The concept of a GM is the root of everything that is wrong with RPG games.

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  • @stefoid I think the simplest differences between board games and RPGs in terms of "pick up and play" accessibility are win conditions and time windows.

    I agree that the package of stuff you mentioned is also a factor, but I don't think it's the primary factor.
  • @stefoid I think the simplest differences between board games and RPGs in terms of "pick up and play" accessibility are win conditions and time windows.

    I agree that the package of stuff you mentioned is also a factor, but I don't think it's the primary factor.
    time window for sure. There are 'legacy' boardgames but they are few and far between. Most boardgames cater to the casual gaming experience where 3 hours is considered a long game, and then youre done.

    win conditions, not so much. boardgames have always had win conditions but they havent always been as popular and accessible as they are now, except for that niche of 'supermarket' games such as monopoly where accessibility was always the top priority.
  • edited July 2018
    The main difference is that boardgames have evolved to become more accessible and just generally better designed to give at least an OK experience at a minimum. Why cant RPGs do the same - because of their intrinsic nature?
    I do create roleplaying games like that, and experienced roleplaying gamers are amazed when I tell them that it takes 1,5 hours to learn, to create characters and an adventure, and play through it.

    I added win condition (more like "end condition") to my games. I added time constraints. I added a procedural loop that continuously occurs through play. Funny thing though, This is Pulp have a game master, but it's more a asymmetric player role with no real authority other than being the person that explains the rules.

    The Murder of Mr. Crow
    Imagine
    This is Pulp
  • Heres a 20,000 ft view. (bear with me, longish point to make)

    Roleplaying is a tiny niche hobby like the way boardgames used to be. But now boardgames are a large niche hobby, if that makes sense. In my homecity of melbourne, I can go to a handful of venues on any given night where large numbers of strangers gather to boardgame on a casual basis - the one I choose is a japanese restaurant that fills its 80 seat capacity twice a week, every week, on tuesdays and thursdays.

    The main difference, IMO, is that boardgames evolved to become much more accessible and just generally a better baseline experience for people. You can sit at a table of strangers and expect to be taught a new game in 20 minutes, and expect it to be a reasonable amount of fun, possibly a great deal of fun, for the next 1 - 3 hours. Its rare that a game brought to the table sucks. Most noob walk-ins leave at the end of the night with a smile and a 'see you next week'.

    Now honestly contrast that with RPGs. The internet and then kickstarter helped boardgames a lot, but roleplaying has been exposed to those as well.

    The main difference is that boardgames have evolved to become more accessible and just generally better designed to give at least an OK experience at a minimum. Why cant RPGs do the same - because of their intrinsic nature?

    Certainly the intrinsic nature of the single GM system that the gateway D&D uses seems to preclude it.

    The single GM system relies on that person to an amazing degree, they are the single most important factor in the experience for the other players by a huge margin. I would suggest that the 'experience chart' for trad 1GM games looks like this.

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ePIeNQOgmvU8Am9QneQFXBTpPbTh0gz7/view

    where red is RPG and blue is BG, and the areas under the curve are not drawn to scale (blue would be way off the chart in terms of quantity compared to red)

    OK, so I have nothing but anecdotal evidence to back that up.

    So I get that there are people out there that regualrly live in that top quartile of player experience on the red line, and they point out that what happens in that area of the chart relies on a single GM to pull off, BUT - from the 20000 ft view, its aways going to be a small area because of that.





    I would say a few things to this. First, I don't your chart on player satisfaction is accurate. I've seen too many players who enjoy a typical RPG session to agree with that breakdown. Not saying my experience is the norm either, just I think people tend to project their own experience onto that, and their own preferences. Second, I think this idea that if RPGs were only more accessible and made like European Boardgames (which have a philosophy of keeping the game entertaining at every point as much as possible and a highly developed idea of design) they would become much more popular is misguided. People have been trying to make RPGs accessible for a very long time. And people have tried to make RPGs function more like board games. I don't think that works for growing the hobby. All it does is lose the interest of the bulk of players who like way RPGs operate and/or create a new niche for the kinds of games you are talking about designing (or you just end up developing a new useful tool that regular RPGs can absorb). You can also shorten the length of an RPG to play more like a boardgames, but then you lose the organic appeal so many people come to traditional RPGs for in the first place. Third, not everyone appreciates recent developments in board game design. I used to play lots of board games in the 80s and 90s. But as a lot of board game design evolved, I found myself less and less interested (particularly when games did things like keep players actively engaged and gave them a shot at winning from start to finish). I liked older style strategy games, with large boards and pieces that were less abstract. The newer games just don't engage me the same way the older ones did (not all of course, I realize there are lots of board games out there and I've played new Board Games that I like). The bottom line for me is when I play an RPG I am not really looking for a pick-up style play, where the whole thing is wrapped up in 1-3 hours. And I am not looking for built in safeties to make sure the players have fun and the GM doesn't do things the designers don't want. Much of the draw, for both players and GMs in my view, is the freedom to use the game in our own way. I think the danger of boring moments or strands leading no where, is what makes the game so great. It makes it much more meaningful when you have those big moments. It also takes a lot of the pressure off. I think the chart you made also reveals something about expectations. My experience, and I encounter this on traditional RPG forums as well, is some people walk around with an over idealized sense of a good RPG experience. They want the perfect GM, they want an amazing story, thrilling combats, etc. But if you set your expectations a little more realistically and relax, remembering this is just a game, it becomes a lot more enjoyable. I.E. if you are constantly critiquing the experience of play, you will constantly find problems.
  • edited July 2018
    I think the things Brendan just described all go well together. Freedom, a risk of aimlessness, a relaxed attitude, large time blocks, and an experience that isn't tailored for pick-up play -- this is a coherent RPG culture that doesn't need any "fixes".

    That said, I do not think it is mainstream-accessible at all.

    I think it'd be cool if games like Rickard's, which I imagine might be more mainstream-accessible, also caught on, albeit probably with a different audience.

    There's a game product called Shindig Machine which I've played at a bunch of board game nights. The fun lies in making up stories and optionally occasionally speaking in the voice of an imaginary character. It is extremely accessible. It takes about 15 minutes to play each mini-game in the booklet, and then if you like you can play a different mini-game. It's improv theater sitting at a table, basically.

    My experience with a crowd of people who are there to play board games, is that most of them are happy to make stuff up and/or "have a character" (in some fashion) for 15-30 minutes, but only a few of them want more than those 15-30 minutes. I think sometimes it's hard for those of us who love RPGs to realize that for a lot of people out there, making stuff up is draining (even if you're just making up the actions of an imaginary avatar). For this reason I don't ever expect RPGs to become as popular as board games, and I don't think that's a sign of anything wrong with any particular RPGs.

    I do think D&D makes a pretty lousy poster child on the accessibility front, though, with the daunting complexity of most editions.
  • edited July 2018


    That said, I do not think it is mainstream-accessible at all.

    I think it'd be cool if games like Rickard's, which I imagine might be more mainstream-accessible, also caught on, albeit probably with a different audience.

    There's a game product called Shindig Machine which I've played at a bunch of board game nights. The fun lies in making up stories and optionally occasionally speaking in the voice of an imaginary character. It is extremely accessible. It takes about 15 minutes to play each mini-game in the booklet, and then if you like you can play a different mini-game. It's improv theater sitting at a table, basically.

    My experience with a crowd of people who are there to play board games, is that most of them are happy to make stuff up and/or "have a character" (in some fashion) for 15-30 minutes, but only a few of them want more than those 15-30 minutes. I think sometimes it's hard for those of us who love RPGs to realize that for a lot of people out there, making stuff up is draining (even if you're just making up the actions of an imaginary avatar). For this reason I don't ever expect RPGs to become as popular as board games, and I don't think that's a sign of anything wrong with any particular RPGs.
    .
    What I am saying isn't really at odds with this. I think you can make, and people do make, more accessible, faster paced games that are geared for a more mainstream audience. But those exist, as you point out. Yet they haven't really changed the landscape much. And it feels like the more mainstream you want the game to be, the less like a roleplaying game it has to be.

