Thursday, September 4, 2014

D&D: Tolkien vs. World of Warcraft

It's striking the ebbs and flows popular culture take, and it affects our fantasy gaming. Popular culture defines game design, as role-playing gaming is a direct form of fantasy fulfillment. Since fantasies are defined by the culture we live in, games that adapt and meet the fantasy rise in popularity because people have an avenue for expressing the fantasy de-jour in a tabletop context.

Take for example D&D 4, created during the heyday of MMO culture, and really, the game does play like an MMO. D&D 4's Essentials reboot kind of throttled that feeling down, and that was an experiment for D&D 5's return to a different inspiration. People still like the World of Warcraft over-the-top tone and feeling to D&D 4, and some don't.

This is not about what's bad or right, or what's new and what's old - this is about providing games to fill the demands of the marketplace.

There still is a demand for tabletop MMO style gaming, people are fans of it, have a blast playing it, and it still will be played far, far into the future. New games may rise and take the MMO-style throne from D&D 4. MMOs are waning a little in popularity, and MMO-tabletop gaming is as well, but that force and demand in the marketplace will never go away - MMOs are here to stay, thus the fantasy fulfillment of "playing someone like that" in a pen-and-paper game will always be there.

D&D 5 has shifted the game back towards its Tolkien roots, and away from MMO culture. The LoTR and Hobbit movies are back in the spotlight at least for a while, and the demand for that down-to-earth non-fantastic fantasy is high again. When some people think of fantasy, those Tolkien-esque images are what they see. Again, this is perfectly fine, this is one segment of the marketplace, and people are fans and should have wonderful games to play.

However, it is wrong to say either style is bad. People like MMOs and people like Tolkien, your opinion is never going to change that, so find the game you like to play and find players that like to play it. Some people like multiple genres too, and that may surprise some in our 'one game to rule them all' age. We need to be a little more inclusive and a little more understanding.

Pathfinder is a different beast, and its inspirations come our of D&D 3's Magic the Gathering roots. Pathfinder is a "deck builder" character-centric game just like D&D 3, and that appeals to another crowd of competitive fantasy gamer. It's roots lie in combining MMO and magic card-style fantasy artwork with the heavy character optimization and building gaming. In Pathfinder, building your character as you level is a big part of playing the game, and that appeals to a different crowd. It's all good, and those gamers are welcome under the big "fantasy gaming" tent as well.

I still love Pathfinder mechanically for its builds and customization. I also love the other games for their feeling and design to support those play-styles.

To be fair, any of these games could be used to simulate any of these styles of play and feelings. However, mechanically each game is close to its roots and design inspiration, so you are often better off playing games that support your idea of fantasy in mechanics because you'll have a better time and enjoy the experience more fully.

To pick a "favorite" game, you first need to know where your inspirations lie. It's hard sometimes because there's a lot of noise out there, and every publisher wants their game to be everything. It's also not fair to attack a game because it isn't what you like, but understanding a game for what it is helps you understand those who are fans better. But understanding where a game "comes from" also helps you understand what you like, and lets you be in a game that lets you express your fantasies and heroic dreams with a system built to support your idea of what "fantasy gaming" means to you.

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