The trend in gaming for the last thirty years has been towards computer games. I can certainly understand that. I started out with Space Wars and Asteroids years ago, then the Adventure and Zork dungeons, the Laura Bow mysteries, Indiana Jones, Kingsquest, Railroad Tycoon, Star Control (still available as Urquan Masters), Age of Empires and most recently Grand Theft Auto and the Fallout lines. The ones I love most are the rpgs with a good story and some action. Team Fortress 2 leaves me pretty cold — it is just a shooter. But even the best online rpgs is not really role-playing for me. The graphics and sounds can be marvelous, the excitement real, but the number of paths is always limited, the appearance of the foes and heroes set and the interplay between players and NPCs limited.
A table-top game, on the other hand, can take any direction. The players can completely jump the traces and create something the gamemaster (GM) never dream of. That’s both scary and exciting for the GM; it makes the game a truly social and creative event. The interplay between people is organic, real, and energizing. A table-top game is a party, in a very real sense. There’s room for witty (or drunken) repartee, off-color jokes, real fear when the dice turn sour, and room for praise when someone does unexpectedly succeeds where everyone thought he would fail. Let me give you an example. One of our players started a new character this past week, named Lothar. Apparently he hadn’t seen the Saturday Night Live skits. I’m sure he still walks fast, but his name immediately became a running joke with a round of “of the hill people” every time any one mentioned his name. Good times!
Another thing I love about table-top gaming is that a flexible GM can turn on a dime, if the players change direction on him. Pull out the Chessex Battlemat, and make a new map. Generate a new NPC on the computer. And it’s off to the races! Another group uses a projected map, which looked like fun, as long as one has enough map templates.
I’m not the only one who feels this way, although our numbers are certainly less. Deltamonk gets it. I think I’m more invested in table-tops now that I have a family. I want to roleplay as a family, but doing it online just gets in the way. I ran an online game for a while, and it was nice being able to play with family members who were on the other side of the continent, but ultimately I still preferred the social atmosphere of the old-time table-top.