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

HammerMan

Legend
I’ve played in a game where 80% of the session was the DM talking to himself in different funny voices as he was acting out all his NPCs.

it was a little too much for me.
I live in fear of the days (and it has happened) when my PCs set 1 NPC after another NPC and then sit back to watch... like "Oh, so you want to watch a 1 person show... great" I think the worst was back in 3e when I had a set of PCs set up the hobgoblin army, the kobold thieves, and a Drow/Mindflayer set all up to fight each other while they pretended that the king's advisor had done part of it so the king would get mad at him for breaking the peace... AND one of the PCs seduced the prince, and convinced him to at the same time attempt to over throw his father...

It DID act like a video game because when they got it all going I had to hold up a finger (no not that one...but maybe I should have) and repeated the word "loading" while I thought threw what the in game 12hour period would look like and how I would describe it. Including 6 named important NPCs interacting infront of the PCs (Knowing that PCs could at any moment change anything I am planing so I need to take that into account) while a war playes out all around the capitol (and they could choose at any moment to enter it... or not).

Ross bragged for years he broke me with that one... Becky still tells stories about hitting a loading screen and crashing a D&D game,
 

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beancounter

(I/Me/Mine)
I've been playing RPGs since 1979, and video games since the 90's, so I don't think video games had much of an influence on my RPG experience. And I would say the same goes for the other guys in my group.

What's wrong with killing things and taking their stuff?...

Personally, I have little patience for extensive backstories, or long RP sessions with NPCs. I don't need it in my RPgs or video games.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
Epic
I feel some of this in my soul & it's good to see it put in terms of the video game comparison that I can roll up into a newspaper shaped stick to verbally swat someone with. In my wednesday game the players literally know of two problems (one related to a player's spreadsheet-esque backstory & one a world/regional geopolitical problem) but in both cases the players have no reason to know anything & in fact have reasons they should know less than even the average nobody. In multiple sessions I've gone over the downtime rules & taken the time to read out the investigate/gather info downtime activities. Even with me putting a spotlight on them while pointing out the problems they don't know about. Repeatedly the players have stared at me like I was saying useless things & declare they were wandering that way or anything but engaging in the downtime activities. Currently they are escorting a trade caravan west without bothering to investigate the "werewolf problem" with the clear & stated expectation of learning what's up by doing so. I don't think that they know or will care that the "werewolf problem" is not going to give them clues by escorting a trade caravan & that it very well might get worse if they get involved with the infrastructure projects they are going to find at the caravan's endpoint.


I think some of the problems mentioned by the OP can only be chipped away at by including a well designed conceed mechanic alongside extremely dangerous & possibly death spiral-like combat akin to what fate has, that's the only system I've ever seen players try to run before someone's lungs are metaphorically exposed to the ground.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
You know, I feel I do have to give the players a bit of a benefit of the doubt. It’s entirely possible that someone will play that way because they simply don't care about the level of engagement the DM wants. That does suck for the GM (I have been there so many times) but you can't force people to play the way you want them to.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
You know, I feel I do have to give the players a bit of a benefit of the doubt. It’s entirely possible that someone will play that way because they simply don't care about the level of engagement the DM wants. That does suck for the GM (I have been there so many times) but you can't force people to play the way you want them to.
No, of course not. But you can filter your group for people who enjoy playing in similar ways to you. Both as a player and a DM.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
What's wrong with killing things and taking their stuff?...
It gets really boring before long.
Personally, I have little patience for extensive backstories, or long RP sessions with NPCs. I don't need it in my RPgs or video games.
One or two sentences for backstory are sufficient. A little bit of roleplaying goes a long way. A four-hour session of nothing but talk and/or shopping...snooze. I'm not a hack-and-slash player. I don't want to skip over the details. I'm not in a rush. But if I never have to sit through another 30 minute monologue about how awesome someone's character is, it'll be too soon.
 


el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I don't have a problem with monster knowledge. Everybody knows what trolls are vulnerable to, for example. If players keep poking at that I'll just use different monsters.

I tell my players for the sake of simplicity. Your characters can "know" whatever it is you think you know about monsters - whether or not that is actually the case (whether in general or specific) has to be determined through confirmation and/or experimentation.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
How do I get around the low INT or low skill character doing something that would be next to impossible for them while the trained/smart character fails?

Easy. D&D is a cooperative game. So if for example as that untrained/dull character, I as the player think of removing the closet bar and checking it, I say "Based on Smarto the Rogue's suggestion, I pull down the bar and look at it."

Problem solved.
 


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