Saturday, February 5, 2011

Why Does Malcolm Sheppard Suck?

I haven't posted since Monday! Damn. Been busy with stuff. But I think I have time for a rant.

Malcolm Sheppard
Why do RPGs Suck? What a load of shit. I've read exactly two things by Sheppard (remember Why You Can't Have Nice Things?) and they both show his utter contempt for the traditional role-playing game, the people who play them, and the people who make them. How else do you explain his saying things like 'hexcrawls are a symptom of a writer's disdain for himself and his audience' and pushing the idea that clones are proof of creative failure without taking a closer look at what the "clone" movement has in turn enabled and grown in the player base.

He's got this notion that if you find something you like and you want to play in that sandbox and not take a great big bite of every new idea that comes along, you're irrelevant and indeed harmful to the hobby and industry. If you produce material for these satisfied people, you're creatively bankrupt. The ever-growing number of OSR players and publishers are pissing all over those notions from a great height.

At some point you just have to admit that the RPGPundit's "Swine" are not imaginary boogeymen. They do exist...

(oh shit, Pundit's already weighed in: "For him 'creative' means 'the brilliant and artistic splatbook auteur creates a work of his own genius that you proles will devour like the mindless unwashed that you are.'" *checks Sheppard's writing credits* Sounds about right.)

Steve Long The Licensing Trap This is a different sort of thing. Long is just wrong here. Not contemptuously so, but wrong.

Frankly, if a group wants to play in "a licensed setting," who gives a shit? A group having fun playing in someone else's world is just as entitled to that as playing in a setting made up by the GM.
There are pitfalls, as I talk about in the Ref book of my game, but it's not awful in concept.

"Let's play some Dr Who!" (for example) is not an idea that I would expect to be rare in gamers, you know? How is it bad business sense to take advantage of it? How is that being bankrupt of ideas? If a licensed game indeed enables play in that particular world, that's fucking awesome. Some people do want to get on with gaming and not customize all this shit endlessly themselves, strange as that sounds to some of us.

As I've said before, our job as publishers is not to amaze purchasers with how amazingly original and clever we are or to develop IP for other media. Our job is to produce gameable material for play.
That's it. Nothing else. All that other stuff we do along with that is for our own benefit and satisfaction and amusement, not the purchaser's.

Does it really make one shit's difference if a group wants to play in Golarion or Middle-Earth anyway? Or how about The World of Darkness vs the Dresden Files world? One of each pair is purpose-built by a RPG company, the other comes from novels. The decision to play in any of these worlds means a group is not using a "home-brew" world. So what's the difference on the publisher end? Prestige in the community? Getting patted on the back by other RPG designers? The hopes of a Hollywood deal?

*fart*

(wait a minute, why does Sheppard think Golarion sucks? I haven't read a word of Golarion setting material, but an off-the-cuff guess is that it is a setting that provides opportunities to engage in the kind gaming that gamers like to do instead of presenting them with foreign concepts and ideas that don't do dick for encouraging or sustaining a real-life at-the-table game)

Frankly, playing in a "licensed" setting means the players might actually know what the fuck is going on once in awhile without all the info needing to be spoonfed to them by the GM. That may not be the creative option, but sometimes it's the better option.

Remember, it is not the publisher's job to be the creative one. It's the publisher's job to excite the imagination of the potential GM and inspire the creativity there. A hex crawl, for instance, demands that the GM create and improvise because there is no way in hell to make a comprehensive hex-crawl that gives all the answers and provides all the necessary information on a platter during play. A good module has a setting or situation with no scripted outcome; anything can happen and watching the players destroy the module's carefully prepared environment is the fun of it.

All the unique IP in the universe isn't going to help a game if the core of it doesn't contain gameable
stuff, and if there is gameable stuff then the IP attached to it is pretty much just window dressing - the stuff can be transferred to other "IP."

