Friday, April 8, 2011

Open Friday: Modern Day RPGs

Last September, I asked the question "why do you think SF RPGs are less popular than fantasy RPGs?" Today, I'm going to go a step further and ask, "why do you think modern day RPGs are even less popular than science fiction ones?" For the purposes of this question, "modern day RPGs" includes any game whose setting is post-medieval and includes no clear magic or supernatural elements. Consequently, a game like Call of Cthulhu is excluded from the category, because of its supernatural element, even though it's set in the right time period.

For myself, I think modern day RPGs are a lot less appealing than either fantasy or science fiction because, when devoid of magic or other similar things, they feel too much like the real world and most gamers roleplay to get away from the real world, even for a little while. When I look back on my own gaming history, it's true that I have played a handful of no-magic modern day games with some devotion -- Gangbusters comes immediately to mind -- I never played them as much as I've played, say, Dungeons & Dragons or Traveller. And, much as highly as I continue to regard some of those modern day RPGs, I can't deny that my interest in picking them up again now is more limited than in playing more fantastical games.


  1. If the point of an RPG is a bit of escapism, then modern-day RPGs really don't offer enough of that "escape." At least, for me.

  2. Perhaps it's because there aren't many of them? I'm far from an expert, but the only ones I can think of are d20 Modern -- which did have some supernatural aspect, but they weren't required for play -- and the various spy games, and they may not count for the purposes of discussion.

    The irony is that there may be more of an audience for such games now than there was in the boom period for rpgs; I can imagine something like Millennium's End going down well with the Rainbow Six and Call of Duty: Black Ops crowd.

  3. James Bond style spy games have that escapism - and we ran a lot of Top Secret / SI when I was younger. They border on Sci-Fi though (Spy Fi?)

  4. Why would you spend time and effort pretending to be something so similar to what you are in a place so much like where you are?

    Spy and military games are different enough than most walks of life, so some of them do a little business. And something like Fiasco can take the *worst* of everyday life and then throw gasoline onto it for a bit of fun, but it's otherwise too much like pretending "we're workers and students in an industrialized and technological society."

  5. Death factor, imo. Let's face it, there are no rezzes in Twilight 2000 or Top Secret. And combat is generally based around that fact.

  6. One thing that appealed to me about Traveller was that, despite the scifi trappings, it had a very modern feel to it. I also really liked the absence of magic.

    When I got back into gaming after years away, my first instinct was to write a Modernist RPG (working title: Wasteland: A game of the modern condition). I never did get it off the ground though.

  7. I doubt that escapism as such is the issue. Someone is going to see all those action/spy films (and used to go and see Westerns).

    My guess would be that popularity depends on how much different 'cool stuff' the setting can have. Modern settings have the least options, superheroes have more, science fiction has still more. Fantasy can have everything the other three can have, and is therefore the most popular.

  8. Here is one important fact that is overlooked: looting.

    Go to any computer RPG forum. When a game has no little or no looting (like say Mass Effect 2), the players use this as an argument that it is "not an RPG". Many of the modern and SF games lend themselves to substantially less looting than the fantasy counterparts.

  9. Independence.

    Fantasy RPGs, more often than not, allow/expect the player characters to be free to make all kinds of choices - they are adventurers, not, for the main part, salaried soldiers bound to a specific chain of command.

    Sci-Fi RPGs often attempt to build in the same presumption of independence.

    A Modern RPG set in this world, without fantastical elements, is set in a world where the idea of being an independent adventurer is less plausible. So player characters are bound to organisations, engaging in a series of defined, bounded, missions - often in scenarios better suited to table-top skirmish games.

  10. "Go to any computer RPG forum. When a game has no little or no looting (like say Mass Effect 2), the players use this as an argument that it is "not an RPG"."

    Well, that's because computer RPGs are not role-playing games at all.

    Statistics, character classes, levelling, and looting do not make an RPG.

  11. I doubt that escapism as such is the issue. Someone is going to see all those action/spy films (and used to go and see Westerns).

    That only points away from "escapism" if the people going to those films are Real Life spies, action heroes, or cowboys.

    Though I will agree that it isn't *just* escapism.

