Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Do you play pen & paper RPGs?

My pen & paper roleplaying group just started a new campaign, this time playing the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying game (2005 edition). I'm playing with these guys for years now, various campaigns, usually every second Monday evening. But we are all around 40ish, and sometimes I feel like being a dinosaur when rolling dice and scribbling on character sheets.

So I was a bit at a loss what to tell the guy who wants me to review his independantly published pen & paper RPG Imperium Chronicles. He obviously put a lot of effort into his project, but I'm not sure I can make him much hope. Indie pen & paper RPGs might have been a good idea in the 80's, but nowadays I have the feeling that even the pen & paper games of big publishers struggle somewhat. I bought the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons, but I got the feeling that it's release was a lot less talked about than the release of lets say Warhammer Online or Age of Conan. But maybe I'm wrong, and I'm just moving in different circles now.

So tell me, did you ever play pen & paper roleplaying games, and are you still playing them? Are strangely shaped dice a thing of the past, or is it still an active and vibrant hobby community?
I just started playing DnD a few months ago. It's a ton of fun.

it's still a very active community. I think it's just more difficult as we get older because we move away from the people we originally played with and it's more difficult when not living in a college dorm.

The best part though, is this
I play 4th edition D&D weekly and find it to be quite a bit of fun. 4th ed. has borrowed heavily from MMORPGs in its design, so it feels much more familiar and comfortable to a veteran MMORPG player than previous versions of the game.

I've found that lately I enjoy my D&D night much more than time spent on an MMO. I guess there's something about the social aspect of the game with everyone talking and laughing both in- and out-of-character as we play. Socializing in MMOs during a dungeon romp or raid seems to be much less common these days than it was back in EQ.

Furthermore, I like the creative stimulation that D&D provides over MMOs. Creating your character's backstory and personality, deciding how they will behave in certain circumstances is great fun and actually good practice if you enjoy writing. I always feel more energized and eager to write some fantasy of my own after a night's D&D game, and I can't say I've gotten that from MMOs other than EQ.

To answer the second part of your question: yes, I believe pen and paper games still have a vibrant community of dedicated players. I know in my town there is a fairly large public group that meets once a month to play various RPGs, make new friends, and find potential players for weekly games. The online community is even stronger, with various forums bustling with activity and a surprising amount of creativity in the form of custom character classes and adventures for anyone to use.

It's a great hobby, and I don't see it going anywhere anytime soon. Online is simply a different experience and both have their merits.
I play P&P RPGs all the time. I'm in the middle of a Hero System campaign right now though we move between rulesets often. One of the guys in our groups always makes "homebrew" RPGs (he creates the rules specifically for the story he wants to run.) We have someone who intends to run D&D 4E when the current campaign ends. I plan on doing a hard sci-fi game once I settle on a ruleset I like.

At least where I live, strangely shaped dice are still very popular. We've had no trouble finding new players and we've typically only "lost" players because they wanted to try out a different game that we weren't playing at the moment; they simply joined other groups - they didn't give up the hobby.

Computer RPGs have made a dent in the hobby, for sure, but there will always be a demand for "real-life" P&P RPGing. However, P&P RPGs are evolving. The P&P RPGs of the future might end up with digital components replacing the use of miniatures and whatnot (such as the D&D Gametable.)
I used to play a bunch of them, but now I dont know anyone else that plays, so they sit on my bookshelf and get read from time to time but never used. I own Shadowrun, D&D,Warhammer, Werewolf, Vampire, Mage, Star Wars (the original non D20 version), Gamma World, some Gurps products, and a number of other ones.

An old friend and myself used to sit for hours and play whatever RPG we had at hand.

On a side note, am I the only person disapointed that there was no Troll Slayer class in Warhammer Online? Perhaps I can make one in the future.
@ Daraxxus -

The WAR devs noted that the gaps in the race/class lines will be filled in future content, but not necessarily by the classes that were originally announced. I can see them replacing the Hammerer with the Slayer for the dwarf MDPS.

Not to derail the thread, I also play PnP, but with a decidedly different type of crowd than my MMO friends. They have the utmost disdain for MMOs, for reasons that I don't fully understand. In truth, distance never helps PnP, so those groups last only so long as they stay together (although WotC is supposed to be offering an online PnP tool pretty soon - I think that a cheap/free and user-friendly program would do a lot to bring back PnP).
I am still playing PnP RPGs, I started in 1984. My favourite is HârnMaster. Your and your players' imagination is still more fun than any MMORPG out there.

And as somebody posted above, I agree, it's difficult to get a new group going when you are out of the university.
Hey I'm THAT guy! :-) Actually there are still quite a few people playing PnP games, at least from the number of products on sites like As for me, I first tried to create an online game, but without money it's pretty impossible, so I turned to what I knew I could do: write. And that's basically how Imperium Chronicles (the PnP game) came about.

