Friday, August 24, 2007

Rolling Dice is Half the Fun

My bibliophile blog entries done (it's hard when you don't have Internet), I'll be indulgent now and talk about tabletop RPGs. Now Dungeons & Dragons draws its roots from war gaming. Thus it's no surprise that a lot of D&D elements revolve around combat. That's not to say all games should follow that method. Last week we had an L5R session and there was absolutely no combat at all and I've played D&D games where we spend five hours role-playing and one-hour finishing a six-round combat encounter.

Of course one element many MMORPGs lack is that it's usually more focused on combat and less on roleplaying. Does that mean MMMORPGs trumps out tabletop RPGs when it comes to combat?

My personal take on it is that it's not. Tabletop combat is different from video game combat, and it's not just the myriad of options you have in the former (i.e. jumping off a ledge, grabbing the chandelier, and landing behind the enemy to stab him with Sneak Attack +4d6). I'm a video game enthusiast by heart. But it's a different experience when you're pressing controller buttons or clicking on the mouse. It's almost expected what the character's response is. Rolling dice, on the other hand, isn't just about luck but it gives players the illusion that they determine their fate. It's why some D&D gamers are so paranoid when it comes to their dice: they label them (i.e. "my lucky dice"), store them in "magic" bags, and don't allow other people to use their die. It's also why given the chance, players would rather roll the dice themselves to determine their fate rather than let the GM make the roll (of course given the choice between no dice roll or letting the GM roll, they'd choose the latter).

Let me tell you now: part of the fun in D&D combat is rolling dice. There's more activity in players than a simple mouse click. Personally, the best experience would probably be swinging the sword yourself (because I'm a sword guy... you can insert your weapon of choice whether it's a hammer, a bow, or a gun). Falling short of that, swinging a substitute (LARP and the Nintendo Wii controller comes to mind). When that's not possible, we go to another substitute which simulates the fickleness of combat, and that's usually dice (but there are other substitutes such as a spinwheel, a game of rock-paper-scissors, etc.). Only when that's not available do people settle for something virtual such as MMORPGs.

I think the best example to show this is the difference in critical hits. In a tabletop game, critical hits (unless made on creatures immune to critical hits but even then, the joy of rolling a 20!) is cause for much celebration and excitement. There's shouting involved and even after say, ten years of gaming, it's still there. In World of Warcraft, the game still has critical hits. Perhaps you'll silently say a prayer of thanks when it happens. Eventually though, it becomes mundane. You're half expecting it whenever you make an attack. The opposite is also true. When you "miss" in World of Warcraft, you're thinking it's the miss chance or evasion. In D&D, gamers have a different experience when they roll a 1 compared to rolling a 5 on the d20, even if both would result in failure. The latter is tolerable while the former is just ghastly (so much so that many GMs have rules for critical failure).

Now in reality, the chances of critical hits or failures might be the same but it's all about the illusion of control. When you're playing tabletop games, players have a distinct feeling that they determine their fate. That's still the case when it comes to video games (and it is a matter of skill) but it's filtered through your keyboard/mouse/control pad. It's like the difference between experiencing an event yourself and hearing about it--both might relate the same story but it's definitely a different experience. Then again, it just might be the frequency. MMMORPGs are essentially gaming-on-demand while tabletop RPGs require more planning and scheduling and doesn't necessarily last as long.

No comments: