I know some gamers, including some close friends of mine, who believe the true end of Dungeons & Dragons came about when TSR was acquired by Wizards of the Coast. Being a fan of the both Dungeons & Dragons 3E and Dungeons & Dragons 4E , I am obviously not one of them. In fact, I tended to dismiss their claims about the influence of Magic: The Gathering on D&D as being overblown. After all, 3E D&D was under development when the company was acquired, so how much influence could the new owners have had?
After this last weekend I have decided I needed to reevaluate this position. Last Thursday I purchased Magic: The Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers on the Xbox 360. Prior to this weekend I hadn’t played Magic: The Gathering in nearly a decade. While playing this weekend I was struck by how many core concepts from Magic: The Gathering have migrated to Dungeons & Dragons over the years
This is one of the most obvious influences. Magic: The Gathering is driven by keywords. If a creature is listed as having Double Strike, Flying, or Haste, you can look up those standard keywords and figure out immediately what the creature can do.
Dungeons & Dragons 3E and Dungeons & Dragons 4E both make extensive use of keywords. Knowing a creature has the Insubstantial property or a spell is a Force effect allow for greater consistency within the rules of the game. Before the use of keywords, there would often be big differences between how very similar abilities would be adjudicated.
I am actually a big fan of the use of keywords. I believe they both streamline the rules and add a great deal of consistency to the game.
One of the contributing factors to the success of Magic: The Gathering is the artwork on the cards. Not surprisingly, when Wizards of the Coast acquired TSR they put their stable of artists to work on redefining the look of Dungeons & Dragons.
The effect this had on the game should not be underestimated. Obviously a lot of people (although not everyone), found this new look appealing. I would even argue that the new and more fantastical look encouraged game designers to create more fantastical arms and equipment.
I personally have mixed feelings on the new look Wizards of the Coast brought to Dungeons & Dragons. I do feel that the old art style felt somewhat dated to me. However, I am not always a fan of the new style either, which sometimes looks a bit too “medieval punk” for my tastes. So for me this is a wash.
Magic: The Gathering is all about customizing your deck. A good deck consists of cards that may be individually decent, but devastating when combined.
Dungeons & Dragons 3E added this concept of customization to player characters. Using feats, multiclass, and prestige classes players were able to customize their characters like never before. Dungeons & Dragons 4E added powers into the mix, which means the player gets to choose the majority of his class abilities.
Not surprisingly this focus on customization leads certain players to game the system.
Once again I find the customizable builds to be a mixed bag. I do enjoy customizing my character… in fact, my perfect system would likely be a classless point buy system. On the other hand, the tendency to power game can go a bit too far at times (as any trip to the Character Optimization boards will show).
Exception Based Rules
The basic rules of Magic: The Gathering are rather simple. You summon creatures and attempt to use them to damage your opponent. The complexity comes from the fact that many cards allow you to “break” these rules in a specific way.
Powers in Dungeons & Dragons 4E work in a very similar manner. While the basic rules of D&D 4E are pretty simple, each power allows you to “break” the rules as well. It is not surprising that many players use power cards, whether home made or store bought, to keep track of these effects.
I know that exception based rules is one of the most controversial parts of Dungeons & Dragons 4E. I tend to like the concept, but sometimes have issues with how it was implemented.
It really is impossible to deny that Magic: The Gathering has influenced Dungeons & Dragons since it was acquired by Wizards of the Coast. Of course whether you see this as innovation or blasphemy depends on your point of view.