  12. I think modern settings have less scope for adventure, and particularly less scope for "adventurer" as a profession. If you look outside of RPGs at genre fiction in modern settings, the dominant types are mystery, horror, superheroes, super-spies, and romance. Turning back to games, I think that most of these are covered and reasonably popular (murder mystery party games may actually be up there with D&D; I see one company that produces them boasts they've sold over 80,000). Maybe the real question is why no romance games?

  13. I think that the most successful genres are where you can create sites for adventure like a dungeon. Sci-fi where you are out on the fringes of space is more appealing that Coruscant play for precisely this reason. Post-apocalypse is popular because you can go down into abandoned ruins (read DUNGEONS).

    So the key to success in the modern genre is to create dungeons. So far I haven't seen that kind of thing very often. Zombies, spies, etc; that doesn't really have a dungeon feel to it. There is no puzzle box you are unfolding.

    Which leads me to.....

    I just released Oceans RPG as a free public beta LAST NIGHT. It is a little 11 page Heist game, set in modern day. The GM builds a quasi-dungeon for you to represent the target of the heist (bank/casino/etc) and gives you the blueprints. You have to peel the layers off the onion and then grab the goods.

    You can find the blog for it through my Google profile.

  14. I'm going to go with Anthony's statement but I would add that your question sort of dead end's the discussion. It's a loaded question in some regards. I mean, if medieval games had no magic, monsters or fantastic elements of any kind, would they be popular? What's a sci-fi game with no space travel, no aliens, no cybernetics, no psionics and nothing to make you go wow.

    I would actually think of modern day games as more popular than Sci-Fi as I include CoC and Superheroes in the realm of Modern Day gaming but these are indeed excluded by the query.

  15. I think what we are calling "modern day RPGs" are not popular because without any fantastical elements real life player knowledge often trumps game mechanics.

    For example, if I am playing a character that needs to drive a car in a modern RPG but said character doesn't have any "points" in the "Car Driving skill" I find it hard to believe that my character has no idea how to drive a car since in real life I am so familiar with car driving. This can be said about any real life skill in a modern RPG. A biologist would think many tings are just basic science that anyone would know, a software engineer would think that any person knows how to boot up a computer regardless of "skill points", a plumber would think that anyone would know how to fix a leaking pipe. Without magic or futuristic/alien science to put up a barrier between real life and game mechanics it is much more difficult to buy into the simulation the game rules are presenting.

    A player may know something about sword play (even be an expert in it) but he has certainly never fought an orc with a sword so he buys into the combat simulation of D&D despite his real work knowledge.

  16. What, no love for Papers & Paychecks?

  17. Mercenaries, Spies & Private Eyes! Always wanted it, never quite bought it...


    I'm with the lack of escapism and absence of loot crowd. Fantasy just seems more fun. Closest our extended group got to 'Modern' was an old cyberpunk game called SpaceTime (I think)...



  18. I think that it has partly to do with what DrBargle wrote about "independence" and also with the level of impact that the players can potentially have on the world. In the modern day, players pretty much are affected by the world, but have little effect on it. In SF, that is less true, but still is a problem. In fantasy settings, though, the players can easily become movers and shakers through their actions. The lowliest peasant or barbarian outcast, in fantasy gaming, could become king.

  19. If you are familiar with the term "uncanny canyon", I think it sort of applies here. Its more difficult to achieve and maintain any sort of suspension of disbelief when the world starts to closely match our mundane reality. We can accept the notion of adventurers running around and slaying monsters and stealing their stuff in a fantasy realm or even a scifi one, but we start to have problems with that notion in a world where we know intrinsically how various organizations such as police and military might respond to our activities. It gets complicated.

    For me it even applies to CoC. I don't really enjoy modern takes on Cthulhu. For me, if its not back in the 20's I find it loses its appeal..

  20. I remember playing some GURPS Fantasy back in the day and having a GREAT time then playing some GURPS Black Ops and HATING it. Same system, but the feel was different. It was like we all wanted to play heroes (one base assumption of RPGs) with various powers (assumption # 2) but all ended up with the old Tick cartoon character 'Grenade Man'. 'What's your super power?' 'I don't need one - I got a grenade!!' Farewell to heroism and diversity...

  21. A little off topic, but I once played in a World of Darkness mortals PbEM, in which no supernatural stuff occurred. As a matter of fact no violence or real mysteries occurred for three months of continuous play. I eventually got the nerve to ask the ST when the plot was finally going to start, and he replied "It already has, the vast majority of mortals in the WoD never experience the supernatural."

