Clothing in Computer RPG Games

I have fallen off the wagon, and I’m fully addicted to Morrowind once again. Every 5 or 6 months I reinstall this game, mod it up to the point where it looks presentable (I’m currently using a complete re-texturing mod, better bodies, world of faces and few other mods) and play it for weeks on end until I’m totally sick of it. This game doesn’t really get old, because there are so many small quests and missions and so many paths your character can take – many of which are mutually exclusive. I actually never played Oblivion, but I hear that despite great graphics and many improvements to game play (ie. horseback riding) it is actually not as good as Morrowind. Feel free to disagree – I have no opinion here because I haven’t played it and it wont run on my ancient PC.

But I digress. I wanted to talk about clothing and armor in computer RPG games and Morrowind is one of the few games where it actually does matter what you are wearing. The effects of clothing are small but noticeable. For example if you join the legion, your you have to put on your official imperial armor to talk to your superiors, or get access to restricted areas. Some missions require you to disguise yourself as a member of an opposite faction, and etc.. It is a great but I always felt that this aspect of game play was underused. There are so many different types of clothing to choose from – commoner clothing, expensive shirts, extravagant robes, rings, amulets and etc. I always thought that this nifty clothing system could be effectively employed boost or lower your character’s status in the eyes of NPC’s as needed.

So for example if you’d walk around the town decked out in full armor with a double handed blade strapped to your back, people would treat you as a common thug or a mercenary – with a mix of fear and distrust and respect. You probably wouldn’t be able to enter the high-end gentleman club in the better part of town, and the town guards would probably stop you and ask you questions about whether or not you are registered with the fighters guild, and why you are running around town dressed as if you were getting ready for war.

Conversely if you’d wear fancy, expensive clothes people would assume you were probably some sort of a noble or at least a wealthy merchant and treat you as such. Would be able to do business with that very important person who told you to get lost you barged into his mansion in full suit of armor brandishing a blade in each hand. The inn-keeper would suck up to you and willingly offer juicy gossip hoping to sell you more of his expensive vine. The peasants on the other hand talk to you very formally and with great deal of respect, knowing full well offending a VIP can have dire consequences.

And of course if you wanted to talk freely with the commoners (for example as part of a mission of some sort) you would need to dress like one of them. They wouldn’t reveal details about their personal lives to a wealthy noble or official, or a scary warrior. But they could talk to a new neighbor or a poor traveler that stopped in their town.

And of course, if you were trying to infiltrate an enemy camp (or for that matter any military camp) you ought to be allowed to do this the Hitman style – kill a guard, take his armor with a full helmet and try to blend in. At least until they ask you for your papers, or the secret codeword or something. :)

In other words the NPC’s should treat you differently based on what you are wearing. Even if you are a well known and respected hero or an expected guest. If you enter a sleepy little village in the dead of night wearing nothing but loincloth, a chain mail and a bloodied axe glowing with scary magical runes strapped to your back you shouldn’t expect a warm welcome. You should rather expect torches, pitchforks and a lot of questions as to why are you sneaking around the town at night dressed like Conan the Barbarian.

I can’t think of a single RPG game that does something like that and it’s a pity. Still, Morrowind does more than most in this department and this is yet another reason why I keep revisiting it. It’s not perfect, but it does get a lot of things right – enough to earn a title of one of my favorite video games of all time. And of course, there might be a mod that adds effects similar to what I listed above to the game already – I just haven’t found it yet. :P

Of course my ultimate pet peeve is when a game allows you – a common mercenary, a thief or a rouge – to have a private audience with a important faction leader, a king, or an emperor of some sort without forcing you to put away all the deadly weapons you are carrying. Most games will simply prevent you from using them on the monarch but this doesn’t change the fact you are going there carrying your body weight in gear, half of which is magical, poisoned or both. It’s silly.

Back in the day when I frequently played real (pen and paper) RPG’s something like that would never happen. When we were about to meet even a respected official or leader of some sort we were usually asked to leave out weapons and armor at the gate or in specially prepared storage. We would get it all back on our way out, but we were almost never allowed to bring deadly weapons anywhere near the VIP on an official visit. Those wealthy enough to have a mage on the staff would additionally scan us for suspicious or threatening amulets before we were allowed to see them in person.

This is really not something uncommon. In many cultures unsheathing a weapon in the presence of a monarch was a punishable offense if not treason. Wearing personal arms in the presence of a king was an honor reserved only for the royal family, the most trusted friends, advisors and allies. And no sane ruler, or even lesser noble would allow a stranger to wear a side arm during a private one-on-one audience. Hell, even in Lord of the Rings we have that memorable scene where members of the Fellowship must relinquish their weapons in order to see king Theoden.

