Do TTRPGs Need to "Modernize?"

Celebrim

Legend
I don't know what in this short list would count as "modernizing", but I think it's a very small sample of the kinds of games people can choose to play.

I think it counts as novelty, where novelty is a thing fun in and of itself, but where the games are really TRPGS with a board gaming aesthetic where in board gaming having a novelty mechanic is often enough to get otherwise jaded board gamers to try a game and at best those TRPGs are expecting players to play them about as much as a board game - usually once, maybe a handful of times.
 

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GrimCo

Adventurer
@MintRabbit

Those games look fun, but like colleague before said, they seem more suited for one shot adventures. They have more similarity with board games than classical TTRPG-s.

For example, Ten Candles is popular game that is labeled as TTRPG. But it plays like a board game. It has set and pre determined ending. No matter how many times you play it, it always ends the same. Ten turns and everybody dies. End of story. No character growth, no expanding story arcs, very little emotional attachment to the characters and no room for session 2. In contrast, Descent: Journeys into the Dark is labeled as a board game. But it plays more like an TTRPG. There are characters, quests, naratives and your heroes gain experience and grows. Add some in character banter and you have your average hack&slash dungeon crawling D&D-esque rpg experience.
 



MintRabbit

Explorer
Those games look fun, but like colleague before said, they seem more suited for one shot adventures. They have more similarity with board games than classical TTRPG-s.
Some of the games I mentioned would be suitable for one-shots, but if you want long-term games...

FFG Age of Rebellion gives players Duty that they can choose to fulfill in order to both gain experience and increase their group's rank. Increasing your squad's rank gives you access to better equipment because the Rebellion sees you as more competent. I also appreciate the differences between success/failure, triumph/despair, and advantage/threat.

Brinkwood: Blood of Tyrants has a unique set-up in which characters share their abilities via a series of enchanted masks, allowing players to try new abilities every Foray. The Rebellion has three arenas in which you must grow: Influence, Force and Organization, with each arena providing new assets when you improve it. You also have to play a long-term political game with the various factions you try to win to your cause.

Brindlewood Bay and The Between give the players the ultimate say over the actual answer of the mysteries the characters are working to solve, leaving only a few details for the GM to dictate. The games are built with the expectation that the characters will be slowly unveiling a large conspiracy over a number of sessions.

Household has a "Decorum" track that ranges from "Embellished" to "Uncouth" and certain actions over the course of the game will raise or lower your social status. A campaign could be expected to last for five in-universe years: and according to lore, you're re-telling events that have "already happened"!

Legacy games (Life Among the Ruins, Primal Pathways, Godsend) are expected to take place over centuries or longer. The players control a faction, and also a member of a faction. Family members / avatars live and die, their legacies having ripple effects over the the family or the faction, with advancements or changes occurring every time the players invoke a time skip.

Sunderwald is a TTRPG that asks you to edit the book as you play it, deciding pieces of lore as you play. Your characters can take physical harm, but they can also take harm in other forms, such as disease, curses, embarrassment, ridicule and mental anguish. Since the book is 152 pages, I doubt you're finishing the game in one session.
 

Some of the games I mentioned would be suitable for one-shots, but if you want long-term games...

FFG Age of Rebellion gives players Duty that they can choose to fulfill in order to both gain experience and increase their group's rank. Increasing your squad's rank gives you access to better equipment because the Rebellion sees you as more competent. I also appreciate the differences between success/failure, triumph/despair, and advantage/threat.

Brinkwood: Blood of Tyrants has a unique set-up in which characters share their abilities via a series of enchanted masks, allowing players to try new abilities every Foray. The Rebellion has three arenas in which you must grow: Influence, Force and Organization, with each arena providing new assets when you improve it. You also have to play a long-term political game with the various factions you try to win to your cause.

Brindlewood Bay and The Between give the players the ultimate say over the actual answer of the mysteries the characters are working to solve, leaving only a few details for the GM to dictate. The games are built with the expectation that the characters will be slowly unveiling a large conspiracy over a number of sessions.

Household has a "Decorum" track that ranges from "Embellished" to "Uncouth" and certain actions over the course of the game will raise or lower your social status. A campaign could be expected to last for five in-universe years: and according to lore, you're re-telling events that have "already happened"!

Legacy games (Life Among the Ruins, Primal Pathways, Godsend) are expected to take place over centuries or longer. The players control a faction, and also a member of a faction. Family members / avatars live and die, their legacies having ripple effects over the the family or the faction, with advancements or changes occurring every time the players invoke a time skip.

Sunderwald is a TTRPG that asks you to edit the book as you play it, deciding pieces of lore as you play. Your characters can take physical harm, but they can also take harm in other forms, such as disease, curses, embarrassment, ridicule and mental anguish. Since the book is 152 pages, I doubt you're finishing the game in one session.
It really feels like the depth and variety of RPGs has been expanding a lot in the past 10 years or so. The last time I remember things really going in so many new directions was back in the early days of the mid-70s when basically any game you wrote was new territory (but some were quite original even by today's standards).