    Keep in mind there have been booms in the past with games like this. And I do think there are untapped audiences. I know for instance that my aunt had a ton of bookshelf mystery boardgames from the 70s that basically meant to emulate being Sherlock Holmes and other mysteries. They veered heavily into RP territory. And my aunt and her friends were the furthest thing from gamers (she just really liked mystery novels).

    Also, we are presently in the middle of probably the largest boom for RPGs (I don't know if it is bigger than the one we had in the early 80s, and I wouldn't know how to determine that, but culturally if feels like D&D is gaining a lot of attention and reaching a much wider audience). So for all its lack of accessibility people like to point to, clearly there is something about this game that registers with folks from time to time. And it is possible that the lack of accessibility, the sense that it is not a normal or typical game, is the very thing that attracts people to it when that happens.

    EDIT: Just want to add, there was a huge trend of accessible beer and pretzel RPGs from the mid-90s or so to the early 2000s. I used to play those kinds of games as a supplement to regular RPGs. Basically they made a great pick-up game when your whole crew couldn't make it and you wanted something that felt like an RPG but didn't take a huge investment of prep. But those only really seemed to catch on with people who played RPGs anyways.
  • Brendan, agreed, sounds like we're basically on the same page.

    I remember How to Host a Murder Mystery in department stores, and also an old "beer & pretzels" game or two.

    I think D&D has made huge recent inroads in terms of acceptance and presence in American culture, basically thanks to a small handful of pretty famous entertainers and a much larger handful of less famous entertainers. Destigmatizing D&D and mentioning it in pop culture has got to expand the potential player pool. Shows like Critical Role have already made D&D more popular than I would have guessed, but I have no idea how many of the hobby's new fans are actually playing. I was surprised when I mentioned RPGs at a frisbee game recently how two players liked listening to actual play series on YouTube but didn't have much interest in trying it themselves.

  • I remember How to Host a Murder Mystery in department stores, and also an old "beer & pretzels" game or two.

    .
    This game came out before How to Host a Murder Mystery. The presentation was less sleek and came with a map of the mystery location (think it was a major or small English village). I wish I remembered the name.
  • Unfortunately, I feel like the RPG industry is basically trapped.

    Stuff "only catches on with people who played RPGs anyways" because the only RPG people outside of that space EVER hear about is D&D. Which is not particularly accessible, to be honest. Oftentimes it doesn't feel like any innovation anyone makes will ever reach the "outside" unless it's adopted by D&D.
  • Unfortunately, I feel like the RPG industry is basically trapped.

    Stuff "only catches on with people who played RPGs anyways" because the only RPG people outside of that space EVER hear about is D&D. Which is not particularly accessible, to be honest. Oftentimes it doesn't feel like any innovation anyone makes will ever reach the "outside" unless it's adopted by D&D.
    Plenty of products attract popular attention without relying on D&D to gain notice. If mainstream people are not taking an interest it may mean the market for what you are seeking to do is simply smaller than you thought (I think you are elevating D&D to a bogey man that you can blame). Sometimes you just have to accept you are writing for a niche audience. Attacking mainstream tastes isn’t going to help a niche product break through. If anything, you should be using the name recognition of D&D as a starting point to connect with people (I.e. gave you heard of D&D? Well this is like that game but does X instead).
  • edited July 2018
    Trying to get a bit back to the OP idea, you can say that if an RPG needs a GM in control and having full responsability, that's actually a point against new players that want to get into the hobby. That appeals to players that look for an activity a bit more complex as it's an skill that requires more time to be learned. Of course, the rewards are more than worthy, but basically there's no intuitive way to become a good GM, it's mostly try and error.

    Most RPG rule books explain it badly so most often you have to learn by looking someone else do it, or try to figure things out from APs. Once you do things may become clearer, but you will surely inherit most of the mistakes and assumptions of the people you learned from.

    Simplifying and limiting the game to turn it into a "beer & pretzels" game of course won't do the trick, as that mutilates the whole experience. Look closely: on boardgames, and specially in "beer & pretzels" ones the conversation doesn't take place on a shared fictional space. It revolves around the game subject but it's not at all like an actual RPG. The Reference Data is also limited to the game components as you can't usually bring anything from the outside without disrupting the game process.

    Tools from boardgames may still be used, but if the whole process doesn't include a conversation revolving about a shared fiction then it's more a boardgame than an RPG, which may still be cool but won't help the hobby at all.

    I'd say that if you really need to make the hobby more popular you could try working on the general efficiency of the design, like lessen the learning curve and getting players to achieve flow faster. And this has nothing to do with making the game less complex, it's more about making it quick to understand and getting rid of all the useless extra steps to get something fun happening at the table.

    Critical Role would be great at explaining the game if it didn't set false expectations about how it plays at the table. Their videos are edited and the things that happen at the table are somewhat scripted, players collaborate to add drama, but still I find it boring to watch. Still, I'm glad it's getting attention and changing the face of the hobby. It's an effort that needs to be taken, as no revolutionary new RPG will be able to change the stigma over the hobby from one day to the other. Not changing things at all will just reinforce the stigma anyway, so I'd say all experiments are welcome.

    Yet it's not like we're disrespecting tradition nor throwing away anything. OSR rules.
  • have you heard of D&D? Well this is like that game but does X instead
    Yeah! On a person-to-person level, I agree. @Airk I have actually used this to pitch RPGs to new people. If they seem like more of the casual boardgamer sort, I might say something like, "This is kind of like Dungeons and Dragons, but there are no complex rules, it's mostly just creating an adventure story. There might or might not be fights depending on what you choose to do." And then get on to the real thing that hooks most people, which is flavor: "Steampunk Firefly" or "Medieval X-Files" or whatever.

    As for the marketing & advertising level, I don't really know. I suspect that RPGs which are vastly unlike D&D might do better to call themselves something other than "roleplaying games".
  • Trying to get a bit back to the OP idea, you can say that if an RPG needs a GM in control and having full responsability, that's actually a point against new players that want to get into the hobby. That appeals to players that look for an activity a bit more complex as it's an skill that requires more time to be learned. Of course, the rewards are more than worthy, but basically there's no intuitive way to become a good GM, it's mostly try and error.
    I'm not sure whether this has to be the case.

    If the RPG needs an entertaining GM, well, there might be entertainers who pick up the game.

    If the RPG needs a system-expert GM, well, there might be chess experts or complex board game masters who pick up the game.

    If the RPG needs a fair adjudicator GM, well, there might be coaches or mediators or referees who pick up the game.

    For my part, I would just like each RPG to be as clear as possible on what it takes to GM it well. I think there's room for improvement on that front. :tongue:
  • And (on a different agenda here) what if it actually took less to be a GM, as responsabilities get distributed among the players?. What if there were less things that need to be to prepared in order to play and most prep just added to the experience? Why can't we use questions to inspire and help players focus instead of straight demanding creative outbursts from them in order to get quality material?

    I mean, of course I'm talking of a different creative agenda here, but game procedures can be set to save time and effort to the players, to require less investment from them and still offer the same game experience that you get with a GM specialized in either entertainment, tactical expertise, adjudication, etc. Couple that with a explanation more focused on procedures than in actual rules, make that explanation visual, dynamic, either a comic or video. Even better video, as this media captures best all the small nuances involved with ritual phrases and other ways to convey information like the differences in tone and timing, gestures, etc.

    Actually, why do we keep using books mostly to explain RPGs?

    Anyway, that's just too much derrailing, but thanks David, this gave me another idea :D
  • edited July 2018
    I feel like a game procedures to make players not have to be as invested are contradictory to the goal of roleplaying together.
    Player investment is a good thing. Players having to put in work is a good thing, because all hobbies take work to do them properly. RPGs are like every other hobby in that way.

