Computer RPGs vs Tabletop RPGs

I Never Asked For ThisGame Theory

You might have noticed the slight Deus Ex theme. I recently managed to finish the game on the uber-hard, perma-death, one-save-only mode aka ‘I never asked for this’. So in this post I’m going to discuss the game theory and key differences between computer based RPGs and tabletop RPGs (ttRPGs)

What has this to do with regular RPGs you ask? Unlike tabletop RPGs, video games usually have a save game feature, if you die, make a mistake or regret a choice you can undo it by reloading.

For some, this mentality has carried over to ttRPGs. I can specifically recall a game of Deathwatch where a players reaction on meeting a merchant was to kill him and take his stuff (which was worthless compared to his equipment). As another player it was frustrating for many reasons. Needless to say it didn’t end too well for that character (or game) but wasted a lot of time. This sort of behaviour is generally known as acting like a ‘murderhobo’.


Whereas computer games can sometimes render player decisions meaningless, ttRPGs usually result in decisions that are important and have in-game consequences. I’m a firm supporter of the games theory which believes that meaningful choices (that at least give an illusion of choice) are what make players happy. In a tabletop RPG if you kill a dragon in a lucky few hits, it is still dead when you leave and return the the area.

Computer games are riddled with funnels, railroads and invisible walls to force players to be in the right place, which we accept because computers have limited options.  If the game doesn’t want you to kill that dragon yet then you simply won’t be able to. Similarly if that door is unopenable yet there’s almost nothing you can do to open it earlier. If we come up with ingenious solutions (stacking boxes to jump over a wall, or taking massive steps to defeat a much superior foe) then we’re more surprised if they work than if they don’t.

That being said, a poor GM might also heavily fudge things and shift the goalposts behind the scenes to overcome player solutions, although one hopes it’s to keep the game and story fun. We’ve all heard of the ‘DMPC’; author-insertion fantasy style NPCs that are invincible mary-sues which ultimately ruins the fun of the players.  On the other hand a good GM can roll with the punches and use what the players throw back to challenge and change the game for the better.

This all leads me, in my quest for better RPGs, to always consider the choices available and to help players with their decisions. Players by mission of action generally want to influence the world their characters inhabit. Even slaying some goblins is changing the world in a small way, so similarly their bigger decisions should have a bigger and more meaningful impact on the world.

This isn’t to say that every time they hit the tavern post adventure that there needs to be an earth shattering choice, but simply that overall players exert some influence on their situation. Even in dark RPGs like WFRP or Darksun, where things are more ‘grim’, players are special and that should mean something.

I Never Asked For This…

Jensen Meme


So despite a plethora of illness* this past year, I’m trying to keep sane by focusing on my 2 main hobbies – Pokémon & RPGs – while I recover. I’ve managed to expand playing RPGs to 2 nights a week which is a major achievement considering health and previous commitments.

Miniature games aren’t really holding my interest due to the time investment required coupled with the sheer lack of local communities that I want to be a part of, (and I really don’t have the stamina to chivvy another community along after the last time). I still enjoy painting and that side of things though.

My lovely other half is quite busy with studies so even playing casual GW stuff at home isn’t really happening though Terraforming Mars is proving to have been worth the investment. (Seriously when it’s back in print, get it if you can!)

Aside from health issues and goals my new year’s aims were mostly Pokémon TCG based, and I’m managing to do pretty well at them too! (You can keep up to date with that journey here: Poké-Post.)

Anyway as mentioned, I’m really digging RPGs at the moment – from the Southampton guild of RPers to my own friend group I’m managing to play in and run some games and also have gotten to try out RPGs that I wouldn’t have otherwise encountered. (Blades in the Dark, Starfinder, Star Trek Adventures to name a few). It’s social and fun and lets me be creative.

Moving Forward

With all of that in mind I’m in the middle of writing 3 short PDFs for 5E D&D to offer variant monsters that are usually encountered at low level (Goblins, Hobgoblins and Bugbears). It’s a small step to break into writing for RPGs but I might as well try to make use of my 20+ years of playing RPGs to help other people while I wait for medical appointments to get sorted out.

