Tabletop RPGs updated, or improv meets video games

08Oct12

In pitching Live Gaming to tons of different students with different backgrounds, we’ve experimented with different ways of describing what RPGs are, what we like about them, and how we’re trying to make that experience better. Most people have heard of Dungeons & Dragons, and our usual pitch is along the lines of Dungeons & Dragons updated: the game is a creative, in-person experience (with option for video chat later), but the rules are handled by an app instead of books and dice.

However, this last exciting week of the competition, we’ve also tried a different tactic for people not so familiar with D&D or other tabletop RPGs. We ask them if they’ve seen an improv show or played improv games. We mention how the players can do whatever they imagine, with a moderator to keep things running smoothly. What Live Gaming does is video-gamify that improv experience: the players’ characters now have stats, skills, powers, items that help define what they can do in the story. If you look at it this way, RPGs are really like tactical improv, or improv with strategic elements. In addition to the pure, entertaining creative element of telling a story, players need to consider how likely they are to succeed at a given action. If they fail a skill check or other roll, that then supports the improv experience by requiring players to consider new options and tactics.

Without an app, this would be a lot of work to put on a moderator. Game masters normally:

1) Take on the role of an improv moderator, describing and developing the scenario
2) Take on the role of an improv player, by narrating the actions and dialogue of characters in the game
3) Take the additional role of overseeing game mechanics, teaching players what to roll, keeping track of points and other parts of the game

That’s a lot to handle all at once—being an improv moderator by itself or being an improv player can be handleful; being both while also covering complicated rule sets and game mechanics is a lot to ask of one individual.

With Live Gaming, game masters don’t have to worry as much about the third role, letting player’s apps provide game instructions and handle rolls automatically. The story teller app and the game session will build on that dynamic and make more of the rules available (or executable) for the game master at the click of a button. Game masters still take on the responsibilities of both improv moderator and player, which is impressive, but at least their job is easier and players can have a little more structure without having to lean on the GM as heavily.

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