    Personally, if every designer quit explaining RPGs through books, I would never play a new RPG ever again, because I can't learn from video or whatever, and learn exceedingly well from books.
  • And (on a different agenda here) what if it actually took less to be a GM, as responsabilities get distributed among the players?. What if there were less things that need to be to prepared in order to play and most prep just added to the experience? Why can't we use questions to inspire and help players focus instead of straight demanding creative outbursts from them in order to get quality material?
    Constraints do seem to be an essential part of the creative process.
  • I think, "player investment" is a good word... probably a term that rather lends itself to consensus than "player empowerment". I´m thinking about some design strategies from indie games, that could be helpful even for a D&D Dungeonmaster to keep a less motivated group at it.

  • edited July 2018

    Plenty of products attract popular attention without relying on D&D to gain notice.
    Cite please. That's not a joke. The last game I can think of that attracted "popular attention without relying on D&D" launched in 1991.
    If anything, you should be using the name recognition of D&D as a starting point to connect with people (I.e. gave you heard of D&D? Well this is like that game but does X instead).
    This is so obvious I feel talked down to. But:

    A. I'm not writing any of these games, so the "You should be doing X..." isn't very helpful. And I'm certainly not blaming D&D for any of my failures, whatever those might be, because I advocate for my favorite games as much as I can. I'm just saying that somehow, hundreds and hundreds of people have created games that meet a lot of the criteria set out in this thread, and exactly zero of them are known outside of RPG circles. So the possibilities are that either every single one of those designers failed in some way, that we're actually just wrong and no one really wants "easier to learn" RPGs (in your words "The market is smaller than you think"), or that D&D's name recognition is, in fact, an obstacle.
    B. Sure, it's great to say "This is kinda like D&D only without all the work." I've done it many times. But as David correctly says, that's on a person-to-person level. And my personal impact is, to my chagrin, pretty limited. Indeed, if you are relying on the people who already know about your game to sell it, I feel you've pretty much already lost.

    That aside, I agree with WarriorMonk in principle about reducing the effort involved in being a GM and "making a game happen", except that, again, those games already exist. This has been a core tenet of a lot of indie games since like, The Forge. But "no one outside of RPG circles has heard of them." So they languish in the niche of the niche because they don't have a way to reach their audience. (Because statistically, most people in "RPG circles" are fine with D&D and the way the GM works.)
  • edited July 2018
    I feel like a game procedures to make players not have to be as invested are contradictory to the goal of roleplaying together.
    Player investment is a good thing. Players having to put in work is a good thing, because all hobbies take work to do them properly. RPGs are like every other hobby in that way.

    Personally, if every designer quit explaining RPGs through books, I would never play a new RPG ever again, because I can't learn from video or whatever, and learn exceedingly well from books.
    Ugh, sorry, I made a wrong choice of words. I meant it as in investment of time, as in "RPGs shouldn't take so much time to master", not as in "players shouldn't invest in the game". I'm all about plares investing in the game, but opposed to wasting time to understand it and get into the experience.

    And yes @Stefoid, I was thinking on how questions and other things can be used as contraints to help focus and inspire the players :)

    @chiarina , exactly! As an example, it meant a whole new experience for me when I finally understood the PbtA core where the GM doesn't roll dice, but makes a move when players roll a miss. You can couple that with an initiative mechanic based on adjuticating it first to either those who answer first the GM's question or those whose fiction demands to answer first and then move to the more passive players.

    The effect is fast-paced, full of action combat where surprisingly nobody really steals the spotlight and everyone gets their chance. You can even allow players to attack or roll dice more than once as they are risking a GM move by that. On top of that combat and other challenges narration fits seamlessly with the rest of the game conversation.

    Before PbtA I couldn't imagine a way to get rid of all the time spent between turns, doing nothing. Or that instead of saying to the player "you miss" and going to the next one on a failed roll I could narrate how cool/lucky the NPCs were despite all the heroes tricks. I mean, I thought that I had to wait for my turn and hope to roll a 20 to get to describe how fearsome were the enemies. Now I do that even with trad games and I've never just say "you miss" to any player ever again.

    @Airk the games exist but... I dunno, I feel like part of the tools are there, but it's still not enough. Like, It took a few years, hacks and reviews for me to finally get PbtA, though I never got the fx stuff nor the clocks. World of Dungeons was the hack that finally got me into it and even then I never got into running or playing it as it was. Archipielago had this amazing idea of ritualphrases and more, but it wasn't a setting or genre or agenda I was interested into. Microscope was amazing too but I was already writing comics in freeform with my group. My group prefers trad games, so I often ended up hacking these tools into trad games with a bit more familiar mechanics.

    That made click for us. Intuitive, familiar stuff. But I admit that it's just my personal preferences.

    Now, I'd say that because games like this already had their chance and no revolution seems to had taken place it doesn't mean that they hadn't done anything. I mean, aren't we asking too much from them? D&D has been around for ages and it's not like it has become more popular than soccer. If any change is gonna take place, no matter how revolutionary is the game used to start it, this change is going to be like, geologically slow. We got too much competition as a media and as a mean of entertainment. The core values and rewards of this hobby are still solid gold against most of the competition, but they are hard to get and explain.

  • Plenty of products attract popular attention without relying on D&D to gain notice.
    Cite please. That's not a joke. The last game I can think of that attracted "popular attention without relying on D&D" launched in 1991.

    If anything, you should be using the name recognition of D&D as a starting point to connect with people (I.e. gave you heard of D&D? Well this is like that game but does X instead).
    This is so obvious I feel talked down to. But:

    A. I'm not writing any of these games, so the "You should be doing X..." isn't very helpful. And I'm certainly not blaming D&D for any of my failures, whatever those might be, because I advocate for my favorite games as much as I can. I'm just saying that somehow, hundreds and hundreds of people have created games that meet a lot of the criteria set out in this thread, and exactly zero of them are known outside of RPG circles. So the possibilities are that either every single one of those designers failed in some way, that we're actually just wrong and no one really wants "easier to learn" RPGs (in your words "The market is smaller than you think"), or that D&D's name recognition is, in fact, an obstacle.
    B. Sure, it's great to say "This is kinda like D&D only without all the work." I've done it many times. But as David correctly says, that's on a person-to-person level. And my personal impact is, to my chagrin, pretty limited. Indeed, if you are relying on the people who already know about your game to sell it, I feel you've pretty much already lost.

    That aside, I agree with WarriorMonk in principle about reducing the effort involved in being a GM and "making a game happen", except that, again, those games already exist. This has been a core tenet of a lot of indie games since like, The Forge. But "no one outside of RPG circles has heard of them." So they languish in the niche of the niche because they don't have a way to reach their audience. (Because statistically, most people in "RPG circles" are fine with D&D and the way the GM works.)

    I guess what I am saying is the reason you feel they are languishing, may not be because people haven’t heard of them. But if that is the only thing stopping them from smashing into the mainstream, people can put effort in to spread the word beyond RPG circles. I just think blaming D&D for the failure of other games to attract a larger audience makes little sense

  • Plenty of products attract popular attention without relying on D&D to gain notice.
    Cite please. That's not a joke. The last game I can think of that attracted "popular attention without relying on D&D" launched in 1991.

    Ls.)
    I was half kidding. I said ‘products’ not ‘games’. My point was if there really is a market for something, then it should be possible to reach an audience without attaching it to a widely known brand.

  • I was half kidding. I said ‘products’ not ‘games’. My point was if there really is a market for something, then it should be possible to reach an audience without attaching it to a widely known brand.
    "Should be" seems like a weird thing to say. If it's possible, why hasn't anyone done it? Are there even any similar market situations where one thing is SO emblematic of the entire category?

    Oh well, derail off, sorry.
  • There are 'story board games' out there that have gained traction because of the fact that they are labelled as story board games. Currently 'Dead of Winter' is a hit. Not sure how many sales, but Im betting it would blow 99% of rpg games out of the water and its only 1 board game amongst a deluge that comes out every year with a similar theme. So it has climbed to prominence in the board game world precisely because of its 'story telling chops' not in spite of them.

