Writing Under Other Roofs

Posted by on Oct 25, 2008 in Fantasy, MMOs, Musing, Promotion, RPGs, Writing | 14 Comments

This week I’ve been guest-blogging over at Ecstatic Days, the excellent blog of literary-fantasy writer, anthologist, and world traveler, Jeff VanderMeer. While my posts over there focus mostly on writing and neurosis, I’ve also written a bit about the purpose and goals of science fiction, which Jeff thought you all might get a kick out of. It’s called, “The Writer, Found Out,” and it’s a first-draft kind of thing (like everything I write straight onto the Internet), so please be kind.

Since last we spoke, I’ve also begun a new D&D campaign (4th Edition, naturally), in part to learn the system, in part to give an outlet to the ideas I get from reading old sagas and myths, lately, and in part to prepare for the possibility of publishing this campaign. The question, of course, being whether or not it’s a good idea to publish under the GSL at all. What do you think?

Also, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve been playing a lot (a lot) of Lord of the Rings Online. I’ve been poking around the new expansion, Mines of Moria, which releases next month, and doing a lot of gasping aloud at the design. It’s lovely. The past couple of months I’ve been doing some writing related to that game, too, and having a great time along the way. It makes me remember why I played so much WoW for a time and, also, why I do not so much miss WoW. It also really, really makes me want to design and run a fantasy RPG campaign, ergo the aforementioned D&D campaign and possible publishing project.

What about you? What are you playing lately?


  1. Bruce Baugh
    October 26, 2008

    I’m doing some non-GSL writing for 4e and enjoying it muchly. I just don’t see the gains from the GSL as worth the hassles.

  2. Carl Klutzke
    October 27, 2008

    I’ve been playing a lot of Spore lately. On the pencil & paper side we just had our second play session of the Pathfinder RPG: we were going to do 4E, but our GM had so much 3E stuff he wanted to be able to use it without conversion.

  3. Brad W
    October 28, 2008

    Lot’s of 4th Edition out there. I am gearing up to run Shadowrun 4th Edition, it’s new to my group, and I haven’t played since it first came out. My entire gaming group plays WoW, and due to that we just haven’t gotten into D&D 4th Edition. One of my players, after a test game, said it felt like playing ‘the slowest game of WoW ever’. I am actually trying to get away from computer games for a while, they tend to eat up cycles used for writing and rpg’s, and both are things I want to be able to spend more time on.

  4. mxyzplk
    October 29, 2008

    Definitely no GSL, unless they finally come through with a revision that doesn’t suck (although that effort appears to have died out).

    Our group is playing GURPS and Pathfinder, there was a consistent vote of no confidence in 4e.

  5. Jeff Tidball
    October 29, 2008

    “…slowest game of WoW ever” is pretty much the worst thing anyone could say, considering the perceived effort on the part of the D&D design team to make the game more like an MMO in this edition.

    Recent reading on marketing that I’ve done suggests that you’re unlikely to be successful competing with the category leader by being similar to it. Instead, the winning strategy is apparently to pick a point of distinction and make that your thrust.

    A lunchtime UFS league has just started up at FFG; that what I’ve been playing. Yesterday, new UFS developer (and recent world champion, no less) James Hata schooled my ass in predictable fashion.

  6. Mr. Bistro
    October 29, 2008

    I don’t know if what WotC did can be considered simply copying WoW, or just trying to update D&D with more modern conventions. True, D&D has changed, but it still offers more storytelling opportunities than any MMORPG, and new mechanics such as Skill Challenges up the ante there even more. For my group the bottom line is they were bored with combat in 3.5, and are reinvigorated by 4.0.

  7. Will Hindmarch
    October 29, 2008

    I’m not sure if the perceived effort is the same as the actual effort, Jeff. I mean, was there any way that D&D was going to end up playing even as fast as WoW? No.

    I’m with Mr. Bistro, insofar as I don’t think Wizards was trying to copy WoW. I think the D&D design team was willing to learn the lessons revealed by WoW’s 10 million playtesters and uncounted man-hours of play, and wouldn’t they have been stupid to do anything else?

    What D&D 4E does, in my estimation, is position itself closer to MMOs so that it’s easier for players to make the jump over to tabletop play from online play. Standing near WoW also makes it easy for customers to compare them, which throws similarities AND differences into contrast. D&D actually does quite a bit to show off what it does differently (and better) than WoW, which is to be independently narrative and house-ruled.

    A great many established RPG players (see RPGnet) noticed only that D&D had moved closer to WoW, because there’s nothing remarkable to them about the fact that D&D is customizable and narrative. But getting the same old customers to buy D&D, I think, wasn’t the big worry for Wizards, anyway.

  8. Jeff Tidball
    October 30, 2008

    I’ll forward all this by saying that my knowledge of 4E is largely second- and third-hand.

    My bona fides thusly established, I don’t think D&D can win a long-term brand fight with MMOs by positioning itself as being similar to them, but not as good.

    One counter-argument might be that D&D can never win a long-term brand fight with MMOs period, but frankly, “This too shall pass” applies as much to World of Warcraft as much as it does to cars that burn gas and horses as the chief muscle-power of agriculture.

    I think that real narrative, which I understand is not a suit to which 4E plays, is compelling enough that computer-based games will eventually come around to doing them well.

    I wonder if it wouldn’t be wiser for D&D to position itself for that day, instead of eking out a rung on the latter somewhere below the also-rans of the MMO world.

