Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Simple Children Of The World

Greg Christopher wrote a post on Errant RPG that I have been turning over in my mind.  Most of the post, I'm afraid, suffers from the weight of a lot of gaming scene references that gaming scene people seem to think everyone has a deep, personal experience with.  For example, where Greg is describing what a "story game" is, he leads with ... well, here's the quote:

"These games really began to rise to popularity with White Wolf's triad of games; Vampire, Werewolf, and Mage. It dominates the independent gaming scene and has a lot more ink on paper than many realize. The success of FATE has been essential in moving the independent elements of this design wing into FLGS locations."

I want to say that I've never played any White Wolf game.  Until coming online, I'd never heard of White Wolf.  I can't remember ever seeing "White Wolf" written on any product box or booklet anywhere.  I probably have, but what I'm saying is that it just didn't register.  I didn't care.  This seems remarkable for something that dominates the independent gaming scene.  It absolutely has a lot more ink on paper than I realized, since I've given the matter zero thought except for the occasional reference to White Wolf in someone's blog that has caused me to think, "Oh, that shit again, I don't care."  It is something along the line of the music freak that goes on and on and on about Frank Zappa ... assuring you over and over that the emptiness of your life is a direct result of not owning at least a dozen Zappa albums.  And in this line of thought, I'd also like to add that I don't know what the fuck FATE is, or how it has been 'essential,' or what the fuck an FLGS location is.  I'm certain I could look up FLGS online, but I just can't be bothered.

Greg does start to give an actual definition to story games halfway through the paragraph, but true to journalistic dogma I've already given up and moved on.  It wasn't until I'd reached the end of the post, and had decided to write a post about it, that I motivated myself to actually reading the whole paragraph that had lost me on my first attempt.

Story games, apparently, are player-driven games.  It's actually that simple.

I think it's a little funny when an 'in-house' writer can make obscure references to in-house games, that no one outside the hobby can possibly be familiar with, but can't use the term 'player-driven' with the certainty that other in-house people will understand what's meant.  It's sort of like someone in the industry assuming you'll know the meaning of Fracking, but that you'll have to have drilling explained to you.

But I'm speaking somewhat derisively about Greg's post, which isn't actually my intent.  Up to now, these are just things that bug me.  I don't think they bug other people - particularly those deeply familiar with the wonders of White Wolf products.  Having explained three types of roleplaying (that just sound like one type to me), Greg asks the question, where are all the players?:

"There has been extensive talk in the community about RPGs dying. We have hemorraged players for the past decade. Why?"

Okay, first of all, do we have numbers on this?  I'm a statistician, you see, and if there are hard numbers describing the RPG hobby both in 1985 and today, I want to see them - because that would be, you know, cool.  I suspect there aren't any numbers, however, because if there were they would be posted on hundreds of blogs, with everyone saying "Look, 83,844 players in 1985, and 51,087 players now!  My god, what's happening!"

And without numbers, I've got to say, we've got the premise to describe absolutely zilch.  I know people are probably remembering that conventions in the 80s had more people ... when there were, A., less conventions, and there was, B., less divisions in the kind of RPG you played.  I know people are probably remembering when it was easier to get a game started on campus when A., campus authorities gave less of a shit what people did in empty lecture halls, and B., virtually everyone who played the game were less than 23 because the game was ten years old.  Today, of course, there's a 50/50 chance that one of the people in a gaming group is 19 to 22 and has moved out from their parent's house, so a campus meeting room isn't needed.  In 1980 to 1985, the mass of growth in the hobby was aged 8 to 15 - older people being ignorant to the hobby's invention, since it was sold exclusively in children's gaming stores - but I have no statistics on that, so please give those numbers absolutely no credence whatsoever.

Listen, I know there's a sense that things must be on the skids, but as human beings we have to learn not to trust these pessimistic inclinations.  Gut instincts are primarily fashioned to keep you from getting lost or getting injured.  Your default setting is don't trust anything.  Your sense that things are going badly is the same sense that makes you check every three minutes or so to make sure that your fellow pubcrawling buddies haven't ditched you while you're over here hitting on this boob-endowed bartender.  Yep, still there.  Yep, still there.  Better check again ... if they take off I'm fucked.

