WoW "instances" as an RPG mechanic

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WoW "instances" as an RPG mechanic

Postby Big Mac » Tue Feb 16, 2010 12:43 pm

Reading one of Bonetti's posts in the Raid bosses as 4e solo encounters thread, I started to wonder if "instances", from the World of Warcraft game, could be turned into something that might make the tabletop game interesting.

Here is the thing that got me thinking of this (plus my reply) to save you surfing time:

Big Mac wrote:
Bonetti wrote:That being said, I'm still planning on using WoW bosses (instance, raid) as inspiration when I need some interesting Big Bad tactics or powers to ensure a fight is reasonably epic. I'm just ditching the "many attempts" idea, and I'll probably try to introduce any novel mechanics at least once before they're seen on a boss.


Hmm. Talking of instances, I wonder if they themselves could be used in a tabletop RPG. Maybe I should start a new thread on that.


As Wowpedia says: "Because instances are in effect separate from the actual main World of Warcraft maps such as Eastern Kingdoms, Kalimdor, Outland, and Northrend, much like the Battlegrounds, players too are literally moved from one part of the map to an artificial creation of the main map sections."

This is interesting, because it may mean that anything I think of for an instance area might also work for a battleground area. But lets ignore that for now. The thing I would like to concentrate on, is the concept of an instance as some sort of defensive feature (for the person who owns it - i.e. the big boss). If some of that works out for applying this logic to a battleground, I might suggest going with that too.

I'm thinking that an instance might be a plane (or demi-plane) created by shifting an area off of the material plane. Each instance has at least one portal and if that was treated as an in-character object, it would control entry to the area it protects.

http://www.wowpedia.org/Instance_portal wrote:An instance portal is the sparkling field that marks the entrance to an instance.

The color of the portal indicates the type of instance:
  • Blue Instance Portal: Group (5 or less, Blackrock Spire is an exception)
  • Green Instance Portal: Raid (10 or more, on a raid reset timer)
  • Red Instance Portal: PvP Battlezone (battleground). These portals are no longer functional with the addition of battlemasters at the entrances.
  • White Instance Portal: Transit. In the world pre-The Burning Crusade, the only such portals are at the ends of the Deeprun Tram and for the officer's lounges in Stormwind City and Orgrimmar for players of rank 6 and up. Patch 2.0, in addition to removing the rank requirements for those portals, adds at least one more: the portal used to enter the Ghostlands from the Eastern Plaguelands (requires expansion). These portals can also be found directly inside the Battle for Mount Hyjal instance, leading to each of the 3 camps.
  • Purple Instance Portal: All instances in Outland, Northrend and Caverns of Time are this color. Indicates that the instance has a Heroic mode available.
  • Skull with Purple Instance Portal: Notifies the player that the instance is on Heroic mode. Only available to Outland, Northrend and Caverns of Time dungeons.


The interesting thing (from a crunchy point of view) is that only 5 people can get into some instances. The next 5 people go to some sort of alternate reality version of the same instance (where they can not meet the first 5 people who entered). This is the thing I would like to "fluff-ify". But I wonder if all of the versions of the instance (including the first one) could possibly be alternate realities.

From an NPC-motivation point-of-view, an instance would protect a group from an armed invasion (as they would only ever need to fight five people), but would not stop the enemy from surrounding them and trying to wait them out.

Would be attackers could send people into the instance, but if no one version of the instance is definitely the "real" version it could be that the people inside might benefit from some sort of effect similar to the quantum physics effects which the Schrödinger's cat thought experiment highlighted.

Essentially, if PCs travelled into an instance, they could only kill one version of the "big boss" living inside it. Leaving and entering again would create another version of the instance, so continual attacks would not help you kill the "big boss". So long as one group of attackers failed to kill the "big boss", there might always be one copy of them who could somehow* turn off the other realities (where they are dead) and therefore ensure their own survival.

* = I'm thinking that there would be some sort of magical item, that every copy of the big boss would have. And the item would allow them to switch off the "alternate timelines" that do not contain themselves. (To avoid this being a PC killing device, I would have timelines end after the five people who entered an instance left it. So from an attacker's point of view, killing the "big boss" would have no effect. The timeline would vanish as soon as they left the instance and the boss would still be inside the instance.

This would effectively make a big boss unkillable, so it needs to have a weakness. I think that the instance itself could be the weakness.

If each instance contained something that allowed it to be turned off (temporarily or permanently) then the way to kill the big boss would be to first shut down the instance, so that they could be killed (and not come back). I think it might be fun to put the control that turns off the instance, actually inside the instance, itself.

PRE-POST EDIT: Having thought about this some more (while typing), I think that I might make the instance itself work like a magic item and have it "attach" itself to one person (who would normally be the boss). That one person could then overide the normal limitations to bring unlimited numbers of people and equipment inside and then restart the instance.

Collapsing the instance back onto the material plane** might even only be a temporary thing (so that you only have X minutes to take down the big boss - or remove them from the area) before the instance restores itself. I think I might be tempted to go that way as it would allow (some) instances to persist for generations, rather than exist for one man and then be destroyed.

** = Maybe it wouldn't even need to be collapsed onto the material plane. Maybe you would just need to do something like Schrödinger suggested in his experiment. Maybe somehow "opening" the instance in a special way would remove all probability and turn many parallel copies of the instance into one remaining copy (which could stay as a demi-plane or plane).

But when an instance was collapsed, I would have all copies of that area merge into one single copy. Maybe I'll refer to this as "resetting" the instance, as I'm thinking more of turning it back to one timeline than doing anything destructive to it.

If one of the big boss's minions was killed in 75 percent of the copies of the instance, then I would rule that there would be a 25 percent chance that the NPC would continue to exist when the instance collapsed. As I already said, I would give the big boss, themself, a way to bypass this risk (by removing the copies of the instance that introduce a possibility that they will die).

So, if an army attacked an instance and dozens of teams killed half the minions within an instance...but not necessarily the same half each time...the NPCs working near the portal of the instance would be a lot more likely to wink out of existance (and be replaced by dead bodies) while the people further in might (individually) have a much lower chance of winking out of existence. I haven't quite got my head around that mechanic yet, but it would make instances valuable territory.

Maybe "resetting" the instance when you enter could still only allow a party of five people to enter, but could remove the "backup copies" of the area inside the instance, so that anyone who gets killed (including the big boss) stays dead when those people left. Of course, if the limit of five people remained, then it would be essential to guard the entrance, because sending another party in would split the instance into two and start the entire "Schrödinger's cat" nature up again.

