Tobold's Blog
Thursday, April 04, 2013
Lack of community

My blog is in its 10th year, which as an unpaid effort is only sustainable by me writing about whatever interests me, and putting any potential audience second. Nevertheless I am aware of my readers, the feedback they give in comments and mails, and the blogosphere community discussions that occasionally evolve. If I write about MMORPGs that is. Whenever I write about pen & paper roleplaying, the echo is very notably weaker. There is less of a community for pen & paper games.

One reason for that is that there are less people interested in pen & paper games. Nobody knows the exact number, as you can play a pen & paper RPG with a photocopy of a book from 10 years ago, and not everybody at the table needs to actually buy anything. Estimates of the number of people playing D&D range from 5 million to 20 million. But even if you believe the higher number, you need to consider that on average people play a pen & paper RPG much less often than a MMORPG. You'd expect a MMORPG player to play his favorite game most days of the week, while an average pen & paper campaign happens maybe once per week.

A second factor is that the people who are interested in pen & paper RPGs tend to be more splintered into sub-groups than players of MMORPGs. There is more discussion between lets say somebody playing WoW and somebody playing EVE than there is discussion between somebody playing D&D 3.5 and somebody playing D&D 4th edition. And that is just the edition wars of Dungeons & Dragons, the splintering gets worse when you consider all the other pen & paper RPG systems out there. There is very little search for common denominators, and very much "if you play something else, you are doing it wrong" attitude, even more so than for computer games. Even the biggest community sites like or EN World have relatively few activity compared to or any official forum for a single game.

But the ultimate reason for the lack of community is that there is no common experience. Two groups of players playing the same adventure with the same set of rules will end up having two very different experiences. On the one side that is the force of pen & paper roleplaying, the infinite variety and freedom. The most linear pen & paper adventure has more freedom than the most sandboxy MMORPG. On the other side that is a weakness, because without a common experience there is not much of a community. The community in a pen & paper game is limited to the people sitting around the table, who *do* have a common experience of the game. But anything you can write about that is only of very limited relevance to anybody who wasn't there.

That might be bad for blogging, but the more artisanal game experience is in many ways superior to the mass-market experience of a MMORPG. It is a lot easier to tailor-make a game for a group of around 6 people than it is for hundreds of thousands, or even millions of players. A lot of the things that are constantly being decried as lacking in MMORPGs are very much present in pen & paper games. While the wider community might be lacking, the smaller community of the game table is a lot tighter. Blogging about my game table is more of an archive, a way to preserve a journal, than a publication of common interest.

Pen and paper adventures are like instances. They are small groups of 5-6 people who gather around a table to play with a story-teller (DM) for a couple of hours. Then everyone is out until the next adventure.

After all... it's like playing Monopoly. It's fun until it lasts, then see you next week ;)
You also have to consider the accessibility of Pen & Paper games vs. Online Games. Last time i played DnD Pen & Paper campaigns was in university whilst living in a dorm. It was easy to get a group of players together and the pool of potential players were all around you.

It's not good enough to have the books or knowing the rules if you can't find a group.

Nowadays, if you're working, with a family and don't actually live in a neighborhood with friends into DnD, you got a problem. I mean it's not like you can just log on somewhere and join a Pen & Paper group? Where do people find their groups to play these games with anyhow? They probably need to join a club of sorts and hope the time and location is convenient.

Contrast this with online. It's probably a million time easier to join an MMO as an individual, get into the game and THEN find a group. Finding a group of 5-6 Pen & Paper players close to you with an actual long term enthusiasm for it can be quite a feat.

The difference in accessibility most likely explain the differences between the closeness of the community and the "sociable" factor of the two scenarios, but that's another story.

I played a lot of D&D in my younger years and all the complexity of getting a group together is more or less gone today, with the exception of time.

You can get D&D software to play a session online, Skype the session and play along. It's 90% of the tabletop experience. Even finding people isn't too hard as the D&D communities are out there.

What is hard today, as it is in MMOs, is finding the time to play. Getting 4-5 people to block out a 4 hour block per week is hard. I know I cannot do it with 2 little kids at home. I can fit in an hour or two from time to time.