Yet still I'm not at the point where Greg inspired me to write this post.  I just want to get in my points that we don't have the slightest clue how many people are out there playing the game.  We really, really can't go on the basis of anyone's sales figures, anywhere.  I play D&D with 10 other players now, counting those not always present, and some of those players are heavily involved in bi-weekly Battletech game, and I can tell you for a fact that the total income these people transmit most months to the gaming industry is Zero Dollars.  That's because we don't need to spend any money to play the things we love.  We already have all the things we need to buy.  We spend more money on videogames because we can't just keep playing the same video game forever.  Videogames are not built that way.

It's as though saying that the decline in music sales by the masters of the industry plummeting was proof positive that people were losing all interest in music, and not just that they were getting their music from other sources, or stealing it.  Sales make the worst sort of statistics.  They only apply to the companies that are accounted for, and they're not translateable to the number of people buying, since the only measure is money.  One buyer who drops $3,000 in an afternoon cannot be compared to one thousand children who can only afford to buy one d20 this month.  Which, I ask you, is relevant to the popularity of the hobby?

At last, however, let me get to the motivation.  Greg has given me plenty of fuel; I've casually been tossing log after log on a nice, warm fire, driving off the chill of the room and offering plenty of eye-candy as the flames ripple.  But as the logs crumble down into embers, I'll get to my purpose.

Greg's answer to the disappearance of players is that there are weaknesses in the various RPG styles.  Here's how he describes the flaw in player-driven (story style) RPG's:

"This style requires too much of the Players. There are some really great players out there, but we cannot design the game assuming that the players will be virtuousos ... most of the complaints against this style that I have read on the web focus on this aspect, that the players don't want to have to make everything up. They don't all want narrative power. Some people just want to show up and drink beer and not read the rules ..."

There's just one little flaw in this flaw.  It fails to take reality into account.

Let's consider, in comparison, the existence of the piano.  Oh sure, there are those who just want to show up and listen to people play a piano.  There are those who don't want to invent songs for it, or learn to play it, or who find the traditional piano a lot of trouble and would rather just play an organ.

But taking that as evidence that pianos shouldn't, therefore, be designed to enable the existence of virtuosos is ... dumb.

Let's consider the difficulty in making a piano.  A Steinway Concert Grand, one of the best pianos in the world, takes about 11 months to fabricate.  Excessive effort goes into choosing the type of wood, cutting it to as near-perfect shape as is humanly possible, polishing it, perfecting the interrelationships of the parts, etcetera, etcetera.  As of 2010, the company Steinway has built approximately 600,000 pianos, about 25,000 of which are of the highest quality (D).  The cost of the piano is so high that on the Steinway website, they don't quote a price - you have to write asking for more information.  Through other sources, the price ranges upwards from $165,000.  For $1,590, you can rent a Steinway D-274 for a day.

How long does it take to learn to play piano?  Most educational factories that teach piano will downplay this question, arguing that you can "immediately," since what they want is your money and they know most of you will quit in the first few weeks.  In reality, it will probably take a year of steady interest to bring you to the point where you'll be able to play a variety of songs without much difficulty, reading them from sheet music.  In two or three years, you'll start to feel quite comfortable with the instrument, and in five years you will be the kind of talent that can sit down at a piano at a party and play for an hour or so without difficulty.  Some people do it more quickly than this; some people never do it.

Most piano players will never have any idea how good the piano they're playing on is.  All will "sense" this particular piano is better or worse, but that's almost always how out of tune the piano is, and not the actual quality of the piano.  Only somone on their way to becoming a virtuoso will be able to tell that a particular part of the piano has been badly made ... and that's because a virtuoso will do more than play.  They will learn to take pianos apart and to tune them, and thus become far, far more involved with the existence of the instrument.

Let's go back to Greg's assertion: "We cannot design the game assuming that the players will be virtuousos."  I'm sorry Greg, but this completely wrong assertion is based on the fact that - until now - every game has been designed on the belief that players cannot possibly be virtuousos.  Or, alternatively, if there are such mythical persons, they are so rare, and so few and far between, there cannot possibly be any monetary value in creating a product that would satisfy such a tiny, insignificant number of buyers.

Therefore, every game in existence has been designed for MORONS.  Dumb, beer-swilling fucks with a tiny bit of money, who wouldn't know a good game if it jacked them sideways up the butt with a frac-injection system.  Games are designed for MORONS because companys that are run by MORONS are convinced that only people like themselves exist in the world and have money.  People who don't have the 'player will' to sit down at a game for more than a few weeks without throwing up their hands with the positive certainty that "I WILL NEVER LEARN THIS!!"

