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Exploring Eberron: The great dice notation debate

Rubi Bayer, @@rubi_

Recently there was a community kerfuffle over the way the dice notation is phrased in Dungeons and Dragons Online. Instead of the traditional 1d6, 2d4, etc., the game was stating "does 6-16 damage," for example. The change was made because players new to the game and unfamiliar with traditional DnD were having trouble understanding what the phrasing meant.

On the surface, this just does not seem like a big deal, and many players were left wondering "So what? Why get so bent out of shape over a little thing like that?" Well, there's a very good reason, because it's more than just a simple matter of phrasing. The dice notation change is a handy illustration of something that many DDO players are very concerned about: Dungeons and Dragons Online becoming just another standard-issue fantasy MMO that just happens to have some familiar names scattered about.

Follow along after the jump as I look at the underlying issue of the dice notation debate and what it means for DDO.

Dungeons and Dragons Online is something special. It's a long-running, well-loved icon that's come online and given DnD fans an entirely new world to explore. DDO stood out in the fantasy MMO crowd and provided something that no other game could.

The population explosion triggered by the game's move to free-to-play was a great thing for both Turbine and for the the DDO community. Yes, I said it was a great thing for the community. "Niche game" does not equal "exclusive club to which outsiders are not invited." More is better in the world of MMOs, and an opportunity to introduce someone new to a world that you love should never be wasted. If a new player ventures into the community and begins spouting things that indicate that he just doesn't get it -- such as "It's just dice notation, settle down," -- how do you respond? If you mock, rage, and tell him to STFU noob, you're not only a drain on the community, but you're wasting a valuable chance.

This game is evolving and changing largely to welcome new players. Most of those new players check DDO out for the first time because they've heard two things: it's good and it's free. Turbine wants them to stay. There's nothing wrong with that, of course -- the company is a for-profit business and exists to make money; that's not exactly a shameful secret. The problem arises because Turbine has a balance to strike. Your average non-DnD player can easily be overwhelmed by complicated rules, so the game needs to be newbie-friendly, and this is where the divide in the player base begins.

There is a significant gap between two sides of the community. On one side you have the people who have been playing for years. They know DDO inside and out, most likely played DnD, and love the game because it's so much more than your standard stick-it-with-the-sharp-end-until-it-dies, tank-heal-DPS game. As the game evolves to entice new players to stay, they feel that it's losing sight of what DDO is supposed to be, and that's terribly frustrating.

Now let's look at the other side. New players come in because they hear about this cool new game that's free. They download it and begin checking out the forums. They find players amusing themselves by devising derogatory names for updates, mechanics they dislike, and even for Turbine. They find people expressing outrage over every aspect of the game and contempt for anyone outside of their little circle of knowledge. If someone not in the know ventures to suggest that maybe things aren't so bad, he's greeted with howls of "GTFO TROLL!" The new players react defensively, of course, and nobody gains anything. (This of course doesn't represent the entire community -- because there is a very large and very helpful part to the community. But the anger and frustration is out there in a pretty big way.)

What a lost opportunity! Incoherent nerdrage accomplishes nothing and really only reflects poorly on the person having the tantrum. Every player new to DDO represents a chance to introduce someone to this amazing world. Veteran players, if those new players just don't get it, show them. Explain what DDO is all about. Explain that it's 3.5 and what that means. Explain to them why there are so many freakin' Kobolds all over the place and that a bugbear is neither a bug nor a bear. Show them the history of Eberron. Heck, explain why it's so funny that the new adventure pack sends you to find Nat Gann's urn.

Teaching someone the foundation of DDO is time well spent, because it will result in a new and valuable player who truly appreciates why DDO is special -- and who wants it to stay that way.

What about those of you who are new? Take the time to listen and learn. These people know their stuff. Free is great, but it's not what makes this a great game. There's much more to it than that, and it's really not that difficult. The dice notation is a perfect example -- if you just take a little bit of time to see what it's about, you'll understand. Worst case scenario: you absolutely can't understand what 1d6 means even though you've read an explanation five times. Go buy a pair of many-sided dice, read the thing again, and roll a few times. I promise you an "aha!" moment -- and it works that way with the rest of DDO as well.

This isn't a "let's all hug and get along and be besties 4EVA" column, mostly because I've been on the internet for more than five minutes and I know better. However, it does carry a valid point -- we all essentially want the same thing, which is to play this game and enjoy it. Bickering over dice notation is just a small example of the overall issue with this game, but it's also a good illustration of where DDO is headed and what we can do about it.

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