Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Comparison: Table Top RPGs VS Computer RPGs

I've been sick as a dog, which means I haven't been writing, but I have been watching a lot of movies.

Rather than review any of the things that I've been watching though, I'm going to address a question that was posed to me.

"Is World of Warcraft basically the same thing as Dungeons and Dragons?"

Of course the short answer, if you've played both, is no, but if you haven't played either, then it might be closer to yes.

So, to start off with, WoW: Even with all of it's success, rabid fanbase, and staggeringly large number of players that are wander the world with you, it is still a computer game.

You pick a race (elf), and a class (rogue), and then you're pretty much dumped into the world with no ceremony, and no guidance, other than seeing symbols above peoples heads saying that they might be worth talking to. Talking to certain people, gets you quests, which usually involves tracking something down and killing it, then returning to the quest giver, at which time you will be awarded XP, money, and/or loot.

The whole game is about leveling up your character, getting better equipment, and learning new abilities, and combining that all into a character that will mop the floor with anything that tries to mess with you, or make you worthwhile to people that can mop the floor with anything that tries to mess with you.

A table top RPG is really just a much different experience, from the ground up. Sure, you get money and loot, and you choose a race and a class, but you're not making something that's just gonig to walk around killing things (not necessarily), you're making a character, a character in a story. The Game/Dungeon Master has put together a scenario for you, which is part of the story, the other part of the story is your character, and how he chooses to go through that scenario, that's all up to you, and a lot of it has nothing to do with stats, or equipment.

When you make your character, you have to ask yourself, do you want to be the kind of character that just attacks all of his problems head on, with brutal force? Maybe you'd rather be the kind of person that would avoid large confrontations, in favor of stealth kills and poisoning? Or maybe you just want to be able to talk your way out of trouble? There are a lot of ways to come at your character, all of which will give you a different gameplay experience. Assigning stats, and choosing race and class, really are something you use to make your character better at what you want to do.

Now, my exposure to D&D is limited, I read a few of the source books, but I was never able to find enough interested people to actually play. What I did manage to play eventually was Shadowrun, with my buddy Toren, and his stepdad.

The background of Shadowrun is drastically different than most of the worlds in D&D. Instead of a straight up fantasy setting, it takes place in a fictional future Earth, where elves, trolls, dragons, and the like all just sort of start showing up one day, I believe that the humanoid races slowly emerged from existing human lines, but I could be wrong about that. So, there's fantasy, but this is also our future, so there is technology, obviously there are guns and cars, but more importantly, there is cyborg technology. Referred to as Cyberware, you can get all manner of items implanted into your body, from eyes that see in the dark, to plates in your skin that make you more resistant to damage, and jacks in the back of your neck so you can hack into computer systems.

There are a few things that I preferred about the Shadowrun system over what I saw of D&D:

First, there is no randomness to you character generation, in D&D you roll a die to determine your strength, intelligence, charisma, etc. Since it's random, it's theoretically possible to roll a character that sucks in every way, or someone that you're just not interest in playing as. Shadowrun just gives you a certain number of points to distribute, and you get to choose where to place them.

Second, from reading the book for D&D, it sounds like everyone has to have a number of charts for them keep track of what they need to roll for what reasons. By contrast, Shadowrun seemed much simpler, although a big part of that was likely our GM.

Third, D&D requires a variety of non-typical sided die, a 4 sided die for this, and a 10 sided die for that, etc. Shadowrun uses just regular ho hum 6 sided dice, although it can use a lot of them, but since they're so common, you can probably scavenge them from all the board games in your house.

Now that we've glossed over some of the mechanics of the game, here's my story of Toren and I playing all those years ago:

To start with, I decided that I wanted to be an elvish assassin. I divided my skills between close quarters combat and sniping, with a smattering of points in lockpicking and demolitions. I had cyber enhanced reflexes, natural elvish night vision, and retractable blade under a fingernail just in case I ever found myself disarmed and needing to cut something. My equipment was mostly a few small easily concealed hand guns and knives, a katana, a motorised rappelling grappeling hook, and the aforementioned sniper rifle. Important to note is that explosive ammo is readily available for most guns, for only marginally more than the cost of normal ammo.

Toren's character was meant to be much more direct and in your face. He was human, although almost as much cyberware as actual meat, and his primary weapon was a giant machine gun that had to be mounted on a gyroscopically balanced harness. He had a few other goodies that I don't remember as well, since I wasn't playing his character, except for his car, which was more of a tank.

Our first job, the only one worth noting, was to assassinate someone running for a public office. We decided to try and take him out during/after a public appearance. He's on a podium, in a bulletproof bubble, giving his speech, during which I'd snuck under his limo and place a large amount of C4 along with a remote charge. Getting back on the roof, the plan was to try and overwhelm the bulletproof glass, and snipe him, barring that, we would blow the c4 charge under the limo after he tried to make his escape, ideally killing him, but at the least immobilising it so we could catch up and finish him.

Toren starts to open up on the bubble with his anti-aircraft gun, while I take aim at the politician. At first the bubble doesn't go down, so Toren decides to launch a couple of grenades, which fall short of the podium, and just turn the already panicking crowd into giblets. The bubble goes down, but not before the politician gets out of our respective line of fires, and hops into his heavily armored limo. To the chase!

So, Toren hops into his car, I hop into his buddies car (a buddy is something that you can actually buy when designing a character) and once we're a couple of blocks away, I blow the C4. Now, if I was smarter, or more used to RPGs at the time, I might have chosen to place the charges a little more elegantly than just one big glob in the middle of of the under carriage, but since that's what I did, the limo hopped a half dozen feet in the air, before landing hard and skidding to a halt. The car wasn't split open as I'd dramatically hoped, but the wheels weren't rolling anymore, so you can't exactly call it a failure. Guards started to file out and fire at us, taking cover behind the limo, rather than just try and shoot the guards we decided to use their cover against them and got up to speed and just rammed the limo, smearing one of them underneath it, and taking the other out with a mounted gun round. That being taken care of, we hop out of our cars, and check in the limo, only to find that he's dead already, from the crash. So, we made our escape.

This is not the end of our story though. For upon meeting up with our employer to claim our reward, we are told that the civilian bloodbath we caused negatively reflects on his employer, and the political scene in general, as such, he was only going to pay us a tenth of the agreed upon price. This didn't sit well with me, for one it wasn't my fault, and two, he never said anything about collateral damage. So I rather forcefully said that we did the job as it was given, which means that we should get paid the original amount. At this point, his guards drew their guns, very quickly. I dove under the table, and Toren who was hanging at the bar started to pull his guns. The only thing I could think to do was draw my sword, and start hacking at ankles. I manage to remove two feet, and pull the boss under the table and eventually kill him and one of the guards, while Toren killed the remaining guard. I tossed their pockets, and made off with a handful of new guns, and the contents of their wallets.

After that, we attempted to do another job bringing in a couple more friends, but we never finished that job, because we couldn't never get the five of us together for any time ever again, which always made me very sad.


  1. i thought you were comparing tabletop and computer based rpg? would have been nice to include a quick table rather than long text.

  2. That's a valid point, I kind of lost the goal of the article.

    Three things though:

    1. I don't think you can really impart exactly what's different between a videogame and a tabletop RPG without indulging in a narrative example.

    2. The purpose of this blog is to give me practice writing, which is better served through an involved monologue than a diagram.

    3. This particular article was really aimed at the person who posed the question to me.

    Thanks for you input though.