193: Internet Killed the Tabletop Star

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Internet Killed the Tabletop Star

The same force that brought the tabletop roleplaying industry near the brink of death may now be the key to its survival. Allen Varney analyzes the fraught relationship between the internet and the paper-and-dice RPG.

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It was an interesting read.
I myself never had the oppertunity to play Tabletop games.
But I have made an forum dedicated to the Shadowrun pnp RPG ^_^

http://shadowrun-rpg.proboards.com/index.cgi

Don't forget the play-by-post websites.

http://rpol.net and http://playbyweb.com

i loved warhammer 40k, aparently the games workshop stores are a little bare now that warhammer online has come out... i wouldnt know tho... i havnt been since... :|

(i wish 40k wasnt such a bitch to get into.. u gota buy $500+ worth of gear, spend FOREVER painting stuff just so you can play proper games... i mean.. its freaken great but cmon lol)

Khada:
i loved warhammer 40k, aparently the games workshop stores are a little bare now that warhammer online has come out... i wouldnt know tho... i havnt been since... :|

(i wish 40k wasnt such a bitch to get into.. u gota buy $500+ worth of gear, spend FOREVER painting stuff just so you can play proper games... i mean.. its freaken great but cmon lol)

But the painting is part of the fun......
Also, if you have a friend who is nit really strict on models depicting eactly what they are you can use bits of paper or card board, in fact las t time I went to my local hobby shop some guys had some 2d paper cutouts of the models. YOu can do that kinda stuff while you graduallly build your army with new models.

A good article.

Can't really say much about Tabletop gaming, having only ever played Magic: The Gathering, which I was beat CONSTANTLY at.

Lunar Shadow:

Khada:
i loved warhammer 40k, aparently the games workshop stores are a little bare now that warhammer online has come out... i wouldnt know tho... i havnt been since... :|

(i wish 40k wasnt such a bitch to get into.. u gota buy $500+ worth of gear, spend FOREVER painting stuff just so you can play proper games... i mean.. its freaken great but cmon lol)

But the painting is part of the fun......
Also, if you have a friend who is nit really strict on models depicting eactly what they are you can use bits of paper or card board, in fact las t time I went to my local hobby shop some guys had some 2d paper cutouts of the models. YOu can do that kinda stuff while you graduallly build your army with new models.

Actually I thought the painting was the best part. I've never in my life played any tabletop game but I've bought little units from 40K, normal Warhammer, LOTR and many more just to paint them. It really increases your dexterity and gives you a little trophy to put somewhere for your hard work.

Warhammer 40K isn't a RPG, it's a war game. I've played tabletop RPG's for years, it's a lot of fun, but now I play online via chat rooms. It'd be nice to have a good resource for doing a battle mat, though, most of the ones I've used were either obnoxiously hard to use, slow, or too damn simplistic.

JMeganSnow:
Warhammer 40K isn't a RPG, it's a war game. I've played tabletop RPG's for years, it's a lot of fun, but now I play online via chat rooms. It'd be nice to have a good resource for doing a battle mat, though, most of the ones I've used were either obnoxiously hard to use, slow, or too damn simplistic.

Warhammer has a fantasy RPG offering called Warhammer Fantasy Role Play that is a true blue RPG and actually a very solid system. And 40k has a game called Inquisitor which I've not explored but it is also fully RPG'ized. I'd dare say that both have more actual role-playing elements them than D&D has.

Roleplayers are not dead, they've just rolled up new characters.

Witness the Companion mod for Vampire: Bloodlines that was only completed this month, which not only fixes a lot of Bethesda's bugs but adds whole new gameplay.

Then there's Neverwinter Nights, Balder's Gate (Still), the new D&D that focuses on MMO gameplay.

Even I've still got a weekly RP meet, at the moment we're doing The Dresden Files. Now there's something Tabletop RPG's can do that Computer games will never accomplish.

Helmsman:

JMeganSnow:
Warhammer 40K isn't a RPG, it's a war game. I've played tabletop RPG's for years, it's a lot of fun, but now I play online via chat rooms. It'd be nice to have a good resource for doing a battle mat, though, most of the ones I've used were either obnoxiously hard to use, slow, or too damn simplistic.

Warhammer has a fantasy RPG offering called Warhammer Fantasy Role Play that is a true blue RPG and actually a very solid system. And 40k has a game called Inquisitor which I've not explored but it is also fully RPG'ized. I'd dare say that both have more actual role-playing elements them than D&D has.

