Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The RPG Ecology

Lately, I've found myself spending a lot of time re-reading several of FGU's games, particularly Chivalry and Sorcery and Space Opera. Now, as I've regularly noted, FGU's games have a deserved reputation for being unclear, poorly edited, and unnecessarily complex. When I was a kid, I never seriously considered playing most of FGU's catalog (with a couple of notable exceptions), but I knew people who did and, unless they were lying to me, they had a lot of fun doing so. With hindsight, what's clear to me now is that almost everyone I knew who played and enjoyed FGU's games (and games like them) was older than I and often had a much longer association with the hobby.

That may seem like an insignificant detail, but I don't think it is. I've come to realize that, back in my youth, there was an RPG "ecology." Nearly everyone I ever met who played RPGs started with D&D, whether it was the White Box or Holmes or Moldvay or even AD&D. There were a couple of older weirdos I knew who started with Tunnels & Trolls and one guy who started with Traveller, but, by and large, some form of Dungeons & Dragons was the entry point for the overwhelming majority of roleplayers. Then, as now, many gamers got tired of playing D&D, either because they simply wanted a change or because they'd grown to dislike the game in some fashion. Finding D&D wanting in some way is probably the hobby's oldest tradition, after all. And when this happened, where did these gamers go?

That's where "second tier" RPGs like RuneQuest and Chivalry and Sorcery and RoleMaster came into the picture. These were the games to which disaffected D&D players turned when they could no longer stomach the infelicities of Gygax and Arneson's creation. All of these games "fixed" D&D in various ways, in the process becoming more complex than the game they had rejected. But that was OK, because complexity was part of the point. They had a lot of experience with roleplaying games already; they'd been playing D&D and other games for years. They were ready for all the niggling little details and confusing charts and special cases. Indeed, they craved this sort of thing.

Nowadays, it's popular to suggest, falsely, that a characteristic of old school gaming is its rules "lightness." Historically speaking, this suggestion fails to account for games like the ones I've been re-reading lately. I suspect the reason for this failure is that many gamers either never played or never understood the appeal of those rules-heavy games existed on the fringes of TSR's empire. And let's be clear: they existed quite well. Certainly, neither Chaosium nor FGU were ever making as much money as TSR certainly was, but I have little doubt they were more profitable than most RPG companies today. There were a lot of gamers back then for whom games like Dungeons & Dragons were "entry-level," which is to say, strictly for neophytes. Experienced and sophisticated gamers eventually "grew out" of D&D and the games I'm calling "second tier" were there to provide for them.

Obviously, as time went on, many of these games (RuneQuest being a prime example) no longer required disaffection with D&D to generate interest, but that doesn't change the fact that disaffection with D&D was the wellspring for a great many new RPGs in the late 70s and early 80s. But, even so, it wasn't just disaffection with D&D; there was also the question of experience. As one develops more facility with the concept of RPGs, one is (in my experience anyway) much more prone to tinker with their rules, adding complexity and detail that, at the beginning of one's entry into the hobby, would likely have been bewildering and off-putting. "Simple" games are much less satisfying to many experienced gamers, who've "been there, done that" and so they often seek out RPGs that are written to accommodate their tastes.

Again, none of this is to suggest that experienced players can't find enjoyment in simple games -- far from it! Yet, there's no denying that there has always been a segment of the hobby who, as they gained more familiarity and facility with RPGs, needed increased complexity to hold their attention. These are the guys who like to spend hours poring over their rulebooks looking for the perfect combination of abilities for their characters and who think that nothing less than dozens of nested, cross-referenced encounter charts containing hundreds of entries is sufficient to create a "realistic" campaign world. That's definitely not what I want in a RPG, but I won't deny that there are gamers out there who do -- and there always have been.

