Fri
Mar 8 2013 11:00am
Skyrim is the Antithesis of Pen and Paper RPGS and That’s a Good Thing

Everything that makes The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim such an amazing game is exactly the same stuff that I dislike in pen-and-paper role-playing games. You can learn a lot from Skyrim about how, well, not everything—there is plenty in Skyrim to rave about apart from that—but the core mechanics of the game that stand out to me as exceptional are three things that bug me about table top game design. You can learn a lot from Skyrim about how to run a game, but some lessons can only be learned by looking at what doesn’t work in a tabletop game and considering how and why it works in a computer game.

The first thing, one of the big things, is the nature of how Skills and levels work. Quite simply, your skills increase the more often you use them. You start Skyrim a tabula rasa, unarmed and untrained. If you start swinging a sword, you’ll get better at One-Handed; if you throw fireballs you’ll get better at Destruction Magic. How you play the game determines what you get good at doing, and raising skills is how you get experience towards the next level. It is a really fun way to personalize your character without the awkward construct of a character class, and it is very sly to build the game so that it adapts to your play style.

The thing is… I hate it when table top games do this, and lots of them do, to one degree or another. Some games you put a little hashmark down when you use a skill, and cash those in to level the skill. Other games give you extra experience points when you use your skills or spells. From a rational level, I get how that makes sense… but I really dislike it, for two reasons. One: stop looking at your character sheet. I usually use the analogy of calling a game’s mechanics “little white lies.” They help tell the story… but too much of them can interfere in the story. I don’t need you to micromanage your Excel spreadsheet, I want you to collaboratively tell a story with me!

Skyrim, however, is a computer game, which sounds obvious but it means that it can do the math for you, in the background, freeing you up to pay attention to what is actually happening. Which, actually, is pet peeve number two: I really hate tiny little bean counting bonuses in role-playing games. It is a big complaint about the current crop of d20 games, whether you play Pathfinder or D&D Next or 4e. Don’t give me a tiny little conditional +2. You know I won’t remember that, when push comes to shove, and frankly, how often will it come up? Something like “dwarves have a +2 against poison”—you know that your character will never be targeted by an opponent with a poisoned weapon, or if you are you’ll forget that you have a bonus, or if you remember it you’ll roll a 1 or a 20, making that +2 entirely superfluous.

In Skyrim, though, there is that same computer behind the scenes, keeping track of your +7% to sneak gloves and your +15% pick pocket boots. Those little bonuses are used over and over again—that is the nature of the game—and the game remembers when to apply them for you. Flips my opinion right over; now suddenly the sweet set of Daedric Armor I crafted and enchanted myself isn’t something I need to micromanage; the game does it for me. Though hey, if you like micromanaging, there is Alchemy and plenty of potion inventories to shuffle through…

The third thing is a big one: it is that it is a lonely world. Your lonely world. Wait, I don’t mean “a lonely world” like, the map, the setting, the terrain. The fact that the landscapes are gorgeous is just something on a continuum, just something I expect as games continue to get better and better as the technology progresses. I think Skyrim is prettier than, for instance, Assassin’s Creed III, but not qualitatively so; they are part of the same visual context. That is true, but not what my point is.

(Actually, a better comparison might be to one of the greatest games of all time, The Shadow of the Colossus. In both games, the setting is as much a character as you are; heck, in both games the setting is the predominant “character” for most of the game. Running around looking for giants, admiring the landscape? Check and check! And Skyrim is a really pretty place; more than a few times I’ve had to stop and pan the camera around just to marvel. But! I’m getting off topic.)

What I mean is: the big thing with Skyrim is that it a solo mission; an open world that you don’t have to share, and you can do a whole lot of things. Which, again, the whole point of tabletop RPGs is that we are sharing the story, from the person running the game to the people playing the characters. Sure, there are solo and duo adventures, but that is the exception, not the rule. In Skyrim, you are more than just the star of the story; you’re the solipsistic center of the universe. You can make—well, not any choice, and I would say that illustrates why table top games are the best, forever—but a lot of choices, including the choice to do nothing. Those choices? Are the foundation upon which the story rests. The axis on which the world turns. You join the Empire? Well, spoiler alert, the Empire is going to win. You join the Stormcloaks? Same thing.

