Inspired by Corehammer’s Brinton Williams excellent piece on Dungeons & Dragon (DnD) and tabletop games on the big and small screen, this is my tribute. How is DnD and similar represented in videogames?
First a disclaimer, I’ve never played DnD… bro. No honestly, that’s not to say I don’t own it, having been inspired at London Comic Con to pick up a starter set. My squareblind partners and I tried a dry run and quickly, as complete noobs were out of our depth got confused, frustrated and then bored. The night ‘improved’ with more booze and a home brewed game involving Owl Bears in a kids adventure park which saw us all eviscerated by said beasties having failed to grasp the core concepts of encounter design and how much beer we should drink in an evening.
Why did we play DnD, but one year ago. Well Brinton is right. We are riding the wave of geek culture, its crested and drowned the rest of pop culture. Is DnD a step to far? It is short hand for ‘true nerd’ in alot of visual media, but has been enough of a fad to warrant a movie with a half decent cast and be a key pillar of Wizards of the Coast’s business. But, the link between videogames and real world role playing games is far deeper than other media. Whilst Eidos might be long gone, it was built by the man who founded Games Workshop. All game engines utilise mathematics in the same way a dungeon master does, albeit at a greatly increased speed, so when videogames reference DnD and similar they are affectively referencing their own ancestors.
Videogames have long scalped other media for its settings, and there are numerous games using game play and lore from its older relatives. Some of the biggest games have this pedigree, did you know the first Warcraft was initially an unsolicited attempt at making a Warhammer strategy game? Or that the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. and V.A.T.S. systems from across the Fallout series were replacements for Steven Jackson’s G.U.R.P.S rules?
But what about when videogames explicitly reference DnD and similar tabletop games? I thought of two examples, although I’m sure there are more. And both make interesting implications about the DnD player versus the juxtaposed gamer. Fable III and Borderlands II both have sections which explicitly reference DnD.
In Fable III’s The Game, the quest pulls the rug under the Player Character (PC) to reveal that the cabal of dark wizards’ which served as the quest givers where actually a circle of role players come Dungeon Masters (DM). Shrinking the PC down to the table top, you’re put through numerous challenges which do highlight the range of worlds on offer through imaginative DMs.
Table top role playing games have the ability to create myriad worlds, only limited by imagination. In The Game, the creation is standard fantasy fare, perhaps reflecting the most cost-effective use of Fable III’s existing assets. The games engine itself, clearly limits some of the quest as whilst as a brain teaser is suggested, its quickly jettisoned to keep up the action. The quest givers range from standard lore focused DM getting annoyed by the variance to his world, another DM who wants a ‘happy’ story and the third being a blood-thirsty maniac.
The perception of DnD through Fable III is that RPGs are the denizens of shy and embarrassed players, simply through the set up that the quest givers are black clad loners. And here in lies the rub, whilst videogames have a clear lineage from DnD and similar, Fable III puts gamers in a position of superiority versus there table top cohorts. It is effectively the bullied taking out frustrations on those lower down the social food chain. Sure, as with everything in Fable, its humorous enough, but picking on the table top gamer is unfair when you are playing a nerdy steam punk videogame.
Tiny Tina’s Assault On Dragon Keep Downloadable Content (DLC) for Borderlands II actually uses the game as an escape for the Tina as she comes to terms with the death of Roland. Which to give the game its credit is surprisingly deep given its sales pitch of having a bazillion guns. It’s a conceit that’s used similarly used in Community and the IT Crowd to frame their own DnD sessions.
The content was well reviewed and it is clear from the number of new assets that this sizeable size of DLC was created with real love from Gearbox. With the clear effort and pathos that went into Tiny Tina’s Assault On Dragon Keep it provides a much warmer tribute to DnD. The ‘players’ and Tina’s DM-ing is well integrated into both Borderlands II and DnD itself.
Lilith and Brick, returning from the first Borderlands have fully bought into Tina’s world, particularly for the former who realize that the game is a crucial part of the DM’s grieving process. The Non-Player Characters (NPCs) highlight the range of interactions that different DND-ers have with the game and the challenge of DMing a game being sidelined by its own players.
Whilst Mordecai serves as the NPC calling DnD out, he’s sidelined quickly as the game’s significance for Tina becomes clear. It helps that Mordecai is a try-hard not quite as cool as he thinks. Tiny Tina’s Assault On Dragon Keep treats DnD with real affection and is clearly aware on DnD’s DNA flowing through its shooty veins.
It’ll be great to see more of Corehammer’s analysis of DnD in TV and movies. But its also clear inspirations for some fantastic videogame content. If only all content creators would treat it with the same respect as Tiny Tina’s Assault On Dragon Keep.
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