    The game continued for another month or so, basically running like a game of "Soap" until the ST disappeared and the game evaporated. I don't know why i stuck with it to the end, to be honest it was dull as dishwater, but there definitely was some novelty appeal.

  22. My more cynical take is that they're a pain in the ass to write well. Beyond some core set of rules for how to punch a guy and pick a lock, what do you include? Magic or supertech allows for tons of filler (and lest that sound critical, filler that people like) but in the absence of that you need to flesh out things that people already understand, which either gets redundant, or incites nerdwars (nothing is as fun as statting up modern guns in this regard). Net result, a lot of modern games fail to make a strong case for why they'd be awesome to play, or they find some specific avenue (like Q branch) where they can pad the material and get stuck in that rut.

    -Rob D.

  23. A big problem is the same as for science fiction. Modern weapons, especially military weapons are designed to cause casualties. Even if you give everyone the general skill level of most firearm wielders, your opponents will eventually get lucky, and a bullet in your gut will spoil your whole day. This makes the more successful modern-day RPGs ones where combat is not necessarily the focus of the game.

    And in a combat situation it's generally less a matter of individual activity but rather a solid grasp of group tactics that will carry the day. This makes it less enticing to many role-players, although curiously, it makes skirmish level modern miniatures games quite popular. And most of them are not too dissimilar from role-playing games (in fact the Albedo: Platinum Catalyst is a tactical skirmish game masquerading as a roleplaying game*).

    Of the serious modern day combat games I've had friends run Twilight 2000 games, Phoenix Command games (set in the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan), and a highly popular series of post-apocalyptic games where you played yourself (using Aftermath and several other game systems, including homebrew). All quite fun, increased by the fact that many of the players were all familiar with military ground ops and so could therefore roleplay it effectively. Someone had a great game of Top Secret set in the world of The Professionals. And if you want a real horror game try Grey Ranks and be a teenager in the ill-fated Warsaw Uprising. Or part of the German Army in the retreat from the East, trying to get to the Amerikaners to surrender to them.

    [Here I admit the only game of Twilight 2000 I ran was set in the Ogre universe (just at the collapse of the Combine forces in Europe), and the only game of Aftermath I ran was set after The Stars Are Right, but that's just me. I like adding a twist to whatever games I run.]

    Then there is stuff like Leverage, James Bond, and Blowback, which are all excellent modern day non-combat games.

    Not to mention excellent pulp and swashbuckling games like The World of Indiana Jones, Daredevil, Flashing Blades, Privateers & Gentlemen, although these often invite the fantastical element into them. And then there are westerns like Boot Hill and Once Upon A Time In The West.

    Hmmmm. It seems I've done quite a lot of straight "modern" gaming. Although I've done a lot more with fantastic elements invoked (either supernatural or science-fictional, but with equivalent technology). <grin>

    [* Yes, I know it's technically SF and furry, but the available tech is actually less capable than modern military tech.]

  24. Yeah Rob, thats part of what I was getting at in my post too. The closer you get to mundane reality in the game world, the easier/more likely it is that players will start to nitpick every little detail that doesn't quite jibe with mundane reality...

  25. I agree with Barking Alien that the question is a dead end.

    Most of the campaigns I've played in over the decades (and enjoyed the most) have been modern day, albeit with at least some horror or supernatural/occult elements (sometimes unproven and atmospheric as opposed to an overt magical reality). But that all gets negated by the parameters of this blog post.

  26. Something else I thought of, although some people choose to play historical medieval games with no fantastic elements, I can't think of any published games that have that as the out of the box assumption.

    Unless people are into historical reenactment, they like their magical and fantastic elements.

    The fact that there *are* modern day games without any that still have a following speaks very well of them.

  27. I haven't read all the comments, so I'm sorry if this was already said.

    It seems that the element lacking in modern RPGs is "mystery." We're so steeped in what our world is really like, we feel there's nothing left to learn, and even if there is, it would take a specialist to run that type of game.

    In fantasy, science fiction, and occult games, there are new places to go, new things to learn, and fascinating new persons/entities/creatures to meet -- things that stretch our imagination and allow us to exercise our inventive, creative muscles. Modern games, with no super-ordinary elements, cannot offer this.

    Super-hero and super-spy games give us the opportunity to do amazing things, as do many supernatural games. In this area, we're tapping the "marvel reflex," where something amazing can elicit a sense of awe, or even "Wow! That's cool!"