The problem today, I think, is that the hobby has suffered severe "ecological damage." There aren't many "entry-level" RPGs anymore. Most RPGs would have belonged to the second tier in the past, as they assume a degree of familiarity and experience that many potential players don't actually possess. If there were more entry-level games -- heck, if D&D were still an entry-level game -- the RPG ecology might be very different. Alas, RPGs have, since the late 1980s at least catered increasingly to already-experienced gamers, who crave the complexity and sophistication that, in the past, would have primarily been found in those second tier games the older, more experienced guys played back in the day.

There should always be a place for those older, more experienced guys in the hobby, but the kinds of games that are satisfying to them aren't (generally) the kind that are accessible to complete newcomers. And, more importantly, those second tier games depend heavily on the existence of entry-level games to provide a steady stream of players hungry for the greater complexity they have to offer. In short, the RPG ecology is out of balance and it needs to be repaired. I wish I knew how.

43 comments:

  1. My understanding is that in Europe - especially in regions where D&D never took off - games like RuneQuest and MERP/Rolemaster were the entry-level games.

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  2. In short, the RPG ecology is out of balance and it needs to be repaired. I wish I knew how.

    4e essentials...

    sorry, i couldn't resist. :)

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  3. Several Comments.

    My memories of the situation in my hometown in rural NW Pennsylvania is roughly similar to your recollections. I would add that the primary reasons of unhappiness with D&D among my age cohort was

    1) The abstract combat didn't offer enough options especially in the hands of a poor referee. By the mid 80s (when many of us switched when we were in college) we had several well designed tactically detailed systems to choose from.

    2) However the primary driver was character customization. Being able to create a character exactly the way you want it with the exact mix of abilities. Sure there was munchkinism from the get go but compared to the straight jacket of AD&D 1st it felt like liberation.

    3) Part of the success of D&D 3.0 is that is successfully scratched the character customization itch yet still remaining recognizably D&D. Thanks to feats you had more options in combat as well. More the D20 SRD and the OGL this is was devastated the 2nd tier RPG market in the early 00s.

    I agree with your assessment about the lack of a entry level ecology. It not enough to have a starter set. You need a complete RPG with support to get things going.

    D&D Essentials may do the trick. It is complete and simple but still too expensive when you add up the main products.

    Dragon Age seems to have a slow release schedule.

    Currently I think the big three of OSR especially Swords & Wizardry, and Labyrinth Lords are the most approachable beginning RPG products. But their reach is limited.

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  4. Warhammer 3ed can make for a nice entry level game. The special dice eliminate much of the math in more complex games, it is very roleplaying driven, and the rules don't go into minutia. Of course the biggest problem is that it is fairly expensive, but Fantasy Flight is releasing a version that requires no chits, cards, etc. this holiday and as result costs less so maybe that will help.

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  5. To be fair, this is a large part of the reason for the massive restructuring in 4e: to make D&D more accessible without mentorship. The problem is that it got sabotaged by the business model. Rules are spread out over multiple books and you need the digital library subscription to find anything.

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  6. You can get along quite well in 4e with a PHB, DMG & MM, just like in previous editions of D&D. And it is a fairly rules-lite game by modern standards. However, I don't think it's anywhere near as light as some of the older games out there.

    Back when I was in high school, it was always easier to get people started with games like Vampire or Mage rather than D&D. "Add the dots in column A with the dots in column B and then roll that many dice" is a pretty simple game mechanic to teach beginners. I never played Exalted, but I hear it had very similar mechanics, which would probably go a long way towards explaining its popularity with the younger crowd.

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  7. My understanding is that in Europe - especially in regions where D&D never took off - games like RuneQuest and MERP/Rolemaster were the entry-level games.

    I can't speak to that, but I do know that, in the British Isles anyway, RQ was a very strong competitor with D&D, which is why some much of White Dwarf's content was devoted to it.

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  8. Currently I think the big three of OSR especially Swords & Wizardry, and Labyrinth Lords are the most approachable beginning RPG products. But their reach is limited.

    Correct. That's the biggest problem that OSR games have, I think -- limited reach.

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  9. Of course the biggest problem is that it is fairly expensive, but Fantasy Flight is releasing a version that requires no chits, cards, etc. this holiday and as result costs less so maybe that will help.

