Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Eye Candy

James wrote up an interesting blog entry the other day, that I can summarize as "less is more." His basic premise is that the less props provided the more engaged the players will be. He goes on to say that with less props, the players need to actively image the scene, which will create a better game play experience. As more and more props are added, the lazier one can get, in terms of actively engaging their imagination and placing themselves in the middle of the game. I am paraphrasing a bit, but that is the gist of it. He raises some good points, and it is worth taking a harder look at the topic.

His post could not have come at a better time, as I am thinking about buying some Dwarven Forge terrain for use in creating a visual dungeon. Dwarven Forge is both beautiful and expensive. At almost $100 a set, it adds up quickly. In a sense, Dwarven Forge is Legos for gamers. Without a doubt, it’s cool stuff, and the eye candy factor is very high.

So the question for me is it worth the cost, will I use it, and will it add to my game play experience. Adding props to the game help anchor the game experience and provides context for the players to interact with. I have always maintained that D&D is a shared experience. In order for it to qualify as a shared experience, there has to be some commonality in the experience otherwise you have a bunch of folks just doing their own thing, and it is totally disconnected. This would not meet my definition of a shared experience.

But, I agree with some of the premise. The table top D&D DDI that Wizards was working on did not hold appeal for me. The idea was that one could use the digital tabletop to connect to folks virtually and use it as a game aid. What I saw was basically a computer generated version of their miniatures on their cardboard tiles. While I agree that using miniatures is helpful, especially in combat, I am not convinced that Wizard’s miniature lineup is the best, and if I am looking at a computer screen, I definitely want it to look better than that. In short, their eye candy was poor.

As a wargamer, I enjoy playing with games that are very attractive to look at. For example, playing Warhammer/Warhammer 40K with fully painted miniatures is very impressive, and that does add to the game play. In short, its eye candy. FFG’s board games, like Descent and War of the Ring, are very attractive due to their game pieces. For the more traditional wargames, counters that are colorful and that are played on well done maps are more enjoyable than wargames that look cheaply put together.

So back to the original question, how much is too much? I believe that you need some props to get alignment on what is going on. I have been in a number of games where the DM is trying to explain what is going on, and finally just has to draw it out, as it cannot be explained well. I do believe that the plain battle mat is great, as one can quickly draw out the room, and alignment is gained very quickly.

One of the things that I do not like about 4th ed is the heavy reliance on battle mat, due to the way the mechanics are set up. A lot of the powers and feats are tied directly to the battle mat. The battle mat goes from being a tool to tell the story to a required center piece of the game. To me, this turns the game into a miniatures battle game, not that there is anything wrong with a miniature battles game, as I like pushing the lead around as the next person, but this is different game.

When I first started playing D&D, I always thought about creating a 3-D dungeon, as I thought that would be the greatest thing since sliced bread. Without a doubt, seeing a 3-D dungeon actually all lined up is eye candy. But does it add to the game, or does it detract with the flow as one is constantly adding rooms and shuffling around pieces as the characters make their way through the dungeon? At this point, I am not sure.

I am still tempted to buy a couple of sets and see how it works out. It feels like for mega-dungeon crawling, Dwarven Forge would be perfect and would add to the game. But would it then feel like a miniatures game with the players just pushing their miniature through the maze of the terrain? In any event, it would look impressive, but is it really just a white elephant that looks better on someone else’s tabletop?

Well I have another month or two to ponder this, before I am back in the states.


Badmike said...

We don't use many props, but I love minis, and the battlemat, and dwarven forge. We don't use it all the time, but I find the terrain pieces very evocative and can really translate how cramped and tight some spaces get ("oh, you mean THATS how big a 10x10 room is?"). My group doesn't have a fetish about having to set up every lair or encounter, but occasionally it's fun to map out the room and move the minis around, dodging tables and chairs, etc. I'd say get a set and see how it works before commiting to a larger purchase.

Mr Baron said...

Thanks for the note. I probably will end up buying maybe two sets and see if I use them. But since they are not cheap, I am still thinking a bit about this.