Finally I’m managing to get some Deus Ex: Mankind Divided in, including the eponymous 1 save only perma-death ‘I never asked for this’ mode. I’m claiming it as research for a cyberpunk, conspiracy, non-magic (sorry Shadowrun!) post-human RPG that I want to write. Right now I’m thinking of basing it on Blades in the Dark / PbtA since the system is great and captures the nuances of the feelings I’d like to convey. However this is still early days.

*Seriously, at this point I’m expecting it to actually be lupus!

The Black Vise

Biblical quotes always seem relevant to depression for me!

Where then is my hope– who can see any hope for me? – Job 17:15

Depression is a funny thing. Funny as in queer (in the traditional, Tolkienesque sense). It is an emotional, spiritual illness as well as a mental one, and often a physical one. To this end there isn’t a medical-only cure. Unlike ‘the diabetes’ where you take insulin and it has a physical, biochemical effect on the body, depression medication doesn’t ‘fix’ the problem. It can help, like how clean water and bandages can help a deep wound, but without eventual stitches and antiseptics you will keep bleeding and get infection. Indeed many essays, poems, art and all sorts of creativity have been expressed to try to explain or at least convey the feeling. Churchill called it his ‘Black Dog’, something that would hound him and kept lingering, coming back to drag him away.

This is how I would describe depression using pictures from a popular collectable card game. In this instance the depressed person is the cute little doll thing:


Basically you’re stuck. You can’t escape. You move and pointy things poke you, you don’t move you get squished by pointy things. You need external help to free yourself.

It’s dark all around and seems hopeless. You’re tired from struggling, struggling hurts and makes you more tired and more weary of the world since it’s dark all around anyway. Even with help escaping the Black Vise is hard.

When you wiggle free you are crushed, battered and hurt and reduced to your core self. It’s still dark around but it’s not as oppressive. It’s like being that little match in the darkness. Finite, but not being extinguished just yet as it falls to the ground below the darkness.

To regrow you need to fall onto fertile soil, like family, friends, medication, counselling, love, comfort, reassurance. Something that keeps the ember of that match warm while it germinates in the darkness, while your inner fire gathers itself.

Let him sit alone in silence for the Lord has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust—there may yet be hope – Lamentations 3 28/29

Then with a bit of light, you poke out a root, re-embedding yourself in Life. Anchoring might take time for not all seeds grow at the same rate. Some need more water than sunlight , some need more warmth than light – we are all different. But eventually you can extend a shoot with a little leaf and absorb all of that goodness that exists in life. Yes nighttime comes once a day, and some days are cloudier than others, but with all that nourishment you brush it off until you regrow and hopefully flower once more.

New Name? D&D&D

The new title was for Dungeons & Dragons & Diabetes. Kind of makes sense in an odd sort of way! I’m not sure if I’ll change it!

Anyway I don’t really have much to add in terms of D&D knowledge as the internet is full of interesting stuff. I often feel that I don’t particularly innovate anything other than my own plots or ideas and any ‘hacks’ or slight modifications other than the Action Point and no XP thing are shamelessly inspired stolen from the interwebs. That being said I’m a cynical sort and see a lot of material out there as being untested and severely wanting.

I’ve also managed to finish pokemon gold with mostly an unevolved Spinarak. There were HM slaves and a lvl 30 Gliscor for double battles but all the rest were filler. He was level 79 when he finished (Moves = poison jab, bug bite, shadow sneak and psychic)
Interestingly I thought being a bug/poison he’d take 100% damage from psychic, turns out bug is +50% vs psychic (+100% since he has STAB too) but confers no resistance, but the poison confers +50% weakness. Similarly with the orginal ghost (Gengar/Haunter/Ghastly) who are Ghost (+50 vs Psychic +100 if STAB) but have the poison secondary giving them weakness to psychic instead. Thankfully against the E4 after weathering the first attack if they were faster my little spider managed to bug bite any psychic attacks. The only other problem was some fire attacks (houndoor and a couple of Bruno’s fighters) and Kogas flipping minimizing, regerating Muk… his attacks were useless against me but I couldn’t hit him by the time I got eastablished. Eventually I got 2 hits close enough together to KO it but it was tough.