Yes, I am aware. However, neither of those are Warhammer 40K, and you don't have to buy an army or paint hundreds of miniatures to play them. Half this thread is talking about war-games, which are not "tabletop RPG's".

While it's sad to see so many fewer tabletop venues and distributors, the games are still alive. And as long as we can endure the shocks from our nostalgia bracelets, they're not going to die any time soon.

By the way, Allen, thanks for Paranoia. The Computer is pleased with your loyalty.

Just a question: Why, when people talk about playing games without a computer/embedded system, do they always talk only about tabletops and pen&paper games? What happened to boardgames? People tend to know the most obscure tabletops and P&Ps but they seem to think that board games begin with Snakes and Ladders and end with Monopoly. I would suggest reading this list. You may recognize some but I'd wager that you've never heard of most of them. Starting out with Agricola probably wouldn't end well (the manual is crap) but you could safely go with Puerto Rico. Tabletops, P&Ps and CCGs often require tons of material to be bought, most board games can be bought in one piece and that's all you need, some get expansion packs but those are more like PC game expansions, improvements if you want them but not the bulk of the material you really need.

I'm not sure what people you're referring to, KDR_11k, but my experience as a professional pen-and-paper RPG designer was that people in both the video game business and in the general public spoke of (and recognized!) board games like Puerto Rico and Settlers of Catan more than tabletop RPGs. The resurgence of board games through American party games like Apples To Apples and Euro-style hits like Ticket To Ride has gotten press in newspapers for the last 5-8 years, at least.

So, for what it's worth, I've heard of those games you listed, and my experiences with general assumptions seem to have been quite different from yours. Who knows why.

My gaming store sells all the things refereed to so far and the store is relatively successful. their are a lot of devoted gamers that go to their so it seems that even though their are very few retailers, its still a strong niche market.

As for tabletops, they've always had trouble do to the negative image of how nerdy it is. Even a lot of miniature and card game players are afraid to tried in that territory. But really MMO's are far from having the freedom that tabletops have, and even those other role-playing programs cant match that actual face time, if its available.

Great article, Allen. I am a huge lover of traditional tabletop, and, like you, see a lot of value in using the 'net to further that tradition. Though Season 1 of GOLD pits tabletop against MMO, I don't think they are mutually exclusive -- a lot of MMO folks also play tabletop (Felicia Day of the Guild is a great example -- she plays a weekly D&D game). And whatever you think of 4e (and the opinions are widely varied), I can already see evidence at my local gaming shop that its simplicity, balance and updated tone are bringing in new, young tabletop role players (tho I haven't yet been converted ;-).

Tabletop has become the smaller cousin to MMO, even though TT came first, and inspired MMO. That's not gonna change. I just hope, through innovation and clever use of the 'net, TT will stick around, and in such a way that publishers large and small can continue to make a living producing great content. That's the thing we don't talk about as much, but it's a very real driver of the direction of the market: if small presses and innovators can make a living, TT RPGs will thrive. If you're constantly losing financially, eventually you will have to close your doors.

Obviously I'm hopeful that won't happen. And the $50 I spent on RPG stuff this weekend puts my money where my mouth is ;-)

I still blame the influence of MMOs for the horror and shame that is D&D 4th edition.
*Sigh* Well at least no one has tried to ruin Call of Cthulhu.

Hey, Allen, really good thoughts. Some of this resonates in terms of sociology. In The Social Construction of Reality, Berger and Luckmann comment on this seemingly-endless division into smaller and smaller communities:

"In advanced industrial societies, with their immense economic surplus allowing large numbers of individuals to devote themselves full-time to even the obscurest pursuits, pluralistic competition between sub-universes of meaning of every conceivable sort becomes the normal state of affairs."

(Though I expect that Berger and Luckmann were referring to how jobs and professions affected worldview, rather than games and their worldview.)

Good article, Allen.

BTW, I've been reading your stuff since SPACE GAMER. Remember whe- *BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZT* Ok, ok, never mind.

Alas, I can't be as optimistic as you are. The cold fact is, the Internet obviates the face-to-face interaction which is the sine qua non of paper & pencil RPGs.

Nah, 40K isn't an RPG - but honestly, neither is 4th Edition D&D at this point. What USED to be a fantasy-themed RPG with a combat element has become a fantasy-themed tactical combat miniatures game with an RPG element.

Which is what Chainmail was. The circle is complete.

Finally... sorry folks, but RPG.net needs to be killed. With fire.

I'm not worried about tabletop for two reasons.

