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Default Age of Decadence - What is an RPG?

January 28th, 2008, 14:47
Vince from Iron Tower has penned a piece titled What's a roleplaying game? at The Age of Decadence forums. It's a well-trod subject but as Vince says, at least you'll get an understanding of the philosophy behind AoD:
Obviously, role-playing games are about playing a role or two, but what does it really mean? Every game puts in a role of something or someone. Doom puts you in a role of a brave, ass-kicking, silent but deadly space marine who really doesn't take no for an answer. Windows' Minesweeper offers you to play a role of a brave ninja cartographer who uses nothing but his wit and logic to map an unforgiving minefield. So, "playing a role" definition can't help us here as it's big enough to put every game under its roof.

Playing a role in the CRPG context means making decisions fitting your character. Let's say you're playing a thief and you're facing a well guarded gate. A warrior may decide to fight his way through here, but a thief may decide to find another way in. That's the core difference between RPG and adventure games, for example. In adventure games you make no decisions but progress from point A to point B to point C in a very specific, set in stone way. The Monkey Island brilliant series, The Dig, Full Throttle, etc – each playthrough is exactly the same.
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January 28th, 2008, 14:47
Great article. It's nice to know some developers still get it. Bethesda aren't fit to suck this guys cock.
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January 28th, 2008, 16:10
Playing a role in the CRPG context means making decisions fitting your character. Let's say you're playing a thief and you're facing a well guarded gate. A warrior may decide to fight his way through here, but a thief may decide to find another way in. That's the core difference between RPG and adventure games, for example. In adventure games you make no decisions but progress from point A to point B to point C in a very specific, set in stone way.
This definition is inherently flawed. Recently I played the game Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. It is kind of like a high-tech, modern-day Thief. Using the above description ("A warrior may decide to fight his way through here, but a thief may decide to find another way in.") then Splinter Cell is an RPG because you can indeed decide to just sneak by, or perhaps distract the guards, maybe knock them out, or outright fight and kill them. But I doubt few gamers would classify Splinter Cell as an RPG.
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January 28th, 2008, 16:28
Originally Posted by BillSeurer View Post
This definition is inherently flawed. Recently I played the game Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. It is kind of like a high-tech, modern-day Thief. Using the above description ("A warrior may decide to fight his way through here, but a thief may decide to find another way in.") then Splinter Cell is an RPG because you can indeed decide to just sneak by, or perhaps distract the guards, maybe knock them out, or outright fight and kill them. But I doubt few gamers would classify Splinter Cell as an RPG.
You should take the part about stats into account too, as it is also part of his definition.
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January 28th, 2008, 16:35
I was just about to say that.
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January 28th, 2008, 16:50
To me, the difference between a real RPG and "the rest", is whether or not the player has to make choices with consequences. In any good fantasy/roleplaying setting there's actions and consequences of those actions - without it, it's merely the fantasy of a child: "Chocolate world! Where I can eat all the chocolate I want all day long and everyone is happy because of all the chocolate!".

I'm not saying this is the only thing defining a proper RPG, but it's often the key element that makes the difference between GTA with swords and PS:T.
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January 28th, 2008, 17:20
I have to confess getting hung up here:
I'll be surprised if Far Cry 2 won't play like Far Cry 1, yet the difference between the same looking Knights of the Old Republic games is huge.
… and agree with others that the 'what is role playing' definition is always a tough one for the observed reasons.

But had a few good laughs at the definitions

— Mike
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January 28th, 2008, 19:08
He makes a good point and then contradicts it when it comes to stats. He points out a good RPG will not allow you to be an All-Everything Master, but simply having stats will not automatically prevent that. I give you Morrowind.

Other than that little issue, I thought it was surprisingly well considered.

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January 28th, 2008, 19:24
Originally Posted by dteowner View Post
He makes a good point and then contradicts it when it comes to stats. He points out a good RPG will not allow you to be an All-Everything Master, but simply having stats will not automatically prevent that. I give you Morrowind.
Morrowind's design was flawed. It encouraged players to raise all skills, provided easy ways to do so, which eventually resulted in the same fighter/mage/thief character.

Remove the "raise skills by using" aspect or make increasing minor skills insanely difficult, tweak the trainers aspect - paying to increase skills in a game where you quickly become the wealthiest individual is an equivalent of a built-in cheat - and you'll end up with a much more solid game.

