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Just wrote this on my blog, but I'm so excited by the idea that I want you to read it too! It's an idea for a small-group presentation at a game convention. PAX Dev, ideally, but whatever, I'd run it anywhere:

THE 4 PROBLEMS WITH TABLETOP RPGS
The way I see it, there are 4 serious problems holding tabletop roleplaying back: trite content, oppressive social footprint, counterproductive procedures of play, and the microaudience. Come find out how ambitious rpg designers are tackling these problems.

Then we have our 4 well-informed and excited ambassadors talk about how Jeep and Nordic larp, for instance, are taking on trite content; how the Cel*Style publishers, for instance, are taking on the oppressive social footprint; how the Forge diaspora and the OSR, for instance, are taking on counterproductive procedures of play; and how Failbetter and Elizabeth's company, for instance, are taking on the problem of the microaudience.

There's not one cutting edge, there are four.

Or, y'know, however many. Those four are the ones that come to mind. Anyway, I want to do it!
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126 comments
 
Which, I suspect, was evident by my +1ing it. So you can just skim my previous comment.
 
I don't recognize all of the terms so I hope you don't mind me asking. What does "oppressive social footprint" mean?
 
I have been trying to find out more about Jeepform for quite some time, since +Robin Laws talked about it a few years back, but the Jeepform webpages are impenetrably opaque on what Jeepform actually is -- there are clouds of jargon and high-level statements, but no concise 'this is what jeepform is'. Can you help me out?
 
I would like to hear all of these things explained because I don't know anything!
 
I used to know something, but I have no idea what trite content, oppressive social footprint, and the microaudience mean. I can guess, but no idea, really.
 
Microaudience: your players are under 4' in height. How do you get your book on the lower shelves? Do you have a stat for "height" in the game which might offend people. Tough questions like that.

Oppressive Social Footprint: It's that giant foot from Montypython. Every game needs stats for that (see also: the Blue Meanie's fist from Yellow Submarine).

Trite Content: Drowning rules. See also: Elves.

Counterproductive procedures of play: rules for building bars, table-tops, shelving, and so on. D&D was good for this (Castle construction rules!) everything else has been lacking.
 
+Paul Echeverri and (EDIT: not) +Bret Gillan: Jeepform is small group LARP without costumes, and if you follow the manifesto, without anything supernatural to them. They're all about playing close to home, with your real emotions.

Jeeps have a ton of cool breaking the fourth wall stuff that actually makes for a very "immersive" narrative.
 
+Tracy Hurley I'm just making up terms for things I see, so no reason for you to recognize them. "Oppressive social footprint" means the substantial time, space, logistical, social, and intimacy commitments you have to make to play most rpgs. Several of the Cel*Style games, as counterexamples, are super fun and satisfying, and you can play them in 20-60 minutes with a random handful of strangers.

"Oppressive social footprint" is a provocative way to say it. (So is "holding tabletop roleplaying back" and all the rest. It's just my way.) Depending on what you want out of your roleplaying, any or all of these can be a perfectly reasonable price to pay.

+Paul Echeverri Jeepform is small-group, scenario-driven, and intentionally formalistic larp. In a Jeep, for instance, you might be playing out an episode of a me-and-my-gay-roommate type sitcom, and the GM-or-whatever might have a whistle to blow and say things like "Okay, go back to 'hey, what happened to the goldfish' and do it again, just the same, but this time, raise your hand every time you stretch the truth." Or I don't know what! Someone who knows Jeepform better than I do might come by and answer. (Psst +Emily Care Boss.)
 
No I meant the four things Vincent was laying out. I know what jeepform is.
 
"PAX Dev, ideally, but whatever, I'd run it anywhere"
Do you do birthday parties?
 
If fighting goblins is trite, I don't want to be right!
 
Okay! Remember that I love rpgs just the way they are, and I love you just the way you are, and I'm not crapping on your fun, I'm just excited about new things people do too. In particular, there's no reason for anybody but an ambitious designer to care about any of these things, and even with ambitious designers I'm sticking my neck pretty far out.

Trite content: goblins and drowning, whatever, sure. Genre elements aren't automatically trite. Many rpgs, though, have a terribly stunted emotional range.

Oppressive social footprint: many rpgs take many hours and a hardcore social commitment, including adopting weird status hierarchies, to play.

Counterproductive procedures of play: in many rpgs, the things you do as a player don't inspire the thoughts & feelings that the things your character's doing ought to inspire. In fact, they often inspire opposite thoughts & feelings. (To put the point on it: fights are boring, and they should be exciting & dangerous instead.)

The microaudience: in most rpgs, the audience of your creative work is just yourself and a small handful of your friends.

There's plenty more to say about each of them. We could fathom the internet with take-your-pick.
 
I was taking microaudience to mean the size of the number of people you can sell a book to. Because that's another challenge.
 
I would add "failure to communicate" under oppressive social foot print. simply changing the presentation of a game can change how many hours it takes to learn. Also I would like to stress how "Cloud to Box" is often a counter productive procedure of play. I would love to watch or be a part of this presentation.
 
These here counterproductive procedures of play, whoa boy, I could ramble on forever about them. But that, in and of itself, might be wholly counterproductive.
 
Wow, now that you explained what you meant by the term I am all over that oppressive social footprint. I think it's what I concluded my problem was when Rob had that "'Quitting' Gaming" interview with me that one time! Edited to Add: Mostly for me I perceive the problem as logicstical. Of course to me it's too much time to spend probably because the emotional payoff is lower for me than it is for people who do set aside the time to play, or something... or irritation with the flaws is higher... or the 'big block of time' objection isn't wholly logistical, it's also related to how my preferred methods of concentration work... interesting stuff!
 
Trite content - its been said before but I think a lot of good games emulate other media (literature, folklore, film, television) but a lot of [trite] games seem to emulate other games.
 
("Fathom the internet with take-your-pick," huh? Writers are such asses.)
 
+Carrie Bernstein: I'm happy to see that interview isn't in the first two pages of a Google search for you anymore.
 
