The 7 Evil Exes of D&D
You ever been through a serious relationship only to have it end in a nasty breakup? Sure you have. Months later, what happens? You find yourself, like it or not, still saying their phrases, emulating their gestures, repeating their habits. You are marked, influenced; they are a part of you, however small a part, forever.
Guess what? Games work the same way! (As does any form of art, really.) The AAA titles we play today are forever influenced by games gone by, like evil exes come back to haunt. Hell, even Pablo Picasso is quoted as saying “Bad artists copy. Good artists steal.”
Well, one of the greatest unexpected truths about modern gaming is that so many of our hottest titles have one old flame in common, one that laid the foundation for so much of what gamers take for granted. We’ll explore more after the jump.
The truth of the matter is, a majority of the most popular video games have at least something they owe to the one, the only. To Dungeons and Dragons.
Hard to believe, says you? Believe it, says I! Sure, it’s no secret to fans of The Game Show that I’m a huge D&D fan, but I assure you this is a completely impartial claim!
The first version of D&D was released in 1974, three years before the first significant home console, the Atari 2600, hit the market, and five years before the first game even remotely resembling it, Adventure, was released. Many elements from this classic tabletop game made their way into video games over the years, so come along with me on an adventure, and let me show you seven examples of how Dungeons and Dragons has affected all of our gaming lives.
1. Final Fantasy
They don’t call them RPGs for nothing! The idea of experience points and leveling up? That was invented in D&D. The original rules were conceived for use in wargaming, and were later adapted for use in the D&D system to accomodate individuals rather than armies. With this adaptation came the need for individual advancement, and the innovation came naturally as they played with and worked with the system. Individual skills and occupations were needed as well, so character classes were developed.
So stop and think about that for a second. Sure, every Final Fantasy game has had each of these things: classes, experience points, levels. But how many other games have had those things? I can think of at least 50 given a few minutes. These few elements, originated in D&D, have been the basis of countless games through the years!
2. Grand Theft Auto
One of the key elements of D&D is improvisational freedom. In short, this means that players can do anything they want to do; all they have to do is declare it. Think of it in terms of comparison to Super Mario Bros. Can you kick Goombas instead of just jumping on them? Can you intimidate them into surrendering? Trick them into walking off into those bottomless pits? Grapple a nearby pipe and pull it down onto all of the Goombas and Koopas in your path? All of these things would be options in D&D; the only limit is your imagination.
Sandbox games like Grand Theft Auto have started to offer this kind of variability and creativity. If you’ve got a problem to solve, you have many different options to solve it with. Rocket launcher or flaming vehicle? Earn respect with gang A, or with gang B? This kind of thinking and openness was first pioneered by good old Dungeons and Dragons.
3. Mass Effect
Another prime example of an RPG, although this one had some run and gun to it. One of the prime distinguishing factors of the Mass Effect series is the importance of the characters and their goals. While this is not a requirement in Dungeons and Dragons, most DMs will attempt to utilize their players’ backgrounds and goals in their games.
The story of each D&D game is written by the Dungeon Master, a person who essentially is the referee and god of the world in which the players play. It is up to him to ensure that his players are enjoying themselves, and the best way to do that is to give them a vested interest. A player best identifies with the character he is playing if he has an emotional tie to it. Mass Effect gives us this with every character in your party; they have individual goals and needs, and the player develops an emotional tie with each party member as they work to help them achieve those goals.
4. Team Fortress 2
In Team Fortress 2, each class has a specific role to play. Heavies are damage magnets, Medics heal, Snipers do huge amounts of damage and provide support, Spies keep the enemy forces off-balance and on their collective toes. Any team that has a sufficient lack in either damage-dealing, support, or defensive roles will find itself having a severe deficiency of ability to defend their base. What’s more, players MUST work together to achieve their goals. Running out lone-wolf-style is a good way to ensure you die a lot, which essentially makes your team down a man.
