Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Future of D&D

Or RPGs in general.

This is a response to the comment here.

Talking about the future of D&D, RPGs, or anything at all, is pointless.

Because the future doesn't exist, and will never exist. By the time you get there, it's not the future anymore, and you think of all the things that happened that never could have been predicted between the time you made the prediction and now.

Or, to be more grounded and to the point of the presentation I'm thinking about, the future of D&D or of RPGs is irrelevant.

I haven't been participating in the future of RPGs for what, decades now? Never once played Vampire and never was interested in the White Wolf thing, never have played WoW or any other MMOWTFLOL or whatever the abbreviation is, played Magic: The Gathering all of one time back in 93 or 94, played Rifts just once, never played D&D 3.x or any variation thereof, never played 4e.

I've done the Skype thing a couple times for gaming (Death Frost Doom playtest) and while it was certainly functional, I was so enamored with running games for people that weren't in front of me that I've done it so many times since.

I don't buy pdfs anymore (went through a spurt a few years back), I've never even met anyone with an ebook reader (and I haven't even made the move to mp3s for music, so I think I can safely say I'll be dead and gone before I make use of electronic fucking books as a replacement for the real thing).

I see beautiful young girls and think they're really wrecking their looks with all the piercings and tattoos. Women are beautiful, soft creatures, and this gives them that rough, hard look that age will bring in time anyway. Why accelerate the process?

So I've turned into an old man somewhere along the way. That in mind, what the hell do I have to say about the future?

Whatever the future is, it's not worth worrying about, because it will pass.

Or it will pass unnoticed. Just as I am ignoring the present and future (and the last couple decades past) of the RPG hobby, so have many other people, successfully, without doing it the same way I have. This was going to be my commentary on the Erik Mona video. His future is irrelevant, for even if it comes to pass, there will be many that are not doing it that way, that are "behind," that will be successful because the key is the product, and its vision and ability to inspire, not its platform or delivery. Prime Example: Rifts. There never is the future, as even a future will not be shared by all, or accepted by all, and all those differing viewpoints will still stand side by side. So Mona's speech was not "the future of RPGs," but "The future of Paizo as best as they can guess in their planning meetings between preparing all their upcoming releases for press on that outdated paper shit everyone seems to be so convinced nobody will want to use pretty soon."

Even if the game I'm making is the answer for the popularity of "old school" exploding within the hobby, it's irrelevant, because it would be yet another passing fad for RPGs, it would pass, and I wouldn't adapt to what came after. I'd be working my ass off beyond all reason during what everyone else would come to call my "glory years" and after the fact just remember the bitterness and panic of the end of the gravy train. I'd just be the irrelevant dinosaur has-been of the industry, the same way I'm presently a never-was of the industry with a dinosaur point of view.

Or it'll flop out of the gate and won't that be a good time.

(somehow I don't see a reasonable middle ground of "It'll do OK." I'll reach the moon or explode on the launch pad, that's my thinking.)

Fuck the future.

Hmm. Yeah, I think I'll skip that part of the lecture.


  1. There's a lot to like about this post. Well done.

  2. I believe the "the future doesn't exist" point you make appears in my Neon Con address. 10 years ago someone looking forward to now probably would not have predicted any of the significant developments in the tabletop RPG business over the last decade, from the OGL to PDFs to the OSR (to limit myself to acronyms).

    So I agree with you on that score. The best we can do is look at trends, the recent past, technology, and whatever we can pull out of our asses to make educated guesses about what the future might hold.

    "Recent" technology like PDFs and PODs make it easier to be a "publisher" than at any time in history, and the internet allows you to get electronic product into the hands of an audience easier than ever before. A one-man show distributing PDFs has a blessedly low overhead compared to a publishing operation with dozens of employees. Which is awesome, because it means that there's a better chance to find a game that perfectly suits your taste, so long as you are open minded enough to hunt it down in digital or POD format.

    Even if we all get personal holodecks there will still be an enormous appeal to old-school style games, and I do not expect them to go away at all.

    Indeed, I expect them to become more and more popular.

    --Erik Mona

  3. hmmm I was testy before bed last night.

    There thing about that NeonCon video that really struck me (besides the fact that I kept reading it as NeoCon) more than talk of technology:

    I have never in my life encountered organized play beyond people talking about it on message boards. The idea that it is important (or enjoyable) is as confusing to me as Russian soap operas.

    "The Future Of" kinds of things just annoy me in general though. Like if a "future of music" essay or talk doesn't involve me being able to buy more CDs of obscure NWOBHM bands, I feel unrepresented and annoyed. Luckily, there are labels releasing such things.

    And Paul Di'Anno is playing here in two weeks. :D

  4. I enjoyed the video; as with most such things, you just have to take it for what it is, which is some ideas about what we might see in the near and somewhat more distant future. Some of it we may benefit from preparing for, other elements we may recognise when they arrive, and still others we will completely forget about, and they may or may not come to pass.

    For my part, I will still be running face-to-face games, preferably with books. :D

  5. Jim,

    This post is a good reason why I love your blog. Well, done. :)

  6. "Even if we all get personal holodecks there will still be an enormous appeal to old-school style games, and I do not expect them to go away at all.

    Indeed, I expect them to become more and more popular.

    --Erik Mona"

    If you're still following up on this thread Erik---then it seems a good business idea for Paizo to release rules-lite Pathfinder Boxed set right, written in the style of older D&D rules right?


