Are Video Games Ruining Your Role-playing?

I love RPG video games, but they might be causing some sub-optimal habits in our tabletop role playing. So what’s a GM to do about it?

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It's Dangerous to Go Alone. Take This (Advice)!​

Way back when, video games and RPGs weren’t too different. The video games often focused on killing stuff and getting treasure and so did plenty of dungeon modules. But it wasn’t very long before tabletop games moved into more narrative and character driven play which video games had a hard time following. While some video games like Dragon Age have tried to mirror role playing, you still only get a selection of options in interaction.

Nowadays, tabletop gaming has branched well beyond the elements that have been automated in video games. For players coming from video games, those elements can cause a biased approach to tabletop gaming that might make the game less fun. Below are some examples of how "video game creep" can affect tabletop RPG play styles and how to address them.

The Plot Will Happen Regardless​

While no one likes an interminable planning session, they do at least remind us that the players are not just participating but driving the story. In a video game the story happens whether you like it or not. You just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other and the story will happen regardless. So the bad habit here is a desire of players to ‘just move on’ assuming the GM will just give the plot to them as they go. This often comes unstuck in an investigative RPG where the players need to plan and consider, but it can cause problems in any game. Just pushing ahead will often clue in the bad guys about what is going on. Worse, without some effort to uncover clues, the players will just be floundering, wondering why the plot hasn’t miraculously appeared.

To get players out of this mode the GM might have be initially be a bit more obvious with clues. Almost to the point of putting a helpful flashing icon over them so the players can find them. The key here is to get them looking for clues and trying to understand the plot rather than just assuming inaction will solve the adventure regardless. Once players remember the clues will not come to them they will start trying to find them again.

“Nothing Is Too Much for Us!”​

With the option to save and return to a tough problem, video games offer the idea that any character can potentially tackle anything that is thrown at them. After all, the hero of a video game is a pregenerated character with all the right skills (or at least the means of acquiring them). This is also coupled with the fact that if the video game throws an army of zombies at you, then you expect to be able to fight them off. No problem is insoluble as long as you are prepared to persevere.

While perseverance isn’t a bad trait, sometimes the player characters shouldn't attempt to face all obstacles with brute force. The GM might have put them against insurmountable odds because they should be retreating. They assume putting 100 zombies in the room will make it pretty clear the way is blocked, then get surprised when the PCs draw swords and dive in. Then they are even more confused when the PCs accuse them of killing off their characters by putting too many monsters in, when no one forced them to fight them.

It is hard for some players to realise that retreat is also an option. But if you are used to facing and defeating supposedly insurmountable odds it is unlikely you’ll think of making a run for it. This attitude might also give some players the idea that any character can do anything leading to some spotlight hogging when they try to perform actions clearly suited better to other characters.

At this point the GM can only remind them retreat is an option, or that the thief should probably have first call on the lock picking. If they ignore that warning then they’ll eventually get the message after losing a couple more characters.

“I’m Always the Hero!”​

In many games the player characters are heroes, or at least people destined for some sort of greatness. But in a video game you are usually the chosen hero of the entire universe. You are the master elite agent at the top of their game. The problem is that in any group game not everyone can be the star all the time. So it can lead to a bit of spotlight hogging, with no one wanting to be the sidekick.

That is usually just something they can be trained out of with the GM shifting the spotlight to make sure everyone gets a fair crack. But being the greatest of all heroes all the time may mean the players won’t be satisfied with anything less. There are some good adventures to be had at low level, or to build up a great hero, and starting at the very top can miss all that. So, players ranking at the lower level of power should be reminded they have to build themselves up. Although there is nothing wrong with playing your game at a very high level if the group want big characters and bigger challenges.

Resistance Is Futile​

One of the things RPGs can do that video games can’t is let you go anywhere. If there is a door blocking your path, in an RPG you can pick the lock, cut a hole in it, even jump over it, where in a video game it remains unopened. If you get used to this concept it can lead to players thinking the opposite of the insurmountable odds problem. A locked door means they should give up and try another route or look for an access card. They start to think that like a video game there are places they are meant to go and meant not to go, and that they should recognise that and not fight it.

This might apply to any number of problems, where the GM is offering a challenge but the players just think that means they shouldn’t persevere. Worse, the players might think they need a key to open the door and will search for as long as it takes to find one, never imagining they might smash the door down.

This is a tough problem to get past as it means the GM needs to offer more options and clues to the players. If this doesn’t remind them they can try other things, then that opens up the following issue. So the GM should try and coax more options out of the players and make a point of rewarding more lateral thinking in their part.

“I’m Waiting for Options”​

While there may be several ways to defeat a problem, and the players know this, they might not be used to thinking of them for themselves. They will expect the GM to suggest several ways to defeat any obstacle or interact with an NPC rather than think of them themselves. This is easy to spot as the GM will notice that any clues or suggestions they make are always followed rather than taken as a helpful starting point.

The simple answer is to stop offering options and let the players think of them themselves. After all, RPGs are not multiple choice, they should be infinite choice. So the GM might also make a point of throwing the question back to the players and ask them what they will do about the encounter. The GM might offer clues if asked, but they should try and keep the focus on the players thinking of a way through rather than giving them clues.