There has always been this thread of innovation in the hobby, but with the growth of online community and the ease of publishing these days we now see new trends. Like different sorts of affordances for play and forms of play, and more sustainment of new directions. 20 or 30 years ago a new and innovative game was pretty likely to just vanish without much of a trace and was unlikely to establish a new direction or be elaborated on. Today that is just not true, if you do something original other people quickly build on it and even obscure games actually get a fair amount of play.

It is great!
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
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?
Absolutely not on the "need". If people want to play a game that fits those points better, they should, and people should make such games if they want to. What I'm against is changing existing games to make them fit these metrics better.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
I’m not sure how those are connected. Random rolls don’t reduce player agency. You’re not rolling to see how far you move, like in Clue. You’re rolling to hit, just like most RPGs. RPGs don’t lack agency simply because you roll to hit. If anything, the randomness allows for more player agency because the reliance on dice all but prevents the Judge from railroading, which is the main reason players lack agency in RPGs. Th Judge wants this fight to be tough but the wizard spellburns and rolls 30+ on their spell check, disintegrates the bad guy on round one, and blots out the sun.

The charts mostly add flavor to the random events. Like crit charts or fumble charts.

Though it’s definitely more an old-school design generally, it has some wonderfully modern elements like Mighty Deeds, streamlined XP, focused game play, explicitly narrative elements like Quest For It, and loads of redundancy to keep players actually playing even if their PC dies. Things like rolling the body and promoting hirelings to PC status, even if temporarily.
Also, player agency isn't some modern concept that has been steadily improved with the March of "progress" over the years. Different games from every era have had different approaches to it.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
My thought is that many RPGs are so preoccupied with "the way it's always been done" that they're satisfied with a hybrid of tradition and change that make for a worse experience without thinking how it influences the play experience.
A few examples...
1) It was less terrible to have "dead turns" in the early days because turns were fast. Now, it can take 5-10 minutes to go around the table. A dead turn in today's game is unacceptable.
2) You can extend "dead turns" to "dead combats," "dead sessions," and "dead campaigns." Classes are still designed that if you don't have the right abilities, you're worthless in a fight. Maybe you're worthless for an entire session - or the entirety of the game. It should not be possible to make a reasonable build of a character and be "pointless" in the mechanics of the game. I've had sessions (online) where I could put my head down and nap for an hour because there was nothing my character could contribute.
Do you have a call to action here? I ask because your comments are telling me that you don't like RPGs as they are.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
Let me try to give some real world examples. I'll change some of the details so we don't get hung up on a specific system.

Example 1: The Tough Opponent
You're a spellcaster and your spells cannot affect a magic resistant creature. Or you don't have the right magic weapon to get past the Damage Reduction (or you're just not strong enough to do enough damage). There is an ally who does have the right weapon (or spell) - so it's not like the party should just run away, and you don't want to hamper the fun of the player who is prepared to deal with this challenge.
What can your character realistically do during this fight? Maybe you can get into a position to flank the monster to give the ally better odds to hit? (Or trip the monster? Or temporarily blind it?) More than likely the enemy is too dangerous for you to get close enough to it. Or it's too strong to be tripped. And your trying to get close enough to do something/anything is just going to put you in danger and it's a smarter decision to let the tank be the tank.
And how long does this fight take ... maybe 30-40 minutes? How often do these battles come up where you can do nothing ... maybe once or twice a session?

Example 2: Shut Your Mouth, Barbarian
The party needs to infiltrate the royal ball and make an important deal with a noble. Your barbarian has no training in a useful social skill - even if she has Intimidate, that's a bad idea in the circumstances. The spotlight is on the bard who can wheel and deal through intense roleplaying scenes that last about an hour. In the meanwhile, the barbarian does nothing. Now imagine a campaign that has a lot of these moments, 2-3 scenes per session (on average). Now you still need the muscle of the barbarian in the party for when things go bad, but for the most part, you're sitting there doing nothing.

Example 3: I Just Need to Sneak
The rogue with his high Dexterity, light armor, and great Stealth check doesn't want the clumsy wizard following or the racket of the paladin in full plate. It's important to get the layout of the bandit keep, and the rogue has a good disguise if he gets spied anyway. It just isn't believable for the wizard to come along. I guess we should all go grab a beer for 45 minutes?

Example 4: The Know-It All vs. the Specialist
Hey, it's really important for the good of the party that you're an expert in healing and medicine. After all, it's important that characters get to live. So you max out ranks in healing, purchase good medical equipment to keep the party alive. But what you don't have - effective weapons or combat abilities. Skill ranks in persuasion or knowledge about politics. Maybe you can create a sedative to use on the enemy to help bolster the party? No, it doesn't work that way? Okay. You're essentially an NPC at this point. That other guy - the guy who got to take all the knowledge skills and can interact with roleplay and combat - that's the hero and you're just making it so he can have fun. The minute you dare open your mouth with your Charisma penalties, you've doomed the party to failure, you selfish jerk.

I hope these 4 Examples - which are ones I see almost weekly - illustrate how many RPGs do a poor job of maintaining fun for the majority of players throughout the session. I think your players would agree, if you asked them. For a hobby that purports to be cooperative, it really rewards solo design.
Perhaps the players in question should consider making more well-rounded PCs if this is a problem for them.
 

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