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

Travis Casey efindel at earthlink.net
Thu May 8 11:58:20 New Zealand Standard Time 2003

Tuesday, May 06, 2003, 3:19:20 PM, Threshold RPG wrote:
> On 21 Apr 2003, at 14:36, Ryan S. Dancey wrote:

> I want to preface this entire reply by saying this is not to be
> interpreted as a slam on D&D. I love D&D. I look forward to my
> weekly gaming group enormously. When it gets cancelled, I am
> seriously bummed out!

> But the system is simple compared to a computer RPG and that is a
> good thing. The game would be nigh unplayable if it even
> approached the complexity of even your above average MUD.

"Playability" is a relative thing.  I know people who consider chess
to be too complicated a game -- to them, it's unplayable.
Obviously, though, there are those who consider chess to be very

The same is true of paper RPGs -- some people consider D&D3 to be
too complicated to be practical, while others consider it to be much
too simple.  Thus, there are paper RPGs running the gamut of
complexity from TWERPS to things like Sword's Path: Glory and
Millenium's End.

I realize that D&D is probably the only paper RPG that everyone here
is at least a little familiar with, but to focus on it as the only
example of how complex paper RPGs can be is like picking just one
mud as an example of mud complexity -- and that one not for its
complexity, but for its popularity.

>> The >resolution< of an individual attack is reduced to one random
>> event.  However, the calculation used to determine success or
>> failure takes into account dozens of pre-calculated factors and a
>> smaller (but still significant) number of values which must be
>> added to the calculation on the fly (such as terrain and weather
>> effects).

> What you call a significant number of factors is truly a pittance
> to what most MUD developers consider a significant number of
> factors. When you have a computer to process the calculation, the
> number of factors you can include is enormous. Not only are the
> number of D&D combat factors dramatically less, but I would not
> want them to be greater. The game would be unplayable, and I
> really enjoy my D&D pen and paper gaming as it is! :)

The number of factors in D&D is theoretically infinite, since it
includes anything the GM can assign a modifier for on the fly.  Here
we see a fundamental break in philosophy, caused by the difference
between computer and human moderation -- with computer-moderated
combat, all possible combat factors have to be enumerated in advance
of the combat.  With human moderation, the list of factors is a list
of *examples*, not a restrictive list.

[snipping a bit]

> Basic Qualities: You listed 5 for D&D weapons. In addition to
> those 5, you will commonly find the following basic qualities on
> weapons in online games:

>   1) Weapon Speed: D&D toyed with this a bit in previous editions
>   for modifying your initiative roll. In computer RPGs, you
>   frequently find TRUE representation of weapon speed. For
>   example, someone with a dagger might swing twice for every
>   single time a warhammer user would swing. This feature alone
>   adds a huge dimension to weapon variety and selection.

"Blue book" basic D&D had this, and several other paper RPGs have it
as well.  As it happens, it's not a particularly realistic addition
in most circumstances, but that's neither here nor there...

>   2) Weapon Material: While D&D has a few materials that make a
>   difference, I have played CRPGs where the materials that go into
>   the creation of a weapon play a tremendous role- from inherent
>   special effects on certain types of monsters, to general
>   benefits/detriments, to ability to take enchantments or
>   enhancements, etc. I'm not talking about simply silver, gold,
>   mithril, adamantium, etc. I am talking about having hundreds of
>   possibile materials that create significant effects.

>   3) Wear-and-tear: In D&D, with the exception of periodic "saving
>   throws" to see if your weapon (or any other equipment for that
>   matter) is destroyed, many online games have full featured
>   "decay" or "durability" systems coded into their weapons, armor,
>   and/or other equipment.

There are optional systems for this in several paper RPGs.

>   4) Enhancements: Especially for online/multiplayer RPGs,
>   enhancements become a huge part of the weapon. I am talking
>   about skills and talents that are in addition to "enchanting" a
>   weapon as you would do both in an online RPG or in D&D. Some
>   classes can sharpen a weapon to various degrees (which can be a
>   permanent or temporary bonus), others can temper a weapon to
>   make the metals or other materials stronger, some can rebalance
>   it, some can coat it with a new alloy, some can bless the weapon
>   either permanently or for a given duration, and countless other
>   things.

These concepts exist in paper RPGs as well, with skills which allow
improving weapons or other items.

>  Furthermore, weapons that provide bonuses to specific skills or
>  stats are common, as are armor or other magic items.

These exist in D&D as well, and in several other paper RPGs.

>   Getting together the right set of gear with the right
>   combination of magical modifiers and effects if often a major
>   goal. Obsession over gear to this degree would be considered
>   extremely "munchkinish" in D&D because you encounter so few
>   magic items in comparison and wish far fewer effects.  Players
>   will build up sets of gear for the right situation: resistance
>   gear, skill gear, quest gear, combat gear, etc. all with the
>   right set of bonuses and modifiers for the job.

This happens in D&D as well, with some groups of players, and can
happen in other paper RPGs as well.  The greater the variety of
equipment available, the more likely it becomes.  I've seen players
in science fiction games spend literally hours deciding what
equipment to have their characters get for a particular mission.

