Do TTRPGs Need to "Modernize?"

Retreater

Legend
I stumbled across a YouTube video about the improvement of the modern style of boardgames vs. traditional board games. He gives examples of why games like Resistance are better than Werewolf, and Pandemic is better than Clue. And it is making me think about how to apply this thought to TTRPGs.

(Linking the video below for you to enjoy.)


Here's a quick list of the 10 reasons (though the video goes into more detail than I can here)...
10. They don't outstay their welcome. They have a definitive end that can be predicted. This builds tension and excitement.
9. Every turn is fun. You don't get a dead turn spent just rolling to move and not getting to a destination. All players are equal (same number of actions). There's always something worth doing. You don't have skipped turns (no "Go to Jail" cards.)
8. No player elimination in modern boardgames.
7. Scores are less varied. Objectives can be hidden and not revealed until the end. Scores are often not tallied until the end, so a player doesn't sit around for the whole game feeling like a loser.
6. Different set-ups mean there are unique dynamics to change strategies. It's not always the same game (i.e. chess).
5. Players have agency. Failure isn't controlled by luck.
4. When luck is used, you roll (or draw cards) before deciding what action to take.
3. Boardgames used to be intended for children or were based on war/fighting. There is more working together and less conflict now.
2. Games are less aggressive as a result. You aren't required to bankrupt or wipe out your opponents. They can be competitive without being aggressive.
1. There are many options.

After watching the video, I went through D&D and put it through the same metric.

10. There is no definitive end. We have no idea how long the session/campaign will last (usually). The game usually ends by scheduling problems, lack of interest, TPK, etc. (What if we actually set a limit on a number of sessions? Or an achievable level limit?)
9. There are dead turns. Characters have to spend actions to get into position. Or other times they're Held, Petrified, etc. This is very noticeable in games where it takes 10-30 minutes to go around the table. (What if we rethought the action economy that movement doesn't take the standard action - just makes it a little less effective? Like your damage is halved if you have to run across the battlefield?)
8. Characters get killed - or sometimes just get stuck doing nothing. [I once had a game where I had to go sit in another room because my character got imprisoned - for TWO sessions!] (What if character death happened at the end of the session? Like the final effect of the death didn't occur until after the last encounter of the night?)
7. We don't use traditional scoring methods in TTRPGs.
6. I think we're good on different setups in RPGs.
5-4. It stinks to lose your high level spells to bad die rolls. What if we allowed you to roll before you cast the spell? If you roll bad, maybe you hang on to the spell slot?
3. Yeah, we're based on fighting. Don't know if there's a good way around that.
2. But maybe we don't have everything "fight to the death" (as is the Paizo tradition).
1. We do have a lot of options, but we don't discuss them much. Most of the games that have their origins in the 1970s-1990s probably feel around the same with dead turns, character death, no definitive end, etc.

I don't know. I'm just sort of rambling here. Do you think RPGs need to modernize like we've seen in the boardgame hobby?
 

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Bacon Bits

Legend
10. There is no definitive end. We have no idea how long the session/campaign will last (usually). The game usually ends by scheduling problems, lack of interest, TPK, etc. (What if we actually set a limit on a number of sessions? Or an achievable level limit?)

Most board games (and, indeed, most games) have a defined game objective. "OBJECT: The object of the game is to become the
wealthiest player through buying, renting and selling property. [...] A bankrupt player must immediately retire from the game. The last player left in the game wins."

TTRPGs are a little unique. If they did have an objective, it would be something like: "OBJECT: The object of the game is to simulate a game world and tell a compelling story (or series of diagetically consistent events) using one or more characters that may or may not be roleplayed. If the story ends prematurely, all players lose."

Really, though, each TTRPG is a collection of subgame systems. You "win" D&D combat when you survive. You "win" a skill check when you overcome the obstacle. You "win" a social encounter when you accomplish one or more goals. And you only truly lose when you can't or don't play the next subgame, and can't continue the story with plain roleplay. Each subgame system is a traditional game with legacy elements, or else roleplay. This is bleeding into a post I've long intended to make, so I'll stop now.

