"Barrier to entry" is a term that has seen increasing use with the rise of free-to-play titles over the past few years. A low barrier to entry, be it through low or no cost or download times, is an attractive proposition to MMO players without an overabundance of disposable income or free time.
At first glance, Dungeons and Dragons is unfortunately just the opposite: The barrier to entry seems dauntingly high. The questions and perceived barriers pile up pretty quickly. Isn't it too late to catch up? I heard it's really complicated. Don't you need a group? I don't know anyone who plays, so I can't join a group. Don't D&D sessions last for hours a night? What do I have to buy? Where do I buy it?
To be very honest, those are the things that kept me from trying D&D, even though I've had the interest and curiosity for well over a year. At one point I checked out the game's site, thinking maybe I could pick up some sort of starter guide from the catalog. That catalog carried over 400 items, which simply reinforced this nagging feeling that it's way too late to enter such a complicated and long-running game.
Getting started is the hardest part, particularly for someone who is an MMO gamer first and a PnP gamer second if at all. It's not that it's too difficult to figure out, it's that the format is way beyond "download the client, enter character creation, and go through the tutorial." It's been a over six months since my last failed foray into D&D, and I recently decided that I'm going to try this game -- for real this time.
I was excited to find that there's a new (well, returning) resource for novices since I last checked things out, and I honestly wonder how I didn't find this sooner. The Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set is assembled and packaged perfectly to open the door to the very newest of new players. It's in a neat and tidy, un-intimidating box roughly half the size of your average board game, labeled right on the front: "For one or more beginning to intermediate players." There's no need to scour websites or stores trying to figure out what you need to buy, and -- possibly best of all -- no need to track down a local group of people willing to spend hours initiating you.
Remember that barrier to entry that I mentioned earlier? This cool little box is your stepladder. The first thing you find upon opening it is a fairly light player's book that says "read this first!" on the cover. Rather than seeming condescending, the setup and super-simple instructions like this are rather well-fitted to this situation. For a casual DDO player who's been repeatedly overwhelmed by the complicated appearance of DnD until now, this streamlined setup is the perfect introduction.
The player's book is where things really get good for experienced DDO players. Just like D&D players have the advantage of a basic game understanding upon entering DDO, the reverse holds true. The player's book acts as a sort of choose-your-adventure guide, leading new players through a sample encounter that serves to both help the player find his play style and introduce him to the main character classes. DDO players have a good foundation of hands-on experience with each of these classes, a foundation that makes this introduction a fun read as well as a learning tool. The book continues in this vein and introduces the player to the other contents of the starter set in the bargain: dice, character sheets, dungeon maps, character and monster tokens, and so on. Once the player has a good feel for the basics, there's a dungeon master's book as well. Finally, at the bottom of the contents of the box are a few pages of information on more DnD materials -- including a coupon code for a free downloadable solo adventure. (I set those aside for the time being, but I imagine they'll come in handy later.)
DnD is a popular game in its own right, but there are advantages beyond having some fun for DDO players who haven't experienced it before. DDO is a relatively complicated game in MMO terms, thanks in large part to its roots in a game with more than 30 years of history behind it. Players learn the various nuances of DDO at different speeds, and a lot of this is due to the simple fact that people have varying learning styles. If you're having difficulty picking some aspects up, the DnD starter set can be a surprisingly effective learning tool -- something I was honestly not expecting. I dug into the starter kit simply because I've been interested in trying DnD since not long after I became a DDO fan. As I worked my way through the starter manual, concepts that had been a little fuzzy for me came into focus. The different format and new style of explanation provided a perspective that helped me more than all the wiki-studying I could do.
Hardcore DDO and DnD players probably won't find this useful -- it's very clearly geared toward the new and/or casual player. But as I said before, it's the best stepladder over what can look like a high barrier to entry that I've found so far. Its friendly approach to those learning on their own reminded me of the discussion of loners in gaming that I attended last week. One reason given for playing alone was that many new players prefer to learn the game without the social pressure of feeling surrounded by veterans. It's a preference that I can definitely understand -- most people don't want to feel like the one holding the group back and prefer to have at least a basic working knowledge of the game before entering a group situation.
I'm definitely not saying that every DDO player needs to run out and buy the DnD starter kit this very minute -- it won't appeal to you unless you have a desire to learn more about DnD. However, if you do, this is the best tool I've found for introducing a DDO fan to the game that is responsible for its creation. An added understanding of DDO is a bonus if you need it.
It's very important to note that the starter kit is DnD 4.0, while DDO is 3.5. What this means is that while the basic foundation cross references nicely, it's a very bad idea to rely on the two for more detailed gameplay.
Finally, I want to touch on moving beyond the basics. It's great to be able to learn the basics of DnD on your own, but ultimately it's not a one-player game and you're going to have to go LFG eventually. If you're fortunate enough to have like-minded friends or local DDO buddies, ask around! See if some of them are interested in jumping in with you.
Even if you're not in that situation, there are options. I'm fortunate enough to have a gaming spouse, but other than that I go it alone. You'd be surprised how few of the soccer moms in my social circle are eager to sit down for a few hours of MMO gaming once the kids are tucked into bed! (Or maybe you wouldn't.) That holds true for DnD as well, so I turned to other avenues. The quickest and easiest way for me -- and for you if you don't have a ready-made group -- was to do a quick Google search for "dungeons and dragons group" (or meetup) and your city name. I was surprised at how many options there were. I found two forums and a local group that meets regularly with just a few minutes of searching.
The starter kit's home page includes a link to find local games as well, but I found this a little less effective, because it didn't take into account small informal or casual groups -- it's a nice resource, but don't take the chance on missing a good group by limiting yourself to that alone.
Thus begins my foray into Dungeons and Dragons -- I'm excited to be trying this in tandem with DDO and glad that the tools are in place to introduce new players, even after such a long time.
Exploring Eberron is a novice's guide to the world of Dungeons and Dragons Online, found here on Massively every Friday. It's also a series of short summaries of lower-level DDO content, cleverly disguised as a diary of the adventures of OnedAwesome, Massively's DDO guild.