on Aug 27, 2015
I can’t find it now, but somewhere in the depths of the blog archives I had a post making the case that traditional dice-based tabletop systems are actually a bad fit for action-oriented (not turn-based) videogames. That’s not to say you can’t make a good game from a tabletop ruleset, but that you can probably make something even better if you design for a videogame in the first place.
For one thing, the pacing is completely different. In a tabletop context, you roll the dice, what? Once a minute, if the fight is going smoothly and nobody at the table is dicking aroundSo, more than a minute always, then.? In a videogame you’ll have a combat round every couple of seconds or so. Those dice rolls that are so exciting with real dice are just background noise.
In a dice-based game, the designer wants to give you lots of little feats and perks and special abilities. Do a backflip to escape the fight! Grapple a foe! Throw dirt in someone’s eyes to lower their chance to hit! Spend a full round concentrating to try and break through their defenses! In a videogame, those all end up getting cut, because they’re expensive to animate. Also, your abilities hotbar would be enormous and complex. That’s fine if you’re taking turns, but completely impractical if you’re trying do do anything real-time.
At the table, your eyes are focused on the character sheet. You’re aware when those numbers go up or down and you can follow how they impact the game. Getting de-buffed by an enemy is a big deal and getting a combat bonus from an item feels tangible because you get to add that +1 every single time your turn comes around. If you roll a 12 and think you missed, but then remember the +1 hat you just put onA to-hit bonus on a hat? Just go with it., and that bonus turns your attack into a hit, then you immediately feel the benefit of that item. In a videogame, all that messy math is handled by the computer and your eyes are focused on the gameworld and not the numbers. You might not even notice you’ve been de-buffed unless you see the small icon in the corner, and even then you’re not really aware of how badly or for how long unless you pause the game and familiarize yourself with the stats. You won’t notice bonuses until they’re extreme enough that they end fights a couple of combat rounds sooner.
Videogames are way more combat heavy and light on roleplaying. It might be fun to cast your buffs on your party members at the start of the fight at the table, but in a game it ends up being something you have to cast again and again, turning it into a repetitive chore.
Basically, tabletop games and videogames are completely different ways of playing a game, with completely different needs, expectations, pacing, focus, strengths, interfaces, and which demand completely different things from the player. Any system tailored for one will be a frustrating compromise for the other. And that’s assuming you’re familiar with the rules. If you’re not a tabletop player, then these games are just gibberish. If you’ve never played D&D before, than you have no idea how significant a +1 bonus is.
On top of all this, KOTOR had the additional challenge of adapting a system designed for swords & sorcery to a world of blaster rifles and hand grenades. I think BioWare did an admirable job of making it work, but there are still a lot of messy seams.
I’m glad we moved away from these awkward adaptations. I can only imagine how intolerable Mass Effect would have been if they’d decided to build it on D&D 3.5, or GURPS.