    How much cheaper will it be?

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  10. You can get along quite well in 4e with a PHB, DMG & MM, just like in previous editions of D&D. And it is a fairly rules-lite game by modern standards. However, I don't think it's anywhere near as light as some of the older games out there.

    Personally, I think 64 pages is the absolute upper limit for anything intended to reach a mass audience and, truth be told, 64 pages is probably stretching it a great deal. However more simple 4e may be than, say, 3e was, it's still not simple enough to have a huge reach outside the already-existing hobby, because it's still too complex.

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  11. My experience with some of my players is that some of the video RPGs derived from D&D--like Baldur's Gate and Shadowwhateverit'scalled are the entry-level RPG. They taught a few of my characters the core concepts so I didn't have to.

    There may be some mileage in selling pnp RPGs as "Like computer games, ONLY LIVE!!!!!"

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  12. You're sounding a tad melancholy, James.

    I don't think we're lacking for entry-level games. LL and S&W spring immediately to mind. It's the demand for them that has evaporated.

    Even if, say, a "big" company like Hasbro decided to published a true entry-level RPG, would MMO and video gamers abandon their consoles and return to tabletop gaming?

    My gut tells me, no.

    It's not so much that the ecology is damaged, as new plants have been introduced (MMO's and console games) that have pushed the older, less hardy plants out.

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  13. As ZakS says, arguably the first-tier games are now computer games.

    Do modern pen-and-paper RPGs explain themselves in terms of "this is like WoW or Final Fantasy, but it's all done on paper?" If not, should they?

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  14. A related question - are some MMORPG players frustrated by the inability to customise the game?

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  15. There may be some mileage in selling pnp RPGs as "Like computer games, ONLY LIVE!!!!!"

    I've always been skeptical of this approach, because, as I've always seen it done, it more or less concedes the field to computer games, or at least frames the discussion in their terms, which isn't always to the benefit of tabletop RPGs.

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  16. You're sounding a tad melancholy, James.

    I was born melancholy, I think, and old age has only strengthened that emotion in me :)

    It's not so much that the ecology is damaged, as new plants have been introduced (MMO's and console games) that have pushed the older, less hardy plants out.

    Now, there's an analogy that makes me feel much better.

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  17. Do modern pen-and-paper RPGs explain themselves in terms of "this is like WoW or Final Fantasy, but it's all done on paper?" If not, should they?

    Someone can correct me if I'm wrong but I believe that the recently-released D&D Starter Kit does this and I felt it was a bad decision on WotC's part. As I said above, I really don't think RPGs have a lot to gain by drawing attention to their similarities with computer games.

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  18. A related question - are some MMORPG players frustrated by the inability to customise the game?

    My limited experience suggests that many are, but the source of their frustration is more in the realm of the superficial -- their character's "physical" appearance within the game -- and not having anything to do with the rules, which is why I tend to think "character customization" is overstated as an explanation for the increase in rules complexity.

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  19. I've been recently rereading my favourite set of Western (as in the genre) role-playing rules. It's called Once Upon A Time In The West. It was published in 1978 by Tabletop Games. And you've probably never heard of them because they are not actually a set of RPG rules, but are rather a set of skirmish tabletop rules. [However the have all the elements of a role-playing game (especially once you add in the expansion which details how to run a campaign of connected games).]

    But two interesting things about these rules are that they are incredibly rule dense (massively so) and that there was no coherent overall system to the game (each individual aspect of the game was treated separately and used different methods of resolution).

    And by rule, I don't just mean resolution mechanics. I mean actual rules. This was because of the often competitive nature of wargaming on the tabletop you needed concrete rules to settle disputes between the players [wargamers are famous for exceedingly heated rule quibbles, and there often isn't a referee available to ajudicate (unless you are in a campaign of some kind)]. And they thought about each situation that came up in their games and created a method of resolving that situation. But there was little consistency in how they went about it. They simply created a system which they felt worked, and was often added to the existing system.