As for trite content I think of it as "sure we could be saving the world from the goblin lord but I guess we will be playing fools in a tavern for 6 hours"
 
Now that you've defined the four terms, I want to hear more. I'd love to attend a seminar like this, and to have a PDF essay of your thoughts (panelists' thoughts) available afterwards.

Fascinating topics!
 
Trite Content as "high overlap with other games" seems to lead well into a type of Microaudience where your game fills a tiny niche in an overcrowded genre.
 
Oh, neat. I see. Yes, completely agreed on Opressive Social Footprint and Microaudience, and am most interested in those two. Well, was already there on counterproductive procedures of play, I guess.
 
I clearly need to say more about the microaudience, especially for +Matt Wilson and his funny post over there. MATT.

You know how when you go to Shakespeare & Company in Lenox MA, you're part of an audience of 100-150? But when you go to Shakespeare in the Park in Hadley, MA, you're part of an audience of 30-50? But when you go to Human Contact in Florence, MA, you're part of an audience of 5 (6 if we start before Carrie goes out)? 5 people is a frickin' small audience.

I think that the size of the audience for your game is a function of its content, its social footprint, its procedures of play, and its gameplay audience. Make any or all of those more inviting, and you have the potential to reach more people.
 
I don't! I'm just saying what's in my brain this afternoon.
 
Cel*Style is a cool promotion & distribution collective headed by +Jake Richmond. The games I'm thinking of in particular are GxB and The Tulip Academy Society for Dangerous Gentlemen, plus Clover and HGMO, which aren't in their catalog but will be, I think?
 
Interesting! Many cutting edges, I love it because it's true.
 
Now I am convinced this panel would be a great idea, because I learned about a whole shload of stuff I never knew about just from this post.
 
Clover, HGMO and Bliss Stage are all going to be in the Cel*Style catalog.
 
I believe the panel is an excellent idea. Personally I think time is the biggest threat's against the tabletop RPGs. It just takes to long for working adults to play and especially prepare traditional RPGs and the kids want fast and Hardy kicks nothing else. Am I wrong?
 
I think gaming for adults and gaming for kids are areas that could use more focus. Seems most of the hobby is squarely aimed at 16-24yo males. This could also cover oppressive social footprint (adults have no time) and counterproductive procedures (what new/young gamers get from the rules). It seems like older gamers have less time and are looking for more meaningful exploration in play (not trite content).
 
Your four things excite me! I tried to think of others but everything keeps snapping nicely into these four cataghories.

I would love to see this panel! I would love to be part of this panel, for what that's worth.

I'm right with you on Social Footprint, and Counterproductive Procedures. I think i'm with yo on the other two, but not sure I fully grasp your thoughts on them.

Say more about trite content and microaudience? How would you describe the "limited emotional range" of most RPGs? And what would expanding the audience look like? Public performances? Play at a party, with 10-20 people dropping in and out?
 
Microaudience: Yes! Sea Dracula!

Or online play, or browser games like Echo Bazaar, or - and the "Ebert was right" guy at PAX Dev talked about this too - more convenient ways to tell more people about what happened in your game, develop an audience after the fact.

Of the four, the microaudience is the one I'm the least working on myself, I just don't have the design insights to tackle it, but funnily enough the one I find to weigh the heaviest on my mind.
 
I want to follow this conversation but have nothing to say...
 
That's my least favorite feature of G+.
 
What, the need to comment to follow a discussion?
 
I have opinions on telling people what happened in your game after the fact! I've watched a lot of video data of people playing RPGs, listened to a lot of people telling about RPG experiences, and read a bit on orality and literacy, so all of this is Relevant to my Interests.

Specifically: the practice of playing an RPG is profoundly different from experiencing it after the fact. The former has all the excitement of improv, making things up as you go. Like improv, it can even be interesting to watch, but not, except in rare cases, after the fact. We expect very different things from recorded media.

So if people are going to tell people about their games, they need to do a lot of digesting and, well, editing. Because, roughly, what's brilliant in the moment is less brilliant if people are aware you've had the chance to clean it up.
 
Microaudience didn't matter to me until you said audience after the fact and now I'm having all kinds of thoughts. Anyway, this is a great idea for a panel.
 
Things like Dogs in the Vineyard's towns, In a Wicked Age's oracles, and Apocalypse World's custom playbooks are all sort of peripheral takes on the problem of the microaudience. You still only play with 4 other people, but you can share your creative work peripheral to play with a larger group, if you want.
 
That's a great way of thinking about it!

Folks have also talked about the AW name lists, and how they create a shared-alternate-reality feel between different AW games. "Oh, man, THAT was your Rolfball? Crazy! Our Rolfball was totally like..."
 
I think one of the biggest "problems" (and I use that in the absolute loosest sense possible) with regards to the oppressive social footprint is the sheer volume of varied, high-quality roleplaying games available these days. The growth of the self-published/indie games scene in the past few years has really changed the field. I have a list of about 10-15 games I really want to try out, and more that I wouldn't mind giving a crack at time allowing. A few of these are short-form games, but more are at least best suited to mid-long term campaigns, and both I and most of my closest gaming circle are bigger fans of campaign play over one-shots.

Amongst other commitments, ongoing games, and whatever else, actually finding time to give all these great games out there is a big struggle. As I said, I wouldn't label this a problem as such, but it is a sort of example of roleplaying being a victim of its own success. The more good games there are, the less time there is to play any given one. At the same time, this isn't to say the way forward is short-form games only, as I think there is a certain sense of satisfaction I only gain from longer-form games. Making more hours in the day is the only real solution I see for this...
 
"Things like Dogs in the Vineyard's towns, In a Wicked Age's oracles, and Apocalypse World's custom playbooks are all sort of peripheral takes on the problem of the microaudience. You still only play with 4 other people, but you can share your creative work peripheral to play with a larger group, if you want." said +Vincent Baker

That's something I want to hear more about, and write some of my thoughts about. Soon, probably tomorrow morning I'll get some time to post it. Fiasco does this with playsets, Smallville kind of does this with custom Distinctions, but not really, and that difference is something I want to explore. What Smallville does is more like custom moves in Apocalypse World.
 