>   5) Enchantments: D&D provides a number of common enchantments
>   you will find on weapons. Not only will you find these kinds of
>   "drag and drop" enchantments on weapons in online games, you
>   will find scores of totally unique enchantments that are often
>   incredibly complex. Imagine the most detailed D&D magical
>   artifact (Hand of Vecna, Machine of Lum the Mad, etc) and what
>   you have imagined is the level of detail common in your average
>   MUD magic item.

I think you're exaggerating greatly here.  In my experience, the
"average MUD magic item" is just a +X item, just as in xD&D.

>   Above and beyond the general concepts of powers that either 1)
>   harm someone else or 2) heal/buff an ally, you will encounter
>   magic items and weapons that can miniaturize themselves, fold up
>   to fit in your pocket, have a detailed AI to act like a living
>   creature, cut through or knock down doors, seek out your
>   nemesis,

All these things can and do exist in D&D as well -- consider such
D&D magic items as a portable hole, spade of collosal excavation,
dancing sword, or ebony fly.

>    6) Hit Functions, Procs, etc: These are very common in computer
>    RPGs and the effects can be unbelieveably varied. Far beyond
>    the simplistic effects such as "acid burst", these hit
>    functions can send the attacker into a frenzy of multiple
>    immediate attacks, can drink the blood of the opponent thereby
>    strengthening the weapon for a time, generate vampiric effects
>    that in addition to transferring either health or stat points,
>    can also transfer "spell points" (the equivalent of draining
>    castable spells from a D&D foe such that the wielder can cast
>    more spells), cause an opponent to miss a number of attacks due
>    to things like hamstringing, stunning, etc., generate burning
>    or bleeding effects, injure specific body parts to as minute a
>    detail as individual organs, sense that the foe is on "death's
>    door" and have a chance to finish it off instantly, generate an
>    area effect attack, turn on the wielder, leap out of the
>    wielders hand and into that of the opponent, and tons more. I
>    am truly doing the MUDding community a disservice by trying to
>    list things because I am only scratching the surface.

Some of these exist in D&D, and *any* of them can exist in D&D --
the fact that someone can write custom functions for items is no
different from the fact that one can write custom magic items for
D&D.  If you want an example of real complexity here, though, try
the Hero System -- which not only can do all of these things, but
also gives a system for figuring out a cost for doing it.

> I've gotten exceptionally verbose here but it is really difficult
> to do online RPGs justice in the area of complexity. You really
> should try some out and see for yourself.

> As I said at the beginning, the fact that online RPGs are far more
> complex does not make D&D a bad game or an inferior game. Pen and
> paper and the computer are two entirely different mediums. Games
> designed for both should utilize the strength of the medium and
> avoid exacerbating the weaknesses.

So, let's hit a few examples of pen & paper complexity:

The Hero System's "power creation" rules.  As mentioned above, Hero
gives a set of rules for creating effects of powers, spells, magic
items, etc. which not only allows a vast variety of things, but lets
you calculate a "cost" for it as well, to aid in balancing
characters and items against each other.

Hero's rules for this are rather arbitrary and "flavorless" without
tweaking, but there are systems which do similar things in a more
"flavorful" way -- e.g., Fantasy Wargaming's spell and magic item
creation rules, which are heavily grounded in the medieval idea of
astrological correspondencies, or the spell creation system for
Torg's Aysle setting.

The "Mage2Mage" system is a spell creation system wherein spells are
written in a spell "programming language" -- and it dates back to
1986.  I find it interesting that this was done for paper RPGs that
far back, yet almost no muds or MMORPGs have anything like it, when
you'd think the idea would be a natural for a computerized system.

GURPS has detailed rules for creating vehicles and robots, and some
rules for creating weapons.  BTRC's "Guns, Guns, Guns" is a set of
detailed rules for creating "guns" -- all the way from things like
crossbows up to rail guns, particle beams, and other science-fiction

In combat rules, Millenium's End has a system for handling ranged
combat which seems like it would be more in place in a first-person
shooter -- you lay a plastic overlay on a shillouette of your
target, with the center crosshairs being the point you're aiming
for, and the skill roll indicates how far off you are and in what
direction, thereby giving exactly where your shot *really* went.
Killer Crosshairs is a generic RPG supplement which uses the same
concept, but implements it in a different way -- but also applies it
to melee weapons, using the same idea for thrusting weapons, and a
different overlay where one indicates the direction and target of
your swing for swung weapons.

BTRC's TimeLords and SpaceTime don't use overlays, but they do
divide the body up into several target areas, and have a system for
determining how far off and in what direction you were off on a hit.
The Riddle of Steel and Sword's Path: Glory do something similar,
with several different target areas for thrusts, and a selection of
different attack angles and heights for swings -- so you can choose
whether you want to, say, swing diagonally down right-to-left at
your opponent, or swing left-to-right at head level, or
right-to-left at knee level.  All of those games also have hit
effects for different locations, though the level of detail varies a
good bit.  Some of them do get down to the level of individual
organs -- and this not as a "custom programming" bit for a
particular weapon, but as a part of the system so that it applies to
*all* attacks.

Heck, Sword's Path: Glory breaks combat rounds down into intervals
of one-twelfth of a second.  Most people consider it insanely
detailed to the point of unplayability... but I know of people who
have played it and enjoyed it.

I understand that Phoenix Command, a modern-day-era RPG from the
same people who wrote Sword's Path: Glory takes the same combat
system and extends it to modern weapons, but I've never seen it

Travis Casey
efindel at earthlink.net

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