Plight of the New RPG: Shattered Dawn - Part 1
  • Plight of the New RPG: Shattered Dawn - Part 1


    Recently I was at Infinity Con in Lake City Florida, where I encountered two gents (young but older than college-age) in a small booth offering the Shattered Dawn RPG. The con turned out to be a multimedia con with almost no gaming interest so I spent a lot of time talking with the guys and playing in both their demos on the day I was there.




    I don’t ordinarily look for new RPGs to try out for two reasons. First, I’m not into the Cult of the New that’s so common in games (and a lot of other things) these days. New isn’t likely to be nearly as good as a good Oldie. Second, I’m more likely to find experienced players who already know a particular game if I stick to the most popular game, D&D. So aside from downloading and reading rules occasionally, or watching others play, I am most likely to encounter new RPGs at conventions.

    Consider the plight of people who’ve designed new tabletop RPGs. Here are some barriers:

    • Why change from their old game?
    • Those accustomed to video games, expect rapid level rise
    • Those accustomed to video games, don’t expect any real danger (save games . . .)
    • Short attention spans.
    • Getting product into stores is MUCH harder than in the past; the “long tail,” isn’t there.

    In the challenge of “why change from my old game”, publishers have to look for those who like to try lots of different games, or who aren’t familiar with tabletop RPGs. Fortunately, this “explorer” kind of gamer is common, and “the unwashed” are much more common than decades ago. ENWorld readers are more likely to be experimental (or jaded about the old game, as the case may be), than typical players.

    The more complicated the game is, the less interest you’re likely to get - you need to play NOW, not after long character generation. (The one exception is some younger people who use character generation to try to express their individuality in a world where they feel marginalized.)

    One barrier that’s much lower today is printing costs. Traditional lithographic printing provides great economies of scale if you can print the kind of numbers the big publishers can, but smaller ones cannot because of the total cost. Digital printing (the kind used for Print on Demand) makes it economically practical to print a high quality initial run of 100 or 200 copies. SD’s initial run was small, but high quality with fine art (pasteboard hardcover, which is standard for the big publishers). They have to charge more because digital is more expensive than huge litho runs (each book is $50, PDF $20), yet with similar quality.

    Shattered Dawn offers two hardcover large-format books. Their nerve-wracking Kickstarter in April ‘17 exceeded their $10,000 goal by only $120!

    It’s harder to get into retail distribution because SO MANY games are now published. And games are less likely to become “evergreen”, instead they’re flash-in-the-pan, into stores once, sold out, not reordered even if they sell well because there’s so much new coming down the line. It’s a hit-driven industry, such that even the “evergreen” products suffer. This happens even to major publishers. Steve Jackson Games (41 employees at end of 2016) said:
    The current market is more a periodicals business than one that encourages growing and nurturing single games, leading to our evergreen titles -- Munchkin and Zombie Dice -- dropping in sales.

    Other publishers cite similar experiences. Individual titles sell fewer copies, so the reaction of publishers is to sell more titles, exacerbating the situation. It's a classic "Tragedy of the Commons".

    Shattered Dawn managed to achieve a big Kickstarter, but many small RPG creators do not, and have to compromise print and especially art quality. Which makes it even harder to get into shops in an age where presentation frequently counts for more than actual content. They've placed the game in a few shops in their home city (Jacksonville FL), but have yet to get into regular distribution - and probably won't.

    In north Florida alone this year I've encountered two newly-published RPGs through conventions. (I'll talk about the other sometime.) There must be dozens throughout the USA, let alone the world.

    I'll discuss Shattered Dawn design choices (which address some of the barriers listed above) next time.

    This article was contributed by Lewis Pulsipher (lewpuls) as part of ENWorld's User-Generated Content (UGC) program. We are always on the lookout for freelance columnists! If you have a pitch, please contact us!
    Comments 31 Comments
    1. Lord Mhoram's Avatar
      Lord Mhoram -
      you need to play NOW, not after long character generation. (The one exception is some younger people who use character generation to try to express their individuality in a world where they feel marginalized.)
      And the issues I've had with this writer for decades pops it's head again. A mediocre article, if a bit slanted, then the above is stated blithely dismissing people who don't play the way he does as not worth considering- something he does often. Makes respecting his opinion (no matter what he been involved in in the history of the games) really difficult to do.
    1. Sylvain Lafleche's Avatar
      Sylvain Lafleche -
      Possibly the worst article I have ever read on this site.

      I was interested to learn more about Shaterred Dawn, NOT the disgruntled jaded view of this miserable author.