So, I won't get rich, but I wanted to get my vision of the Imperium Universe out there. I suppose it's possible it might some day lead to an online game (thus coming full circle), but I'm not holding my breath.

Anyway, I hope people take a look. And if you're interested in the creative process, my blog "chronicles" what went on over the last 2+ years of development.
We had a group that used to play during our lunch in High School. We caught the typical grief from one of the more religious teachers who considered D&D one step away from Satanism.

Even now, 25 years later, I can't walk into a Games Store and see the containers of Dragon Dice without getting an urge to buy some.

"Ooh, a D20 in faux marble! Cool!"
I'm with you Capn John. I haven't rolled a saving throw in anger in probably 15 year, but I still buy rule set or lore books for PnP games every so often. I read them and imagine the campaigns that might be.
There's days there's a modest boom in Indie RPGs (SOTC being one of my favorites, SRD here: ). Computer games have gotten pretty good at giving players a D&D experience so there's a fun new crop of RPGs that branch out into the sorts of things that D&D and computer games usually don't try to cover as much...
My husband and I joined up with some local friends who have been playing pen&paper games together since they were in high school (we're a good 10 years older then them). We mostly play D&D with them every couple of weeks, but they have other pen&paper games they play. It's hard to find a good DM willing to run a game week in and week out though, so board and card games get played more often these days.
I do believe that you're right to an extent. The release of D&D 4th Ed was done with a lot less fanfare than previous versions.

But consider that the "market" for this has always been the geek/tech inclined, and in the recent decade, MMO's and video games in general have claimed a large number of them.

I still play PnP D&D but you have to admit its still a lot easier to purchase a game either online or at a store then to gather 4+ people for a night of RPG.

PnP games like traditional board games (Monopoly, scrabble, Chess) will never die out, but its popularity has been transferred to the web in some way shape or form.

Independent PnP RPG developers are a thing of the past. If you think about it, MMO's are the RPG's of this new decade. (Let's leave out the argument about MMO's not being "true" RPG's because its linear).

Could there be a break out system from an Independent developer that could revolutionize the whole DnD genre? Sure. But I wouldn't hold my breath on it. Especially not if you're building it on the backs of existing games.
yes, yes I do
i play pen and paper games for about 15 years now ( i´m 30).i started with MERS and Rolemaster and shortly after
started with d&d which i play till today. our group consisting of 5 people, who are all in the range of 30, meets once a month to play d&d.

at the moment we have quite similar thoughts as you have, in the way that we wonder if we should upgrade to d&d 4.0 or whether that would be wasted money cause we will stop sometime soon cause we´re getting too old ;P
I used to DM P&P RPGs in the mid/late 90's: AD&D 2nd Ed, Call of Cthulhu, Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, Shadowrun, and many others.

In the end, my group "Monty Hauled" so much that I get a bad taste in my mouth anytime I see a magical item on a character sheet. The only group I ever ran with since the turn of the century was a Mage campaign with some guys that had never played RPGs. We had tons of fun, but they lost interest when I push them to develop their characters.

I still have all my rulebooks and miniatures (also a WH40K fanatic) gathering dust around the house. Until my life slows down some (I have 3 kids) I don't see myself playing any P&P in the foreseeable future...
I was having similar thoughts recently. I haven't RP'd in nearly a decade, but considered buying George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones RPG (simply because the lore of the series is so good). I didn't buy it, because of the lack of enough people with whom to play it, but it did get me thinking about RPGs in general.

I feel like I learned a million things when I was young from them. To mention just one area, my vocabulary was vastly improved. What better way to teach a kid a word like obfuscation than embed it as a power in a game (Vampire:The Masquerade)? You get this to a lesser degree in MMORPGs, but they seem more geared to a 6th grade education.
I'm actually writing a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay campaign at the moment although I haven't played a PnP RPG since university days. It was playing MMOs that actually rekindled my interest in PnP, mainly because I missed the actual roleplaying and complete freedom of PnP that doesn't exist in MMOs.

So in a way you could argue in my case that MMOs encouraged me to revisit PnP in order to make up for what I felt was missing in them.
I still play pen and paper games, and I find it to be an enjoyable activity. However, I think its a very difficult market for a new product to enter for a number of reasons. First, I think the numbers of new pen and paper players are declining, not increasing, probably due to MMO's. Another reason would be market saturation. There are multiple games in every genre already, its hard to believe someone could come up with something "new". Lastly, and somewhat tied to the first reason, pen and paper role playing games are even less mainstream then they were in their "hay day" of the late 80's-mid 90's.
Personally, the only new pen and paper game that I've purchased since 2000 is Exalted, which I think is more the exception than the rule. It has extremely high production value (great illustrations, finish, etc) and the game is unique and fun. Personally I feel most games to come out lately evoke the reaction "I've played this before, it was called. . .". Granted, this is coming from someone who's played pen and paper games for about 15 years.
I still roll my 10-sided dice. Not as often as I'd like, but not a thing of the past either to me.
To the poster who mentioned that a free/cheap online program to run PnP games would be cool. Well it already exists, it's called RP Tools and it is really good. Combine it with a Vent server and you are as close to in person as you can get currently.
Subculures are subcultures. Videogames are mainstream, i must say.
I recently moved to a new town in rural USA, and one of the most active meetups (a la is the P&P roleplay group. I don't know if that is evidence or not, but I thought it interesting...
I'm a tabletop RPer from a long ways back - Rolemaster mostly. Still run a campaign for old, old friends from the mid-80s...that is, when we can all find time to get together.

