Monday, January 26, 2009

Winterhaven Questgivers

The NPCs in Winterhaven are not subtle about giving out quests. They hand those babies out like they are hallowe'en candy. In my running of Keep on the Shadowfell I've provided players with a printed Quest Log, half in jest and half because it is actually useful.

This is the World of Warcraft approach to questgiving. There is a lot of flavour dialogue to be had in Winterhaven, but it's clear that none of it is important to the players. The important conversations - the ones that lead to loot and slaying - are carefully emphasised through some question-and-answer sample dialogue.

Q: What can you tell me about an ancient keep in the area?
Salvana Wrafton
: "Oh, the keep? It's just northeast of the village, up in the Cairngorms. But no one goes that way. Too dangerous! Monsters of all sorts! Ghosts and vampires, I hear. Nothing anyone who values their life would get anywhere near. Valthrun probably knows more."
This is pretty horrible dialogue. For starters, no-one talks like that. Also, "ghosts and vampires" is D&D code for "high level monsters". The module is giving players the signal that they are not ready to explore this keep, when in fact they're going to have to go there pretty soon to progress the plot, and there's not a vampire to be seen in the entire adventure. The infodump is saved, though, by the referral to Valthrun (a local wizard), which reveals that it's not a dead-end topic and encourages players to keep investigating.

Mediocre writing aside, this is not a bad approach to questgiving in an entry-level module. Winterhaven provides players with three questlines to pursue: they can investigate a nearby archaeological site, they can check out the ancient keep, or they can exterminate the kobold raiders. The players are given a meaningful choice about what order to tackle the problems in, while being firmly shepherded along Keep on the Shadowfell's central plotline. They're left in no doubt as to what will and will not progress the story.


[1] World of Warcraft found more players in three years than D&D did in thirty; Wizards of the Coast were probably clever to draw heavily from it in shaping their 4th Edition. Given the de-emphasis on storytelling and the new prominence of combat, why didn't they actively incorporate the concept of a Quest Log into their game rules?

[2] The description of Winterhaven presents all the major questgivers and information sources as regulars of the local tavern. This fantasy cliche is convenient for the players, but gives them little reason to explore Winterhaven or become attached to the module's hub town. Was this placing a deliberate attempt to get players moving on to the next encounter, or merely a lack of imagination?


By The Sword said...

I think that the designers of 4th edition were trying to recreate World of Warcraft on paper. Possibly to get players who have done nothing but play WoW into D&D. It's almost as though the designers forgot about all of us other players, some of whom have been playing the game for 35 years.

I guess they feel that "they got us" and need to rope in some new fans. But the longer they forget about us long-time, loyal D&D players the longer they put off a fan base that 1) buys non-core material, 2) Buys figurines and subscribed to the 'zines (Dragon and Dungeon).

One other thing to note is that WoW only costs $50 to buy and start playing while D&D costs $70 for the core books, plus the cost of the adventure ($30.00), plus the cost of maps, minis and whatever new material has the new classes and powers in it. D&D has always had (and I hate to use this term) a "cult" following. By that I mean that it's players were the ones who recruited in other players. A person usually got introduced to D&D through friends who played and they learned the rules as they played the game. Rare are the people who just went out and bought the rules books and read them.

Unknown said...

Late comment I know but when I saw this a thought came to mind.

This is simply extra unfortunate since most people I know that want to play a WoW pnp simply go and get, shockingly enough, the WoW pnp that White Wolf put out.

It's perhaps a bad sign that either the actual designers feel they need to try and compete with a totally different experience in the MMO market, or even worse there is someone higher up that is pushing the designers in a direction trying to make more money and will end up ruining the official materials.