    Does this remind you of anything?

    The reason why the very first generation of role-playing games often followed this system is because it was what wargamers were comfortable with. It's why you have an interesting blend of specific rule mechanics (when related to the resolution of contests), often coupled with extremely vague hand-waving over campaign specifics (as the referee of the campaign was expected to be able to make the appropriate decisions about their campaign - including what rules to include and what rules to exclude as inappropriate - as they had experience doing this).

    And this is, I believe, why you found that the older generation of gamers could cope a lot more easily with the stuff that FGU produced. Because, while a lot more coherent than such early tabletop minatures games, they still, as a rule, used the same mindset when they came to writing the rules. They were familiar with the wargaming roots of the hobby, and so the FGU rules were written in a manner that they were familiar with. [At least that's my experience as a fan of FGU games.] And like wargaming rules, if you knew how the authors thought you could generally locate the needed rule very quickly.

    As role-playing matured, the rules moved away from these roots and developed it's own sense of what is appropriate. They also became more coherent and integrated with a specific campaign environment [So much so that younger people looked at me strangely when I ran a Traveller game without any FTL at all, because they hadn't realised it was possible to do this sort of thing.]

    Similarly I had no problems with OD&D. After all, it was just a guide on how to create a fantasy campaign (in wargaming parlance), and thus very hand-wavey and drawn from the examples of the author's own games. [Whereas AD&D started separating the game into specific rules for players and gamemasters...]

    [Incidentally, I rate Runequest as third or fourth tier (but published waaaaaaay ahead of it's time). It introduced unified mechanics (a single system that was used for [almost] everything), and treating NPCs/Monsters in the same manner as player-characters. Revolutionary advances! (But still, not really what Greg actually wanted for his game/world.)]

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  20. One thing I think that has damaged the entire ecology of the RPG has actually been the OGL. One thing different about back then was that everybody tried to create something new and different. In part it was because the RPG was new, but it was also because the larger players did not want wholesale copying of their stuff.

    While I think the OGL did a lot for the OSR, one of the reasons I'm a big critic of it is that it encouraged people to design games dervived from the master system. And a lot of publishers did this. I think that short-sighted view hurt the gaming economy in the long term. Before D&D3, we had a lot of people making interesting games, but later the top tier game studios were the ones doing d20 compatible adventures, sourcebooks, and systems. Meantime, we've seen long-standing game studios go under (GDW, admittedly pre-d20), or reduce their output significantly (SJG and their RPG line).

    I mean, say what negative things you'd like about stuff like Vampire, Castle Falkeinstein, etc., they were written like it was a person's first RPG. We need more of that, and we need more ideas that aren't slavishly devoted or derived from a single system.

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  21. I dunno, I've been doing a lot of research lately on D&D 4E, and to be honest, it seems much more like an entry level game. There are less options, more plug and play, and the removal of the Vancian spell system.

    While I do agree with your mention that the price tag is what takes it out of the realm of a beginning RPG, but I will probably be buying it for my son who is 11. The cost for a new RPG is much cheaper then last years big gifts- a cell phone and the 40K starter set. Both of which cost more money after the initial investment.

    On the other hand, D&D has always been prohibitively expensive for the DM. The player could always get away with just a PHB. But right now the PHB, DMG, and MM are $64 on amazon, which is approximately how much you would pay for a new video game, which probably won't last out the year.

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  22. To be honest, I was first introduced to this hobby (at least, with direct contact) by playing Baldur's Gate. Now I will have to admit, BG was and still is very different than most video game RPGs, as it was modeled after a real possibly D&D campaign.

    Other than the other D&D-derived games (Icewind Dale, Planescape Torment, Neverwinter Nights...), the only other game that springs to mind that follows this model (and is not an inherent D&D game) is Dragon Age Origins.

    So what I think I am getting at is that video games are certainly a good entry-point into the hobby (Baldur's Gate certainly made me hungry for "real" tabletop gameplay), but only a select few offer that incentive (with nearly only one coming out in the past decade). Other video games, even RPGs, do not offer that incentive. Final Fantasy games, for example certainly do not follow the model of tabletop RPGs.