... why yes, I am releasing hex-crawls in the coming months and assuming that the company doesn't go ptbtbt I'll be chasing a license this summer (just because sometimes I want to call a spade a spade and stop euphemizing - I have no desire to make it appealing to the "property's" current fanbase). And I made by own simulacrum! And no official explicit company setting is even in the planning stages! It's strangely satisfying being everything Sheppard thinks is wrong with RPGs these days, considering that it looks like he's the embodiment of everything that kept me out of the game shop for well over a decade.

(Maria: "These people have fallen onto their own sword.")

***

(and while I'm ranting and my blood's pumping, something unrelated: I'm waiting on the final art pieces for the Tutorial and Rules books for the Grindhouse Edition. To save the artists themselves being associated with my RAARR RRAAARR!!!!, I'll say this here instead of when I post the pieces:

The gauntlet is thrown down. I dare anyone to produce better gaming art in 2011. Wizards of the Coast and Paizo and Fantasy Flight with your deep pockets and pick of whatever talent you want, my fellow OSR publishers with your unlimited well of ideas, all you storygamers with your edgy concepts all about making meaningful fiction happen in play... any of you. Match this. Try. Please.

You might think this is just empty hype. You might think "How good could a gaming illustration possibly be?" You might think I'm creating unrealistic expectations that this art can't possibly meet. You might even think I'm just full of shit. However, I have one advantage here that you don't: I've seen the art.

Trust me on this one. During the next week or so they'll get done and I'll show them to you and you'll see for yourself and you can join me in over here being in awe of these things.)

39 comments:

  1. I'll be chasing a license this summer (just because sometimes I want to call a spade a spade and stop euphemizing - I have no desire to make it appealing to the "property's" current fanbase)

    Star Wars? **chuckle**

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  2. One bad thing about the Internet is that every douche can now put forth his opinion as fact an inflict the whole world with his blather. Here is what I have to say: What makes you an ideal candidate to pass such judgement? This is your opinion. So keep it to yourself. If you have such a problem with rpgs then do something creative and bring something new to the table, instead of sitting back and passing judgement. Stop whining. Stop assuming that your opinion is fact. I’m pretty sure that there are lots of gamers having lots of fun and have no inkling of this creativity “crisis” you see in the industry. Just go game and let everyone have fun in their own way. Stop being a navel-gazer. The point is to have fun. If you are not, maybe RPGs are no longer for you.

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  3. By the way, I hope you know, James, that my comment above was directed toward the d-bags you referenced I'm your post...

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  4. My comment was not about you...

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  5. Actually I'll go a step farther than Drance - I say print out his first comment and title it "any time I post more then one rant, check this". Because quite honestly, your product is better than your rants. And reading a little comment about "stop bitching and write (or start a revolution)" is a great way to remind yourself that product is the biggest middle finger you can give people like Sheppard

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  6. Yeah, I caught that.

    Problem is neither are just some random internet douche. Sheppard is an award winning game designer with credits from one of the (former) big dogs in gaming. Long is a guy that's gotten a lot of my money (for HERO 5e stuff).

    I would hope both guys' work reflects what they want to see game companies produce, and I'm sure there are behind-the-scenes frustrations that caused both to write what they did.

    But hell, even I've stopped my edition warring once I started working on my own stuff.

    (and we won the edition war, by the way, at least on the internet battlefield... not because we have superior market share or anything, but because we're part of the discourse and our games and style are not flung in the dungheap of RPG history)

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  7. >>Because quite honestly, your product is better than your rants.

    I'd gone 5 days without posting because I'm working on actual gaming stuff rather than blathering on the internet, but it's the weekend now and I'm allowed to unwind. :D

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  8. So they just arent random and still Internet Douche's - this is Zak at Playing D&D with Porn Stars "Vegan Wrap" conversation all over. If they dont want to play my style of rpgs, fine - then leave it alone.

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  9. After reading the Malcolm Sheppard post, my first thought was that I wondered what Rob Kuntz would say about it. Then I remembered that I probably wouldn’t be able to make heads-or-tails of his response anyway. ^_^

    The Steve Long piece isn’t even worthwhile. He sums up the problem with licenses (“you’ll pay so much in licensing fees, and get so strung out with approvals, that you’ll have a hard time making money”) and then dismisses it to rant about a non-problem that wouldn’t be the issue even if it were a problem.

