relevance of paper RPGs (was Re: [MUD-Dev] D& D vs. MMORPG "complexity")

Travis Casey efindel at
Thu May 15 10:48:32 New Zealand Standard Time 2003

Saturday, May 10, 2003, 3:58:36 PM, Threshold RPG wrote:

> On 8 May 2003, at 11:58, Travis Casey wrote:

>> 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.

> That's a nice point, but woefully off topic here. The point here
> is whether or not D&D is "too complex" to be used in a modern
> online RPG. Debating the relative complexity of D&D compared with
> other pen and paper games is not the issue whatsoever.

The original point, before the debate over whether D&D is "complex"
or not compared to muds began, was whether or not knowledge of paper
RPGs can be a useful thing for a mud or MMORPG designer.  Several
people expressed the opinion that paper RPG systems are too simple
to be of use, using various versions of D&D as their example.

The point I'm trying to make is that whether or not D&D in specific
is complex is irrelevant to deciding whether or not knowledge of
*paper RPGs in general* is relevant.  It's the most popular paper
RPG, but that doesn't mean it's the best one to learn from.

>> The number of factors in D&D is theoretically infinite, since it
>> includes anything the GM can assign a modifier for on the fly.

> But theory and practice are generally not the same
> thing. Theoretically a whole lot of absurd things are possible. In
> practice, D&D combat is the result of an extremely tiny subset of
> factors- specifically those that are addressed directly by the
> rule books.

Your practice apparently differs from mine.

> Most good MUDs have "admin run" events where such myriad factors
> can also be added to the mix. The question at hand is the
> complexity of the core rules, not the complexity that can be
> created on the fly by a good gamemaster.

The question I'm trying to address is how relevant paper RPGs are to
muds and MMORPGs.  The fact that there's a difference in underlying
philosophy in this case (let the GM come up with modifiers when
needed VS. we need to list all modifiers in advance) is certainly
relevant to that.

I'll note again that D&D is far from the only paper RPG -- there are
paper RPG designers who believe that GMs *should not* make up
modifiers on the fly, but rather that a complete listing of possible
modifiers should be created.  (Or I should say, attempted.)  See the
writings of Peter Knutsen in the rpg-create Yahoo group and in the* newsgroups for some bits from someone who believes

>>>   1) Weapon Speed: D&D toyed with this a bit in previous
>>>   editions for modifying your initiative roll.

The relevant part I was commenting on has been cut here: that
Threshold has a weapon speed system where weapon speed affects how
often one can attack, rather than initiative.

>> "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...

> Blue Book D&D had a bogus system that did not replicate weapon
> speed in any kind of worthwhile manner. Weapon speeds affected
> initiative rolls, and that's it. That, along with the complexity
> of it, is largely why it got dumped.

Uh, no.  You're thinking of second edition AD&D, not "blue book"
D&D.  Weapons did not affect initiative at all in blue book D&D --
they affected the number of attacks that one gets.  It did so in a
simplistic way, but this is an example of "weapon speed" of the sort
you were speaking of in paper RPGs.

For a much more complex system for use with 1st edition AD&D, see
the "Attack Priority" system described in Dragon #71.  There, weapon
speed, weapon length, weapon weight, the strength of the user, the
dexterity of the user, the user's size, the user's class and level,
and probably a couple of other factors I'm forgetting are used to
derive two "attack priority" numbers -- one for "closing" and one
for "in-range".  Those numbers are used both in determining
initiative, and in determining how often a character can attack.

This system reflects that, all other things being equal, someone
with a halberd has a big advantage over someone with a dagger if
they start out far apart, but if they're in close, the dagger
wielder has an advantage.  It also adds new sorts of actions to
combat -- fending (using a longer weapon to keep someone with a
shorter weapon at bay), backpedaling (to try to get at a longer
range again when someone's gotten in close), and pressing (to try to
stay in close when soemone's backpedaling away from you).

I've yet to see a mud which handles the issue of melee weapon ranges
at all (which isn't to say that none exist -- I haven't seen every
mud in the world!).  Handling it in a room-based system would
probably require using an abstracted range system.  The simplest
would be to do something like Riddle of Steel uses, where being "out
of range" causes a penalty, and a successful attack with the penalty
means that you've moved "in range".  In a graphical environment, one
could get much more complex, if desired.

> The issue at hand is whether or not D&D is "too complex" for
> modern technology to handle it in a MUD or MMORPG.