I'm not sure what to do about treasure. I could apply probability to it (so that some of it vanishes when you leave). Alternatively, an instance like The Deadmines might allow different groups to mine the same material more than once. There could even be a few rare instance-metals or instance-gems that could provide some sort of probabilty benifits (a luck bonus) when used to make things (maybe you would need to "reset" an instance and extract the only copy of this sort of thing for it to qualify as a special material).

Looking again at the instance limitations in World of Warcraft, there is a lot more to it than only being able to take in 5 people. I think that all of that could be fun to import into a tabletop game, although some things might seem to be more useful than other things.

Characters can only enter 5 instances (apart from battlegrounds) per hour, but I can't see PCs doing that many on a tabletop game. However, I can't see it hurting to port that over. It could add a bit of extra flavour.

Heroic instances can only be entered once per day (that definately sounds good) and reset at a fixed time of the day (sending players to their hearthstone location). I'm not sure yet, if I would want to be using hearthstones***. But the idea of kicking people out if they don't finish the instance within a time limit sounds fun.

*** = Do other people use these in their tabletop games?

The player limit would seem to not apply, but it could allow PCs to take in followers, hirelings or maybe even summoned creatures. (In the MMORPG, these would go in for free, but for tabletop, it might be good to enforce the limits as the limits on characters - rather than player characters.)

Finally there are level limits. I see these as less useful for tabletop gaming. I think that instances would need to be given levels, but if a 1st level character wants to attack a 20th level dragon, I wouldn't see the need to stop them from doing it. Nevertheless, I suppose that instances could block travel by low level characters (or low HD creatures/followers with those characters). So, I would probably create a mechanic for this and review it for individual instances.

That is all I can think of at the moment.
Last edited by Big Mac on Sat Jun 16, 2012 10:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: WoW "instances" as an RPG mechanic

Postby night_druid » Tue Feb 16, 2010 1:23 pm

An "instance" in WoW is basically a MMO representation of a lettered module dungeon, such as Temple of Elemental Evil, adapted to the MMO environment. The reason they're separate from the larger world is to allow two things: a) multiple groups can play an instance at any given time and b) you can "save" your progress (up to a week) so a group doesn't have to tackle the whole dungeon at one go (which is difficult). "Heroic" settings just get a little more use out of the dungeons, as they drop better loot. Neither reason are really "necessary" for a table-top game, or really any game outside an MMO (basically, where thousands of players inhabit a relatively small world at the same time).

As far as a mechanic to represent an "instance", two words: Demi-plane. :lol:
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Re: WoW "instances" as an RPG mechanic

Postby Big Mac » Tue Feb 16, 2010 2:28 pm

night_druid wrote:An "instance" in WoW is basically a MMO representation of a lettered module dungeon, such as Temple of Elemental Evil, adapted to the MMO environment.


Hmm. Very interesting comparsion. How do you think a lettered module dungeon differs from another type of module? Is it just the dungeon aspect (i.e. being in an enclosed area)?

night_druid wrote:The reason they're separate from the larger world is to allow two things: a) multiple groups can play an instance at any given time and b) you can "save" your progress (up to a week) so a group doesn't have to tackle the whole dungeon at one go (which is difficult). "Heroic" settings just get a little more use out of the dungeons, as they drop better loot. Neither reason are really "necessary" for a table-top game, or really any game outside an MMO (basically, where thousands of players inhabit a relatively small world at the same time).


Oh, I realise that. This is totally a fudge to stop areas like The Deadmines from having two hundred people storming through it and racing to kill everything that moves.

What I was getting at was that this fudge gives us part of the feel of the world. As far as I know, there is nothing like an instance in any D&D campaign setting, so this MMO element could add a bit of flavour to the game.

The main thing would be that you don't "need" an instance to make the game work, so could concentrate on using it to make the game fun. 8-)

night_druid wrote:As far as a mechanic to represent an "instance", two words: Demi-plane. :lol:


I did already say "demi-plane"....
...it was in there somewhere. :oops: :lol:
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Re: WoW "instances" as an RPG mechanic

Postby night_druid » Tue Feb 16, 2010 2:59 pm

Big Mac wrote:Hmm. Very interesting comparsion. How do you think a lettered module dungeon differs from another type of module? Is it just the dungeon aspect (i.e. being in an enclosed area)?


I made the comparison in that an "instance" represents a dungeon that is special, much like lettered dungeons, and to really experience the game, you really should experience them at least once.


What I was getting at was that this fudge gives us part of the feel of the world. As far as I know, there is nothing like an instance in any D&D campaign setting, so this MMO element could add a bit of flavour to the game.


True...D&D does lack a mechanic for a static, unchanging world where, if you empty a dungeon, it'll instantly repopulate with treasure & monsters. Actually, that's not quite true...Return to the Tomb of Horrors *did* have that concept, except that the work was done by demons who reset traps and reclaimed treasures taken. :geek: :P

The main thing would be that you don't "need" an instance to make the game work, so could concentrate on using it to make the game fun. 8-)


What you have to be wary of is with dungeons that "reset" all the time, you can create "gold/magic item farms" for high level characters. Take something like the Deadmines. It represents a fairly low-level (about 4th level in D&D terms) dungeon that could be cleaned out by a medium-level party, with little risk. They know where all the traps are, where all the monsters are, and basically spend every afternoon cleaning the place out. While the rewards aren't as great as say something like Ice Crown, the risks are far less (assuming, of course, you don't adopt the 'no death' mechanic of WoW ;) ).

For the most part, the only reason to play instances over and over again in WoW is largely busy work; instead of scoring that powerful item, you have to do the instance a dozen times to get the points to buy that item. Just a way to give the illusion that there's tons of end-game content (although not as bad as having to rep-grind the level 60 factions :evil: ).

I did already say "demi-plane"....
...it was in there somewhere. :oops: :lol:


Heh.
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Re: WoW "instances" as an RPG mechanic

Postby Big Mac » Tue Feb 16, 2010 7:52 pm

night_druid wrote:
Big Mac wrote:Hmm. Very interesting comparsion. How do you think a lettered module dungeon differs from another type of module? Is it just the dungeon aspect (i.e. being in an enclosed area)?


