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Play day: D&D Tiny Adventures

What’s Play day? It’s like a game review, but not. We take a look at the design choices of a particular title, the fun and not-so-fun aspects, then we suggest a quick fix that would improve it and finally, long term plans for success.

The first Play day is Dungeon & Dragons: Tiny Adventures, the Facebook app designed by Wizards of the Coast.

Name: Dungeons & Dragons: Tiny Adventures
Website: apps.new.facebook.com/tinyadventures

What’s it all about: Dungeons & Dragons: Tiny Adventures is a Facebook application designed by Wizards of the Coast. It is based on the recently-released 4th Edition of the D&D rulebooks. Players choose from one of eight class/race combinations, which for the most part are for flavour. They then embark on adventures, of which four are provided at any one time. Adventures are rated for difficulty via a level number.

Characters can increase their level by gaining experience, earned during adventures. Gold – which allows you to buy items and determines your final score – and items – that buff you character – can also be acquired in this way.

Why it’s fun: Games that appeal to both hardcore and casual gamers always stand a better chance than those that focus on just the one. Despite D&D’s reputation as a hardcore pen and paper game, TA errs on the side of being too casual and limits interactivity. You can go on an adventure, equip some potions, and leave the application to tick away unsupervised. However, you can also pick and choose your adventures to take advantage of your character’s stronger bonuses, increasing their chances of defeating encounters successfully. For example, Swamp areas test Charisma and Intelligence, a good fit for a Warlock. You can then grab potions to supplement your character’s less glamorous stats. Potions however only work for a fixed number of encounters – about 4-6 – which makes it difficulty to use them to maximum effect.

Regardless of this restricted ability to min-max, TA is balanced around a 50-75% success rate. It’s very hard, within the limits of the game, to exceed this, unless you’re willing to engage in low level adventures for the entirety of your character’s career. On most occasions you’re given a choice of two equal-level adventures, an adventure that’s a level higher and one a level lower, so you’re free to ramp up or reduce the difficulty at your leisure.

You can invite friends to join the app and, once they’ve selected a character, you can provided them with a +1 bonus to their rolls at certain intervals, or heal them when they’re injured.

Ultimately, TA relies on the tried-and-true gambling mechanic that has served role-playing titles so well. How much XP will I get for this event? What item will I receive? Where’s my gold at? The short stories and serviceable graphics just add to the charm.

Overall, TA contain some solid design choices. Casual players can stick to low-level adventures and equip healing potions to get them through the day, while hardcore players can cherry-pick adventures to take advantage of their character’s primary stats. Potions offer limited interactivity for those who want it, and the “Next update” button provides that “one-more-click” functionality found in turn-based strategies.

Why it’s not so fun: The lack of interactivity that works in TA’s favour is also its main weakness. Encounters are decided by the sum of a roll of a 20-sided die and the appropriate bonus. The penalty for failure is half to two-thirds the experience of success and less gold and items. Seeing as your score is determine by the amount of gold you’ve collected, losing encounters is never a good thing. Sure, you’ll go up in level eventually, but you won’t be appearing on the leaderboard anytime soon.

The 10 or so minute delay between actions is also annoying to sit through if you’re actively playing – even though the game isn’t meant to be played like that. I can understand the delay, however. For one, it keeps the server load manageable and two, it takes into account the game’s browser-based nature; people often get sidetracked and will forget they’re in the middle of an adventure. Having the delay allows one to come back and quaff a potion, if they missed the opportunity last tick.

The game is also not very stable. I’ve come to accept that there are three, not two, possible encounter results:




The most galling aspect of the game, from a pen-and-paper player’s perspective, has nothing to do with its mechanics at all. The mere existence of the app raises the question: Why is WotC’s online team taking time to code a Facebook game, when the promised DM and player tools for 4th Edition remain in a state of limbo? One could argue TA is a marketing device, but it seems pointless to advertise a product that is incomplete. Consider the fact one discovers the PnP game through TA. I believe that, coming from an online source, potential players will seek out the online tools, only to find they don’t exist. Great introduction, that.

Making an RPG that has limited interactivity is going to run into tricky gameplay issues, no matter how hard you tweak it. TA may serve a casual audience fairly well, but it offers a little too much in terms of functionality that hardcore players will demand more, despite recognising its casual focus.

An easy fix: I have two – allow a choice between two checks during encounters and provide a choice of items. Being a Wizard and getting shields and plate mail is not fun. As a Cleric, being forced to trudge through a Temple and failing my rolls is not fun. Like any good D&D adventure, there’s usually two ways to go about things – combat or conversation. TA should reflect this.

Both of these processes can be automated/streamlined so they don’t interfere with TA’s “fire and forget” nature – the game can select the choice that would get the better bonus, and if the player isn’t available in the ten minutes between encounters, keep a record of all items found during an adventure so the player can select his spoils when it comes to a conclusion.

Room for improvement:

  • Parties – Being able to take a group of up to three friends on an adventure for improved spoils would take even better advantage of the nature of Facebook. Loners might not appreciate the bonuses co-operation provides, but friend buffing already does that to a certain degree.
  • Spells – When I selected the Cleric, I expected the ability to heal myself. Not so, it seems. Showing that D&D is more than just a bunch of dice rolls is something the game’s been trying to push since 2nd Edition. TA doesn’t really help in this case.
  • Shorter delay – There are active players of this game. Seeing as you can’t exceed level 11 (the character is retired at this point) allowing players to hit this point a little faster and refine their style wouldn’t hurt.
  • Less page loads – A Flash-based interface, or even just creative use of CSS, would have worked wonders. Sometimes you just want to check your inventory or your hero’s status. This shouldn’t require access to the server all the time.

~ by Logan on August 29, 2008.

4 Responses to “Play day: D&D Tiny Adventures”

  1. You are limited to only using two potions during an adventure and they have to be with you at the start. If you pick up something like potion of healing during the adventure, you can not use it. Equiping potions would be nice mid-adventure especially if you run into bad luck at rolls and in dire need of healing.

    The standard format for calculating stats (i.e. AC uses Dex score) does not apply in this simplified game.

    Selling equipment should be half of what it would be to buy said item. Almost everying sold for 9 or 18 gp.

    Your characters max out at level 11. I didn’t think it was a problem but currently I am half way there with only playing it less than 4 days. The good news is that you can take one item to the next character. I don’t know if you can pick the same class if you retire the character. This is kinda important since some of the most powerful items you receive are restricted to certain classes.

    Rolls. The rolls for the first 10 encounters were well below normal. One would expect 5 of the rolls over 10 but only 1 of the rolls were. This continued for awhile but I lost track. As you get more equipment this adds to the check.

  2. […] resigned myself to the fact Wizards of the Coast is far too busy with other projects to worry about those silly online tools it promised to deliver when 4th Ed launched. Still, the […]

  3. I am trying to figure out how scorinng works in this game. You say a couple of times here that it is “gold,” but it is not 1:1 if it is gold. I just reviewed a recent adventure where I scored 1,980 in the course of picking up 1,308 in gold.

    I would love to understand exactly how score is determined…

  4. Hey Ryan,

    The game has changed quite a bit since I last played, but when I was, the gold amount included the value of any loot you found.

    That’s why you don’t get additional points for selling loot – it’s already added to your final score.