When you do the panel make sure to make it available on the web. The 4 problems you describe demands a solution, I believe, if we want to take tabletop Rpgs into the next century. Personally I don't have any really good answers yet.
 
Vincent, are spotlight management rules and tools working on microaudience in your opinion?
 
+Joel Shempert I was just thinking about that in regards to Lady Blackbird. Fixed names/characters are what make AP tolerable. They're the only reason why I care whether your Kale was a man or a woman or how in the blue blazes you got out of that cell.
 
+Robert Bohl Not automatically, no. You might use spotlight management rules to lighten up your game's social footprint, for an obvious counterexample. Your take on non-trite subject matter or non-counterproductive procedures might demand interesting spotlight management rules too.

I don't think there's any kind of mapping between high-level design problems and low-level, game-internal technical domains like that.
 
I want to follow this, but also have nothing to add presently.
Well, other than this: Some of my most cherished gaming moments were so personally compelling I doubt they would have happened as they did if the participants were not comfortable in the intimacy of the microaudience. I suspect a larger audience would stunt some players' best moments. Perhaps that's just an issue of comfort and self-assurance derived from practice, experience, and trust.

A performance for 5 may seem informal or lax, especially if I'm not performing purely for the love of it. A performance for 500 may be stifling or lose immediacy. Unless I'm a pure amateur-- enjoying creating the dialogue, interactions, and movement for their own sake -- every performance likely has a sweet spot audience size, but how on earth do you determine that. If you kiss and tell too widely, is it as powerful?

Then again, I've never had more than a handful of people other than my players and me wanting to see what happens next.
 
I hear you on emotional intimacy, Adam. These 4 problems look to me like a number of DIFFERENT ways to innovate--in various combinations and permutations, but not necessarily all at once. So you might have one game that's meaningful-content, low social footprint, another that's meaningful-content, productive rules, another that's low-footprint, macroaudience, and so forth.

It IS possible that a macroaudience game could foster the trust and intimacy for those compelling, transformative moments, but it would probably be in the context of a social grouping that's already geared toward trust and transformation--support groups, church, spiritual retreats, etc.
 
Good point Joel. The motivation or purpose for a group informs what games it would help flourish. Most large groups for gaming purposes likely get together for the purpose of entertainment or 'man I want to play XYZ, but I need more people to do so.'

As for social footprint, I personally prefer stories with significant character transformation, which I've previously carried over to being not as fond of one-shot games. At the same time, I'm intrigued by games that could facilitate the pace, timing, and efficiency of language that makes me love reading short stories. Is the collaborative process inherently weighed down by inefficiencies so such short story games aren't possible? Writing a short story is not a quick process, although reading it is.

I haven't had enough experience with Fiasco, Lady Blackbird, or Poison'd. Do those types of games feel like literary short stories? I won't assume that games built to be short necessarily carry the form or feeling of short stories.
 
Hmm. I'd say they feel more like episodic television. Or with black comedy movies, in the case of Fiasco.

You know, it strikes me that visual media--film, animation, comics.--are informing our games far more than literary media, these days.
 
Not everyone's a writer, so it's easier to describe an action than to craft a statement of scenery or introspection. Literary forms use more linguistic play, while visual media has cinematography. Those each require a different skill set.

It's tough to imagine collaboratively crafting literary art, maybe because people watch more than read fiction these days? Is one more effortless than the other?
 
+Joel Shempert and yet the games continue to be sold as books.
 
+Joel Shempert and +Adam Minnie, I wonder how true it is that visual media are more a part of our games' influences right now. I know that I just made a game that, while it listed many visual stories as influences, also listed intensely oral/literary things, like Water Margin and the Tattúínárdǿla Saga.

I'm also working on a game that has a mechanism for epistolary conflicts, based on the observation that in Regency fiction, the only time anyone changes anyone else's mind is via letter.
 
Fascinating Kit. Is the epistolary one Et In Arcadia Ego?

In that kind of game, would characters clash in person, butting heads until they each have private moments when they change their stances/impressions through reading/writing. What percentage of focus would the public vs private have in play?

Another intersection between microaudience and literary-derived games is that books must have a solo audience member, but then those readers can commune together about the experience.
 
Yes, it is Et in Arcadia Ego, but we can move that conversation elsewhere.
 
That sounds awesome, Kit!

I'd say what I'm talking about is more an unconscious aesthetic language than a conscious direction--though conscious design comes into it too.

Like, I wrote a game that I think of as being very literary--about fairy tales and adolescent transformation. But my actual aesthetic touchstones in play, and the bulk of the influences listed in the back of the book, are cinematic, referencing movies like the Labyrinth and Spirited Away which are themselves drawing on the literary tradition.

You see the same thing with other literary properties--say 'Legolas" to a group of players and how many of them are instantly going to conjure an image of Orlando Bloom? Maybe all of them.

I think there is some truth to cinematic imagery being more accessible than literary description, especially when you're making ficiton together in real-time.
 
On the time investment thing, when I run a game I explicitly tell the group that it's two hours, two and a half at the absolute maximum. I'm old. I have a kid. One guy has two kids. Another guy is mainly there to hang out with friends. As soon as I shortened things up, the longevity of campaigns and the interest the players maintained sky-rocketed.

This is, maybe counter expectations, easier to do with more traditional gaming, I find. A short form game or one shot ends when it does or not at all. A long term campaign, in the old school sense, allows me, as GM, to tweak the flow of the narrative to fit the time constraints. Doing the whole Grand Pendragon Campaign and the players feel like they're in constant motion, both because of the time dilation mechanics built into Pendragon and the two hour sessions.
 
All I know is, when you do this thing, someone had better be filming it. Not everyone can make it to PAX East.
 
+Ian Williams I think it's the right way to go. You need to play with time limit. At the same time you always need to keep the narrative in motion. In many ways it's really hard to both keep long sessions and campaigns interesting.
 
I'll be really interested to see what comes out of this. :3 (Plus, I have my own Cel*Style games to get in gear, preferably sooner rather than later...)