    It's much harder to stretch the imagination or inspire awe in a standard, modern game that lacks a super-normal component.

  28. Imaginability:

    In fantastic RPGs the GM says one word: "Ogre", "hydra" and an evocative image pops into your mind. Complete with a mood.

    Unless it's based on a licensed property or is extremely well-illustrated--a modern or SF RPG has to explain itself a lot more. -Which- pistol or starship or policeman? The GM will need a lot more "literary" skill to paint an exciting word picture.

    Fantastic RPGs have shared folklore to rely on--The fighter we imagined was always better than the picture of the fighter in the first PHB.

  29. Wasn't Spycraft fairly successful?
    I mean as far as these things go.

  30. The one game my old gaming buddies always play when we get together is some form of Phoenix Command, and aside from the occasional power-armor based scenario, it's strictly non-fantasy, non-super, non-ultra-future.

    We split into two teams and play double-blind with a ref/GM. Over the years we've done WWI, WWII, Korean War, modern hostage rescue, Prohibition-era gangsters, Wild West, Afghanistan, power armor, Civil War, and whatever else we can think of for a fun sounding scenario.

    Invariably we run one-offs due to the lethality of the system, but quite fun, and we continue "characters" across scenarios (immortal champion style).

    The escapism doesn't come from magic, or future tech, or superpowers, but from putting a character into a believable life-or-death situation and seeing what happens.

  31. Responsibility.

    Playing a modern-day XYZ means honoring the actual-existing parameters of that role. Gamers want to be permitted irresponsibility. Hence the animus toward genre-intensive story games, White Wolf modern morals, etc. Too much RL learning involved in getting the modern world right.

  32. I think of it as kind of a backwards approach - I think people who are into Fantasy and Science Fiction are more likely to accept the basic parameters of a role-playing game than those who aren't. Consequently, those are the types of games that get played more often.

    My co-worker is a very smart, intelligent, and creative young woman about seven years younger than me, but she has absolutely no room in her life for fantasy or science fiction. No LOTR or Star Wars for her. The whole concept of playing a D&D game sounds horrific to her.

    She's a baseball girl through and through, but she really enjoys suspense and action movies/shows like "Bourne Identity" and "Covert Affair" and "Burn Notice".

    So, when we were flying to a business meeting once, I basically explained to her the concept of role-playing games and she graciously listened to me ramble on. Then I mentioned, "The setting really isn't super important. There are games that take place in the modern world, too, like spy type games..."

    Her eyes lit up. I continued and explained the premise behind "Top Secret", which was one of the very few modern-day games I've played.

    She replied with, "Now, that sounds like a lot of fun! I would play that!"

    But, again, I think the large segment of the population who think they don't really like Fantasy or SF and prefer more "modern" type genres just aren't the type of people who are likely to want to play an RPG.

  33. Like most roleplaying gamers I cut my teeth on D&D (blue box in '77) but I quickly gravitated to non-fantasy modern games: Boot Hill, Top Secret, Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes, Flashing Blades. Fantasy holds comparitively little appeal for me, in roleplaying games or in other media.

    In a hobby overwhelmingly dominated by fantasy, it can be a challenge to find gamers who enjoy modern roleplaying games, and I've heard most of the reasons cited in the preceding comments over the years: modern games don't offer enough separation from the familiar and mundane, adventurers aren't interesting without 'powers' (casting spells, magic swords, advanced technology), et cetera.

    One of the more interesting reasons I've heard is that modern heroes don't feel very heroic - not in the sense of 'powers' per se but rather in the sense of a clear-cut conception of right and wrong, of good and evil. The simple, often black-and-white morality of fantasy and space opera (which is by far the most popular genre of 'sci-fi' among gamers, in my experience) doesn't translate well to the more nuanced morality and ethics of the modern world.

    In my experience, when gamers talk about 'escapism' what they often mean is guilt-free mayhem - witness the heated discussions which arise over killing orc children between those with a view of subjective, mutable alignment and those who view 'evil' monsters as ineffably unredeemable and fit only to die by the sword. For the latter group, unfettered violence against evil is, by definition, 'good.'