Other than that little issue, I thought it was surprisingly well considered.
Why, thank you.
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January 28th, 2008, 19:29
Originally Posted by dteowner View Post
He makes a good point and then contradicts it when it comes to stats. He points out a good RPG will not allow you to be an All-Everything Master, but simply having stats will not automatically prevent that. I give you Morrowind.
In my experience Morrowind doesn't let you be an All-Everything Master. When taking the time needed for advancing in the different skills you are only able to specialize in a couple of skills unless you have a lot of patience. Teoretically you are able to become an All-Everything Master but in practice only few skills are developed through the course of the game. For example, the many fighting skills present in the game my character only had Marksman and Long Blade fully leveled whereas all other fighting skills were highly underdeveloped, cause the game forces you to specialize in order to gain the full benefits of the skills. Otherwise your character simply aren't effective enough in combat.
Last edited by Asbjoern; January 28th, 2008 at 20:14.
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January 28th, 2008, 19:50
Originally Posted by VDweller View Post
Why, thank you.
Just in case there was a miscommunication, there wasn't a backhanded insult in my comment. I'm genuinely impressed that a complex topic that I've struggled with over the years was laid out far better than I've ever managed.

@asbjoern- I'm not talking 100's in everything so much as having a 100 in some melee skill, a 100 in some magic, and a 100 in sneak. You can cover every archetype with the same character. And worse yet, with Morrowind you could achieve all those without ever leaving the swamp outside of Seyda Neen if you were patient enough.

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January 28th, 2008, 21:27
AoD sounds like a game I'll greatly enjoy playing, whichever rubric you choose to file it under. Looking forward to it some time this millennium.
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January 28th, 2008, 21:39
Anyone who is either unable or unwilling to distinguish between an identity and a role has no hope of ever explaining RPG. Most video games don't offer much beyond a mere identity, so I can sort of understand the difficulty.

This is a box with so little room that it's hard to gain perspective. I like your thinking, but you're wrong, Vince. Sorry.

Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on. But it don't snow here. It stays pretty green. I'm going to make a lot of money, then I'm going to quit this crazy scene. — [Joni Mitchell]
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January 28th, 2008, 21:48
@asbjoern- I'm not talking 100's in everything so much as having a 100 in some melee skill, a 100 in some magic, and a 100 in sneak. You can cover every archetype with the same character. And worse yet, with Morrowind you could achieve all those without ever leaving the swamp outside of Seyda Neen if you were patient enough.
Well, I see your point but in my opinion it needs more than one skill to cover an archetype. An archetype is precisely when specializing.

A figther would at least need the following skills:
- Medium or heavy armor
- Long blade, axe, blunt Weapon or Spear (Preferably them all)
- Armorer

A mage would at least need the following skills:
- Unarmored
- Mysticism, destruction, illusion, alteration, restoration or conjuration (Preferably them all)
- Alchemy

A thief would at least need the following skills:
- Sneak
- Security
- Marksman
- Light Armor
- Short Blade

A ranger would at least need the following skills:
- Marksman
- Long Blade
- Light or Medium Armor
- Athletics

And I just can't see when specializing (Considering how long it takes to level your character) that you can cover more than one archetype with one character without making your character vulnerable. Not unless you disturb the flow of the game and decide to go on a repetitive killing spree instead of letting your character level indirectly when killing enemies in order to complete quests and the main story (As intended).
Below are two screenshots of my character's stats from an old pre-Tribunal save game. The screenshots have been taken after my character spent 143 days under sun and sky - according to the journal.

Major and Minor Skills
Misc Skills

Morrowind's design was flawed.
Matter of opinion.
It encouraged players to raise all skills
Did it?
provided easy ways to do so
If you are referring to the trainers then you could choose not to use them. I didn't use them. And the trainers weren't cheap either.
Reading books only raised your skillls in a minor way. Other than that there was only the long, hard way of constantly using your skills. The skill system in Morrowind has been one of the most difficult I've tried but yet also one of the most enjoyable, because I didn't feel "bad" as I do in other RPGs when I prioritize/specialize experience points. In Morrowind the specialization happened naturally.
which eventually resulted in the same fighter/mage/thief character.
As you can see my character was neither a figther/mage/thief but an archer/ranger.