      Cult of new? I don't know, maybe its just fun to try new things sometimes? Heck I still play 2nd and 3rd edition D&D... yet I still also try, play and buy new games.

      Express their individuality? or maybe they are just expressing their creativity? Isn't that the point of tabletop rpgs?


      Anyways, I'm going to google this RPG now and check it out for myself, because clearly I didn't get anything from this useless article.
    1. Lord_Blacksteel's Avatar
      Lord_Blacksteel -
      "This article was contributed by Lewis Pulsipher (lewpuls) as part of ENWorld's User-Generated Content (UGC) program. "

      It's clearly user-generated but I'm still looking for the content. Title does not match content. What's the point of this article? What's the conclusion? This is the opening third of an article, not a complete one on its own.
    1. Shasarak's Avatar
      Shasarak -
      I dont get the hate on this article, seems like a pretty straight forward problem with creating a new RPG.
    1. aramis erak's Avatar
      aramis erak -
      Quote Originally Posted by Sylvain Lafleche View Post
      Possibly the worst article I have ever read on this site.

      I was interested to learn more about Shaterred Dawn, NOT the disgruntled jaded view of this miserable author.


      Cult of new? I don't know, maybe its just fun to try new things sometimes? Heck I still play 2nd and 3rd edition D&D... yet I still also try, play and buy new games.

      Express their individuality? or maybe they are just expressing their creativity? Isn't that the point of tabletop rpgs?


      Anyways, I'm going to google this RPG now and check it out for myself, because clearly I didn't get anything from this useless article.
      Lew seems to be increasingly less interesting and less informed.
    1. Hussar's Avatar
      Hussar -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shasarak View Post
      I dont get the hate on this article, seems like a pretty straight forward problem with creating a new RPG.
      Well, I'd say it's pretty easy to see where the dislike come from. The author basically takes a big steaming dump on anything that is new - "I'm not part of the cult of new", then makes a bunch of completely unsubstantiated claims about "young people these days".
    1. Lanefan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Lord_Blacksteel View Post
      It's clearly user-generated but I'm still looking for the content. Title does not match content. What's the point of this article? What's the conclusion? This is the opening third of an article, not a complete one on its own.
      Yes, and the title does say "Part I" at the end; I assume there's more coming sometime.
    1. Agray Day's Avatar
      Agray Day -
      Meanwhile in real news, Ironsworn RPG released today, that should be on the front page!
    1. Shasarak's Avatar
      Shasarak -
      Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
      Well, I'd say it's pretty easy to see where the dislike come from. The author basically takes a big steaming dump on anything that is new - "I'm not part of the cult of new", then makes a bunch of completely unsubstantiated claims about "young people these days".
      Yeah, no I just dont see it. He is not dumping on anything that is new, he said that "I'm not part of the cult of new". He said that he had trouble finding people to play new games. I have heard other people say the same thing, they want to play X game but everyone else wants to play DnD.

      I just dont see the big deal.
    1. Hussar's Avatar
      Hussar -
      That, actually looks like a lot of fun - Ironsworn. Thanks.
    1. Hussar's Avatar
      Hussar -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shasarak View Post
      Yeah, no I just dont see it. He is not dumping on anything that is new, he said that "I'm not part of the cult of new". He said that he had trouble finding people to play new games. I have heard other people say the same thing, they want to play X game but everyone else wants to play DnD.

      I just dont see the big deal.
      So, comments like:

      "New isn’t likely to be nearly as good as a good Oldie. "
      "Those accustomed to video games, don’t expect any real danger (save games . . .)"
      "Short attention spans."

      aren't dumping on anything?
    1. Shasarak's Avatar
      Shasarak -
      Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
      So, comments like:

      "New isn’t likely to be nearly as good as a good Oldie. "
      "Those accustomed to video games, don’t expect any real danger (save games . . .)"
      "Short attention spans."

      aren't dumping on anything?
      So when experiments show that the average attention span decreased from 12 seconds to 8 seconds (which is less then a Goldfish) then is that also dumping on people too?
    1. 77IM's Avatar
      77IM -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shasarak View Post
      So when experiments show that the average attention span decreased from 12 seconds to 8 seconds (which is less then a Goldfish) then is that also dumping on people too?
      Yes, it can be. The truth hurts, so just spouting it out without regards to people's feelings or the context of your utterances, is being kind of a dick.
    1. R_Chance's Avatar
      R_Chance -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shasarak View Post
      Yeah, no I just dont see it. He is not dumping on anything that is new, he said that "I'm not part of the cult of new". He said that he had trouble finding people to play new games. I have heard other people say the same thing, they want to play X game but everyone else wants to play DnD.