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  23. I've always been skeptical of this approach, because, as I've always seen it done, it more or less concedes the field to computer games, or at least frames the discussion in their terms, which isn't always to the benefit of tabletop RPGs.

    But hasn't the RPG field already been conceded long ago to computers and consoles? When I was first gaging interest for a Dungeons and Dragons program at the library that I work at, kids and teens' first exposures to the concept of roleplaying games are through the Final Fantasy series or Blizzard and BioWare games.

    I'm of a mind to think that this isn't a bad thing, just different. There's an existing frame of reference as to what RPGs are like and it is up to us as proponents of tabletop games to show what makes those games fulfilling and different.

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  24. My favorite RPG is C&S, even though I can barely manage to make a character for it anymore, much less run a combat. Magic use is right out.

    After playing Mentzer Red Box for a few years, I found a brand new copy of 2nd edition C&S sitting on a dusty shelf at my local gaming store. The shop owner just wanted to get rid of it and I think I only paid $5. It was on that day I became a man. The level of detail was insane compared to D&D, and I loved it. My introduction to Star Fleet Battles happened around the same time, so I was probably ready for mind-numbing complexity. Now, I enjoy reading rules sets, the more complex the better, but I'll never play them. Labyrinth Lord is my game of choice. I DO own just about every FGU game published, though...for whatever reason, they always had the quirkiest rules with strange but interesting ideas.

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  25. How to market around computer RPGs:

    "Hey, D&D is like [insert video game here], but every time you wanted to [haul off and kill that story NPC/go off the map/pull of some crazy stunt]? Well, you can do that stuff with these games!"

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  26. I like the idea that much of the market, the "fantasy heartbreakers" if you will, were created as havens for folks who were disenchanted with D&D for one reason or another and wanted to find a game that scratched their particular itch.

    I don't believe that this means that they were all more complex. *Some* of them were, but other people (myself included) were disenchanted with D&D for completely different reasons that have nothing to do with being old time wargamers who wanted more complexity. In fact, the entire success of things like the "Hickman Revolution" and the White Wolf business model were based tapping into pent-up demand for games that were *less* complex, and focused more on a storytelling experience.

    For instance.

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  27. There was a popular rpg called Dragon Warriors released on this side of the pond in 1985. Definitely second tier and introductory. Extremely simple rules with atmospheric english folk adventures embedded into the six novel sized books. It has been re-released and might contribute something to the repair.

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  28. MMO's put a stake into the heart of pencil-and-paper RPG's. It solves a lot of logistical issues, and hides (some of) the mechanics off in the computer program so you don't have to worry about how to fairly adjudicate the game.

    MMO's may not scratch the itch better (I certainly like the face-to-face experience better), but they scratch it easier.

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  29. Those second-tier games you mention are certainly represented today.

    We call them "Fantasy Heartbreakers".

    People are still trying to "fix" D&D with decidedly long-tail products that will appeal to maybe 5-10% of the market.

    I'd be willing to bet that's as much as any of those older games like C&S were ever able to capture.

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  30. MMO's put a stake into the heart of pencil-and-paper RPG's. It solves a lot of logistical issues, and hides (some of) the mechanics off in the computer program so you don't have to worry about how to fairly adjudicate the game.

    The way I view is that in the 70s there was this mass of players for roleplaying games. Everybody played for different and overlapping reasons. As new forms of roleplaying spawned off (LARP, interactive fiction, MMORPGs, etc) the various sub groups got pared off leaving only a core group for whom tabletop roleplaying games is great entertainment.

    Then there is the social network effect where each of the new forms of RPGs developed their own social networks to a greater or lesser degree. CRPGs not so much, MMORPGs very much so.

    The key for survival for tabletop roleplaying is to play to it's strengths and not try to pretend to be something else (like Essentials allusion to being WoW with paper). The strengths being the imagination of the human referee and the human players. Along with the ability to be able to do anything with very little work.

