I like video games, but I mainly like ones that propose different styles of challenges than the normal. It’s why I liked the Ultima series, something different than what was on the market with Ultima 4, the virtue system. This is going to be another such example of how I believe tabletop gamers will benefit from video game experiences. Roguelikes and Metroidvanias, two game series that have a lot of things of benefit to people.
Roguelikes are randomly designed games, some will have little to no real ‘direction’ beyond exploration and survival. Some deal with resource and time management, such as Unreal World where you must survive in the wilds by hunting, fishing, growing crops or trading for the things you need to stay alive. Others like Dwarf Fortress are a mix of building and exploring. There is also a lot of pure questing types like Caves of Qud. I like the roguelikes because it can be a different experience everytime and with a majority of them being developed by indie developers, you’ll have a large collection to play from ranging from medieval types, such as Dwarf Fortress, to more realistic modern types like Cataclysm Dark Days Ahead, where you survive zombie apocalypse for as long as you can. For those of you worried that roguelikes are all ASCII art, fear not for many have tilesets (such as fan-mods for Dwarf Fortress), others are made with tiles like Unreal World or Project Zomboid and Rimworld and Prison Architect.
There are many small things that can be gained from Roguelikes for Gamemasters and Players alike. First, I am a firm believer in being an ‘adventurer’ can be a cruel and difficult vocation. If it were easy, everyone would do it. So, while I still get attached to my characters, I am ready for them to die, sometimes in an epic encounter that’ll make a great story, others just falling to an unlucky roll of the dice. Secondly, procedurally created content has a lot of uses at the table. Items, for one. Dungeons, for another, Of course, there is a problem with procedural generation, that you’re going to see the same things again and again if you look long enough. However, if you build the framework with procedurally generated content and then add a flair to it, you’ll be able to pump things out much faster on the fly, and that plays into the third point.
With a roguelike, the story will develop by player choices. They choose where to go, what to do when they get there. For example, in Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead (C:DDA), you might decide to head to town and then encounter a horde of zombies. Do you stay and fight or turn and run? Perhaps instead of going to town, you decide to go out in the woods and hunt animals and things there. Are you skilled enough to find enough food to survive or will you starve? In a Tabletop Game, players will wander off in many different paths, usually not the ones you may have intended. Some GMs will railroad and block off routes but the way of their story, while others will not set a specific location for things to happen and drop it into the player’s path no matter where they go.
With procedurally generated content, you can have a ton of maps, items, even questlines could be designed to be procedural. Sure, you’ll need a human hand to tweak the rough edges and make it fit into your world, but remember, some systems like D&D used Random Encounter Tables for what the PCs might encounter while travelling around. This is not all that different than that, just that it saves you a bit of time in building certain areas. Or, you could use them all together, have a random dungeon populated by random monsters with random loot and random traps and puzzles and so forth, but then you end up with something more akin to a hallucination of Alice in Wonderland than a logical adventure, as you could have encounters that don’t make sense like vampires in room off an area guarded by mooks before stumbling on a rusty sword and a few gold pieces.
You can even use the same ideas to create a sci-fi environment, or could be complete with generators allowing you to start with the galaxy they’re in, then the planet itself, and so forth. Just be careful you don’t go overboard because do you really need that much space?
Metroidvanias have a lot of good ideas in the way of adventure and world design, when you approach them from a design perspective. What actually makes a Metroidvania game is non-linear pathing, interconnected areas, various items to collect to aid your exploration. While it may have great tips for dungeon design, Legend of Zelda games are pretty linear and usually aren’t all that interconnected with having to go to different dungeons. Instead look at Super Metroid’s map and you can see how it is all interconnected and how that once you get certain powerups you can get to areas in old areas you couldn’t before. Unepic is a fantasy based version on this idea, for an example of how to make it work in the confines of a castle or dungeon, for those of you not playing a whole world type game, or want to try it on a smaller scale.
In roleplaying games, since it is more of a creative improv storytelling, and rule one of improv is never stop the story, a lot of the GMs I’ve seen will give you challenges that you can overcome with the tools they provide for you (and the resources you have). For example, they’ll throw a few locked doors at your party for the thief to pick or the fighter to break down, there’ll be some enemies to fight, there could be the RPG version of platforming puzzles as you figure out how to get past a challenge like a pit or a high cliff. Occasionally, I’ve seen a GM who might throw curve balls, where you may encounter something that doesn’t make sense now but will later.
I follow a different school of thought on designing areas. I try to develop my encounters more in the style of what fits the area and then let my players impress me with how they overcome the challenges. For example, in the recent released game Watch_Dogs, you can solve a lot of the challenges by stealthly taking out enemies, charging in with your guns and mowing them down, or in some cases using cameras to get to your target and complete the objective without ever setting foot into the danger zone. As seen in this Dishonored interactive trailer, the game had multiple approaches you could take to get to your target, like pretty much most stealth/assassin/thief type games. This way, the players add to the story rather than react to it, and everything plays out organically. The challenges might be too hard or too easy, but that’s just because of how the players see it.
Just make sure that you give options suited to all playing styles. Sure, in a modern day game, guards may try to find ways to deal with sneaky types and it is possible to build a pretty well impregnable fortress, but is it easy for the people there to use? If its a public area or residence, security will normally be less obtrusive to day to day routines. Locked doors, cameras, desk guards. Places of business may add alarms and badges, patrolling guards and such. Only real secure compounds will have so much security that it becomes a hassle to get through.
Fantasy is the same way. So a cave of smugglers may have a few tripwires and patrolling guards, while a thieves guild may have hidden passages, and a town would have walls and guards and most likely inner protection around the ruler. There is enough to stop most problems, but if someone wants to try and stealth through it, don’t make it too hard unless the area calls for it. Same as fighting through, don’t have Desk Sergeant Jones be a black belt in karate Marine on his day off, unless it is in the events of the plot and the players missed it.
So, just picture your procedurally generated worlds for people to adventure on with everything being all connected, with challenges they’ll have to come back to to get full value of. It doesn’t all have to be an individual connected dungeon type area like Metroid, as you can see with the old NES game Faxanadu’s map. Various cities interspersed throughout the World Tree for you to go to as you adventure in this area.