Now that we have fully entered the 21st century, more digital tools and resources are available than ever, and the trend is shows every sign of continuing. The tension between digital and analog in gaming is nothing new, – I programmed my first character creator for my Commodore 64 in 1987 – and parallels the conflict found in the music and movie industries. Now that we’re a year and a half into the 4th edition / DnD Insider era, it’s time to focus on a few things that analog does well.
When I started gaming in the mid 80s, role-playing games were referred to as ‘pen and paper’ games to differentiate them from video games and board games. Dungeons and Dragons begins with the rule books and character sheets. What advantage do books have over digitized information?
The first is the pure joy of holding a book, looking at its pages and smelling the ink. Subjective pleasures aside, if you have space, you can spread your books out and have lots of information available, all at the same time. Unless you have three or more 19” monitors, digitized information can’t compete. During 4th edition character creation, I’ve also found that using books and paper forces me to really learn the mechanics behind the new character. When I have to calculate each advantage and disadvantage myself, I find myself better prepared to start playing.
While Wizards of the Coast does a great job of adding content to 4th edition via the Insider, there are a number of other companies who also add interesting content. Third party publishers can push the edge of the design envelope that you won’t see from WOTC, and, in many cases, they’re able to explore design space long in advance. Goodman Games published books featuring the Dragonborn, Eladrin and Tiefling races throughout 2009 (some may have appeared in 2008), while the ‘official’ racial books won’t begin appearing from WOTC until 2010. Mongoose Publishing has a line of Quintessential class books that may be interesting to those playing rogues, fighers or wizards. None of this content is integrated into the DnD Insider, so if you want to use it, you have to start analog.