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What's the Next Great Leap Forward in RPG Mechanics?

Jhaelen

First Post
I'm not sure if it can be considered a big leap, but I believe RPG mechanics are bound to borrow more mechanics from board games in the time to come. Critics have always complained that 4e was too board-game-like for their taste. Warhammer 3e was almost a cross-over. FFG's Star Wars backpaddled a bit on this, but kept the good parts. No matter what you think of these efforts to make RPGs more accessible, imho, they show quite clearly that many game designers have realized that RPGs need to adapt if they aren't to go the way of the dodo.

I've seen two trends in 'modern' RPG: Either they're trying to simplify mechanics and look towards established board-game mechanics, or they do away with almost all mechanics to focus on the roleplaying aspect, i.e. become 'true' storytelling games.

Another great leap might come from a technological direction: Immersive VR environment may be adopted by RPG designers to let the mechanics be resolved using software. This would have the advantage that the mechanics could be as complex as you want, as long as it's hidden from the players by a sleek interface. This could mean a revival of the more simulationist strain of RPGs.
 

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delericho

Legend
Another great leap might come from a technological direction: Immersive VR environment may be adopted by RPG designers to let the mechanics be resolved using software.

I doubt it. VR might well be the next leap forward for video games (though I'm skeptical of that as well), but for TTRPGs I really can't see it. As mentioned above, one of the big problems with a lot of games is that they're just too much effort for the DM to prep and run.

But adding VR means that the DM can't just imagine the setting and run up a bunch of stats to use - now he has to turn graphics programmer as well? Some of us can barely throw together a hand-drawn map to help us follow the action!
 

I doubt it. VR might well be the next leap forward for video games (though I'm skeptical of that as well), but for TTRPGs I really can't see it. As mentioned above, one of the big problems with a lot of games is that they're just too much effort for the DM to prep and run.

But adding VR means that the DM can't just imagine the setting and run up a bunch of stats to use - now he has to turn graphics programmer as well? Some of us can barely throw together a hand-drawn map to help us follow the action!

I think RPGs are to VR as books are to movies. The strength of RPGs is the imagination factor. Nothing wrong with movies (or VR), and maybe there is a new VR based hobby like RPGs in our future, but that seems like such a different activity than what you do with a game group, pencils and a handful of dice.
 

innerdude

Legend
The problem I see with evolving RPGs in a "board game" direction is that they run directly opposed to the primary value offered by an RPG over a board game in the first place --- evolving narrative and a sense of control over the narrative.

I've said it before on these forums, but the 100%, pure unadulterated "gamists" who really don't want to engage RPGs on anything other than a tactical challenge level would really better be served moving to something else. cRPGs, tactical board games, Magic, Android: Netrunner, the Drizzt/Ashardalon board games, whatever. Trying to turn an RPG purely into an exercise based on "board game" principles simply defeats the purpose.

You can have tactical game aspects AND shared narrative experiences in an RPG, but the farther you go towards the tactical game side, the harder it is to make a workable RPG. The people who want the shared narrative aspects simply get frustrated, because they're spending too much time in the tactical portion of the game, and the tactical gamists just start to wonder why it's so much stinkin' work just to get to the "fun parts" of smashing orcs. And I think the proliferation of the "tactical-pseudo-RPG" games we see on mobile devices bears this out. How many people at your job do you know who pour hundreds of hours and dollars into stuff like Clash of Clans and Star Wars: Commanders, yet you'd never once think of approaching them to join your RPG group? (I know at least a dozen people who fit this description.)

I had a friend in grad school who was exactly this way. He'd geek out over Batman Asylum on XBox360, play HeroClix 8 to 10 hours a week, and had a fantasy book library a mile long----but simply had zero desire to cross over and even try an RPG. And frankly, I respected him for that. He knew exactly what he was looking for. I think part of the problems RPGs have is that we all know a guy/gal like that that we're sure would love to "cross over" to RPGs if we could just give him/her the right experience, when really, they just like the tactical fun of building a card deck / party of heroes and seeing how well it blasts stuff to pieces.

