons, its relationship with videogames, and how tabletop RPGs have inspired both videogame RPGs and other genres of videogame.

Episode 11 — How Dungeons & Dragons Influenced Video Games is up now. Read on for some interesting excerpts.

Zeus: The concepts like hit points and levels and things are just leaking into like every other genre. I think sports games these days, like manager sims, will take it so that you start out with teams at base stats and they just slowly build up.
JD: People really like the idea of levelling up. They like the idea that if you work hard, your guy can get more powerful. Maybe it goes back to school, where if you study really hard you get results or qualifications, and then you can progress onto the next year of school. Maybe that’s why it’s built into people.
Zeus: Yeah, or like work. You do good enough and you get promoted to assistant manager, and then manager, and whatnot.
JD: Or in an army, the more time you spend, your rank goes up, and you get more privileges and more responsibility. So maybe it’s built in to humans, for some reason, maybe it goes back to cavemen. Cavemen respect this other caveman who was more powerful and stronger and whatever, because he’d been grinding boars or whatever.
Zeus: (Laughs) Yeah, like tribal tattoos. There’ll be tribes where if you do good in battle you get to wear this special warrior’s tattoo, if you become a man, or go through a certain trial. So it it sort of built in to people that they want to point at a number, or a tattoo, or like a pin on their lapel, like, “I’m this rank, I’m better than you!”

JD: I think the interesting thing about Dungeons & Dragons or a pen and paper RPG, is that it’s an awful lot easier and cheaper to try out new game styles. An awful lot of [video] games are just taking the last, they’re saying, “We’ll take Half-Life and make our own game like it,” “We’ll take Quake and make our own game like it.” It’s a lot of risk to say, “Lets spend a couple of million dollars trying out a new radically different idea.”

Zeus: The early computer RPGs were trying their best to to be Dungeons & Dragons, it kinda makes sense that after all these years, there’s been a lot of crossover. It makes sense for a pen and paper RPG and a video game RPG to both try and be as much like the other as they can, because it wouldn’t really make sense to divide people between two types of games.

JD: If you have a bad dungeon master, that’s going to be a really boring game. On the other hand, it can be a lot better. It’s possible with a game master that a tabletop game can be more engaging, because you can attempt things that the game doesn’t have rules for, and that’s something you can’t do in a video game MMO.

Zeus: On the episode where we were trying to define a [computer] roleplaying game for listeners, I just came up with, “It’s a roleplaying game if it’s trying to be Dungeons & Dragons in one way or another.” The original dungeon hacks obviously went for the combat, the dungeon, the OD&D, and then later games sort of go for the more core cast of characters, theatre approach, like Planescape: Torment.

JD: Team Fortress is inspired by roleplaying games. There are different classes and characters, and each class is best at its own thing, and you work together as a team. You can have a team of ten people on a side, and person number ten doesn’t feel like he’s just adding 10%. He feels like “I’m the Sniper for my entire team, I’m doing an important job for my team.” It’s the same with an RPG, lets say you’re the wizard: There are some things that only you can do. There are some things that anyone can do but you’re the best at.

JD: A lot of the ideas from D&D really work, for different reasons, and they work in different sorts of games, even first person shooters. The class based system works well because players can feel good even if they’re not the top of their team, they can still feel that they’re important. The level system lets you feel like you’re working toward a goal and achieving things and becoming better, and people like that as well. The hit point system, because people don’t like feeling powerless: “There’s a chance I’ll be hit, and if I’m hit, I’m dead”. There’s a resource management aspect as well.

Zeus: While Final Fantasy and Ultima are like simulated Dungeons & Dragons, Mount & Blade is like a simulated LARP.

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