Tuesday, November 13, 2012

In Retrospect: Diablo II--The Awakening

Diablo II: The Awakening came out sometime in the spring or late summer of the year 2000, during the waning days of AD&D Second Edition. And It shows. Clearly the designers, Bruce R. Cordell and Mike Selinker, were already geared up for what was to come with D&D 3rd Edition.

Selinker wrote in the introduction that he'd been played Dungeons & Dragons for years. And in all that time, he felt like he was missing something:

"Then I played the Diablo computer game.
Suddenly, I understood. After weeks immersed in the Diablo game, I finally caught on that the Dungeons & Dragons game is about accumulation." 

You basically fight against evil with your trusted longsword +2 until you find a longsword +3. Then you ditch the old one. Indeed, while I didn't know it at the time, D&D's focus was once again shifting. Diablo II: The Awakening was a sign of this shift.

In the mid-to-late 1980s, D&D got away from dungeon and wilderness exploration, focusing more on story and character background development/roleplaying. At the turn of the millennium, the banner call was "back to the dungeon." The Diablo computer game, of course, featured a huge dungeon leading straight to hell, packed full of monsters and treasure to find. You also had character "skill trees."

The designers of Diablo II: The Awakening emulated this. They transferred the classes from Diablo II into "kits." Each kit had a set of skills to chose from. Some of the proficiencies were obviously taken from 3e material. You'll find Dodge, Whirlwind Attack, and others.

Moreover, this book emulates massive treasure accumulation from Diablo and Diablo II. The real gem from this book is the random tables where you can generate more than a million unique magic items. I've used these table before. The only problem is that they tend to create more powerful than standard magic items.

You see this attention to accumulation in 3e. Let's face it, the designers created a game where if your character doesn't have certain items at a given level, the monsters can be a lot tougher. This is much like in Diablo and Diablo II. If you lose your all of your stuff somehow, or if you don't have the right combination of equipment, you're pretty much screwed.

Most importantly, I think this is the first time where a computer game had great influence over D&D. Correct me if I'm wrong. I'm not saying that's a bad thing. A number of other factors contributed to 3e beyond computer games, but I can't help but see some similarities.

I've occasionally used Diablo II: The Awakening, especially in the latter days of my old Greyhawk Campaign. In one case, the player-characters, who were all around 9-12th level, had to fight off a horde of Diablo monsters, which are detailed toward the back of the book. Just as they were being overrun, Somebody read a scroll of Apocalypse which blasted away most of the horde. The PCs barely made it out alive.

Overall, Diablo II: The Awakening is a so-so supplement. It's sign of things to come, but if you've played Diablo or Diablo II, then you've already played through and understand the material in this book. It is merely an imitation.


  1. It saddens me, really, that D&D devolved to that level. To me, it means more to roleplay a situation, and as DM, I reward my players more for being their characters than I do killing mobs and finding loot.

    1. I like both roleplaying and hack'n slash. And I do like accumulation and character building. What I have a problem with is, that in 3e/3.5e and 4e, accumulation and character building have taken away some of the mystery from the game.


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