How Mmorpgs have Changed Dungeons and Dragons

Dungeons and Dragons was the forerunner for modern RPGs of all kinds, MMORPGs among them. D&D introduced such concepts as detailed character creation, equipment capable of changing your character’s statistics and abilities, progression content wherein one story gives way to another, and each character grows more powerful from game to game. These principles and more have formed the very bedrock of MMOs, from gear slots, to gaining spells and powers, to health/hit point management.

But in recent times, Dungeons and Dragons has in turn been transformed by the MMO community. In true Hegelian form, if MMO’s were an antithetical result of D&D, modern D&D has now become the synthesis of traditional Dungeons and Dragons and modern RPGs.

This is most evident in the latest (4th) edition of Dungeons and Dragons, published by Wizards of the Coast in June of 2008.

Here are just a few of the changes to 4th edition from previous editions which mirror the strategies employed by MMOs:

• Predetermined amounts of health by class (previously: hit points were randomly generated.)

• Point-buy stat systems to keep characters balanced (previously, point-buy systems were mentioned only as an addendum to randomly generated statistics.)

• Identical progression for different character classes: In 4th edition, a Fighter gets a new power at the same time as a Wizard. (Previously, classes had vastly different progression rates and mechanics both. A wizard might have access to a whole new tier of magic whereas a fighter of the same level might receive nothing for advancing.)

• Some new ability or choice is available every other character level at minimum (this is most akin to World of Warcraft, which grants players new spells/powers exactly every even level until level 60.)

• Magic items have levels in to allow players and game masters to quickly quantify how powerful they are.

• Standard rules up to level 30 (previously, standard rules stopped at 20, and supplemental rules were sold for any higher levels. MMOs frequently have character levels up to 50 and above.)

• Defined tiers of play: Heroic from levels 1 to 10, Paragon from levels 11 to 20, and Epic from levels 21 to 30, which mimics MMO rewards such as the ability to enter new dungeons as certain tiers, take a surname, obtain a mount, or enter a certain area.

• More emphasis placed on survival. Former editions of D&D made it possible to be killed in a single attack, particularly at early levels. MMOs didn’t want players to feel quickly frustrated from easy and immediate death, which would have been devastating at the faster rate MMOs are played (hundreds of deaths per hour), thus it is much harder to die fighting level 1 creatures in an MMO. The same is now true of D&D.

These are just a few of the ways in which 4th edition D&D has become more measured, balanced, and homogenized. These are moves which were made by the MMO community first, and have become industry-standard requirements in game design lest producers face the wrath of players angered by obvious imbalances.

While game balance in constantly and hotly debated in the MMO community, nevertheless in MMO terms, a level 20 wizard or cleric from earlier editions of D&D was infinitely more powerful than a fighter or ranger of the same level. Similarly, a level 1 fighter could cut through multiple level one wizards like a hot knife through butter.

Some have been pleased by the changes brought to Dungeons and Dragons because of the influence of the online gaming community, whereas some are annoyed or even angered by the changes. Whatever your view, though, there can be no doubt that D&D has been altered in major and defining ways to follow the lessons learned by the MMORPG community. Primarily, these changes have translated into simpler mechanics, greater balance, and greater homogenization from one mechanic to the next, in addition to a greater emphasis on making players feel like heroes in their own world.

In the end, isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?