That may be the issue you want to discuss.  The issue *I'm*
discussing is whether paper RPGs are relevant to designers of
muds/MMORPGs -- which is why I'm bringing up other games than D&D
and why I'm bringing up third-party rules expansions to D&D.  This
thread is a branch off of the original thread discussing that.

>>>   Getting together the right set of gear with the right
>>>   combination of magical modifiers and effects if often a major
>>>   goal. [snip]

>> 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.

> Exactly. Since the variety of gear in D&D is very small by
> comparison, this does not happen to the extent that it happens in
> current MMORPGs or MUDs.

By comparison to what?  And what equipment is "in D&D"?  If we
include all the equipment that's ever been presented for xD&D in all
its supplements and all the compatible third-party games and
supplements, there are quite literally tens of thousands of items
available.  And that's just pre-made items... some of those things
include systems for creating or modifying items, which vastly
expands the range of items.

If we're going to restrict D&D to just "the core rules", then
shouldn't we restrict muds to just a stock Diku or LP for a fair

I'd say the main reason this doesn't tend to happen in D&D isn't a
lack of items, but rather record-keeping -- having to make three or
four versions of a character sheet to reflect the character with
different equipment for different situations is time-consuming.  The
automation of online games removes the burden.

One thing which would be interesting to see is whether players
behave differently with paper D&D when given computerized tools to
keep track of inventory and do the calculating of encumbrance,
modifiers, etc.

>> 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.

> You must play some crappy MUDs. :)

Sturgeon's Law.  :-) Again, in my experience, the "typical" mud is a
near-stock Diku or LP derivative, with the main additions being more
areas, more classes, and more races -- not improvements to the
underlying systems.

To me, insisting that all paper RPGs be judged in their relevance on
the basis of the core books of one version of D&D is like insisting
that all muds be judged on the basis of a stock Diku.  It may be the
most common thing, but that doesn't make it the best.

>> 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.

> The fact that people can, external from the official rules, create
> things that replicate the level of complexity in an MMORPG is not
> the issue here.

For what I'm discussing, it is an issue.  The fact that these
systems exist, and that people have published them, and you can go
out and read them and analyze how they work without having to try to
reverse-engineer code to figure out the underlying algorithms makes
them a valuable resource.

The biggest problem is the sheer volume of stuff.  There are
literally thousands of different paper RPGs, many of which had very
limited print runs.  Things like the Mage-2-Mage magic system,
Sword's Path: Glory's combat system, or Killer Crosshair's hit
location rules aren't well-known even among paper gamers.

I don't deny that paper RPGs and online RPGs have many significant
differences, and that simply lifting a paper RPG system and trying
to stick it in an online game as-is is a bad idea.  However, that
doesn't mean that there's nothing to be learned from paper RPGs.

A large part of the point of this list is trading information which
might be useful.  If someone's looking for, say, ideas for a spell
creation system, I think it's definitely useful to be able to point
them not only to ones in other online games and in single-user
computer games, but also to ones in paper RPGs.  What I don't want
to see is people rejecting anything which comes from a paper RPG
out-of-hand on the basis that "paper RPGs aren't relevant" -- which
is the extreme that a few people seem to want to take it to.

>> Travis Casey

> Travis, you have raised some extremely interesting points and your
> knowledge of pen-and-paper RPGs is prodigious and intriguing.

> However, that is not the issue here. Ryan Dancey made the
> assertion that D&D is too compex for an MMORPG with the current
> state of computer technology. That is a statement that, in my
> opinion, demonstrates an extreme lack of experience with MUDs and
> MMORPGs. It sounds like the opinion of someone whose experience
> with online RPGs is the extremely stripped down Neverwinter Nights
> game created by Bioware. The reality of *QUALITY* MUDs and MMORPGs
> is a far different thing than what he seems to be familiar with.

I agree with you on that.

> There are certainly pen and paper games that are excrutiatingly
> complex when compared to D&D. Such games are not, however, the
> subject of this debate.

They are part of the subject of the debate which spawned this
sub-debate, though.  I'm trying to steer the argument off of D&D in
specific, and back to the more general subject of whether paper RPGs
are relevant.  If you don't want to discuss that, that's fine.  But
only JC can decide whether or not I'm allowed to try to steer the
debate in a new direction.

> I would invite you to start a discussion on comparative PnP RPGs
> if you wish to discuss that topic.

I'm starting a new discussion in the most common way it happens on
mailing lists -- branching off of an existing one.

Travis Casey
efindel at

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