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What Can We Learn from Computer RPGS?

MGibster

Legend
I think it's fairly obvious that table top role playing games have had a profound influence on computerized gaming over the last fifty years. The earliest example I can find dates from 1975, where an unlicensed version of Dungeons & Dragons, creatively titled Dungeon, was was created on a DECsystem-10 mainframe server by Don Daglow. I'm not going quibble overly much about the exact definition of role playing game, but generally speaking an RPG seeks to immerse you in a setting, there's a narrative, and character development as you progressively grow more powerful as that narrative advances. I could sit here typing all day and probably not come up with all the computer role playing games (CRPGS) that have been influenced by table top role playing games (TTRPGS), but a few examples would include Ultima (1980), Might and Magic (1986) the Gold Box series of AD&D computer games produced by SSI from 1988-1992, Fallout (1997), and many, many more games.

I've been thinking about this for a while, and once again while playing Cyberpunk 2077 I thought to myself, "What can I learn from this game that might make me a better DM or player?"

Side Quests: These are quests, tasks, jobs, etc., etc. that usually don't have a direct relationship with the main narrative of the game. As a DM, I tend to be somewhat myopic when running the game in that I tend to focus most of my attention on the main plot to the exclusion of most other things. In part, this is because I have players who have a laser like focus and tend to ignore anything that isn't directly related to the main narrative which is too bad because I can't help but think we're all missing out on something. Side quests can be a great way to introduce setting elements in game rather than exposition, an organic way to meet new NPCs (antagonist or allies), to accumulate wealth or experience, and most importantly for the players to have a little fun. I'm thinking I'd like to introduce more side quests to my games for these reasons.

Cyberpunk 2077 has a very simple side quest called "Burning Desire" where you pick an NPC up in your vehicle and drop him off at a ripper doc (clinic). When you arrive to pick up the quest, a man shuffles up to you slowly, hunched over in obvious pain while holding his crotch and begging you to take him to a clinic. On your way to the clinic, you learn the black market Mr. Studd™ cybernetic implant (you figure out where that goes) he had installed is faulty, a known problem with that model, and burst into flame. It's rather humorous, but the mission gives the player a chance to drive around and get to know the city, establishes that cybernetic implants can be anywhere, and reinforces the idea that there's a black market for cyberwear.

So are there any CRPGS you've played that gave you some ideas on how to improve your TTRPGS?
 

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payn

Hero
The old Sierra adventure games taught me a lot about how to meld story with a game. I used that template to this day when planning out an adventure with fun encounters that are more exploration and less violence and mayhem. They also taught me that not every puzzle must be important, not every way forward has a single path.
 


MGibster

Legend
One of the biggest things I think we could learn is a slower introduction to both settings and game mechanics. Video games are much better at giving you a small piece of the overall game to work with and expanding the scope as play moves forward.
I think a lot of us are guilty of raining massive exposition dumps upon our players at some point or another. And while I wasn't thinking of mechanics you bring up a good point. A lot of games have a short tutorial to teach players how things work. It's not a bad idea to include such things in a TTRPG to help players get used to how things work.

The GM's guide for the original Legend of the Five Rings had an introductory adventure allowing players to make a variety of skill rolls such as etiquette, archery, performance, etc., etc. It helped introduce new players to the setting and get used to the mechanics. One of the best introductory adventures for new players I've run across.
 




Bilharzia

Fish Priest
Nothing which I can see has not already been said in other media. All computer rpgs do is take a sample slices of RPGs and re-present them in some form. There is no "lesson" I have seen coming from a videogame which might be useful for a TTRPG which could not be found in earlier games or other media, like novels or film or theatre.

This is not to say that videogames are not any good, just that they are a different medium and provide a different experience, one which is famously and spectacularly bad at facilitating person to person games - which is what TTRPGs are about. I see a lot of "what is the best TTRPG for the ____ videogame?" and it might be one of the Dark Souls games or XCOM, or whatever. There is no good answer for this as 90% of a Dark Souls game is timed action combat / rolling around, for which TTRPGs are singularly bad at, you can't meaningfully represent DS mechanics as a table top game without it being stultifying dull.

I think the most important lesson is that nobody wants to sit through the cutscenes.

Keep your exposition short and to the point.
A man named William Shakesman once said "Brevity is the soul of wit" and I am pretty sure he came up with that before the PS1 era. Oh for a muse of fire and so forth.
 

mechanically not much but thematics and what works setting wise are better areas also how to make races interesting without stat boosts.
some areas of class design, why we should make the wizard wide instead of tall magic also that a none magic control caster is technically possible.
 

