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Unbreaking the Wheel

January 15, 2014

Years ago, on my previous gaming blog, I wrote about “The Broken Wheel” – the fact that a lot of ingrained aspects of rpg culture were killing the hobby.  

There’s this interesting rpg.net thread up right now, polling people as to whether they’re satisfied with having enough time, money, and space to roleplay.  The same issues I pointed out back then, are still in play, but the alternative, functional options have become much more known and you can see something like 1/3rd of the poll votes are satisfied all around…

“Viable Game” & Supplement Treadmill Publishing

There used to be the attitude that anything that doesn’t have constant supplements coming out was a “dead game”.  

On the consumer side, it was the attitude of the collector rather than the player, per se.  On the publisher side it was the idea of “developing a line” (AKA, let’s keep getting money from this).  The flaw in that was every supplement sells LESS than the core unit, and, with enough supplements, you’ve now made it harder for the complete newbie to find out where to start at.

Now, these days, you can publish a one-off game with no supplements and it’s not dismissed as “not a REAL game”.  Although the Forge forum designers pushed this, the mainstream explosion of acceptance is more around the Old School Renaissance folks and generally seeing more discussion of older games on forums.   As long as there’s people playing it, the game isn’t really dead, and often folks are finding out that there’s a big fan base and ongoing players for these games too.

On the player side, it means you don’t need to buy a lot of books, or keep up on the newest stuff to find a game group – it’s easier to simply find a few games you like and settle down because it’s also easier to find players.   On the publisher side you can make a viable business choice of doing a single game and letting it be an evergreen product without having to pour lots of work into constantly making more for less (and rebooting your system with a new edition every 3-4 years).  All of this impacts it costing less to play overall.

Logistical Hurdles to Play

Socially, the internet changed everything here:

– You can find people to play with near you, easier

– You can play with people who are far away, online

– You can find advice on how to run any given game, easily

– You can share the PDF of the rules with everyone playing – so everyone can read it and doesn’t have to buy their own copy or sit down with the 1-2 sets of the books you have

It’s really easy to play these days.  

Design-wise, more and more games are built around:

– Starting play with 30 minutes or less set up

– Playing 2-4 hours, instead of 6-8 hour sessions

Clear, functional rules so you can get to what this game is supposed to be about

– Playing one shots, playing short campaigns (3-6 sessions), not playing for 10 years, every week on end

All of this impacts time and space requirements, making it a lot easier.

Functional Social Groupings

“Play games you want, with people you like”

When I first began advocating that, there was a non-trivial number of people who immediately lashed out, “You’re saying I should get rid of all my friends!!!”

Aside from what that says about people’s choices in friends… the raw point of satisfaction only comes from actually playing games you like with people you like.  My “Fun Now Manifesto” pointed out that gaming is a fun activity, not a marriage.  It’s not a lifetime expected commitment, should not require intense emotional things to be worked out… but when you read about some of the stuff folks put up with or endure you’d think it was…

Now, you can go on many forums and see someone talk about something that’s just out of hand and many people will say, “Stop playing with that person.”  “Leave the group.” “It seems like they want to play something else, maybe you shouldn’t be playing this game together.” etc.

When you do play games you like, with people you like, you get more satisfaction from your gaming overall.  That time issue also stops being a problem because you’re not getting “20 minutes of fun from 4 hours of play” as the D&D guys put it.  I’ve run one shots where folks have said, “Wow, we’ve had more fun stuff happen than a whole campaign, and this was just 2 hours.”  

Everyone’s playing the game they want to play, no one is having to struggle with each other, or rules designed to do something else, and the GM isn’t trying to “hold things back” – you go, go, go, and suddenly the time requirement is about the same as a boardgame night.

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