For the microaudience thing, are you guys familiar with replays? They're a huge part of the tabletop RPG scene in Japan, to the point where they're published separately as reading material, and Jason Morningstar adopted the format for Fiasco too. I haven't actually tried making one yet--I'm planning to for whenever I get a game ready to publish--but it does seem like a substantial amount of work, enough that you wouldn't make them for every game ever. Still, a full written transcript of a game session (usually with copious footnotes) is about as clear a way to share the experience of a game as you can get.
 
I think these are mostly problems for me to play games, or to be a RPG designer, but they're not really problems for me to run games, which is what I do.

Oppressive Social Footprint: But I like it like that! Except for the weird status hiearchies, I hate those with a passion. But otherwise decreasing the social footprint would be like going 'What if there was a version of sex, but you didn't have to get naked and it didn't get in the way of your other pet projects on the weekend?' I'd be like 'Nooooooo, I want my lazy naked sundays!' It'd be easier to do, and I guess I'd start doing it with my neighbors maybe just to be friendly, but that doesn't make the experience necessarily better for me.

Trite Content: I don't think 'Goblins' are the problem, the problem is 'What I expect people to do with Goblins'. If I was running a game, and someone was like 'I want to be a goblin!' I would be like 'Cool, lets figure out how to make goblins cool in this romantic bloody fantasy adventure thing.' If I was playing a game and someone said 'The Goblin named..' I would be like 'Uh oh, littleboybullshit ahead.'

I look at the content issue as if there's a landscape of ideas, and some ideas have been heavily peppered with littleboybullshit. Goblins are an example of a place that has been littered with littleboybullshit. Goblins aren't innately littleboybullshit (I rather like some of the potential of goblins). You could move on to another place, but if you're moving with a crowd of people who are laying littleboybullshit everywhere you go, that's not really a solution.

(I like littleboybullshit in the right context)

Microaudience is really interesting! I was thinking about Apocalypse World's Playbook thing the same way - There's this chance to creatively contribuite in a way that will matter to other people and more permanently. I think there's a couple of difficulties with it, but I'd definately like to see more work with the concept.
 
Thinking about the trite content argument, it feels a bit chicken and egg to me. As an anecdote, I had to go player shopping a year ago. I did the meetups and local stores... standard stuff you do when you need players.

After being in a pretty insulated group, I was pretty surprised at what I found. People are still genuinely interested in playing black trenchcoat katana guy or beefy warrior dude, etc, etc.

I'm not judging other folks' fun, though that stuff doesn't interest me, personally, in the least. I'm 100% for interesting content and I think there's room for both trite and adventurous, but I also think that the reality of where "geek" tastes lie has to be part of the discussion.
 
I have a lot to say about this, and about how leaving behind almost everything that folks in my G+ gamers circles would consider "RPGing" has actually made my play better, but I don't have the words to say it.

Anyway, I agree with the four points. My one observation I can share is that from a player POV rather than a seller/distributor POV (designer is a different thing than either though often equated with both), sometimes the problem of microaudience is that my audience wasn't small enough.
 
Just so I understand the microaudience thang, are we talking about the possibility of creating lasting artifacts of play with potential entertainment value for people who were not involved in that particular game? Or creative outputs of planning a session which can be reused by others? Or both?

Would "modules" qualify? I mean, lots of people share their past experiences with Tomb of Horrors with each other, right?
 
I often have a problem that is related to, but not exactly the same as the "oppressive social footprint" problem. Specifically, I have several friends who used to play RPGs. They enjoyed playing them. However, I can not convince them to join me in RPGs now because they have formed opinions about the social footprint that an RPG takes up and believe that it must be a huge commitment. I can tell them, "hey, there are these new games that don't assume you're playing 6 hours a week, every week for three years; that, in fact, may take as little as 1 or 3 sessions of 2 or 3 hours." but I think they think they don't really believe me. Past experiences have made the RPG=Huge-Time-Sink connection in their brain, and I can't figure out how to get around that.

but that's probably not something you can help me with. :)
 
I feel strongly about all four of these problems. This was territory I was hoping we could cover on our PAX panel, and although we nudged into the area a bit I guess we just didn't have time. Anyway, I'd be happy to contribute to a panel at PAX or any other event on this coast.
 
+Brian Peters again i'm going to harp on the idea of moving away from book presentations. books not only confuse people new to the idea of a table top rpg (they don't look like table top games) but they are also associated with the baggage of traditional rpg experience. once we start making games that look and play more like games it will be easier to reach more people.
 
Tyler, I don't really disagree with you, but I wonder what does look like a game? Cards? A board? A disk or cartridge? For most people a game sis something they play online, or on a cellphone.
 
that is true but most everyone has played some type of board game growing up, if it looks like a board or card game then you save yourself a critical layer of obscurity.

We will be royally effed once we start trying to sell to the the i pad generation, all their board games will have been touch screens.
 
I think books can still be a viable platform, but I don't think most rpgs take advantage of the book format. The text book approach is and always has been flawed. However, when I was a kid D&D books (think 2nd edition) were strange and beautiful things for of wonderful art and hinting at great stories. These days I love buying and collecting art books for video games, movies and anime, books full of vibrant pictures describing amazing worlds. I like this format and I still think it's a great format for games. Or at least it has the potential to be. I can't think of a single game off the top of my head that's done a good job taking the art book approach. I can think of several art books that are just a simple single rules page away from being games.
 
your books are what they should be, but i think your literally a world map and a few character pawns away from making something that says "game"

in other words two color copies and a little die cutting.
 
Books and boards can probably both die and die profitably. It isn't just books that are crap for games these days, the board game market is over-crowded and increasingly geeked in and of itself.

If you aren't putting your playable thing on the IPad as something more interesting than a .pdf, chances are you're a dinosaur, walking dead and just don't know it.
 
i disagree and i hope you're wrong, Brand. because it sounds like your'e suggesting that board games are either dying, or will need to become ipad games. and i've played ipad versions of some board games and while they're okay, there's a size factor to consider.

basically, i enjoy gathering around a table with 2 to 5 of my friends and playing a game. i can't see doing that with a single ipad.
 
Size factor starts to go away when you network the board across 5 iPads, or across multiple thin terminals or whatever.