    With respect to modern(ish) roleplaying games perhaps the most successful genre consists of so-called 'pulp' games, usually set during the period from the Twenties to the Forties. What is the supreme expression of mundane evil in these games? Nazis - they are the orcs of the modern world, offering the stripped-down morality of fantasy heroics in a modern setting on which the players and their characters can unload with abandon while secure in the knowledge that such conduct is 'good.'

    If escapism is indeed the reason why fantasy games are more popular than modern games, then I believe that it's an attempt to avoid complex moral and ethical questions, to escape to a world of sharp contrasts frome one rendered in shades of grey.

  34. Datedness much like SFRPG they are out of date as soon as the ink would dry. Who would believe in a Libya headed by Gaddaffi could be an ally of the West yet this is what happened in the early 21st then now one decade later he is back in the bad books.

    Also, it hard to pinpoint the node of adventure - if one's game is horror - then why don't we see the horrors; if your game is war then it can get boring and prey to the datedness issue; if it is a spy game - how does it stay away from being a technothriller (relative of science fiction) and also stay away from fantasy (there is no SPECTRE or Quantum) and if it is the ordinary - Gary argued that RPGs are not amateur thespian societies, part of that is certainly that RPGs are games and the other part is that they are not soapboxes - so while it might be fun for a bunch of guys to play girls in all girls school - it is not a sustainable campaign model.

  35. Referee is right. I mean, Twilight 2000 has the premise of Cold War gone hot. That is a bit dated these days. :)

  36. The reason is that no matter what age you live in its the worst time to live. The past is always a golden age and after you die will always be a utopia. It is harder to romanticize the time that you live in then a time you don't actually have to live in. Its the saying distance makes the heart grow founder writ large.

  37. I want a Law and Order RPG. : (

  38. I never understood the notion that modern day RPGs failed to provide "escape".

    People watch movies and TV shows that ostensibly take place in our world as escape all the time: James Bond, Expendables, Burn Notice, The Unit, MI-5, 24, etc etc etc.

    And there's a new WWII movie or video game coming out like... weekly?

    Also, I think there are plenty of recognizable names. If you tell the PCs they're hunting a rogue FSB agent, or a former IRA terrorist turned gangster, or a greedy oil billionaire using mercs to influence a foreign country...

    Well, there's plenty of groups with name recognition in the modern world.

    Which isn't to say Modern games aren't less popular- just that *I* never understood why they weren't more popular.

  39. Unless it's based on a licensed property or is extremely well-illustrated--a modern or SF RPG has to explain itself a lot more. -Which- pistol or starship or policeman? The GM will need a lot more "literary" skill to paint an exciting word picture.

    So, wait, you're saying that 'hydra' is easier and automatically more dramatic to imagine than 'semi-automatic pistol,' 'fat Irish cop,' or 'immaculate shoulder-padded pantsuit'? There's got to be way more visual information and emotional connections about real elements from our lives bouncing around in our heads than Warcraft II sound clips.

  40. My answer would the same as I gave for Fantasy vs. SF. D&D got there first and grabbed the largest share of the market. The escapist -powergamer-munchkin appeal is higher in fantasy than any other genre because it's conventions allow for literal magic and godlike levels of power. The kind of gamers who enjoy building their dark overlord in D&D are not going to be satisfied being James Bond. At the very least they'll want to be Blofeld....

  41. hüth,
    Of course the hydra is more dramatic and it is partly because we have all those visual and emotional connections in our heads. With a semi-automatic pistol we have so many connections that its less dramatic for it. For a hydra there is no connection beyond the few myths and the fact that your last character died from it.

  42. Of course the hydra is more dramatic and it is partly because we have all those visual and emotional connections in our heads. With a semi-automatic pistol we have so many connections that its less dramatic for it. For a hydra there is no connection beyond the few myths and the fact that your last character died from it.

    That's what I don't get, though–what kind of associations do you get when you look at a Glock aside from tool for killing, thing to kill with, who is it pointing at? A hydra I've never met (and not in game, either, that I recall).

  43. Its a gun so you get connection to every other gun you know with a specification on pistols. a glock is considered Russian by stereotype so you get images of stereotypical Russians and that fake Russian accent. The guy in your one show uses a glock but he is the only guy with a gun in the show, hey the girl is hot in the show...

    and basically that and more goes on when you look at it. It happens at a subconscious level mostly but it does happen. When you look at a picture of a hydra you think hydra, Hercules, my character died to one...