1) The video game tastemakers are not unaware of the impact tabletop gaming has had on their industry. Many of them celebrate it and even partake. Not only does the Penny Arcade Expo feature a tabletop and boardgaming section of the convention but the boys from PA recently posted about using a laptop and webcam to bring a far-away friend in on their D&D game: www.penny-arcade.com/2009/2/2/

2) In much the same way as the webcam from above, new technology will only serve to improve tabletop accessibility. I stand by my prediction that we are on the verge of widespread access to augmented reality and that it will change tabletop gaming for the better. Imagine the game master being able to see things on the board that the others can't. Forget comparing notes and charts, all the stats will be available, projected onto the real space but only for the individual to see.

Tabletop will stay healthy until its revival, believe you me.

Nice visitor. Landed here from J.M.'s Grognardia blog.

I would just add that the RPG blogging community has tons to give back to table-top gamers. All they need to do is check out the RPG Bloggers Network with its 200+ blog firehose (http://www.rpgbloggers.com). That or check out the recent preview at WIRED Magazine about the RPG Blog Anthology, aka OPEN GAME TABLE. But this may all be preaching to the choir here. Still, niche hobby's aside -- I suspect a grass roots revitalization of the hobby as the community reorganizes itself and its habits to be more in line with a Web 2.0 world.

"It may be true that the only reason the comic book industry now exists is for this purpose, to create characters for movies, board games and other types of merchandise."

Ahem... are we entirely sure that Alan Moore is speaking of Board Games here. My strong suspicion is that he's slightly out of touch and means Tabletop Roleplaying Games. Now you might say, "Why, what do you mean?"

Well, I am the proud owner of the DC heroes supplement, the Watchmen Sourcebook. (Which you may drool over here http://www.amazon.com/Watchmen-Sourcebook-Heroes-Role-Playing/dp/0923763201 ) This sourcebook bears the man's imprimatur.

Now, I know that I take great joy in the fact that the two main industries in the United States are Board Games and Hollywood Films, and I enjoy the fact that every comic book studio wants their comic book to be adapted by the powerful Board Game industry.

However, when I visit the universe that this article appears in, I find that board games are only slightly above comic books on the respect meter. Also, that drops off considerably when you aren't talking about children's board games. Like a Watchmen branded edition of Candyland, perhaps? In fact, there are the somewhat obscure places that make games for weird boardgame fanatics like myself, and then there's the places that simply rebrand Monopoly, Risk or Clue for whichever property they are working on.

He probably doesn't realize that since his work was adapted to "Board Games" the field has crumbled in the face of video games.

They took the credit for your second edition'y.
Rewritten by machine and new technology,
and now I understand the problems you can see.

Oh-a oh

Paper-and-dice roleplaying is not dead yet but it is in critical condition and has a lot of internal bleeding. It was to be expected with all the advancements of the world wide web and of those computers that comes bundled with it. You dont have to look far to see those impacts... A single look at Dungeons & Dragons Insider and you understand perfectly where this is going. No this is not publicity for Wizard of the coast... it's the exact opposite because they dont want you to know what i'm about to tell you; Tabletop roleplaying is comming out of the closet and turning to the digital side of the force. And this is bad news for them because most of the products they sell depend on the inexistence of virtual tabletop games.

No need to buy those heavy books that cost a fortune, no need to call your friends to come to your place to play in the basement, no need to wait for that guy to pick up the dices after he failled to properly roll them onto the table... that is unless you really want to. The alternative is a virtual tabletop program designed to do exactly all that for you and even more. A game with animated characters instead of miniatures that offers you a list of possible moves for everyone, each turns, clearly depicted on screen so that you can select with the click of a mouse just like some sort of customizable online final fantasy tactic game from the future. This would be lots of fun if it existed.

In my mind and in my car, we can't rewind we've gone to far
Oh-a-aho oh,
Oh-a-aho oh

image

I think I see the point of the article (let's be honest here: it's mostly to tell RPG players about all these new tools and ideas they're missing out on), but it seems terribly mis-named. Three quarters are all about the shape of the new, Internet-powered "Tabletop Stars" rather than the way the Internet has killed anything. Sure, sure, Wizards of the Coast killed Dragon and people prefer Amazon to the local gaming store -- so what?

Every medium of entertainment is: (1) being killed by the Internet, (2) squeaking by the way it was despite the effects of the Internet, and (3) experiencing a resurgence thanks to the Internet all at the same time. Cheap instantaneous worldwide communication will do that. :)

Perhaps large parts of the RPG industry are struggling, but large parts of the RPG industry are really just hobbyists playing at being real businessmen, running horribly inefficient companies that have consistently failed to innovate both product and process -- we should expect that kind of a business to struggle.