I have one more contention to air.  Greg writes,

"... these games are way too complex for a new person to master.  For better or worse, kids today are not as willing to read a huge book of rules and learn them all.  They just aren't."

These wacky kids and their inability to understand complex things.  Especially anything with a huge book of rules, like the legal system; or anything else that's extraordinarily difficult to master, like human anatomy; or complicated subject material, like astrophysics, computer design, geology, mathematics and chemistry; or things with endless amounts of written data that needs to be read and assimilated, like history or literature.

It's really a terrible shame that there are no children who are insanely fascinated with any of those subjects, otherwise they would exhaustively spend their time digging out every imaginable piece of material and consuming it like self-educating fiends in an effort to understand precisely the tiniest detail.  But there are no children like that, anywhere in the world.  The only children who exist are those who hope someday to drink beer and arrive ready to play a game that someone else has taken the time to buy.


Arduin said...

Having started playing within the past decade, and with at least one player under ten, and two under fifteen at every session, all of whom are perfectly capable of reading and understanding AD&D without difficulty;


The game is for intelligent, imaginative people to play with other intelligent, imaginative people. If you are neither, I hear national sport affords beer drinking and spectatorship aplenty.

ChicagoWiz said...

Ever since Blogger put out a "teaser" of one line, I've been waiting for this post. One would think you have a bit of a sadist in you. :)

I think the latest editions of the most popular RPGs and tactical wargames (Warhammer 40k, Field of Glory) would prove Greg's assertion regarding "kids/reading thick books" wrong. Clocking in at thousands of pages and millions of words (online and printed), WotC has made 4e into a beast, yet I see kids playing it weekly at local gamestores. The Pathfinder books are huge and heavy, yet I see plenty of teenagers playing them. Warhammer and tactical miniatures have plenty of rules, splat books and variants and those tables have a lot of young players.

There was a great deal of what I believe was "Forge-speak" in Greg's post, but I'm not going to get into that, because I don't want to derail your post from it's singular point - RPGs are games where skill can add to the experience for all involved. People who don't want that kind of game won't play the same way that the more skilled players do, yet make no mistake that skill will greatly change the tenor of a game. There seems to be a great deal of push-back against that concept from a group of vocal people. I'm not sure why? Political correctness? The idea that you can't be better than someone else? (Tell that to the billionaires, celebrities and professional athletes)

I know that I try to improve my skill as a DM in every game I run, whether it's enhancing an understanding of how I want a particular spell to work, or adding another option to combat to improve it, to just understanding how to run a better game. If people just want to come to a game and toss dice and not worry about skills, they'll find a game/group that suits them. Why do we need an RPG to address all that? We already have them.

Alexis said...

I accidentally hit publish just as I started to write the thing and that's the reason for your "teaser," Chi; maybe I should do that every time?

Write about "Forge-speak" on your blog, then. I'd like to know just what it is.

Greg Christopher said...

Just as a quick note, I am still reading the text wall, but I didn't mean White Wolf dominates the indy scene, but Story Gaming dominates the indy scene. Story focus started with White Wolf but then moved indy. Sorry if that was unclear.

Greg Christopher said...

Alexis, I think you are just operating out of ignorance here and that is the problem. I don't mean ignorance negatively; you admitted you have never seen White Wolf and you don't know about FATE, so I am just inferring that you are not exposed to these kind of games.

There are games that place enormous responsibility on the player, to the degree that players are making up their own skills on their character sheet and defining aspects of their character that then have mechanical basis in the game. There are even GM-less games where everyone has enormous responsibility. If you have never played those games or read them, I can see how my comments would be confusing.

It was definitely written for people with a good grasp on all three types of games that I was discussing, sorry for the jargon.

Alexis said...

Sure Greg, that's understandable. It's that darn English language and its rules, such as the 3rd person pronoun of the following sentence relating to the last clause of the previous sentence.

Greg, please accept my apologies, if they're warranted. I really didn't start out to carve you up into pieces. Your particular post is just endemic of a general malaise that grips the gaming industry - the sense that, to increase credibility, we have to get more people into the chairs. I feel that just a few gross of concert virtuosos is enough ... let the rest of the world do their best to emulate them.

I meant to redirect your perception, not trounce all over it. And sorry, too, for the cheap joke at the beginning of this comment. It's just that if we can accept that complicated rules exist to govern the way we speak to each other, why can't complicated rules exist be designed for the game to be complex?

Alexis said...

