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Six Things Pen & Paper RPGs can Learn from their Video Game Counterparts

Fowl Sorcerous

While videogames draw from their tabletop counter-parts for many aspect of their gameplay, there are elements that have improved upon that traditional games could benefit from.

1. Make Non-Combat Activities More Fun: Most pen & paper games have a massive section of combat rules and very little interesting mechanics available for any other skill. Meanwhile, a lot of videogames turn skill checks into fun mini-games. Compare the depth of farming in Rune Factory with all the excitement of rolling a DC 20 vs your profession check. Not to say some games haven't tried this, but the coolest thing about Burning Wheel is the duel of wits for persuasion resolution.

2. Spotlight Sharing and Character Focus: Some of the best parts in BioWare's works come from interacting with and exploring each of your party member's background, while pen & paper games are more ensemble pieces with little interest in the player character's backstory (assuming they have any). I'd like to see more table-talk centered on character development.

3. Learning Curve: A new player without any prior experience or anyone to guide him can pick up a console RPG and have the game mechanics down within an hour or two of play. Compare the same individual learning a pen & paper game for the first time, assuming he buys D&D (the standard gateway game) is looking at around 400 pages of reading (less than most of college courses) to understand how to run a game. Now there is a trend toward easier, quick-play games, but most of the big titles in the field do not do enough to help a new player, letting the community pick up the slack.

4. Exploration: Hands-down my favourite part of Oblivion was a little activity I like to call "Hey What's Over There?!" Filling in the map was ridiculously rewarding to me. On the funny dice side of the equation; exploration tends to be rewarded with bland description of forests and a gentle nudge back towards the bland, even most sand-box style GMs tend to run games set in contemporary urban environs so wandering around isn't all that rewarding.

5. Better Licensed Games: Licensed videogames tend to be horrible, but for some reason RPGs based on licensed properties tend to be fairly solid (Knights of the Old Republic was amazing, and even Bleach: The 3rd Phantom managed to be entertaining). By contrast, licensed pen & paper games tend to be mediocre at best. It's very telling when the Supernatural RPG from Weiss and Hickman came out and a few friends and myself agreed we could manage better with a copy of Hunter: the Vigil and Midnight Roads from White Wolf.

6. Damage by Hit Location: As a game mechanic; I like it it a lot. Aside from Battletech and Aces and Eights, I can't name a tabletop game that does it. That needs to change. As I mentioned in the forums about my last article more games need to be like Fallout; especially the first two iterations whose damage systems were added a great deal of fun to the experience.

Whether it's on a HDTV screen or behind the GM's screen, both pen & paper and console roleplaying games can be incredibly enjoyable, but neither is perfect and could learn more from each other to improve the experience of RPGamers of all sorts.

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