Friday, September 15, 2017

Why I Stopped Caring About GenCon: It Does Not Matter Anymore (For RPGs)

I still follow a number of tabletop gaming communities, pages, what-have-you. I've seen the post-GenCon outpouring of hype about all the new tabletop RPG stuff coming.

I can sum it up thusly: Cotton Candy.

It looks appealing. It may have that momentary thrill, like the sugar rush when your tongue touches that fibrous delight, but I put dollars to donuts that--like the vast majority of tabletop RPG stuff ever published--it will soon be revealed to lack the substance that a real breakthrough product possesses. Nothingburgers don't satisfy, and so back to the solid standards gamers go.

That's why I said a few years ago that the cognitive space for tabletop RPGs isn't as big as folks want to believe, and every year that goes by reinforces my belief in that position as last year's New Hotness becomes Old & Busted and gets dropped like a totaled car once the insurance check clears.

Which is why you can, safely, be involved in tabletop RPGs for the rest of your life so long as you've got these three games on hand:

  • Dungeons & Dragons. Pick any edition that has a significant following and you're fine. Yes, even 5th and Pathfinder. (No, 4th, you get to sit at the kid's table with the Diablo 2 and Starcraft adapatations.)
  • Traveller. Classic will always be best, but Mega has a big following. We don't talk about New Era.
  • Call of Cthulhu. Any edition before 7th will be fine, as they're all compatible; if you get a choice, v5.5 is your huckleberry.

Notice the lack of GURPS or HERO. That's because, believe it or not, you can go most of your life without ever finding enough folks to give either a fair shake- and that's if you focus on what that system does best with its written ruleset. (Superheroes for the latter, and historical gaming for the former.) Palladium's fanboys are loud and proud, but also few and far between offline- and that's if you're going for RIFTS. Odds drop like the Hindenberg otherwise.

Those are the popular also-rans. Storygame bullshit? Outside of SJW-infested shitholes, widely regarded as dogshit and avoided like the plague. Good luck. BRP? Outside of enduring favorites like Runequest, Stormbringer/Elric, and King Arthur Pendragon, no one cares- and of those three, very few give a shit.

And yes, I am not holding out much hope for Starfinder. That sort of thing got attempted before, and soundly rejected every time; I doubt things will turn out differently this time. Gamers, for some odd reason, like to segregate Fantasy and Science Fiction good and hard. (Hence why D&D lost its Weird Fiction roots in the 1980s.)

The tabletop RPG business is notoriously bad because it's a hobby category that is extraordinarily friendly to homebrewing and no less hostile to officialdom-as-business-model. For all that gets talked about Organized Play and convention focused products, most folks still play at home or in (psuedo-)club environments where the traditional way of play remains dominant. We don't need More Stuff, believe it or not, and more gamers are finally admitting it- as shown by the shifts in the bigger tabletop retail world.

(Yep, the biggest news for me was Fantasy Flight's new mini wargame for Star Wars. Hope it plays well.)

If the tabletop RPG publishers want to get out of the malaise, they need to retool their businesses to sell stuff that users at home cannot do for themselves so easily. I said that before. It's bearing out now. Adapt or die; I care not which, since I need you not.

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