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


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CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Bow of Force. No arrows needed.
And it only costs 20gp, apparently.

And while we're at it, let's have a lunchbox that never runs out of sandwiches, a canteen that never runs out of water, horses that don't need to be fed or stabled, and backpacks that never get full or become too heavy to carry. (No wonder there are so many threads about D&D being mostly combat...but I'm getting off-topic.)

Even Skyrim makes you track your arrows (even if they are inexplicably weightless).
 
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Vaalingrade

Legend
And it only costs 20gp, apparently.

And while we're at it, let's have a lunchbox that never runs out of sandwiches, a canteen that never runs out of water, horses that don't need to be fed or stabled, and backpacks that never get full or become too heavy to carry.
I honestly want the Bag of Bounty to have a sandwich only version.

One of my books has a 'superhero' called The Sandwich Man. His power is a special future sight that lets him prepare the absolute perfect version of the favorite sandwich of everyone he will encounter for the day., thereby improving their day and by extension the day of everyone they come into contact with in turn.
 



tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
It's mostly conjecture, from reading through this thread and others like it. There are a lot of heavy undertones about how a DM that doesn't "play right" should be replaced with one that performs better. Like he's just a referee, or a machine.

I have seen it in real-life, though. I've overheard players discussing how they wish Dungeon Master X would step down already so that Dungeon Master Y could take over, because they didn't like how DM-X handled things. It would have hurt DM-X's feelings to hear what they were saying.
I have totally seen it to a T without needing conjecture. Prior to covid I was one of about 6-8 GM's who ran oner or more AL games at a FLGS for years. It was a big factor in why the GMs got together & agreed to give AL the boot about 6-12 months before covid (I think it was after the treasure points debacle was replaced with the maybe still current AL Players Guide nonsense of just pick magic items when you hit x & y level). Prior to that I'd see players wandering around shopping for whatever tables were running stuff known to have "phat lewt" as they say in WoW. There was no question about this being done given that "I'm running LMOP with an established group but we can fit another if your looking to join as campaign" would get questions like "oh what part? Wave echo cave*?... old owl well**?" If the gm named a part with low treasure they would think about it & go start the process with another gm/table but come back next week repeating the process.

We could vaguely describe reasons for conjecture speculation & gut feelings but that week after week AL "gold farmer"-esque behavior is a starkly clearcut example. Yes the new AL rules kind of fix that problem, but they effectively restrict GM's to the role of tour/cruise director by stripping them of so many things the GM once could use to influence things at their table & reinforce the original problematic treatment.

There are about 4-5 parts to lmop & most have little or no treasure worth noting but those two stand out
* Gauntlets of ogre strength & some other stuff I don't recall
** ring of protection(?) & something else like a nifty wand.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
I honestly want the Bag of Bounty to have a sandwich only version.

One of my books has a 'superhero' called The Sandwich Man. His power is a special future sight that lets him prepare the absolute perfect version of the favorite sandwich of everyone he will encounter for the day., thereby improving their day and by extension the day of everyone they come into contact with in turn.
It's not a sandwich, but you might like this magic item I created for my home game. It was a Christmas gift for a player who could accept that dragons were real but felt that packing a lunch was a burden.

Soup Stone
Wondrous item (uncommon)
This ordinary-looking chunk of halite is roughly the size of a human fist, and weighs 1 pound. A detect magic spell or a DC 12 Arcana check reveals it has Transmutative magical properties.
If the Soup Stone is simmered in a pot of water for 10 minutes, it transforms the water into a delicious and hearty stew. The stone can produce up to 30 servings of stew each time it's used, enough to feed 10 people for a day (depending on the size of the pot).
The Soup Stone produces a different food each time it's used: sometimes it produces venison stew or mushroom soup, other times it will make oatmeal or spicy chili. If seasoned with a Heward's Handy Spice Pouch or Dust of Deliciousness while cooking, it can create expensive and decadent meals fit for a king, like cheese fondue or lobster bisque.
The Soup Stone is not consumed in this process, but once it has been used it won't function again until the next dawn.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
You might like this magic item I created for my home game. It was a Christmas gift for a player who could accept that dragons were real but felt that packing a lunch was a burden.

Soup Stone
Wondrous item (uncommon)
This ordinary-looking chunk of halite is roughly the size of a human fist, and weighs 1 pound. A detect magic spell or a DC 12 Arcana check reveals it has Transmutative magical properties.
If the Soup Stone is simmered in a pot of water for 10 minutes, it transforms the water into a delicious and hearty stew. The stone can produce up to 30 servings of stew each time it's used, enough to feed 10 people for a day (depending on the size of the pot).
The Soup Stone produces a different food each time it's used: sometimes it produces venison stew or mushroom soup, other times it will make oatmeal or spicy chili. If seasoned with a Heward's Handy Spice Pouch or Dust of Deliciousness while cooking, it can create expensive and decadent meals fit for a king, like cheese fondue or lobster bisque.
The Soup Stone is not consumed in this process, but once it has been used it won't function again until the next dawn.
Neat.

