One of the key phrases I keep using to describe Legend of Us Roleplaying Game is that it is “patterned after tabletop role-playing games” (RPGs) or “pen-and-paper” RPGs. I want this game to be accessible to anyone, even those who don’t know what that means, so I think this bears some explanation. Also, those who know what it means know that the terms are broad, so today I want to explain what I mean and why I think it makes the Legend of Us Roleplaying Game (LOU) special. If you don’t know what a role-playing game is, check out this previous article and then come back.
A tabletop role-playing game involves a book (often a lot of books) that attempt to translate things that happen in the best adventure stories into a game. To give you an idea of the kind of rule depth we are talking about here, this is my personal collection and doesn’t include my more recent books which I now buy in PDF format, like Pathfinder, Savage Worlds, and True 20. You don’t need all these books to play, but most people who are into this hobby have a lot of these books. There is usually a core rule book or in some cases multiple volumes of a core rule book. Then there are books on things like how to do a maritime adventure or a city adventure. There are also books that are just an adventure scenario, commonly called a module.
Not only is there a strong tie between tabletop RPGs and stories, they have strong ties to board games. Usually, there is no board included with the RPG book, but a few of the pages show maps that you could trace or possibly photo copy. There are also descriptions of board game-like distances. For example, it is common in these games for a character about the size of an adult human to move thirty feet per round and be able to pick up anything within five feet of their location. You can imagine squares in a board game that represent locations and the player can pick up or attack anything in their square or any adjacent square. In video games like LOU and board games this is commonly referred to as a tile-based game. In this kind of game, every object is in a square and thus distance is simplified. A character that can move thirty feet would move six squares. I’m not sure where this distance conversion originated but the first time I saw it was Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 ruleset. D&D did not invent the tile-based game, but they are the most famous and one of the first in the tabletop RPG genre. Almost every role-playing game rule set I have read since uses the same five feet to one square conversion.
Another element of a tabletop RPG is dice. Often a lot of unusual dice if you haven’t played tabletop RPGs before. The most common is the twenty sided die or “d20”. In this vernacular a traditional six sided die would be a “d6”. Dice in these games are used to determine the success of an attempt to do anything in which your character might fail. For example, say you want your character to jump across from one rooftop to the next. Either the character will succeed and jump across or fall in the gap between. The chance to make it is based on how far it is to jump and how good your character is at jumping. Typically the difficulty is boiled down to a number. You roll a die and see if you can roll that number or higher; if you don’t then in this example the character falls between the buildings. The reason a d20 is so common for this kind of game is that each side represents a 5% chance of success. Thus, if you have a 95% chance of success then you have to roll a two or better. If you have a 50% chance of success you have to roll an eleven or better.
So, in these kind of RPGs you have a book, some papers that show maps and abilities, and a bunch of dice. The players typically sit around the kitchen table because you need a place to put all this stuff and a surface to roll dice. This is where the terms “tabletop RPG” or “pen-and-paper RPG” arise and are generally used to distinguish them from a video game RPG.
Video game RPGs work in much the same way, though in a video game certain things don’t need to be averaged and calculations are often hidden. In many action RPGs, objects are not in squares. The reason is that distance between objects is easily calculated by a computer. The main purpose of putting them in squares is that it is easier for a person to calculate. Success in a video game RPG is still statistical but because you aren’t having to calculate it yourself it can be a more subtle fraction based on a more subtle measure of distance, even a fraction of a percent. Also, it is most common in a video game for the “roll” to occur in the background: you don’t actually roll a die to jump across the gap, you just try to jump and the computer does the calculation and displays a representation of the result.
If you have never played a tabletop RPG before, you might be wondering why sitting around a table with nothing but your friends and a bunch of books and dice telling crazy stories about jumping from building to building would be fun. The thing that makes this kind of game special is the stories that you spin with your friends. When you talk about the game later, no one says, “Remember that time I rolled an 18?” Instead they say, “Remember that time I tried to jump from one rooftop to the other and missed, but was saved because my fall was broken when I landed on a snarling wolf who was about to attack a nun and I squished him, saving the nun?” It’s all the better because the stories are made up on the spot (there is planning on the part of the Game Master, but as they say “No plan survives contact with the players,”) and the dice are there to ratify the events of these legendary tales (to “prove” that it really happened).
Player: “As I fall what do I see below me?”
GM: “Um… alley stuff.”
Player: “Come on man… give me something!”
GM: “Um… OK, you see in one corner of the alley a snarling wolf has cornered a nun and is closing in for the kill.”
Player: “…I aim for the wolf.”
GM: “You know… I’m going to need you to roll for that.”
Player: “Hopefully I roll better than I did when I jumped across the rooftops!”
So… how does this tie to Legend of Us RPG?
For starters, Legend of Us RPG lets a player be the GM. In most video games, giant spiders have a simple AI: when you get within a certain distance they run at you and attack and they keep attacking until you or they are dead. They can obviously still do that if a player is controlling them, but they can also do a lot of other things. They might even be friendly.
Second, LOU is designed around giving the Game Master a lot of control over the game world and giving the player a lot of control over their experience of that world. I mentioned that LOU is tile based and this is a key reason, making it tile based enables me to give more power over the game to the GM. If you watch our video, you will see a bit of the Worldbuilder in action. You can make your own worlds on your phone and then other people can play in those worlds.
Third, LOU uses virtual dice. Rolling dice is fun. If you ever played a board game where you roll dice, you know that if someone goes to the bathroom you wait till they come back to roll. Why? Because you don’t want them to miss an unbelievable roll! When designing LOU I thought about what is exciting during a tabletop RPG and the answer is simply, “Any time you roll a die with something valuable at stake.” Having the computer “roll” for you in a turn based game is kind of like calling someone on the phone to ask them to roll for you and then just tell you what they got. It’s just not going to be fun; you want to roll it yourself. A great deal of effort was put into designing our die roller to feel like each roll is fated to you. I won’t get into this more now, but I intend to come back to it in a future post.
Finally, I want to point out something that makes LOU different from a tabletop RPG: everything you need is on your smartphone. This means you can play more frequently in shorter time segments. This means you will probably be able to play it a lot more frequently than you can play a tabletop RPG. I am not saying that LOU will replace tabletop RPGs. I’m saying this game honors them, is fun in the way that they are fun, and everything you need fits in your pocket.
In the next Insights post I’m going to discuss the difference between different types of video game RPGs and how LOU fits into that gamescape. I hope you will come back and check it out. Also, as always, please like the game on Facebook and Google+. You can get there using the links at the top of page.