May 19, 2009

Golly Gee, The Future of RPGs

Wyatt Salazar from Turbulent Thoughts, The Galaxy Melancholic and the Spirits of Eden has taken over The Core Mechanic! And until Jonathan Jacobs pays me enough money to buy some Strike Witches figurines, I will remain firmly in his digital throne.

Why is it so comfy? Why isn't mine this comfy? Why don't I get nice things...

Ahem. Well, this is a blog, so as long as I'm taking it over, I might as well do something productive.

This month's blog carnival is about the Future of RPGs and ever since I heard about it, I have been on a quest, my fellows.

A quest for a magical Kindle reader, which when set to an incorrect date, will display the New York Times of that day, thus allowing me a glimpse into the future. It is a scrying glass powered solely by geek magic of the Amazon school of diviners. I was told of this most mystical object by a cloaked nerd at a nearby bar who drank only cokes and seltzers.

But two things impeded my progress on this quest.

1) Kindle 2 is much sexier. I just can't go back.
2) The New York Times doesn't care about the future of RPGs.
2b) The New York Times may go bankrupt or stop publishing a paper at some point in the future, therefore even a Magical Kindle would not have worked altogether very well.

Oh, and the world ends in 2012 anyway.

So I discarded that idea, fun as it was to search Ebay and Craigslist for supposedly magical objects. So with only the power of my mind to assist me, let's talk about the Future of RPGs.

There are 3 topics which are the hot items to talk about when it comes to the future of RPGs.

The Table

A lot of people say the gaming table is going to die, but I say, nay! I think the gaming table, as any other living creature, will evolve in order to survive. And it shall evolve when we stick computers and projectors on it. Imagine a gaming table with touchpads, keyboards, and all manner of embedded doohickeys? Hell, the random number generators that such a beast might contain could end up killing DICE instead of technology killing the table.

Imagine programming your side of the table with all of your character's conceivable rolls and modifiers, perhaps even doing so ahead of time and bringing it on a small flash card. Imagine programming all of your game rules into your table. Imagine programming your dungeon master into the table! Hey yo dawg, I heard you like dungeon mastering, so we put a dungeon master in your table so you can dungeon master while you dungeon master.

Imagine the price tag on such a thing. I shudder.

But I don't think the game table has to die just because we're bringing computers over to it. The table and the digital world exist as two separate mediums of gaming, one of which I discuss in a three part series of posts on Musings of the Chatty DM. The table offers the ability to spend time at a friend's home. To drive there in bad traffic for an hour, to breathe in their cheeto musk, to beat the loving crap out of them because they're jerks.

The equivalent to all this in online gaming involves the /kick command in IRC. Unsatisfying, I say. Digital is convenient and is its own experience, but just like PDFs aren't going to disintegrate all your bound, mutilated tree souls who scream foul oaths at you in their own silent language, things like Gametable and Maptool will not suddenly invalidate the traditional invasion of somebody's home that is the hallmark of the RPG hobby.

Digital Tools

I want to talk to you about FATAL.

Look son. When a man and his calculator have very special feelings for each other, they do silly things. Silly things that they may later regret. Like creating an RPG system that uses mean, trigonometry and advanced algebraic equations for its play.

But the interesting thing about FATAL is that its creator, Byron Hall, in the midst of his gibbering insanity, had the clarity of mind to realize that nobody but he and his two physics buddies would ever play this game unless they created a means to simplify it all.

Byron Hall thought loftily. He would design programs and tools that would do all the FATAL math for you. He had a character generator, a FATAL calculator, and he probably had even more ideas on the way. I've not been acquainted with these tools though. Because sadly, FATAL was a piece of juvenile crap and its short life was full of torment and pain. But I hear from reliable sources that did use them that the game was...horrible with them. But at least your player's turns didn't last as long as a standardized math test.

Digital Tools have only gotten better. But I don't believe the initiative will be with the game designers (other than Wizard's of the Coast, who has the initiative but not the corporate direction to become the steward to the digital world), at least not at first, unless the game is from the ground-up designed to mesh with a digital tool component that is either absolutely necessary or generally enriches the game experience. I'm not talking about a character generator or stuff like that. I think that sort of thing will continue to be done better by plucky fans of the games who come from the open source community. Mostly because they do everything for free.

Look at Fantasy Ground. I don't know a single person who's ever paid for that (though I do know a lot of people who own it, nyack nyack). Now look at Maptool and Gametable. I don't know a single person who plays online who doesn't at least have them kicking around.