    And its pretty rubbish, both as a board game and a story game, IMO.

    So board game buyers are up for it, even if just for the novelty factor.
    designers will explore the space in search of something that isnt yet another area control game with minis or euro-styled exercise in bean-counting.

  • I was half kidding. I said ‘products’ not ‘games’. My point was if there really is a market for something, then it should be possible to reach an audience without attaching it to a widely known brand.
    "Should be" seems like a weird thing to say. If it's possible, why hasn't anyone done it? Are there even any similar market situations where one thing is SO emblematic of the entire category?

    Oh well, derail off, sorry.
    That is my point. If it hasn't been done, then it is possible this just a niche within a niche. Things could change or maybe there is a huge chunk of the mainstream who would be interested but just haven't heard of them yet. But I find the latter a highly questionable assumption at this stage. Again things can always change as the culture changes. And there may always be people that just haven't been reached because of messaging and marketing (but again, not seeing D&D as the hindrance if that is the case).

    I am puzzled why D&D is seen as the thing that would both have the potential to catapult these ideas to success and be holding these ideas back. This is the part of the argument that confuses me. More than that though, I think it is one of the things that contributes to the division among gamers.

    If people continue to use D&D as a proxy here, seeing it as the thing your given play style and design philosophy needs to take control of in order to have your ideas gain wider acceptance, you'll continue to see resentment between the groups of gamers who abide by different approaches to play. Certainly you can see how "we need to get our ideas into D&D to gain acceptance" fits right into some of the concerns people have there are flame wars between say story gamers and traditional gamers. My view with D&D is it should have whatever mechanics and concepts it needs to remain the largest RPG in the hobby. Remember, they lost a lot of the hobby to Paizo when 4E came out and Paizo continued to essentially publish 3rd edition. They had to bring a lot of gamers together in order to make 5E have broad enough appeal. D&D is never going to be hyper focused because it is meant to be played by all kinds of gamers. That is why old school people can look at it and see something familiar, 3E and 4E people can look and see something they recognize and why the indie and story game crowd can also see elements they know as well. They didn't make it 100% old school, or 100% narrative, because they couldn't. They are not making a single serve game to taste. They are making something more like a meal for the whole family. Any product that has that as an aim (which D&D almost by definition has to) is going to cast a much wider net and not be as appealing to someone with very specific tastes.

  • I was half kidding. I said ‘products’ not ‘games’. My point was if there really is a market for something, then it should be possible to reach an audience without attaching it to a widely known brand.
    Are there even any similar market situations where one thing is SO emblematic of the entire category?

    .
    There are brands synonymous with types of products the same way D&D is synonymous with role playing game: Band-Aid, Q-tip, google (I will ‘google’ that), etc.
  • To respond to the core topic here:

    I think the root of everything that is wrong with rpgs is mismatched expectations between players. The GM role can either patch that problem or make it worse. When players expect one type of play (genre-homage, collaborative drama creation, strategic puzzle) and get another, it is jarring. The GM can use their disproportionate influence over the flow of play to keep things coherent or they can use all kinds of bad behaviors to make players feel that their input and choices don't really matter.

    Dissonant expectations can happen in games with or without GMs. Some great games solve this in their structure, some great groups solve this among themselves. I'd say the most reliable fix for this kind of dissonance is well-written rules with clearly delineated authority over the details of play. Many styles of play work best when a chunk of (narrative or mechanical) authority is located in a GM role, others work better without it.
  • Attaching your product to a core brand is a double-edge sword. If you handle it correctly you can steal insatisfied clients from that brand. But you also inherit part of the stigma linked to that brand.

    Can't say what's the stigma wherever you are, but here I could say that people who don't get into tabletop RPGs say as their usual excuses:

    -It looks complicated And it will always do. I mean, if you watch soccer starting from the middle of a game you realize you have to kick the ball into the other team's goal and after a while, if you're lucky, you get immersed into the emotions this struggle projects and get the idea. If you watch a tabletop rpg session without knowing what's about you will notice that someone is speaking more than the others and seems to be playing god. Then they roll the dice (and why does it need such strange dice?) and shout, laugh or a mix of those and more. Seems to be a story but there's lots of minutia in the middle, like battles, managing their equipment, miniatures, rules that come from nowhere but they all seem to know...

    Somebody had to explain it all to me before it made any sense, but when it did my head exploded with possibilities. And even then I didn't know how it worked, or that the GM wasn't god, or that railroading, illusionism and quantum ogres were bad. Heck, I didn't even knew the actual game rules. Can't really blame anyone who says that this is a complicate game, even when now we know it's no rocket science.

    -It takes how long? If you get into a game and notice just creating the character takes an hour (oh yeah, you can use pregens or get help to reduce it to minutes, but for trad games that's definitely not enough to understand and assimilate all the things your character can and can't do) and that everyone has to create their characters too, and next that the adventure can take forever... well it may feel for some people that they are being asked to compromise a lot of their time in the future.

    That's something that usually scares those who try a first session but don't get enough fun to dare try another, which is often the case when all the first session is spent creating the characters and not having the actual fun. Oh, and by then you may probably learn that you can't kill a dragon in level one, which is the next point.

    -Betrayed Expectations @moconnor has the point here, a friend played a ranger on her first session and chose dragon as their favored enemy. When we told her she couldn't do that in first level and realized it was gonna take a while even if the dragon appeared... well, she didn't showed up for the next session. Perhaps it was more one of the above than this one, or a combination of all of these. Disparity of the reference materials used by the different players also makes problems here.

    -It's played by weird people At least this stigma is changing today, but it's still a bit of a hard one to tackle. The profile of a RPG player points usually to people looking for escapism. That doesn't make us weird of course, but people with social problems look for escapism too and being popular subjects to paint in any media, they get represented along with their favoured escapism methods, often to ridiculize them further. People outside the hobby relate those people with RPGs and made up the stigma. And there's the ritual aspect/appearance of the game that adds further negative points for people like Jack Chick. So it's not really our fault, it's a really unfair stigma from people who don't understand it, which is clearly seen now that more communication is changing it.


    Can't think of other stigma right now, except for the ones that come when you had a bad experience with a game or group, but on those cases you often blame the game or the group and not the hobby, so may try again but will be wary of bad signals.


    The GM can be either perceived as a complicate role, be the source of the betrayed expectations or be the weirdest one at the table, but removing the role doesn't fix any of those stigmas. It's a bit about explaining the game more clearly, about getting rid of as much dead game time as we can, but even more importantly, about communicating with the people, about making the hobby more open. Be more proud of it. Perhaps as in "Hi, I'm Pol Rivas, roleplayer". No, wait, that sounds a bit weird...

  • edited July 2018
    Attaching your product to a core brand is a double-edge sword. If you handle it correctly you can steal insatisfied clients from that brand. But you also inherit part of the stigma linked to that brand.

    Can't say what's the stigma wherever you are, but here I could say that people who don't get into tabletop RPGs say as their usual excuses:

    -It looks complicated And it will always do. I mean, if you watch soccer starting from the middle of a game you realize you have to kick the ball into the other team's goal and after a while, if you're lucky, you get immersed into the emotions this struggle projects and get the idea. If you watch a tabletop rpg session without knowing what's about you will notice that someone is speaking more than the others and seems to be playing god. Then they roll the dice (and why does it need such strange dice?) and shout, laugh or a mix of those and more. Seems to be a story but there's lots of minutia in the middle, like battles, managing their equipment, miniatures, rules that come from nowhere but they all seem to know...

    Somebody had to explain it all to me before it made any sense, but when it did my head exploded with possibilities. And even then I didn't know how it worked, or that the GM wasn't god, or that railroading, illusionism and quantum ogres were bad. Heck, I didn't even knew the actual game rules. Can't really blame anyone who says that this is a complicate game, even when now we know it's no rocket science.

