Whither D&D? Episodic gaming and MMOs

This Saturday I volunteered to teach foster kids about video game design. One of my students came out with something that surprised me. He liked “series games” — those that come out with sequel after sequel. I like ’em too, but that’s because I consider them episodes, which conveniently ties in with my last post on D&D 4th edition. Last week I wrote about how D&D approaches player types and tone. Today I’ll take another look at how D&D’s 4th edition can come in handy with game design beyond the stand-alone game.

The DM Guide illustrates different types of games:

Campaign Games
According to the guide, campaign games mean what you do matters next time — allegedly. However, if the DM burns out, the story never finishes. I’d have to disagree with point one — sometimes in a campaign game, what you do in one session doesn’t always matter down the road. From a video game perspective, having one DM — or one writer — on a project can often lead to a weakness in one or more areas of the story, because there’s no one to bounce ideas off of. Therein lies one of the reasons for the Writers Cabal!

Episodic Games
The DM Guide indicates that episodic games don’t fit into a larger story, leading to a sense of purposelessness (fun word!). I have to disagree, and my TV roots will start to show. Episodic stories can take place in a campaign world and/or with the same characters. In these cases, the stories will be satisfying, because each adventure will (hopefully) lead to a satisfying conclusion, and they can all eventually lead into a larger campaign. Stephen King, for example, wrote many disconnected stories. Now — decades later — he realizes he can tie them all together with a big good vs. evil storyline. Furthermore, if your campaign story ends up having a lame or fizzled ending, you will at least be able to say, “Oh, and this one time, I did this!” The best stories are made up of a bunch of smaller ones.

Ongoing/One-shot Games
Ongoing games can either be episodic or campaign oriented. Ongoing games with the same group of people can encourage cooperation, while one-shot games encourage exposure to different types of player types. These concerns tie in more directly with multiplayer games, so…

D&D 4th edition demonstrates influence from certain MMOs. One commenter on the Gamasutra article noted that the “Healing surges” mechanic of 4th edition seemed similar to the rate of recovery popular in MMOs. In general, 4th edition definitely wants to take advantage of the online space as much as possible, even making it easier to run D&D games online. Do you think this trend will be good or bad for D&D?  Personally, if I’m going to play a game online, I might as well do so with my gaming group in an MMO. That said, maybe I could run a D&D game online that I wouldn’t want to do in person. Who’d be interested in that?

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