    (There is another problem with licensed RPGs that is worth mentioning, which is that the license will eventually end, the publisher will file off the serial numbers to make it a generic system, and the next licensee won’t build off the foundation of any of the previous licensees. Although that’s just a symptom of a bigger problem with licenses.)

    The challenge for you, Jim, will be to be sure that the licensing fees are reasonable and to keep enough creative control. Too often properties are managed by people who don’t understand the property as well as licensees and thus impose ridiculous limits or demand silly changes.

    And I can’t wait to hear what it is, find out that you won it, and see what you do with it.

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  10. >>There is another problem with licensed RPGs that is worth mentioning, which is that the license will eventually end

    I was going to bring this up, but I figure it belonged to the "business issues" that Long specifically wasn't talking about.

    Obviously the costs and hassles of licenses aren't the dread killer of RPGs that some assume - just look at Long's resume, Margaret Weiss Productions entire business plan, Dresden Files, Star Wars in its various guises, etc. It's possible to work with them and be successful.

    As far as the license I'm thinking about, I won't even approach the people until summer (I'll know how well the game and at least four hardcovers are doing by then), but the idea is to create OSR-style adventure modules using the trappings and situations of the IP in question - not setting sourcebooks or anything like that.

    If the costs are too much or adapting them to this format is a no-go, of course I'll direct my energies elsewhere.

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  11. I respect Steve Long and he is a fine designer even if Hero has never been my cup of tea.

    But he is wrong on licensed products. I am every bit as proud of the work I did on Ghosts of Albion as he is of Hero and you are of LotFP.

    I would also argue that there are creative elements in Buffy and Ghosts that above and beyond the licenses they are connected with. But how does one measure "creativity" and is that the yardstick games should be measured on? Or should they be measured by how much fun they are?

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  12. I want to second the motion that your excellent products are the best answer to douchebags like Sheppard. Kudos for you to raising the bar in the OSR -- I can't wait to see that art!

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  13. P.S. I still enjoy your rants, too, though.

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  14. The Malcolm Shepard piece is total BS, for sure. But I still laugh at RPG Pundit's tough guy crusade against the "swine".

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  15. This is my translation of the aforementioned rant, "I'm not making enough money be because rpg consumers are buying the wrong things...waaahhh"

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  16. Actually, after reading the Shepard piece, I find myself agreeing with a lot of it...to me, it feels a lot less directed at the OSR movement as with the public RPG industry. For example, the kind of product YOU are putting out James (the weird-scary dungeon-crawl) would fit into Shepard's request for bold and creative design that doesn't give a shit about what the proles are asking for.

    I don't normally read the guy's blog, so I admit I'm taking it out of context, but to me it sound more like a call to arms than a disparaging of the hobby (only a disparaging of the present state of the hobby). I'll go back and read it again though (with the links and comments this time).

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  17. Wow, okay...I now read the Long article and I agree with that, too! That is, I think Long has a valid point when he calls licensing a creative "honey trap," one I've wrestled with myself when trying to design (serial numbers filed off) "licensed RPGs." Yes, you can work out the details to mimic everything in the book/movie...but what if you used your creativity to create your own damn IP (as, again, I think YOU do, James)...there's so much more potential to "blow the top off" in those cases and create really cool games with game-specific designs that do cool things.

    RE: Shepard's piece:The first half of the post is less than complimentary to current designers, and may miss the mark on the amount of effort and creativity poured into today's games, but I still feel like this is a post aimed at insipid game design. And I still think the second-half of the post has some useful thoughts for designers to consider.

    His earlier "nice things" rant had a lot of garbage in it.

    word verification: humbl
    Humbly submitted.

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  18. Ostensible Cat has a candidate for most awesome OSR art:

    http://xyanthon.blogspot.com/2011/02/its-family-tradition-part-2-or.html

    You should commission his kid.

