All I know about Tabletop RPGs, I learned from Video Games

I was born in 1980, the dawn of the personal computer, and early in the tabletop RPG halcyon days.  Growing up, I was an enthusiast of both cultures, hammering away at the keys of my Commodore 64 trying to beat Wind Walker, Ultima V and The Bard’s Tale, while spending the rest of the day hammering away at the keys of a rusty and noisy old typewriter, trying to devise a weapon list for my very own tabletop rpg.

As such, I would be lying if I didn’t say that I owe a lot of what I know as a GM and a Player from video games.  Almost all the games I played have influenced me at one point or another, but here are a few notable examples:

The Baldur’s Gate Series
Party Synchronicity

Some people don’t like the NPCs of Baldur’s Gate because they’re not optimized.  Often they’re conceptually quirky, statistically all over the place, and tend to have personalities that range from friendly to nearly downright hostile.  Amusingly, BG is a great simulation of real tabletop groups.  Differing skills in character crafting will result with all sorts of characters.  It’s best to accept what they are, learn what they can be good for, and use that to your advantage.

Diablo 1 & 2
Fortitude / Determination

Shit happens.  Best you can do is to prepare as best as you can, with the resources available to you.  You can’t always anticipate everything, and sooner or later you’ll find that your character is woefully unprepared to handle a given situation.  Best you can hope for is to have the other players pull your ass out of the fire.

Lucasarts Adventure Games (Full Throttle, Day of the Tentacle, The Dig)
Creativity / Lateral Thinking

Think outside the box.  Learn to put things together even if they’re not commonly associated with each other.  Solutions come from all sorts of inspirations, and a little bit of fast talk combined with sleight of hand can go a long way.  Always ask about your current environment and look for a way to use them to your advantage.   If the GM doesn’t expressly say that an item that could reasonably be in the place exists, prompt him… if he gives, then that’s one more tool for you to use.

Half-Life
Interesting People

Every NPC exists to move the game forward.  Whether it is to serve as an extra helping hand, to deliver information, or to die in a cinematic sequence meant to heighten tension.  When GMing, don’t make average NPCs.  Make your Villains loathsome, your Enigmas mysterious and your Allies dependable.

Megaman
Every Good Villain Deserves a Weakness

This may seem counter intuitive but it’s true.  The robot masters of all the Megaman games have weaknesses… that one thing that proves to be their undoing.  Sure, in the videogame it took the form of one of many attacks, like a flying saw blade, but the point is that they became more interesting because they had something that made them less than omnipotent.

Castlevania
There’s no shame in Recycling Plots

It’s been said that every single possible story has already been written.  I agree with that statement completely, but it doesn’t really matter if the players are having a boatload of fun.  I’ve learned that it’s the how of the thing that makes a game awesome.  In the same way that Castlevania’s “let’s go kill Dracula… again!”  plot has been worn down to the point of being comedy, the series has churned out some of the most fascinating protagonists from Simon Belmont, to Alucard, to Sohma Cruz and Shanoa.  Each of these protagonists took the same plot and made it awesome with their presence alone.

Star Control 2
A little Diplomacy goes a long way.

Sure there’s a lot of laser beams and dog fights in this classic gem of a video game, but Star Control 2 is an example of a near-perfect game.  Putting you in charge of a unique vessel that stands a slim chance of fighting against the Ur-Quan menace, the game’s most important “quest” is the acquisition of new alien allies that will fight alongside you against the threat.  This is achieved not by threatening them with guns (mostly), but with sheer diplomacy.  Likewise I make sure that the option to “talk things through” in my games is open until the last possible moment, and that there are always more than just one way to solve a problem.

11 thoughts on “All I know about Tabletop RPGs, I learned from Video Games

  1. Wow, I was thinking of doing a series on this with the same title! Looks like you beat me to the punch but I much prefer your way of presentation.

    I’m also a 80’s kid so I can understand how computer (and later console) games have been a bigger influence to my gaming and GMing style than literature. Until today, I still try to recreate my favorite games for the tabletop just to get a nostalgic experience (with friends, of course).

    1. Great minds, Questing GM. 😀

      I’m sure your article will have a bunch of games that I haven’t had the chance to play, so I’m looking forward to seeing your take on the topic!

  2. Whoa, not only I detected a lot of nostalgia, but also I agreed completely! I was also influenced by the golden SSI boxes, which proved that with a nice plot, you can go with a crappy interface. 😀

  3. Oldbie is Old.

    MEGAMAN is the rubric of all RPGs.

    With its twisting areas and dungeons, symbolizing the physical, mental, and spiritual struggle you must undertake in order to reach your ultimate goal. Whereupon you are then beset by an immense evil so powerful that you can either choose to beat him with sheer guts, hand-eye coordination, and determination, or with the proper set-up, and having defeating the other Robot Masters in the right order, opt to use his own weakness against him for an easy, well-prepared, pre-meditated victory.

    Sure there is no, “Go to the store and buy milk for 50xp”-type Quests, but the very soul of RPGs is what MEGAMAN is all about.

    And technically, a Dr.Light does give you quests. Which is to defeat the Robot Masters, and the magical weapons you gather afterwards are the skills that you gain upon defeating them.

    1. Do not forget that you loot their corpses after beating them… Kill the bad guy get his stuff. Then go through the long dungeon and face off in a final battle with (Multi Phase) big bad. LOL Megaman~ i miss that game…

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