Bring on the clones: Sometimes all you want is a new setting with same core mechanics

If anyone has played tabletop RPGs, you’ll be familiar with the idea of using the same core mechanics for multiple different campaigns.

Dungeons and Dragons in particular is well known for the wildly different settings (including PlanescapeDragonlance, Forgotten Realms, and loads of others) and that’s before you even start on individual GM’s homegrown settings. These are all, incidentally, settings with radically different geography, histories, races, and can vary widely in genre and theme. (eg. Ravenloft is a gothic horror setting, Spelljammer is about space pirates on flying magical ships.)But they are all based on the same core rules.

Part of the appeal of an expansion or DLC to an existing computer game is having an expanded setting with the same core mechanics. Probably even the same core player character.

Part of the appeal of playing a game in the same genre as an existing one is having a new setting with similar core mechanics, but with a different player character. And maybe enough tweaks to add a learning curve. OK, this doesn’t explain why Blizzard like to tweak their mechanics for each expansion, but you can assume the gameplay experience will be familiar enough to not put people off.

So I never quite understand why people complain about ‘WoW Clones’. Do players who like FPS complain about CoD clones (or whatever the ur-game is for FPS)? By all means complain if the game isn’t fun, or the balance is off. But if you’re bored of the core mechanic, don’t know what you want, or just feel burned out in general, then play something else. It is entirely possible for a game to use typical MMO core mechanics (and we probably wouldn’t even be able to agree what those were) and still provide a breath of fresh air in other respects, to people who don’t actively hate that gameplay.

In some ways, I wish one of the big MMO companies would find a way to open source their mechanics and let other developers work on a wide range of different expansions, so that players could take their favourite character into multiple different games. Just like the D&D campaigns.

Designing the Perfect Character

When I was running pen and paper RPGs, I noticed that some players always want to create the same type of character. It won’t matter what genre they are playing, or what ruleset. In their imaginary worlds, they have some kind of perfect platonic character, and that’s the one they want to play.

At first, people get bored of having The Man With No Name, CombatWombat the min-maxed fighter, Amnesiac Ubermage, DrizztClone #51, Mister Useless (there’s always one person who picks all the most useless skills available), and Spot the Comedy Dog turn up in every single game. After awhile it gets quite comfortable, like a RPG version of Cheers.

I see this in MMOs as well. People pick out some concept, look, role, or play style and decide that for them, that’s The One. In every game afterwards, they will play some variation on the same theme.

I have one friend who has this in a particularly strong way. She always wants to play male elves wearing plate armour who dual wield. They must also have long hair and a bishi look. World of Warcraft has let her down in this respect, Blood Elves cannot be warriors. She tries womanfully to make up for their mistakes – she plays a Blood Elf Deathknight and a Blood Elf Retribution Paladin (both plate wearing melee classes, but they both use a two-hander, the DK used to dual wield but she wasn’t happy with how it performed on the damage meters). She even has a Night Elf warrior but she’s not that fond of Alliance and the character model is way too buff for her taste.

I was commenting that if/when Blizzard do relent on the whole Blood Elf/ Warrior thing (and there’s no special lore reason why they shouldn’t exist), it could be her perfect character. “Not really,” she said forlornly, “Fury warriors dual wield 2-handers now, and I wanted a character that could dual wield normal swords.”

Sometimes you just can’t win for trying.