However, perhaps in the future we will see games with a big digital component that could enrich the experience in a way other than generate the characters or roll your dice. Maybe such a thing would more necessarily be a video game than an "honest" roleplaying game, or perhaps something even far beyond my imagination can occur.

Maybe "tabletop" rpgs marketed more towards online play through digital tools or special chat rooms and forums? Who knows. There's a big wide world of data out there just waiting to be explored, but I'm not sure how many people will consider it an option, especially when they see Wizard's ups and downs with it.


I've read surveys which say that most of the people who play RPGs are like, dinosaurs. I'm only 20, so when these same surveys tell me that the audience who plays RPGs is going to die and then nobody will play them ever again, I can only laugh at the insane leap of logic that must be made in order to support such a point of view.

To be entirely fair, I don't think the RPG market is ever going to "grow". By grow, I mean significantly, in relation to other forms of competing entertainment. When I see two guys in a bar talking about "that sweet attack roll" by that "awesome tiefling warlock" they saw on Monday Night Dungeons, I will kill myself. Then, my ghost will digitize and haunt all of your online games inserting unbalanced encounters, traps that would make Gygax smile in his grave, and causing you to critical hit each other in "friendly" duels and deal lethal damage, for no reason. I will become the Twilight haunting your games.

But I also don't think that RPG gaming is just going to disappear from the face of the Earth. I don't buy into the statistics that claim that no new gamers are coming to prop up the hobby so that it won't disappear when the rexes go to the big Jurassic Park in the sky. But then again, I don't buy into statistics for the most part, I await the day when Math is disproven and all of the World is in chaos as to just what the hell's been going on for the past thousand years.

Someday I will triumph over you and your devilish creations, Euclid, Newton and Leibniz. Put ya gunz on.

As more and more RPG efforts have taken to the internet these days (just look at that how big that Old School Rebellion thing or whatever has gotten since it started like six thursdays ago) the audience that they can reach is potentially infinite, if they would just try.

But if the big companies want to get more fresh blood, the advertising needs to be more widespread and more effective on the internet.

Wizard's of the Coast has that free D&D 4th Edition Test Drive thing, but what do they do on their website to let people know? They stick a little note halfway down their front page. Meanwhile all their banner ads are telling people idiotic things like "DON'T SPLIT THE PARTY," and "BUY D&D MINIATURES" and "THIS IS AN AVENGER, THIS IS AN INVOKER."

Conceivably, if I'm going to the Wizard's D&D website and I am a new gamer, and you tell me these things, I have no reason to give one quarter of a damn about them because I don't know what the hell you're talking about. If I play the game? I already know about them. So why are the giant banner ads about things the core audience is already going to be aware of?

Now, if you told me, the new gamer, in a huge banner ad that I could a) try out the game for free, b) get a free book that used to cost like 20 dollars and c) make any character I want using the free trial of your online tools, I'd be far, far more interested. I think a lot of new people would.

So in conclusion, Newton was a douchenozzle.

In Conclusion Conclusion

I have faith in the future of RPGs. I don't think it will ever reach the legendary fad status that I hear it had when it first came out again, and I think longing for such a thing is a ticket to disappointment. On the other hand, I don't think it will die out.

In fact, I think even though D&D Insider is a messy first step in showing people the future of RPGs, the alternatives it has generated from both fans and detractors (and the old competitors that have been thrust into a spotlight now that a big company is fumbling at what they have been doing for a while) it has done us a lot of good.

So yeah. I think the future of RPGs is pretty okay. Or at least, it has a potential to be pretty okay.

But that might just be a product of my youthful and vigorous outlook.

Ah, that feels good. Back to taking over The Core Mechanic.


What was that? No, Jonathan! Don't come any closer! I am armed with things to throw at you! Things that belong to you and can conceivably break if I hit you with them!


  1. Wyatt, I have a (completely heterosexual) man-love for your writing style. Only 20 and you write better than me. You fucker.

    I didn't know about your other blog either, so now I get to enjoy your writing without having to stomach D&D. (Nothing against your Spirits of Eden thing, what I've seen looks awesome promising, but even my creepy fascination with your writing can't overcome my general aversion to D&D.)

    So, wicked post, and if you ever need help getting the drop on Johnathan, I always have some chloroform, strong rope and duct-tape in the back of my car... you know... just in case.

  2. Thanks Helmsman. I'm actually going to edit another blog into the post, which I officially "opened" yesterday, which contains my fiction writing. Whole blog is sans-rpgs, but somebody might like it.

  3. But is a master, still a master when he plays?

    Or does a player turn into a master when he's in a dungeon?

    What if the dungeon is actually the master?

    DAAAAAMN! That is some quantum shit we're talking about right there :)


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