I suppose I just find it interesting, as someone who has had to explain that when I say I play role-playing games I don’t mean World of Warcraft more than a few times. I have always found the term “RPG” a little off-putting for computer games—they aren’t really about playing a role, usually, though they’ve evolved more in that direction—but I can definitely see the family resemblance, so to speak. What I find interesting is that, well, what makes a game like Skyrim is just so different from what makes a RPG campaign work. I’m interested in both what I as a Dungeon Master (or Game Master or Narrator or Storyteller, pick your poison) can learn from it and…well, frankly I’m interested in putting this Daedric Mace that I handcrafted RIGHT between Alduin the Worldeater’s beady little eyes…


Mordicai Knode is playing an female Orc (of course he is) named Mauga; no last name, but going off the Orc naming conventions she’d probably go by Mauga gro-Dovah. Follow him on Twitter or Tumblr.

44 comments
Fade Manley
2. fadeaccompli
I can see what I'm going to be spending my spring break playing now, damn you.
Mordicai Knode
3. mordicai
2. fadeaccompli

I wasn't a fan of the previous Elder Scrolls games, so I started Skyrim with an air of casual indifference, at which point Bethesda laughed & laughed & laughed. & then swallowed months of my life in a spectacle of dragons & giants & demon princes & in the thick of it all The Toughest, Baddest, Coolest Orc of All Time.
Paul Weimer
4. PrinceJvstin
What I mean is: the big thing with Skyrim is that it a solo mission; an open world that you don’t have to share, and you can do a whole lot of things.

Skyrim is sword and sorcery focused that way, yeah
JLB
5. JLB
I think this is an interesting comparison/contrast, but as I'm sure you're aware, a large segment of tabletop players will have their collective skins crawling at the notion of "storytelling" or "sharing a story." Technically, that's true, but too often, in my opinion as well as that of many old school tabletop gamers, it means "let's sit and listen to the GM tell us about his oh-so-clever plot and setting, and occasionally make a show of interactivity by rolling dice or making a few decisions from a limited list of choices." In video/computer game parlance, it's the equivalent of "let's sit and watch a cut-scene and maybe get the chance to mash a button occasionally that really doesn't affect anything."

All that said, what you cite as the strengths of Skyrim are precisely what many gamers like about tabletop RPGs - a wide-open world and unlimited choice about what to do or where to go. Your point is interesting about the Skyrim world being essentially the sole domain of the player, and is the kind of thing that draws me to computer games. I think, though, the terminology about "sharing the story" in a tabletop RPG makes my skin crawl as an old school tabletop gamer. It carries decades of baggage of "railroad" campaigns where the GM has already plotted out what is going to happen regardless of what the players do. Technically, as before, it's not inaccurate to say that tabletop players are sharing a story. However, I come from an era where players could, and often did, choose to do something or nothing, depending on their whims, with whatever adventure or "dungeon" the GM had prepared or written either left behind or thoroughly wrecked by players doing something unforeseen. It was about as akin to storytelling as what you describe with Skyrim.

Still, I see your point - the sheer fact that there are multiple players does mitigate the range of choice, and players often have to modify their actions based on what the others want to do. I think, though, that such a situation still gives a wider spectrum of choice, and opportunity for emergent play, than even a really good videogame like Skyrim. But hey, I enjoy playing single-player videogames specifically so I don't have to worry about what other gamers are doing, so your point is well-taken.

Thanks for providing very good food for thought.
Mordicai Knode
6. mordicai
5. JLB

Alright, now we're in the nitty-gritty! I am glad to get grognard's skin-crawling reactions, because I don't think "Old School" & "New School" approaches to tabletop games are as antagonistic as they've been made out.

I am opposed to the old Gygaxian notion of the DM as the strict boss of the table, for instance. I'm a blowhard who does too much worldbuilding, so I know what you're talking about, but I don't think that is the real problem! The real problem there is a DM who likes chunks of over-long exposition, & a DM who likes railroading players. I agree with the symptoms, but not the cause, so to speak.

The point I more meant to underline is that we paper gamers collaboratively tell the story. The idea of Player/Game Master Antagonism works against that.

I am in a 2e game right now that is a fairly classic dungeon crawl-- we're in the guts of the Temple of Elemental Evil!-- which is I think pretty darn "Old School." We absolutely turn the tables on the DM & do things he didn't prepare for. & that is telling a story. Sure, it wasn't the story that the Dungeon Master though he was going to tell, but that is the whole fun of going things collaboratively. It is a story that is happening while we tell it, all of us, as a group.

