End of a Series: Lessons Learned

ATTENTION:  This is the last part in a four part series.  Hopefully it stands on its own, but you may find yourself wanting to go back to the introduction a few articles back.

There are a lot of things that I got better at in video game RPGs since I started playing the tabletop variety.  Similarly, there are a lot of aspects of tabletop gaming that I think I’m better at for having played a healthy amount of video game RPGs in my time.  I figure that since I’ve already talked about the differences between the two and how they can slow you down, I should also talk about how playing each of these types of games has improved my abilities in the other.

One of the big things I learned when playing tabletop RPGs is the importance of specialization.  As I’ve said before, I had played a lot of video game RPGs and some of those had quite a bit of character customization.  I almost always, however, tried to make a character that could essentially do it all.  This was usually good enough to beat the game in question, but I always had to do plenty of level grinding because my character’s abilities were so spread out that he was never good at any one thing.  When I came over to Dungeons and Dragons my first character, an Elf Fighter/Rogue, had a similarly weird spread.  His ability scores were all over the board, and he had one point in just about every skill in the game.  This meant that at level seven he could do everything, but he couldn’t do anything better than a well-built first level character could do that same thing.  I quickly realized from looking at how other players had built their characters that I should specialize my own guy a bit so that he was better at filling his role in the party, a concept that had somehow never really occurred to me before.  This lesson carried over to videogames entirely.

I also learned the importance of really emphasizing a character’s strengths.  This may seem like the same thing, but there’s a difference I assure you.  Going back to that same character, he was meant to be the group’s rogue.  While a high level rogue can fight some enemies of lower levels solo, getting up in someone’s face rather than flanking from the shadows is not what the rogue class was built to do.  Almost none of its abilities support this, but it seemed like a good thing to try to invest in because “what if he gets cut off from the rest of the party?”  Now the correct answer would be “Hide, sneak, and evade the enemy” but I figured surely I could just spread his points a little thinner.  Short story long, he ended up getting turned into a red paste very quickly.  The thing is, just like the classes in Dungeons and Dragons, the characters and classes in videogame RPGs tend to have inherent strengths and it’s important to build them to those strengths.  I couldn’t for the life of me tell you why these things had never occurred to me before, because it all seems so obvious now.

One of the big things I was able to translate from video game RPGs to tabletop was pacing and encounter design.  Even though there are huge differences in the mechanics, things like theme of encounters and the feeling of major encounters came a lot easier to me because of my experience with video game RPGs.  I also think I learned a whole lot about how to make interesting antagonists from my experiences with characters like Kefka of Final Fantasy and Zio of Phantasy Star.  And to avoid any potential hate, I like Sephiroth but he wouldn’t make a great villain in a D&D game.

The other big thing that I think I gained from video game RPGs is setting.  The reason I say this is that video game RPG worlds, even more than those of fantasy novels, are made for adventuring in.  This means that they make a very good template for a tabletop RPG setting.  Similarly, they tend to have existing social scenarios that make good templates as well.  I’m going to give Final Fantasy VII some love here (Even though I just dissed Sephiroth in the last paragraph).  That world makes a great template for a tabletop RPG because it already comes equipped with:  a shady government/corporate organization in the form of Shinra, an opposing faction in the form of AVALANCHE, elite groups like the Turks and SOLDIER, monsters that are a built in and frightening piece of the mythology like the Midgar Zolom, and a huge source of eldritch power in the form of materia.  Even outside of the main character’s storylines, there’s a ton of adventuring that other characters could be doing there because of the plethora of possible backgrounds and plot hooks.

Well, this is going to conclude this little miniseries.  I hope everyone enjoyed it and I’ll probably expand on some of the ideas I touched on here in later posts.

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