Of course, the other thing I could see is board games coming back if they get the prices down. (The nice production values are killer expensive...) As the economy starts to turn to shit again maybe folks will look to have fun that doesn't have a $1000 buyin again.
 
+Brand Robins Networking something across 5 iPads sounds similar to having 5 copies of the books kicking around. It takes away from the social side of having 5 people together. Even if you are interacting, you lose the eye contact and easy side messages.

Of course, you gain the ability to play more by not having to be together, but -- at least for me -- that's a loss of quality.
 
Doug, I've been to LAN parties with five people playing the same game on five different computers, and trust me it is just as social as us hanging out playing board games. Even if we're not looking deeply and longingly into each other's eyes.
 
Eh. I suppose you may be right. Personally, I also enjoy the some of the tactile nature of actually handling dice, cards, pieces, etc... but you may be right that such things may be dying. It's probably just a matter of what I'm used to.
 
I hear you Brett, but I still think there us a difference between a LAN party for a game that only exists on the computer and one that is not actually using the computer power. I also think LAN parties themselves are a good example of the fun of being together rather than separated.

I'm very positive about computer-based games. Less so about computer implementations of board-based games. Of course, a table sized "tablet" which was drink-proof would change everything. 
 
They may be 4 cutting edges, but they seem like 3 to me. Trite content is often a way to reduce the social footprint, and reduce the intimacy of the micro audience it also goes hand I'm hand with the mechanical focus of many games. Besides, 90% of everything is "trite" That's why we cherish the other 10% and try to spread it to our friends. Saying games can be not trite is great, but assuming they all should be deep is setting the bar too high 
 
A thought on microaudience: while it's a problem from the point of view of the design of a product, it seems semi-desirable from the point of view of a game (i.e. a particular instance of the thing created by a small group at a table using the product). You sort of want the creative output of the game to be tailored to "just yourself and a small handfull of your friends" and, while you might wish that the outside world gave a damn, it really doesn't matter to the experience if they do or not.
 
Yeah, I think we really need to boil down why the microaudience is a problem.
To me, it's not really a "problem" so much as a "missed opportunity". If we DID have a plethora of games which supported:
a) more simultaneous players, fully engaged
b) play transcripts or other artifacts arising from play which are entertaining to a "consumer" audience post-play
c) post-game reminiscing by a larger group of people than the members of a single play group
then I think we could leverage that both to market individual games better, get more people on the same page as to how the game is intended to be played, or can be played (and thus both increase enthusiasm and potential "success" in playing the game), and grow the hobby - the latter being of primary importance to me.
The lack of universally entertaining narratives arising from game sessions hurt the medium, I think. Combined with the social footprint, it keeps a lot of people out of even trying to play. By contrast, I'm sure D&D fiction (Dragonlance, Underdark, etc) has led a lot of people to try D&D - and many who have subsequently stopped playing when they realized the game in play just doesn't play like the authored stories.
 
In deciding how to respond to everyone's very good points in the most asshole way possible, I was divided between two arguments.

This is number one:

Who said you had to play it on the iPad? I may have implied that a little, but that was more thinking about board game style games.

As far as RPGs go, I'm thinking more and more about how books suck at teaching and how new media offers up so many more opportunities.

Get iPad apps that teach, support, and provoke play (and make sharing artifacts of play afterwards easier?) -- even if most play is still looking deep into my eyes, like I was a supermodel.

I'm totally down for a game that teaches me to play with Youtube. I'd love to see a game that uses a 15 minute animated walk through to teach basic procedures of play. I'd love a game that assumes that the game is a thing we're playing and that takes itself as a medium of instruction and support rather than this physical thing that I can love and caress.

Want to change how games are seen? Change how games are distributed, taught, and presented. And start by making them not lonely fun that involves dead trees or simple digital replacements for dead trees. Hell, even comic book readers these days do something more than just lay out the page on the screen, they pop and move and direct the experience. The fact that is annoying and fucking stupid just means that no one's done it right yet. Why not try to do it right with games?

This is number 2, and is more asshole.

The problem we seem to be facing is one of paradigm. Which will only change when all the people with the current paradigm die and are replaced by smarter, faster mammals.

Sure, we all love to play 5 hour sessions with lovely books and face to face with 7 friends who all have total attention while we're playing and all like to kill goblins with their crossbow. But considering we're in a thread pondering how that isn't going to work anymore, maybe the fact that we keep coming back to our beloved sacred cows shows the problem.

For me, I killed dice, I killed groups, I killed defined game space, I killed books, I killed "learning" and "teaching" in how to play and all of it has resulted in better gaming. But it also isn't distributing or profiting from anything I'm doing (as that's against why I'm doing it) -- so, maybe those who want to should stop hiding in caves and welcome themselves to the 21st century where "on a computer" does not equal "not social" and "digital" does not equal "not attractive" and "roleplaying game" doesn't mean dice and arbitrary rules systems meant to impose challenge.
 
+Brand Robins , I don't think what you are saying is assholish at all. I think the thing to keep in mind is that tackling any of these design challenges doesn't mean anyone comes to our tables with an axe and smashes our dice and takes away our books.

Tackling these design challenges, to me, means taking these tools and techniques we've learned at the table and using them with the current tools and media out there and making something new.

It might mean something that replaces the table for some people, it might mean something that has a symbiotic relationship with the table.
 
Why talk about it at a panel? (Serious and non-facetious question.)

These things are already being addressed. You, Vincent, and most other people in this thread are making them happen with our designs and play and posts and Go Play events.

In other words, I'd love to know your thoughts on the role of panels as much as on the issues :)
 
"I'm very positive about computer-based games. Less so about computer implementations of board-based games." That's because most of the latter are built AS board games and then TRANSLATED POORLY.

The move to the little iPad screen, for instance, implies a sort of pass-around-between-the-players mode of action, which is handled terribly in most of the board game translations I've played - you generally end up not knowing what happened between your turns. Carcassonne has a beautifully designed solution to this problem, but it is a rarity. Ascension is another interesting case because generally you just don't need to care what happens unless it's your turn.

In order to be any good, a game has to be designed for its medium.
 
Brand, we may have to disagree, but I think we have some points of agreement too. I think we agree that if we try to use new tech to just replicate old products it won't really get us anywhere.