I made the comparison in that an "instance" represents a dungeon that is special, much like lettered dungeons, and to really experience the game, you really should experience them at least once.


Ah, I see.

Well, I've really only done The Deadmines properly. I did a few other instances, but it was all with high level members of my guild, who were telling me to follow them and stay out of the way to gain XP. I didn't really want to gain XP - I wanted to have fun. Sadly WoW seems to be a game where many people think that you need to be grinding onwards, dropping quests that are not worth much any more and trying to obtain uber-items.

I now actually enjoy watching other people play WoW more that I enjoy playing it myself. I find the entire process of working towards getting the next magic fishing rod or collecting a set of matching stuff really pushes me out of character (because you need to constantly meta-game and look at things like Throttbot to work out what options to pick). I would personally rather set my own goals and have a GM do tabletop Warcraft, where I didn't get pushed into doing a bunch of stuff that was really just busy-work. But when someone else is playing, I can just sit back and enjoy the fighting. For some reason meta-gaming for other players isn't as frustrating for me as meta-gaming for my own PCs. Maybe that is because I don't have the dilemma of deciding if that stuff is really what my PC would want to do.

night_druid wrote:
Big Mac wrote:What I was getting at was that this fudge gives us part of the feel of the world. As far as I know, there is nothing like an instance in any D&D campaign setting, so this MMO element could add a bit of flavour to the game.


True...D&D does lack a mechanic for a static, unchanging world where, if you empty a dungeon, it'll instantly repopulate with treasure & monsters. Actually, that's not quite true...Return to the Tomb of Horrors *did* have that concept, except that the work was done by demons who reset traps and reclaimed treasures taken. :geek: :P


If this was done right, it could be very interesting. 8-) If it was done wrong, it would be boiled naff, with a side dish of naffness and a naffola dressing. :?

night_druid wrote:
Big Mac wrote:The main thing would be that you don't "need" an instance to make the game work, so could concentrate on using it to make the game fun. 8-)


What you have to be wary of is with dungeons that "reset" all the time, you can create "gold/magic item farms" for high level characters. Take something like the Deadmines. It represents a fairly low-level (about 4th level in D&D terms) dungeon that could be cleaned out by a medium-level party, with little risk. They know where all the traps are, where all the monsters are, and basically spend every afternoon cleaning the place out. While the rewards aren't as great as say something like Ice Crown, the risks are far less (assuming, of course, you don't adopt the 'no death' mechanic of WoW ;) ).


Hmm. The Deadmines are the instance I have the most familiarity with, so they are a great choice for an example to discuss.

A gold farm would be one risk. A "TPK machine" that PCs can never beat, would be the opposite risk. I think that this would need to be carefully crafted.

From a D&D point of view, I think that there could be more movement within the instance. If workmen are mining in The Deadmines, there is no reason why they can't work shifts. If people went into an instance on different times of the day, you could give them different things to see. One group could see the day-shift miners (who could for argument's sake be dwarves) and a different group could see the night-shift miners (would could be goblins).

In fact, if players went away from a RPG version of The Deadmines for a year, the tunnels should have progressed when they came back. There should possibly be some sort of weird time effects caused by the demi-plane*, but a year of progress outside the instance should be reflected by a year of history inside it.

* = For example, if a PC kills an NPC and comes back a year later to find an alternative version of that NPC, the alternative version should not remember that event.

I think you could even drop the WoW concept that creatures and NPCs never walk more than a few foot away from one place and have everyone roam about a bit more. This would allow for the wandering monster concept of D&D to be applied and you could stick in a random encounter table.

night_druid wrote:For the most part, the only reason to play instances over and over again in WoW is largely busy work; instead of scoring that powerful item, you have to do the instance a dozen times to get the points to buy that item. Just a way to give the illusion that there's tons of end-game content (although not as bad as having to rep-grind the level 60 factions :evil: ).


Hmm. Busy work for D&D would not be a good objective. It would need to be something else.

I like they way that you use the word "illusion" because I think that may be the solution to the "gold farming" aspect and a way to define the "demi-plane of instances".

I'm going to modify my earlier idea. How about if an entire instance could be an illusionary version of the real area, that any unauthorised people need to defeat in order to gain access to the real location?

The people in the real area, could somehow be copied by an effect a bit like a mass version of Mirror Image and the area itself could be copied by an effect a bit like Hallucinatory Terrain.

People travelling into the instance could need to defeat all the phantom people within it in order to cancel out that instance. Maybe every time a party dies inside the instance, it somehow gives it enough energy to retain another copy of the area.

So there might be 14 false versions of The Deadmines that each need to be destroyed in order to gain access to the real version.

Another option, would be to not actually have anything inside the instance, but instead make parties of PCs travel into some sort of mutual dreamworld, where nothing actually happens. Anyone killed in the dreamworld could be expelled from the instance with a temporary Constitution point drain (or some other minor penalty).

Again, the secret to break the spell and gain access to the "real" Deadmines would be something found in the dreamworld.

Perhaps (in either version of an instance) there could be specific magical items that appear in all versions of the instance, but which can only be taken outside by one person. These could act like keys to unlock the instance. Someone collecting a bagfull of silver coins could leave an instance to find they have a bag of empty air (or that they never took their bag out of their pocket), but anyone actually capturing the special keys to the instance, could cause the keys to vanish from the other people who possess them and then gain the ability to sidestep the illusionary clone area or the dream sequence.

...and then the real dungeon crawl could start!
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Re: WoW "instances" as an RPG mechanic

Postby night_druid » Tue Feb 16, 2010 9:34 pm

Big Mac wrote:Well, I've really only done The Deadmines properly. I did a few other instances, but it was all with high level members of my guild, who were telling me to follow them and stay out of the way to gain XP. I didn't really want to gain XP - I wanted to have fun. Sadly WoW seems to be a game where many people think that you need to be grinding onwards, dropping quests that are not worth much any more and trying to obtain uber-items.


The quest reward mechanics are screwed up anyways. I'm much more in favor of just rep & gold, or even add in a token system, and let you buy your own damned gear instead of quest rewards. :P

I can just sit back and enjoy the fighting. For some reason meta-gaming for other players isn't as frustrating for me as meta-gaming for my own PCs. Maybe that is because I don't have the dilemma of deciding if that stuff is really what my PC would want to do.


Same here. They recently added a system to display side-by-side what gear will do to your stats, which is nice.

A gold farm would be one risk. A "TPK machine" that PCs can never beat, would be the opposite risk. I think that this would need to be carefully crafted.