But perhaps this whole Morrowind discussion is off-topic. Maybe the staff should move my post to an already existing Morrowind thread.
Last edited by Asbjoern; January 28th, 2008 at 23:24.
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January 28th, 2008, 21:59
Originally Posted by Asbjoern View Post
If you are referring to the trainers then you could choose not to use them. I didn't use them.
And herein, I think, lies the problem. When you need to apply your own rules and restrictions to play, then it's no longer the game rules that are creating the balanced system - it's your own.

Anytime I hear "game X's system was fine as you could choose to not use / ignore feature Y" it always sets alarm bells ringing. Any well thought out system should not require the player to make such choices to maintain balance or challenge.
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January 28th, 2008, 22:23
Every game puts in a role of something or someone…Windows' Minesweeper offers you to play a role of a brave ninja cartographer who uses nothing but his wit and logic to map an unforgiving minefield.
If that were true, then every software application would cast the user in a role. My role as I'm writing this would be a vertical line in an empty white world. Doesn’t that seem silly? There’s always going to be a pointer or a cursor or something else in its place. It can be given an identity, but an identity isn’t a role.

Here’s how I define RPG:

RPG casts the player in roles like the ones in the books that inspired it, such as those by J. R. R. Tolkien, Fritz Leiber and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Players collaborate on efforts and themes consistent with their roles. In the case of single-player computer games, software provides the collaboration.

They’re typically set in dangerous worlds where combat is a common theme. Systems vary, but all provide rules for dealing with every type of encounter and structure for handling inventory and to record and measure progress.

Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on. But it don't snow here. It stays pretty green. I'm going to make a lot of money, then I'm going to quit this crazy scene. — [Joni Mitchell]
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January 28th, 2008, 22:24
Originally Posted by Holly Avenger View Post
And herein, I think, lies the problem. When you need to apply your own rules and restrictions to play, then it's no longer the game rules that are creating the balanced system - it's your own.

Anytime I hear "game X's system was fine as you could choose to not use / ignore feature Y" it always sets alarm bells ringing. Any well thought out system should not require the player to make such choices to maintain balance or challenge.
I know. Precisely. I often think so too. But the trainers in Morrowind were really a minor part of the game and I doubt many used them. The game didn't even encourage you to use them as opposed to Oblivion who has made them more visible.
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January 28th, 2008, 22:29
Originally Posted by Holly Avenger View Post
And herein, I think, lies the problem. When you need to apply your own rules and restrictions to play, then it's no longer the game rules that are creating the balanced system - it's your own.

Anytime I hear "game X's system was fine as you could choose to not use / ignore feature Y" it always sets alarm bells ringing. Any well thought out system should not require the player to make such choices to maintain balance or challenge.
There is no "balanced" RP game system either among cRPGs or face-to-face ones. It is the great goal of many to somehow accomplish this but despite 30 years of effort there still isn't one that really is even close.
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January 28th, 2008, 22:32
Originally Posted by Maylander View Post
To me, the difference between a real RPG and "the rest", is whether or not the player has to make choices with consequences. In any good fantasy/roleplaying setting there's actions and consequences of those actions - without it, it's merely the fantasy of a child: "Chocolate world! Where I can eat all the chocolate I want all day long and everyone is happy because of all the chocolate!".

I'm not saying this is the only thing defining a proper RPG, but it's often the key element that makes the difference between GTA with swords and PS:T.
So then you are saying that most old cRPGs (Wizardry, Bard's Tale, …) are not really cRPGs?
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January 29th, 2008, 00:53
@asbjoern- consider this build:
Medium armor
long blade
marksman
destruction
restoration
——
armorer
alchemy
security
sneak
alteration

I think you've got all the bases covered. Melee? 2 majors and a minor. Caster? 2 majors and a minor. Stealth? 2 minors and a major if you think long range assassin via marksman. Ranger? 2 majors. Cleric/support? 1 major and 2 minors. You can attack via melee, magic or range. You can loot via bash, spell, or lockpick. You ccan heal via spell or alchemy. The only thing missing is the diplomat approach, which could be added by replacing armorer with persuasion. There's a few archetype compromises (like medium armor on a caster), but I call that an all-everything character.

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