    Technology, like the internet and computers, will positively effect tabletop roleplaying. It just needs to be the right type of technology. The whole adventure, Rogue, MUD, MMORPGs progression is more of competitor than an aid.

    In contrast web conferencing and voice over internet software evolving into virtual tabletops have proven complementary.

    Complex rules are not as appealing today because MMORPGs and CRPGs can't be beat in this regard. They can have arbitrary complex rules and drape them in a good user interface to make them easy to learn. If you look at WoW or City of Heroes you will many people who take delight in plumbing the numbers for these games.

    Yet with the rise of computer everywhere and new form factors like the iPad and surface computers, tabletop games could have similar complex rules with a friendly UI to make learning and management easy.

    By playing to its strengths , using the right technology, tabletop roleplaying can continue as a viable hobby and even industry.

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  31. I don't think I could teach anyone any game that can't wear its rules on its character sheet. nWoD was decent in this regard. It's count-on-your-fingers arithmetic with about a half-dozen sheets to cover rules summaries for more complex things like combat or hacking; the only part it fell down was the more esoteric power descriptions, but then, that's not something that's going to be dumped on a player ("How does Presence work?" "Do you have it?" "No." "Then how would you know?").

    GUMSHOE is my current go-to because it cuts half the arithmetic down, and fits on a one page rule summary.

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  33. I think some of us (myself included) moved on simply because D&D didn't provide enough. I moved onto things like RoleMaster, RuneQuest, Palladium and the boxed set of Chivalry & Sorcery simply because I was a glutton for new systems, and I wanted something that my sensibilities agreed with.

    I had a conversation with my buddy last Saturday about this -- that most players nowadays weren't interested in roleplaying anymore, it was all about rules lawyering and munchkin play. He said that they'd been groomed for that with 3E and 4E, and it was up to us to bring 'em back. Maybe he's right.

    I've only come back into D&D recently, having been annoyed enough by 2E, 3E, and 4E to seek for fun alternatives.

    I think a more complex system would do well with a "basic game" and then in later chapters moving on to the "advanced game." The basic game could introduce the core mechanics and ideas, the advanced game would offer the options. That way everyone wins.

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  34. Actually, OD&D *is* somewhat complex, if one remembers that the combat system is intended to be that of Chainmail's, and that the d20 to hit tables were an alternative approach.

    Also, Metagaming's TFT system was not only simpler than D&D, but much better written.

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  35. @Kent

    Mongoose just dropped support for Dragon Warrios as it didn't sell very well, so no revival there.

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  36. To follow up on my previous post the hard back Game Master's Guide and Player's Guide for 3ed Warhammer are going to be $27/$33 from Amazon respectively. Its my understanding that the only other necessity will be a set of die. I find it quite an interesting system.

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  37. After reading some comments I checked the page count on those two books which are 176/304 ... the original books (without reproducing the cards, etc) are 96 pages each. Not quite the 64 page limit your thinking of so probably doesn't fit the your target intro game. Though the are very image heavy.

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  38. Having thought about this some more, I'd argue that D&D could be seen as the 3rd tier, with the 2nd tier being things like Fighting Fantasy gamebooks and board games like Talisman and Dungeon, and the 1st tier being Lord of the Rings and similar books.

    The 1st tier still exists - in fact Harry Potter is probably more popular now than Tolkien then. But I get the impression that the RPG industry/hobby doesn't do much to make the link.

    It's like the 'fantasy' in 'fantasy RPG' is a different thing to the 'fantasy' in 'fantasy books and movies'.

    PS Non-fantasy RPGs seem to be better at doing this.

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  39. Interesting post! Though I wish you'd talk more, at times, about the sea change in RPGs in the 80s and 90s that brought in rules-lite frameworks vastly better-suited to real collaborative storytelling than D&D. I have a feeling a lot of your tidy 'Golden Age' narrative and D&D-uber-alles attitude make that subject hard to deal with straight-on, but since D&D's weird relationship with 'story' is such a key element of the 'old-school' philosophy, such as it is, well...

