Some of the most fun times I’ve had playing World of Warcraft (WoW) have been running dungeons with our guild. My brother and I and several friends would group up and tackle a few of them every Sunday morning, and it truly was an event. I’d grab my coffee and don the Ventrilo and we’d be off, joking as we made our way through the trash mobs on our way to the bosses. The camaraderie was a big part of the session but a big part of the fun, for me at least, was tackling the dungeons in the area we were already adventuring in. I had already finished up the questing in a number of the surrounding zones, knew the story and background of the area, and finishing the dungeons was a nice way to wrap up those storylines, as the bosses frequently were the final bad guys in those quest chains. The dungeons were the culminations of those tales. The trouble for me started when we began doing two things: random dungeons and pick-up-groups, or PUGs.
With Richard Garriott and Portalarium announcing yesterday The Shroud of the Avatar Kickstarter, we have the man who many credit with the invention of the MMORPG (Ultima Online) returning to the scene. While this in and of itself brings quite a bit of skepticism as well as excitement, there’s reason to believe that Garriott can bring back to the industry a much-needed shot in the arm. Leave aside the whole Tabula Rasa vs. Garriott’s trip to space vs. NCSoft controversy for a moment. This is the guy who literally brought MMO genre to the masses. Yeah, he’s been quiet for a while, and yeah, that last project didn’t work out (under a company who since has become known for torpedoing game projects – Tabula Rasa, City of Heroes, Auto Assault, NetDevil, Dungeon Runners, Dragonica), but Richard Garriott “gets it” when it comes to storytelling in computer games. Here’s why:
In 1978, just about 11 years after TSR’s Dungeons & Dragons burst onto the scene, a company called Chaoisum introduced a new game: RuneQuest. While there were many, many differences between RuneQuest and D&D, the one people point to most frequently is RuneQuest’s percentile-based skill system, and the fact there were no character “levels.” In RuneQuest, rather than templated character classes (“fighter,” “cleric,” “thief,” etc.) with pre-defined abilities, you placed points into skills, and as you used them, each skill had the possibility to improve. So a character might have especially good skills in longsword and shield if they were a fighter-type, or magical spells if they were a mage. Even more of a shock, your “hit points” almost never increased. Your ability to defend (parry or dodge or block with a shield), could become very high, but your base health stayed pretty much the same throughout your character’s life. A lowbie character with a very lucky roll could defeat a high powered one who made a very bad roll—something unheard of in the D&D world.