RPGs + Computer Games: D&D Tiny Adventures

This game makes me glad I signed up for Facebook; I would really have hated to miss it. What a bunch of really smart folks at Wizards of the Coast have done is distill out the essential ambience of Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition into something that you can play with simple clicks. It’s got beautiful production values and some very entertaining writing.

Dungeons & Dragons Tiny Adventures starts by offering you choice of a spread of starting adventurers, covering all the races and classes in the new player’s handbook. The FAQ is very well-done and covers nearly everything you’ll need to know to play with this. I have always loved dragon people, so I settled on a dragonborn fighter.

What does a would-be adventurer need? Why, adventures, of course. Tiny Adventures offers you a roster of adventures of different sorts, and the FAQ explains what attributes and qualities are most important for the different sorts of challenges you may wish to face. At the outset of a new adventure, you choose your potions. (This is the only major stumble I had that the FAQ didn’t, IMHO, cover well. The only time you can choose potions is right at the outset of an adventure. Pay heed.)

Events then unfold outside your control. An adventure has multiple events—6 for the first level ones, up to 12 and maybe more later on. Here’s the first event of a 1st level adventure: the text sets up the situation, shows you the result of the crucial roll for that event (with details of roll and modifiers on the right), and then the outcome. It’s apparently very hard to actually die in these, but your poor character can sure get roughed up without much to show for it. I would like to note that this first event calls for the use of 50 feet of rope and a grappling hook. If we were in person, I’ll bet I could spot my fellow old-time D&D players based on who read that and promptly lit up or laughed.

Here are some more events, with both successes and failure for Irresh. Overall success in an adventure depends on the fraction of events your character succeeded at. Events happen about every ten minutes—a little quicker if overall usage is light at the moment—so an adventure plays out in an hour or two. Since player input isn’t needed along the way, once you start an adventure, it rolls along to its conclusion, and you can check for updates whenever it suits you.

The interface is really crisp and clean. Inventory management, for instance, uses clear labels and descriptions with pop-up windows for alternative gear to equip. Buying and selling at the store looks very similar.

But the thing that makes this a distinctively Facebook kind of fun is the opportunity to help out friends. All the adventures are solo, your character against the world. But as this screenshot shows, you can keep tabs on your friends, and help them out with healing and the different buffs that various classes have. And they can help you back. I’ve been chatting with friends while playing, and trading calls for “Help, heal me!” and all.

This is a thoroughly ingenious and delightful piece of work. The FAQ, to my great pleasure, offers credits, and I’m going to repeat them here. These folks deserve some congratulations. Dungeons & Dragons: Tiny Adventures was crafted by a group of exceptionally clever folks at Wizards of the Coast. It was designed by Greg Marques and Paul Sottosanti, programmed by Graeme Hopkins and Paul Sottosanti, with art direction by Jon Schindehette, editing by Michael Mikaelian, Nik Davidson as producer, and Brandon Bozzi as associate producer. We also had the writing talent of Brandon Bozzi, Nik Davidson, Greg Marques, Dylan Mayo, Matthew Sernett, Andrea Shubert, Paul Sottosanti, and Ken Troop.

I particularly want to point out a feature of the adventure design and writing: it’s not all hack-and-slash. It would have been easy enough to make a game in which every event is a scuffle of some kind. D&D is, after all, the ur-rpg with the very well-aged unofficial motto, “Kill things and take their stuff.” And of course there is fighting in plenty. But there’s a lot more. There’s environmental challenges like quicksand, crossing a gorge, and climbing difficult slopes. There are also a lot of social interactions where the key challenge is to see through a deception, win over someone who might be an ally despite a hostile start, save a drowning child. This is adventuring broadly construed, and it makes me happy.

The game isn’t perfect. In particular, I couldn’t find a way to add a new character, or switch to one; one of the developers of the tabletop game will be checking on that for me and I’ll update when I know one way or another. Also, be patient sometimes—the server’s occasionally getting hammered badly. But I already know they’re working on that one. 

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