In true WoW, that's impossible. At worse, everyone dies, rez at the dungeon entrance, and leaves with a small repair bill. ;)


I think you could even drop the WoW concept that creatures and NPCs never walk more than a few foot away from one place and have everyone roam about a bit more. This would allow for the wandering monster concept of D&D to be applied and you could stick in a random encounter table.


In other words, treat a dungeon as any GM treats a long-term table-top dungeon? Hell, go as far back as the original Keep on the Borderlands, and Gary tells you that emptied dungeons won't stay that long; new monsters move in, new rooms get dug out, etc. :lol:

I'm going to modify my earlier idea. How about if an entire instance could be an illusionary version of the real area, that any unauthorised people need to defeat in order to gain access to the real location?


I'd use that as maybe a one-shot, with the illusion dungeon being significantly different than the real one, to the point that they're two different dungeons. You don't want to run something 14 times in D&D, especially when a "run" could take four or five sessions (or more). And if you spend so much time running a dungeon, only to find out its an illusion, you'll have some pretty POed players on your hands. The only way I could see that working is if the PCs are allowed to manipulate things such that they only do it once, and have other groups do the other 13 illusion versions "in the background".
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Re: WoW "instances" as an RPG mechanic

Postby Big Mac » Wed Feb 17, 2010 12:54 am

night_druid wrote:
Big Mac wrote:Well, I've really only done The Deadmines properly. I did a few other instances, but it was all with high level members of my guild, who were telling me to follow them and stay out of the way to gain XP. I didn't really want to gain XP - I wanted to have fun. Sadly WoW seems to be a game where many people think that you need to be grinding onwards, dropping quests that are not worth much any more and trying to obtain uber-items.


The quest reward mechanics are screwed up anyways. I'm much more in favor of just rep & gold, or even add in a token system, and let you buy your own damned gear instead of quest rewards. :P


Well, if I ever get the Warcraft RPG books and give Azeroth a punt, I would think that I would be using the standard D&D rules for treasure and that sort of thing. WoW is tied into 60 (and now 80) levels, so is a bit off for D&D equipment.

The main thing I want from WoW is the "feel" of the world.

night_druid wrote:
Big Mac wrote:I can just sit back and enjoy the fighting. For some reason meta-gaming for other players isn't as frustrating for me as meta-gaming for my own PCs. Maybe that is because I don't have the dilemma of deciding if that stuff is really what my PC would want to do.


Same here. They recently added a system to display side-by-side what gear will do to your stats, which is nice.


Trouble is, I really can't be bothered with all that leveling up admin. It is bad enough with D&D and its 20 levels. WoW seems like it is going to never stop adding on another expansion that unlocks another 10 levels. :roll:

night_druid wrote:
Big Mac wrote:A gold farm would be one risk. A "TPK machine" that PCs can never beat, would be the opposite risk. I think that this would need to be carefully crafted.


In true WoW, that's impossible. At worse, everyone dies, rez at the dungeon entrance, and leaves with a small repair bill. ;)


In the MMO, yes. But in a tabletop game, I would expect to be using graveyards* and that sort of thing.

* = Although, reading Ghostwalk makes me tempted to try a game where this sort of thing is done, I think a RPG world would be really predictable if everyone you killed could come running after you. It might end up like a Benny Hill chase scene. :shock:

night_druid wrote:
Big Mac wrote:I think you could even drop the WoW concept that creatures and NPCs never walk more than a few foot away from one place and have everyone roam about a bit more. This would allow for the wandering monster concept of D&D to be applied and you could stick in a random encounter table.


In other words, treat a dungeon as any GM treats a long-term table-top dungeon? Hell, go as far back as the original Keep on the Borderlands, and Gary tells you that emptied dungeons won't stay that long; new monsters move in, new rooms get dug out, etc. :lol:


Yep. But in this case, I was wondering if you could play for an instance feel, where it is a lot harder to empty out the dungeon.

night_druid wrote:
Big Mac wrote:I'm going to modify my earlier idea. How about if an entire instance could be an illusionary version of the real area, that any unauthorised people need to defeat in order to gain access to the real location?


I'd use that as maybe a one-shot, with the illusion dungeon being significantly different than the real one, to the point that they're two different dungeons. You don't want to run something 14 times in D&D, especially when a "run" could take four or five sessions (or more). And if you spend so much time running a dungeon, only to find out its an illusion, you'll have some pretty POed players on your hands. The only way I could see that working is if the PCs are allowed to manipulate things such that they only do it once, and have other groups do the other 13 illusion versions "in the background".


Hmm. Good points.

I wouldn't want to use this for every dungeon in WoW. Instances for the Deep Run Tram seem pretty pointless to me.

Well, if I did do this, I would make it clear (both in character and out of character) what an "instance" was before it was done. The plan would be that people working against a certain group (with an underground lair that has a portal-entrance) have discovered that there is some sort of magical defence that has prevented them from destroying that group despite several seemingly successful atacks.

I would have the PCs meet up with several people who had been to the instance and they would reveal different information, such as their group being split up into subgroups that were no larger than five people, the boss being killed but later being seen alive and people looting certain things and then finding that they vanished after they left the instance.

I would also give the PCs access to various sages, books and other sources of information, where they could learn legends and rumours about when the instances came to Azeroth and how they are thought to work.

It might even be fun to roll up pre-gens for the NPCs accompanying the PCs and then give the players another one or two groups that had a slightly different mission on a different copy of the same instance. (Actually, WoW encourages players to run two or more PCs at the same time and I might be tempted to try to do that at some point. Getting players to have a second PC would certainly make PC death a bit less disruptive.)

I do like your idea of several groups working together to tackle this. I figure that you could have a big group do this and then have the instance split everyone up into groups of 5 (or 10, 15, 20 or whatever). If the PCs (or the NPCs on their team) manage to "turn off" the instance, then all of the different imaginary spaces could collapse back into the one real area and the group could carry out the mission they were sent to do.

I think that if instances were treated as a level within a two level dungeon, they might work well - even if you used the same map (but shuffled the NPCs, monsters and traps around a bit).
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Re: WoW "instances" as an RPG mechanic

Postby Bonetti » Wed Feb 17, 2010 2:08 am

Instances do three things:

Prevent griefing between players.

Allow randomized loot tables.

Extend the "value" of the content by forcing farming of content to get The One Drop You Need But Never Comes.

