Monday, October 27, 2014

5 PC/Console Games That Inspire My D&D

As a DM and a writer of many original campaigns, I draw inspiration from a multitude of sources. I have taken adventure ideas from books, events in world history, theatre, movies, anime, and even other games. In this week’s article, I want to drill down a bit deeper into one of these sources and I have decided to share with you my top five games that have inspired me and have influenced the way I play D&D. This is not to say that all of my D&D sessions look or feel like any of these games; however, they have played large roles in how I shape my plots and how many of my campaigns unfold.

Here they are in no particular order:

1.       World of Warcraft (PC)
I, like many people, got sucked into Warcraft when it was still a strategy/building game. However, when it was released as an MMORPG in 2004, not only did the game change itself but it powered a revolution in the whole gaming industry that is still happening more than ten years later. As far as D&D goes, I think most of us would agree that this game, along with many others that followed it, is mostly responsible for the changes we saw in 4th Edition. The 4th Edition designers saw huge potential in tapping into a new generation of gamers who were eating up WoW. Unfortunately, in their enthusiasm for change, they also managed to alienate many of their long-term customers who found the new system too combative and unfriendly to roleplaying. However, with all of this being said, I still find WoW a great resource for my D&D games. It has an epic feel to it, especially inside of the dungeons and upper level instances, that I like to emulate; it has an enormous wealth of interesting characters and NPCs to draw inspiration from; and it also demonstrates a great deal of humor and inside jokes that I feel is important to include in my D&D adventures as these break up the tension and remind players that having fun is still one of the main reasons why we play.       

2.       Dragon Warrior/Quest IV (NES)
WAY back in 1992, the Cold War officially came to an end, LA experienced the Rodney King riots, Bill Clinton was voted into office, and one of my favorite games of all time was released: Dragon Warrior IV (Dragon Quest IV in Japan and many other countries). What made this game different from the previous three Dragon Warrior/Quest games was the ability to play multiple characters in their own individual quests and eventually link them all together as one group for the epic quest to end of the game. It was, in my opinion, the very first time any console game had even come close to achieving a D&D like atmosphere and it still influences me in many ways today. Although I don’t feel like it is necessary in every campaign that I DM, it is very nice to often give each individual PC in my games personal goals that they can achieve to coincide with the larger goals that the party is working toward. Intertwining all of these story lines and aspirations is simultaneously one of the most difficult and most rewarding challenges a DM can face.   

3.       Sid Meier’s Pirates! (PC)
Originally released for PC in 1987, I didn’t stumble upon this gem until the 1994 re-release on CD. Essentially, you begin the game as a humble sailor who finds himself (sorry, no female characters ladies) elected to be captain of small sloop after a mutiny. Once you are in control of the ship and crew, what you do, where you go, and who you fight for/against are completely in your hands. The game is very open ended and only comes to a conclusion once your character reaches an age considered to be too old to go on swashing buckles (often around the late forties if you've taken good care of yourself). From a D&D perspective, this game inspired me with the idea that while sword fighting, gaining wealth, and taking down other pirates (i.e. bosses) can be fun, it’s just as important to keep your eyes on the side quests and back stories of characters. In Pirates!, the main character can engage in several side-missions that increase his rank and fame/infamy, grant him titles and lands, help him discover hidden treasure hordes, and allow him to track down a few lost family members. All of which can change how he “feels” about his retirement at the end of play which is displayed as an epilogue. As a DM, the epilogue is something I try to include at the end of all my campaigns and I try to give each character a little story about where they end up and how their lives turn out based on what they accomplished, or didn’t accomplish, during the campaign.            

4.       The Legend of Zelda Series (Various Nintendo)
Excluding Mario, there is no other Nintendo game franchise in history that has been so influential and so popular. Rather you experienced the original and the sequel in the 80’s, A Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time in the 90’s, or countless other renditions since, roleplaying Link has become a rite of passage for many console gamers. And, in comparison to D&D, The Legend of Zelda has a lot of carry-over. You live and die on hit points (a.k.a. hearts); you can collect items, learn spells, and wear armor; dungeons abound and are filled with beasts, traps, and treasure; and you fight a myriad of monsters and bosses in a grand effort to save the world. Also, many of the conventions that drive D&D are present in the Zelda games such as gaining new fighting techniques, solving riddles/puzzles, looking for hidden doors/passages, and exploring exotic locations. In retrospect, one of the big lessons I’ve learned from the Zelda games that carry over into my D&D games is the idea that dungeons should be unique from one another and having a theme for each dungeon is an excellent way to get players interested in them.

5.       Dragon Age Series (PC)
I love the Dragon Age games for two main reasons: 1) They are produced here in Canada; and 2) They are relentlessly brutal. Since Dragon Age: Origins was released in 2009, this series has won several awards including PC Game of the Year 2009 and has sold more than five million units. A third major installment, Dragon Age: Inquisition, is due to arrive roughly a month from the time of this writing. As previously mentioned, these games are known for their bloody, gore-filled battle scenes and I’ve noticed that my own battle scenes in D&D have changed to emulate them over the past few years. I think anyone who spends a few hours hacking away at monsters in Dragon Age will rapidly develop a greater appreciation for combat in D&D.

What other games have I missed? What games have inspired you? Please feel free to comment.

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