Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Reflections - Dark Souls and the Old School tabletop rpgs

Light and Darkness, Life and Death
- Dark Souls and the Old School -

I've been pondering the idea of adapting the Dark Souls game to tabletop rpg; specifically, an old school system tabletop rpg. Why? Because I believe that both the Old School rpgs and Dark souls have a lot in common. 

Allow me to ellaborate while talking about Dark Souls. That is an electronic rpg where the player controls an Undead, a person cursed with never being able to truly die. Every time its body is destroyed, the Undead go back to life, and with each death a part of its soul and humanity are lost until eventually it becomes a Hollow - basically, a zombie. Dark Souls have been gaining a considerable amount of fame for its great and detailled setting, its complex storytelling, its amazing combat system and its obscenely high difficulty.

Talking first about the setting, I'd like to point out that the aesthetics of the game are one of a kind - not necessarily for its technological achievement, which, by itself, is indeed great, but by the design choices. Each ambiance, piece of clothing, rock, blade of grass seem to be chose deliberately - the details with the creation behind the game's design, revealed by the design team, is impressive, all focusing on a concept of 'noble decadence' headed by its director, Miyazaki.

The story in Dark Souls is told in a different way than most games. While normally the story is spoonfed to the players with blatant plot expositions, in Dark Souls it is very minimalistic, told mostly through the items descriptions the player may find during the game. Because of that, many believed, for a while, that Dark Souls had no story, because the main NPCs tell very little about it. To understand truly (or at least try to understand) what happens in Dark Souls, a player must collect many different items and cross-reference them, trying to find themes similar between them all. It's a very open endend story, where the player must build, block by block, from their own creativity.

Combat in Dark Souls is, to me, one of the greatest fighting mechanics to greet the electronic gaming market in the last years. It does not try to emulate over the top anime and superhero action. Very 'realistic', very 'down to earth', combat in Dark Souls has more plausible moves from the character. And, even if you get really strong and powerful, you still have to take care of yourself. Even the weakest enemies can kill a player that is unaware. And every single enemy has its own advantages, disadvantages and tatctics to be dealt with. If you do not know them and either overestimate your skills, or underestimate your opponent, you will die.

- Dark Souls Mimic -
Death. That is one of the main topics to experience Dark Souls. In truth, the game is made so that death may teach the players the limits of their characters. Many times it even seems that the game is being sadistic, with traps created specially to kill the characters and enfuriate the players - like the Mimic, a monster that seems just like a treasure chest and that can devour a character with one motion of its gigantic mouth. That is made with purpose. Those traps exist to make the player always prepared, knowing that the world is aware of him and ready to kill him. Death makes the world of Dark Souls real and rises the level of dedication and investment from the players.

To me, all of those aspects create a direct connection between Dark Souls and the Old School tabletop rpgs. In the Old School, settings would usually focus in various minimal details, like clothing, sizes for corridors and texture of rocks - and such details were casually applied to the old school storytelling experience too. Combat in Old School used to have the players really be at their feet, for many of the creatures would kill them easily with instant-death attacks (the infamous 'save or die' aspect of Old School), requiring that the players knew when to fight and when to run. Many modern rpgs have very pondered and balanced encounters with monsters, having no room for the unpredictability of sudden death to strike down upon a character's flesh.

 Incredible vistas and effemeral existances
- The aesthetics of 'Noble Decadence' -

But that is the great unifying point between Dark Souls and Old School - the verossimilitude that exists in the fictional world and the players attention through the death of their characters. It is the character's mortality that seems to breath life into the story. In Old School, the rules of the game were final, in the same way that, in Dark Souls, when a monster stomp you to death, you just accept it. The unbending rules of the game gave a distinct outline and breadth to the stories created by them, in the same way as the immense difficulty inside the Dark Souls game gives that strange feeling of 'reality', where the players really feel like achieving something when they finally defeat a big boss or finish the game.

And that is why I think Dark Souls and Old School tabletop rpg are similar with one another. Next time, I will start discussing how to adapt Dark Souls to a tabletop rpg format.

Until then

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