Honestly, instances are really just storylines. In my view, rather than try to take a pure MMO mechanic (instanced dungeon) and port it to the tabletop, you'd be better off simply taking the instances (roughly) as written as storylines. In many zones, they "finish" the story of the zone. Deadmines finishes off the Defias story, Shadowfang Keep finishes Arugal's story, etc.

(Also, the oldest instances are really bad examples of the mechanic -- for reasons of speed/player desire, the current instances tend to be 20-40 minutes, about 2-4 boss encounters, and some filler trash that annoys everyone.)

If you insist on keeping the mechanic, then each instance is a demiplane, and it resets when you leave it for too long. So, Arugal comes back, Ragnaros threatens Azeroth again, Onyxia goes back to burning out Dustwallow, Illidan pops up in Black Temple again, etc...

Actually, that's sort of how I viewed Ravenloft -- the players come in, "fix" things in the process of their escape, and when they leave, it goes back to the same horror it was before...
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Re: WoW "instances" as an RPG mechanic

Postby Bonetti » Wed Feb 17, 2010 2:12 am

Oh -- and rep grinds are evil, as is grinding coin for stupidly-priced stuff.

However, time sinks are necessary because content creation is expensive relative to the use the players get out of it. It takes a very small fraction of the creation time to burn through it as a player -- even a casual one. Hardcore players burn through new content so fast that Blizzard has taken to gating the raid content now (and not by difficulty, by not releasing it all at once anymore -- see Icecrown Citadel).

Although it's interesting speculation to see how to adapt things, I think the more fruitful path is to see if a viable campaign story can be built off the material in-game, then playing through that. If nothing else, it actually opens the possibility of changing things around.

(It is for the latter reason that I'm really looking forward to Cataclysm. The zone-wide changes from phasing will be interesting, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they do with it. Sucks for two-boxers, though, because phase "edges" break /follow...)
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Re: WoW "instances" as an RPG mechanic

Postby Big Mac » Thu Feb 18, 2010 7:09 am

Bonetti wrote:Instances do three things:

Prevent griefing between players.

Allow randomized loot tables.

Extend the "value" of the content by forcing farming of content to get The One Drop You Need But Never Comes.

Honestly, instances are really just storylines. In my view, rather than try to take a pure MMO mechanic (instanced dungeon) and port it to the tabletop, you'd be better off simply taking the instances (roughly) as written as storylines. In many zones, they "finish" the story of the zone. Deadmines finishes off the Defias story, Shadowfang Keep finishes Arugal's story, etc.


That is a totally valid point of view.

Bonetti wrote:(Also, the oldest instances are really bad examples of the mechanic -- for reasons of speed/player desire, the current instances tend to be 20-40 minutes, about 2-4 boss encounters, and some filler trash that annoys everyone.)


A lot of the elements of WoW annoyed me too. I certainly wouldn't want to convert the most annoying aspects of instances to tabletop rules.

I may well go with Night Druid's idea of using this as a special thing. So areas like The Deadmines could (if they have not already been done) be converted into ordinary dungeons. But there could be new things that have instance-like properties.

Warcraft has some storylines that tie into groups connecting worlds together. Maybe there is some sort of uber-group out there that could be tied into the concept of instances to turn the idea into a bending of time and space that has a feel of the interesting parts of a WoW instance.

Bonetti wrote:If you insist on keeping the mechanic, then each instance is a demiplane, and it resets when you leave it for too long. So, Arugal comes back, Ragnaros threatens Azeroth again, Onyxia goes back to burning out Dustwallow, Illidan pops up in Black Temple again, etc...

Actually, that's sort of how I viewed Ravenloft -- the players come in, "fix" things in the process of their escape, and when they leave, it goes back to the same horror it was before...


That wasn't quite what I was thinking of, but Ravenloft-like logic might help explain a special location similar to an instance.

And thinking about this some more, perhaps instances could be treated almost as if they are alive, just as hazards use some of the rules of creatures. The only hazards I can find in the SRD are avalanches and forest fires.

In fact, to go with Night Druid's "use that...as a one-shot" comment, perhaps there could be just one instance of each type. In other words, if there were 10 instances created, each would have its own properties that make it different from the other nine.

The thing that keeps coming back could be turned into an instance where a section of time has been captured. That section of time could run endlessly. There might be people or creatures inside the instance, but they might not really be alive - they might be some sort of "memory" of an important event. I recall (from Dragonlance) that Lord Soth was forced to live out the same day endlessly. Something like that could be done with an instance. This might be a good way to take a plot from the distant past of the Warcraft universe and put it into the Warcraft RPG era. Destroyed buildings, dead NPCs, lost races or other interesting thing could be brought back in an instance that replays events.

The things contained within that sort of instance/demi-plane would not be undead, but they would not be alive either. They would simply be echoes of the past that are part of the instance itself. I think that this sort of instance could be good for storing the last hours of Gnomeregan, prior to the gnomes blowing it up during the trogg invasion. Gelbin Mekkatorque and Sicco Thermaplugg could be there, along with a ton of NPC gnomes and NPC trogg invaders. It could be possible to alter some of the events of the day (for example killing Sicco Thermaplugg), but the instance could manipulate things so that Gnomeregan will be destroyed.

The way to "beat" this instance could be to recognise that it is not really Gnomeregan and that nothing done inside it will save the real Gnomeregan. But beating the instance (somehow) might allow the PCs to rescue something stored within the instance (for example some engineering schematics or gnome engineering schematics).

In fact, an instance might work well as some sort of engineering device (as it could have a feel like the holodeck from Star Trek).

Another type of instance, could be one that real people can live in: the "mirror image"-style idea I was shooting for earlier. This one would run in real time, but would protect the people inside it from being killed by people coming into it. People entering the instance would meet not the real people, but instance-created echos of them. Killing the echos would have no effect on the real people (and would create the "unkillable bad guy" feel, I was shooting for earlier). Beating that instance would allow access to the real people that the instance would duplicate as echoes.

Essentially, what I am shooting for is a dungeon-like hazard that contains a ton of phantom-opponents that PCs do not need to kill, but whom might get in the way of whatever it is that deactivates or destroys the instance. In fact, killing a specific opponent, breaking a specific item or preventing a specific event could be the key to "beating" the instance, but turning off a specific instance could also be as "easy" as walking to a specific area and pressing a button.
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Re: WoW "instances" as an RPG mechanic

Postby Big Mac » Thu Feb 18, 2010 7:18 am

Bonetti wrote:Oh -- and rep grinds are evil, as is grinding coin for stupidly-priced stuff.

