Dungeons & Dragons Online Roundtable

Several members of the Dungeons & Dragons Online development team talk about several aspects of the MMORPG in a new chat/interview over at GameSpy. Answering the questions are Ken Troop, Lead Designer (Turbine); Pete MacDonald, Senior Artist (Turbine); Dan Ogles, Senior Engineer (Turbine); David Eckelberry, Game Systems Designer (Turbine); and Ed Stark, Special Projects Manager, RPG R&D (Wizards of the Coast). Check it out:
Q: What elements of pen and paper gaming do you feel are most difficult to capture in a computer game?

Dan Ogles: There is no DM tailoring the experience for you. CRPGs, due to technical restrictions that won't go away anytime soon, limit your freedom by inserting arbitrary boundaries of expression for your character. In a pen and paper game, you can be as expressive as you want, and the DM can modify the experience and story while you play. A computer really can't do this effectively . yet! The challenge for CRPG designers is to account for and facilitate as many as possible forms of player expression.

Ken Troop: Yes, something that we run across often in our pen and paper session is the joy of creating and playing sub-optimal characters. For example, our paladin has a con of 8, and took Undead Empathy as his starting feat. In a pen and paper experience, creating content in which those are viable choices is technically easy. With mere words the DM can create an experience in which Undead Empathy is potentially a useful thing to have. And there's a lot of fun in playing through situations with a sub-optimal character and yet you still find a path of success. In CRPGs without a DM, it's much harder . so we sometimes have to limit character choice to those avenues in which we're sure we can build compelling situations and challenges.

Dave Eckelberry: In addition to not having a DM, it's very rare for players to form the tight bonds of friendship that they do when they play in person. They are exceptions, of course, but computer games are more likely to lead to friendships that fade or last only a single game experience.

I think over time this may change as people spend more and more of their time in virtual worlds. Already we see guilds and friends traverse from one online game to another, and that trend will grow. I'm way off topic here now, but I foresee the online guilds of tomorrow largely replacing the chess club, Elks lodge, etc.