Regarding your belief in my ignorance; I return the ball to you, sir, in that you think ignorantly that White Wolf or any company began the concept of player-driven story games. I was playing such games when you were still sucking your Mama's teat, m'lad ... its only that this is where your rather sad memory begins that you think this is where the concept begins.

Story-telling has been a practice for only a few thousand years. Who gives a fuck what White Wolf added to that?

Greg Christopher said...

Alexis, you cut the header though, that is misleading. The paragraph was about story games. the header says "Story games" So when I said "these started with *blah*. It dominates *blah*"

I don't think that is too terrible of a subject transition, do you? Should I start every sentence with "story games blah blah". Both pronouns reference the same subject; the header.

Greg Christopher said...

We are really talking about jargon here, Alexis.

You are like the conservative religious dude arguing about how evolution is "just a theory"

We are using different terms, really we are.

Story Games is a genre of RPGs, where mechanics are largely used to determine who has narrative control over a scene rather than actually resolve what is occuring. For example, instead of having a fight where you roll dice, you roll dice to determine which players gets to dictate how the fight goes. It is totally different from traditional RPG designs.

Greg Christopher said...

To give a better example:

In D&D,
3 people come across a monster. You know how it is mechanically resolved; blow-by-blow.

In Story Games,
3 people come across a monster. Dice are rolled. Player A wins. Player A then describes how he defeats the monster, using whatever narrative flair he wants. He doesn't roll "to hit" or deal damage or anything like that. His victory with the dice gave him essentially GM powers to just reshape the world how he wants.

The differences between story games largely are about how that narrative control is limited and/or determined.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Forge-Speak, Alexis, try this link out:

Greg Christopher said...

I find myself having to defend story games hilarious, since I don't like them very much. I was just trying to use their jargon to describe them, because if I didn't then the people who do would have come back on me about how I was "misunderstanding" them. Instead, I get Alexis misunderstanding me.

Bizarre world, this one.

Alexis said...


You can equivocate, you can hem and haw, you can re-explain and re-evaluate and so on six ways from Sunday, but you used English and you said words which I answered, both quoting them and discussing them IN CONTEXT.

I did not make a random answer, Greg. I carefully constructed a reasonable and acceptable argument as to why you were dead fucking wrong. You’re not disputing any of my actual arguments. You’re disputing that I’m capable of reading English.

If you really are this bad with getting your point across, and if you really are going to fall back on the same straw nonsense of “what I really meant was ...” you ought to seriously consider just what writing is, how it is done clearly, how to make a point so anyone can possibly understand and so on.

I can’t believe that you think the subject here is “what is a Story Game.” Lame, brother. That train left the station a long time ago. As such, these last three comments from you have been bullshit. I don’t know what your point is. No one does. And even if they did, and they addressed whatever the hell you were saying, you’d only answer that they didn’t understand what it was you were saying.

You’re really Ron Paul in disguise, right?

Greg Christopher said...

Alexis, I see no point in contesting you when you are ignorant about the subject matter.

Story games DO objectively require significantly more player contribution than other genres of RPGs. My pointing out that this is a weakness of the style is therefore factually accurate. If you do not know what a story game is, are unfamiliar with White Wolf, much less games with smaller distribution like FATE-based derivatives of (Dresden Files, Spirit of the Century, Houses of the Blooded, etc), and I assume even less popular games in the story style like Dogs in the Vineyard; how can you possibly contest me on the point of whether these games require more of the player than other RPGs?

My point was that Story games require more of the player than other genres. Are you honestly contesting this without even knowing what a story game is?

Alexis said...

GREG! Wake up! The post wasn't about story games!

Are you denying that any of the quotes on this blog post came from your site?

Greg Christopher said...


You accurately quote me as saying "THIS STYLE REQUIRES TOO MUCH OF THE PLAYERS"

Not RPGs in general, but that particular style of games. And you admittedly know nothing about them. So how can you claim that my statement doesn't take reality into account?

Greg Christopher said...

And the whole post was about how to make games more successful in reaching more players.

Are you seriously arguing that making them MORE reliant upon players who are willing to put in large investments is going to ever accomplish a wider distribution?

Alexis said...

For those who do not know what’s going on, cognitive dissonance is a state of persistent denial resulting from an inability to resolve internal conflicting ideas which are held simultaneously.

It results most strongly when long-held beliefs based on little or no logic are challenged in such a fashion that to accept change requires the rethinking of long held, and long defended, positions.