(Meanwhile the campaign I run is a homebrew based on the World of Darkness system with something like the Traits of Mouse Guard/Burning Wheel stapled on. I've talked a bit about it here on Tor.com a couple of times. They all are adolescents who run away from things, in the grand tradition of Call of Cthlhu. So I am a hippy granola New School guy, too.)
Stephen Dunscombe
7. cythraul
5. JLB

I think this is an interesting comparison/contrast, but as I'm sure you're aware, a large segment of tabletop players will have their collective skins crawling at the notion of "storytelling" or "sharing a story." Technically, that's true, but too often, in my opinion as well as that of many old school tabletop gamers, it means "let's sit and listen to the GM tell us about his oh-so-clever plot and setting, and occasionally make a show of interactivity by rolling dice or making a few decisions from a limited list of choices." In video/computer game parlance, it's the equivalent of "let's sit and watch a cut-scene and maybe get the chance to mash a button occasionally that really doesn't affect anything."

What you're describing is less about story-driven RP or story-driven GMing and more about bad GMing.

You can do a story-focused campaign without falling into that trap. There are some red flags the GM needs to watch for:

1. Are player-characters getting most of the lines/action/spotlight? If not, you need to re-jig the scene.

2. Is one NPC addresing another NPC at all, for any reason? If so, then you probably need to re-jig the scene.

3. Is the action of the scene readily shaped (or even dictated) by player decisions and player actions? If not, then you need to re-jig the scene.

I've failed on all these points on more than one occasion, but remembering these points helps.

The thing GMs need to remember is that the GM's role in "collaborative storytelling" is more about the "collaborative" than about the "storytelling". The GM's job is not to tell a story. The GM's job is to create a space in which the players are empowered to create a cool story.
Jack Flynn
8. JackofMidworld
I was having a conversation yesterday that your first peeve made me think of, as far as XP awarding. A friend of mine is playing thru a solo game, an old-school D&D game (where elves are elves and dwarves are dwarves and multi-classing doesn't even exist) that her fiance runs for her (and, when I'm lucky, I get to guest-star), and has a group of NPC allies that live in her noble house and go with her when she goes adventuring.

During her her last session, she got kidnapped (as seems to happen oh so often) and escaped after a couple of days in captivity. She had to go back in to A) rescue the other kidnapping victim and B) and make sure it didn't happen again. All well and good but, because of how the rules are laid out, she had to balance how many people she wanted to take with her (which was, quite realistically, ALL of them, because she was going into enemy territory, a magical guildhouse where she'd be outnumbered and out-gunned and in the real world, you'd take as many able swords-persons as you could) and how much XP she wanted to share with her companions.

I suddenly realized that I actully prefer the XP awards that you see in games like Mutants and Masterminds and Kult, where you don't get XP that you use to level up, everybody gets a flat award of points that can be used to increase your skill or power or whatever.

Just a (not so brief) side note that I figured I'd share.
JLB
9. JLB
mordicai -

I don't think we really disagree here. In fact, we're much on the same page. The problem doddering old grognards like me - I started playing D&D in 1979 with Holmes Edition, moved on to 1e, and played and DMed that through the 80s - have is that "railroad" adventures became so overbearing and prevalent that they soured a lot of us on the notion of "storytelling" as a term. In practice, though, I think most of us have, in fact, done a bit of conducting on the adventure railroad.

I won't debate about the Gygaxian "DM vs players" paradigm, because much of the debate over it is overblown - it was really mostly a tongue-in-cheek thing anyway. Back in the day, the DM was considered "king," but it was a mutual thing, and we all traded off DMing duties. So, we simply accorded each other the same latitude of authority we each would like as DM. And "authority" is used here in a really mild sense. Nobody ever really thought of themselves as some kind of despot, and even back then, the "DM is boss" trope was generally chuckled at. It just allowed all of us the opportunity to run a game without getting bogged down in rules debates. Anyone who ever actually gamed with Gygax himself has described the experience as fun and affable, not onerous and oppressive. Did some take the whole Evil DM notion too seriously? Sure. That goes for any side of the debate - there were DMs with control issues, and those who read what Gygax said and took it seriously and as a challenge to their egos.

