Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

D&D and Computer RPGs

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 2, 2013

Tom’s Hardware has a nice little retrospective about the influence of Dungeons & Dragons on computer RPGs throughout the short little history of video gaming, including some comments from two guys who were involved in brief renaissance of D&D-inspired RPGs, Chris Avellone and Feargus Urquhart. I’ll letcha read it now, and, as usual, apply my lame commentary at the end.

How Dungeons & Dragons Inspired Classic PC Games

The title is a bit of a misnomer – it’s more of a story about, “How the Bioware / Obsidian D&D-based RPGs came to be.” Which is just as interesting to a fan, but perhaps doesn’t have much broad appeal.

While not offering new truly new information, I was interested in their take on what caused the ‘death’ of the style of game represented by the Infinity & Aurora Engine games. According to Urquhart, it was the trend towards making cinematic, console-style games. This made the kind of breadth of choice offered in their CRPGs prohibitively expensive. Publishers were no longer interested, instead focused on more linear, lusciously realized game worlds. Or, in my view – the dominance of the third-person action game!

Then there’s the little hint of a promise at the end that these guys would be interested in taking on a D&D licensed product again, and plugs for Project Eternity and the South Park RPG.

As far as the D&D system is concerned – while I’m personally a fan of 3.5 (and an even bigger fan of its spiritual successor, Pathfinder), the last edition of Dungeons & Dragons left me pretty cold. I’ve never been a huge Forgotten Realms fan, either.

The appeal to me in the past was mainly in the form of rules familiarity.  I didn’t have to wonder too badly about the relative value of a 16 Strength versus a 17 strength, or a +1 longsword versus a +2 short sword. And I was already prepared to experiment with character and party ideas. If we have a druid and a paladin, can we skip having a cleric in the party? Plus, I could leverage off of that experience to apply known tactics in something like a dragon battle.

Today, however, I’m no longer one of the D&D faithful. While I’ve perused the 4th edition player’s guide when it came out, I only recognize the gist, not the details. And I’ve really not been paying attention to the “D&D Next” development (as Paizo’s already won my group over in spades with Pathfinder, capitalizing quite well on WotC’s missteps).

And it is not as if those rules were in any way sacred or particularly well-suited to computer games. In fact, they were arguably the opposite. While the nasty learning curve of a new rules system is a pain in the butt for developers and players, I’d just as soon see more broad, turn-based, choice-heavy RPGs in the style of the 1996-2003 classics with custom rules systems.


Filed Under: Retro - Comments: 5 Comments to Read

  • McTeddy said,

    I do find it amusing that Dungeons and Dragons helped inspire computer RPGS… and D&D 4th is clearly inspired BY them*.

    I agree with you completely though. While the D&D ruleset functioned, it really wasn’t as good as I remember. It was clunky and hard to learn… and far too random for me to feel any amount of control.

    I am looking forward to Project Eternity because I’m a massive Chris Avellone fan. His games tend to be the closest to my experiences with a tabletop game.

    I don’t care what anyone says… Alpha Protocol made me feel like a Role-Player in a way bioware hasn’t done in a long time.

    – – –

    *In the “Let’s remove everything non-combat and having players grind for XP” way

  • Xenovore said,

    It was clunky and hard to learn… and far too random for me to feel any amount of control.


    D&D gets way too much of the spotlight for such an ad hoc, arbitrary, unintuitive system. It should have been scrapped wholesale and redesigned replaced long ago. There are way better (i.e. more fun) systems out there.

  • Adamantyr said,

    For the record, D&D Next is VERY good. It’s basically a return to the original rules set, but with a modular design built in so you can literally use anything you liked from ANY edition of the game.

    The stated goal was that ANY module from ANY era could be picked up and played, as is. The early playtest versions had a lot of playing around with different mechanics, but the last playtest packet is very slick.

  • Cuthalion said,

    I’m not sure how you’d play any module from any era in Next… especially if you’re talking a 4th ed module, where the mathematical power levels went up more quickly. But that’s still a cool target.

    Xenovore, that’s basically what they did with 4th edition. Well, I guess not really “replaced” as much as “redesigned“, so nevermind.

    I do like Next though, despite never having been fond of some of D&D’s mechanics.

  • GreatWyrmGold said,

    I’ve played a game of D&D Next. It’s a lot like 3.5, actually. Biggest differences I noticed in the one brief adventure: Spellcasters can cast as many cantrips/orisons as they like (Cure Minor Wounds is gone) and all characters have some ability to heal themselves outside of combat. Both of these are changes I approve of.