However, time sinks are necessary because content creation is expensive relative to the use the players get out of it. It takes a very small fraction of the creation time to burn through it as a player -- even a casual one. Hardcore players burn through new content so fast that Blizzard has taken to gating the raid content now (and not by difficulty, by not releasing it all at once anymore -- see Icecrown Citadel).


That is a limit of the MMO format. But then it is also a limit of the tabletop format...unless you encourage GMs to make their own stuff.

Bonetti wrote:Although it's interesting speculation to see how to adapt things, I think the more fruitful path is to see if a viable campaign story can be built off the material in-game, then playing through that. If nothing else, it actually opens the possibility of changing things around.


Well, my intent was to build something off of the concept of instances, rather than to convert 100 percent of WoW to D&D rules.

You and Night Druild have really helped highlight the bad aspects of instances (from the WoW perspective), but I do think that their is a killer concept in there.

Bonetti wrote:(It is for the latter reason that I'm really looking forward to Cataclysm. The zone-wide changes from phasing will be interesting, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they do with it.


I just hope that "out of date" content does not get removed from WoWWiki. Because both old and new stuff could be raided for plot ideas.

Bonetti wrote:Sucks for two-boxers, though, because phase "edges" break /follow...)


I have no idea what that means! :lol:

(Actually, last time I looked at WoW, it was a totally different game to the game I used to play.)

Are "two-boxers" people that buy two accounts so that they can stick two computers together and play two characters at the same time?

What is a phase edge?
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Re: WoW "instances" as an RPG mechanic

Postby night_druid » Thu Feb 18, 2010 1:57 pm

Big Mac wrote:That is a limit of the MMO format. But then it is also a limit of the tabletop format...unless you encourage GMs to make their own stuff.


With tabletop, it can take several sessions to run through say B2 Keep on the Borderlands. Depending on how often you play, for how long, and how extensively your GM uses random encounter tables & restocks the dungeon, it could take your PCs several months of real-time to clear the dungeon and never have the same experience, even when exploring the same room over again. Not true with an instance. Its always the same, it never changes. First room always has 5 elite critters; the only difference will be if you set the mode to heroic (in which case, IIRC, they're tougher). And, once properly geared, an instance doesn't take long to clear (about an hour; older instances were longer, though). Tabletop gives much more longevity to the modules, and the presence of GM ensures no two sessions will run the same, even if you run through the same module over again.

You and Night Druild have really helped highlight the bad aspects of instances (from the WoW perspective), but I do think that their is a killer concept in there.


I'm not sure the instance mechanic is really meaningful outside a shared world with multiple parties exploring the same dungeon.

Are "two-boxers" people that buy two accounts so that they can stick two computers together and play two characters at the same time?

What is a phase edge?


On a guess, what he means is that the practice of having a max-level character escort one or more lowbie characters through content (dungeons, quests) to speed them through leveling will come to an end, as the higher level character will be unable to do that content at the same time.
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Re: WoW "instances" as an RPG mechanic

Postby dulsi » Thu Feb 18, 2010 3:35 pm

I look at instances as a performance hack. They are used to move players out of areas filled with other players. It lightens the server load in areas without needing to create larger areas and finding ways to spread people out. I wouldn't want to bring them to the tabletop although some of Big Mac's ideas are interesting. The trick would be to not make the instances repetitive.

Do you guys read Penny Aracade? Or more specifically Gabe's notes about his D&D game? He has some interesting adventures. Here is one about a World of Warcraft like adventure.
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Re: WoW "instances" as an RPG mechanic

Postby Bonetti » Fri Feb 19, 2010 2:46 am

night_druid wrote:
Big Mac wrote:Are "two-boxers" people that buy two accounts so that they can stick two computers together and play two characters at the same time?

What is a phase edge?

On a guess, what he means is that the practice of having a max-level character escort one or more lowbie characters through content (dungeons, quests) to speed them through leveling will come to an end, as the higher level character will be unable to do that content at the same time.


Approximately correct in both cases. Multi-boxing is playing multiple characters (via multiple accounts) at the same time. Two-boxing is doing that with, well, two :-)

I have had two accounts for a while -- it's kind of nice to have just enough of a group to be able to get through all but the most intense group quests by myself, and there's definitely something to be said for playing a warrior with a healer always in tow. It's not practical for raiding, instancing (most of the time), or PVP, but it's fun in its own way.

The issue with the phase technology is that everything despawns across a phase edge. So, if the phase you're in is not the world default phase (which it should be, but isn't for several locations), your party members stop being able to see each other at the edge of the phase area (since PCs can't see each other if they're out of phase). The command /follow is implemented client-side, so the moment the first character crosses the boundary, /follow breaks.

There are areas in the world where the end of the quest line leaves several phased areas overlapping -- especially in Icecrown. The Wrathgate is another. The end result is, if I'm two-boxing and flying through/by them, I have to stop and re-establish /follow every time I cross one. There are areas by Dun Nifleheim (Sons of Hodir) where there are four phased zones touching each other. Flying through there or doing the dailies is an exercise in frustration.



dulsi wrote:I look at instances as a performance hack. They are used to move players out of areas filled with other players. It lightens the server load in areas without needing to create larger areas and finding ways to spread people out. I wouldn't want to bring them to the tabletop although some of Big Mac's ideas are interesting. The trick would be to not make the instances repetitive.


Well, in my view originally it wasn't a performance hack (witness the burden the daily random dungeon and current raid intensity placed on the instance servers -- to the point where it was no longer possible to spawn new instances), but was instead a grief-prevention hack. It's the only way to create content isolated from other players -- e.g. raiding. Believe me, I've been in the world boss fights. The ability to grief when fighting those guys was horrendous, and raid guilds would deliberately try to wipe other raid guilds making attempts.

Imagine trying to run a storied instance like Deadmines, and having a bunch of OTHER guys come through and keep tagging Van Cleef every time he respawns -- thus preventing you from getting the drop to finish the quest. And you just know there are life-lacking Hordies who would camp him just to annoy Alliance (and vice versa in SFK).

