For my first article of the new year I decided to resurrect one of my old recurring themes; “Driftwood” was about taking a rule from one RPG and applying it to others. This time, though, I’m taking a concept from video games and seeing if I can apply it to tabletop RPGs.
This article was inspired by a video that was shared with me on Facebook. In it, the author argued that “bosses” in video games aren’t the same as similar adversaries in tabletop RPGs because video games expect you to fail multiple times before you finally figure out how to defeat a boss monster. In tabletop, boss monsters have to be designed so that the PCs have a reasonable chance to overcome them, because they only get one shot at it. Put another way, video games enable you to save your game up to a certain point, while tabletops don’t have that mechanic.
Well, why not?
What if it was possible to “save” a campaign at a certain point and allow the PCs to return to it if things go badly for them? I’ve seen and used similar mechanics in the past, usually using some type of bennie to rewrite a scene or pretend it was all just a psychic vision. What if we simply hard-wired saving games into a tabletop campaign? After all, we often speak of RPGs as if they were television series or movies – what’s wrong with retakes?
- A campaign doesn’t need to end just because of a poor encounter.
- Players can learn more quickly from their mistakes, as they have an opportunity to approach the same problem in a different and more effective way.
- Treasured PCs have an opportunity to be saved from dice rolls gone wrong.
- “Bad days” (when a player doesn’t have her head in the game that session) have an opportunity to be corrected.
- GMs aren’t forced to scrap their hard work and start anew because a TPK or similar event just ended the campaign several sessions early.
- It adds to the longevity of enjoyable campaigns.
- Pulpish play – players are free to dream up wild and daring plans with the knowledge that they can try again if things go wrong.
- Hardening spines. GMs are less likely to fudge encounters if the players have opportunities to self-correct their mistakes.
- Paperwork. Saving a video game is a simple push of the button. Saving a tabletop game often means remembering various conditions, resource addition or attrition, and other factors.
- Sloppy play. When decisions matter, players tend to be more careful about them.
- Meta-knowledge. Obviously, players don’t conveniently forget what they’ve learned the first time around – their PCs won’t make the same mistakes.
- Tedium. Ever get upset because you didn’t save a video game for several encounters and now you’re stuck replaying through them? Imagine 6 players grousing about it around a table.
- Setting the frequency. How many times should players be able to save games?
- Who gets to decide when a game is saved and when to roll back to it? Unanimous consent is easy with small groups, but with larger groups discussing that decision could slow the game to a crawl. Or should it be handled by GM fiat?
- Memory. GMs aren’t computers and rolling back too far may cause certain details to be changed simply because the GM forgot about them or inadvertently added new material.
While the idea of being able to save tabletop campaigns at certain points intrigues me, I’m not sure if it would work well in a tabletop setting. I could see things getting tedious fast if it’s relied on too often, and running the same combats 2-3 times really doesn’t excite me.
If I did decide to try this, then my gut instinct would be to autosave the start of the current session and grant the players one “save” during the session. They could always roll back to the latest save during the session and, at the end of the session, they’d have a final opportunity to roll back to the last save. All of these decisions would have to be made by unanimous consent.
For paperwork, I’d have anything changed on the sheet after a save to be recorded separately. These changes only become permanent when the players make a new save point or the session ends.
So how about you? Do you think you would adopt a “save game” mechanic in your campaigns? Have you ever tried something similar? Do you think it would be a nightmare?