To adress what you're saying, I agree that there is a difference between DMs who are too expository and those who run the AD&D Rail Line. I am the former, and have always resisted the temptation to be the latter. Skyrim, by all accounts, including yours, does take some of the aggravating aspects of tabletop games and make them work...though I do want to say that some people enjoy fiddling with character sheets and bonuses and gear - and their form of enjoyment is as valid as any attempt to "tell a story." I'm their to play a game with my friends, and some of them like different aspects of the game. A game should be such that it allows the numbers-crunchers to sit at the same table and focus on what they like just as much as the storygamers. Did D&D go to far in the direction of numbers-crunching? I'll concede that, especially after the Basic game went away. Some of what I've seen of D&D Next, with plans for an abbreviated, basic game at the core, seem to be mitigating this. We'll see, ultimately.
JLB
10. JLB
cyrthaul -

I agree with everything you said. The trouble is, that bad DMing was translated over into published adventures, which helped get it entrenched as illustrative of the norm for those looking for guidance into how to run a game. A good DM can avoid the problems, but becoming a good DM requires some type of guidance, at least at first, and with a paucity of other DMs to use as sounding boards, many turned to published adventures or rulebooks for that guidance.

All that said, I want to say, before I give the complete impression of a fire-breathing storygame hater, that there are definitely fantastic examples out there of published games and adventures that do it right. My go-to examples are Ars Magica and Pendragon, which both make it an art form.
Stephen Dunscombe
11. cythraul
10. JLB

Pendragon, which both make it an art form.

Really? o.O

I ran Pendragon, in the version that was then current (and still current now, I think). It was... frankly miserable. We didn't last long.

That whole thing about tracking XP after every action? Pendragon's Winter Phase was basically an entire session of that - and it was usually every other session.

Seriously; I could do a very long post about What's Wrong With Pendragon.
David Moran
12. David Moran
I see what you're saying, JLB, but I don't think that's ENTIRELY the fault of published adventures. The pre-gen modules are, by definition, conservative and railroady texts because they're, well, static. The key is the orthodoxy with which you approach this static text: you either treat it as if it's holy and unalterable, or you mangle it to pieces on the fly because what the story is becoming is not fully contained within that adventure.

As a dungeonmaster - fwiw, I'm the guy running that 2e game in which Mordicai and his mushroom babies (his words, not mine) are assaulting the Temple of Elemental Evil - I have to say that as far as I'm concerned the secret to good DM'ing is to DM as little as possible. Or, as a zen koan, the best dungeonmaster knows there is no dungeonmaster. Other people have different approaches and play-styles, sure, but I've always found things work best for me when I provide the barest raw ingredients of story and then get the hell out of my players' way as quickly as possible. I treat an adventure module as a musical score for a jazz standard: you take a couple bars to state the theme of "Round' Midnight" (e.g.) and then step back and let your improvisers take it away. I would barely consider myself a storyteller - that's what my players are there for - I'm really just there for encouragement. And while I run fairly canonical old-school dungeon crawls, they depart radically from the text. I COULD hew more closely to what's written but ... who cares, really? The adventures my players make happen are always better than what's written in even the best adventure module.
William Carter
13. wcarter
Dammit Mordicai,
I just picked up Dishonored, and now that I've read this, it looks like Skyrim is on the list to be aquired as soon as I'm done. I'm generally not big on traditional sword and dragon rpg's but this might have sold me.
And I was so looking forward to going outside and seeing the sun this spring *sigh* Ah wel...
JLB
14. Yet Another Geek
What you are saying here is that you like the idea that there are rules and that thery work but you don't like doing the admin yourself. I can sympathise with that. All RPGs are a trade off between sophistication and speed.

But, here is the rub: A system that carrys you also limits you. Table top players might have to write down percentages and tallys. But computer gamers will never feel the dragon's breath on the back of their necks or the sting of betrayal or the sudden understanding of a alien view.
Mordicai Knode
15. mordicai
7. cythraul

Whenever I run a game & I'm stuck with two NPCs talking-- like the Queen & the Knight who captured the PCs or whatever-- I'm like "you done messed up, son."

8. JackofMidworld

I like "point buy" XP systems myself, as well, for a lot of reasons. When I ran d20, I use to just give out levels when story arcs would conclude, rather than count XP. Though the wizard who focused on crafting hated me for that...

