By ahoodedfigure 9 Comments
"This isn't D&D!"
While paging through the interesting but overpriced "30 Years of Adventure: A Celebration of Dungeons and Dragons," I came across a passage written by Ed Stark regarding the adaptation of the Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition ruleset to a computer game. An early draft of the rules was sent to Bioware, and Bioware was to develop a game to roughly coincide with the official release of the rules by the new owners of the property, Wizards of the Coast.
When Bioware finished their design and sent it to Wizards for approval, the game had changed so much in the hands of Bioware that Ed Stark said, "This isn't D&D!"
Wizards rejected much of Bioware's design and sent a couple of guys up to Bioware headquarters, where they rewrote Bioware's interpretation of the rules right in front of them.
What's missing is Bioware's perspective on this. I doubt they'd likely go public with their feelings about this late-stage rewrite of the development they'd worked hard to adapt to the computer screen, but I have my suspicions.
License to Sit Still
Given the development of Dragon Age Origins, where they specifically set out to create their OWN RPG engine rather than cater to an outside license, to me it's fairly clear that the hassle with dealing with a licensee was hindering their ability to make the game they wanted. Not to mention having to pay others for the privelege of working within their system and riding upon the fame of the license.
Not only that, but as someone who's both played pen-and-paper RPGs and the computer variety, I know that those two forms are entirely different beasts when it comes to how a game plays out. Expecting a pen-and-paper ruleset to be mirrored by the computer game is a tall order. Of course there were changes every time Bioware, Black Isle, SSI, whomever, put out a licensed game. Things changed slightly or drastically, many were dropped, some were expanded. Things that were math-intensive or required the player to be unaware of what was going on was easy to do for a computer RPG, while the pen-and-paper game's strengths, improvisation, peeking behind an unexpected door, and creative use of resources, were huge development obstacles that would take a pen-and-paper group a few seconds to resolve.
I Was Once but the Learner...
With that strange relationship between Bioware and Wizards in the back of my mind, I stumble upon this article:
Designing the Dragon Age Tabletop RPG
and I can't help but grin. What sparked this blog entry was this passage:
Chris Pramas (of Green Ronin Publishing): It was pretty simple. BioWare came to us and said, "How'd you like to do a tabletop RPG based on our upcoming Dragon Age: Origins game?" I had enjoyed the hell out of games like Baldur's Gate and Knights of the Old Republic, so of course we said yes.
It appears Bioware isn't doing what Wizards did, trying to dictate the system to them in the final hour; they worked with Green Ronin from the get-go, making it a tandem project, and stating explicitly that the video game and the pen-and-paper version should probably NOT be the same. I'm not a big Bioware fan and I don't abjectly hate Wizards of the Coast, but to me this mirror-image event is really cool. D&D, the game that started the entire hobby, helped build Bioware's success-- and now that Bioware is a huge name in RPGs, they're getting people to do versions of THEIR games.
A Postscript for Those Interested in the Pen-and-Paper Side of Things
It looks to me as if Green Ronin's approach to their design for their game is a fun one, in that it's a bit of a hearkening back to the old designs of early RPGs, with less complicated rules and more flexibility, while getting rid of the anachronistic approaches which don't fit into the hobby anymore. Pramas says later in the interview how he looked to the original D&D boxed sets as direct inspiration for how to tackle it, a sort of game in a box rather than stringing out consumers through a chain of supplements all necessary for the basic game. (Their version of hooking consumers is that each boxed set has a level cap, where you buy each set when your characters are ready to get upgraded. I think that's reasonable; if you like the game, you'll buy more. If you don't, it was pretty cheap, especially considering what most SINGLE pen and paper books go for).
The current edition of Dungeons and Dragons, the 4th, is considered by some to be fairly unrecognizable when compared to the older Dungeons and Dragons rules, although I'd argue there are some lines of similarity. What's remarkable is that during the concept phase, Wizards of the Coast designers talked about taking a cue from video games, like MMORPGs, for some of their mechanics. Players of World of Warcraft will recognize some of the mechanics of D&D 4E, as will players of tactical battle games (as it's moved pretty much inexorably to miniatures on a battle map now). As to whether or not this was the right choice is up to the individual, but computer games were an influence nonetheless.
Again, a circle.
I think pen and paper games are stronger when they do their own thing, so I'm hoping Green Ronin's Dragon Age delivers on those design promises and gets the attention it deserves. Heck, I hope the hobby itself gets more in the bargain too, but that's me :)
A Post-postscript for Anyone Interested in the Actual Mechanics of the Dragon Age Pen-and-Paper RPG
Chris Pramas talked with co-workers on the Green Ronin website about the project, including hints about the actual mechanics the game is using. As a bit of a RPG vet, at least relatively speaking, it sounded neat, so I thought I'd share for any fellow RPG geeks out there.
All tests of ability are resolved by rolling three six-sided dice, two of a neutral color and one of a different color (red, I imagine). You have a difficulty level that you have to meet or beat by totaling up the roll and adding the appropriate attribute rating (say it's a contest of strength. You roll 3d6 and add whatever your strength happens to be, and then compare that result to the difficulty the game master has set). The reason the dice are different colors is that the off-color die tells you how successful you were, if you met the difficulty level of the roll. 6 means you did really well, 1 means you just barely scraped by.
In addition, if you roll doubles in any combination of the three dice, the off-color die acts as a sort of customizable critical success. The off-color die counts as points you must immediately spend to add an effect to the thing you just did. In a twist, you are the one who chooses what the result will be, by purchasing it from a list using the die's point value. So you get to make something grand happen fitting the context of the situation (the different tables for each class further differentiate rogues and warriors, which some have said are rather similar in the computer version of the game). Mages also have access to their own tables, which allow for special effects when casting a spell.
Given that most games dictate what a critical successes does for you, I think that sounds pretty fun :)