Fascination of Pen & Paper

Tabletop Fascination
You can almost feel the excitement, but something is missing…

I have always loved to play role playing games, be it on a computer or at a table with pen & paper and a bunch of friends. Both ways of playing, on a screen and in the imagination, have their distinct advantages and drawbacks. I always wanted to create a game, that could combine the best of both worlds.

The things pen & paper role playing games do the best are the possibilities for creative storytelling, but also for creative play. As long as you have a game master, that knows what he is doing, you can do whatever you want. You can become really creating with your problem solving, with exploring the world and using it to your advantage, that goes way beyond what is written on your character sheet. But there are also aspects that can suck a bit about playing on a table. The application of rules can be a drag from time to time. Combat can take ages, and whoever tried to look up grappling rules knows, that using written rules can be time consuming. While the social aspect of your game is a highlight, you are also completely dependent on your players not being total dimwits or assholes. Finding a good group can be hard.

Some dice
Of course! We need some dice!

Virtual role playing games are basically the polar opposite. You have quick, flashy fights, and the rules are taken care of by the computer. The only thing you have to do is tell it what you want, and it will calculate it for you in real time. But the storytelling is still quite rudimentary. While we have near photo realistic characters and breathtaking landscapes, most of the time set to an epic orchestral soundtrack, we still have very rigid quest structures and multiple choice dialogues. If the programmers and designers didn’t think of it, you can’t do it. Multiplayer is also quite rare in computer RPGs, unless you want the guided amusement park experience of current MMOs.

The game that really got the closest to that for me in combining the best of both worlds was Neverwinter Nights. That’s because of their faithful recreation of the Dungeons & Dragons rules (while trying to iron out the flaws of the system and balance it at least a bit), but also because of their focus on world exploration and storytelling. You have a vast number of interaction possibilities in this game, that go far beyond simple running from combat to combat, like in for example Diablo. Even the followup titles by Bioware could not recreate this quite. Another interesting aspect was the toolset, that was delivered to the player, which enabled him to create worlds, stories and (thanks to an extensive scripting API) games of their own. It was possible to create Neverwinter Nights modules that were engaging while having no combat or magic or loot at all.

So I have to decide, what the factors are that made this game so very great, use them for my game, and, when possible, maybe even improve them. For that I need the following:

  • A storybased approach
  • A world to explore
  • Room for creativity
  • A living world full of believable Characters, that are more than Loot, XP and Quest dispensers.
  • (Dungeons, of course)

In the following articles, I will try to show, what exactly I have in mind.

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