Gaming in Every Medium​

The issues above aren’t a problem if that is how you all want to play. But they do put a lot of pressure on the GM to hand out all the answers and takes away the player’s agency to interact and influence the story. So it is worth taking a look at your group's gaming habits, particularly new players, and reminding them that although video game RPGs and tabletop RPG have a lot in common, they should be played differently.
 
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Andrew Peregrine

Andrew Peregrine

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
The player leaving the game is A possible resolution of the situation. A better resolution would be the DM not being so set in his/her ways that he imposes his scenario on his players without obtaining player buy-in.

To go back to @HammerMan ’s example, what is lost by warning the player’s ahead of time that he wants to run a game based on survival?
Depends on the style of the players/DM. Sometimes it’s great to throw a big surprise or an obstacle at them to see how they handle it.

These debates tend to focus fire on the DM, but sometimes the better solution is for the player(s) to be more flexible, adaptable, or willing to explore.
 

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I demand some sort of conversation.
That sounds like a problem to me. You shouldn't "demand" things of players that they're not interested in or comfortable doing. DMs need to remember that they are no more important than any other player at the table. A DM who cannot bend from their own preferences based on the preferences of the other players should not be DMing that group.
 

I was reading the original Saltmarsh and noted there's tons of piddly hidden treasures but nothing to indicate when it might be worthwhile to search. There's a few gold behind a brick in a chimney or a 5 gp pearl in a boot. All that does is reinforce wasting time over minutia as players are trained like dogs via Pavlovian reinforcement to pull everything apart for chump change.
Which, ironically, is common behaviour in CRPGs.
 

And there shouldn't often - if ever - be anything to "indicate when it might be worthwhile to search". If you're the person hiding your treasure in a chimney you're hardly going to put a sign on the mantel saying "Look behind here", are you? Of course not. The searchers have to think for themselves to look there, and if they do they stand a chance of hitting pay dirt.

Fortune favours those who take the time to sweat the details and dig deeper.
And yet, the DM is supposed to sign-post areas that are too tough for low-level characters in a sandbox. So DMs are supposed to sign-post and not sign-post, all at the same time.
 

That sounds like a problem to me. You shouldn't "demand" things of players that they're not interested in or comfortable doing. DMs need to remember that they are no more important than any other player at the table. A DM who cannot bend from their own preferences based on the preferences of the other players should not be DMing that group.
Players need to remember that they are no more important than any other player at the table.. A player who cannot bend from their own preferences based on the preferences of the other players (including the DM) should not be playing in that group.

And your point ignores the fact that, in the vast majority of TTRPG tables, the labor and financial burden of the game is mostly on the DM. I think that gives their opinion a little more weight, although of course they should be trying to help everyone (including themselves) have fun.
 


Players need to remember that they are no more important than any other player at the table..
Unless the player who prefers to just roll the die is "demanding" that all other players do that as well, then the comparison is invalid, a failed gotcha. The DM in question is demanding that all players play in a particular way.

And your point ignores the fact that, in the vast majority of TTRPG tables, the labor and financial burden of the game is mostly on the DM. I think that gives their opinion a little more weight, although of course they should be trying to help everyone (including themselves) have fun.
No, it doesn't ignore that. DMing is a choice. If your choice to DM is predicated on the idea that you must get your way in terms of playstyle, I will be comfortable saying you're not a very good DM. Good DMs adapt their games to the players' preferences, including allowing different players to take different approaches to certain aspects of the game.
 

DM: "You come to a door and..."

Player: "Pick locks, 16."

DM: "The door opens and..."

Player: "Perception, 19."

DM: "In the darkness before you are two torches and..."

Player: "Search the room, 13."

That's not a story. That's Zork with unnecessary rolling.
It's also not reflective of how games actually run, even with players who prefer to roll dice over pixel-hunting. It is, in fact, a strawman, a distorted misrepresentation of what you're trying to argue against which makes it look worse than it actually is.
 

Unless the player who prefers to just roll the die is "demanding" that all other players do that as well, then the comparison is invalid, a failed gotcha. The DM in question is demanding that all players play in a particular way.


No, it doesn't ignore that. DMing is a choice. If your choice to DM is predicated on the idea that you must get your way in terms of playstyle, I will be comfortable saying you're not a very good DM. Good DMs adapt their games to the players' preferences, including allowing different players to take different approaches to certain aspects of the game.
So the type of game the DM wants to run doesn't matter; they should just roll over and do their best to constantly appease the players wishes? The group should have a session 0 where they hash this stuff out. After that if someone has a problem, it's on them.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
Players need to remember that they are no more important than any other player at the table.. A player who cannot bend from their own preferences based on the preferences of the other players (including the DM) should not be playing in that group.

And your point ignores the fact that, in the vast majority of TTRPG tables, the labor and financial burden of the game is mostly on the DM. I think that gives their opinion a little more weight, although of course they should be trying to help everyone (including themselves) have fun.
You can't have it both ways.

Either we should 'remember no player is more important than any player at the table including the DM' or the DM is more important than everyone else at the table.