  44. "a glock is considered Russian by stereotype--Akhier the dragon hearted

    Uh, ahem... Glocks are Austrian, not Russian.

    And most of the people who use Glocks are American police, not Russians.

    Sorry about that. Untruth about guns is just a pet peeve of mine.

  45. Hmm, Well I guess I was misinformed at some point. I felt I should have checked but was lazy. I just know to much gun stuff non-specifically.

  46. There are a couple bits in these comments I'd agree with, but here's something no one's mentioned...

    Suppose for a moment there were only three "fantastic" RPGs ever made: D&D, Call of Cthulhu, and Traveller. Name a non-fantastic historical or modern day setting that couldn't be played using one of those three systems with the fantastic elements stripped out.

  47. I'm struggling to even think of a whole lot of "modern-era" role playing games that reached any sort of audience (which I suppose is part of the point of the question).

    Twilight2000, Top Secret/James Bond/Spycraft etc. Games like Boot Hill, Gangbusters and Indiana Jones (sort of) seem to fit the criteria James set forth as well.

    With much of RPGs roots in wargaming and a large part of most RPGs involve combat and fighting things, most "modern" RPGs would involve wars, weapons and armies that were illustrated early on in gaming history via wargames like Squad Leader (if you wanted small scale) or Third Reich (for the whole global shebang), so people interested in those settings got their fix that way.

    Nowadays, computers and Xboxes have the whole "Call of Duty"/"Rainbow Six" thing down, especially since you can play in groups with voice chat etc...

    And many "modern" events don't necessarily lend themselves well to role-playing often has anyone said "I wish someone would design a great WWI RPG so I could effectively play 2nd Lt Humphrey Gladstone, 5th Army, at the Battle of Passchendaele...sure he's likely to get mowed down in the first hour of the battle and individually can have no impact on the outcome of events, but I want my trench warfare! Roll d20 to see if we all survive Mustard gassing!"

  48. There are four games that I believe deserve a mention. Unfortunately, I reckon only two of them fit James' criteria. I'll start with the two that do.

    First off is Recon. The original set of rules was a miniatures wargame for Vietnam gaming. However, it evolved into a reasonable set of light RPG rules. The original Platoon 20 incarnation of the game was morally-neutral and enforced no stance on the players. Unfortunately, the Palladium reboot definitely had an "America - **** yeah!" vibe to it.

    Second is Behind Enemy Lines. This was the classic WWII RPG. While it might violate the "killing Nazis" argument given above, I never thought it emphasised this aspect.

    Now for the two honourable mentions. Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes (as mentioned above) is a good modern RPG at the core. However, it did allow for fantastic elements. Even the writers admitted that they originally used it for games of Tunnels and Trolls with tommy-guns. Our group always associated it with pulp games. As a result, I think it violates the "no supernatural elements" criterion.

    The other honourable mention is the old hex-and-counter wargame Ambush!. This was a solo WWII game where the player controlled a squad of GIs on missions in Europe. The action was controlled by cross-referencing between a hex map, a hidden information sleeve and a paragraph book. Even though it was a board wargame, the same characters could be used in a campaign of linked missions, and they could improve with experience. However, as it is a wargame (strictly speaking), I have to rule it out.

  49. Hero Games and GURPs were always my go-to systems for Modern games. Hero had Danger International for modern day and Justice Inc for pulp games.

    GURPs had that gritty combat system and a lot of supplements like Special Ops and WWII.

    For more modern games, I think Spycraft was one of the better selling games to come out of the d20 era.

  50. I'm late getting back to the party but I thought I'd pop in and say one thing.

    I hate to disagree with Zak S. (though it seems something I am prone to do no matter how hard I try), I guess he has a point but it doesn't hold true for all of us.

    I didn't grow up in medieval times and it's alot harder from me to picture a Paladin then it is a Cop or Firefighter. When someone say blasters, ray gun or energy rifle I have hundreds of images to choose from barreling through my head and I pick the one I like best unless the GM adds some details in his description.

    While the medieval fighter does indeed have a shared folklore, I'll bet dimes to donuts mine doesn't look quite like yours. Yet a 1976 Ford Mustang looks like a 1976 Ford Mustang. No if ands or buts.

  51. Yet a 1976 Ford Mustang looks like a 1976 Ford Mustang.

    I think you've explained it better than I could have...

