Wednesday, October 5, 2016

My Life as a Gamer: Tabletop is for Tinkers

The problem with tabletop RPGs is that they are a hobby and medium that has no need for the cottage industry that's arisen around them. This is a hobby and medium that arose out of tinkering with wargames, and it remains a tinker-friendly hobby and medium to this day. The problem is that a lot of folks who work for tabletop RPG companies, or in the TRPG end of larger companies, is that they can only find relevance by attacking that very fundamental quality.

Tabletop RPG publishers justify their existence by pushing product. They avoid being tinker-friendly by promulgating rulesets and settings that promote Cults of Officialdom due to be too bothersome to handle otherwise and Cults of Canon Worship by pushing settings and developing them such that Canon Nazis get normalized via Organized Play regimes.

That sounds like a big ball of bullshit retardation because it is.

The problem that's come up is thinking that playing (Game) means playing (Setting), when that is not necessarily so. Traveller need not require The Imperium, let alone specific Imperiums or epochs within them. Star Wars need not involve the movies at all. Call of Cthulhu need not involve Lovecraft's creations or any of his lesser imitators. 40K? Make shit up.

Yep, you really don't need Official Material from the publisher, and that does include the rules themselves. If I want to do Middle Earth, and I don't want to break out the MERP collection (still some of the best around), I'm fine. Strip D&D down to its fundamentals, limit race and class access, monkey some with the magic rules, and GO. Conan? Even easier for me.

That's the big secret: Tabletop RPG publishers are irrelevant. They don't bring value to the table anymore, and if not for the decades of building up that aforementioned bullshit that they use to justify their existence, they'd all shut down tomorrow or dump TRPG publishing in favor of games that actually make fucking money.

What do you need? A ruleset you can explain in its entirety to a normie in five minutes or less, and where characters fit on a 3x5 card because neither the rules nor the sheet are the game. The play is the game, and the less you look at anything that interrupts play is the more you enjoy the magic of the medium. Tabletop RPGs work best when everyone is present in the moment, wrapped up in the situation at hand, and nowhere else. Tomes of rules, canonical settings, and other things publishers push to make themselves seem relevant, get in the way.

Tinkers get it. They make up shit, run with it, and fiddle as necessary until they walk it into where they want it to be. Use wikis, reference books, and rule on the spot what needs to be decided. The old ways are best.

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