Since this normally results in a tremendous loss of face, in the sense that all this time the individual has been wrong and is only now realizing that everyone in the world knows it, the attempt to not feel like an utter fool results in a strong and irrational insistence that nothing has changed, and that nothing that has been said or pointed out has any relevance whatsoever to any previous event.

Anonymous said...

As a kindness to those both involved and reading, and because I'd like to see the actual discussion begin, may I interject?

Greg, the author's contention is that the kids are alright and you don't need to dumb anything down in game design. There is a market for games that demand more than passive participation. Whether those demands are in the form of storytelling responsibility or crunchy mechanics is somewhat beside the point.

Greg Christopher said...

If that is the contention to discuss, James, then Alexis is wrong. There is not more market demand for highly complex games than for simple and easy to play games. Just look at the number of people playing Farmville vs those playing Hearts of Iron.

You can argue that there is a virtue to having highly complex games that only a few people will ever play. But I would counter that RPGs seem to actually be headed that direction right now. The average person has a hard time understanding an RPG (or at least, they believe they will and hence avoid it).

If you want to reverse the trend and get RPGs back in the cultural mix like they were in the 1980s, then you need to make design choices to maximize transmission of the game to the masses; which was the point of my entire post.

I was asking if we could create a 4th style of games that would have more market power than what currently exists.

Alexis said...

Ah, James, regarding the Forge. Yes, I've run across that site on your blog links. Read a few articles. Pretty high falootin' ... wasn't impressed by the application possibilities. I'm too much an engineer, I suppose.

Alexis said...

So, Greg. Because a piano is difficult to learn and construct, and only a very few people can do it, then it brings pleasure to so few people it isn't worth the effort?

I don't accept your arguments, for the reasons given in the post. Provide statistics, please, for the number of people playing Farmville. Provide statistics for the number of people playing Hearts of Iron. Provide proof that the fact that one is played more than the other trumps any reason to create both games. Because, you know, there are more people that play Bridge than play all roleplaying games put together (oh, wait, I don't have any statistics, either). Answer: quantity is irrelevant.

That seems to be your first argument. "Quantity that I cannot demonstrate with hard facts proves this."

Second argument, "Average people can't (fill in straw man here)." What exactly provides you with this inherent knowledge of what people can and cannot do? The point is completely prejudicial. It has no basis in fact. It is your ass bleating.

I stand comfortably on the solid ground of knowing I'm not the only one for whom this is obvious. They only don't say so because, well, its my blog and they don't want to be rude.

I don't give a shit about being rude.

Alexis said...

Well, at first I did, and I made apologies. But now I'm just disgusted.

Anonymous said...

Greg, "A" market doesn't mean "more of a market". If the particular windmill that you're tilting at is "how do I make RPG's more popular" then sure, easy is better. No argument from most, I suspect.

But even a "rules light" game has its complexities. Take chess, for instance. Very simple and straightforward in terms of what the rules are. Most would argue that the game, in actual play, can be particularly complex.

Anonymous said...

Alexis, regarding the Forge my interest in the site (and reason for linking to it) related primarily to an article on how D&D got started. The conditions described there, prior to a company named TSR coming to the forefront, reminded me a lot of current conditions: pockets of passionate individuals developing their versions of the game without regard to a company or community's approval or bottom line.

Greg Christopher said...

We have metrics on Farmville. That shit can be Googled. I would bet more new players have started played Farmville in the past hour than the number of copies of Hearts of Iron that exist in the universe.

Quantity is relevant to the fact that I was arguing about how to increase quantity. I have never argued that any game should NEVER be produced. I was judging the merits of the games that exist vs the goal of mass-marketability. Not the inherent worth of the game.

If you look at the kind of games that are popular and then look for commonalities in terms of complexity, you can make general judgments about what the common person will and won't do.

They are not selling certain games at WalMart or Target because they don't sell. There are not secret hordes of people playing super-complex board games despite WalMart's refusal to stock them. You have to buy complex board games at specialty shops BECAUSE large numbers of people are not interested in them. And that's why D&D is in the specialty shop too. Just because I don't have the precise number of people playing Twilight Imperium, I can make some claims about what people will and wont play in large numbers.

Alexis said...

Way of the future, James. Way of the future. If a corporation set out to invent a piano, they'd have used Schroeder's age as a guideline.

Greg Christopher said...

@ James,

But that is the point which Alexis appears to be contesting. I said (to use your language) that the kids are NOT alright and DO need some simpler games if they are going to get into RPGs. My whole post was about getting more people into RPGs, not by what purified standards all RPGs should be judged.