The fact that DMs think they're the most important and that gives them the right to play parent and force the players to do things to 'teach them' or 'for their own good' or 'because I said so' is the problem.

When people wonder where the DM 'hate' comes from, it's right here, directed to s specific subset and heartily earned.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
So the type of game the DM wants to run doesn't matter;
As far as whether the players want to engage. No players turns DMing into creative writing.
they should just roll over and do their best to constantly appease the players wishes?
The job is to provide a fun experience, not to whine about how the players don't want to do what you want to do. If you can't provide a fun experience to the players, turn over the reins.
The group should have a session 0 where they hash this stuff out.
Let's be honest, a lot of the DMs that pull this crap don't session 0 or aren't honest about it precisely for this reason. Providing an honest rundown of their game would give the players a chance to dissent and that can't be brooked.
 

This is a cop-out. It's perfectly valid to tell DMs how to be better DMs. Many DMs need to learn that their preferences are not more important that the preferences of all other players. If they want to DM, they should consider what everyone at the table wants. Take some responsibility for what happens.
Does anyone want to DM? Or are they only doing it because no one else will?
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
Let's be honest, a lot of the DMs that pull this crap don't session 0 or aren't honest about it precisely for this reason. Providing an honest rundown of their game would give the players a chance to dissent and that can't be brooked.

I will never understand this weird DM issue/power trip, but it sure does happen.

Was invited into an existing Deadlands HoE campaign. Emailed the DM for character generation specifics, type of game (high power, low power etc.) type of characters already present, any specific houserules/norms I needed to be mindful of? DM responded by saying it was a low key, low power campaign. I shouldn't have any kind of mystic background and none of the more "wahoo" stuff. Ok, great - made a tracking specialist bounty hunter who was decently handy with a gun. DM approved the character.

First session - I realize I am the ONLY character without a mystic background, some in the group have 2! Further, the DM had nerfed the gun rules (and ranged combat in general) and beefed up the melee stuff. So right off the bat, 2 HUGE things that the DM had completely mislead me on.

Session starts and it's a murder mystery type adventure. The killer had fled, and we were supposed to find him. Ok great, perfect intro for a tracking specialist. Except, when I try to track (and roll decently) all I could get was that the killer had used some kind of magical means to cover his trail and my "mundane" tracking ability can't overcome it - no matter how good the roll - so Ack! I tough it out for the session, and even come back for 1 more. But things got worse, not better. I sent a polite email saying I couldn't make further sessions, and that was that.

The final kicker? I found out that the adventure the DM was doing was a published one. So I picked it up out of curiosity. The whole, can't be tracked because the killer used magic to cover it up? Not in the adventure, the DM clearly put it in because he thought me being able to track the killer was "too easy" and might make things easy for the group. Really glad I left, especially after that!

Moral? DMs need to be honest with the group, especially new people who don't know what to expect. Lying to a new player, always a terrible start!
 


Mort

Legend
Supporter
Does anyone want to DM? Or are they only doing it because no one else will?

I find DMing fun and definitely want to. That said, Ideally, I like a rotating game. Where each person takes a turn running for 2 sessions or so and then the DM hat goes on to the next person.
 

TheSword

Legend
I actually find computer games extremely inspiring for roleplaying games. At least as inspiring individually as novels, TV or film, if not a bit more so.

When I look at games like Skyrim and Witcher, these are the gold standard for sandbox adventures in my opinion. I’m not sure anyone does exploration and structure better than them.

A ttrpg campaign that captured that combination of story thread with open world options is my ultimate goal with any campaign that departs from the Adventure Path route.
 

As far as whether the players want to engage. No players turns DMing into creative writing.

The job is to provide a fun experience, not to whine about how the players don't want to do what you want to do. If you can't provide a fun experience to the players, turn over the reins.

Let's be honest, a lot of the DMs that pull this crap don't session 0 or aren't honest about it precisely for this reason. Providing an honest rundown of their game would give the players a chance to dissent and that can't be brooked.
How honest do you have to be? Are DMs allowed to surprise their players at all? As I said above, the situation described is essentially a flat tire, resolved on two sessions. What exactly is the problem here?
 


Vaalingrade

Legend
How honest do you have to be?
Yes.
Are DMs allowed to surprise their players at all?
So here's the thing. I have plot twists and other surprises, but one of my players doesn't like frogs and half of them check out when there's a non-social puzzle. So I don't just suddenly go 'You're fighting frogs now because I like them, deal with it!' or throw out a puzzle just because I found one I want to use.

I read the room and respond accordingly.
As I said above, the situation described is essentially a flat tire, resolved on two sessions. What exactly is the problem here?
The player found their way out of it, so there wasn't a problem until the DM decided to badmouth them for it.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
Many of us enjoy DMing at least partially to build a world and see the players interact with it in a shared experience. Nice to know how wrong we are to feel that way. Clearly, I should instead be a cruise director.
I'm not sure the light from what I said will reach this conclusion before the heat death of the universe.

"Does anyone actually want to DM?"

"I do, for reasons."

"HOW DARE YOU HAVE REASONS!"
 

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