9. JLB

Yeah, I think we're agreeing but from two different sides of the debate; what you say is true though-- yeah! If you want to micromanage an inventory of a thousand little items & scroll through it every round of combat...well, I'd probably be annoyed with you in a paper game, but that exact same logic is part of what is so fun about Skyrim. Weird.
Mordicai Knode
16. mordicai
10. JLB

Also, I have never played Ars Magica, but the "troupe" style play of making a wizard, a lieutenant & a bunch of peons? Kind of tres brill. I know part of that crew ported over to Vampire: the Masquerade, so I assume their fingerprints are all over World of Darkness.
JLB
17. Eric Saveau
Huh. I love Skyrim, but I've never really felt like it was much of a game or story. The landscape is heartstoppingly beautiful, but I've never felt any any real connection to the NPCs like I have in Boware RPGs. I spend a lot of time saying to myself "I wish Varric and Aveline were here to see this. Or Garrus and Liara and Wrex. Or Alistair and Morrigan and Leliana. Or even Sten, the grumpy bastard."
Mordicai Knode
18. mordicai
12. fordmadoxfraud

Did you see the picture I found to illustrate my character & his mushroom babies?

13. wcarter

A friend of mine recommended Dishonored to me; says it is right up my alley. Thoughts?

14. Yet Another Geek

Well sure! Luckily it isn't a zero sum game; we can have our cake & eat it too.

17. Eric Saveau

See, me, I bond with my character in Skyrim, you know? Not with NPCs, that's true-- though I married Mjoll the Lioness & have a crush on Aela the Huntress-- but rather with, you know, the Dragonborn. There are so many choices to make, & I am curious what choices she'll...I'll...we'll make.
Stephen Dunscombe
19. cythraul
15. mordicai

Whenever I run a game & I'm stuck with two NPCs talking-- like the Queen & the Knight who captured the PCs or whatever-- I'm like "you done messed up, son."

Yes!

It's not automatically fail, but it's a pretty good indication of fail. More than once, I've started into a scene... then sat there cringing inwardly, realising that there was no logical reason for anyone but the NPCs to be talking.

Sometimes it can be fixed in the scene, and sometimes I have to just grit my teeth and vow to do better next time.
Mordicai Knode
20. mordicai
19. cythraul

It is actually on my mind a lot because I've had an "auction" adventure idea in my head but I want to figure out a way to pull it off without the "other bidders" being in the room as the PCs at the same time. I've used masquerades & parlor games to control scenes like that before.
Nathan Martin
21. lerris
I recently started a new D&D 3.5 campaign, with the aim to build a group of non-canon PCs to run the Dragonlance Saga based on the original modules once they reach level 5. My number one tool for session planning is a laptop with a word processor and spreadsheet. Number crunching and lookups occur on the spreadsheet, while the word processor alows me to modify scenarios on the fly in response to PC actions.
I try not to plan too far ahead... no more than a session or two beyond basic worlldbuilding. I like to create NPCs with motivations drop them in a reasonably detailed setting and let things happen, with a timeline of background events that occur unless and until the PCs intervene. I also have some encounters set up which may or may not be used... in the event I need some time to prepare a response to unexpected choices by the players.
In the end, my goal is to give my players maximum freedom, even to the point of allowing them to refuse the presented quests or even to join the ranks of the Dragon Highlords.
Mordicai Knode
22. mordicai
21. lerris

I've had friends who swore by their laptop & then swore by their tablet, but in my personal experience, I've always found them to be more trouble then they are worth. Then again, in my experience I've also found "looking things up in books" to be more trouble than it is worth. My motto: better a good rule now than the right rule in five minutes.
Pritpaul Bains
23. Kickpuncher
I'm ashamed to admit I've never had the opportunity to play a tabletop RPG. Always had interest but never had a nearby circle of friends willing to take the plunge. Certainly something I'd like to try at some point.

Apropos of nothing, mordicai, your Shadow shout-out made me remember I still have the HD remake of Shadow sitting untouched on my shelf at home. I haven't picked the game up since the first time I played it through on PS2 - one of my favorite fresh experiences with a game ever and I've been avoiding it since as I felt any subsequent replays would fall short of that first time. Must remedy this.

