It’s not a secret that table RPG games are not so popular as they used to be. However a certain number of amateurs are still fond of them. What is so particular about a pasteboard box or a book with rules? It seems that all the advantages have their " younger computer brothers": no manual calculations, no bricks ( the number of which is from one to almost 20). In general, no additional efforts are needed- just relax, play and don’t worry. But nothing of the kind- groups of maniacs with burning eyes run to the special shop( if there is any), buy another book, and having met in some dark place in the evening, start to crunch with pens and tinkle the dice.
Why are these poor things so attracted by this desperately ancient way of entertainment?
Let’s try to answer this question by displaying the most similar and different features of table and computer RPG.
Firstly, any RPG is a Role Paying Game, which is supposed to have a character, and a system of his development. This feature is typical for both the “brothers". The character as the player’s realization in the created RPG world is very important. Your playing capabilities depend on his features.
Secondly, any decent RPG is based on some world (sometimes, realistic but more often-fantastic one). The depth of the world ( The card details, atmosphere entirety, detailed development of the world components) and , so to say, the mood (optimistic and colorful or destructive and gloomy, funny or extremely rigid, strict), - all this taken together defines the audience of the game.
These two points have a great meaning, they allow the player to associate himself with a certain character and being in his shoes to go through the situations which are impossible in ordinary life.
All this is very good but let’s return to our muttons: to the difference between computer and table RPG.
Probably, trite comparison of books and films will be to the place here. The former make us use our brains and imagination, the latter give us everything ready-made. The peculiarity of table RPG, its strong and at the same time weak point is hope for player’s imagination. . In the classical table RPG you’ll find a text, some illustrations and… all the rest you should imagine yourself. It’s true, that during the gaming process everything depends on the leader (Dungeon Master, Game Master, etc. ) and on the players. The leader explains the situation, describes the characters and the events orally (yes, he does it with the help of words!!!) and the players perceive this information judging from their abilities. What are the advantages of such a game play? They are quite evident: everyone perceives the game in his own way (with the help of his imagination), but at the same time, if the game is rather good, a special “field" of common perception and mood is formed. It’s not an allegation as the author has great experience of playing table RPG and so he knows all ins and outs. When the game has a success, the players seem to be in the same “information field" and sometimes they don’t even perceive the events in real life. It’s just like reading a thrilling book. But sometimes such beauty turns into a terrible thing. What is so horrible about it? The trouble is, the game may be a complete failure if it’s leaded by a talentless and not very experienced master, or if the players turn out to be so-so (that is less critical). In such a case the game fails no matter how beautiful the original RPG world is. Everything gets wrong when after each word the master utters: “well, eh, oh…" and it takes the players 10 minutes to think over each further act. The game reaches a deadlock, a perfect illusion is breaking into the small pieces of separate sentences. I must admit, sometimes it’s all RPG developers ‘fault that such failures take place, especially when the rules of the game aren’t logical or overcharged with unnecessary details. May the fans forgive me, but the last time the author had to play AD&D, there was such a situation:
-Player:" I want to kill that Gobline!"
-Master: “throw the dice for marksmanship. Uph, you shoot in the darkness-that means, the fine should be taken into account. Well. . have you got the bonus? Aha…I’ll find it, wait a bit… Oh… throw these three bricks on D-20, …Hmmm…where is that table? OK, we are going to count all the damages and take into account his armor and the spell and that’s all!"
I don’t say everything was exactly so, but on the whole-just the way I described. What absorption into fantastic world can we talk about if you have to remember 20 figures and throw the dice dozen times for each act! But not all the table games have such a disadvantage. Besides, we may ignore too “hard" rules.
Now let’s analyze what we have in computer RPG.
From the first look everyt5hing is just the same-the game system, characters, the game world. But all these things are already made, you can see the picture with your eyes. Is it good or bad?
It depends. By all means, it’s pleasant to see “visual" character, a charming landscape, fire from shots, etc. But your own brains don’t work any longer since there’s no necessity in it. Besides, we won’t see “our own world". We perceive things as they should be from the game developers’ point of view. Their way of perception becomes ours as well. You will never be able to see the world with your own eyes and make the character really yours, no matter how hard the developers tried to improve the game. Such a situation has two consequences:
1) Tragic one: your imagination is completely blocked and you don’t like the others’ vision. ( such a situation is typical for the most of projects).
2) Pleasant one: some painters and designers create real masterpieces and we can’t but admire their world vision ( here you perfectly understand the difference between your plain brains and a talented professional’s work).
But are there many games like that in the second point? Frankly speaking, I know only one-Fallout. And I appreciate not the graphics but amazing style, exact place of every button, picture, character.
Let’s also mention incontestable advantage of computer RPG. It deals with those calculations which make so many table RPG boring. Computer will calculate all the fines, bonuses and character’s features in a flash. Strange as it may seem but computer games are based just on the table systems and the developers of the former ones don’t aim to overcharge machines with numerous correlations and parameters.
At last we’ve come to a very sensitive problem of the computer RPG- opportunities provided in the game. Sometimes playing RPG on the computer you may suddenly want to act the way not offered by the plot of the game. ( to look into the hatch which is pictured on the background or to take the car you are not allowed to). I am sure that such things are familiar to every gamer. It’s great if the plot and the locations are well considered. And what if they are not ( as it happens more often)? We must admit that the developers of computer games are constantly improving the gamer’s opportunities in the installed worlds. But if the direction is not perfect, the game turns into hard work and it makes the player take advantage of all the improvements (even if he is not willing to).
Table RPG is another matter: the action there is equal to one word, no talks linearity ( you can communicate with the leader the way you like), no plot linearity ( you can do what you like until you are killed). Full freedom of the decisions and actions provided by table RPG will never be substituted by any perfect program. Here you can act as you like. Besides, the standard of the game can be easily changed. For example, I can tell you from my own experience that once I started the game as a guard (pure RPG adventure) and finished as an emperor (RPG+tactics+strategy).
It’s for you to judge what is better. What and how to play is also for you. But I’d like to say (from my own experience again) that table RPG develop our brains while computer ones don’t.
A friend of mine being an active table player suddenly began reading books( he didn’t use to do it since his childhood). He started to read not classical masterpieces or since fiction. That was fantasy. But anyway he began READING, and that’s the point.
Another my friend got used to computer and became a real fan and gamer. Now I constantly see black areas under his eyes and our communication is bothered by a turned on PC.
Of course, these are separate examples and the author must admit, he is addicted to computer RPG . But nevertheless it’s table RPG which gives us the opportunity to communicate and improve. That ‘s what all the author’s life experience tells about.
P. S. I’m ready to an open discussion of the topic. You are free to write your thoughts to me.
By the way, an interesting question: does anybody see the opportunity to combine the two kinds of RPG described above? What if there is the golden mean? What if there is?
About the Author
Efimov Peter is a game designer of White Elephant, a great collection of shareware games. Please, visit his site http://www.elephant-games.com for only best games for you and your children!