Greg Christopher said...

But Alexis, I am not arguing there should be no pianos. I am arguing that if we want more people to play piano, we might want to make like a smaller training piano.

Alexis said...

WalMart and Target aren't selling Grand Pianos, either, or French Horns, Harps or Violins. No one seems concerned about that.

How, exactly, does making a game 'popular' improve the value the game offers to anyone?

Hands up, people reading this, who are interested in playing D&D because they found the game to be 'popular.'

Hands up, people who give a shit if it is or isn't.

Hands up, those who feel they need to play a dumbed down version so Cleetus will come to the conventions?

Alexis said...

Greg, my daughter grew up in a house where the 'training piano' was an upright Grand fashioned of oak and rosewood, six feet tall, eight feet wide, that had been in the family for four generations.

When she sat on the bench, her little fingers reached every key.

Greg Christopher said...

I am interested in D&D becoming popular again. The idea of it becoming popular again is VERY COMMON among RPG blogs. How many times have people posted about how to bring new players into the hobby? This is a very important issue to a lot of people.

I'm sorry if you have such disdain for other human beings, but I would actually like more people to be involved in my hobby. More people means that prices will come down, there will be more players to have in games, there will be more materials produced for people to consume. Hobbies generally do well when there are more people involved than less.

I would also like to be able to tell people what I do in my spare time without them worrying that I am some kind of freak. So yes, I do care.

The people who play Bridge don't care about getting young people into their hobby. And in 50 years, it will probably be gone. Newspapers have largely removed the bridge sections they used to have. The people who play Bridge are dying.

I don't want that to be MY hobby. So I care about more people playing it.

You may stay in the Ivory tower if you want, but I have the guts to venture out among the unwashed masses and actually try to talk to them.

Anonymous said...

Reductio ad absurdum

Alexis said...

The problem, Greg, is that you keep making these flagrantly unbacked assertions over and over. Have you talked to everyone who plays Bridge? How do you know it will be gone? How is its survival the responsibility of people who play the game? Why does it matter?

If your hobby is meant to live, it will live regardless of what strategies you invoke. Look at me, I’m playing the game, I don’t need your strategies to keep playing. I said it yesterday. I only need two players. And if the three of us were the last three in the world playing, what on earth difference would it make to everyone else who obviously just didn’t care?

Worrying about what other people want or don’t want, or seeking approval by upping the importance your hobby – and therefore, you personally – carry in the world is a sad way to go about your life. If people don’t approve of the game, what of it? Why should we who play, or we who don’t, give a rat fuck? If we don’t care, we don’t want to, and if we do care, we don’t need to be urged.

Finally, back to your use of English. An “Ivory Tower” is a state of sheltered and unworldly intellectual isolation. Every argument I’ve made, every point I’ve established, has been based upon activities carried on by people in the world. I have invented none of my positions.

It is very common to accuse other people of things you would not want to be accused of. If you want to insult me, why don’t you call me a self-righteous asshole? No one, not even me, would disagree with you.

Well Greg, this has been fun. We’ve ruined the subject for every other person, but that’s no worry. I’ll write this post again in a year or so ... and besides, everyone already believes what they believe anyway.

But the Ivory Tower comment really hurt. So you’re done on this topic. Please play again tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

What we've got here is a failure to communicate.

I think we all want the game to survive. Being "Popular" isn't necessarily a requirement. It sure wasn't back in the classic ol' days, in fact is was often th ereverse. Twitter is "Popular". Facebook is "Popular". God help it, "Jersey Shore" is "Popular".

The game isn't going the way of the dodo just yet. I may not have anyt official numbers, but the growth of the internet blogverse, etc has shown a growth in interest, in my opinion.

Apples, oranges, rpgs, pianos, it's all the same flavor and song. We are a community of players, and nothing will ever change that.

Oh, and I am aware of what FLGS means and I have plkayed many of White Wolf's games, if I need qualifiers. :)

No sarcasm intended or inferred.

Anonymous said...

...and I like Ivory Towers :)

(okay, maybe a lil' sarky)

Alexis said...

The thing about quests for 'popularity' is that they almost always translate as a wish for status that doesn't presently exist. As you say, Grendel, D&D wasn't popular in the classic ol' days...and a lot of people still resent that. A lot of people dream and wish for a day when they can stand up alongside the Nascar and Athletic enthusiasts in terms of recognized acceptance, perhaps with the hopes that their mothers will be proud.

