[MUD-Dev] D&D vs. MMORPG "complexity"

Ryan S. Dancey ryand at organizedplay.com
Mon Apr 7 15:10:41 New Zealand Standard Time 2003

I can tell you for a fact (since I was in the room helping to make
the decision) that a heck of a lot of the work that went into the
current version of Dungeons & Dragons encapsulated concepts we felt
would be required in the future for MMORPG versions of the core D&D
rules.  If and when such a beast is truly realized (which may not
even be possible with today's tech and bandwidth limits) the "d20
System" rules should be able to support it fairly well.  A
significant amount of work was done with Bioware, for example, to
keep the rules of Neverwinter Nights in synch as much as possible
with the rules in the tabletop RPG, with obviously positive results.

In fact, having played most of the current MMORPG offerings, I'm
tempted to say that the MUD-Dev community has a long, long way to go
before the complexity of the games offered on-line begins to match
up to the complexity of most popular tabletop RPG systems.  Sure,
those systems usually don't bother with a real-world physical model,
and while I have an understanding of the coding complexities
required to achieve those effects I consider them at best
windowdressing on top of what amount to very, very simple games.

Some examples:

Typical MMORPGs have a dozen base creatures, mabe a half dozen
exceptional creatures, and dozens of variations of size and color
(and damage/armor potential).  Each expansion to a popular game may
add a dozen or so more basic creatures.  D&D on the other hand,
includes more than 300 >different< creatures in just the first
Monster Manual, which has already been augmented by significant
additional releases. (MM II, Fiend Folio, Monsters of Faerun, etc.)

A typical MMORPG has basically five types of weapons: a bow, a club,
a sword, a dagger, and an axe.  Variations in type are usually
restricted to additional magical effects bonded to the weapon.  D&D
has something like 50 different basic weapons, and adds additional
types like nets & whips, plus "exotic" weapons (double bladed
swords, spiked chains, etc.)  Each of these items has unique
mathmatical properties, and they associate with trees of feats and
ability scores creating hundreds of character specialty
permutations.  Using nothing but the magic in the Dungeon Master's
Guide, the effects bonded to those weapons create another several
hundred variations.

A typical MMORPG has about nine types of spells, and those spells
basically do the following: heal, harm, buff, speed up, slow down,
make invisible, show invisible, summon aid, banish foes, or provide
instant transport.  Most of these effects are atomic (that is, they
result in a flashy visual display, and then some alteration of game
state, but no persistent effect).  Spell levels in MMORPGs are
usually just provide more powerful versions of the basic spell
types.  For comparison, just using the Player's Handbook, there are
more than 300 spells available for PC use, and there are at least
two dozen effect types.  Higher level spells include the ability to
alter states (eg: ethereal, astral, and other planar travel, become
incorporeal (in addition to invisible), change a body type to wood,
stone or iron, etc.), commune with gods, animate inanimate objects,
grant sentience to animals or plants, research the past or the
future, speak with spirits of the dead, etc.  Many of these effects
are persistent, contingent or time-delayed.

A typical MMORPG has a combat system that consists primarily of
trigger actions.  Characters "attack", "run", "dodge", or take a
special action (cast a spell, drink a potion, etc.) D&D, for
example, has more than two dozen codified actions that can be taken
in combat.  In addition, using feat trees, characters can be
specialized into about a dozen different "types" of combat
specialist, each with different strengths and weaknesses (which in
turn combine with the huge tree of weapon specialization types to
create a nearly infinite potential pool of combat routines).  While
a MMORPG might have a detailed math package trying to determine the
effects of various factors (weapon vs. armor, type of strike,
relative speed of combatants, etc.) because virtually all MMORPGs
rely on the "abative hit point" system used in D&D, all that nice
math is wrung out of the system in the end and replaced by a rounded
set of averages (i.e., you rarely hit-and-kill with one blow because
the system determines that you've got the "perfect storm" of weapon,
factors, and target.  Instead, you swing away a dozen or more times,
moving the net effect closer and closer to the average result with
each click of the "attack" button.)  In a tabletop RPG combat round,
the choices available to the character beyond "attack" create a net
more complex and more detailed combat experience >for the player<
than the detailed math package in the MMORPG delivers.


Ryan S. Dancey

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