Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Failure of the Industry

I'd been complaining on Twitter how some posts on message boards relating to "overtaking D&D" and "What if WotC reprinted old D&D books" were making me want to cancel my internet service because they were killing my brain cells because of a lot of "We had to destroy the village in order to save it," commentary being thrown about.

Then there's this post about the industry being irrelevant to actual gaming.

As a guy who has published and will continue to publish game materials, and as someone who doesn't buy many game materials, and as someone who plays more or less weekly, I have much to say about this.

I'll tell you why the industry has failed me: Because it produces canon and instructs buyers how to follow an official way instead of aiding what I'm wanting to do. Because it provides piles and piles of setting detail detached from any actual play and it provides waves and waves of new rules and options for characters instead of doing what it can to keep a core game simple and easily entered.

The role-playing industry has but one purpose: To Enable Play. Some people might think they're in the business of selling content, and so the more content they sell, the better they are at being a role-playing company. Not so. To Enable Play. That's all it is good for.

You know what enables play? You know what enables play and improves the ability of all involved to play? Adventures. Yes, the hobby is one of do-it-yourself creation, but (of course!) I believe that (quality) pre-made adventures are valuable.

First, they provide superior potential for good gaming for x number of sessions. That's cool right there.

To repeat a point, they provide a means for both referees and players to think and game in ways that won't happen if their group and their play remain completely insular.

The GD(...andmaybeQ) series, T1, B2, X1, S1, and so many more are commonpoint touchstones for our hobby, and certainly nobody can say the 1970s modules were intended be a campaign rather than supplement them as begun to happen with certain modules in the 80s. These common touchstones can be valuable as they can enable a real discussion of play using shared experiences, which I believe are far superior than discussing theoreticals on top of personal experiences (and far more productive than arguing rules points, although that certainly has its place).

Role-playing is a social hobby. A successful role-playing game requires a good-sized pool of players, not (only) to sell books (or pdfs, or what have you), but to actually have the experience of playing to begin with. The bigger the pool of players, the easier it is to just play instead of making an effort to play. And a thriving industrial component not only an indicator of a healthy hobby behind it (I think I can state without controversy that 4e is seeing plenty of actual play), but its products can reach people simply through the effort of releasing and distributing it. I think some in our circle forget that our potential is not just the people currently interested in traditional gaming. Products on shelves is not only a good promotional weapon (how many have a prejudice against "dead games" or "pdf-only" releases... we all have our own particular bugbears in this area, don't we? I certainly do...), but a psychological one, as traditional games displaying traditional philosophies will carry weight just by being read. Certainly quite ridiculous attitudes have gotten vocal sizable followers this way...

The failure of the industry as it stands to serve the hobby does not mean that the idea of an industry is a failure in itself. We've just got to do it ourselves. Some already have and have so enriched our hobby. But there is more to do, and the difficult part is going to be keeping our methods "pure" as the movement continues to expand. "Pure" will mean different things to different people, and as I move into year two of LotFP: RPG blogging, my goal will be to show more and tell less.

The things I have released so far, and the things I plan to release, should show what I mean. So if I may toot my own horn about my small contributions to the industry and the hobby:

Can anyone say that The Random Esoteric Creature Generator for Classic Fantasy Role-Playing Games and Their Modern Simulacra does not have the capability to contribute to every single game out there? Whether it's the best tool for the job is of course up to you, but can one single person running a fantasy game tell me that they couldn't use it? Can anyone say that the advice in the book, purposefully contradictory so you can't take any of it as "canon" or some sort of "one true way" manifesto, straitjackets or narrows gaming if it is followed?

And I don't care what kind of game you run... you can stick any number of Green Devil Face traps in your game as-is. Some ideas in there are more crazy than others, but I refuse to believe that someone could page through those and find nothing they could use.

Now, adventures are something else entirely. If you've read The Tower from Fight On #4, you'll see some elements of how I write an adventure (although it is also unrepresentative in other ways due to its limited scope and "Weird Tale" ambitions). Yes, there is plenty of detail, some of which I'd think is essential. Yes, there will be plots and situations happening. Background pouring out the ears. My adventures won't have sequels that assume things happened in the previous module. If my longterm plans happen, there will be thematically linked adventures, but nothing in the way of the "adventure path" as it is currently known. My adventures will be equally capable of being self-contained one-shots (well, my guess is most won't be a one-session experience, but you get the drift I hope) or dropped into a sandbox, or weaved into the existing threads of a quest/plot-based campaign, with limited hassle. And I think my adventures will have an atmosphere different than any other author out there, and different from that of your table, so you won't be paying for or presenting "more of the same" or something you would have just as easily done yourself.

Those are the goals, anyway, and of course my success at achieving them will vary from adventure to adventure. But there it is.

But is there anyone who would think that releases like that, while certainly being industrial activity, hurt the hobby? Does anyone think we would have less players or more foolish play if Green Ronin or Necromancer or Goodman Games or heaven forbid Wizards of the Coast produced honest-to-goodness OSRIC or Labyrinth Lord or Swords & Wizardry or traditional D&D materials in this manner and did it through all their available industrial channels?


  1. If someone isn't interested in purchasing one of your adventures is there any point in them reading your blog from here on? You used to discuss everything. Maybe you are not aware of this shift in your focus.

  2. The blog contains whatever is on my mind at the moment. These days it's my publishing efforts, but there is no grand plan as to what this blog is.

    Hell, I even had a HERO System/Champions post on this blog.

  3. That's fair enough. You don't owe anyone anything. Some of your earliest posts were among the more thought provoking around but its conceivable in blogland the more interesting topics have run their course.

  4. Or as someone once said, "Death to the game industry, long live games."

    Actually, that's not quite the same. Your point would be more like, "Death to metaplot, fluff, and unplaytested crap, give us more playable modules and we'll pay for them."

  5. You're on Twitter, eh? As if more proof of your megalomania was needed...