Is this a reference to Stone Soup?
 


HammerMan

Legend
And it only costs 20gp, apparently.

And while we're at it, let's have a lunchbox that never runs out of sandwiches, a canteen that never runs out of water, horses that don't need to be fed or stabled, and backpacks that never get full or become too heavy to carry. (No wonder there are so many threads about D&D being mostly combat...but I'm getting off-topic.)

Even Skyrim makes you track your arrows (even if they are inexplicably weightless).
I know you are jokeing... but I have played in that game (sort of)

no tracking ammo food or water (including for horses) and when you get to town a blanket X gp for good or Y sp for bad lodging food and horse as long as you have character foraging and making ammo during rests....

Heck I played in a game where we didn't even track gold... we got some sort of nebulous score (It was based on D20 Modern) and we also had a 'being prepared' roll where if we DIDN'T have equipment we can say we did and retcon it with a roll... "Hey good thing I bought rope"

both were fun but not my go to D&D
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
I remember hating Wealth when d20 Modern rolled out, but that's mostly because it wasn't explained well.

Then Hero comes out and says X Wealth Level is equal to Y Lifestyle, this is so you can buy things without treasure being an expectation' and Bob's your uncle, I'm a fan for most games. I still like treasure hoards in D&D though including the occasional intentionally self-referential giant spider that is inexplicably wearing a cloak of archnidia and some sweet boots with a money pouch on.
 

HammerMan

Legend
I remember hating Wealth when d20 Modern rolled out, but that's mostly because it wasn't explained well.

Then Hero comes out and says X Wealth Level is equal to Y Lifestyle, this is so you can buy things without treasure being an expectation' and Bob's your uncle, I'm a fan for most games. I still like treasure hoards in D&D though including the occasional intentionally self-referential giant spider that is inexplicably wearing a cloak of archnidia and some sweet boots with a money pouch on.
when we did it, it was so we could have less book keeping and have background(flavor there was no background mechanic) matter more... "I'm a nobles son" and "I'm a street urchint" were very diffrent... we didn't keep it long we went back to tracking gold.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
I know you are jokeing... but I have played in that game (sort of)
Yeah, I've played in games like that also. The thing I discovered is that when you hand-wave or ignore everything except combat, combat doesn't just become the focus, it becomes the expectation. Like, if I handwave the party needing food and drink, all taverns become fight scenes because why else would the party bother going to a tavern? You'll think I'm exaggerating, but I've actually had a player throw up his hands and say "Look, if we're not going to fight why are we even here?"
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
when we did it, it was so we could have less book keeping and have background(flavor there was no background mechanic) matter more... "I'm a nobles son" and "I'm a street urchint" were very diffrent... we didn't keep it long we went back to tracking gold.
I'm far from someone who cares much at all about what 'feels like D&D' because most of the time that's used to excuse something that can't be otherwise defended, but getting discreet treasure is one of those things whose absence I certainly feel in fantasy games in general. There's something uniquely iconic about big, piratey treasure chests hundreds of miles from the sea, and piles of suspiciously untarnished coins used to exchange for RAW POWER and/or things to be a jackhole with like tree tokens and other sources of enemy sadness.
 

HammerMan

Legend
Yeah, I've played in games like that also. The thing I discovered is that when you hand-wave or ignore everything except combat, combat doesn't just become the focus, it becomes the expectation.
funny I think (and the reason we do wave some of that) is to spend more time in town BSing and makeing friends, and less shopping. The whole point of the credit score thing (I know thats not the right words) was also just less tracking

I have found if you hand wave arrow counting and food counting, the time spend recovering arrows buying arrows and food are in general spend on Social things and exploration things.. rarely does it add more combat.
Like, if I handwave the party needing food and drink, all taverns become fight scenes because why else would the party bother going to a tavern?
to talk to people? to see if there is any skullduggery or intrigue.

one game we had a DM joke about the mayor having a mistress as a rumor and we spent 2 sessions finding her, finding out her story, considering black mailing him (since we could now prove the rumor) but instead decideing to help him hide it better.
You'll think I'm exaggerating, but I've actually had a player throw up his hands and say "Look, if we're not going to fight why are we even here?"
I have never seen that...

I did see a Jedi in a D20 star wars game say "Wtf why not just break out the lightsabers and blasters" in the middle of a port over taxes....
 


Starfox

Adventurer
The Plot Will Happen Regardless [...]

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.
Quoted for truth. I remember playing the old The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth adventure and completely missing that there was a plot. We came to the central room and found this vampire chick, and we had no idea who she was or why that mattered.
 

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