 
Watching people debate how the iPad is going to displace all physical products is great. It's like watching pet store owners, in the 70s, panicking about pet rocks.
 
Shreyas. Exactly. I agree

And, in the wonderful new world of technologically empowered games, I still want to be able to pull out a pack of cards, shuffle, cut and play. 
 
[Oppressive Social Footprint] For Fabricated Realities, the recent story game convention in Olympia, we successfully addressed this issue by creating a new visual and linguistic vocabulary to distinguishing us as a Story Game Convention.
I for one am done referencing D&D in the explanation of Story Games. The next wave of great games will be written, not by people who are struggling to emerge from the shadow of Conventional RPGs, but by people for whom Story Games ARE their introduction to gaming. There is a wide world full of potential for this kind of play to reach new minds.
 
+Ross Cowman, would love to see some of the branding (for lack of a better term) you used.
While I'm not too keen on creating artificial separation between "Story Games" and "Traditional Games" internally in the hobby, I do think that presenting games where collaborative storytelling and acting is the primary focus (with little or no emphasis on tactical thinking and exploration of pre-generated fantasy lands) by comparing them to other games is detrimental to encourage uptake among people with interest in e.g. theatre, writing, and other creative narrative endeavours.
 
+Brand Robins board games are only in a glut if you talk to a board gamer who has bought too many games lately, the business is huge compared to RPGS, also kids love the crap out of bakugan and bayblade. i mean have you been to toy fair?

but that's changing the subject

The way rpgs present themselves as books is a barrier. I know that is an uncomfortable idea to a bunch of people who are book writers and book publishers but the format is way past it's prime and I want to see what more of you do when brake from it.
 
Hot, +Ross Cowman. The comparison on the thread with "Burning Man meets game convention" seems right on. How was your success with attracting people who weren't already hardcore S-G geeks?
+Vincent Baker, feel free to tell me to fuck off if I'm going too far off course. So far I think we're still on the "microaudience" topic though, although we're veering a bit.
 
It's interesting to think about the fact that reducing the social footprint and improving the procedures both play immediately into making roleplaying more audience friendly. Part of what makes sports accessible is how well the audience can follow what's happening and generally it being about a 2 hour affair.

I think a lot of the secondary media reflecting the experience of D&D (Community, Of Dice & Men, etc.) are actually an interesting guidepost in terms of what we need to aim towards in terms of pacing, and, at least a little bit in communicating what's going on to an audience.

Heck, if we can have poker being watched on TV, we can have roleplaying.
 
+Mikael Andersson For the majority, FabReal was their first game convention of any stripe. Also there was an even gender balance and broad group of ages represented. Story Games are something new, by marketing ourselves as something new, we attracted lots of amazing creative folks who for whatever reason had decided that RPGs were not for them.
 
Very cool, Ross. Glad to hear that there are examples of people having success with marketing - games, gaming events, whatever - beyond the incestuous "gamer circles". With HammerCon, we've started by replicating more traditional play conventions, but making conscious effort not to segregate "some games" away from "those other games", and actively promote newer and different games (e.g. with the Speed Gaming model). I have a large amount of anecdotal evidence that this has served to broaden gamer horizons in our community, but my next step - once that model is solid and sustainable without continuous oversight - will certainly be to try to extend aspects of the gaming hobby in interesting ways to yield interest among other interest groups.
 
No probs! This has turned out to be one of those brainstorming threads that're comfy and familiar to me from the old days, before the Forge became all business. It's good.
 
In terms of the books vs. new media presentation, I maintain that the absolute best way of picking up a game is to have a person talk to you about it, show you the ropes, then sit down and play it. Yes, it does necessitate somebody in the local group (or whatever) picking up the media at some point. (Although think how awesome it would be if we could all be taught at the knees of the creators themselves ^_^) But for me this social teaching is a big part of the appeal of RPGs.

Take, for instance, D&D. I have been playing for years, but I don't think I've ever sat down and read any of the books from cover to cover. I've read bits, been told bits by friends, and hell probably just deduced bits from repeated exposure. The book isn't the game, the game is what you make around the table. The book is a resource.

Following on from this, whether the book is a book, or a series of video instructions, or some form of semi-automated system, it's still not going to replace the game itself. Changing the medium in which its distributed isn't necessarily going to change what the game itself is. This isn't to say its worthless, I think that if, say, publishing a series of videos helped bring more people into the hobby, that would be cool. (For me, if a game were distributed only as a series of videos, I wouldn't buy it. It doesn't gel with the way I like to learn. Either give me it in written form, or a live person I can ask questions of. I lose interest watching videos) Different people learn in different ways, not every way suits every person, so adding to the repertoire is definitely a step forward.

I think already a big way in which new methods of communication are influencing roleplaying as a hobby is (unsurprisingly) the internet. The ability to have almost instantaneous contact with other people who play a game (or even the people who created it) is a fabulous way of learning about a game, or how to play it.
 
Trite content: all us indie nerds know what some alternatives look like by now

Counterproductive procedures: ditto -- tons of folks already trying their best at this

Microaudience: Living campaign worlds nailed this. I got a ride to Ubercon with a guy who talked about how he traveled great distances to play a shitty game just because his exploits would be chronicled in the canon of some world that would survive and thrive at other cons and in published D&D products. If I ever do publish my fantasy game Delve, I'm going to try to make an online world map that players can come and update with details they've fleshed out and noteworthy events. There are some reasons to care what's going on in the town next to you, as local threats tend to be tied to larger ones. I could see the same being true for Dogs by adding a simple conceit, like a pyramid of demonic agents or corruption at Bridal Falls or some such.

The other model I know is the super-thorough post-session write-up, where it's fun (for some) to read afterward and useful (for most) for rich starting situations for subsequent play. Add some art and organize "the current state of the place" well and you've got a WW-style sourcebook, right?

Socially demanding: (yeah, "oppressive" rings wrong to me) This one I am stumped on. "Spend your leisure social time investing in a creative endeavor" :: hanging out = hiking :: walking. I can't see us ever overcoming the fact that, for a lot of people, making shit up takes more effort than they're frequently in the mood for. Honestly, the socially-easiest model I know is probably "GM as entertainer/storyteller, players as occasional feedback who can wander in and out". But then you still need that one GM...
 
