My Dungeons and Dragons (DnD) theory

Dungeons and dragons theory

Once upon a time, I was a younger lad who did not know how to work a camera but still wanted to put out a video. The video was absolute trash, the camera was sideways, no real editing, almost forty minutes long, and to top it all off I did this in my room at my parents’ house. I know what you are thinking, “this video must put Hollywood movies to shame!” The answer is oh dear gods above and below no! It was awful all around except for the content. The content in this theory video received quite a bit of praise, so I thought, “why don’t I make the video into quality content instead of letting it rot as a dumpster fire?” Thus the Dungeons and Dragons theory came to be…..

Here is the amazing theory:

Dnd has directly affected the video game mainstream. (Mainstream can be defined as popular, influential, or triple A games.)

It is a bold statement, but the evidence in popular games that came out after each release of Dungeons and Dragons. I ask you to humor me and let me explain myself in detail from the start.

Dungeons and Dragons 1st-2nd edition (the start)

Dungeons and Dragons first came out in 1978 (technically 1974 with original Dungeons and Dragons), which was before almost every type of video game system we see today. D&d was not, however, before arcades and game consoles like Sega. Dungeons and Dragons was before The super Nintendo which was released in 1980.

D&D was not, however, before arcades and game consoles like Sega. Dungeons and Dragons was before The super Nintendo which was released in 1980.

Why do I mention all of these details? To show you that there were games before Dungeons and Dragons. Think about the types of games that were before 1978. How many incorporated character levels and items?

The answer is none. These concepts were added into video games after DnD inspired creators to advance their games.

Once game developers saw the engagement that levels and items provided, there was no stopping these concepts from being absorbed into almost all video games.

The benefits of levels and items did not stop at engagement, but also made the players feel like they could customize their experience or relate to the characters and the world more. This feeling of understanding further pushed the use of levels and items.

Is that all that Dungeons and Dragons did in the early days?

For those of you who have had the pleasure to play old school AD&D, think about the differences between the older and newer versions. Back then. the game was far more unforgiving, but also more focused on items. A level 1 fighter could possibly take down a level 7 fighter if the level one fighter had the right gear.

This game design philosophy of items > levels went into video games. Slowly, the games had more of an emphasis on items instead of levels. This showed itself in games soon after the ‘official’ launch of Dungeons and Dragons like Zelda, Ultima, and even Mario.

Some games like Wolfenstein and Doom didn’t even have levels but instead focused only on giving the player items.

This continued in later games like Castlevania, Metal Gear, Diablo 1, etc all the way until Dungeons and Dragons third edition.

Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition

It had been almost 20 years and the times had changed.

Gaming needed a new core concept to use and Dungeons and Dragon, for better or worse, came up with one.

Character level progression became the primary focus, and item progression became complimentary to character levels.

This may seem like a simple flip from the previous game design philosophy, but it changed everything. The players now need to spend more time to become powerful. This makes them not just find one amazing item to boost them to ungodly heights. Second, it makes the two forms of design, character levels, and items, intertwined instead of separate.

To clarify this point, think of an old game like Metroid or Zelda. These games did not have character levels at all but instead relied heavily upon items. Other games still had character levels, but character levels were not as important as items.

Now, lets think of some other games that came after DnD 3rd edition. Fable and World of Warcraft are good examples that valued levels far more than items. A character that has poor gear at level 7 should now never lose to a level one. This happens despite the items that the level one character has access to.

The importance of items then

Items still were important, but their function changed to providing numerical support instead of giving new abilities. (A +3 sword instead of a dancing sword, or 5 resistance vs invisibility etc)

Leveling gave players their abilities now, and items only complimented those abilities. This seemed to be a blessing for game developers since they had an easy way to restrict and balance what the player had options to, but there was a cost.

Before the advent of level-based game design, players tried to ‘break the game’ by finding some extremely powerful item to give the player a huge power advantage. Now the easiest way to gain power was math.

How big of a deal is this?

If you believe that a bunch of people who take the time to learn systems, secrets, and the best way to play games are incapable of doing math then you my friend are as obvious as the game designers were to this small oversight.

What this game design philosophy introduced, was min-maxing, and power leveling.

Dungeons and dragons power leveling

Min maxing is where a player does math in order to make their skills, abilities, and attributes go up. This makes the player more likely to hit, deal damage, or anything else that helps their character’s performance.

Power leveling is where a player loses the lax and wondrous perspective of leveling that they may have previously had and instead gain levels extremely quickly in order to get to the max level as quickly as possible.

These concepts are where the game becomes less about the items, adventure, or even the core of the game, but instead turns into numbers and fast leveling.

The effect of min/maxing and power leveling.

With that description, you may think that a lot of joy was taken out of the game and to some, the joy and core experience was taken out. To others, this was a more fun way to play.

Once Dungeons and Dragons introduced this concept, there was no going back. Players soon figured out how to get absurd numbers at beginning levels, speed level to the max level in games, and this effect rippled further.