I was invested enough in my character in Skyrim, and the organic leveling system was ingenious and I hope it becomes an RPG staple, but for me the biggest sell was the environment. Like Red Dead, the most fun part of the game for me 90% of the time was just exploring and finding as many new locations as I possibly could, mountain to valley. The game itself had some balance issues, I thought, especially in regard to difficulty level (could basically beat the game by the time you hit the 40s), repetitiveness (grinding, which is still a staple of RPGs and fair enough, hard to get around that, though I'll say that Dishonored does a great job of making grinding feel more organic than most), and story/depth, but what it did well, it did really well.
Mordicai Knode
24. mordicai
23. Kickpuncher

My advice? You should run the game! That is the best way to make a campaign happen.

Yeah, the Shadow/ICO remaster pack was part of the same haul of holiday loot that netted me Skyrim. Both two of my favorite games of all time, bar none. Yorda is my favorite; I usually say that ICO is my "favorite of all the Zelda games."

Grinding still exists, but you don't have to grind; other than Smithing grinding, I "beat" the game (killed Alduin) without resorting to any such tactics. Then of course I went out & cast "Soul Capture" on dead bodies to level that up, eventually-- I didn't get into the upper echelons of the game's leveling structure without doing stuff like that. Still, it is a major step in the right direction.
JLB
25. Kasiki
23. Kickpuncher- Try look at nearby gaming shops. They tend to have different gaming nights to promote the games and it allows people the social intereaction table top gaming was meant for.

The thing i do not like about Sky rim and other computer rpg's is what some others have broght up. Can you actually do what you want to do or are you just lead to believe you are. A freind of mine had a few characters that were theifs and horders. If it wasn't bolted down it was going to be taken. They got causght stealling a bathtub with the water still in it, while putting it in a bag of holding. Those type of things simply can not happen in an online RPG.

In other words the paths have gotten wider, but there is still basically only a few directions to go , vrs table top takes longer, but you can do anything you want, the DM usually has to deal with it.
William Carter
26. wcarter
@ 18 Mordicai
I've only had the game for a few days, but I'm happy with it so far.

Not going to lie, the graphics not as heartstoppingly beautiful as you described Skyrime, but it's not plain either. It does succeed in givng the impression of a dirty, smog-filled industrial revolution style city.

The game play seems fairly balanced so far, (playing on normal my first time through). I will say this: freaking rats man. Seriously though watch out for the rats!

They're ordinary-sized run of the mill rats, but a group of them will swarm the living and dead alike and devoure them in less than a minute--if you remember any of the scarab sceens from the 1999 version of the Mummy you should have a pretty good idea.

If I were to give an overall impression I would say steampunk Metal Gear Solid with bits of Elder Srolls and/or Fallout thrown in for spice.
Mordicai Knode
27. mordicai
25. Kasiki

While I agree with you about pen-&-paper being the best, the fact that video games aren't the same isn't...neccisarily a weakness? I mean, books aren't interactive & don't have ANY branching pathways, & I like them, too! Different mediums provide different mechanisms, & that isn't a bad thing. Though, I mean, we all know dice & improv is the greatest hobby of them all, fo' sho'.

26. wcarter

Nice! I have a birthday coming up; I'll drop some hints!
Stephen Dunscombe
28. cythraul
20. mordicai

Hmmm. An auction scenario (where the PCs are themselves bidders?) sounds doable. Heck, it makes the other bidders into outright antagonists - someone for the PCs to engage with. And they don't have to get much screen time - they could be reduced to "That debonair fellow in the cape and eyepatch ups the bid again, raising it to 4000 gp. What do you do?"

(I know nothing about your scenario, mind, except that it involves an auction, and an implication that the PCs are bidding in it.)

Also, you can do a silent auction - you often never meet the other bidders (or at least never realise which members of a crowd around you are bidders).

23. Kickpuncher

Mordicai speaks truth. If you have a craving for a game (or a craving for a particular game), the most reliable way to make that happen is to GM it yourself.
Mordicai Knode
29. mordicai
28. cythraul

Yeah but whacky NPCs are ALSO my bread & butter; I make sure to make the challenges in my game social & mental as much as physical-- & not all the physical challenges are violent-- so that when there is fighting, it is nasty, brutish & short. The PCs are all going to be independent bidders-- this is my version of "the old man at the inn has crazy stories about the old ruins outside of town"-- & I want them to get a chance to mix & mingle, to play at social games. Maybe I can frame the contests with front runners, have multiple bidding wars? I am not sure, I'm still workshopping it. Accents, mask props, those help, as do sorting out the party with minis-- give a map & an evocative mini to help make them all distinct?
Michael Maxwell
30. pike747
Long time Sword and Sorcery fan.
I have never played a pen and paper game. I did have some younger friends who were into D&D and was present when they played.
I do not care for turn based computer games.
Then I tried TES IV Oblivion. Loved many things about it. Mostly bashed away with a weapon but discovered there are different ways to approach different foes.