Dungeons and Dragons to the rescue again! D&D is played by a group of people, and all but one person (the aforementioned Dungeon Master) MUST work together. What’s more, it’s always best when there is variation. You don’t want a party of all wizards; sure, they can be great damage-dealers and supporters, but they’re all quite squishy, and will go down with only a few hits. Your party’s lifespan will be severely shortened. You need fighters to attract damage from your enemies, and healers to keep them (and you, should the occasional attack get through) alive. The core principles of cooperative gameplay and complimentary gameplay styles, once again, came from D&D.
When describing 2009′s breakout hit Borderlands to other people, most gamers will using the following description:
“It’s got Diablo-style random loot generation.”
Am I right? Show of hands, how many people have said something very similar to this when telling a friend about Borderlands. Hmmm, most of you, yes. Well here’s the thing. Diablo has D&D-style random loot generation.
The original Dungeon Master’s Guide, a book full of rules and helpful tables that the Dungeon Master can use to run his game, also had *GASP* random loot tables within. When designing the game and the dungeons that the players would crawl through, DMs of olde would use these tables to randomly determine what treasure the players would earn as rewards. Does this sound like Borderlands and Diablo to you?
For that matter, both Diablo and Borderlands offer dungeons of a sort (Diablo literally so, and randomly generated at that) that players have to explore to achieve goals, discover new loot, and generally go out and kill things. And dungeons got their start in… which game now? I’ll give you three guesses. Hint: It has the word “dungeons” in the title.
This one’s a little more obvious, but bear with me for a moment. Many aesthetic elements in D&D were originally based upon Tolkein’s work, most notably The Lord of the Rings. Creatures like elves, dwarves and orcs, not to mention elements such as mighty magic and brave swordplay, were brought over into the designs of D&D. Many would argue, however, that it was the success of D&D in the late 70s and early 80s that cemented these elements in the public’s mind, making Tolkein’s work popular once again.
Fast forward a few years, to the early 90s. Blizzard begins work on a PC adaptation of the tabletop game Warhammer, an increasingly popular tabletop miniatures wargame ALSO featuring orcs, elves, dwarves, and magic. The increasing hunger for these elements in the public, a fire started by Dungeons and Dragons, means more and more game systems based upon the same concepts are being released. Unfortunately, Blizzard’s deal with Warhammer’s developer fell through, and poor Blizzard was left to finish developing the unfortunate little game on its own. That game was Warcraft.
Fast forward another 10 years or so, and after huge success with the franchise, originally built upon Tolkein’s work and the fuel to the fire that Dungeons and Dragons provided, produces another unfortunate little sequel of sorts called World of Warcraft. At this point, the player is practically playing D&D itself, complete with levels, classes, cooperative gameplay, and random loot generation.
7. Madden NFL Football
Ha! Made you flinch. No, seriously. Even Madden, along with nearly every modern sports game on the books, is directly influenced by D&D. I shit you not.
Let me explain. Here you see a typical screen in Madden, displaying the information on a given set of players. At a glance, you can see they each have a numerical value assigned to various qualities. Here, we can see that each player has a value given to them for Speed, Strength and Agility, and this is just the first page. There are many more skills and values for each player, on many more pages.
Now take a look at this typical excerpt from a D&D Character Sheet, where a player keeps all of the information on the character they are playing as. Notice any similarities?
Same thing, isn’t it? Strength is there, same as Madden. D&D has a combined stat for Speed and Agility, called Dexterity, but can also use Constitution to determine what kind of running endurance a character might have.
Dungeons and Dragons, character stats, 1974. I guarantee you, there was no Madden NFL ’73.
Behind the scenes of most games, there will always be a series of numbers governing things. The life bar in Ninja Gaiden has a number value assigned to it in the code, and taking damage from various enemies inflicts a certain number of damage points, shortening that life bar. But in D&D, you can plan and strategize based on knowing the exact values of your attributes, just as in sports games and other RPGs.
So there you have it. Next time you buy a brand new game, just released, unwrap it from its packaging, stick it in your console, and play it for the first time, take a look at these elements. Remember where they came from, and bear in mind where they’re going. D&D is still around and is as popular as it has ever been. Do yourself a favor; don’t shut it out because it’s for “über-geeks” or “people who don’t bathe.” I promise you, I bathe, and being an über-geek is really not a bad thing at all. Embrace your gaming roots, pick up a set of dice, and give the Father of Games a shot.