    In other news, I won my lunchtime UFS match today.

  9. Will Hindmarch
    October 31, 2008

    Nice rhetorical move, there, Jeff — “similar but not as good.” I don’t think D&D is positioning itself as being similar but worse, but a short trip sideways and good at very different things. WoW you play every night before bed, D&D you play every week to create your own world and quest-lines and do what you would do if you could design WoW for yourself.

    Certainly this is not a fight against MMOs, but rather an attempt at drafting by riding along behind them. D&D isn’t contrary or an alternative to MMOs, it goes great with them. That, I think, is their strategy, and I don’t think it’s a bad one.

    I don’t know what you mean by “real narrative,” though that sounds like an implied, snobbishly pejorative argument. As in, “Even if you can tell a story with D&D 4E, it won’t be a real narrative.” Certainly, in my opinion, 4E is better positioned for player/DM-controlled narrative than 3E was, and the books certainly talk more about story than the last edition did.

    You’ve cited two recurring criticisms of 4E — its hope to be an MMO and its low narrative focus – which plenty of folks have certainly pointed at the new game. I think those folks are largely wrong.

    I wish we’d played it when you were up here, now.

  10. Jeff Tidball
    October 31, 2008

    I guess I need to step back from this particular debate about the merits and/or positioning of 4E because I haven’t really done the reading.

    By “real narrative,” I mean something like “A dramatic story that has a beginning, middle, and end, and which attracts its audience’s emotional investment based on their hopes and fears for what will happens to the story’s characters.” To that, for games, I would add the caveat that the audience’s emotional concern in a “real narrative” should not revolve around their interest in winning the game. That is, to hope that one’s character levels up is insufficient.

    Sadly, I lost another UFS game at lunch yesterday. I find it barely believable that Rob managed to assemble such a deck in a draft league.

  11. Brad W
    October 31, 2008

    I’m willing to admit that perhaps my group didn’t play 4E enough, but at the same time we didn’t think the new system was compelling enough to give it more than a cursory look. Looking over the new powers section and the skills it seemed to us that the focus of the new system was combat and dungeon crawling, and while those are fun, we get that fix from WoW, well I’ve moved on to LOTRO but that’s beside the point.

    My group has ‘house ruled’ 3E to be almost exactly what we want in a system, though we do like point based rather than level based systems better, that is not something that 4E brings to the table. To us the 3E system is nice and easy, and it does not get in the way of the dm or pc narrative, and lets us focus on those rather than the game mechanic. That is of course our opinion.

    I do think that Will brings up an interesting point about ‘drafting’ alongside MMO’s, that would make more sense to me as a positioning strategy. While I don’t have my pulse on the gaming community, either the designers or the players, I personally know only two types of people that play WoW. There are those that play pen and paper RPGs along with MMOs, and those that only play electronic MMOs.

    I don’t see either format really influencing each other at least as far as people choosing what they play. I don’t know anyone for example, that has given up one for the other. Part of that is probably due to the fact, as Will stated, that you can play an MMO for an hour or two easily, and playing D&D is something you plan for in advance.

    If the majority of people who play RPGs liked the dungeon crawling, get the loots, and combat focused play style than MMOs would be a big draw. Why spend all that time coming up with a world and creating characters, rolling dice when you can just play a game? I don’t know if that reflects a majority of the pen and paper gaming world though. If it does than 4E was a smart move, if not than the opposite would apply.

  12. Will Hindmarch
    October 31, 2008

    Jeff, that idea of leveling not counting towards narrative investment sounds like a post of its own, to me.

    Brad, what LOTRO server do you play on? I’m on Nimrodel and back into the game in a big way, lately.

    I know some people who devote a lot of time to WoW when they can’t get their gaming group together. I’m confident that there are people out there who play WoW instead of D&D because it better serves their dungeon-and-loot fix, but also don’t have an interest in narrative RPGs; meaning folks who don’t play WoW instead of D&D, like you Brad, without pursuing RPGs otherwise. Whether they would have played D&D in WoW’s absence is doubtful, just given the volume of WoW players versus the volume of D&D players prior to WoW’s launch.

    Also, the edition cycle being what it is in all hobby games (D&D included), retaining old players is a bonus, but not the point. If you’ve molded 3E into just what you like, what was the likelihood that any incarnation of 4E would lure you away from your investment in 3E? Probably I should break off and write a post about the edition cycle, if only because I’ve yet to write one here, for some reason.

  13. Brad W
    October 31, 2008

    I installed LOTRO earlier this week, and I haven’t had much time to do anything other than create a couple toons and play a bit. I’m on Vilya, though with its low pop I was thinking of finding another server.

    Regarding the edition cycle, that comes as a bit of a shock. I would have assumed, incorrectly it seems, that you would want to carry your old players into the next edition, but I sort of see why that is considered a plus; especially when you consider the glut of games and the relatively small population of gamers.

  14. Will Hindmarch
    October 31, 2008

    I’ll write more about the edition-cycle theory next week.

    In the meantime, if you’re not too entrenched on Vilya yet, Nimrodel is a curious mix of sometimes-dead and sometimes-crowded but I’ve never had to sit in a queue to get in. I’m expecting to start some new characters with a few friends come November 18th, when Mines of Moria launches. (I totally dig the new Warden class.)

    Depending on how many new folks show up, we may form our own Kinship.


Leave a Reply