What comes first?

The chicken or the egg? Or the game and everything else? Or maybe, the quest versus the world? Is there a definitive answer to something like this? It’s hard to know for sure, but its something to think about.

For example, I often run games for people new to Pathfinder. One of things I try to ensure is that learning the game comes first. I like to try to work my way through the rule and ensure that everything players might want to know is covered at some point during the game. That’s it.

What isn’t there is a specific quest, or anything else. I have to make this stuff up to suit my needs. So, when I play the game, since most people don’t have too much material, setting the game in Golarion, Pathfinder’s default setting isn’t very useful. What I find much more useful us making something up to suit my needs, as well as those of the gamers.

The environment needs to suit the needs of the game. As GM, I need to make sure the environment I’m incorporating into my story suits my needs to the utmost, and so most of what I use is my own design, but heavily influenced by Pathfinder. One way of demonstrating this is by creating my own cities. I can make a town to suit my needs. However, to keep the flavor of Pathfinder I might do something like add a church or two from deities that would be found in Golarion. In this way, I can keep my game close to the world created for the game I’m playing, but use a completely different environment.

As noted in the opening paragraph, there isn’t a clear answer to this. It’s also the kind of topic I’ll revisit from time to time. Whatever you do, have fun doing it.

D&D 30 day challenge

I’m going to take on the D&D 30 day challenge. Not because I feel like I need to place an obstacle before myself, but just to reflect on my own gaming. That is what these kinds of things are best for, right?

The above tweet is just a random selection from a search of the #dnd30daychallenge.

Rather than do this for the month of April, which is basically over, I’m going to do this for the month of May. We’ll call the this the #DnDmonthofmaychallenge. Why? Because I wanted a needlessly long hashtag, and because I missed this in April.

I like all these questions, and this is stuff I reflect on a lot anyway when I’m prepping game material. Being able to span it out in-depth for a month should be interesting. It’ll be a good excuse to look over some of my gaming material and help me focus my ideas.

Since I often find myself playing the teacher for RPGs, I like that I have an excuse to try to examine more closely things, like “Favorite Undead”. Usually when I write material, I just look for practical solutions to my gaming scenarios, but sometimes I feel like I could better. Taking on challenges like this one give me an excuse to do just that. It’s an excuse to read through the books in-depth. As soon as I saw some of these questions I was already mentally flipping through a Monstrous Manual. Looking forward to the entire challenge.

 

The GM Problem

In reality, the issue that there is a shortage of GMs. This has been a fairly static truth for as long as I’ve been gaming. No matter how many people come to the table to try their hands at TTRPGs, there are never enough people to run games.

In fact, now that I’ve got more experience, I can say that this is true in general. I’ve not done much in the way of Roll20 gaming, but I’ve played face-to-face games and play-by-post. No matter what, there are just not enough GMs for all the possible games.

I mean, to a certain extent, I get it. Learning a game is hard enough, but if you’re inexperience the whole thing can be quite daunting. Running a game, which is more work than playing no matter how experienced you are, can seem like an impossible task. Yet, someone needs to do it, or the game doesn’t happen.

For my part, I was always a little intimidated, but once I tried running a game, I loved it. I like creative writing, and I immediately saw where I could make use of story-telling. In fact, running games completely changed my perspective on gaming in general, as well as story-telling.

The answer is clear, YOU!, yes YOU! the reader need to help get more people behind the screen and running games. It’s not what it seems from the player side and its great fun. Give it a go!

Marketing RPGs

I just, literally like 10 minutes prior to posting this, saw an article about why D&D 5E is so successful. The synopsis was marketing, and I’d have to agree. A lot of things have changed over the years, but the impact of savvy marketing cannot be understated.

People have spoken to the impact of watching live play on YouTube. I freely admit to having done this. It is a fantastic way of showing people how games work. It makes them less opaque, and less obscure.

But the marketing.

Often when I hear people talk about 5E, the system is a mixed bag. No one hates it outright, but it doesn’t have quite the finesse it looked like it was going to have initially. Also, Wizards of the Coast hasn’t published too much content for it. (Granted, the community content is quite substantial.)