I don't know. I've always aspired to being 'right.' I'd rather be right than popular. Must be why I like F.D.R.

Stuart said...

A Steinway Concert Grand, one of the best pianos in the world, takes about 11 months to fabricate. Excessive effort goes into choosing the type of wood, cutting it to as near-perfect shape as is humanly possible, polishing it, perfecting the interrelationships of the parts, etcetera, etcetera.

Steinway doesn't make better pianos by adding more keys. Something more RPG companies should keep in mind...

Zzarchov said...


Steinway may not..but Casio does! No Steinway in the world has the option to switch to "UFO MODE"

Anonymous said...

Or worse, the Great Money Making Machine tries to tell the public what is "Popular" in case they can't "figure it out for themselves". Ugh.

I never resented D&D's status back then. It was like a private club of our own. Let Caesar have what was Caesar's and let me keep my D&D! The game itself (old and new) has still been chugging along. Fans have kept defunct materials alive, invigorating them with renewed creativity of their own. THAT's what makes the game long lasting.

It would be great to see more like minds bring their creativity into the fold. And they will, I have no doubt of it.

UFO mode is cool too. :)

Keith said...

The issue seems to be that some people think the hobby is dying. It's not. I can count on my fingers the number of people I've met at college that have not played a table top RPG at least once. I go to conventions and see plenty of this supposed dumb youth coming out to play. If you think the hobby is 'dying,' however a hobby can die, I think you're wrong.

Hm. That'd be an interesting senior project. Demographics of gaming...

Carl said...

Zappa rules. Don't fuck with Frank. That's all I'm going say on that.

Don't you hate those Three Letter Acronyms (TLAs)? We abuse the shit out of them at work. We use a lot of Extended Four-Letter Acronyms (EFLAs), too. I like to ask people what the letters stand for. Sometimes they don't even know.

Your point about lacking hard numbers to track the hobby is important. We don't have numbers. How many people are playing RPGs? Which ones are they playing? I think we need a survey.

"These wacky kids and their inability to understand complex things. Especially anything with a huge book of rules, like the legal system; or anything else that's extraordinarily difficult to master, like human anatomy..."

OK, ok. You have a point. It's good to be able to understand and navigate complex systems such as human anatomy. But is it necessary in our games?

The best games are not complex. Chess. Go. Backgammon. Craps. These are not complex games and they have withstood the test of time. The best games are able to achieve depth without complexity. We should expect the same thing from our RPGs. The systems we use to describe the worlds, the interactions of elements and people should be deep, but not complex.

It is depth that makes our games worth playing. When I run a game, I want players concentrating on the world. I want the system to fade into the background. The system we use to game is the palette upon which we paint. The paints are our own. The players should be thinking of what they will be doing next and not how can they utilize some rule to achieve it.

I loathe complexity for it's own sake. I loathe overbearing rules. The rules should be nearly invisible to a player and they should be intuitive for a DM.

Mr K said...

I don't really think I'll be reading this blog in the future. I'm certain this doesn't matter to Alexis, but his natural form of discourse is needlessly agressive and confrontational. Rather than trying to have a conversation which might enlighten both parties, he insists on being right, even when, as ALMOST ALWAYS HAPPENS, he is talking at cross purposes

Greg:I want the hobby to expand. The best way to do that is to simplify games
Alexis:Lots of people like complicated games! How can you suggest reducing complexity?
Greg:I'm not really saying that we should get rid of complex games, just that theres room for simplicity.
Alexis:rar rar rar insult insult, deliberate taking comments out of context.

Its tiresome.

Alexis said...

I think I'm going to cry. First it was that Ivory Tower crack, and now I'm confrontational.

Why is it that when children pick up the ball and bat to go home, they have to announce as loud as they can that they're going to? No K, I won't notice that you're gone, because I never knew you were there. This is the Internet. It's not like I can hear you out there breathing. To my knowlegde, you've never contributed a word to this blog. I could be wrong, but there are over 5,000 comments to go through, not counting the millions I've deleted; I'll just have to rely on my memory and my memory says that I do not know you, sir.

As regards to the argument ... I'm willing to fight by the Marquis of Queensbury rules, but some people think that the Marquis of Queensbury meant that there was to be no punching.

Yes, we disagreed. Yes, we occasionally talked at cross purposes. I said the things that were important to me, and Greg said the things that were important to him. That's how arguments are. I know that somewhere next to the Big Rock Candy Mountain things are different, but sadly, I haven't got a map that gets me there.

