by Mike Lemmer
The following is an example of some gameplay from a very innovative RPG that few people have played:
A party of Troubleshooters (Dell, Mack, Judy, and Harry) has been given the task of safely bringing an important package through a hostile area. Outfitted with the latest in laser guns, grenades, and armor, they're ready to take on any enemies.
"Here, let me carry the package," Dell says.
"I don't know, I was assigned to carry the package," Mack says.
Dell shrugs and gets back in the marching order.
A while later, Dell shouts out, "Mack, what are you doing with the package?!?"
"What?" Mack asks.
"You're trying to tamper with the package!" Suddenly Dell has his laser gun out. "Commie mutant traitor! Commie mutant traitor!"
"Kill the Commie!" Judy shouts as she opens fire on Mack.
"AAAAGH!!!" Mack screams as he dives for cover and throws a grenade at his teammates. Judy gets blown to pieces and Dell gets knocked unconscious. Then Harry hits Mack with a fatal shot.
Thinking quickly, Harry runs over, takes the package from the now-dead Mack, and destroys it with a well-placed grenade. Afterwards, he places a few Communist pamphlets on the dead Mack. When Dell comes to, Harry accuses Dell of accusing Mack without any evidence and executes him, too.
At the Debriefing for the mission, he takes full credit for finally downing Mack the Commie traitor. Sadly, the important package was destroyed in the firefight...
Not what you expected, eh? A battle went on and the party didn't even encounter any enemies! In fact, the party itself was its worst enemy! Quite shocking to those of you used to console and computer RPGs, isn't it?
Those of you that constantly read about tabletop RPGs may have heard references to a game called Paranoia, often followed by "The funniest RPG... Ever!" What you have just read is an example of what happens in a typical game of Paranoia. It's also an example of what makes tabletop RPGs different from console RPGs, and the reason that I enjoy the former more than the latter.
In console RPGs, the teammembers act as one. After all, there's only one person controlling them. They might get into fights during set events in the game, but for the most part they get along, no questions asked. In console RPGs, the party goals are the only ones that matter. Individual goals don't enter the picture at all (unless there's a handy side-quest to complete them in). As for different personalities, the character's personality never comes out during most of the gameplay. A character might have a taste for overkill in plot events, but if you command him to do nothing but heal others in battle, he'll do it without complaint. Where's his personality now?
In tabletop RPGs, individual goals and personalities are more important, because every player is only commanding one character. They can develop their character, rather than worry about commanding the party as a whole. The personality is developed at all times, not just during set cutscenes and conversations. There is also no omnipotent "team commander" for the party. In console RPGs, the characters NEVER talk to each other during battles. (They must have some sort of innate telepathic sense.) In tabletop RPGs, orders and warnings are constantly shouted back and forth. Players (and their characters) get into arguments over what to do, and sometimes orders aren't followed. Personality and individuality permeate all aspects of tabletop RPGs, combat included. The team goals and individual goals are almost equal.
At the extreme of individual play is Paranoia. In Paranoia, the normal console RPG balance of team and individual goals is completely flip-flopped. Instead of the almost-mindless cooperation found in console RPGs, teamwork is an oxymoron in Paranoia. Team members are constantly watching each other for signs of treason (so they can blast them) while hiding their own treason (so they don't get blasted) and carrying out secret individual goals (which usually means screwing up the team goal).
The example I gave above doesn't give the whole picture, either. There are no mutant powers being used, no faulty weapons or R&D equipment blowing up, no runamok robots, no extra clones popping in to replace their deceased predecessors... However, it does show the type of scheming, backstabbing, lying, conning, blaming others, and causing all hell to break loose without a single outside influence gameplay that just simply can't be found in a console RPG. In fact, I doubt that any electronic game, whether console or computer, could duplicate that style, except for a Neverwinter Nights-type game with actual people playing.
Needless to say, I've found Paranoia to be much more exciting and entertaining than any console or computer RPG I've ever played. Matching wits with a human GM is good enough... actually scheming against your teammates is priceless.
For more information on Paranoia, check out the webring.
Who knows, maybe one day I'll have the pleasure of labeling you a "Commie mutant traitor" online...