Yet, the way the company has embraced things like Twitch, Critical Role, and community content is impressive. I have to agree that what is moving the game is not the game. The brand is strong, and pushing the product through alternative means has helped make D&D a force to be reckoned with again.

I’ve spoken about inertia in gaming, and its something I’ll keep coming back to, but D&D has it in spades right now. The marketing just helps keep it going. I hope that the ability of that one game continues to drive people to the hobby. Everyone who plays TTRPGs will ultimately benefit from the hobby growing.

First fantasy

In retrospect, the road that led towards my love of the fantasy genre was longer than I’d initially realized. The path was initially tread when I was barely able to read, and I can probably follow my trail back to one book, The Mouse on the Motorcycle. Yes, a classic children’s novel by Beverly Cleary.

This book probably falls under what is referred to as urban fantasy now, but it’s so light as to be perfect for small children. As kids we all fought over that book in the school library. At the time offerings of that kind were few and far between, and this book was not only good, it was recommended by our teacher.

The story is this goofy little tale about a child who becomes friends with a mouse that rides a toy motorcycle. It’s very silly, but quite fun. It is also 100% fantasy. Even if it doesn’t feature dwarves and orcs and elves oh my!, it does evoke the anything goes of fantasy.

Reading this book, and then the stories of Roald Dahl most definitely set me on my path. I still recommend James and the Giant Peach for kids. It’s amazing how such a derided genre can be so pivotal for children’s literature.

Fantasy is core, and some of the best offerings are aimed entirely at kids too young to even ride their bicycles on the sidewalk. I know this was the case for me. If you’ve never read these stories, I suggest them.

Is OSR progress?

Is OSR progress in TTRPG? Is that advent of OSR gaming a way to innovate the hobby, or is it simply a reaction to game systems people didn’t like? I have to admit, I’m torn on this one, but as this whole OSR thing doesn’t appear to be going away any time I’ll weigh in.

By OSR, I’m referring to games that seek to resurrect older editions of games like Dungeons and Dragons in order to re-introduce elements of gaming people thought were being sacrificed in more modern games. This got started about the time Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition was released. I never played much 3rd edition, but I’ve played a lot of Pathfinder, a game designed to be backwards compatible with D&D 3.X. Pathfinder is decidedly not OSR, and it is something people reacted against. Apparently, Pathfinder, and more modern games have too many rules. I don’t know if I agree, but this is the argument a lot of OSR gamers advance.

The the question I’m often stuck on is, do OSR games represent actual innovation?

I guess in a way. The people who crafted the systems did so with an eye towards cleaning up and polishing some of the rough edges of earlier games. Rules have been refined, and re-worked to reflect more modern gaming. I guess in a way this is innovation. Technically, something new has been made.

At the same time, the only reason these games exist is to rehash older games. Literally. In some cases this is stated out-right. It’s hard for me to look at this and think its a step forward, even if some of these games are quite good. The real purpose of OSR game is to preserve a certain manifestation of TTRPGs.

There is nothing wrong with this, and I will always defend people playing the games they want to play. However, I’m generally not all that inspired by the OSR movement. I’m happy to see people taking a stand for something they love, but I’m not so keen on people acting like other ways to play TTRPGs are somehow not proper RPGs. Such is life. Everyone is entitled their opinion.

Inertia

Like most things, TTRPGs have inertia. Now, if you’re an avid gamer then you’re already familiar with this. If you’re not, let me know explain. Games in the world of TTRPG live or die by how many people are playing them. It has very little to do with how good or bad a game is (although this is certainly a factor!), rather it is about the opportunity to find a group to play with. The overwhelming popularity of D&D’s 5th Edition has returned that particular title back to it’s status as “the” game. Is it the best game? In my opinion, no. Is it a good game? Yes, definitely. More importantly, it is the most well-known brand in the TTRPG world. In fact, even people who aren’t gamers probably know the name “Dungeons and Dragons”.

The power of D&D’s name recognition though is extremely important. I’m watching people flock to the hobby because of the popularity of the current edition of D&D. I love seeing all these people come to the hobby. It really makes me smile to see people enjoying something I’ve loved for over 20 years. The inertia part plays a big role here. It is easy to find a game of D&D. Lots of people play it, are familiar with, and are willing to break out there dice for a session of it.

