Saturday, July 23, 2011

Why I Like Paper-and-Pencil RPGs

So last night I ran the first part of a two part Star Wars story, The Fall of Ossus, which (as I told my players) is the Jedi equivalent Halo: Reach. The Sith descend upon the planet Ossus and thoroughly torch it. It's a much maligned day in extended universe history and I thought it would be cool to play out what happened that day.

In case you couldn't tell already, I'm a huge RPG nerd.

So the night goes pretty much as planned, at least at first. The attack happens, the players get pretty badly messed up, and they head to the medical center, which is one entire floor of the Jedi Temple. There's tons of people already there, in varying degrees of wounded and dying. They look out the window and there's hundreds of red lightsaber blades outside, an unprecedented number of Sith! The Wookie Jedi who plays WoW (yes, he wanted an MMO to be in the game. Figures) had knowledge technology, so he decided to look around the medical floor to see if he could weaponize some of the medical equipment, and he found a CAT scan machine. It took an hour and a half, but this genius level wookie rigged the CAT scan machine to vent all of it's radiation at the push of a button, making it a huge bomb.

A voice boomed in through the windows "My name is Darth Krayt, leader of the new Galactic Empire! Surrender and we'll kill you quickly". The response from the med bay was to throw every little thing that wasn't nailed down out the window, forcing the Sith to deflect all of it. As they were distracted the jedi wookie force shoved the jury rigged bomb out the window with a Force shove and activated it right above Darth Krayt, who was instantly vaporized, along with a good portion of his army. Change Star Wars history much? I do believe so.

I'm always asked why I play paper and pencil RPGs, and why I don't just stick to video games. Because video games, by the very nature of their design, can't allow us to do whatever we want. There's always a limitation that's part-and-parcel of it being a video game. Even in Bioware games like KOTOR, Dragon Age, or Mass Effect you are limited by the game. While the amount of limitation is much lower because it's designed to emulate a paper and pencil RPG it still has limitations. You can't player Joker in Mass Effect as the main character, for example. You actually do play Joker for a few minutes, but not in anything anywhere near the level that you play Commander Shepherd. I've played plenty of perfectly fine games (Castlevannia: Lords of Shadow as an example) where you literally can't just over the edge because the programmers don't have something planned for what happens if you do besides death, so they don't let you do it.

An RPG, on the other hand, allows us to do all sorts of nutty things, like punch the guard in the face because he looked at me wrong, or hit on any random girl at the bar... or completely change the course of Star Wars history with one hastily constructed radiation bomb. There's an appeal to being able to do what you wish with friends around to help you do it that can't be (and won't be) matched by anything else. I mean, where else can you literally make up whatever you want, with whatever backstory you want, to throw into a world constructed only by you and your friends? People talk about personalizing technology, while that's really all we needed in the first place.

Now this doesn't mean I'm ripping on video games. Some video games can be a blast to play, because while they're limited they do their one shtick extraordinarily well. I doubt that an RPG can be better than Smash Bros. or Halo at competitive play, for example. And that's the way it should be, because that's really not what I'm talking about in this impromptu blog post. I'm just saying that for allowing people to do whatever their imagination dictates RPGs of the paper and pencil variety really are the best.

Because how would a programmer expect someone to jury-rig a CAT scan machine to make a bomb?

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