I just got back from a four day camping trip with my folks, my brother, my sister, and my husband. The day before I left, my husband and I stayed up all night questing and burning off the blue ‘bonus xp’ from our alts. Sleep-deprived, we hit the road. As soon as we were rolling, my sister suggested we play a pen-and-paper RPG on the way. What a refreshing experience this turned out to be!
We didn’t take any RPG books or character sheets. We ended up just making up various character bio’s and linking them all together by saying each person’s character was sucked through a dimensional rift to the same place in Rifts Earth where they had to team up to fight the various demons that also came through the rift.
We didn’t have any dice, so I made up a coin based combat system based on the change I had in my pocket. On a combat roll, I might toss a nickle, dime and penny into the cup-holder next to me. A heads meant damage was dealt (in the amount of the coin’s worth) while a tails meant a miss. To keep track of hit-points, I just wrote down everybody’s name with “100 hp” next to their name. As combat went on, I’d scratch out or erase and re-write their health amounts. Combat was surprisingly both challenging and satisfying for everyone.
What kept us laughing our asses off and screaming wildly was the story we created. I let the players do whatever they wanted, and they did some crazy things. Whenever they went someplace new, I made up something new for them to encounter there. They fought terminators and kid-napped psychics. They time traveled and killed a flying spaghetti monster. At one point, one of the characters became a triple amputee with machine guns grafted onto her stubs. At another point, the entire party of adventurers were bit by vampires and forced to serve their glorious vampire lord for a hundred years.
We may have spent more time talking about what happened to our characters than we did actually playing our characters. At times we laughed so hard that our sides hurt and we had to try thinking unfunny thoughts just to breathe. In short, it was awesome.
Once you get away from the dice and the rulesets, pen and paper RPGs are story-telling games. I have a hard time recreating that feeling in an MMO. Sure, I may talk about ‘The time the tank died’ and my medic had to finish tanking until the end of the battle, but it’s not quite the same. If a developer was so inclined to make an MMO be heavy on storytelling, would it even be possible?