9. There are dead turns. Characters have to spend actions to get into position. Or other times they're Held, Petrified, etc. This is very noticeable in games where it takes 10-30 minutes to go around the table. (What if we rethought the action economy that movement doesn't take the standard action - just makes it a little less effective? Like your damage is halved if you have to run across the battlefield?)

There have already been many attempts to correct or address this. "Fail forward" design exists in part to address this. Same with damage on a miss effects. It's also why some games have done away with attack rolls entirely. There's also a major balancing act in any TTRPG tied to pace of play. You might use a hundred die rolls to resolve a single combat, or just one. It depends very much on what the players are trying to focus on.

8. Characters get killed - or sometimes just get stuck doing nothing. [I once had a game where I had to go sit in another room because my character got imprisoned - for TWO sessions!] (What if character death happened at the end of the session? Like the final effect of the death didn't occur until after the last encounter of the night?)

The issue is that players don't lose just because characters are killed. They lose when they story ends prematurely. If the campaign falls apart. That's how you lose at D&D. But characters don't win or lose the game. Players do. And players can just... create another character. Imagine if you were playing Battleship and once your opponent sunk your fleet, you could just... get a new fleet and start again. TTRPGs do that. Even if you keep a dead character, death may not be the end of that character's story. They can be restored to life. They can act in the spirit form. That's why the end happens when you don't know how to continue the story. Even in a modern game like Call of Cthulhu, you can just continue the game with a new character when one dies.

5-4. It stinks to lose your high level spells to bad die rolls. What if we allowed you to roll before you cast the spell? If you roll bad, maybe you hang on to the spell slot?

That would work if all characters used identical resources. That's why the Reliable keyword existed in 4e. You could pick options that would always work. Arguably, all the daily powers should have this keyword, but it's not terrible that they don't. But in 5e D&D, spellcasting is already overwhelmingly better than any other class feature available. That mechanic does not need any improvement, especially at high level. Quite the opposite. "I lost my spell level to no effect" is not a great design, but it's probably the least bad part of the overall design of spellcasting. We should fix the rest of it first.

3. Yeah, we're based on fighting. Don't know if there's a good way around that.

Sure, but not all TTRPGs are. Some are about politics, or romance, or any number of things. Fighting is fun because it's an easy conflict to manufacture (you fight or you die) and it's easy to definitively resolve the outcome (you died or you killed them all). It's actually the easiest way to make the game very light and without a lot of consequences.

2. But maybe we don't have everything "fight to the death" (as is the Paizo tradition).

This is a common rule in some systems. The book will tell you, "When the outcome of combat is clear, skip to the end. Don't play out the slog." However... some players seem to like the slog.

1. We do have a lot of options, but we don't discuss them much. Most of the games that have their origins in the 1970s-1990s probably feel around the same with dead turns, character death, no definitive end, etc.

Mostly because why you play what you play is extremely subjective. That said, I think we overplay D&D. I think D&D has tried to position itself as the Ur-TTRPG, and it does a great disservice to the hobby because of it.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him) 🇺🇦🇵🇸🏳️‍⚧️
3. Yeah, we're based on fighting. Don't know if there's a good way around that.
2. But maybe we don't have everything "fight to the death" (as is the Paizo tradition).
I'm not sure these comments, as they apply to D&D or other TTRPGs, really match what you say the video is saying. D&D may have a lot of aggressive combat, but it's not competition between the players which, I think, is what the video is talking about. In fact, it's usually cooperative aggressive violence between the players and their collective NPC/Monster opponents.
 




SakanaSensei

Adventurer
There are definitely things that I think improve the play experience that RPGs outside of DnD do/have done. On point 9: Dead Turns...

The current game I'm in is in a system I cobbled together from Blades in the Dark, Into the Odd, and a smattering of other ideas I grabbed from other games like Spire/Heart. One of the biggest changes I made, from the perspective of the other players in the game, is that you don't roll to hit when you attack with a weapon a la Into the Odd.

One player who usually doesn't like combat much (he's only played 5E) made sure to say after his first experience with that one rule change that he "hadn't realized that every martial character in our past games essentially had a 25-30% chance to just get 'counterspelled' whenever they went to do something," because essentially a miss means they did nothing with their turn.

