Saturday, April 9, 2016

Video Game Terms I Like/Dislike on the Tabletop

I try to keep this blog positive. I write about what I like, and why I like it. I write about games that I enjoy playing. This has a lot of negativity in it. I try to rebound off of that, though, and explain what I like about this subject, too.

That is, video game terms that have migrated to the tabletop games I've played.

Terms I dislike that migrated from video games

I don't necessarily hate these terms in video games. I don't like how they migrate to and influence tabletop gaming. I think they give a mistaken vision of the game in front of you, and thus limit you and can subtract from the fun.

"Farming." - I hate the whole "fight the monster, let it respawn, come back and fight it again" cycle. It was awful when my friend would spend hours and hours killing Murphy's Ghost in Wizardry to safely level up (I did it too, I'll admit, but preferred to take the elevator to level 9 and fight one fight and go home and heal up.) It's not even a good term in games where killing monsters doesn't cause character improvement.

My players hopefully jokingly brought this up about the orcs in Felltower. Kill the orcs, take their weapons and saleable armor, cash it in for a profit, get lots of XP for profit. It's actually not that likely to work, but even if it does work occasionally, it's a fun-bankrupt concept. People farm monsters in games because you can get good loot with a good risk:reward ratio, or because it's totally safe (see: South Park WoW episode.) That sounds like the second-worst way to spend a face-to-face gaming session behind "sit around arguing about what we should do." Maybe third behind, "sit around arguing about the rules," but I don't bother to play in those games.

I suppose you could argue dungeon delving is just "farming monsters," but that's only if monsters are repetitive, in the same places, and the environment doesn't change significantly. A good dungeon game should feel like how we view hunting and gathering - go out, find what's there, deal with it and try to come back with the goodies. Hit the same area too often and you've worn it out and need to move on.

"Respawn." - And it's cousin, "Re-pop." Okay, sometimes it's funny when my players talk about checking the chimera room to see if the chimera respawned. But since I'm not actually respawning the vast majority of monsters, it's inappropriate. The few that do "respawn" really lose their luster when reduce to, "Oh, this is a respawning ghost" or "this dragon respawns." An unkillable ghost or a dragon that returns again and again after you slay it should be terrifying. It's a disservice to play to make it "a re-popping monster." I once ran an adventure that "re-popped" to the point of taking back the looted treasure. It was a unique challenge and lots of fun.

"Tanking." - This one isn't terrible, making a character hard to kill or hard to injure and drawing opponents to you so your friends can kill it. This can work in GURPS, tactically, if you can force foes to face an armored foe or a strongly resisting foe. But it takes tactics. You can't just roll out there and have the AI glom monsters onto you. You can't hit the "Aggravate Monsters" or "Taunt" button over and over and have the enemy surround you and swing uselessly. You need to actually trick, channel, or otherwise force monsters through actions to do this. Understanding how to control and channel foes to force them to fight your strongest, most survivable guy is quite different from "get out there and tank." The term gives you just enough of a wrong idea of how the fights will work that it can get you and your teammates killed. Better to ditch the term and start at first principles.

"DPS" - Damage Per Second, right? I think this has little place in most tabletop gaming and in GURPS especially. A good "DPS" tells you nice things about your choice of skill and damage, but what else? You have to hit, then your opponent needs to fail to defend, then you need to roll damage, then you subtract DR, then injury happens. That's if you can even attack a given opponent because of enemy action. DPS makes sense when I think of Diablo/Diablo II, where I'd wade into combat and hold down the buttons cutting through enemies until I won or lost. Well, won, mostly.

In GURPS? I've seen whole fights turn on a die roll. Your average damage per second over time is all well and good until you roll an 18 or a foe rolls a 3 and everything changes. It just hasn't been calculated number worth anything. You may do x.x damage per second in theory, but we're not fighting on a featureless plain. Your average over time doesn't get reflected on my tabletop. If you must use this, use it to compare some choices so you can make an informed decision about your choices. Don't trust it'll tell you the results of your adventuring.

"Character Build." - In video games you generally know what's out there, what your options are, and what you can plan around. So you design a pathway to long-term maximization of your options. Build a guy who'll be very good with spears because there is a unique spear down the line. Ditch him when the new patch nerfs spears. Build a guy who uses a specific combo of spells and powers to get things done. Etc. The whole "optimized path" approach bothers me.

In video games it makes sense. In tabletop RPGs, less so (but not none - see below). You can't predict everything. You don't really know all of your options, or how long you'll play. Not only that, by focusing on a "path" you ignore the fact that you're playing in a wide-open sandbox limited only by the imaginations of the players and GM. You're self-limiting.

Not only that, but the concept is of mechanical perfection. Not, I'm making a very interesting character but rather I'm making a very efficient playing piece. It's bad parts of both the "game" approach (characters aren't special snowflakes, they're playing pieces) and the "role-playing" approach (characters are designed around a preconceived plan, not derived from play.) What's worse is when it's a throwaway mechanical approach ("This is a dual-wielding knife barbarian") instead of a potentially interesting character ("He's a happy-go-lucky axeman dreaming of a farm he'll never save up a cent for.") The first says, "Hey GM, let's beta test the mechanics of these choices in an inter-collected series of battles!" and the second says, "Let's play a role-playing game."

Terms I like that migrated from video games

All that said, there are terms I like from play.

"Hardcore." - Yeah, my games are on hardcore mode for the most part. You can come back from the dead, if you have enough resources salted away and you recover the body. Even so, you might lose everything in the process.

"Healbot." - This I like as a pejorative. It's harder to make a "healing-only cleric" as a PC when the GM or other players says, oh, you're a healbot. Nothing like being reduced to a walking healing potion to make you think about diversifying out to other areas of skill, eh?

"Character Build." - Used differently than above, this isn't a bad idea. I'd prefer it spoken of as a "long-term plan." Have a plan. I emphasize this in life all the time, so why not in game? Have a vision of where your character is going. The concept of a "character build" is a useful one coupled with an eye towards the wide-open options of tabletop play. Know what you want to do and work toward it, but keep open to the possibilities that come along. Know what to sacrifice short-term for long term goals (the upside of a "build"). Have a plan of what you can get as you go so it all makes sense and makes a playable and enjoyable character. Know what stones to step on to get to the next stone, to the next, until you've crossed the stream. Don't bolt yourself to mechanical rails to get to munchkin maximization to get to the end.

"Boss Monster." - It's a good way to explain the "Saturday Night Special" encounters. Stuff worth the time, effort, and focus from both sides of the screen. It alerts you, the player, that big stuff is out there and sometimes monsters aren't just a bag of HP waiting to be whittled down so you can can take their GP. It alerts you, the GM, that you have to put some thought into big encounters so the game is punctuated by real challenges that can shift the game depending on how they go. The idea that some monsters are just flat-out special is a good one. It existed in tabletop RPGs from its earliest days (Acererak) but the term boss monster really speaks to it well and expands it.


  1. One that I've only seen pop up a couple of times, but grates on my ears to no end, is the use of "toon" as a replacement for "PC" or character. As in, "I think I'm going to make my toon a Knight with a two-handed sword build." I've almost thrown people out of my online game for it, but I realized I was overreacting and just bit my tongue. But man, I just hate that usage.

    1. That's one I've never heard for games, video or otherwise, except for with regards to the game Toon.


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