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  19. The gauntlet is thrown down. I dare anyone to produce better gaming art in 2011.

    I'll interpret that to be an invitation to pimp the cover art for my upcoming supplement:
    http://fireinthejungle.wordpress.com/2011/01/17/the-lonely-gorilla/

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  20. On the one hand, in the "Why We Can't Have Nice Things" article, Sheppard simply seems to be complaining: "Oh no, gamers are smart, independent thinkers who don't buy whatever the fuck we put on the shelf for no reason. Stop doing that, so they'll start making things for us."

    On the other hand, the "client" he's describing could easily be the guy at Escapist who tried to put me and James Mal and other tabletop games on the site and eventually had to give it up because the tabletop people were so uber-cynical about ANY body attempting to say they knew ANYthing about games who didn't play with the same colored box as them.

    Two sides of the same coin.

    Point is: this is a DIY hobbyist industry, it will always be one. Love that or leave it.

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  21. @JB: "Actually, after reading the Shepard piece, I find myself agreeing with a lot of it...to me, it feels a lot less directed at the OSR movement as with the public RPG industry. For example, the kind of product YOU are putting out James (the weird-scary dungeon-crawl) would fit into Shepard's request for bold and creative design that doesn't give a shit about what the proles are asking for."

    Sheppard's come out against all independent or self-published designers, on the grounds that they are undermining professional freelancers who work for the big companies. Sheppard has groused about Ron Edwards and Vincent Baker more than RPG Pundit has.

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  22. Sheppard's come out against all independent or self-published designers, on the grounds that they are undermining professional freelancers who work for the big companies.

    Nope.

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  23. What an eloquent rebuttal, eyebeams.

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  24. On the other hand, the "client" he's describing could easily be the guy at Escapist who tried to put me and James Mal and other tabletop games on the site and eventually had to give it up because the tabletop people were so uber-cynical about ANY body attempting to say they knew ANYthing about games who didn't play with the same colored box as them.

    More like this, yes.

    Some of you come from a basically fucked up mode of thinking. You believe that because I'm not on your team, I must be on somebody else's team.
    I'm not on anybody's team. I don't ask for your permission. I'm not trying to create any sort of community. I'm not on the side of some conception of the games industry, whatever it is.

    I do whatever the fuck I want. Don't like it? Don't read. Want to respond? I'm easy to contact. It's simple.

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  25. @eyebeams: Oh, come on. You're claiming you never posted rants to your Livejournal or on The Forge about how people who are publishing small-printrun games are practicing bad business, and that, by using options like Lulu to publish their own work, they are devaluing the work of freelancers attempting to sell to WotC or White Wolf?

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  26. Oh, come on. You're claiming you never posted rants to your Livejournal or on The Forge about how people who are publishing small-printrun games are practicing bad business, and that, by using options like Lulu to publish their own work, they are devaluing the work of freelancers attempting to sell to WotC or White Wolf?

    Yes. I am claiming exactly that. Also, your whole phrasing of what freelancers do is wrong, unless you're talking about a process like Palladium's.

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  27. The top games are now either D&D variants or media licenses. That can’t be seen as anything other than a collective fuckup.

    Or else, the success of the market, and of consumers buying what they most want, even if it isn't what you personally like. Since he assumes the above then goes off from there, I'm not impressed by anything else in the post.

    The old article, re Nice Things, I think was correct though, at least for some number of gamers. I've known people like that. Guys who show up with a print-out of the rules, can tell you everything publisher X is doing wrong, and bitch about how the local gaming store focuses on Warhammer and Magic and doesn't do enough to promote roleplaying. Well, maybe buy a damn book before telling the store owner and publisher how to run their businesses for your unique benefit.

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  28. "Remember, it is not the publisher's job to be the creative one. It's the publisher's job to excite the imagination of the potential GM and inspire the creativity there."

    This might be one of the most insightful things I've read on your blog. It is absolutely true in older edition games, but I fear the idea is currently being destroyed by over-design and fluff.

