Putting the Role-Playing in Role-Playing Games

TelltaleGamesTelltaleGames Former Telltale Staff
Brendan Q. Ferguson reporting live from Telltale Games. Today my subject is role-playing games (RPGs). If you've ever played any role-playing games, then the term RPG will likely conjure up images of wizards, swords, powerful artifacts, that sort of thing. If so, then I have bad news for you... You've been brainwashed! Yes, odds are you've been brainwashed into believing that RPGs have to be about battles and statistics and people with funny names. It's a lie I tell you! I just hope I can slap some sense into you before it's too late.

Now some of you may never have played a computer RPG before, or maybe you did, but you forgot. If so, perhaps I ought to give an example of the game play you might find in a typical RPG so you can understand what I'm talking about. Let's see, what's a typical RPG that I could use as an example? I know, let's use the game I invented just now, called The Blades of Stenchtar, a game which I confidently predict will sell somewhere between a million and a trillion copies.

In The Blades of Stenchtar, you play the role of Oinktoast the Meticulous, the Chosen One who must bring balance to the world of Stenchtar. Opposing you is the wretchedly evil Gloatherd McMoatherd, who is so evil that he once ate all of the decorative plastic plants in an entire shopping mall and didn't even leave a tip. Gloatherd has assembled a massive army of very large people on the left side of Stenchtar, thus causing a major imbalance in the world. The whole thing's about to tip over, unless you, Oinktoast, slaughter every last one of those evildoers, and maybe a few neutral parties for good measure.

Given the utter impossibility of his quest, Oinktoast wisely enlists the aid of several companions, including a mage, a thief, a pikeman second class, and a cleric/water-boy. Oinktoast and Co. explore the world of Stenchtar looking for the items they need to destroy Gloatherd's army. On the shopping list are such wondrous weapons as the Sword of Extreme Pointiness and the Pushpin of Eternal Punishment. To acquire these items, they battle some of the most fearsome creatures imaginable, including the ill tempered but cunning Six-Headed Eel Queen and the deadly Flying Chihuahua Man and Giant Flying Chihuahua Man. Also, they fight a lot of rats for some reason.

In the end, Oinktoast confronts Gloatherd and they agree to battle to the death, or until someone hits the power button. The battle rages for four and a half hours, pausing only for water breaks every hour on the hour. Finally, after a series of critical hits, Oinktoast prepares to deal the deathblow, when suddenly Gloatherd reveals that he is actually a magic artichoke, and in assuming his true form, he somehow restores all of his hit points. Luckily Oinktoast has the presence of mind to eat Gloatherd in a cream blush sauce, and balance is restored to Stenchtar.

Now I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Gosh Brendan, The Blades of Stenchtar is a masterpiece of game design. Surely you're not about to trash it?"� Well you're right, I'm not. Sure, I'm poking fun at these sorts of games, but I actually enjoy the occasional fantasy battle fest. What bothers me is that practically every role-playing game is like this. It seems that we can scarcely conceive of a role-playing game that isn't about flat out carnage, preposterous villains, and large quantities of hit points.

It doesn't have to be that way, though! Role-playing games need only one thing: role-playing. When I play an RPG, I want to spend a day in the shoes of another person. Not literally, because then my feet would probably get sore from always changing shoes and the person whose shoes I stole probably wouldn't like it either. No, I just want to experience a fresh perspective and try my hand at new things. A role-playing game is a chance to be someone else for a while, to see things from their viewpoint, and to appreciate their strengths and weaknesses first hand.

Telltale doesn't have any plans at the moment to make an RPG of the usual variety, but we do want to allow you to do some role-playing in the broader sense. We want to make games in which you play a role in a story, and we hope to immerse you in that role by designing puzzles and activities that emphasize the character you're playing, and the special qualities of that character. To some extent, you'll have to learn to act in character if you want to progress in the story. By the end of a Telltale Game, we hope you feel that you really know the character you played.

Okay, I guess I can come clean now... when I hear the term RPG, I also think of battles and statistics and people with funny names. And I don't really object to that. I don't want to change our terminology, what I really want is for us to consider new game play possibilities. What other roles could we play? What other distinctive ways do characters interact with the world besides annihilating everything in sight? We're thinking about it, and so should you!

In short, don't allow yourself to be brainwashed! Let your brain wallow in its own filth!

Myself, I'm going to pass the time by playing a little solitaire.

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