So in the end, it's a checklist.
People - Yup
Tools - Yup
Time - Nope

To dovetail a bit, but this is the primary reason we have automated tools to get groups together in MMOs (PvP queues, LFG, LFR, etc...). It solves (?) the people issue, which drastically reduces the time issue.
I've noticed this on my blog, too. I get a lot more traffic for the paper and pencil side if only because my blog started with pnp as a focus, but when I do put out postr on computer games they always get more hits, and my MMO posts...even the really trite and stupid ones, get the most hits of all.
I could never get into pen and paper gaming. I've tried, but it all seems more about role-playing, and ad hoc rules. My favorite part of gaming is all about figuring out rules and optimizing. My favorite games all lend themselves well to spreadsheeting. d&d, not so much. :P

I started reading your blog when you were playing WoW. Then you stopped. I stopped WoW sometime later. I can't get into the selune articles, but I still enjoy reading your blog, because you often have very interesting things to say on other issues/news. So kudos to you on being interesting!
Pen & Paper games are further fragmented by the collectible card game market which appeals to the same target audience.

How much of the decreased popularity is a result of MTG and other card collectible games?

While not the same thing, these 'card games' do cannibalize from the same market. I also believe they appeal to most players for the same reason certain elements in online games have appeal -- they are much shorter in duration.
The reason I'm not as interested in your D&D posts is simply because I'm not one of your players. I'm not one of the people at your table listening to your story, working out what to do next and how to handle certain encounters. I find D&D games very boring to watch, but fun to play. The same applies to your blog posts on that subject matter, fun if I were playing, boring since I'm not. On the other hand, your political posts on the gaming community or on certain games are very fun to watch, I don't need to be an active participant.
I'm with Michael on this one. What attracted me to RPGs (in videogames) was manipulating stats and optimizing my character. I don't really like real roleplay, the acting out of characters. I also don't have a very good imagination. A friend in high school did get me to try out PnP, but I just never could get excited about it like I do with some games.

I don't play MMOs seriously anymore. I just dabble in F2P ones occasionally. However, I still like to know what's going on in the MMO space. For example, I want to see your thoughts on World of Warships when it comes out (or beta).
I for one enjoy your Favourites of Selune posts! :D Though it's been years since I've played AD&D itself (due to time constraints mainly) I still try to get tabletop gaming time with my small set of players with less stat-y boardgames.

Find it very wierd that some people like MMOs just for number crunching, but hey to each their own. :P
I've been visiting your blog for 3-4 years every couple of days at work.

I have absolutely no interest in your posts about D&D, but I just simply scroll past them.

I also don;t play any MMORPG's - I largely consider them a waste of time. But I will still read those posts to keep in tune with what's going on.

I actually only play single player PC games - random stuff from steam. There's not a lot on your blog that even connects with my gaming. But I like your open and honest writing - I think that's why I keep coming back.

So you still have an audience. Even if it doesn't interact. I'm sure your metrics demonstrate that.
If you're looking for a sandboxy non commercial MMO to get involved in.

Camelot Unchained from the makers of Dark Age of Camelot is on kickstarter now. Go check it out, it's going to be incredible.
That's what they said about Mark Jacobs' previous attempt as well. :)
Speaking of community, Tobold, have you already joined the S&W appreciation day over at Tenkar's Tavern:

Hat's off for the guy, pulling the fragmented rpg blogs together, if only for a one day!
I don't even know the game Swords & Wizardry, thus no appreciation from me.
This reminds me of the time I first heard of D&D in South Africa. I got all excited and went out and searched for the game (in 1986) and found the first edition books - bought it immediately. Unfortunately I couldn't get my friends interested. After that I have not met one person in my life who played it, except a rumour about one person at University at 1992. So yes my primary D&D experience has been PC games and it has never gone further especially since I have had a family :)
Swords & Wizardry is a retro-clone of the original, 1974 edition of the well-known fantasy game written by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson (often called “0e,” for “original edition”).

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