    Personally, I think 64 pages is the absolute upper limit for anything intended to reach a mass audience

    But AD&D 1e was waaaaaaay more than that - and it was the first TSR product explicitly marketed to a mass audience through mainstream distribution channels (bookstores), correct? Indeed it set the template for marketing in the hobby. Then again, maybe lack of novelty is the single most important factor in the decline of RPGs as a widespread form of children's/nerds' entertainment?

    Leaving that aside (and despite your resentment toward it), the new 'Red Box' really is a fine introductory product - vastly better in that role than any D&D-related product since the Cyclopedia's 'black box' companion game, probably even longer. The Choose Your Own Adventure-style chargen, all-in-one presentation, and nicely-designed basic adventure really do make for a fine product that shows off some of its strengths while downplaying its weaknesses (e.g. complexity of the combat minigame). When you say it's too complex to reach beyond the hobby, how exactly are you judging that? After all, World of Warcraft is a complex game that dramatically expanded the reach of MMORPGs...

    ...because despite complex gameplay, the pitch is dead simple. That's one thing D&D has been missing for a long time. The OD&D pitch is as simple as WoW's, but even the one-liner for AD&D is hard to pin down - and that falls to Gygax as much as anyone, for wanting to have it both ways re: simulation/gaming.

    The absolute greatest RPG pitch I've heard is Rients's 'I'm Conan, you're Gandalf, let's go fight Dracula,' but WotC's marketing droids are too 'cool' to just admit they've been trumped by a blogger.

    Of course there are very short RPGs floating around out there. Risus, for instance, would be a great starter RPG for kids. Or, say, the licensed Buffy RPG - whether or not it's a great game in itself, it sells itself ('I'm Buffy, you're Xander, the rules tell you how fights go, here's a map of Sunnydale, go!!').

    But D&D hasn't sold itself in a long time. That's about video games, mainly. AD&D 1e was a moving target, 2e had related problems (all those campaign worlds, half-baked narrativism), 3e was a complex answer in search of a question; 4e is a fine game in itself, but now it has to answer the 'Why not play Diablo 3?' question, and poorly-socialized RPG geeks have a hard time getting to the best possible answer ('This is a game about telling stories with your friends').

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  40. I don’t know if the RPG ecology is out of balance, but it definitely different from its past. I know that there are the few intrepid souls who would buy a game off the shelf with no prior experience and begin playing the game, but I think more people are “initiated” into the RPG world. The initiation can take place in various ways, often times I think the simple selling point of interactive stories where you write your own adventures is enough. You have a friend who is trying it, and you join him or her. The real pain is time. It is tighter than ever and few gamers have RPGs as their sole obsessive hobby. . . how I miss the 80’s.

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  41. > There aren't many "entry-level" RPGs anymore.

    This is a large part of what fueled the OSR and the "belief" / focus of OSR on rules light games.

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  42. Now that the D6 system has gone OGL, I think it has a lot of potential as a great entry-level RPG (especially distillations like the excellent Mini Six). I hope the OSR crowd gives it some attention at some point, with its connections to Ghostbusters and WEG Star Wars.

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  43. Just because a game is old doesn’t make it old school.

    Am I too predictable? ^_^

    We could have a thousand good “first tier” games, but if they don’t say “Dungeons & Dragons” on the cover, there is a limit on the good they can do for the hobby. 3e inherited too much from AD&D and the other second (or even third) tier games, but it had the first tier brand. 4e or essentials may be less complex, but I don’t find them to be good first tier RPGs either.

    That is something that I think will correct itself in time. The D&D brand will become less and less associated with traditional role-playing. Maybe “traditional” or “old school” or some other terminology will become widespread enough to differentiate traditional RPGs from computer RPGs, new school RPGs, story games, and whatever D&D has now become. In any case, we have too many things that are too different trying to live under the same “RPG” tent, and I’m beginning to think that they all would benefit from some stronger differentiation.

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