However, the instance mechanic was later used (patch 1.5, about 8 months after launch) to isolate PVP fights. They had introduced an honor system which resulted in server crashes due to player concentration in various zones -- especially Hillsbrad. (Mmmmm, legendary Tarren Mill/Southshore fights!) So, they created some even-sided zones with specific (familiar) PVP mechanics and resource-driven matches: capture-the-flag, capture-and-hold, etc., stuck them in an instance, and called them Battlegrounds. So, for that, yes, it became a performance improvement.

Blizzard does tend to learn from their experiences, which makes me wonder why they did Wintergrasp initially as a world PVP zone.

dulsi wrote:Do you guys read Penny Aracade? Or more specifically Gabe's notes about his D&D game? He has some interesting adventures. Here is one about a World of Warcraft like adventure.


I read the comic but haven't been following his game posts (unless they're part of the regular "news" post that goes up with the comic). Thanks for the tip, that looks like an intriguing idea :-) My group wouldn't get it -- there's only one other WoW player in it.

Incidentally, for those not familiar with it, 4e does have a quest mechanic which meshes pretty well with that sort of thing.

One last general comment: I personally don't see how the instance mechanic would be interesting (rather than frustrating) in a tabletop game. It's more like an MMO version of the module you insert into a campaign -- except you can run it over and over and over and over and over because the loot is only some small, random subset of the total loot available in the instance.

That doesn't mean I'm not enjoying the exploration of the ideas for what can be mined. If I can ever come up with an excuse to do it (and I thought my players wouldn't rebel, or at least start throwing things at me), I'd consider doing a one-off "nightmare" version of the idea. At an average of 2.5 encounters per game session (in between the socializing, and the interruptions, etc.) and 1-2 sessions per month, each instance run would be a year or more. I don't think repetition would go down well :-)

If I were running a pen & paper version, I'd mine the instances for adventures, but there would be a single storyline (and the world would change in the players' wake). I believe I've already posted a couple adventure path possibilities which were built on this approach.

...and I'm definitely stealing some of the boss fights. Blizzard has put a lot of effort into making the later boss fights "interesting", there's no reason not to take advantage of their research :-)
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Re: WoW "instances" as an RPG mechanic

Postby Big Mac » Fri Feb 19, 2010 3:58 pm

night_druid wrote:
Big Mac wrote:You and Night Druild have really helped highlight the bad aspects of instances (from the WoW perspective), but I do think that their is a killer concept in there.


I'm not sure the instance mechanic is really meaningful outside a shared world with multiple parties exploring the same dungeon.


Well, if you say it like that, I suppose that the mechanic is how thing like Living Greyhawk modules were run. A ton of GMs run the same game and then average out the results.

dulsi wrote:I wouldn't want to bring them to the tabletop although some of Big Mac's ideas are interesting. The trick would be to not make the instances repetitive.


Thanks. I've still not found my "killer concept" yet. I can see it is in there, but can't quite find a way to extract the stuff that interests me, without everyone thinking it would crash and burn.

I actually quite like the "unreality" which could either be the repetitiveness or a feeling that PCs have an inability to change things. What I need to find is away to do one or both of these without it being boring.

Basically, I'm not wanting to make an instanced dungeon that lasts two or three times as long as a regular one. I'm more into using the repetitiveness as a theme. Hopefully, if I can figure out the right way to do it, the players would learn all the dead-ends and then sail through the second pass. I think that drastically reducing the size of the instance could help make something that could be cranked through twice in one day. That could make for a feel of one pass, as a dry run, and a second pass as the real deal. I think that something that repeats twice in two game sessions would be less effective, because real-time would make people forget things that should be fresh in their PC's memories.

Alternatively, individual rooms could be "instanced", so that they repeat endlessly until you deactivate them. That way I could try to sell the "the room is your opponent - not the critters within it" concept. Maybe I could capture some of the feel of the UK cult TV game: The Crystal Maze to create a modular dungeon where a limited number of people can get into the room to take on a challange (or have a fight) before turning off that room and allowing the rest of the party to pass through. (The Crystal Maze Adventure Gamebook might help with that sort of plot.)

And I still like the idea of a dungeon that a party can only enter once every 24 hours. That could be extended to make something that can only be entered once a week, once a month or once a year. If you had demi-planes where that sort of thing was possible, an NPC could enter an instance with the knowledge that they have one year to build up to the big day when someone comes in after them. That is one year of trap-laying time. One year of time for getting wandering monsters into the areas between the entrance and the place they are going to hang out in. One year to heal from any injuries, repair any damaged equipment and maybe study some new spells. And if they can lure really dangerous people in and keep them busy, they could try to get to the entrance and flee across Azeroth.

dulsi wrote:Do you guys read Penny Aracade? Or more specifically Gabe's notes about his D&D game? He has some interesting adventures. Here is one about a World of Warcraft like adventure.


That looks like a lot of fun. That would be a really good way to get people into D&D.

Bonetti wrote:I personally don't see how the instance mechanic would be interesting (rather than frustrating) in a tabletop game. It's more like an MMO version of the module you insert into a campaign -- except you can run it over and over and over and over and over because the loot is only some small, random subset of the total loot available in the instance.


I'm getting that from a lot of people. :D

Clearly the mundane aspects would need to be swept away to make the originality hold interest.

Bonetti wrote:That doesn't mean I'm not enjoying the exploration of the ideas for what can be mined. If I can ever come up with an excuse to do it (and I thought my players wouldn't rebel, or at least start throwing things at me), I'd consider doing a one-off "nightmare" version of the idea. At an average of 2.5 encounters per game session (in between the socializing, and the interruptions, etc.) and 1-2 sessions per month, each instance run would be a year or more. I don't think repetition would go down well :-)


I think I would give up if an instance took that long to run. I'll need to find a way to make it much more "instant" than that. :?

Bonetti wrote:If I were running a pen & paper version, I'd mine the instances for adventures, but there would be a single storyline (and the world would change in the players' wake). I believe I've already posted a couple adventure path possibilities which were built on this approach.


I'm onboard with that idea. Most of the instance adventures have no hard tie to the instance mechanic.

Bonetti wrote:...and I'm definitely stealing some of the boss fights. Blizzard has put a lot of effort into making the later boss fights "interesting", there's no reason not to take advantage of their research :-)


I'm onboard with that idea too.

I"m not thinking of lifting an entire chunk of WoW and putting it onto the game table (i.e. simulating WoW on the game table). I don't think that sort of thing would be possible or desirable. (You might as well fill up a room with computers and play the real WoW.)

