Monday, November 14, 2016

My Life as a Gamer: Most Tabletop RPG Products Are WORTHLESS

Yesterday I got a coupon via email from Half-Price Books. The store near where I live is reliably good for all sorts of used stuff I like, such as tabletop RPGs, and has become my local store of choice should I bother with retail. (Why go across town when I don't need to?) I found a mint copy of RIFTS: MercTown there, and I used that coupon to get it at a final price of $3 (plus tax).

It's a glorified set of Wiki articles.

This is, sadly, typical of most contemporary tabletop RPG products. The sole point of buying a product is to do things that cannot be done readily at the table; this book's contents is entirely that- down to the maps (which are the sort of back-of-napkin barebones affair also easily done at the time). Make up a location? Can be done on a lunch break. Come up with its internal politics? Ditto. Plausible economy? Ditto. There is NOTHING here that you can't do yourself, easily, without any serious effort on your part.

Glad I only spent $3; that's all MercTown is worth- and that's entirely due to it being a physical product. It's worthless as an ebook.

Rules are not that valuable; they're only half of the equation. What sells--where the money is--is playable content. Playable character options (races, classes, gear, powers, etc.) are proven sellers because that's shit you play with; the rules are just the machine (such as it is) by which play is done. Adventure modules, in the classic mode of "site where play happens" ala Keep on the Borderlands, are playable content when they provide a ready context for player action.

If you're seeing a lot of conditionals there, you're not wrong. There are, and it's not something TRPG makers and publishers can fix. Inherent to the medium is that only the most fundamental aspects--just enough rules to provide a framework for on-the-spot adjucation, just enough toys to let players play in the sandbox--are actually required. They were originally published in booklet form, and still need no more space than what a slim booklet allows. That has actual value; the rest is pointless bullshit that no one will pay a premium without another factor pushing it (e.g. participating in an Organized Play campaign, where Officialdom is mandated).

Why am I hammering on this? Because the TRPG medium is now withering because other competing media continue to show gamers who might otherwise make tabletop RPGs part of their gaming habit that their alternatives better fit their desires. The TRPG medium STILL hasn't solved its real competitive problems of convenience, commitment, and connection and those unsolved problems are what allows boardgames, cardgames, and videogames that incorporate RPG elements to pound the living shit out of them.

TRPGs are not convenient; the current standard mode of play (dedicated campaigns) require the time commitment of a regular job. (We don't have as many bowling leagues for the same reason.) The original mode let you drop in and out as your time allows and desires wished it; that has to be restored if the medium is to have a chance. The current mode locks players into groups for long periods of time; the original let players go from table to table as they liked playing the same character. Same conclusion applies.

And yet we still get shit like MercTown, which is nothing more than someone's blog articles with some stats attached. That's not what tabletop gamers need. They need connectivity tools, and while Fantasy Grounds is a good step it caters to rulesets tied to the diseased model that's killing the medium. (Really, all you need for online play is Tabletop Simulator and voice coms; a virtual space with a die-roller is all you need- something light and easy on your PC so you can use your browser easily.) Fluff is worthless; stop publishing it. Give gamers tools to get together and make their own fun, and then you have a gaming business worthy of staying open.

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