Beyond that though, fewer games have that drawing power. One of my absolute favorite games is 13th Age. I fucking love this system. It is great! If you haven’t checked it out I highly recommend you do it.  However, as a game that isn’t well known, it’s harder to get sessions going. Its just a much less popular game. The fact that is an ward winning game don’t matter. Branding is effective, and D&D is top dog. Thus, the inertia is behind D&D. The upside to this is that people can branch out and try other games after they’ve cut their teeth on D&D. This is only a good thing.

Too much stuff?

In general, I’m not a big fan of conspicuous consumption. There’s always more stuff to buy than anyone actually needs. Sadly, the RPG hobby has fallen prey to this trend.

Simply put, there is just too much stuff to buy. Don’t get me wrong, I love games. I have my own personal library, and gaming books account for part of it. Additionally, I expect to add to it over time.

My problem though comes with the never-ending parade of content. More frustratingly though is the even larger parade of people promoting the content. I have a feed on Twitter that I’ve curated, but on any given day it’s just an ad for buying more game stuff.

Music, coins, maps, journals, books, miniatures, and the list goes on. “I’m just gonna boost the signal here,” and another person promotes another RPG Kickstarter. Its like I’ve developed a sort of commercial fatigue to RPGs. I used to get really excited when I saw new stuff coming out, but now….not so much. Now I’m frustrated by how much stuff is coming out, and I keep thinking that the RPG industry, along with board games, basically survives on people just buying shit.

It makes me sad that such a great DIY hobby has taken on such a strong sales component, but its growing the hobby. The constant pressure to purchase more is annoying, but it also grows the hobby. It’s a tough call, but in my opinion there is maybe just too much stuff. I guess I could think of worse things.

The TTRPGMaker

At the moment, there is a voluntary gaming challenge going around for TTRPG workers to post their answers to questions. I’ve mostly only seen this on Twitter, but its intriguing to see the large numbers of people responding.

I for one, have never created RPG material. Not outside of my own games. Again, as with other RPG challenges, I’m happy to see people participating. It’s good to know who is out there, what they do, who they work with, and so on.

Sometimes when I look through a book, not all of the names carry weight, but challenges like this one help people get a bit more notoriety. I’m generally supportive of this one. I guess I really had no idea how many people really participate in creating games.

This challenge left me feeling a bit isolated though. It almost felt like a giant ad. On one hand, in a hobby as niche as table-top gaming, exposure is a big deal. For me though, who is mostly on the consumer side, I don’t know that I see this stuff, and am more compelled to purchase.

In my eyes, I feel like I’m looking at little interviews where people can read about each other. I guess my sticking point is that, I feel like it’s mostly for the people who have the creds to post. Since I don’t, I’m less likely to participate. My main takeaway is seeing the volume of people who post, and make these games possible. I take my hat off to all you for helping make the hobby what it is.

Expanding game content

While perusing the net today, I started wondering about the overall growth of the rpg industry. It might seem like an odd thing to consider, but I’ve seen a few articles talking about the year on year growth of the hobby-gaming industry. These articles range from positive to not-so-positive, but there is actually quite a bit out there.

A few points to consider are, there is an incredible amount of content being produced. Essentially, its reaching the point where playing it all is not only undesirable, it’s not even really possible. Sounds bad right? On one hand, it is. However, another side of it means that there is likely a constantly expanding variety of content to choose from. Not everyone will be interested in the same stuff. Even if no one could play it all, would you really want to?

A second point to consider is who is buying this stuff. I read recently that there has been a dramatic upswing in the 30+ crowd who want to have a quiet night, maybe a drink or two, with friends at home. This doesn’t surprise me at all. It also coincides well with the first point. The more content that is available, and more widely, then the more likely people will be able to pick this stuff up.

These are just a couple of developments that have come to light. There’s a third, the money made by people creating the games, but that is for another post. Also, I didn’t put any sources here. I promise I read informative things, but I didn’t save the links. When I read the articles I hadn’t planned on writing this blog post. Something to remember for the future.