D&D is still living in the stone age, at least in the descriptions or the videos I see on line, made in the last four years. Paper character sheets, graph paper maps, pencils, miniatures…dice…these things made sense for 1979, but here we are thirty years later and embracing these things as though they were the game, as though our imaginations are dependent on the manner in which the mechanics are managed. For three years now I’ve been running my games from a lap top - no paper at all. When I want to give one player a private bit of information, I create a page on the desktop, minimize everything and then show it. Why would I write out a paper note? So the player can remember what he’s been told? Are you given paper notes by the trees and rocks you see, and everyone you converse with?
I realize there is a tight, nostalgic clique for these things. I once mentioned that most of my players showed up for a running with their own lap tops, and was told by DMs - not to specifically name any - that they would punish their players. Me, I think its fabulous.
When I think about what I would do with money applied to the game, along with my secretary, I think electronic interaction. I see the bits with computer-generated graphics in Iron Man and Quantum of Solace (which I didn’t like, by the way), and I think, “When do I get my hands on that?”
Because there ought to be a graphic interface screen in the center of every table. Get rid of the cheap drawings and the paper maps with border limitations and the expensive, soon-to-be-pummelled-into-indistinguishable-lumps miniatures and lets have a table-top battle map which will enable my players to be farther apart than 48 hexes. Lets have maps which can be touched to reveal other maps, and maps which can be three-dimensional.
And let’s have a system whereby every player can individually manipulate his or her movements on that map, without being able to affect anyone else’s movement. Let’s have total interface capabilities, so that I can show an image on each individual’s computer of what THEY and THEY ALONE can see, and force other players to move blind when they don’t have knowledge of what the fighter is going through behind the door.
I have talked it over with players, and I can understand that they don’t want to stop throwing dice. For them, the dice are personal, tangible manifestations of their characters and the physical action of attacking, doing damage, throwing for safety and what have you. I would not, I think, ever insist that players give up the throwing of dice, however archaic they may be.
But I have to say, as a DM, I feel none of that. I don’t give a rat’s ass if the goblin hits or not. I’m throwing for fifty, sixty goblins here, and it’s hard to get emotionally attached. I have already made the concession that it makes sense - algorithms be damned - to generate hit points in Excel. I could happily design an Excel spreadsheet (working on one in my head) that would let me roll as many monsters as I wanted at once, and generate damage, at a click. And then save a lot of time in a mass combat by saying, “These two guys hit, take seven damage, those four guys miss, three of these twelve bowmen hit; the mage takes four, the thief takes two and the ranger takes one.” And just rattle that off so the players can get back to strategy and success without having to sit and wait while I roll and roll and roll.
Oh, sure, there might be some tension lost…watching your friend get stomped while the dice haven’t been rolled on YOU yet. But after enough combats, you know that flavour declines, and mostly you just want the combat to move. I don’t see my players sitting on the edge of their chairs waiting for me to move up the legions against them. For them, it’s mostly a moment to go to the bathroom, stock up on fuel, etc. For myself, after thirty years of die rolling, I don’t care if I ever roll a die as a DM again. I think I, too, would want to roll dice for a character I was playing, but its just a hassle which holds up running a game.
(I know there are those of you who would penalize a player for leaving a table during a combat. I’ve played with people like you. You find that stick comfortable, do you?)
As for role-playing, have you seen Sims 2. This, without question, would be dead fabulous for defining character features, since the game allows you to make not just beautiful avatars, but ugly ones also. Given the money and time to design the application, players without a natural artistic ability (hey, I’m one) could manage a passable figure for their character. As DM, I’d look over their shoulder and suggest they might be a bit uglier or more attractive in keeping with their charisma, with artists much smarter than me providing maybe a grading scale. Or maybe not. Beauty is relative.
The real genius is not the application of an avatar-making program for players, but for NPCs! Ah, if I could have a recognizable image for every NPC I use to interact with the party, something unique and instantly familiar, which the party could actually feel an emotional attachment or revulsion for, that would fit perfectly into campaigning. The textual feeling of having an image to talk to, be in fear of, or hesitate before mindlessly slaughtering (a dozen faces of innocent looking hobgoblin children)…so that the circuitry of the brain might kick in when the player’s are NOT playing. Imagine one of your players saying to you, “Remember when we slaughtered that hobgoblin village? I actually had a dream last night where I saw the faces staring up at me while I cut them to pieces with a sword. I woke up shaking.”
I could probably throw out more. It’s Sunday morning and I’m a bit fried and unmotivated to write. (It’s amazing I wrote this much). I might write more sometime about the application of electronics to D&D, but this should already open a few of those doors. I think we really should be thinking about what we can do with the technology, and let go of our graph paper.
I’m about $4,000 away from having at least a limited enough table-top display with accompanying programs and interfacing that would let me get rid of my canvas graph-board and my miniatures (with their appallingly limited number of wolves, rats, gelatinous cubes, ropers, mind flayers and shedu) forever.
That would be sweet.