Bargain Bin Posts Week: Non-Combat Skills

I kind of wish I had finished this article back in the day — I was so full of spit and fire back then!

In a recent article on, the author talks about how the MMO design philosophy — combat above all else — has managed to royally screw up D&D’s multi-layered approach to role-playing.  I know I’ve talked about non-combat options in MMOs before, but reading this really struck a chord — I’m really afraid we’re starting to lose the “RP” in MMORPGs altogether.

After all, most new MMOs these days don’t make a lot of extra allowances for role-players.  LOTRO is the last title that I can remember to go the second mile in providing tools for its subscribers to have their characters show ability and talent beyond mere combat: the music system, the various skills that would be nothing more than eye candy (the Captain’s ability to make others bow to him, or the Lore-Master’s ability to tame a non-combat pet), the attempt by the devs to have quests that didn’t use a lick of combat (running races, playing hide and seek, turning into a chicken, and so on).

But these elements have become the minority feature of most all MMOs today that they’ve earned a rather condescending nickname — “fluff”.  Doing anything aside from combat and crafting — fluff.  Having gear that is just for looks, not for stats — fluff.  Vanity pets — fluff.  Player housing — fluff.

Before WAR ever launched, I got irked beyond belief at an interview in which one of the devs (Paul, I think) derisively slammed fluff and happily boasted that there’d be none of that crap in the game.  Lo and behold, at launch, there really wasn’t, aside from trophies.  Except that in doing so, the game world became a lot less “real” to players, because it really just became a combat simulator of sorts.  Your character didn’t live in that world, it just moved through it and killed things.  Perhaps sensing their error, Mythic has since slowly been introducing fluffy things, like non-combat pets and fluff-filled live events, all of which were met with approval and popularity.

Not to single WAR out in this, because plenty of other titles have woefully undersupported any development or equipment of characters for non-combat adventures.

5 thoughts on “Bargain Bin Posts Week: Non-Combat Skills

  1. You can’t have just fluff and no game. See APB which had great customization but was in every other respect inferior to multiplayer GTA4.

    But assuming the core game is decent or better, it’s the fluff that actually sticks with people. Take Everquest. I vividly remember the first time I quite pointlessly ran across the continent at level 6, fleeing danger at every turn. And the first time I saw a druid turn into a tree, and the first time I saw Flippy Darkpaw shout out his little diatribe.

    On the other hand, I don’t remember a single damn thing about the loot I got.

  2. My biggest peeve with D&D 4th edition is that it’s a glorified combat simulator, rather than a RPG. By attributing almost everything outside of combat to the “make it up as you go” realm of the game, they clearly put the emphasis on action rather than character development (in the literary sense).

    “Make it up as you go” actually works just as well for combat, there is no particular reason you need a ton of rules for that and none for anything else. I have played PnP games where we had almost no rules at all. You made up character personalities, assigned them primary and secondary attributes (I’m good with guns and a talented street performer…I am good with computers and know how to pick locks…ect.), and the GM simply described how our actions turned out based on what we tried to do and what seemed reasonable. In cases where he wasn’t sure, he’d hand us a die and have us roll. You don’t need board game mechanics to role play.

    D&D 4th edition is a board game that you can role-play while playing if you feel like it. Much like most MMOs are combat simulators that allow those so inclined to role-play while playing them. However, at that point you are essentially LARPing in most MMOs. The “fluff” non-combat/ crafting mechanics that actually help enable the experience are limited in most MMOs.

  3. Very interesting point and I would have to agree most of them have become mere fight simulators. There is very little interaction needed in the games beyond slapping each other around or pve.

  4. I have a ton of bargin bin posts sitting in my blogger account too. I’ve been reading all the posts you’ve been putting out this week, but I think this is the first one that deserves more attention.

    I thought the direction you were going with this post was really interesting. Any chance of rewriting it from scratch from your current viewpoint?

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