But in most games it is exactly the opposite – adventurers barge into throne chambers unopposed, weapons in hand, and then talk to the monarch while leaning on their axe, or restringing their bow. Silly and unrealistic but it happens all the time.

[tags]rpg, crpg, computer role playing games, morrowind, oblivion, elder scrolls[/tags]

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10 Responses to Clothing in Computer RPG Games

  1. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    That would make for interesting playing, but if it was handled badly could become very annoying. I think it would work best in the RPGs where you have some permanent place of residence (to store all your outfits), not so much if you’re playing the adventuring traveller.

    I suppose you could just have a “change clothes” menu, like a second inventory – if you can carry half a dozen different weapons without showing a bulge below your clothing then toting around a full wardrobe isn’t that much of a leap. But for any attempt at realism it would need to all be stored somewhere sensible.

    Alternatively it could become annoying in the sense of “stupid game won’t let me in to see the stupid king without the stupid fancypants of +3 finery, which are only found at the end of a long and stupid side mission that I can’t be bothered with”. At which point I’d probably decide to just kill all the guards and force my way in to an audience with the resident VIP.

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  2. Alphast NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    Fair enough, I am not going to complain for another post on my absolute favourite game of all times. This said, I always believed that wearing fine quality cloths or armour did help you with social interactions in Morrowind. Try to talk to a local with commoner cloth and try again with high quality ones and you will notice the extra remarks in the dialogue: “I haven’t seen someone dressed like that in a long time”… And so on.

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  3. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    @Matt` – you are right. I was thinking more among the lines of Morrowind where you can essentially take over any house in town and make it your temporary base or build your own mansion later in the game.

    Some games just run you through different locations as part of a quest without any permanent place to store your loot. But these type of games usually let you have a infinitely large backpack.

    @Alphast – you are right, it does matter in little ways. I think there are extra remarks in there for when you are wearing a really damaged armor, when you are wounded or when you are sick. This is one of the reasons why it is the best game ever.

    But I believe that the fine clothing doesn’t actually improve NPC disposition towards you or offer you any bonuses to speachcraft and mercentile skills.

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  4. Caroline PHILIPPINES Mozilla Firefox Mac OS says:

    Interesting idea. I agree with Matt, though, that having wardrobe requirements might become annoying. Wouldn’t that also open the avenue for cross dressing avatars? Wouldn’t it be more interesting (and annoying) to find clothing in the game that is not suitable for your race or gender? Like some armors can be so big that if you have a smaller framed avatar, it would be impossible for him to wear it without altering at an armor smith or some other NPC. I’ve personally never played Morrowind, but I’m currently playing Oblivion. I guess it’s one of those games that give you so much freedom that it never grows old.

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  5. Alphast NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    Without going that far, I think a game which requires you to keep your weapons sheeted when you are facing major VIP’s (or risk being attacked by its guards) would not be that annoying and add a little bit of realism. In such spaces it would ask you to be super sneaky to keep your weapons at hand (undetected) or to either live them at the entrance in a container (Morrowind/Oblivion style) or keep them in a bag.

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  6. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    @Caroline – Morrowind actually partially does that. For example beast races can’t wear any shoes. Armors however seem to be universal.

    But you are right. It seems that most games give you loot drops that are tailored specifically for your character. I always found it funny when a goblin would drop a piece of Armor that was the right size for my Tauren warrior to wear. :P

    @Alphast – btw, did you play Stalker? In that game if you walked up to an NPC with your gun drawn they would freak out, and aim their weapon back at you telling you to drop it. :) I always thought it was a really nice touch.

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  7. Alphast NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Never played Stalker, is that really good (I mean apart from the realism of the gun attitude)?

    At the moment, I am playing a bit Dungeon Lords. It is relaxing but very linear and totally unrealistic (my character is now carrying the equivalent of a small truck in weapons, arrows are simply unlimited in amount, goblin armors fit big humans and most doors in towns are just textures).

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  8. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    Stalker is a straight shooter with some RPG elements. Not a bad game but quite buggy. Enemies will often see and shoot you through walls, and if you leave an area and then backtrack you can often trigger the same scripted event.

    I never actually finished it. I was playing it around Christmas, then I got that blinking dash thing happen and never reinstalled it. I still have my save games somewhere but I didn’t really feel like getting back into it lately.

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  10. agamer ROMANIA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    There is something like that in “hard to be a god”.
    You need to change clothes all the time, in order to talk with people or stop people from attacking you.

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