Tobold's Blog
Friday, June 28, 2013
D&D mini-documentary

Admittedly it is unlikely that somebody reading this blog is unaware of what a role-playing game is. Nevertheless I can recommend this PBS mini-documentary on YouTube about what Dungeons & Dragons is, and how it influenced culture over the last 30+ years. The documentary argues that the success of a game like World of Warcraft would not have been possible without Dungeons & Dragons having introduced so many people to the idea that playing a dwarven warrior or elven wizard might be fun.

But if MMORPGs are the children of D&D, they can be accused of patricide. Although I would say that the experience of playing that elven wizard in an online game is in many ways inferior to playing one in a pen & paper roleplaying game, and is missing much of the interactive storytelling, fact is that an online game is a lot more convenient than a pen & paper game. You can play solo, at any time outside the maintenance window. Even the most complicated feat of organization of a MMORPG, a raid at which everybody has to be there at the same time for a block of several consecutive hours, is easier to organize than the most basic organization of a game of Dungeons & Dragons, where in addition everybody needs to be at the same location.

While Dungeosn & Dragons and other pen & paper systems are far from being dead, they are obviously way past their prime. Hobby stores selling role-playing games, board games, and card games are an endangered species, and only a part of that is due to online distribution. While impossible to measure, I'd guess that there are less people playing Dungeons & Dragons today than 10 or 20 years ago. People adopted MMORPGs as substitute and abandoned the less practical pen & paper game, in spite of it offering a much higher degree of freedom and better social interaction. That's a shame.

While I agree that tabletop RPGs are nowhere near the heights they were in the 1980s in terms of players, or popularity, there is still a thriving market out there because of the surge in virtual tabletop applications such as Fantasy Grounds, Roll20, etc.

No, they're not face to face but they get pretty darn close and that's brought a lot of old gaming groups back together. If I were a tabletop RPG publisher I'd do everything I could to ensure that players were aware of them.
That's the point of view to look at it if you're getting old don't see fresh blood in Pen & Paper. I guess you do not go to Conventions and the likes?

My personal experience is that indeed MMOs are more accessible and thus have way more customers. The logistical barriers are lower to play it. Thus it is quite logical that it has a bigger playerbase. Also, for quite some years my Shadowrun group had all the players we needed (actually we were quite big for a functional group, it got crowded when we played) so we had the same perception: all players we know are rather old. :D

Now, lately we got some fluctuation, and hell, did we fluctuate. Due to an interesting chain of "know here, talk there, friend of a friend", our group since a few months grew by one student. He definitely is way younger than our bunch, but he also next to our group has another student-only pen and paper group running, and due to him we also have a girl student, also around his age, currently repeatedly "visiting" our group, so i guess she'll become a regular, too.

So, when i was young, Pen and Paper was only played by a small fraction of all students. (Even many who played MUDs, the text-based predecessor of MMOs, did not go for Pen and Paper. ) Now it is the same, P&P players have their secluded life, out of view of the masses and the games are not dying out.

Things look more grim for the roleplayers shops, though. While we old ones still have our bags with rulebooks, the youngsters rather rely on PDFs, which they buy online. While i personally prefer to have my table electronics free when having a gaming evening, i guess everybody got his preference, i can't blame them. But their money doesn't go to the local roleplaying shop any more, but is spent online.

Alas, i may not even throw a rock... i've also already bought RPG materials at amazon. Being able to order at the late evening after work and just get it from your mailbox in a few days is convenient, after all.
Addendum: my comment was on the original topic, not on the comment of Tanek. Seems like i took too long go answer. :)
Isn't there something of a boom in board games at the moment (the type that used to be called German Style Games)?

Could this be seen as a natural progression for former D&Ders who have less time on their hands. You still have to invite friends around in person (hopefully that will never go out of fashion) but you don't have to spend hours preparing dungeons and characters in advance.
I just want to tell a good well you succeed ALWAYS makes for a better story.

I just fundamentally disagree with this and this is not true role-playing. If your role never fails, then you have simply played a preset, static story.

Not only that, but the idea that the best story can only be told if you succeed is pure BS. Often the best story is told after a character fails or even a TPK happens.

This lady doesn't understand RPGs.

I did appreciate the emphasis on story-telling in RPGs. They are not about tactical combat or stats or minis or anything like that. They should be focused on collaborative story-telling first and foremost to qualify as an RPG.

Also, why did they keep showing the Legend of Drizzt D&D Board Game? That is most certainly not an RPG.

I really wish that gamers would clean themselves up a little more. Why do so many think it is required to look like a freak to be into RPGs? Get a shave, take a shower, and comb your hair. No, you don't look cool, you look like a bum.
Accessibility is huge when it comes to games. I've noticed it myself. The games that have short loading times and easily get you into a game are much easier to choose to play on a whim than the games with long loading times and queues.

If I have to choose between a dungeon queue in WoW vs a LoL (League of Legends) queue for a match, I will almost always choose LoL. Even though I prefer WoW's gameplay more, I almost always go with the game that gets me ingame quicker.

That isn't always the case of course. Sometimes I've been playing the same game for a few weeks and have planned out what I want to do on a particular evening. On days where I am in between games and must make a choice, I am much more likely to pick the more accessible ones.
Boardgame stores are alive and well in the Midwestern US, from personal experience. There aren't that many other indoor public gathering spaces where you can play games, be loud, and which sell board games, RPGs, and card games.

I like both online and table games, and I buy most of my games on location. Judging by packed game stores on the weekends (and evenings in some places), physical media still has a place.
I am not sure that in-person RPG's offer better social interaction than MMO's. Certainly different, not necessarily better.

In RPG's, you typically play with a small group of people you know well, or get to know well. It's like a small gathering of friends who get together to talk about one subject. One of the friends is appointed the moderator (DM), and generally only one person is allowed to talk at a time. So your percentage of "air time" in interacting with the DM or other players is very small. Let's say in a 5-person group, The DM is talking 50% of the time, there is 10% silence, and each of the other players talks for 10% of the time.

Compare this to an MMO, where it feels more like a large party. Sometimes you don't know anyone, and other times you are playing with close friends. It often feels like information overload while you are trying to move your avatar, use abilities, type in chat, and speak/listen over a voice channel. The total level of stimulation is much higher, maybe more suitable for an ADD generation.

I don't know if D&D has "casual" vs. "hardcore" play, but MMO's certainly allow for that difference. Because the goals are fixed in high-level hardcore play, it is more like playing a sport rather than a large social party. You "win" in the short term by beating a boss or dungeon, and it is an objective win rather than subject to a DM fudging the dice or bringing in a deus ex machina. So for this reason it can arouse a lot of fierce competitive emotions.
It may be that MMORPGs have commited fratricide. Life is just kind of that way. The cars of the early 20th century have been replaced with newer models that automate many of the vehicle's functions and made them more accessible (race car drivers don't need to bring along their mechanics in the cars). However, there are still people who keep using those cars as a hobby, restoring them, and taking them to car shows.
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