Wednesday, June 21, 2017

"Break Out Your Wallet and Buy About 30 Games"

This snippet is originally from a comment I was going to make on this post by Alexis; I excised it because it started to get a bit long for a comment. Still, it perfectly sums up my feelings towards the current "market".
Even worse, there's this almost universal fixation on the current, inaccurately-numbered "edition" over virtually anything else; I keep telling my sympathetic friends that what the hobby really needs is gamers who can sit still for five minutes without chasing after the nearest shiny object. These same players, rather than using things that are quite visible within the books they already own (and that see little use as is - gnomes, anyone?) feel compelled to buy the latest expensive hardcover that is literally a repackaging of something that came out 20 or 30 years ago.
A lot to unpack here. Recently, the tabletop club at the university of which I am an alumnus was all abuzz about the live stream of Wizards of the Coast's presentations at some industry convention or other. Much excitement about this stuff that brought back some character or other from 2nd Edition.

Me? I realized several years ago that it's not necessary to keep buying things for a game in order to continue playing it. At least, that's how a game should be designed. From what I understand, this is still largely true with 5th Edition; after buying the Player's Handbook, and then the Dungeon Master's Guide and Monster Manual if you're a DM, you're good to go. (The original intent was to have this also be true of the free Basic Rules PDFs, but evidently those are less useful to DMs than they should be.)

And yet, the other club people were SO FREAKING EXCITED that they might get an official gunslinger class. As I've repeatedly stated to several friends, why is there a need for a separate gunslinger class? If the DM is one to include firearms in their campaign (for the record, I'm not), then why not just have the gunslinger be a ranger and have the character buy a gun? Or, in 2e, even a plain old fighter - who could take advantage of weapon specialization to have a further bonus to hit with their gunshots?

Even worse than this was one 5e game I played in where, apparently, fighters didn't exist... but gunslingers did. Because a cast piece of steel with moving mechanical parts and explosive powder is more common than a stick. (I really need to write a full post on this yahoo's game soon.)

One GM whose Pathfinder game I played in for a while was in the habit of bringing their rulebooks with them in a milk crate. And apparently Paizo has rewritten part of the dictionary and included it in one of those tomes, since the very definition of "core" has apparently changed in Pathfinder. Core classes are not just the ones included in the Core Rulebook, no ma'am; core classes also include the ones from the Advanced Class Guide, Advanced Player's Guide, Occult Adventures, et cetera. It baffles me that anyone would voluntarily subject themselves - and worse, their players - to this level of rules bloat.

If the original D&D rules were released today, they would be seen as mysteriously backwards. Not only with how primitive some of the mechanics are, or the poor art, or the laughable lack of organization. I can imagine a modern "conspicuous consumer" type gamer looking at it:

"You mean that's it? Just three booklets in a box, and you don't have to buy anything else? How are you supposed to keep your players' interest, if you're not constantly adding new shiny books and buying more elaborate dice?"

Someone else would then step in and try to explain the value of, you know, running a game that people actually want to keep coming back to because they're having fun, but without a literal sales pitch hawking TSR's reheated leftovers, the CC gamer would quickly lose interest.

There is enough stuff here already. There are more RPGs on the market, past and present, than any one person or group would ever be able to play. I read an interview with Bob Dylan where he said something similar about music, and I tend to agree. RPGs are an even more special case; a huge portion of the product is pre-written modules and settings, which back in the old days were not as widely used. Instead, the DM would actually write their own material.

Now, the simple fact of a DM creating their own campaign from scratch - rather than just reading boxed text out of a hardcover book with boring artwork* - is bizarre to people like those that make up my gaming club. They refer to such strangeness as "homebrew". They spent over one hundred dollars on tools allowing them to make their own games, and rather than do so, they continue to pay other people $50 at a time to make the games for them. And not just once or twice, so they can see how such a thing might be done; they have to invent a label to "other" those weirdos who actually sit down, pay attention, and put in the necessary work to make something of their own.

It's depressing, really.

*The artwork for most of the 5e books is not bad from a technical perspective, but it's so boring. Curse of Strahd and Tales from the Yawning Portal both just have a person sitting or standing there, Dungeonology (yeah, not technically a rulebook, but a lot of people in the club have bought it) shows a picture of a monster that most characters will not meet until much later in the game, and all of the core books except for the Monster Manual fail to give an impression of what actually happens in the game. Compare them to the original Players Handbook (or even the Rules Cyclopedia) and you'll see what I mean.


  1. It is a business, of course. That's the compulsion for the game designers, to create something that is just barely interesting yet different enough to warrant justifying a purchase. There's no need for true innovation or expansion. Or, if you're a designer of "indie" RPGs, there's the opportunity for innovation and by golly, you're going to take advantage of it and create something new that will challenge the current stale market! Except, that is, until your work becomes the market and you're invested in keeping that market going. Which means you're only interested in designing to a point - just far enough to be able to get your foot in the door.

    1. The business end extends beyond the manufacturer's promotion of the rules themselves, too. A part of me feels somewhat guilty for not spending more money at my FLGS, since I make regular use of their tables (especially after the owner spent several weeks trying to order a now out-of-print book for me, and especially because the previous such store went bust several years ago). But if I already have the books and plenty of dice, there's no real reason for me to keep buying more stuff aside from the snacks and drinks they have for sale.

      (Of course, I might make an exception if they could special-order some miniatures for me... but then I really don't need many more of those, either.)

    2. "No longer do we find many games for whom the rules and game constructs provide a magical key to enter the worlds they have longed for all their lives. I meet far more who know only the games themselves. The result is that they either become bores, or they burn out on gaming quickly. They run through all the neat stuff published, and it's just not enough. They eat and eat, but are still hungry. They cannot see the legendary being the monster stats represent, but only more and more stats."
      --Arthur Collins, "The Auld Alliance," Dragon Magazine #216, April 1995.

      The trend you speak of has been going on for a long time now.

      And the rest of the article is well worth reading if you can find it.

    3. I've started reading the article, and already I'm thinking I have to start asking some hard questions about my various gaming "circles". (Although Collins' ribbing about the clergy - stating that his non-ministerial wife was "the only one of us who has any sense" - is exactly the opposite situation that surrounds me in my current time & place.)