  52. I also think fans of Modern games are a bit hamstrung in this argument by "no supernatural elements".

    The popularity of the modern world as a setting doesn't require 100% the world we live in to be a valid question.

    This would be like saying "science fiction isn't a popular game genre, if you ignore space opera and post apocalypse games and ONLY look at hard sci-fi set on a single planet".

  53. The whole point of the article is to raise the question of why gaming in a modern non-supernatural milieau isn't more popular. How can that hamstring fans of modern games? If you only enjoy modern games that do have a supernatural element than you are essentially lending credence to his hypothesis.

    Also, I think what Zak S was getting at wasn't that its easier to imagine a paladin than it is a school bus. I think he's suggesting that it more difficult to achieve any sense of awe or excitement about elements of mundane reality becuase we ARE so familiar with them that there is little room for imagination...

  54. Don, it's skewing the bias.

    How popular is *any* game setting without supernatural elements? Middle Ages games with no magic, sci-fi with no magic, psionics, FTL or aliens, post apoc games with no advanced tech or mutations, etc.

    Also, it makes even discussing modern games difficult. What about James Bond? Does that count? Jetpacks, moonbases, orbital lasers.

    Heck, even the Mission Impossible movies might be disqualified.

  55. Yes, James Bond counts. Theres no supernatural element there. Same goes for Gangbusters and Boot Hill. Its not skewing the bias. The whole point of the question is the distinction between traditional fantasy/modern fantasy and modern games with no "weird stuff." The query being posed is "why are games that one might otherwise think would be quite popular for rpgs due to their interesting situations and exciting possibilities (as in spy games or westerns or what have you) not as popular as the "fantastical" rpgs? The distinction being made is BETWEEN games without "the fantastic" and those with fantastic elements.

  56. No, he asks the question "why are modern games less popular than sci-fi", then says "but you can't include games with any fantastic elements".

    That's a very skewed question.

    Modern games are in fact quite popular- there's a few action games, and a whole slew of modern magic games, and about as many supers games.

    In fact, I believe that modern games are more popular than science fiction games.

  57. Vigilance: But modern games without fantastic elements are not, which is the point.

  58. He is very specifically not asking about "games with fantastic elements" vs "games without fantastic elements".

    He posits something untrue, that modern games are less popular than science fiction games, then MAKES it true by deciding he only wants to talk about a very small sliver of modern games.

  59. Um, what? It's his question. I think he knows what he is meaning to ask. Therefore, the supposition should be that what he posits is true - if that requires further elaboration, then so be it.

  60. It is not a modern game when you add fantastic elements. It is then a fantasy game set in modern times.

  61. Akhier- not necessarily.

    It could be a science fiction game (Stargate SG-1, a game about bionic super-agents), or a supers game.

    If you want to construct questions this way, you can make ANYTHING seem unpopular.


    Why aren't fantasy games more popular than science fiction games?

    Addendum: for the purposes of discussion, exclude all fantasy games not primarily about King Arthur.

    See what I did there?

    Modern is a time period, not a genre. If you want to talk about the three main time periods of gaming, you could talk about games set in the past, games set right now, and games set in the future.

    What James has done is take ALL games set in a fantasy past, ALL games set in the future, and wants to know why they aren't more popular than a very small percentage of games set in the here and now.

  62. It is not a modern game when you add fantastic elements. It is then a fantasy game set in modern times.


  63. What James has done is take ALL games set in a fantasy past, ALL games set in the future, and wants to know why they aren't more popular than a very small percentage of games set in the here and now.

    Since my point was apparently unclear, allow me to clarify: by "modern day," I do not merely mean a game set in the present, but rather a game set in the world as most people experience it, which is to say, devoid of magic, superpowers, aliens, and so forth. I was going to call this category "realistic" RPGs, but I figured someone would quibble about my use of the term -- more fool I.

  64. Vigilance: You persist in trying to make his question into your question. That's cool, you can answer your question and make it meaningful. But if you pretend that answering your question also answers James's, then it won't make any sense to anyone else. James wants to know why games set in the modern day that include no "supernatural" elements are not more popular, presumably since, at first glance, it is a period and setting with which we are all familiar and has direct applicability to our daily life, contrary to a fantasy or SF setting, or to a setting in the modern day that includes "supernatural" elements.

  65. You think there's a way to construct a quibble-free conversation? If you find it, you should trademark it, and sell it, and retire :)

    However, your question as currently constructed is, to my mind, fundamentally flawed.