    -It takes how long? If you get into a game and notice just creating the character takes an hour (oh yeah, you can use pregens or get help to reduce it to minutes, but for trad games that's definitely not enough to understand and assimilate all the things your character can and can't do) and that everyone has to create their characters too, and next that the adventure can take forever... well it may feel for some people that they are being asked to compromise a lot of their time in the future.

    That's something that usually scares those who try a first session but don't get enough fun to dare try another, which is often the case when all the first session is spent creating the characters and not having the actual fun. Oh, and by then you may probably learn that you can't kill a dragon in level one, which is the next point.

    -Betrayed Expectations @moconnor has the point here, a friend played a ranger on her first session and chose dragon as their favored enemy. When we told her she couldn't do that in first level and realized it was gonna take a while even if the dragon appeared... well, she didn't showed up for the next session. Perhaps it was more one of the above than this one, or a combination of all of these. Disparity of the reference materials used by the different players also makes problems here.

    -It's played by weird people At least this stigma is changing today, but it's still a bit of a hard one to tackle. The profile of a RPG player points usually to people looking for escapism. That doesn't make us weird of course, but people with social problems look for escapism too and being popular subjects to paint in any media, they get represented along with their favoured escapism methods, often to ridiculize them further. People outside the hobby relate those people with RPGs and made up the stigma. And there's the ritual aspect/appearance of the game that adds further negative points for people like Jack Chick. So it's not really our fault, it's a really unfair stigma from people who don't understand it, which is clearly seen now that more communication is changing it.


    Can't think of other stigma right now, except for the ones that come when you had a bad experience with a game or group, but on those cases you often blame the game or the group and not the hobby, so may try again but will be wary of bad signals.


    The GM can be either perceived as a complicate role, be the source of the betrayed expectations or be the weirdest one at the table, but removing the role doesn't fix any of those stigmas. It's a bit about explaining the game more clearly, about getting rid of as much dead game time as we can, but even more importantly, about communicating with the people, about making the hobby more open. Be more proud of it. Perhaps as in "Hi, I'm Pol Rivas, roleplayer". No, wait, that sounds a bit weird...

    If this was 1980, I'd think you have more of a point. But there are endless varieties of RPGs now. People have pointed out countless RPGs exist that address the complaints raised. So if what you are saying is true, all of these problems are easily overcome and you should be recruiting more players. Yet D&D continues to be the game people gravitate to. All I am saying is this: consider the possibility that the things you are filing under complexity, or betrayed expectations, may actually be part of the mystique and draw of D&D. When people come to D&D or RPGs who haven't played them, they often do so consciously aware that this is a 'nerdy' activity. And neediness is associated with things like complexity.

    And if people are coming to the table to play, and D&D is too complicated for them, this isn't the pre-internet age. Making people aware of alternatives to D&D that area easier, more story focused, or otherwise something you regard as having more mainstream appeal, that is a very easy message to get out. I think the reality is fewer people may be interested in this than you realize (trust me I've been there, I tried recruiting tons of non-gamers and presenting people with simpler more intuitive systems, and I found the appetite for the experience that is roleplaying, is smaller than I'd like it to be). That can change. Attitudes and interests can change.

    Don't get me wrong. I think if you want to make different kinds of RPGs that might have more mainstream appeal, that is great. I think it is laudable to do so. But I think it is incredibly self defeating, and also something that turns off mainstream recruits, if you start blaming people in the hobby, blaming D&D, or blaming potential recruits for not being interested. At a certain point, you should be open to the possibility that the kinds of games you are talking about (the ones you think have huge mainstream potential) are actually more of a niche than traditional RPGs---or a similar niche. There is nothing wrong with that. But if that is the reality and you are railing against all these things, you are only doing harm.
  • edited July 2018
    There are 'story board games' out there that have gained traction because of the fact that they are labelled as story board games. Currently 'Dead of Winter' is a hit. Not sure how many sales, but Im betting it would blow 99% of rpg games out of the water and its only 1 board game amongst a deluge that comes out every year with a similar theme. So it has climbed to prominence in the board game world precisely because of its 'story telling chops' not in spite of them.

    And its pretty rubbish, both as a board game and a story game, IMO.

    So board game buyers are up for it, even if just for the novelty factor.
    designers will explore the space in search of something that isnt yet another area control game with minis or euro-styled exercise in bean-counting.
    Lots of board games put a little story atop their game. Heck, it wouldn't shock me if the majority of board games sold based on flavor rather than rules, and moving from (a) story-evoking flavor to (b) actual bits of story isn't a huge jump IMO.

    Dead of Winter was pitched to me more on situation and game premise than as some sort of story creation engine. I thought there was some excellent story fodder in there, but the process for bringing it out and making it matter was pretty weak. So, if it is a hit, it would be quite baffling to me if it's a hit because of its story-making chops.

    I think Tales of the Arabian Nights is a better example. The pursuit of victory is both simple and highly random, and the bulk of play consists of navigating to the next vignette to read out to the group. I enjoyed the game, but it scratched roughly 5% of the urge that leads me to RPGs. House-ruling in some player contributions to the vignette-reading might get me closer, though.
  • edited July 2018
    It's the "pass or fail", that precludes to needing a referee, that's what's wrong, or just different, you know.

    Some people like to relinquish control, and/or the sense of obligation that comes along with it.

    If you get rid of the pass/fail cycle, you lessen the need to have some sort of singular, arbitrary authority. But, maybe we're wired to only see polarity? I think polarity is... I hate to use the word problem, but man, it's a thing.
  • edited July 2018
    Attaching your product to a core brand is a double-edge sword. If you handle it correctly you can steal insatisfied clients from that brand. But you also inherit part of the stigma linked to that brand.

    Can't say what's the stigma wherever you are, but here I could say that people who don't get into tabletop RPGs say as their usual excuses:

    -It looks complicated And it will always do. I mean, if you watch soccer starting from the middle of a game you realize you have to kick the ball into the other team's goal and after a while, if you're lucky, you get immersed into the emotions this struggle projects and get the idea. If you watch a tabletop rpg session without knowing what's about you will notice that someone is speaking more than the others and seems to be playing god. Then they roll the dice (and why does it need such strange dice?) and shout, laugh or a mix of those and more. Seems to be a story but there's lots of minutia in the middle, like battles, managing their equipment, miniatures, rules that come from nowhere but they all seem to know...

    Somebody had to explain it all to me before it made any sense, but when it did my head exploded with possibilities. And even then I didn't know how it worked, or that the GM wasn't god, or that railroading, illusionism and quantum ogres were bad. Heck, I didn't even knew the actual game rules. Can't really blame anyone who says that this is a complicate game, even when now we know it's no rocket science.

    -It takes how long? If you get into a game and notice just creating the character takes an hour (oh yeah, you can use pregens or get help to reduce it to minutes, but for trad games that's definitely not enough to understand and assimilate all the things your character can and can't do) and that everyone has to create their characters too, and next that the adventure can take forever... well it may feel for some people that they are being asked to compromise a lot of their time in the future.

    That's something that usually scares those who try a first session but don't get enough fun to dare try another, which is often the case when all the first session is spent creating the characters and not having the actual fun. Oh, and by then you may probably learn that you can't kill a dragon in level one, which is the next point.

    -Betrayed Expectations @moconnor has the point here, a friend played a ranger on her first session and chose dragon as their favored enemy. When we told her she couldn't do that in first level and realized it was gonna take a while even if the dragon appeared... well, she didn't showed up for the next session. Perhaps it was more one of the above than this one, or a combination of all of these. Disparity of the reference materials used by the different players also makes problems here.

    -It's played by weird people At least this stigma is changing today, but it's still a bit of a hard one to tackle. The profile of a RPG player points usually to people looking for escapism. That doesn't make us weird of course, but people with social problems look for escapism too and being popular subjects to paint in any media, they get represented along with their favoured escapism methods, often to ridiculize them further. People outside the hobby relate those people with RPGs and made up the stigma. And there's the ritual aspect/appearance of the game that adds further negative points for people like Jack Chick. So it's not really our fault, it's a really unfair stigma from people who don't understand it, which is clearly seen now that more communication is changing it.