I'm after a killer-way to sell the instance as a thing that people want to visit (in a RPG environment). It has to make sense as a lair and it has to make something that would be fun to run through more than once.

So the "nothing changes" thing would not be in there, unless it could be cool.

BTW: I even think it might be fun to make players "spend" spells and use items and then reset the instance and give it all back to them (i.e. there is a time reset and they get sent back to the moment they were about to enter the instance). Every instance demi-plane could have its own unique trick that breaks the normal rules of D&D in some strange way.
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Re: WoW "instances" as an RPG mechanic

Postby Bonetti » Wed Jun 16, 2010 8:24 pm

I've been thinking about this a little bit more, although not with the intention of making "instances" in my game.

Big Mac wrote:BTW: I even think it might be fun to make players "spend" spells and use items and then reset the instance and give it all back to them (i.e. there is a time reset and they get sent back to the moment they were about to enter the instance). Every instance demi-plane could have its own unique trick that breaks the normal rules of D&D in some strange way.


Actually, that's sort of what happens in the Caverns of Time. Some of the instances have a certain number of "tries" to preserve the timeline, and if you wipe you get returned to a specific point in it. However, once your tries are done, you're done, and the instance is "failed". Per the Mystara/WoW thread elsewhere, one of the things that might be interesting to import is just the idea of timeline guardians (a la the bronze dragonflight), and some opposing faction (the infinite dragonflight, in WoW). The players are recruited to go in and keep pivotal moments of history working.

Of course, what makes this particularly attractive in WoW is that these events are all major pieces of lore suddenly made interactive. In some cases, such as Stratholme, they're taken directly from an earlier game (Warcraft III), only brought to life from a new perspective.

If the players haven't bought into the world history, it might be harder to make this interesting or compelling.
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Re: WoW "instances" as an RPG mechanic

Postby Big Mac » Thu Jun 17, 2010 12:41 am

That Mystara/WoW stuff looked quite interesting. I wish I understood the setting well enough to be able to offer a useful opinion, rather than just read.

Bonetti wrote:If the players haven't bought into the world history, it might be harder to make this interesting or compelling.


True. This might require an element of infodumping on the GM's part. That could be a bit boring. :?
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Re: WoW "instances" as an RPG mechanic

Postby Bonetti » Thu Jun 17, 2010 12:52 am

I could see one way it could work, but it's pretty situational.

So, if you've had a game running a long, long time, and you've done multiple generations of the characters, and you've stayed in the same world. However, your players keep talking about this one early adventure they really liked. This would give them an opportunity to relive a version of that adventure, with the added bonus of the timeline hanging in the balance.

Unless you have a shared world that everyone knows pretty well and which has some well-defined events, I'm not sure how else you could get it to work.
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Re: WoW "instances" as an RPG mechanic

Postby Big Mac » Sun Jun 20, 2010 11:03 am

Bonetti wrote:Unless you have a shared world that everyone knows pretty well and which has some well-defined events, I'm not sure how else you could get it to work.


I suppose that one other way to attempt this, would be to do a tiny amount of infodumping and have an NPC reveal that there are some time vortexes called "instances" in the world.

When the PCs first encounter an "instance" it would be nothing special, but if they went back to it in a later game and it was essentially identical to how it was before they might buy into the concept. After that you could throw in a few plots based on historical events that had somehow got locked into an instance (somewhere in the world) and the PCs (and the players) would have more of an incentive to study the history of the world.

Perhaps one way to "use" the instance as a plot device, would be to make it a way that interesting NPCs from the past can "escape into the future". I could go with the demi-plane logic of before, but make it some sort of demi-plane related to time. The instance (when created) could seal off a certain amount of time from the normal timeline (5 minutes, 1 hour, 24 hours or whatever) and then that time could be frozen (but in an interactive way). The NPCs could sit in their "time bubble" and wait for the rest of the world to move into the past. When they got to a point in the future that suited them, they could "deactivate" the instance and then leave the cave or other location that they created the instance within.

Instances could be made to be a relatively dangerous way to travel through time, because the NPCs creating them could be trapped within them and unable to tell the time outside directly. They may be forced to rely on minions to "come into the instance 100 years later and let them know it is time to come out" (or whatever). This means that when the PCs travel into an instance, the NPC that controls it may either want to destroy them, or find out what year it is (or maybe both).

And from their point of view, they could have a strictly limited amount of time to turn off their own instance. If an instance cycled in 5 minutes, the NPC could have just 5 minutes to realise they were in the right time and turn the instance off. Taking 5 minutes and 1 second to deactivate the instance would mean that it would reset just before they got to the button and they would never realise that they were going to turn it off. :twisted:

It could even be fun to play with this. For example, if an NPC had their hand chopped off, but realised they had overun their time destination by 50 years, they would be torn between getting out of the instance (before they vanished too far into the future and their "evil plot to take over the world" would fail) and letting the instance reset (so that they got their hand back). :twisted:

I think this is finally starting to turn into the "killer concept" that I'm looking for. It isn't exactly the same as the MMO logic, but I was looking for inspiration rather than conversion.
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Re: WoW "instances" as an RPG mechanic

Postby willpell » Mon Dec 07, 2015 10:55 pm

This whole notion makes me think of the Maze of Many in the webcomic Goblins.
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Re: WoW "instances" as an RPG mechanic

Postby Marduk_Bathory » Sun Aug 21, 2016 2:09 pm

Big Mac wrote:
night_druid wrote:An "instance" in WoW is basically a MMO representation of a lettered module dungeon, such as Temple of Elemental Evil, adapted to the MMO environment.


Hmm. Very interesting comparsion. How do you think a lettered module dungeon differs from another type of module? Is it just the dungeon aspect (i.e. being in an enclosed area)?


I assumed 'lettered' module refers to the TSR reference code system used to sort the various modules. ('Keep on the Borderlands', for example, is B2).

Many of them were dungeons or a series of outdoors encounters with no particular story behind. The idea was that you could just drop the whole thing into your campaign.

So my interpretation of Big Mac's comment is that the rest of the game, the world at large, is the Setting Guide with lots of flavour, while an 'instance' is the dungeon module. I more or less agree, though there are instanced and non-instanced dungeons, and some that were a mix of both (Wailing Caverns, Uldaman, Sunken Temple, BRD, etc), and the non-instanced sections would have been contained in a module as well, and probably part of the region outside.
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