I had a converstaion with a pen and paper gamer who told me that purists called Oblivion a hiking simulator. Can't argue with that I hiked all over that game, discovered modding and kept expanding the beauty. Being a big fan of Drizzt Do'Urden and Guenhyvar I wanted to learn to re-skin the mountain lion into a black panther and make a Dunmer character named Drizzt. It was already done by a great modder. I made this video, youtube dissallowed my audio because of copyright, I loved doing it and even got Bob Salvatore to say "very nice".
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UkIo4Dpy58A

Skyrim, at least a thousand hours and counting. Just began Dawnguard. Nice DlC!
Mordicai Knode
31. mordicai
30. pike747

A thousand hours! I thought I had played a lot; I'm over 200. Mine is the PS3 version, though, so no mods. That's okay with me; I'm kind of a purist.

I like turn based games, in their place, but then, I guess that is sort of my point: maybe Skyrim is a hiking simulator, but it is fun & pretty, so...I like it!
Christopher Johnstone
32. CPJ
I write pencil and paper RPGs for fun and release them free, so these sorts of discussions are always interesting to me, just in terms of improving game mechanics.

Though, if I understand what you're saying, there's not much that can be learnt here because the mediums are wildly different. I gather your argument is that gradual skill advancement through repeated skill use, small skill bonuses, and solo play all can be done in tabletop RPGs, but they are clunky because they require a lot of math. They work great in a computer game because a computer can do the math for you.

Ok. Yes. True.

I guess that does sort of make sense, though it is of course also idiosyncratic and subjective. I'm not one of them, but I know a lot of gamers love their lists of numbers to tweek and like referring to their character sheet constantly. It's part of the game ritual and experience for them. Tabletop RPGs are diverse because they cater to diverse tastes. It's a matter of finding a system that you like... complaining about something that other people enjoy isn't really very useful to the hobby (though it happens constantly). I'm sure you'd be aware of the much-debated simulationist, narrativist, gameist triangle from years and years ago now, and game models of believeability vs playability and the balance between game event and social event. All these things are personal to the people at the table.

That said, it sounds as if you'd prefer game systems like Fudge (the new Fate edition seems to be kickstarted into action now), maybe The Shadows of Yesterday, Dogs in the Vinyard and Apocolypse World and that class of rules light, play-heavy and story-heavy game. There's Dungeon World now if you wanted to port fantasy settings across to that, or you could hunt around the various freebee systems at 1km1kt or story-games. You can always check through John Kim's extensive free rpg lists to see what is floating around too. Burning Wheel (and the lighter Mouse Guard version) and Dresden Files also have some nice innovations and would be worth a look. Otherkind Dice is pretty cool too, if you haven't seen it.

Risus, the Window and the Ladder are older, but might interest you (though are rules-light to the point of being stripped to the bone). At any rate, there are so many thousands of tabletop games out there that one (or more) of them will have solved your problems. It's just a matter of hunting through the more obscure stuff.

I hope that doesn't come across as preechy or passive aggressive or anything. I'm mostly just trying to point out that with the thousands of games out there, someone, somewhere has solved your game system problems already. It's just a matter of looking for it. Complaining about small bonuses and slow-boil character sheet crafting doesn't help, and maybe runs the risk of alienating people who enjoy that stuff.

Chris Johnstone
Mordicai Knode
33. mordicai
32. CPJ

Yeah, it is true that part of the moral of this tale is "& that works great in this medium."

You definitely didn't come across as preachy! A lot of comments do, as they assume that the writer (me) isn't part of gamer culture. I am, I know about these things!

As you can see from the above comments, the system I run (personally) is World of Darkness, stripped down-- because even rules lite can get lighter-- with some Mouse Guard stuff added on. The trait system in particular.