      I just dont see the big deal.
      The problem is you just don't dislike the author enough

      I think some people see his name and immediately read and interpret problems with anything he says. He goes over the barriers in the industry and states he doesn't ordinarily try new RPGs. Obviously he tried this one and plans on going over it in part 2 of this article. He doesn't say "new games suck". He doesn't say "X style of games suck". He basically says new games have to overcome the inertia of people who have a system they are comfortable with. People are reading a critique into his words that is not, imho, there. He does make an off hand comment about teenagers expressing their individuality in character creation. He might be a bit grumpy. He talks about the difficulties involved in unestablished games, complex games and the current market. I'm curious to see what he thinks of the game itself. He had time with the creators and the opportunity to delve into it. I'm planning on looking into it and seeing what he has to say about it. Then, I may, or may not, agree with him.
    1. Shasarak's Avatar
      Shasarak -
      Quote Originally Posted by 77IM View Post
      Yes, it can be. The truth hurts, so just spouting it out without regards to people's feelings or the context of your utterances, is being kind of a dick.
      He literally said: Here are some barriers - Short attention span.

      Did he call out anyone in particular to accuse them of having a short attention span? Did he say that having a short attention span makes you a bad person?
    1. 77IM's Avatar
      77IM -
      There's a lot I disagree with in this article but I'll just pick out this one point:

      Quote Originally Posted by lewpuls View Post
      Second, I’m more likely to find experienced players who already know a particular game if I stick to the most popular game, D&D.
      I have found the opposite to be true. A wide variety of of experience levels (ha ha) play D&D, including a lot of excellent experienced players, but also a ton of total noobs. Conversely, people playing non-D&D games are MUCH less likely to be rank noobs, and therefore much more likely to have a certain amount of role-playing game experience under their belts. Obviously if the new game has just come out they won't have much experience with that particular game, but once a person has played RPGs for so many years, that becomes less relevant.

      Not that there's anything wrong with playing a game with a bunch of total noobs: that can be really fun if they are good and creative players, and not yet set in their ways. My point is that if you are in the mood to play with more experienced people, you should be looking towards new and exotic games, not away from them.

      Plus, I've found that people who play a wide variety of games tend to be better role-players than people who just stick to a few old standbys. Each game is different, and teaches a new way to role-play. Even if a person winds up not liking the new game, they've hopefully at least learned what not to do. Especially at conventions, it's really fun to try a new game and talk to the other players about how it compares to other games they've tried.

      So even if you love D&D and keep coming back to it, it can be really helpful to branch out and try other new games frequently.
    1. 77IM's Avatar
      77IM -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shasarak View Post
      He literally said: Here are some barriers - Short attention span.

      Did he call out anyone in particular to accuse them of having a short attention span? Did he say that having a short attention span makes you a bad person?
      Nope. His mention of short attention spans seems fine to me, actually.

      I was just responding to your assertion (phrased as a question, I assume rhetorically) that because a thing is true, stating it can not be considered "dumping on people." That's false: you can totally dump on people by stating true things.

      (If your question was NOT rhetorical then I apologize for the bad assumption.)
    1. Shasarak's Avatar
      Shasarak -
      Quote Originally Posted by 77IM View Post
      Nope. His mention of short attention spans seems fine to me, actually.

      I was just responding to your assertion (phrased as a question, I assume rhetorically) that because a thing is true, stating it can not be considered "dumping on people." That's false: you can totally dump on people by stating true things.

      (If your question was NOT rhetorical then I apologize for the bad assumption.)
      OK, so we agree that there are circumstances where telling someone something true can be considered to be dumping on them.

      And we agree that there was no problem in this situation.

      So looks like we are good to go.
    1. dragoner's Avatar
      dragoner -
      Quote Originally Posted by 77IM View Post
      I have found the opposite to be true.
      Same, I can get my group to play just about any game I want, with the only caveat being I have to GM it. It is much harder to find people to GM. There are separate groups for D&D and Pathfinder; I'm part of a more outsider group, where we play different games, and we still have more players than seats in a game often enough.
    1. Hussar's Avatar
      Hussar -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shasarak View Post
      So when experiments show that the average attention span decreased from 12 seconds to 8 seconds (which is less then a Goldfish) then is that also dumping on people too?
      Helps to actually read the results of your links:

      "Just because we may be allocating our attention differently as a function of the technologies we may be using, it doesn't mean that the way our attention actually can function has changed."
      IOW, I'd say the jury is still WAY out on this one.
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