    Can't think of other stigma right now, except for the ones that come when you had a bad experience with a game or group, but on those cases you often blame the game or the group and not the hobby, so may try again but will be wary of bad signals.


    The GM can be either perceived as a complicate role, be the source of the betrayed expectations or be the weirdest one at the table, but removing the role doesn't fix any of those stigmas. It's a bit about explaining the game more clearly, about getting rid of as much dead game time as we can, but even more importantly, about communicating with the people, about making the hobby more open. Be more proud of it. Perhaps as in "Hi, I'm Pol Rivas, roleplayer". No, wait, that sounds a bit weird...

    Spot on.

    The videogame industry seems a good example of what you say here. Back in the 80s/90s you had a lot really complex games and specially RPGs. The more popular and mainstream the industry got though, the more simple games started to make the norm while complex or baroque or too slow genres fell by the way side. These days classic (and complex) electronic RPGs like Ultimas or Baldurs Gates are rare BUT it's central ideas live on in genres that mixed it with more immediate traits, like action games or immersive shooters (see how Zelda and Dark Souls - predominately action games - inherited a lot of RPG traits).

    So in a way, the videogame industry had to address it's share of issues (mostly related to accessibility and quality of time, not too different from the points you make above) in order to become mainstream.

    The question then is: can we do the same with our hobby while keeping it's essential identifiable traits?
  • I still really think you are being shortsighted here Brendan; It's not that people are "blaming D&D" in some specific sense, but that people are realizing how hard it is to get past that 900lb gorilla far enough for people to even weigh in on whether a game is better or not.

    Remember: Consumers can't have an opinion on your product unless they know about it. And if they think they already do, they're not going to look into it.

    To reiterate: You say "All these ideas have been tried and none of them have done as well as D&D, so D&D must be some sort of magical experience that cannot be improved upon." I say "None of these ideas have actually been tried, because for them to be tried, people would have needed a degree of exposure that they cannot get in the current marketplace."

    Is this changing? Maybe. But your points about Pathfinder seem to miss the point there.,
  • Heh, well Brendan, that's why I wrote

    Can't say what's the stigma wherever you are, but here I could say that people who don't get into tabletop RPGs say as their usual excuses...
    By "Here" I meant my country, Peru, where neither D&D nor any other game has ever had major distribution nor exposure. There are players yes, but nobody has edited D&D nor any other tabletop RPG in my country. Boardgame design is in it's infancy here. So I suppose you could call it the 80's here in that sense. We're no model of what should be done nor have too much experience with an RPG industry, but it's like we're a special study case here.

    I mean, we don't have all the negative stigma per se, and the recent positive publicity is barely catching on. Tabletop entertainment is slowly becoming a thing here with many small clubs appearing here and there. Most of them have groups playing D&D and other games. It's a blank slate.

    However the stigmas are still there, though they are more like the first negative reaction from the audience once they are exposed to it than a prejudice whenever they heard about tabletop RPGs. Whenever they heard of them their reaction is 99% of the time a "whaaaat?" and the rest come later, once they are faced with a somewhat complicated explanation that still doesn't click in their minds, until they dare to play the game.

    So I can't help but wonder, what could happen if the first tabletop RPG the audience gets exposed to is an indie game, with distributed responsabilities, fast-paced action, more accesibility, well explained, etc.? If I had the money I would print and distribute it for free at schools and universities, then wait to see what happens. I'm ready to accept if 99% of that ends up in the garbage, but it may work. Maybe they will get interested in trying more complex games, made their own, who knows?

    I've been around enough time (late Forge days) to realize that all games are different for a good reason, that you can't design "the best game ever that everyone would love and make them ditch all the others". I just like my games being efficient at particular tasks and I realize that you can't get there without sacrificing parts of the experience. But that's ok, there are other games that fill the spot I'm not filling. Still haven't found a game that scratches the itch I have, though many have gotten pretty close.

    I like D&D as it is. Without a DM it wouldn't be D&D at all. No one is changing that... well maybe WotC on their next edition but then it would be another, different game and another edition war. We could try my plan with D&D but why can't we try a different thing instead?
  • edited July 2018
    I still really think you are being shortsighted here Brendan; It's not that people are "blaming D&D" in some specific sense, but that people are realizing how hard it is to get past that 900lb gorilla far enough for people to even weigh in on whether a game is better or not.

    Remember: Consumers can't have an opinion on your product unless they know about it. And if they think they already do, they're not going to look into it.

    To reiterate: You say "All these ideas have been tried and none of them have done as well as D&D, so D&D must be some sort of magical experience that cannot be improved upon." I say "None of these ideas have actually been tried, because for them to be tried, people would have needed a degree of exposure that they cannot get in the current marketplace."

    Is this changing? Maybe. But your points about Pathfinder seem to miss the point there.,
    I think I am just being realistic. We may just have to disagree on some of this. I believe lots of people have been exposed to the kinds of games you are pushing for, and that there probably isn't much more of an audience out there for them. I think it is a niche within a niche.

    But what do you want specifically? What is it you would like to see happen and what do you think the result will be (and why)?
    To reiterate: You say "All these ideas have been tried and none of them have done as well as D&D, so D&D must be some sort of magical experience that cannot be improved upon." I say "None of these ideas have actually been tried, because for them to be tried, people would have needed a degree of exposure that they cannot get in the current marketplace."
    This isn't what I am saying. I am saying because D&D is the biggest game, and needs to retain the largest customer base possible, it is unlikely you are going to see massive shifts toward one style or another. You are only going to see as much OSR, Story Game, Optimization, that will draw in enough people from those quadrants of the hobby without pushing away people from other quadrants. What I am saying is D&D has an existing customer base. That base has certain expectations and is also made up of a wide variety of player types. If they put all their eggs in the Indie Game basket, as you are suggesting, they risk losing a substantial core of their audience. Is it possible they could bring in more non-gamers with the design philosophy you are advocating? Maybe. I don't think so personally. I think the desire for that kind of RPG isn't as large as you believe. And I think the risk for WOTC is just too big (particularly when you have the example of 4E trying to do something like that, and immediately splitting the customer base in half).

    And to respond to the second point here: I do think these ideas have been tried. People have already mentioned countless examples on this thread of such games. Most RPG players have heard of them at this point. Many have played them. If there truly is an untapped market for them, and they are not connecting to the games because they simply haven't heard of them, well that is the fault of the people who make the games and haven't found a way tell them. If it is so new, and so great, and so innovative and brilliant, it should be easy. But ask yourself, is there really a large untapped segment of the population who wants to sit down and play this kind of game OR is it maybe just the kind of game that appeals to a narrow audience of like-minded nerdy-folk?

    I just don't get the whole "It should be bigger than D&D but for D&D" argument. It doesn't make sense to me.
  • edited July 2018


    So board game buyers are up for it, even if just for the novelty factor.
    designers will explore the space in search of something that isnt yet another area control game with minis or euro-styled exercise in bean-counting.

    Lots of board games put a little story atop their game. Heck, it wouldn't shock me if the majority of board games sold based on flavor rather than rules, and moving from (a) story-evoking flavor to (b) actual bits of story isn't a huge jump IMO.

    Dead of Winter was pitched to me more on situation and game premise than as some sort of story creation engine. I thought there was some excellent story fodder in there, but the process for bringing it out and making it matter was pretty weak. So, if it is a hit, it would be quite baffling to me if it's a hit because of its story-making chops.

    I think Tales of the Arabian Nights is a better example. The pursuit of victory is both simple and highly random, and the bulk of play consists of navigating to the next vignette to read out to the group. I enjoyed the game, but it scratched roughly 5% of the urge that leads me to RPGs. House-ruling in some player contributions to the vignette-reading might get me closer, though.
    yep, the bar is incredibly low.
  • I think I am just being realistic. We may just have to disagree on some of this. I believe lots of people have been exposed to the kinds of games you are pushing for, and that there probably isn't much more of an audience out there for them. I think it is a niche within a niche.