Fingers Crossed

So I submitted 4 pitches to Wizards of the Coast for Dungeon/Dragon articles.

Here’s hoping they are interesting and good enough to be considered – it would be a dream come true to write D&D related stuff for WOTC!

Also I had a look at their novel writing guidelines and this tickled me:

 ‘Avoid the following character archetypes: alchemists, any other author’s signature characters (Drizzt, Elminster, and so on), anyone who fights with two swords, apprentice/inexperienced wizards, drow of any kind for any reason, even in “cameos,” dwarves or gnomes for comedic effect, sorcerers, Asian/Oriental Adventures/Kara-Turan characters. Note: If you use one of the “iconic” characters that have game stats in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, they cannot be killed or permanently altered.

Basically saying idiot dwarves / gnomes, ANY DROW EVER, Bilbo-style dropped in it, dual wielders and famous characters are off limits.

It reminds me of this guy from Order of the Stick:

Totally not  Drizzt…

Wrath of Ashardalon

I like games. I’m a bit of a gaming geek – Boardgames, chess, RPGs and wargames are all of interest. It’s a consistent thing ever since I was small and started with Hero Quest. (The gateway drug to Warhammer/Games Workshop for so many people!)

Anyway today I decided to play some Wrath of Ashardalon – which is a great Wizards of the Coast (WotC / Whot-See) D&D based boardgame. It uses a D20 and takes place in the D&D ‘multiverse’ – that’s about as similar to D&D as it is, since it’s more like old out of production Heroquest or infact Warhammer Quest due to the exploration factor in a boardgame.

Anyway the game runs itself via exploration and various decks of cards (monsters, treasures and random encounters like traps, cave-ins, curses, extra monsters and so on) Due to this it is possible to play it solo.

So I hit up the ranger who’s model is cool and who has an auto-hit but low damage power. Also good at exploring. She died after a troll, owlbear and orc chief decided to show themselves. RIP Ranger 🙁

So I decided to go to my go-to character – the Elf Paladin who fared a lot better. I managed to do 3 quests in a row with her. Firstly stomp an evil dwarf barracks which was fine (krumping an ogre and orc chief on the get-go and levelling up in the process!). Then the 2nd quest was to loot the eponymous’ dragons horde. Said dragon can arrive when you reach the horde after 1-4 encounters. (Encounters: AKA bad-stuff, which happens if you don’t explore or if you do and the dungeon decided to hate you anyway) It arrived straight away. Oh poo.

Then my mind wondered to thoughts of suitable paladin-y glory – what happens if I kill the dragon straight off? Is he merely ‘wounded’ or does he die thus rendering the whole point of the campaign pointless at this stage? Mentally I’m sure the paladin yelled the equivalent of ‘Deus Vult’ and charged to put the hurt on the dragon. The whole question of ‘what if..’ turned out to be a bit moot as although I got him down to 6hp (from 12), when I got to 2hp I thought it was worth fleeing escaping tactically withdrawing with my loot (discretion being the better part of valour and all that).

I drew well for the available loot at the dwarven traders (vorporal sword, flying shield and something else – yes please to the sword and shield for an AC of 20 and snicker-snack-abilitiy.

The 3rd quest was to use my newly stolen shinies to vanquish the leader of Ashardalon’s Orc minions – the orc shaman. I was feeling confident with AC20 and a vorporal sword and sped though. However it seemed as though this was where my luck would run out as I ‘pulled a Dave*’ -and chain-pulled a kobold and duregar – the kobold proceeded to explore into a snake, and the duregar explored into long corridor with (they basically ‘explore’ themselves o.O) with a Grell and then another Duregar who then chained more stuff :

Rolling wasn’t great and one of the encounters was to let a monster (the Orc Chief who turned up again) … explore… to a troll …. in a long corridor…. to an orc druid.

Thankfully despite needing to spend both of my healing surges I managed to defeat the shaman. Technically I won but I was surrounded. I decided to see if I could escape and then throwing shielded the kobold in the face before running like a goblin tactically retreating again. Thankfully I managed to speed away although the speedy boar managed to get a few licks in before I got to the exit tile. Phew! Money was scarce but I managed to buy 2 healing potions which might keep me alive for the next round!

