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Onward and Upward: RPGs

March 28, 2011

Dear Reader,

As I’ve mentioned, I play WoW as well as pen and paper role-playing games.  A commenter recently asked me to describe PnP RPGs, and I had a hard time figuring out how to do so accurately.  I figured that if I made comparisons to WoW, it might help understanding, and, in the end, wound up with this idea for this post.  WoW and PnP games share many similarities, but there are many wide gaps of differences, as well.

First off we have our Player Character, or PC in PnP games.  In WoW, it’s what we’d consider our toon.  In both, the PC frequently has stats that define her abilities and skills.  WoW works the same way.  In both we see a list of powers that the PC can use.  Additionally, in both gear is frequently important.  One vast difference, though, is in the options one has.  In WoW, you have a limited set of actions you can do, and you’re limited in the types of interactions you can have.  In good PnP games, the same is not true; you have as many options available to you as are in the real world.  If a guard needs a slap in the face, in WoW, you don’t have that option.  In a PnP game, you do, though if you do so then you should be ready to face the consequences.

Another similarity between WoW and PnP games is the party aspect.  Both WoW and PnP games can be played solo, but a lot of the fun (and headaches) comes from grouping up.  WoW dungeons and raid bosses require groups of people to work together towards a common goal, but often that goal is messed up by players with different play styles and personal goals.  The same is true in PnP games; players can be brutal to one another for a variety of reasons when really they should be working together.  A difference, though, is that in WoW, there’s no in-game way to sort out problems; the problems have to come into the real world.  In PnP games, the problems can be solved in character, allowing an understanding (or an agreement to misunderstand) to exist in-game.

The opposing force is a large difference between WoW and PnP games.  In WoW, you’re playing against the computer (with the exception of PvP).  If you learn the computer’s tricks, you can outmaneuver it every time.  However, in a PnP game, you’re playing against another person, the Game Master (GM), who works both with and against you to ensure that everyone has a good time.  In that aspect, PnP is wildly different from WoW; the game doesn’t care if you’re cheering or in tears, nor does the opposing PvP team (though I’m sure they’d prefer you in tears), whereas in a PnP game the enjoyment of the group is paramount.

The adventure structure in the two games is somewhat similar, too.  PnP games can be of varying lengths, as can adventures in WoW.  You may have a “campaign” stype PnP game, where one long story arc is taking place which you interact with through a series of related adventures; in WoW, that could be thought of as an expansion – The Wrath of the Lich King Campaign.  Alternatively, you can have short “one-shot” sessions, like a dungeon run, where you only play out a short adventure.

Probability plays a large roll in both types of game, too.  In WoW, we worry about our hit chance, our resilience, our avoidance numbers.  In PnP games, you worry about how your dice fall.  A long run of bad luck in WoW can lead to a wipe, and the same is true for a PnP game; a Total Party Kill (TPK) can come about from a string of bad rolls on the groups part and good rolls on the GMs part, though many GMs wouldn’t necessarily go through with it if it was truly just bad luck.

In the end, that’s one of the greatest differences between WoW and a PnP game: the scale of enjoyment.  WoW, being a business, tries to serve a majority of its customers.  In a PnP game, you only need to serve yourselves, usually a group of five or six.  It makes it a lot easier to sit back and have a good time than in WoW, where a particular patch that benefits 1000s of people can ruin 1000 other people’s enjoyment for months.

All that said, PnP games are slowly disappearing.  PnP games require a lot of imagination and thought to play, which makes them less and less popular as time goes by.  I’m certain, though, that like WoW (or at least MMOs in general), that there will always be PnP RPGs.  1000 years in the future, a small group of oxygen-breathing nerds (like myself) will be huddled in their space pods with their hyperdice, rolling away on their scullerytop and dreaming of a time when humans used projectile guns to fight chupacabras in a mythical place called Texas.



One Comment leave one →
  1. April 4, 2011 1:45 pm

    Great post!

    Really well explained.

    I also used to play them, without realising at first. Warhammer fantasy it was, amazing fun! Shame I drifted away really..

    Might just pick it up again one day!

    – Jamin

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