Are a lot of people playing WoW in place D&D? (Seriously, are they? I'm not sure anyone in the industry has much in the way of data about that.) Good for them, if it's something they like! Two decades ago, this was an audience that pen-and-paper roleplaying games just got by default. Now they have to work for them. That, too, is how things should be in a healthy market.

Meanwhile, as the articles says, modern indie games are "bringing the fire" -- not just to design but to play itself. Even if the whole industry folds and the only books that come out are the result of hobby economics (i.e. keeping your day job), we'll still have lots of classy, professional, intelligent games.

There's never been a better time to play pen-and-paper RPGs. I don't think it much matters how many people are doing it.

-- Alex

Maybe I'm still just too hopelessly idealistic, but I have a career/life goal to operate a tabletop gaming store that offers what amazon.com can't: a fun, welcoming place to meet up with your buddies and play the games. I know that some places do that already, but what I've seen so far are open places with some large tables. That's it. My vision is closer to the Starbucks of gaming: a place that feels instantly home-y, where you'd -want- to hang out at. The Wizards of the Coast Center by the University of WA is my inspiration (but smaller-scale); anyone know why they failed, with a good setup & great location?

A side-note: WotC and Games Workshop aren't exactly helping promote a positive image for the industry, releasing new rulebooks every few years. The rules to Chess have stayed the same for how many years now? :>

laserwulf:
Maybe I'm still just too hopelessly idealistic, but I have a career/life goal to operate a tabletop gaming store that offers what amazon.com can't: a fun, welcoming place to meet up with your buddies and play the games. I know that some places do that already, but what I've seen so far are open places with some large tables. That's it. My vision is closer to the Starbucks of gaming: a place that feels instantly home-y, where you'd -want- to hang out at. The Wizards of the Coast Center by the University of WA is my inspiration (but smaller-scale); anyone know why they failed, with a good setup & great location?

A side-note: WotC and Games Workshop aren't exactly helping promote a positive image for the industry, releasing new rulebooks every few years. The rules to Chess have stayed the same for how many years now? :>

If you do open that gamming store, all those new books are going to be a godsend. How are you going to sell a book to somebody when they have all they need?

On an aside, To quote 2 really inventive men. "as long as their is campfire, and people telling stories, their will be RP", and "if they ever found out that they REALLY do not need rules to do this, we will be in trouble". That being said, my table top game started as like 4-7 and grew to me gamming with over 200+ (easily) over the last 9 years. Really, forum gamming killed something? I would have to say 4th edition (of D&D) is the hammer, nail, coffin, and grave of good RP. Much like 3.5 saved us from the vanilla of 3rd, lets hope a "4.5" is more gaming and less game. I of course, won't buy it. I will be all over a renewed free form kick, or likely GODLIKE, if the next generation of it does not blow. The White Wolf and 40K Dark Heresy seems to be about the next immediate corner though for me.

laserwulf:
A side-note: WotC and Games Workshop aren't exactly helping promote a positive image for the industry, releasing new rulebooks every few years. The rules to Chess have stayed the same for how many years now? :>

My straightforward rebuttal to complaints about WotC and GW's rewrite (and pricing) models is this; they're still here, the other guys aren't. If you make a static product, then everyone buys it once. It could be the greatest product in the world, but you could never stay in business supporting it.

I do wish you luck on your "Starbucks of games" idea though; I'd like to see a mid- to upscale hobby store that supports the social aspect of tabletop gaming, one that'll kill the "hygenically-challenged manchildren" image that unfortunately got attached to the genre.

-- Steve

sneak_copter:
A good article.

Can't really say much about Tabletop gaming, having only ever played Magic: The Gathering, which I was beat CONSTANTLY at.

I started back in seventh grade and never had the cards to really do anything. Then I got a bit older and bought up a bunch of cards and studied some stuff, and wow, my deck building improved. Granted, it was old mechanics, but it was still a mean deck. Several ways to annihilate your opponent. So much fun.

Good article, for sure. I didn't follow all the links, and (I read this yesterday, maybe?) don't remember if there was one for finding AD&D groups in your area. Will have to reread. Anyone find 3x or 4 lacking? I just did not like them for anything more than videogames, really.

My mum still plays D&D XD
And for that, she is awesome.

I still play D&D (3.5 rules, don't like 4.0) and I play Dungeons and Dragons Online MMO. I think one would be surprised on how many people do play some verison of table top. I think it isnt dead, just changed.