End game content, content that was meant to be played once the max level was achieved, gained a similar approach. What was once, “How can I get to max level fastest?” Turned into, “How can you get the endgame items the fastest?” In order to complement their power leveling mindset.

Think of games today. How important is leveling up in modern games? This mentality has bled into every genara now, not just RPGs. This is the effect Dungeons and Dragons had on the mainstream video game industry in 2000, and this particular design philosophy is still around today.

Fourth edition Dungeons and Dragons.

Dungeons and dragons creative thoughts

Dungeons and Dragons 4e came out in 2008 with a new strategy, change almost everything and in the process make a new game! Was this a smart move? Did it alienate a lot of their players and make a sub-par system? Well yes, but this idea of making something new caught on to create what I call the ‘experimental phase.’

In the experimental phase, many new types of games came out. League of Legends came out in 2009. Plants vs zombies along with Angry birds also came out in 2009. These three games did not re-invent the wheel, instead, they experimented with existing models and changed almost everything to make new games.

Sound Familiar?

The changes that were made to existing mobile models allowed Angry Birds and Plants vs Zombies to explode! In contrast to Dungeons and Dragons, these games took other games’ business models and made something out of them.

League of Legends did the exact same thing. In 2009 a little Warcraft III game mode was made modern and (debatable) better. This game mode was called Dota and had a huge following, which made the creation of League very easy.

These games did not work to change their own game but instead changed a different game. This is where Dungeons and Dragons failed in executing its principal successfully. Sometimes our failures help others not to fail.

This made completely new genres from other games. The biggest game that had created whole new genera was probably Minecraft (2009).

There was also the rise of artsy games such as limbo. (Artsy games are games that do not revolve around playable content but instead around a style or concept) This is around the time when artsy games start to get popular.

That’s not all…..

Far more artsy games started to come out like Gone Home, Serena, and Journey to name a few. This started a revolution of different games that are still happening today.

Just as power leveling, number crunching, and min-maxing continues, so does the experimental phase. These concepts have died down and taken a back burner, but are still seen in games today. A great game today that follows this principle is Fortnight.

Fourth edition dungeons and dragons did not just make an experimental phase, but it also made a simplistic phase.

Games became far more simplistic when compared to their predecessors. League of legends was one such game accused of being more simple than its predecessor. Artsy games were not based on content but instead ideas. These ideas were best transferred to the player if the gameplay was simple.

Mobile games started to blow up around this time with games like angry birds. This was a necessity since phones were not complex devices. Phones were more of a casual gamer’s platform for games. This meant that the games had to be simple to succeed.

The modern era, 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons (2014)

Dungeons and Dragons modern

Dungeons and Dragons put out another edition. The latest edition tries to rectify the problems of the past edition by going back to its roots.

To do this they looked back at their most well-received content and improved, redid, or enhanced the positive aspects of the past.

The enhancement of old materials worked! Dungeons and dragons tried to improve upon their old material to make a better game and in many people’s, opinion did just that.

People took notice, and many companies started to copy this formula soon after. Some good examples are Fallout 4 copying Fallout 3 and Battlefront by EA coming back in 2015 is another wonderful example.

This strategy can’t be solely claimed by dungeons and dragons. The movie industry seemed to beat dungeons and dragons to it by re-making many classics by this point. The rate that the movie industry put out re-makes seemed to be at an all-time high. Dungeons and dragons saw this and then used this popular principal.

There was one more reason Dungeons and Dragons remade old content.

Remember how fourth edition didn’t make all of the fans happy? Remember how the players were not very happy with fourth edition? Well, this edition was a chance at redemption.

In order to make sure this chance did not go to waste, they asked for player input. They made an open beta where people tested the system and gave feedback causing the new edition to be a rousing success!

Many companies in the industry are remaking old titles, but they are also dealing with gameplay criticism. Big companies like EA’s battlefront, Bethesda’s Fallout 76, and Blizzard’s newest World of Warcraft expansion are just a few examples. This is happening more and more in the game industry, and there is a pattern.

The unsuccessful are alienating their customers and losing revenue. The successful developers and publishers are listening to their customers. We can’t yet see the full impact of what is to come, but his model of listening to customers is something that seems to only be more and more necessary for the future of the gaming industry.

The theory

The Dungeons and Dragons theory is not perfect, but it does show something interesting. Either the games of their time are influenced by Dungeons and dragons, or D&D is a reflection of upcoming trends.

If you want to know how to handle player death (or have a screwed up and have a bad memory of player death) DMs click here!

Lastly, if you want to support the blog you can get stuff for it! We offer The Cube as a custom add on to your game and our affiliates. At Dice Envy they offer well made and cool looking dice and Dungeon Vault helps to help give you extra tools to make your campaign even better! I prefer to use my dice from Dice Evy since they are actually balanced and love to use the tools from Dungeon Vault.

This has been Wizo and keep rolling!

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