    See, "modern" is not a genre, but fantasy and sci-fi are.

    So you're comparing an orange with two types of apples.

    As I've said elsewhere, you can have fantasy games, sci-fi games and realistic games, all set in the modern era.

  66. James wants to know why games set in the modern day that include no "supernatural" elements are not more popular, presumably since, at first glance, it is a period and setting with which we are all familiar and has direct applicability to our daily life, contrary to a fantasy or SF setting, or to a setting in the modern day that includes "supernatural" elements.

    Again, correct.

  67. Vigilance: This is why people define things in the question. While individuals have certain idiosyncratic ways of interpreting particular words, for the purposes of the question we can assume that the word means what it is defined in the question to mean.

  68. I will fall back on my first answer. It is hard to romanticize the age you live in. The past can always be seen as the golden age and the future can always look bright but the here and now ARE here and now so when you try to romanticize it the second you go outside you get knocked around by the fact its not.

  69. I loved my friend Bob's military-historical game, Where the Crosses Grow. It made some interesting tweaks to the D&D-style combat system to better emulate the squad level action-reaction cycle, what's no called Boyd's OODA loop.

  70. Modern day rpgs shows almost the same enviroment, what you see in everyday. Sci-fi is more abstract (E.G. Thechno blabla, paralell universes,etc.) In fantasy you can relax easier than in the other two style.

  71. "As I've said elsewhere, you can have fantasy games, sci-fi games and realistic games, all set in the modern era"

    Exactly, and James is wondering why the "realistic" games set in the modern era seem to be so much less popular than the fantasy and sci-fi ones. You seem to have taken his question as some sort of attack on modern era gaming. Its impossible to wonder why "realistic" modern era games aren't more popular without making the distinction between them and "non-realistic" modern games...

  72. I would say that it is the "realistic" part of the equation that is key. I would tend to agree that realistic modern RPGs are not terribly popular, but how many "realistic" ancient or mediaeval RPGs are out there? How many realistic games set in the future? I would imagine that the fantastical element, be it magic, zombies or hyperdrive, which takes us out of our normal frame of reality, is what makes them appealing. I very much doubt I would want to play an RPG where I was a mediaeval peasant.

  73. Cord, exactly the point I've been trying to make. Separating out realistic modern RPGs really skews any information on how popular the setting is that you might want to gain.

    As you point out, completely realistic games are few and far between in *any* era. Depending on how strict you wanted to be, you'd be reduced to Boot Hill, Top Secret and Gangbusters.

    You could provisionally include Spycraft, but their core setting had psionics and magic, GURPs, though most people again add magic, and Top Secret SI (though that, again had options added for supers as I recall.

  74. @Vigilance

    I think you're getting way too hung up on semantics and missing the spirit of the question.

    Flashing Blades fits, as does Privateers and Gentlemen. So does a game like Maelstrom, which includes a weak magic can be readily ignored, allowing the game to be played as a straight Tudor England historical game.

  75. Asking the question "how many realistic historical rpgs are there" only serves to re-emphasize the point being made in the original posting. The question could just as easily be "why aren't there more non-fantastic historical rpgs?" I'm not sure why this is so complicated for some. There is no bias at all in asking why realistic rpgs aren't more popular than they are and the only way its possible to frame that question is by drawing a distinction from "non-realistic" rpgs.

    The fact that there aren't all that many realistic modern rpgs (or in fact realistic rpgs of any era) is entirely the point of the matter - and is what leads to the query "why?"

  76. I'll just reiterate what I hinted at earlier: non-fantastic games (historic or modern day) are less popular because they're unnecessary. You might need reference material, and rules mods for more realistic detail might be useful, but basically you don't need an entire game system tailor-made for a specific non-fantastic setting. There's already a fantastic setting game that can handle any given non-fantastic setting, just by stripping out the fantastic stuff.

    Reduce OD&D to fighters and thieves and you could handle most pre-gunpowder historic settings with barely any rules modifications. If you think even OD&D is a little too grandiose, you could do it with Basic Roleplaying. CoC can handle realistic 1920s, or Victorian or Modern Day with the appropriate supplements. Traveller could be used for non-futuristic settings, with a little tweaking. I believe Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes is a T&T variant, isn't it? And the generics like GURPS and Hero System are always lurking out there...