    "The tabletop RPG hobby is suffering from creative failure." This quote of his is wonderfully insulting and untrue, the twin hallmarks of pretension.

    While Mr. Sheppards punditry is pretty laughable, he does seem fairly successful at getting people who are way more interesting than him to send traffic to his blog.

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  29. Look, I would probably tend to agree that the mainstream hobby is rife with crap, but the authors in question could better serve their arguments by couching them in a positive way, rather than come off as angry, pompous uber-nerds. By the way, eyebeams: you are a baby. Oh, you used the f- word. Tough guy. You're a caricature, a joke, and you and your ilk are the reason outsiders to the hobby see all gamers as pathetic. You're the comic book guy from the simpsons cartoon.

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  30. Does anyone else consistently have problems understanding what Sheppard has said? It feels like there's meaning there but somehow I always fail to process it. I'm not sure what the thesis of his latest piece is; I'm not even sure what a lot of the individual sentences mean.

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  31. No, I'm with you there, Oddysey. I can't really work out what he's trying to say, other than that role-players are bad for some reason.

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  32. Oddysey: There's some cognitive dissonance happening here because he's got two thesi, and they're not entirely compatible:

    1: the industry is dying, and somebody needs to do something amazing and creative to save it and...

    2: that something amazing and creative needs to look exactly like his personal ideal of RPing.

    Unfortunately, while his preferences overlap some with mine, last time we went down that road, it lead to the doldrums of the '90s, when Steve Jackson had to get a day job and TSR got bought. The RPG Pundit is right: 3e gave the entire industry a much-needed shot in the arm.

    When you get down it it, he's blaming the customer. Once you go there, your business can't be saved. If you're at war with your customers, you need to get out, and get into an entirely different business.

    Yes, he's right: the legacy industry is dying (though that doesn't seem to be stopping new folks from getting into the game and doing well). He's also right that there's lots of room for innovation. That's nearly always true. Beyond that, it's mostly sour grapes and flame bait.

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  33. @eyebeams: (in reference to "you never posted rants to your Livejournal or on The Forge about how people who are publishing small-printrun games are practicing bad business, and that, by using options like Lulu to publish their own work, they are devaluing the work of freelancers attempting to sell to WotC or White Wolf?")

    OK, if you disagree, let me suggest that I am misremembering certain things: (1) maybe it was on Story Games instead of Livejournal; (2) maybe you didn't mention Lulu; (3) Maybe only GM Skarka or Bruce Baugh was involved, and said some of the other things. However, the core idea, that people who self-publish small print-run games practice bad business and undermine professional practices, could be rephrased this way:

    "A game designed with no particular expectation of compensation (or an expectation that is excessively low) depresses the standard of practice for the sake of slaking an ego and burdens retail and distribution with indexing or choosing between too many products."

    Not word-for-word the way I characterized your position, I'll grant, but you go on to slag pretty hard on people publishing at the hobby-end of the business:

    "This affects the value people place on creative work, promoting relationships and payment levels I consider to be exploitation. People want to keep costs down to such a degree that the community expects creative workers to screw themselves over."

    I do agree with the point you make there about the withering of the free RPG segment... although that trend is starting to reverse now.

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  34. I read this article as an attack on the OSR (to the extent that I could understand it - I agree with Odyssey that most of what Sheppard says is jargon-riddled buzzword-bingo).

    Also there seemed to be a bit of a desperate plea that designers aren't using this whole "new media" bizzo to do their stuff, presumably because Sheppard himself has struck out into that desert and is surprised to find it's a barren and featureless wilderness.

    When I read Sheppard's stuff I think "failed game designer with a chip on his shoulder about his consumers' preferences."