    But what do you want specifically? What is it you would like to see happen and what do you think the result will be (and why)?

    /.../

    This isn't what I am saying. I am saying because D&D is the biggest game, and needs to retain the largest customer base possible, it is unlikely you are going to see massive shifts toward one style or another.
    That's why we need a new audience, and not trying to appeal to the ones that already are playing roleplaying games. As you said, shifts aren't bound to happen.
  • I think I am just being realistic. We may just have to disagree on some of this. I believe lots of people have been exposed to the kinds of games you are pushing for, and that there probably isn't much more of an audience out there for them. I think it is a niche within a niche.

    But what do you want specifically? What is it you would like to see happen and what do you think the result will be (and why)?

    /.../

    This isn't what I am saying. I am saying because D&D is the biggest game, and needs to retain the largest customer base possible, it is unlikely you are going to see massive shifts toward one style or another.
    That's why we need a new audience, and not trying to appeal to the ones that already are playing roleplaying games. As you said, shifts aren't bound to happen.
    Seeking a new audience makes sense to me. My only quibble with that idea, and it is really more an opinion than a quibble, is I believe there probably isn't a very large new audience to be found at the present moment. I think the part I don't understand is the fixation with D&D being the key to attaining a new audience. I am not saying you were making this argument. But if Airk's idea is, we need D&D to adopt our approach, because D&D has the name recognition, so that our approach can be introduced to a mainstream audience (even if that means existing D&D players and GMs are effectively given an edition they don't want and won't play)...it should be no surprise to people if there is conflict in the gaming community because it is being treated as a zero sum game. Now I am not saying this is the argument the poster was necessarily making (the reason I asked for specifics was because I thought this seemed to be the argument but I wasn't sure).
  • edited August 2018
    I'm just catching up on this discussion, and I find it to be a very interesting one. I largely agree with both sides, and don't see their positions as mutually exclusive.

    I also used to think that lighter, more focused design would easily sway people from older, more traditional design. I still don't know if this is true, because it has had exactly that effect for many gamers (and non-gamers) I know, but there also many people for whom its features are not appealing (and, I suspect, the reasons differ for each particular gamer).

    I DO think that traditional roleplaying appeals to the people who like it on the basis of its particulars, and a GM who oversees the "reality" you interact with is a big part of that; simply designing more procedural or democratic games doesn't improve on that experience so much as it changes it.

    At the same time, though, it's true that the design of "traditional" RPGs (I somewhat exclude old-school adventure gaming from this category) leans heavily on very specific and uncodified GM skills, and I have no doubt that this leads to some bad gaming and some bad experiences, and creates a high barrier to entry. In this sense, yes, "the concept of a GM is at the root of everything that is wrong with RPGs". Absolutely.

    Density of rules, limited genre material (many/most people just aren't interested in dungeons and wizards), and an overly complex entry point (e.g. I'm an experienced gamer with a long attention span, and I struggled to make a D&D5 character from the book - and that's seen as the simplest version of the game by many people!) limit the accessibility of D&D further.

    However, putting much/most of the required skills and knowledge in the hands of a single organizer (the GM) also dramatically lowers the barrier for entry for many people. All you need is one serious, committed person to organize and run games, and other people can join in with little knowledge and little commitment. This is powerful!

    I know lots of gamers who enjoy something like D&D (although I suspect they would prefer a more rules-light version, based on their lack of interest in specific rules and, often, an inability to use or remember them), but find a democratic story game to be too "difficult" in terms of demanding focus and skill.

    The role of the GM allows one skilled and experienced person to help create a positive gaming experience for a whole group of people, as a leader, guide, and facilitator. (We've all seen groups where the GM is the only one who actually owns books and knows the rules, for instance!) A GMless game requires less from any one person but, in exchange, demands a fair bit of skill and commitment from each participant, so gathering a group which can have fun gaming together can be more of a challenge (i.e. since each participant is now more of a potential failure point for having fun at all).

    I also agree that the "joy of roleplaying" is very opaque to a lot of people, and it's entirely possible that the appeal of such gaming is simply lost on most people. However, the recent popularity of livestreamed D&D questions this somewhat. Perhaps RPG gaming is more accessible or widely appreciated, at least in theory, than we have been assuming? It's hard to say just yet, I think (and I'm also shocked at the people who now consume those shows passively but have no interest in actually playing!).

    This is purely anecdotal, but in my experience D&D does dominate the field of RPGs to the extent where most gamers (and even more so for potential gamers) are not aware of or haven't tried less traditional alternatives.

    As a simple example, I recently played with a D&D group. They invited me to join their campaign, and then I "guest ran" a few sessions of Apocalypse World for them. These were people who had played RPGs for several decades (including LARPs and other forms), and yet they had never heard of Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, Fiasco, or any other "major" indie titles.

    Several design features of the game I ran for them floored them completely, like character playbooks, a smooth and fast pace of play, and dramatic focus. (Afterwards, they said, "That felt like a TV show! Wow!")

    However, they also immediately went back to playing D&D - they have a long-running campaign to continue, after all, and so much time and money invested in their particular characters, expectations for long-term play, and all the materials they've spent time and money on (books, miniatures, rules mastery, and so forth).

    I also know many, many gamers who run and play D&D not because it's their favourite game (many of them are quite vocal that it's not, in fact), but because it allows them to connect with a gaming community, find groups to play with, attract players, and share something familiar with others.

    So, I think that there are a lot of different things at work here.

    We've seen a number of game designs in recent times which reduce the social footprint for gaming and make it more accessible. I still don't have a game which I can reliably go to which produces traditional-RPG like fun, but there are a few out there which I think get certain elements of that right. Fall of Magic and Fiasco (both too loose/freeform, and therefore subject to social dynamics), In a Wicked Age... (needs a redesign in terms of mechanical procedures and better GM guidance), Red Box Hack/Old School Hack (has genre limitations and some GM-skill issues), and some of Vincent's prompt-based games, like The King is Dead all get very close. Perhaps Danger Patrol is another good candidate? I haven't played that one.

    I look forward to the next generation of such games!

    I use my own game, Musette a lot with gamers and non-gamers alike, and it's tremendously successful in this respect. However, it's a GMless storytelling game. It does not really create anything like a traditional RPG experience at all. It's also my experience that non-gamers, while taking to the game quickly, require a few playthroughs to really understand what's possible with the game, and don't intuitively grasp that right away. (Most people initially approach playing as a low-attention-span, goofy party game, and only later understand that the game can be more enjoyable if you actually try to make good stories with it.) This makes me wonder how many people have "tried" various roleplaying or story games and just didn't quite "get it" before they quit.

  • Maybe the D&D group doesn't want their gaming to feel like a tv show. That's a cool novelty and all, but they really want it to feel like a wargame and a Bildungsroman experience.
  • It's really hard to say. I got to chat with them about it a bit, but not enough to real dig in and get a clear sense of their preferences.

    On one hand, I know that they love their D&D game very much, and are very excited about this campaign. On the other hand, the players complain about the complexity of the rules and the frustratingly slow pace of play.

    The GM also complains about the slow pace and about the "lack of roleplaying", unhappy that the players don't seem to take their characters seriously, as real people. He wants play to he "an immersive experience", but most table time consists of rules disputes and battle grid combat.

    My sense is that the creative buy-in to the campaign, characters, rules, copious rulebooks and play aids, as well a short buy-in to the brand itself outweigh creative interests for them; at least at some level.

    My impression was that they started backing out of the Apocalypse World game precisely because they started enjoying it so much. The more fun they had, the more they seemed concerned about it: my best guess is that they realized this was a thing they enjoyed, but were afraid that it would start to compete with the existing D&D campaign, which they had committed so much to and didn't want to abandon or slow down (remember, they all already felt it was moving along way too slowly for their tastes).