I ended the argument when it became clear that Greg was arguing from an emotional position. He had ceased offering new arguments, and I was getting very tired of diffusing the same one. Greg doesn't have carte blanche to comment and comment and comment on this blog. He has four blogs of his own for him to go do that. How it works is, when I feel that the things he has to say have ceased to add to the CONTENT of this blog, I get to turn off the spigot.

So run off and read only the things that don't tire you, K. We wouldn't want anyone to work at understanding anyone else. That's where the Big Rock Candy Mountain comes in. No one has to work there. Ever.

Alexis said...


Returning to the conversation. We've been around this complexisty for complexity discussion before, and I repeat that I don't want complexity for complexity's sake either. But a piano is as complex as it needs to be to enable both the fumbling player and the brilliant virtuouso to employ the instrument. Only, the fumbler doesn't realize the difference between a well-tuned piano, and the virtuouso does.

We can't argue that the quality of tuning has to be set to what the fumbler is able to recognize. Chess and Go, for all their simplicity, were once even simpler ... both games were developed after their creation with additional elements and rules that made those games better for the hardened players.

There's nothing to be gained by dumbing down D&D for the dumber masses, who really aren't asking us to do that. This, I think, is the elephant in this room. No one is out there clamoring for us to simplify this game. I never hear people say, "I want to play D&D, but oh god all those rules ..."

Those who don't play D&D haven't any idea how complicated the rules are. It's only the people inside the hobby who have this perception - and it is, as I say, a quest for acceptance, not for game improvement.

Oddbit said...

I haven't heard, "But all the rules..." I have heard once or twice, "But all the books." One person's story is not necessarily representative of coarse.

Alexis said...

Did you feel a strong urge to start designing a game with less books that would encourage them to play, Oddbit?

Oddbit said...

I'll be honest, I have not even considered the amount of books the content I am creating will span. And when I think about it, I don't think it matters. The first "pen and paper" RPG I ever played was played with 1d20 and sticks in the dirt at boy scout camp. No books. Yes One person had read a book or two on the system, but to be honest, the idea that to play DnD you need books at all is a bit of a misconception. Three to seven people can share one book if necessary, and have in the past.

As for complexity, I taught my four year old sister to play DnD with me when I was on vacation once. She was quite good actually. If I lived closer still and had a few other players I'd GM a game for her to encourage the interest. (She is of coarse not four anymore)

Gaptooth said...

I play and enjoy many different types of role-playing games, including indy games both old and new. Some indy games I've played, including Sorcerer and Trollbabe, are deliberately designed to facilitate story-creation. None of the games I've played are anything like what Greg described in his examples above. They're also not like the White Wolf games I've seen.

> And my point was that the bar is different in story games.
> To go back to a piano, imagine there is an alternate version of a piano that only works for virtuosos and there is no way for someone who is mediocre to even pick it up...

I have a ten-year-old daughter, and we've been playing story-telling games together since she was a toddler. When she was four years old, I started searching for age-appropriate role-playing games to try out with her, noticing how much she enjoyed creating adventures together when we played Legos. That's how I found the Forge, and we experimented with a lot of Story Now-focused games, and we had a lot of fun. She still has fun role-playing, and she is currently designing her own game.

Maybe my daughter is special (parents always want to think so), but I think that what it takes to teach a game is active interest and appreciation for the game, and an active interest and appreciation for what the other players want out of role-playing. Authored role-playing doesn't require advanced intellectual powers, it just requires an interest and appreciation of story creation.

Strix said...

I found that post incredibly inspirational. And now I shall return to my 10,000 hour project to build a "piano" with renewed vigor! Thank you Alexis!

Arduin said...

...Christ. Sixty comments on this post? This one, of all posts?

To those folks who feel the need to tell Alexis you're not reading any longer: either make it a personal email, the address to which he's provided, or leave quietly. Nobody else cares.

For god's sake, this post isn't even about the proper way to fucking play. It's about the idea that we aren't doing ourselves any favors by trying to dumb the game down for anyone.

The people who play, play, and everyone else lives life just fine.

Greg, I'd be more sympathetic to you, but your original post is just stupid. No style of gaming is "too hard", player narrative or DM narrative styles. It's a matter of group preference, no more and no less.

Let's all put our big kid pants on now and leave this behind.

Alexis said...

Thank you Arduin. There were 60. I've gone through and cleaned it up. This post is still under siege.