Back when I was young, I dreamed of the day that computers would be used both as role-playing aids and provide a level of sophisticated games that would be a reasonable substitute for role-playing when a group couldn’t meet. As time marched on, this dream became more and more the reality. However, what I never considered was what video games, MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons), and eventually MMORPGs impact to how we approach role-playing at a table-top game or in a Live Action game would be.
Here at the Front, I believe the evolution of video games is a force for both good and bad. Given how accessible video games are, it has raised the stakes for all of us to elevate our games beyond the capabilities of video games. These games now boast sandbox/free-form roaming ability in games like The Elder Scrolls franchise, but also the ability to interact with very well thought out NPCs and stories for our characters to interact with.
Additionally, computer aided tools have made certain tedious tasks easier for pen-and-paper games. In addition to combat trackers and electronic character sheets, there are tools out there to assist with making maps and displaying them to the players. There also a whole suite of tools out there for building a campaign from the ground up. Another aspect, if you are willing to spend the money on it, is that you can get a lot of the rule books in electronic format which means you don’t have to lug around a ton of books when going to a game.
Alas, video games also have their downside for players trying out tabletop and live action games for the first time. Their expectations are set by what is possible within a video game. While these players want a story in their game, they also want a lot of action and to be actively rewarded for taking part of the action. This quickly leads toward Monty Haul expectations where it is perfectly acceptable to take everything not nailed down to sell it for money to buy bigger things. If such expectations aren’t met, these players can quickly get grumpy if the rewards aren’t as great as they hoped for. While a GM can easily manage these expectations and should be able to keep it in balance, it does make for a new nuance to be aware of at within the game.
The bigger problem though is what happens with failure in a cRPG/MMORPG…
- In games with save capability that allows the player to be able to reload at will, the only thing stopping achieving a perfect dialogue result or outcome for a combat is your level of patience with reloading to try it again.
- In games that don’t have those types of save/reload abilities, then they usually give respawn points where your character (or characters) will reappear after dying to deal with the fact that they died from a combat.
In non-computer RPGs, however, dialogue results can’t be undone and combats can’t be replayed until you get it right. Depending on the system, death may be the end of a character or there maybe a way to bring back the character from beyond the grave. The fact that you can spectacularly fail raises the stakes though. It also can lead to frustration when players can’t automatically “win” an encounter. For me, this true risk of failure is one of the things that makes a live game better than its video game cousins. However, it requires GMs to nurture players coming from a video game background to appreciate that risk and failure can lead to great stories.
I don’t have any solutions on making it easier for players coming from video games to tabletop and live-action games. I’ve dealt with it in past games and it can be a tricky thing to balance when players have vastly different expectations on what the story that you are telling together should be like. Still, it is fun to gather friends to tell stories together. Finding common ground and balance is a worthwhile pursuit.
For the GMs out there, how do you go about building the experiences for players new to non-video game RPGs so that they grow to love it as much (or more) than their video game cousins?