Sadly I think that pen and paper roleplaying games are the equivalent of model trains to an older generation. You'll find pockets of enthusiasts here and there...but the idea seems odd and quaint these days.
Used to play D&D in my youth, but very irregularly. Would love to play these days, but I simply do not move in pen and paper rpg circles. Ah well.
Used to be a PnP fanatic back in time, before wife, marriage and kids. Still have tons of rulebooks and boxes on my shelf and have infected my kids with the zest of telling a good story. Be the media RPG, writing or just telling.

My most memorable games were Rolemaster and Call of Cthulhu, latter of which has the most ingenious rule system I've encountered so far. However, I've lately been reading about some Indie games like the Shadows of Tomorrow and DustDevils, and I've been very much intrigued by their new, fresh approach on strory telling games.

Congrats, Tobold, for still having the game night!

Play By Mail games and an online rpg group were the closest I ever got to PnP but I've always wanted to give it a try.
Not only have I written for the RPG market (**Iteration X Revised** for White Wolf and **Hearts Swords Flowers** for Guardians of the Opder), not only do I still play (including a semi-regular game of **3:16** that we record into a podcast (, but I just spent the weekend at *Anime Weekend Atlanta* running four sessions of indie RPGs with a fairly enthusiastic player-base.

RPGs are a niche industry, but the indie market has some rather nice leverage in print-on-demand set-ups, meaning you only have to sell a few hundred copies to make break-even, and after that it's gravy. **D&D4e** may be the biggest of the big boys, but that doesn't mean that there's no room further down in a number of different slots.
I used to play D&D (and others) extensively in my younger years. When 4th edition D&D came out I thought it might be time to play again. I'm now running a campaign with six players (half complete RPG virgins) and having a great time. The preparation involved does, however, detract from my MMORPG time...
Want to start a new warhammer pnp group in germany (town: essen) ;)
D&D 3rd and 4th Editions were just money making exercises.
I suppose you can't blame them for doing it, but it was not necessary.

In any RPG, the mechanics should be secondary to the social experience.
My favourite RP sessions were when I didn't know the rules; all I did was roll the dice when the DM told me to.
Still Play Every other Saturday, we alternate between HERO and RoleMaster. Almost 20 years and still rolling.

PnP Games are Niche, but honestly they are one that will be around for a long time.

The Unfortunate fact is that Role Playing is seriously Hamstrung in the popular Online Multiplayer games. You have a lot of Options for Player-Player interaction, but almost none for permanently changing the game world.

Until the Day My Wizard has the ability to go kill the king of (Stormwind,Qeynos, etc) and have it make Permanent, noticable effects in the Game World, I will still be a player.

Until the Day I have a set of tools that allows me to create and populate a world to my own exact specification that my friends can play in when they wish, I will still be GMing.
I grew up playing pen & paper RPGs; D&D 2nd, MERP, Star Wars, Road Hogs, Paranoia, and TMNT are the ones that come to mind now. I took a long break, mostly playing board games, and then more recently I played D&D 3.5 every two weeks for a year until I moved cities. It is hard to beat the camaraderie of a PnP or other tabletop game; this format will not die, so long as humans enjoy face-to-face socializing and the visceral nature of rolling dice and scritching pencil to paper.
We play several RPG's, we play Forgotten realms, shadowrun, and Vodge... Vodge is my favorite though, it's new. Me and my boyfriend are in our 30's, but most of the people we play with are just out of High School and most of them started playing while they were in HS. My son now plays with us on a regular basis, and he has friends that play too. I definitely don't think it's a dying pastime!
I've never acctually played one, but I heard that my far away cousin plays Star Wars RPG with his friends (the d20 one) so I'm giving it a soon as I find some friends and the Saga Edition Rulebook!
I used to play MERPS and Vampire (and once played a few campaigns of Werewolf but wasn't too keen) a lot when in Secondary School. Then since leaving that I've not played at all. I used to love PnP games and if there was a group in my area I think I'd love to play again.

In fact, reading LOTR again for the umpteenth time at the moment and it still makes me wish it was me riding out..
You can play your favorite pen and paper RPGs online by using a Virtual Gaming table like OpenRPG or MapTool. If you need to find other folks to play with... check out That site is totally free and is geared towards helping players and game masters find one another for real online campaigns. The Tangled Web also hosts a ton of maps and miniatures for use with OpenRPG and MapTool.
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