Are games more fun when you know the lore?

There are two different types of tourist.

  • The well prepared tourist has read guides, made lists of things they want to see and do and planned out their holiday in advance. It may be a sketchy plan but it’s there. They may even have learned a few words of the local language and know which of the local delicacies they plan to sample. Perhaps they have watched films about their destination or even been inspired to go there from seeing the place featured in a favourite book, comic or TV show.
  • The accidental tourist travels with the aim of exploring. Maybe they have made some preparation but what they really want is to be surprised with new and exciting experiences to tell all their friends about when they get back.

I always feel like a tourist when I head into a MMORPG for the first time. I like to know about the lore so that I can have the fun of recognising places and people if I see them in game. If someone made a game set in the town where I live, I’d enjoy “walking” around it in the virtual world, even though I could go outside and see it in real life.

For Warhammer, I’ve been reading some of the Black Library books to get a feel for the setting. I really noticed the effect of this when I was reading this month’s newsletter. Every other paragraph, I caught myself stopping to think something like “Wait, I read about that!”, “Ooo, that looks like a rat ogre, that was in my book!”, “That sounds like one of the daemons I read about … and it’s going to be in that dungeon! Wow, cool!”. I don’t know how excited I really am about the Warhammer setting per se but I am very intrigued at seeing how the world I’ve been reading about will be brought to life.

Of course, a graphical setting can be breath-taking whether or not you know the lore behind it. It’s nothing to do with how hardcore a player you are or whether you roleplay in game; an awesome visual is a visceral experience, and a well-written storyline can engage anyone who reads it (this is why even in a game like WoW, you can ask people if they have a favourite quest and most of them will pick the well written ones.)

Do you prefer to research the lore before you play a game that is set in an existing ‘world’?

Keeping faith with the warhammer lore

Using an established setting/IP has worked brilliantly for MMORPG manufacturers. Star Wars Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Age of Conan, World of Warcraft — all of them have invited people to come play in a world which they already know from books, films, or other games. And rumour has it there’s another Star Wars MMO in the pipeline from Lucasarts/Bioware also.

Warhammer is an amazing IP. Mythic hit the ball out of the park (note: american idiom cos I is so cosmopolitan) when they cosied up with Games Workshop on the deal. It’s long-established, well-supported and the demographic is teenage boys, a lot of whom have gone on to play computer games but remember the setting fondly. It was designed for RPGs and wargames and provides lots of atmosphere and opportunity for player conflict. Or in other words, the main point of warhammer is to give flimsy excuses for large armies to fight each other. Warhammer and PvP were made for each other.

Working with an existing IP isn’t easy though. Everything you write has to be checked and OKed by the guys who own the setting. Everything takes a bit longer. Sometimes they will step in and say no. Sometimes they will surprise you by saying yes or making suggestions you hadn’t thought would fly. The games manufacturer needs a close relationship with the IP owner. They need lore nerds on the development staff! (I remember reading that Turbine had at least one staffer who spoke fluent elvish!!)

And sometimes, you have to go and ask nicely if the lore can be bent or twisted just a little bit. Why would you do it? Well, sometimes your players will want to do stuff that isn’t a big issue in the original media. In this case, the demographic for MMORPGs is different from the warhammer playerbase — it’s older, there are more women. Mythic also wanted more keep sieges and PvP set ups which would be difficult to reproduce on a tabletop.

So female dwarfs go in, and all over the community forums, you’ll see threads asking for more female options (I bet Games Workshop can count on one hand the number of times they’ve been asked for more female models). Keep sieges go in.

We need the lore nerds to keep us honest and tell us all about the amazing setting that we’re getting to go play in. But we need the developers to be listening to what the community wants and knowing when to stretch the old lore too.

Dwarf Lore: Female Dwarfs in the front line?

Dwarfs are a patriarchal race, they are also an old race and a race that is dying out. Female dwarfs are rare, maybe one or two female births out of every ten. They do live longer than male dwarfs and are every bit as strong willed, but they are also are highly prized and tend to be closely guarded at home. Although they are trained to fight, they would not normally be found in the front line.

So how does this fit in with having them available as PCs in WAR?

Well … you have to bend the lore a bit to do it. But even in lore, there are Priestesses of Valaya so it’s easy to justify some healers, and engineers are eccentric enough that maybe a strong-willed lady dwarf could elbow her way in among the lads. As for ironbreakers and hammerers — unlikely but it’s just so damn cool that who cares?

Also, players usually prefer the prettier races so there’s a good chance that the actual online ratio of male dwarfs: female will probably be higher than 10:1 anyhow.

Mythic have put up screenshots with a female dwarf engineer so it looks right now as if female dwarfs are go. Hang onto your beards, boys, we’re gonna show you how a real dwarf goes to war! And if you thought you men knew how to hold a grudge, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Dwarf Lore (some links)

A Dwarf army is like a well-crafted mail shirt; each warrior is an iron-hard link, knitted together by duty, honour and loyalty. And, like a mail shirt, never a blow shall pass them as long as all the links remain strong.” – Dwarf Saying

They’re small! They’re round! They bounce along the ground! – Idris

We love dwarfs here and Games Workshop have given us 20+ years worth of background on our favourite Warhammer race. They’re long lived, honourable folk of the mountains who love gold, beer, and a good fight. Steadfast allies and implacable foes who never EVER forget a grudge (and boy do they have a lot of grudges), you do not want to get on their bad side.

So we’ll be writing some more about the short beardy guys and gals when we get a chance, but first let’s see what the best of the web has to offer.

Warhammer: Dwarfs from Games Workshop Online

Dwarfs from the Warhammer Online homepage

A basic roleplayer’s guide to the relentless dwarfs from the Warhammer Online Vault

The Big Thread of Dwarfen Lore from Warhammer Alliance forums (lots of nerdrage in this thread for added drama)

Dwarfs from the HammerWiki

War is everywhere!

For my first stab at getting to grips with a new setting I picked the official WAR site (European) as my starting point and went to their stories and legends section* (under ‘the Universe’). Read through it on a prolonged tea break at work, and managed to get through it easily in the 15 mins I had.

Am I now an expert? Nope! Definitely not, though some of the names and cities are a little more familiar and I definitely have a sense of the RvR and what’s at stake for each side. So in that way I think it worked. Also, I think it’s inspired me to dig a little deeper, though I have no idea what my next step will be – might wait to hear what Spinks thinks of some of the books 🙂

*NB: the lore is the same as on the US official site, where I found it was signposted a little better, under a ‘Background’ link

Getting to grips with the setting

I’ve not read any Warhammer books, I’ve never played the RPG. So why the hell do I crave the game so much?

Well, I started roleplaying in my teens (a looong time ago), I started online roleplaying in the early 90s with MUSHes, I started MMO-ing with DAoC and progressed through WoW and LotRO. I miss stuff about DAoC and I have a fair amount of trust in Mythic to make a great game. If Imperator was on the cards, I’d probably have tried that too. I kind of like PvP, especially in the Realm vs Realm scenario where you have an in-built sense of loyalty to your side. And, most of all, I have a small group of friends intending to go play WAR, so I’ll be joining them there on the Order side.

I’ve read plenty about the quests, the classes, the city sieges, the tome of knowledge.. but I’ve yet to crack the actual background and setting of the game. So, because we have some time before open beta and any chance to really get a hands-on look at the game, I thought I’d spend some time reading the lore.

I’ll be reading through the links on this page on Warhammer Alliance forums, and this page from the official WAR site. And, of course, I’ll be sharing my views.