MGibster

Legend
Nothing which I can see has not already been said in other media. All computer rpgs do is take a sample slices of RPGs and re-present them in some form. There is no "lesson" I have seen coming from a videogame which might be useful for a TTRPG which could not be found in earlier games or other media, like novels or film or theatre.
But I didn't ask what could we learn from computer RPGS that we couldn't learn from any other source.
This is not to say that videogames are not any good, just that they are a different medium and provide a different experience, one which is famously and spectacularly bad at facilitating person to person games - which is what TTRPGs are about.
You're right, they are different mediums and what works for one won't necessarily work for another.
 

imagineGod

Legend
4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons built in the Golden Age of MMORPGs (like World of Warcraft) took a lot of that gamification from the computer to the tabletop, including many cool powers for even martial characters, not just spellcasters.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I think that, on the whole, the computer game industry and its respective communities are much better at articulating the nature of their games, developing useful jargon, and willing to engage in critical self-analysis, etc. Sometimes I feel like we in the TTRPG hobby are stuck in '00s Forge speak partially because the TTRPG community was so resistive to self-analysis and so we feel stuck in a discourse that never really was permitted to evolve beyond it. There are definitely lessons that TTRPGs can learn from CRPGs, but I'm not sure if the wider TTRPG community is all that interested or receptive to it, which is fine because the TTRPG designers in the background are definitely taking notes from CRPGs whether the TTRPG community cares or not.
 

I think that, on the whole, the computer game industry and its respective communities are much better at articulating the nature of their games, developing useful jargon, and willing to engage in critical self-analysis, etc. Sometimes I feel like we in the TTRPG hobby are stuck in '00s Forge speak partially because the TTRPG community was so resistive to self-analysis and so we feel stuck in a discourse that never really was permitted to evolve beyond it. There are definitely lessons that TTRPGs can learn from CRPGs, but I'm not sure if the wider TTRPG community is all that interested or receptive to it, which is fine because the TTRPG designers in the background are definitely taking notes from CRPGs whether the TTRPG community cares or not.
we should try because it is both the right thing to do and it might make thing better.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
The biggest things I've learned from computer RPGs is that (1) they're different from TTRPGs, and (2) that's good.

Drawing inspiration from computer games to make a tabletop game look and feel more like a CRPG is pretty fun and interesting. But past experience has shown me that trying to make a tabletop game play more like a CRPG isn't very fun or interesting at all.
 

payn

Hero
Was the OP's question so literal? I took it as inspiration to add, change, implement things into your table game. Not that you should try and emulate a CRPG on the table top itself.
 


Aldarc

Legend
So are there any CRPGS you've played that gave you some ideas on how to improve your TTRPGS?
I think that computer game designers are more self-aware of affect, especially in regards to player psychology and experience. Many games are designed to play with player psychology in mind, particularly what players find psychologically rewarding versus what they find psychologically frustrating. And sometimes games toy with that intentionally.

Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Hades, and Dark Souls: death can be interesting and part of the learning experience, but also not the end of the game for characters.

Zelda Breath of the Wild and Skyrim: let players set the pace and explore the setting rather than GMs forcing the story
- for the record, the term "sandbox" was something that TTRPG designers brought from video/computer games

Metroidvania Games: non-linear mega-dungeons that reward exploration that enables unlocking other parts of the dungeon or locating new rare loot/abilities. More of intentional uses of this.

Divinity (Original Sin) and Breath of the Wild: it's fun and rewarding as a player to discover and exploit the interaction between abilities in the game environment. For example, Teleport in D:OS2 isn't just a movement or exploration ability, it's commonly used as a combat ability to move the enemy around the battlefield: e.g., drop the enemy in fire, move them to a ledge, drop them on other enemies, etc.

I would also love to see more easy-to-use GM "tech" for randomly and procedurally generated dungeons.
 


Temple of Elemental Evil, the PC game, taught me that a Paladin should not become fallen just because they took a drink of beer at a Tavern.

Because that can legit happen in that game if you make a Paladin take a sip of beer at a Tavern. It's hilarious as hells, but ShutTheFront doory when it happens.
 

Bilharzia

Fish Priest
Zelda Breath of the Wild and Skyrim: let players set the pace and explore the setting rather than GMs forcing the story
- for the record, the term "sandbox" was something that TTRPG designers brought from video/computer games

The term 'sandbox' was popularised by computer games, but it was in use long before any computer game, and the implementation when it did happen was inspired by RPGs. Aside from a mode of RPG play, which was well established in the 1970s, there were campaign books published which supported sandbox play, they were just called, generally, "Wilderness" adventures. Griffin Mountain (1981) was an early example for RuneQuest.
 

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