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  35. Licensing:
    Margaret Weiss productions doesn't seem to release anything BUT licensed games anymore! Seems to work for them, though the games only stick around for a short while before they go.(I'd guess not everyone could make a niche like this work though... The profits wouldn't be terribly large from what I've seen[unless you get a hot property for a steal, or there's a 'fad', maybe?], but enough's enough to keep going, I'd say.)) If you wanna play Star Trek, Star Wars, Diablo, Dr. Who, Aliens, Conan, Robotech, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Indiana Jones, or the Lawnmower Man, Leverage, Supernatural, Buffy... Go For It! Me, I'll be playing White Wolf's Street Fighter: The Storytelling Game! :-D In general, I think the games based off of other media can be pretty weak, but some people get jacked up about it; whether to explore new facets of the setting, or interact with 'old friends', there's obviously a desire for them. My only worries would be the fees and possible creative straitjacketing, like say running everything by a company like Lucasarts for approval, lest you 'offend' them or their core audience.(Hazards I'm sure JimLotFP is aware of.)

    '3e gave the entire industry a much-needed shot in the arm':
    If by that, you mean the OGL, and meant as a 'cure', I'd just say it can, and has, been argued that that was the 'cure' that almost killed the patient! The OGL had beneficial repercussions for this group of gamers, though. My local stores still have a lot of D20 stuff they're trying to dump, and the owners are leery of 'too much roleplaying stuff' now... I personally never cared for one universal game system, and thought it was a bad idea when GURPS was becoming visible, and later with TSR's Amazing Engine(One of the reasons TSR went down the drain, unfortunately), etc... But that's just me. The 'Boom' was all too short for most, but there were some survivors at least. But alternate history can only be surmised, not predicted, so....

    @JimLotFP:
    Keep up the good work, and relax a little! :-)

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  36. JimLotFP: “Obviously the costs and hassles of licenses aren't the dread killer of RPGs that some assume - just look at Long's resume, Margaret Weiss Productions entire business plan, Dresden Files, Star Wars in its various guises, etc. It's possible to work with them and be successful.

    Of course, it is possible. Based on my experience (though admittedly in a different arena), it is hard to be successful with a license, and in most cases you’d have been better off without the license. It all depends upon how you measure success, though. (By my measures of success, I don’t think licensed RPGs have done significantly better than non-licensed RPGs.) Not to mention the specifics of the individual situation.

    Trollsmyth: “He's also right that there's lots of room for innovation.

    I don’t know that I agree with this. RPGs are a heavily explored terrain these days. (Especially if you actually dig through the history looking for prior art before claiming an innovation.) I’m sure there are new discoveries to be made, but they’re increasingly fewer and harder to find.

    I also tend to think innovation is overrated. There’s lots of room for creativity within the terrain that has already been discovered.

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  37. Mr. Fisher: There’s lots of room for creativity within the terrain that has already been discovered.

    I'll absolutely agree with that statement. One of the reasons I'm happy with my purchase of the LotFPWFRP (whew!) box is that there's a lot of neat little innovations in it that are useful for my games, in spite of my already owning LL, B/X, etc.

    That said, I have to disagree with the idea that "RPGs are a heavily explored terrain these days." Action/adventure RPGs may be a heavily explored terrain, but there's a lot of stuff outside that we've barely begun to poke at: romance, politics, cultural exploration, educational, heck, even horror really hasn't gotten all the attention it deserves.

    I suspect that, as our hobby becomes more and more niche, that we'll see some folks branching out into these areas. That, or the work will come from the free-formers attempting to solve the issues their particular style is plagued by.

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  38. This makes me want to publish some things and then give them away for free just out of spite...

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  39. trollsmyth: “Action/adventure RPGs may be a heavily explored terrain, but there's a lot of stuff outside that we've barely begun to poke at: romance, politics, cultural exploration, educational, heck, even horror really hasn't gotten all the attention it deserves.

    Hmm. Perhaps.

    I already see three or four spin-offs from RPGs that I think really should start calling themselves something else because they are different enough. Or perhaps adventure RPG fans like myself should reädopt the “adventure” moniker to distinguish ourselves? Maybe I simply take too narrow a view of what an “RPG” is because I think going much farther than has been gone in some of those areas leads to something I’d call a different hobby.

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