Toldain Talks

Because reading me sure beats working!


Toldain started as an Everquest character. I've played him in EQ2, WoW, Vanguard, LOTRO, and Zork Online. And then EVE Online, where I'm 3 million years old, rather than my usual 3000. Currently I'm mostly playing DDO. But I still have fabulous red hair. In RL, I am a software developer who has worked on networked games, but not MMORPGS.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Far Country

One of the two primary source threads of a game like Everquest and Everquest 2 is The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien. I'm talking about the book here, not the movie, though it was very good. (A good friend in EQ1 said of the first movie, "It reminds me of Everquest". Fortunately, we didn't have vent in those days, so he didn't hear me pounding my head on the keyboard.)

The second is Dungeons and Dragons, written by E. Gary Gygax, and his collaborator Dave Arneson, and subsequent work of Gygax'x, such as Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.

Gary Gygax died today at age 69.

Gary invented roleplaying games. There was fantasy, from Tolkien and Leiber and Robert E. Howard. And there was wargaming. But to take a single character, and to level him up, adding skills and abilities, that was his idea.

Much of the structure of Everquest gameplay traces back to D&D. Combat is a series of swings where a (now virtual) die is rolled to determine whether the opponent is struck. More dice determine the damage. Personal characteristics affect the damage and your competence. Other stats (saving throws) determine whether you are hit. Characters gain power in "levels". All of these ideas are Gygaxian. In D&D, characters had six basic characteristics: Strength(STR), Dexterity(DEX), Constitution(CON), Intelligence(INT), Wisdom(WIS), and Charisma(CHA). Does that sound familiar?

Much of our game jargon makes no sense without reference to D&D. We speak of "rolling" a character. There is no rolling involved, it's a character build. But in the old days, that's what you did, you rolled some dice to determine the basic outlines of your character. We will speak of "rezzing" someone who has died, after the ultimate such spell in D&D, named Resurrection. Even though the game calls it health, to us, characters have "hit points".

D&D had humans, high and wood elves, dwarves, gnomes, and a race of short folk who liked food called, to avoid copyright issues, halflings. And there were orcs. Lots of orcs. Undead too, skeletons and zombies, and the really nasty stuff, that had a chance of taking away levels. Permanently. Gygax pioneered the name "treant" too, based on a Tolkien idea, stealing all but the name.

Perhaps the most important heritage from D&D was the notion of character classes. These provided a fairly rigid development path for each character, and defined a role for each character within the framework of a functioning team, which in D&D was known as "the party". Rigid class roles gave players a reason to cooperate with each other, which, believe me, was an issue in the day. Later tabletop systems notably Runequest and the Hero System, discarded the rigidity of the class system in favor of a very open ended character development system. You could learn a little magic, then learn to fight better. It was up to you. But this seems to take away from the team concept that is still important to MMORPGs.

Fighters specialized in melee, while clerics could heal them, and mages could blast away or perform a variety of unusual utilities. We see all these categories today: tank, healer, dps, utility. The class that hasn't really survived as such was the thief class, which specialized in hiding, sneaking , picking pockets, finding traps, and most imporantly, opening locks for the party to get loot. Many of these functions survive in some form, but not as a class. Probably the EQ2 Brigand, and the WoW thief are the closest we have. But we think of them now as DPS with some utility.

And yes, the game was very definitely loot-centric. In fact, a fair amount of experience was awarded for getting loot, provided you could find a way to carry it away back to town. We've definitely moved away from the experience-for-loot concept both in tabletop and MMO RPG's. But MMO's particularly still have a lot of emphasis on loot, in part because it's more difficult for the format to push a storyline the way a tabletop campaign can.

Wil Wheaton, who portrayed Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation, has a memoir of his first D&D experiences up on his blog, and they seem pretty typical. I'm older than Wil, so I was in college when I heard about it, and in grad school when I started playing. Those people are still among my best friends and comrades. After all, we've been through many adventures together. And they aren't over yet.

With tankards raised in salute, we herald his passing: Hail Gary, and well met!


Post a Comment

<< Home