I dunno...I'd say the gaming community (and by that, I mean pen, paper, dice, and a couple of cases of Dew) is still pretty strong. I've got two nights that I play (albeit online via AIM and it's dice roller). One night, it's either D&D 3.5 or Alternity, and on the next, it's either Cyberpunk v3 with one GM, or Heroes Unlimited being run by myself. Plenty of people on my other communities want me to run games for them, and...well...

I've been pretty naughty at work.

Had a customer bring their kid in the other day. They were looking for a game for him, and he said he was heavy into the free-range video games - the sandboxes, the "build your owns", so forth. I suggested quite a few games that met the criteria and, as a snarky aside (as I am prone to do at work), said "hey, if these don't work, go and get him some Dungeons and Dragons books and let him have fun with those".

They came back three days later and thanked me, saying the D&D idea was great and that the whole family got into it.

There's hope for the pen and paper yet!

Micah Weil:
I dunno...I'd say the gaming community (and by that, I mean pen, paper, dice, and a couple of cases of Dew) is still pretty strong. I've got two nights that I play (albeit online via AIM and it's dice roller). One night, it's either D&D 3.5 or Alternity, and on the next, it's either Cyberpunk v3 with one GM, or Heroes Unlimited being run by myself. Plenty of people on my other communities want me to run games for them, and...well...

I've been pretty naughty at work.

Had a customer bring their kid in the other day. They were looking for a game for him, and he said he was heavy into the free-range video games - the sandboxes, the "build your owns", so forth. I suggested quite a few games that met the criteria and, as a snarky aside (as I am prone to do at work), said "hey, if these don't work, go and get him some Dungeons and Dragons books and let him have fun with those".

They came back three days later and thanked me, saying the D&D idea was great and that the whole family got into it.

There's hope for the pen and paper yet!

Family is the #1 reason I still play tabletop games. They were the ones that got me into it originally in the mid/early-80s, and I still get together with my family a couple of times a month to play some D&D. We have incorporated technology like D&D Insider's character builder and such, and I highly doubt we would ever go "virtual tabletop" because the gaming experience is about us getting together and having fun.

Thanks for that, Allen. I only got into RPGs after I got used to using a computer and the Internet, so I've pretty much grown-up around the whole Internet-and-gaming idea. I'm involved in four online RPGs, and some people want me to run a Paranoia game over IRC (coincidentally enough).

Also, to those who really hate 4th Ed DnD: yes, it's annoying because everything is considered an encounter (after writing that, I started imagining a group of people in front of a door, with the rogue in front... and then the Final Fantasy fight music starts. Hehehe), but it's still a lot of fun... Provided you don't read the new Manual of the Planes, and have never played a Planescape game. Bah.

The PHB 2 is bringing back the idea of crafting a background for your character. Along with gnomes. Double-bah.

maddog015:
Don't forget the play-by-post websites.

http://rpol.net and http://playbyweb.com

Also, DnDOG. For DnD, as well as any other roleplaying game. Just figure out how players will use their character sheets.

laserwulf:
Maybe I'm still just too hopelessly idealistic, but I have a career/life goal to operate a tabletop gaming store that offers what amazon.com can't: a fun, welcoming place to meet up with your buddies and play the games.

Come to Ireland. Go to Models Inc in Dublin. Big tables, and an incredibly friendly atmosphere. Martin, the owner, is a great guy, and the staff are wonderful. Four or five RPGs are run there, as well as Magic events and 40k tournaments. It's a great place.

BlueInkAlchemist:
By the way, Allen, thanks for Paranoia. The Computer is pleased with your loyalty.

Ditto, from a GM who considers Paranoia far too much fun to run.

Problem was that most tabletops weren't roleplaying games at all, but more focused around mechanics. If you open a pen and paper rpg manual, most of it will be things like encounter tables, experience tables, charts of armor, weapons, creature data, etc.

Videogames did that far better, so many people went to them. I used to be a hardcore Battletech player, but very little of that game couldn't be replaced by an online variant. Same with steve jackson's car wars.

Most people actually don't focus on the roleplaying as much as they think. Look at most MMOs, where the roleplaying crowd is a minority on a few servers. Once pen and paper rpgs were trumped in terms of simulation by computer and videogames, they quickly became niche.

is it just me or did this article contain entirely too many links? it seems to me that at least every tenth word was a link, and the article as a whole suffers because of the assumed knowledge of what all of these sites and utilities are

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