Do tabletop miniature games offer more roleplaying than digital RPGs?

Originally published at: Do tabletop miniature games offer more roleplaying than digital RPGs? | Boing Boing

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This really depends on the situation. I can throw a game on the computer a lot more quickly than I can gather people together. Growing up in the middle of nowhere, CRPGs were pretty much my only option (/me waves at Bard’s Tale).

Something comes up and I have to go? Save the game and and do whatever. With people we’re done until the next time we can all meet, and hopefully keep the game in the same state it was for that whole time, which can be pretty hard if your gaming space is the kitchen table.


Tabletop RPGs (not necessarily ones with miniatures) offer more potential for a richer roleplaying experience, for the reasons he describes. A lot depends on the GM, though. I’d take a well-crafted digital RPG over a tabletop run-through of a purchased adventure module conducted by an unimaginative GM.


QFT. Additionally, as a GM gets practice running games, they get more fluid at moving the plot along, anticipating the inevitable ‘monkey wrenches’ that players throw, and overall getting more people participating. Our group has 14+ people who play on a regular basis, and over the years, we’ve gone from maybe 2 combat rounds a night to 4-5, in addition to the needed plot development. Our GMs are very good at keeping it moving without shutting anything down that doesn’t need it (we refer to those in game digressions as ‘chickens’, because of an evening’s gaming session that was derailed by one person buying supplies and micromanaging the process.)


I find this all a bit odd. Comparing computer games to anything involving other people is an apples-and-oranges comparison to begin with, and really, the assertion being made in the article is so obvious they really didn’t even need to qualify it with “compared to a tabletop miniature wargame.” To start with, CRPGs are rather famously bad at story. Only recent generations of games have made any real effort in that direction. But the article is using “story” in a highly specific way:

an organic, unscripted, and utterly true-feeling story ‘moment’

But that’s really just saying, “games that focus on scripted narratives rarely have unscripted narrative moments”! It’s basically a tautology.

Ironically, the example he gives of ones of these organic moments from a tabletop wargame could just as easily have come from a computer wargame. It was a situation that arose out of the interactions of systems (and the “narrative” came about within the minds of the players). So it’s actually the sort of thing that computer games can do, he’s just cherry-picked a genre of game that doesn’t try to do that.

This is an issue that computer games have long struggled with - how to create narratives via systems, rather than pre-scripted elements. CRPGs are a genre of game that tries to provide elaborate narratives with defined arcs that are, by definition (at least, right now), canned, as they include dialog. But some RPGs, especially ones that are more simulation-based, also allow for those kinds of unscripted moments. They’re just moments, though, as the larger story arcs are necessarily pre-scripted. But there are whole genres of simulatory games that don’t bother at all with pre-scripted narrative elements but instead explore entirely systems-derived narratives. Famously, the entire “Sims” line of games and “Dwarf Fortress” do this, and many computer wargames would be as good as tabletop varieties in this regard.

Lately, with neural networks, I’ve seen some exciting developments that suggest a path whereby future games could have pre-scripted elements from which text can be extrapolated to fit unforeseen, dynamic situations. But CRPGs with pre-scripted narrative elements will still exist, as those pre-written bits can be a lot more polished and of consistent quality, be spoken by voice actors and paired with appropriate facial expressions, etc.


“Digital RPGs”<>“playing games remotely over PC”. “Pillars of Eternity”, while a very good PC RPG, for example, doesn’t even come close to the true role-playing of a D&D session, whether live or over cameras and such.

Yeah, nah. I have a problem with the premise that stems from my consideration of roleplaying.

Like, while I would acknowledge that Diablo games have a fantasy setting there is no way I could, with a straight face, say it is a role-playing game. It’s not even its middle-school cousin, a roll-playing game. It’s just math calculated quickly for you and translated into flashy lights.

I have mediocre mini’s memories - mixed with WH40k, pretty consistently good with Mordheim, and fewer than I’d like to have with Gaslands. But those experiences compete with boardgames - social experiences, which is great, and rules-sets - but no role.

While I wouldn’t want to get into a grand grognard debate about it, for me the unique feature of a RPG is establishing a character on one’s own who sets one’s own goals. This far in, a lot of sandbox games compete fairly well ( Skyrim ), but miss the last crucial element : an arbitor who blends the goals of multiple people into something story-shaped.

Haven’t seen a vidya game do this ( MMO’s are parallel play, whole other tangent ) any more than I’ve ever seen a minis game respond to having player generated goals.

Yeah, the real secret is if the engine can accept unconventional input that the original authors did not anticipate. With “pen and paper”, the engine is the GM/DM, who can field any input as long as the player can articulate it. Computer games are limited to the inputs the authors anticipated, and simply don’t know how to do anything else.

On the flip side, setting limits often helps encourage creativity, by providing a direction for the energy to go. With no direction, players can go in circles as they keep backpedaling, attempt to go in two opposite directions at the same time, and so on.

Computer games help get the ball rolling, but pen and paper lets you leave the set path if you apply enough force. Fnord.

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This is is it.

In a computer game, you’re always going to have to fight the wolves, unless there’s a bug, exploit, or some other action pre-coded. In tabletop if the GM is willing you might be able to adopt and tame them into your personal wolf army.

The key lies in that GM: I have had some that love when a player comes up with something new and unexpected, and others who either flat out say “no” or or tell you to roll for it, but not tell you they’re makingit near impossible. So you roll 10 D20, but because it was 199 instead of 200, “Nope, sorry. Catastrophic failure.”

At the same time, I don’t really want to live in a world where a game engine can instantly adapt the way a human brain can. The implications there are… frightening.


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