+David Berg as for the social cost of role play it's not a hard problem to fix, there are many methods that can be used to ease the creative demands of roleplaying games. making a AW character is way easier then making a 3.0-4.0 character, both are still really creative but AW has a structure that makes it easy, even including a list of names and stuff. my own stuff and plenty of other games extend this type of help to plot structure and scene setting. circling a choice is easier then filling in a blank.

As for other social demands i think the most interesting is how the reasonable player limits of systems eat at the social dynamics of a larger group of friends. if a game only works with about 3-4 players and takes a long time to prepare then it kind of limits who gets invited to a game night. what board game groups do and what our local story game nights have started doing is everyone just brings various games and then at the moment we figure out who is interested in what and split off into play groups. this would be impossible with games that take extraordinary prep time.
 
Tyler, sure! I've had plenty of nights where my buddies didn't want to play a prep-heavy chunk of a multi-session RPG, so we played a quickstart one-shot RPG. What I've never had is a night where my buddies weren't in the mood for Cranium or Apples to Apples so we played a quickstart one-shot RPG.
 
I'm not sure what to say about this that I didn't already say on your blog. But yeah. I think talking about cutting edge issues is important, whether it's these four or some other ones.

Also, I feel like I have no idea what +Brand Robins is talking about, unless he means online freeform.
 
Also, in general, I still find it weird that games folks often seem to measure success by the number of people doing a thing rather than the quality of experience that is being had. What makes a thing worthwhile to do? Because, in my mind, it's not numbers.
 
On the microaudience thing, AP podcasts are a genre, and some of them have audiences in the hundreds (I think). Some games make for much better AP podcasts than others, and in my experience most of the things that make for boring podcast listening are common complaints about in in-person play, too.
 
+David Berg our own story game nights games compete with dominion. but the story games are wining more then they are losing! what we need are games that compete with apples to apples.

+Jonathan Walton I think it has to do with advancing the state of the art, it's clear the activity has merit, how can we give that gift to more people, how can we include our wider social circles into this activity. i'm guessing most of us are in a "gamer" google+ circle, what is an rpg that we could share with out friends, or family circle?
 
+Jonathan Walton You have no idea what I'm talking about. But that's okay, because neither do I!

However, your follow up post has some idea of what I was talking about before I decided to start baiting people by talking about the iPad. Truth is though that most folks value art by production and scale of size and sale.
 
I was super-inspired by FabReal. I'll confirm everything Ross says about the player dynamic, and I came away with the feeling that introducing people to RPGs is EASY if you contextualized it in a way that fits in with their world. Calling them "story Games" is exactly the right move for DIY art folks, both because it's a fresh term without some of the baggage and because it's something that makes sense to them. "Oh, make a story? Sure, like that comic I drew, or the band I play in, or..."

Meanwhile I'm down in Portland facilitating meetups and it's the same crowd with the same cultural baggage in the same game stores. And I love playing with my existing roleplaying friends, for sure, but I long for e unfettered easy-breathing freedom I experienced at FabReal.

I think it's time to take gaming out of game stores. Take it into coffeeshops and bars and parks and indie-rock concert venues. And make it accessible in ways we "Tabletop RPG" veterans might not even recognize, and make it play in an hour.
 
+Brand Robins Yeah, well I don't want to run a medium-sized RPG company like Vincent already does. It was clear on our panel that he was in a very different place than the rest of us indie folks. I mean, +John Harper +Sage La Torra and I release our games for free, and Sage is just about to enter into the publishing world that I (and maybe John too) was burnt by and backed off from. Hey +Vincent Baker, do you feel like you could spend a year or two on a game that only you and 20 other people would care about, or would you consider that a waste/failure?

One thing that's been reemphasized for me in hanging out with Jackson and other folks doing really experimental stuff is that ultimately you have to make it for the 5-6 people you know who actually want to play it. Otherwise, you put it up on the internet and nobody plays it. (This is also true of alpha and beta drafts and all game design more broadly, but especially true of out-there stuff.) You have to make it with a convention or meetup in mind, where you know who you'll contact beforehard and finagle into chairs with your game in front of them. And then, once people start raving about the experience (see: Silver & White, My Daughter the Queen of France, Montsegur 1244, Jeepform, etc.) then maybe you begin thinking about a broader audience.
 
Yeah, I'm with +Joel Shempert 110%. We're fighting an uphill battle to get games played in failing game stores, whose customer base is abandoning them in favour of online shopping or video games, while arguing the benefits of story games with tactical gamers who couldn't give two shits. Meanwhile we're ignoring the untapped markets of people who are super-enthusiastic about HBO shows, fanfic, and improv acting.
I wanna see some games suitable for flash mob style play, ARG-LARPs, and other formats other than we-sit-around-the-dining-room-table-rolling-dice, just for the exposure.
 
+David Morrison But why do you bring this up? Is it because the ways of communicating a game that aren't the Absolute Best Way are almost as good? Or even adequate?

The Absolute Best Way to transmit a game is not a problem for tabletop gaming. What is a problem for tabletop gaming is the baseline way, the friction-free way, the way that most people expect: buy the game in some format, learn how to play it from whatever it is that you bought. That is where we're falling down, and we know it, and curiously, that is why we're always talking about how learning a game in person is so much better. "Hey, look over here! Not at the rotting corpse in the room!" Well, no, maybe we should deal with the rotting corpse in the room.
 
So, I'm working on a game that's loosely based on a popular anime called Puella Magi Madoka Magica (which is a deconstruction of the magical girl genre exemplified by Sailor Moon) called Magical Burst. I have a rough draft with parts that make me wince on my blog, and it's getting more actual play than most anything else I've ever done. Non-RPG enthusiasm can be a really huge boon for an RPG, especially when it's for a fandom that's starved for content, as is the case with basically all anime that isn't mecha.