*Dave being a member of Southampton Sluggaz who managed to chain TEN monsters together with a combination of enconuters, monster cards, duregar and kobolds and during a game of WoA at the club

Proper Party Placement Prevents Poopy Performance

The P6 maxim. (Stolen from a Baldur’s Gate TOSC strategy guide from over a decade ago)

Basically in any tactical combat situation a good way to mitigate failure is to ensure everyone is where they should be. The defender should be drawing fire, the healer should be supporting, avoiding attention and healing, the striker should be behind enemy lines (rogue) or behind their own lines (warlock) and so on.

Things which effect the party’s ‘placement’ include terrain, obstacles and enemy controllers.

This was evidenced last night when they were inside a squamous far realm tower (Madness at Gardmore Abbey encounter#14) which was quite small compared to the usual dungeon/wilderness areas, it had a chasm and mimics pretending to be a bridge. In addition the floor slides the PCs into a pit of ooze and the walls can restrain/grab adjacent PCs.

The rogue over extended followed by the defender while the healer was still outside. This put them out of healing range and lead to a tense couple of rounds when both the übertank swordmage and rogue were down and dying. The small space did mean that it didn’t take long for the healer to get in range, but it also brought her closer to the danger.

So lessons learned – an EL-1 encounter can be challenging if in a confined space and if they enemies have surprise. Compare this to an EL+2 encounter a couple of weeks ago which they breezed through and I do wonder how accurate 4th Edition monster level/XP budgets are. Usually I  just wing it.

And to leave you here is a monster that has no difficulty getting into position, I’m sure that the wheels give him bonuses to move!


D&D House Rules

Most RPGs tend to have house rules – a tweak on the ‘rules as written’, generally adopted because   no decent rules system could possibly cover the almost infinite things that any player may think of doing. (If the system does cover everything I would hazard a guess that it’s not fun to play and overly complex!) Some are basically house ‘rulings’ on ambiguous rules or occurrences. Others are actually new (or modified) rules.

There’s 2 ‘house rules’ that I use in D&D and both involve action points. To summarise – an action point gives the player an extra standard action that turn. Generally only one can be used per battle/encounter and the players get 1 action point for every 2 encounters they do. They cannot be saved between days. (resetting to 1)

Firstly I allow more than 1 to be used per battle – but no more than 1 per player turn, the reasons for this are simply that it penalises saving – basically you start with one, get another one after your finished 3rd 5th and 7th (and 9th and 11th ….) encounters. But if you can only use 1 per encounter you basically have to use your initial action point during the 1st or 2nd encounter then use the extra one in the 3rd or 4th and so on. Otherwise they’ll start to accumulate and you can’t use them.   As the encounters go on you’re more likely to run out of other resources (powers, healing surgers item uses etc) and thus going to want to rest – so saving isn’t a good idea. You might be dead and not get to the next encounter to spend that action point you’ve saved. Bascially carpe diem – use them early and often.

To avoid this punishment and to encourage dynamic heroism I allow more than 1 per battle.

The second involves action points and another limited resource – daily powers. These are usually the battle changers – if they hit. Since they are generally used on the toughest enemies they are less likely to hit than a regular attack on a regular pleb. It’s a bit disappointing as a player when your uber daily you’ve saved and not blown misses and makes little difference than if you’d used a good at will or encounter.

Natural 1

So to this end (before rolling damage) if a player totally misses with a daily they can spend an action point to re-roll to hit. And yes they can use 2 action points in a turn in this way – 1 to use the extra action to take a daily and then spend one to re-roll. So in short saving a little is generally worth it in my games compared to Rules As Written (RAW)

Needless to say this didn’t just spring up overnight, it is the result of sucky moments and me feeling sorry for my players as well as cold hard maths.


I’m still tinkering with the settings but this is going to be my webpage/blog about various RPGs (D&D, Star Trek, Starfinder, FATE, Blades in the Dark, Rogue Trader & Deathwatch), and a touch of miscellaneous geekery – board games, some tech stuff, my messing about with pokémon and of course – SCIENCE!