  7. It's certainly something I've strongly considered. Not to co-opt the "old school" movement (which I think has a really appealing DIY element and which is doing fine on its own) but to present a relatively simple, relatively bullshit-free and flexible version of the rules to introduce to new players or serve as a framework for a "boiled down" experience akin (I think) to old school play.

    I had a chance to play AD&D (my first and probably strongest RPG love) last weekend after an absence of many years, and although I thought some of the rules were a mess and the presentation poorly organized, there was a straightforward simplicity to it completely lacking from "modern" versions of the game. It helped that I knew the rules from years ago, but I think a total newcomer could grasp the basic rules of AD&D in about 10 minutes. He'd have to look stuff up a lot (which is where the bad organization comes in), but he wouldn't be completely lost.

    I think newer editions are not like that at all. I'd love to find a "basic game" approach to Pathfinder that captured some of that "speed of grok" and speed of play. Frankly, AD&D covers about twice as much "ground" in the same period of play than third edition, which is a huge advantage in many ways.

    My version of a "Basic" Pathfinder would have lots of things that would make it anathema to orthodox old schoolers. I'd have a skill system, and largely keep to the general framework of the core Pathfinder game, which I really enjoy. The point wouldn't be to make a game to usurp something like OSRIC or Labyrinth Lord or whatever (they are doing great on their own), but to take some of the scope and spirit of the old school style and apply it to a less bloated version of Pathfinder.

    It's an appealing idea. Very expensive to pull off, but very tempting as a way to learn and teach the basics of the game without having to read a 576-page rulebook. If we did it, I suspect some people would prefer this version to the real deal.


  8. I am pretty sure Erik Mona has seen what the French licensor of PATHFINDER did last year - they published an introductory boxed set for 3.x.

    But they didn't use PATHFINDER for it, they created a whole new OGL game called CHRONIQUES OUBLIEES - which is a great name btw, echoing two famous French RPG-related titles:
    "Chroniques de la Lune Noire" is a highly popular fantasy graphic novel series written by Francois Marcela Froideval, a former TSR writer (1st ed. Oriental Adventures),
    and "Les Royaumes Oubliés" is the French name of the "Forgotten Realms".

    The box contains one booklet, sceen, pre-gen character sheets, and dice; rules up to level 4 (including rules to make your own characters if you don't want to use the pre-gens - so no WotC style crippleware), with feats arranged into what looks like old MERP spell lists (three feat chains per character class, take two feats per level); plus four short adventures (2 hours play time each).
    It's quite close to the Good Old Red Box, but with today's (even Paizo-like) graphic design.

    The intro box will be followed by a hardcover book named CHRONIQUES OUBLIEES - LA BIBLE 3.5 (yes, "the 3.5 Bible"), and in January they also announced a "Blue Box".

    It puzzles me that the company that publishes PATHFINDER also publishes a competing system.

    Official Homepage:
    (It's really sad and not understandable why they don't have pictures of the contents on their homepage - take a look at the downloads in the right corner, under "Téléchargements".)

    The company is clearly aiming the product at the next generation. The editors frequent French RPG forums, and their sig is a colorful banner exclaiming, "Gamer, it is time you passed the flame to the youth."
    (Read: "Buy this box and give it to your nephew/niece, son/daughter, grandson/granddaughter...")

    At Erik Mona: "If we did it, I suspect some people would prefer this version to the real deal."

    Yes, I prefer the CHRONIQUES OUBLIEES box to the full 3.x or Pathfinder - any day.

  9. JoetheLawyer said: If you're still following up on this thread Erik---then it seems a good business idea for Paizo to release rules-lite Pathfinder Boxed set right, written in the style of older D&D rules right?

    In a sense this is exactly what Chris Pramas & Co. over at Green Ronin have done with their new Dragon Age RPG Set 1. Its a box set basic game complete with Player's Guide, Gamemaster's Guide, a setting map and a set of dice. The game itself is remarkably similar to the Mentzer Basic Set, albeit with a few modernizations to streamline and clear up the clutter of the original old school games. The rules are a 3d6-based variant of the Basic rules with a slight added twist of Green Ronin's True20. There are only three classes (Rogue, Warrior, Mage), three races (Elf, Dwarf, Human), a simple dice mechanic where you roll 3d6 + your ability + possible skill focus against a target number, which is either a difficulty determined by the GM or an opponents defense value. The target audience of the game is most likely players new to tabletop gaming. The box doesn't contain much setting material, but then again, a basic set doesn't need it. I suspect there'll be more setting material, as well as more spells and rules stuff in sets 2-4. Anyways, I have this game, and as fan of the Mentzer Basic Set, Labyrinth Lord, D&D 3.5 AND Pathfinder I have to say I really like this box set. and I hope Green Ronin succeeds at what they're trying to do.

  10. I am reminded of an old
    Meat Loaf song . . .

    "I never knew so many bad times
    Could follow me so mercilessly
    It's almost surreal all the pain that I feel
    The future ain't what it used to be

    "It doesn't matter what they're thinking
    It doesn't matter what they're thinking of me
    It's always so cold and I'm to young to be old
    The future ain't what it used to be

    "Were there ever any stars in the sky?
    And did the sun ever shine so bright?
    Do you have any dreams I could borrow
    Just to get me through the lonely nights? "

  11. Whoa!!

    I guess both Dragon Age and the upcoming RED BOX for D&D4 will put Pathfinder between a rock and a hard place. Pathfinder may have pulled in the 3.x veterans that didn't want to make the switch to 4e - but DA and D&D are eager to get at the newbies.

    (Though the Mentzer layout is a bit strange. Seems they are also targetting the OSR, at least with the first print run.)