I'm still trying to work out how to tap into anime fandom, but it's definitely a crowd best reached by hitting on things they're already familiar with. The people who sell at the artist alley at anime cons find that fanart sells far better than original stuff, and where I find people setting up Magical Burst games on forums and such they invariably pitch it as a Madoka Magica game, even though it's designed to play out a bit differently. With most everything else I want to design, that's my audience, and Magical Burst's runaway success as an incomplete free PDF has given me a whole lot to think about.
 
I abandoned game stores and gamers as my primary audience years ago, and I've done very well since. Ipgamers (mostly) don't like my games and don't want my games. Why waste time selling to them?
 
+Mike Sugarbaker I see your point, though I can't say its really something I've given thought to before. In retrospect, in my previous post I probably should have said that learning a game through live explanation and play is the most efficient way, rather than necessarily the best way. Learning the game from the book and learning the game from a person who's read the book are essentially different experiences. Learning directly from the book is going to show you a clearer picture of the designer's intent for the game, where learning from somebody will filter this through their opinions and biases. Again, not to say one way is necessarily better than the other.

I am, and always have been, an avid reader and I read for pleasure a lot. This includes roleplaying games, as well as fiction. An interesting, well-written roleplaying book can be as fun to read as a novel. Granted, not all are, and those that read like a technical manual I tend to treat in that way, and just dip in for the parts I actually need to play the game. I think, though, that a roleplaying book that can be read in a couple of enjoyable hours can actually help reduce the "oppressive social footprint" of a game. Reading a book is a solo experience that can be fit in around a daily schedule with relative ease - on the bus, on your lunch break, waiting for an appointment - and if everyone's able to read through the rules to a game before turning up to the table, less time needs be devoted to teaching/learning the game, and more time can be devoted to playing.

The only real alternative that I can think of right now to having a game with a core text (be that a book, a set of posts on a forum, a wiki, a video, whatever) is a much more de-centralised set up. Kind of like the Jeep gaming mentioned previously - a set of rules/guidelines/theories to direct the ethos of play, but then every person who takes part goes away and makes up their own game to play with whoever they're playing with. And don't get me wrong - I think this would be cool. It's a very different approach to the "standard" RPG method, and I think both could have their place.

I think the benefit of the book-based approached is a certain degree of standardisation in play experience. A game of Fiasco, for instance, is (almost) always going to play at as a sort of Coen-brothers style comedy of fuckups (like a less polite comedy of errors). You could take ten different players from ten different towns, put them in a room together to discuss their Fiasco games, and they would probably all be on the same page very quickly. Whereas if Bob and Jeff ran games both based on a "Gamer Manifesto" and nothing else, it is likely that players of Bob and Jeff's games respectively would have little common experience, other than the underlying principles of the games they played. This isn't necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, but is very definitely and example of microaudience. Any given game exists only for the people playing it.

A strength of such a decentralised game is that it could be much more open. If all you need is some sort of facilitator (ie, the guy with the idea), then a game could be played anywhere, at any time, with anybody, and no-one would be at a disadvantage because they hadn't read Paragraph 73(c) of the third supplement book (revised edition). Rather than a hefty rule tome, you have a guy stood in Trafalgar Square yelling through a megaphone informing tourists they're under attack by orcs. It would certainly remove a barrier to playing a game, by in effect blurring the lines between playing and not playing a game, and I think there are already some interesting examples of this. ARGs have a growing (if still niche) following, Failbetter ran a really cool looking live event (detailed on their website) based on the Echo Bazaar setting, even Living History style events have elements of roleplay involvement.

I don't think, though, that there will ever be One True Path to follow. Text based games have a place still, as does a more avant garde approach. I don't think roleplaying books are holding anything back. What can hold things back is believing that you have to write a book to develop a roleplaying game. Allowing the medium to constrain your creativity is a problem. The medium itself is not, and I think is still the best medium for some styles of game.
 
+Vincent Baker Over the weekend I thought of two things wrong with roleplaying that would be higher priorities for me than some of the ones on your list:

5. Unsound and unsustainable print-centric, sales-based, numbers-oriented distro model inherited from conventional RPG publishing (and wargaming before that). For ways to do this differently see Lady Blackbird, ransom model (not Kickstarter as much), or in-kind trades of AW playbooks.

6. Insistence on using inter-player tension (including fake, artificial tension) to drive inter-character tension in play. For solutions see: a whole bunch of cooperative and experimental games. Really, this is a HUGE crutch in game design that people can't even see, it's so in-grained into how things are done, even in GMless play.
 
Jonathan, the thing about #5 there is that non-print distribution means electronic distribution. Which means, if you're going to bring the stuff to the table, you must either print it out at home or bring it on a laptop (or some kind of hand-held file reading device).

Home printing is expensive -- around here, I can pay $40 for a printer and $25 for each replacement ink cartridge, the latter of which is absurd and simply not a conscionable decision given my economic status if I'm going to be printing a lot of things.

Similarly, given the drawbacks of laptops (battery powered, can't add hardware, prolonged exposure to the screen makes me feel headachey and ill), the only thing I would use one for is portability of files etc., for such purposes as bringing them to a game table. By which I mean that I wouldn't replace my tower PC with a laptop. Again, given the price of laptops, such an inefficient purchase is simply not conscionable given my economic status.

In other words, electronic distribution marginalizes me (and others in my situation) with regard to participating in the hobby.

Also, a note to all: I am a VERY peaceful and meek person, but if you ever want to see me punch a guy in the neck, get him to make a comment that makes me think he looks down on me for not having much money. Seriously, I will hit a dude. Now that you all know that, I will assume that any comments made about money and economic statuses, and how they fit into this whole thing, are not meant to imply that you look down on me, so there won't be any neck punching. But do try to keep in mind that there are folks who play RPGs, who buy RPGs, who publish RPGs that don't have as much money as you do, and that this fact is relevant to issues such as #5.
 
The thing I want to see done with trite content, personally, is to address real-world experiences (commitment, adolescence, humanity) with fiction/fantasy and mechanics that drive this agenda.

I haven't played it yet, but I'm thinking of how Monsterhearts is about people/teenagers that have to deal with tremendous hunger, drive, and emotional pain. And then they hurt people.
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