Robert Longtin reflects on the introduction of dice-based tabletop roleplaying and play-by-post simming in the Forgotten Realms and The Matrix sims.
When someone asks me what ‘tabletop roleplaying’ is, I’m constantly reminded of a time when sitting around with friends at a table, character sheets before us, dice near one hand, a caffeinated drink near the other, and a collection of sugary treats somewhere not far away, but most of all I’m reminded of the excitement over what turns up on the side of the die, the thrill of making a character new character or leveling up, and the total fun shared by a group of good friends.
So when the idea of introducing tabletop roleplaying to our play-by-post simming community came about, I was very excited. Granted it wouldn’t involve the fond environment that I recalled from my high school years, but it was an opportunity to try to fuse the two gaming mediums and attempt to bring about the best of both worlds.
Some assembly required
In the early stages, there was the question of how to bring these two things together. For me there was a rediscovery of implicit rules that are taken for granted by veteran simmers and tabletop roleplayers – things you learn when you first get started from others more experienced than you and eventually internalize yourself and begin to model: for tabletop roleplaying, an example might be knowing when to declare an action versus asking if you can take a certain action, or for simming knowing how to go about joining a sim for the first time. It was these little details that I found were suddenly getting lost as we moved forward.
Another problem was knowing just how much information I could share. Copyright lawyers would have a field day had I posted a full .pdf or gave away too much. Fortunately this problem was easily solved by contacting the creator of the game system directly by e-mail. As a result of my brief conversation with him I was able to make public the fact that the system used is Savage Worlds and let on certain aspects of the system itself.
Savage Worlds is a great tabletop roleplaying system for a number of reasons, but I think the best of which is that it is easily managed for fast-paced gaming in real-life meet-ups, and so it is easily managed for online simming as well. For starters, there aren’t several scores of books that a person needs to own or go through and the rules are pretty straightforward – or at least straightforward enough that they are able to give a fairly solid rundown of the rules in their sixteen page Test Drive Rules.
Perhaps the main reason for the selection though is its openness to character actions. Systems such as Dungeons & Dragons have been notorious for breaking down the rules on combat to the point where arguments arise over what a character can and cannot do and end with a conclusion that ‘the rules don’t allow it’. Well…every rulebook needs rules, so there are always limitations. But Savage Worlds does a wonderful job of accounting for player creativity and letting players do all manner of things. Want to grab a fistful of sand and throw it in your enemy’s eyes? Want to do a backflip over your opponent to get the upper hand? Feel like shouting obscenities in hopes of enraging your target to the point of letting their guard down? Being able to do all of these and more without in-depth rules-lawyering and research was one of my considerations in looking for a system.
To be fair, I have a certain bias towards Savage Worlds. Since I left behind D&D 3.5 to try out Savage Worlds several years ago, I had been exclusive to Savage Worlds in all of my serious tabletop roleplaying adventures until just a few months ago when I started playing 3.5 again. I’ve sampled other systems in the past and seen some clever, fun, or otherwise interesting systems that I have been able to appreciate, but when I had played 3.5 for a decade and after just a few sessions of Savage Worlds decided to bid my 3.5 group goodbye, it was genuinely because there was something about Savage Worlds that made it so much more fun.
Lost in translation
While a certain recognition of excellence I feel is owed to Savage Worlds, I would be kidding myself if I thought the joining of tabletop roleplaying with online simming was going to retain much (if any) semblance to the tabletop RPG I’m so fond of. In truth, we’ve only just started to see just how effective the selection for a ruleset will be for our sims as the Forgotten Realms sim is only beginning and The Matrix sim is still in its launching phase. Here’s looking to next year, full of hope, to see what unravels…
Tabletop Roleplaying explained — Compared to simming, Tabletop Roleplaying bears few differences though there is one common concept in Tabletop Roleplaying that could be unfamiliar to simmers: dice are used to determine the outcome of most significant and some less important actions, as opposed to being determined by a GM as with online Simming.
A “Tabletop Roleplaying System” (or more generally “Roleplaying System”) is a particular set of rules used in character creation and throughout game play. Dungeons & Dragons is a classic example of a Roleplaying System.
After a particular Roleplaying System has been chosen, the rulebooks for that particular system come out and players build their characters using those rulebooks. Rulebooks describe how players can make their characters better or lacking in certain important character aspects (such as physical strength, intelligence, or how attractive they are, to name a few examples) and rulebooks also tell the players and GM what dice to roll to resolve certain actions as well as how to determine success or failure and the varying degrees of both.
This article was originally posted in issue 4 of our newsletter, 'The Burning Question'.