He loves combat now and is bringing a lot of energy to those scenes.

I definitely think there are some adjustments that can be made to core assumptions of how DnD works. I also think that other games are already doing these things.
 

Bagpuss

Legend
10. There is no definitive end. We have no idea how long the session

I disagree you usually know how long a session is going to last. People generally won't play till 4 in the morning they will meet next week.

/campaign will last (usually). The game usually ends by scheduling problems, lack of interest, TPK, etc. (What if we actually set a limit on a number of sessions? Or an achievable level limit?)

I think rather than no definitive end, lots of TTRPGs have multiple opportunities to end, but are then continued. Games often have an end goal for the scenario or campaign. Particularly published stuff but even homebrew has some goal in sight. Once that is achieved it up to the group if they want to continue.

Still there a plenty of TTRPGs games (particularly modern ones) that have a clear structure, a beginning, middle and end point. Games that are are designed to resolve in one or two sessions.

9. There are dead turns. Characters have to spend actions to get into position. Or other times they're Held, Petrified, etc. This is very noticeable in games where it takes 10-30 minutes to go around the table. (What if we rethought the action economy that movement doesn't take the standard action - just makes it a little less effective? Like your damage is halved if you have to run across the battlefield?)

Can't argue with this one, there are TTRPGs that do things quicker, but I don't think you will get a mechanic like 7 Wonders where you all act together, as it is going to involve the GM's attention and you can't talk over everyone.

8. Characters get killed - or sometimes just get stuck doing nothing. [I once had a game where I had to go sit in another room because my character got imprisoned - for TWO sessions!] (What if character death happened at the end of the session? Like the final effect of the death didn't occur until after the last encounter of the night?)

Your DM was a dick in that case, it isn't something that happens that often.

7. We don't use traditional scoring methods in TTRPGs.
6. I think we're good on different setups in RPGs.
5-4. It stinks to lose your high level spells to bad die rolls. What if we allowed you to roll before you cast the spell? If you roll bad, maybe you hang on to the spell slot?
There are plenty of TTRPGs that remove or at least reduce the random element, most modern games have some method of failing forward, even on a bad roll.

3. Yeah, we're based on fighting. Don't know if there's a good way around that.
I think here he's saying older games were more oppositional, or for kids. Now there are more co-op games or games where you win without having to eliminate your opponent. TTRPG have always been about co-operation and working together, generally taking out another player is frowned upon.

2. But maybe we don't have everything "fight to the death" (as is the Paizo tradition).

See above.

1. We do have a lot of options, but we don't discuss them much. Most of the games that have their origins in the 1970s-1990s probably feel around the same with dead turns, character death, no definitive end, etc.

Maybe try other forums than one dedicated to D&D? You'll find there is lots of discussion of more modern RPGs that address a lot of the problems you've mentioned.

I don't know. I'm just sort of rambling here. Do you think RPGs need to modernize like we've seen in the boardgame hobby?

Maybe you need to experience some more modern RPGs than just play one based on concepts from the 1970s?
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Do you think RPGs need to modernize like we've seen in the boardgame hobby?
Absolutely. Either by taking cues from boardgames or video games. Something.

But we are seeing games that work towards these criteria. A Shadow of the Demon Lord campaign lasts 10 sessions, then it’s done. X Borg games often have a world-ending clock ticking away in the background. Fellowship has the baked-in goal of beating the Overlord. The new MCDM RPG and most PbtA/BitD games generally eliminate the “nothing happens” result, which speeds up play and keeps every round engaging at least. Most RPGs have always let the player make a new character and keep playing, it’s down to the referee on how quickly they get brought back in to play.
 

Personally I much prefer older board games to new ones

I like a lot of old board games, and I have to agree that the video included very poor examples of "old" style games to use as examples. Clue and Monopoly in particular are polarizing, but still quite popular because they can be really good games.

That being said, there are a lot of older board games that are really quite crap. But people don't remember them because, well, they're crap and don't get replayed or reprinted. But frankly, a lot of newer games with "modern" ideas are crap, too. Sturgeon's Law and all that. And the 10 recommendations this guy gives for modern design are really just personal preferences.
 

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