Technical blog and writings by Micah Webner.

Blogrimage 2014 Day 4: Living Under a Rock

Over the years, my wife and I have dabbled into some computer games, but have never really been what you'd call gamers. Back in the days when we did play, I spent a lot of time the old MS-DOS games Pool of Radiance and Curse of the Azure Bonds, both of which followed game mechanics based on the AD&D rule set. This wasn't really as good as tabletop play with real people, but I enjoyed it a lot.

I also played the original DOS version of DOOM until I discovered WAD editors, after which most of my play time was spent designing my own levels rather than playing the game.

In November, we finally bought our first HDTV, and at Christmastime we picked up a used Xbox 360, mostly because my wife wanted to play Skyrim. That notion got sidetracked when a friend recommended we try out the Mass Effect Trilogy.

Side note, I think we messed ourselves up on that. Mass Effect is a fantastic series, and now we're having trouble finding other games we actually want to play.

The more I made my way through Mass Effect, the more I noticed the similarities between it and Roleplaying Games. You take a small team of NPCs and work your way through levels, acquiring experience points that lead to increased levels, applying skill points to level up across a variety of options while acquiring new weapons and bonuses along the way. (From what I read recently, the combat mechanics of the first game are mostly based on those found in tabletop RPGs, while in the second or third game, more weight is given to your actual skills with the game controller.) In place of Clerics and Wizards, Mass Effect has biotic and tech skills.

And in between the combat sequences, you have missions and assignments to accomplish, mostly discovered through encounters with other NPCs or overheard in elevators (mostly in Mass Effect) or while passing through crowds (mostly in Mass Effect 3). The way you behave in these encounters affects your character's alignment, even though it's pretty much distilled down to paragon or renegade points.

Going through the character generation process in the Pathfinder Beginner Box, I see the similarities run even deeper. I didn't remember accumulating and distributing skill points when playing AD&D, so while writing this post, I searched around the web and found some old 1st and 2nd edition character sheets. It looks like maybe some of these were added as "proficiencies" in 2nd edition, but I didn't see anything like that in the 1st edition documents. Now that my wife has moved on to Skyrim, I see that leveling up in that game also has a similar distribution of skills.

Of course, I realize that none of this is new to anyone who hasn't been living under a rock for the last 20 years, but since I have, I'm finding it all quite interesting.

The similarities between these Xbox games and tabletop RPGs may have rekindled my interest in tabletop gaming, but there's another factor, too. When we got the Xbox, especially right after we started playing Mass Effect, we were spending a lot of time in front of the TV, either playing or watching another family member play. It wasn't exactly what you call quality family time. The time we spent this past weekend preparing for play and during those two relatively short sessions was highly engaging interaction--far more so than playing Euchre or any of the other games we typically play.

I'm really looking forward to our next session, but in the meantime, I wonder if I can find the maps to any of those DOOM levels I developed lying around on floppy disks somewhere...