Anyhow, yeah, I guess my thesis on it is exactly what you are saying; different strokes for different folks but that when you shift mediums-- say, from collaborative storytelling to video games-- you can get different strokes for the same folks!
JLB
34. Protoclown
I'm in my third play through of Skyrim. First was high elf adventurer supporting the Stormcloaks, second was Khajiit sword arm blacksmith werewolf supporting the Empire, and now finishing with Argonian wizard potion master vampire who avoids politics. Fingers crossed we get some sort of decent Elder Scrolls co-op/MMO.
JLB
35. beagel
Dude, you need to change your system. The first two peeves are, on one hand, purely system based, and on the other hand, it's not skyrim that makes it better, it's crpgs. And taking the biggest flaw of all elder scrolls games as their biggest advantage... TES games never have a good story, at the most they have a cheesy story full of boring stereotypes, but thats just seeing the good points, realistically one would have to say they have no story and cheesy setpieces. Basically they're offline MMORPGs, but the bad kind, unlike kingdoms of amalur (not really good, but fun): cheese, grind, cheese, grind, and so on...
IMHO on all of this obviously.
Mordicai Knode
36. mordicai
35. beagel

Well, I agree that your choice of system can manage it, but that is my point, you know? I normally steer away from that in pen-&-paper, but Skyrim does it well & I like it; that is the weird part.

& like I said, I didn't like any of the other Elder Scrolls games, so I can't speak to that.

What cRPGs do you like?
JLB
37. beagel
Well if one wants a system that works with raising only used skills... that's hard. But if the possibility to also learn from teachers is ok, try something like The Dark Eye (but the system itself has extremely many rules, just the skilling system is quite simple): it's point buy, no classes and if the DM thinks someone has trained a skill enough he gives out special experiences, which can be used immediatly and reduce the cost of the raise. Only one can be amassed at the same time, so it expires if the player doesn't use it until the next one.

I like the first two Fallouts, Kotor, Jade Empire, the Witcher games, Deus Ex, FFX, for story only also a couple of other FFs, Deus Ex 3, Gothic, Gothic II, for gameplay only all of the other FFs, Penny Arcade 3, Mount and Blade and so on. Stuff like Dragon Age:Origins and Fallout 3 is nice but has problems. Mind you i played Morrowind (stopped after 3 hours, gameplay not good story nonexistant), Oblivion (bad story but fun while one could minmax, around 20 hours) and Skyrim (like oblivion), its just that i can't understand how they are so succesful (kind of a sensitive point for me).
Mordicai Knode
38. mordicai
37. beagel

I agree with you on the other Elder Scrolls games-- I didn't "get" it either-- but Skyrim seems to have passed some critical mass point, for me.
JLB
39. Matchew
This isn't a criticism, per se, but I fail to see how this is little more than a list of three things that you find inconveniencing, which Skyrim makes convenient. All conveniences of which are provided for by computers, a relatively new device in the history of our modern age.

I really don't think you should be comparing the two at all. Apples to Oranges friend. Numbers and micromanagement are more important in tabletops, precisely because the small things that video games provide, like real-time combat, are an impossibility at the table.
Mordicai Knode
40. mordicai
39. Matchew

See, but I think that my thesis is precisely that; the game DOES make it more convienant, & that in a table top scenario, I DON'T want numbers to get in the way. I'd much rather character sheets that provided story-based metrics for your PC, because between Players & the Narrator (or Storyteller or DM or GM or whatever) you have a lot of organic computing power; you don't need to be restrained by numbers. Not that I'm advocating for diceless or statless gaming, but rather just for smaller, less micro-managed systems.

Except of course, when video games can do all the tiny little knob finagling & number crunching. Which, I know there are people who use their laptops or tablets for the number crunching, & maybe that is the way of the future, but we're not quite there yet.
JLB
41. meisme
Concider this: is something a game without choice?
Mordicai Knode
42. mordicai
41. meisme

Huh. Sure; Candy Land is a game, after all. A lot of games are basically dice rollers & counters.

I'm not entirely sure what your point is, though. Skyrim, while offering only the meagerist sliver of the kind of choices a real RPG provides, has lots of choices. Some big, some little, some branching, some binary.
JLB
43. philldevil
Stop playing D&D and start playing a decent PnP RPG. There are plenty out there.
Mordicai Knode
44. mordicai
43. philldevil

I don't agree with your premise-- that D&D isn't a decent pen & paper game-- but I do agree that there are plenty of other good games. As I mentioned elsewhere, I run a Weird Fantasy game using the World of Darkness.

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