    Anyway, it's hard to say as an outsider.

    The only relevant point of that anecdote here (from my pen, anyway) is that these were hardcore long-time gamers who were clearly entirely unfamiliar with PbtA gaming, focused character play, tightly framed drama, and "modern" game design (at least to some extent). This tells me that both the "indie" games themselves and the culture surrounding them hasn't penetrated the D&D culture too deeply. I wouldn't assume that the contemporary gamer is familiar with these things - quite the contrary.

    For non-gamers, in my experience, it's even less so; they've heard of D&D and nothing else. To most non-gamers I know, D&D is something they've heard of, but not necessarily "roleplaying", "tabletop gaming", "story gaming", or any other, broader concepts. When I tell them that D&D is just the most popular of a whole group of related games, it's usually met with total surprise.
  • Tangential anecdote, and I don't know if this has changed since fifteen or twenty years ago when i was still a neophyte roleplayer, but I feel like back then I kept getting presented with the factoid that "most gamers only play one game." Your D&Ders, your GURPSers, your Shadowrunners, your Vampirers, etc... Playing two games, let alone a dozen, with any regularity made you an outlier.

    It's easy to sit around and talk about things like indie vs trad (and I'm not saying they're not significant categories), but I imagine that for what is still a significant subset of gamers, all games that aren't "their game" are pretty much equally foreign entities.
  • edited August 2018
    On one hand, I know that they love their D&D game very much, and are very excited about this campaign. On the other hand, the players complain about the complexity of the rules and the frustratingly slow pace of play.

    The GM also complains about the slow pace and about the "lack of roleplaying", unhappy that the players don't seem to take their characters seriously, as real people. He wants play to he "an immersive experience", but most table time consists of rules disputes and battle grid combat.
    Ive run D&D for my kids and their friends (who loudly give an unfiltered opinion of what they like and dont like), played it myself and played D&D online and neverwinter etc.. and its clear that the core of the experience is squad-based tactical combat, heavy progression mechanics, overlaid with the high fantasy heroic theme.

    So the main job for the GM is this situation is largely to usher the group from combat to combat and automate the combat rules on the monsters side. This is a boring and largely thankless task - not something someone signs up for enthusiastically. People who GM want to create worlds and plots and stories - players want to get XP and loot to progress their characters. Its a recipe for disappointment. Computers can do the job of a D&D GM very well. Games like neverwinter and WoW have more players than D&D ever has and ever will, I think.

    Personally, I bought Gloomhaven because it does exactly what my kids required of D&D without me having to GM it, and the deck-building character progression and combat system works very well. I still get to play with them, as a player, and its no prep.

  • It's really hard to say. I got to chat with them about it a bit, but not enough to real dig in and get a clear sense of their preferences.

    On one hand, I know that they love their D&D game very much, and are very excited about this campaign. On the other hand, the players complain about the complexity of the rules and the frustratingly slow pace of play.

    The GM also complains about the slow pace and about the "lack of roleplaying", unhappy that the players don't seem to take their characters seriously, as real people. He wants play to he "an immersive experience", but most table time consists of rules disputes and battle grid combat.

    My sense is that the creative buy-in to the campaign, characters, rules, copious rulebooks and play aids, as well a short buy-in to the brand itself outweigh creative interests for them; at least at some level.
    Suppose someone is living in a big house, and griping about how much cleaning there is to do.

    Maybe they would be happier in a smaller house, or even a flat - less cleaning, cheaper, and so on, and they just have never thought about it. But maybe they enjoy what they have, but the cleaning is the least enjoyable part for them. Their hobbies might require a lot of space, or maybe the status of owning a large house is important to them.

    This might be cultural, but there seems to often be a socially expected thing to grip about for many activities. "Not enough roleplaying" seems to be, at least in some parts of roleplaying, the expected thing to gripe about when it comes to one's gaming group as a GM. I remember there being two pretty popular webcomics about this back when blogging was a new and exciting thing (based on Lord of the rings and Star wars).

    For any given group, it might be a real issue, a minor point where improvement by slight adjustments would be welcome, or just a thing to gripe about with no consequence.
  • That's an interesting view, Thanuir.

    I'd agree in principle, but I don't think that was the case here. At least from the GM's side, there was a lot of frustration and constant attempts to "enforce" the desired dynamic through different fixes, incentives, and penalties. (E.g. "Ok, we're still not getting what we want, so this week I'm instituting a 100 XP penalty for anyone who addresses an NPC out of character.")

    What's interesting, though, is that this plays into the question of this thread.

    The reason these gripes I described weren't getting fixed weren't just consequences of the rules and procedures being used (e.g. the slow pace being exacerbated by complex rules, unnecessary battle grid combat, and an inability to "skip ahead", ever), but had a great deal to do with the GM-player dynamic.

    In other words, the players had no interest in fixing the problems which were annoying the GM - "More role playing? We're already bored at crawling along here and just trying to keep the rules straight in our heads!" - and the GM, similarly, had no interest or incentive to address the players' gripes.

    I remember there being two pretty popular webcomics about this back when blogging was a new and exciting thing (based on Lord of the rings and Star wars).
    Those were fantastic; both a form of satire about who traditional campaigns can go off the rails - one was describing immature or silly players "ruining" the GM's plot, and the other about an overbearing railroading GM. Two extremes of a familiar spectrum. (Which only appears in traditional-style gaming, in my experience.)

    None of this is to say that their gaming would be BETTER with a modern game or GMless play (though none of these particular problems came up in the Apocalypse World game which I ran!), but it would certainly be very, very different.
  • edited August 2018
    For those who haven't seen the webcomics, they were great:

    "DM of the Rings"

    And

    "Darths and Droids"
  • Tangential anecdote, and I don't know if this has changed since fifteen or twenty years ago when i was still a neophyte roleplayer, but I feel like back then I kept getting presented with the factoid that "most gamers only play one game." Your D&Ders, your GURPSers, your Shadowrunners, your Vampirers, etc... Playing two games, let alone a dozen, with any regularity made you an outlier.

    It's easy to sit around and talk about things like indie vs trad (and I'm not saying they're not significant categories), but I imagine that for what is still a significant subset of gamers, all games that aren't "their game" are pretty much equally foreign entities.
    This is in line with my experience 100%; I don't see any basis for the idea that any sort of meaningful segment of the gaming population has been exposed to most of the ideas that have taken root in the indie game space. Most people are doing what people do: Playing what they are familiar with. With most groups, it's a huge battle to get any sort of buy in on actually PLAYING a different game than whatever they are used to. They might not even think the game they are used to is especially great, but it's what they are used to, and they 'like' what they are used to. This is further complicated by D&D setting the expectation that learning a new game involves hundreds of pages of rules.

    I just can't reconcile this behavior (which, frankly, seems like normal human nature to me. Most people are super wary of new food too) with the idea that a substantial proportion of existing roleplayers have been exposed to the ideas coming out of the indie space.

    Also, yes, we need a new audience. Because the audience we have is being "gatekept" by D&D. If you go into roleplaying expecting something that isn't a huge pile of numbers and a tactical battle game with a strong emphasis on power progression, you're probably going to be deeply disappointed, because the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of you starting with D&D, and rather in favor of you starting with D&D and a group of people who don't know anything else, so you have your first experience, decide the hobby isn't for you, and leave.

    How do you get around this? I don't know. If I did, I'd be a fabulously successful (hah) RPG marketer. But not knowing how to fix a problem doesn't mean it's not a problem.
  • (I've updated my post, above, with links to the webcomics. They're very clever and entertaining - and, in a way which satire often manages, actually do show some typical "trad play" dynamics, albeit in exaggerated form. The way Jar Jar Binks is explained, for instance, is brilliant and instantly relatable.)
  • edited August 2018
    Brainstorming ? There's food for many threads in here... but I don't want to break it down until it's over. Is it ?
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