I'd be willing to posit that though there is some crossover between the self-identified "board game" and "RPG" crowds, the flow of cross over is vastly unequal. I'd bet that the vast majority of self-identified "RPG" players would also self-identify as "board gamers." Whereas I suspect only a small minority of "board gamers" also self-identify as "RPG-ers."
 
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I look forward to when someone comes up with a handy, elegant app platform to integrate tablets and phones into a shared game.

Each player has a character sheet on their phone, which can be read and navigated with only one or two taps or swipes. They're all linked to the GM's tablet, where he can queue up monster stats during game prep, then track conditions and HP in game. There'd be an option for native RNG (random number generation) that works in-app, or you could roll dice and manually note damage and healing and such.

Not quite a 'great leap forward,' but certainly handy for offloading some of the mental process to digital devices so the players and GM can devote more thought to story, description, and roleplaying.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
Each player has a character sheet on their phone, which can be read and navigated with only one or two taps or swipes. They're all linked to the GM's tablet, where he can queue up monster stats during game prep, then track conditions and HP in game. There'd be an option for native RNG (random number generation) that works in-app, or you could roll dice and manually note damage and healing and such.

The issue I see with tracking dice rolls and their results automatically in the app is that it:

1) Requires the app to know rules - including your house rules. So, the app is game-specific, and each game out there would need its own app, which for small games is exorbitant.

2) Drives the game to rules, and disincentivizes making rulings, which are basically house rules you have to implement *right then*. This is fine on paper, as you can count on the humans to implement it, but currently still a pain in electronic format.
 

Celebrim

Legend
The problem I see with evolving RPGs in a "board game" direction is that they run directly opposed to the primary value offered by an RPG over a board game in the first place --- evolving narrative and a sense of control over the narrative.

I think the board game direction fails on multiple fronts, not the least of which is the missing sense of control you are talking about.

RPGs are not and have never been board games. Anyone that has been playing them since the beginning (and I go back to the early '80s), or who has researched them in the slightest knows that they aren't mere refereed competitive games with neutral arbiters running the rules engine. That is and always has been inevitably only part of the job because any true RPG is defined by its open ended nature. While the GM often wears a referee hat, the GM is also the one with the responsibility to create and introduce the challenges, completely eliminating any possibilities of neutrality.

I've said it before on these forums, but the 100%, pure unadulterated "gamists" who really don't want to engage RPGs on anything other than a tactical challenge level would really better be served moving to something else.

I agree, though I would argue equally that pure 100% unadulterated "narrativists" who don't really want to engage RPGs on anything other than a framework for collaborative story telling would be better shifting their attention to pure theater games and dispensing with any connection to the wargaming roots of an RPG. RPGs never have been pure story telling games either, but rather something that stories can evolve out of if you have that as one of your goals of play.

You can have tactical game aspects AND shared narrative experiences in an RPG, but the farther you go towards the tactical game side, the harder it is to make a workable RPG.

I feel the same thing about going to far toward the story game side. The more you pare off any mechanics that aren't narrative meta-mechanics, the more it feels to me like you'd be better off going without mechanics at all and just do improv theater. Certainly, much of the deep character developing RP that I've been involved in never referenced mechanics at all. It was just play. In that sense, the old game Toon captures the core of a narrative focused mechanic with it's "If it's funny, it works." meta rule.

One game I played quite a bit and admired quite a bit in its presentation is the flash game Cardhunter. Cardhunter is a wonderfully deep tactical game draped in the trappings of 1e AD&D that you can play for free and which anyone who has been playing since the 1e era should play just for the story and inside jokes. It's a beautiful tribute game that gets 'RPGs' so very well and has a lot of fun with their tropes, but it isn't actually an RPG itself, even though it is supposed to be in the game world.

I'd be willing to posit that though there is some crossover between the self-identified "board game" and "RPG" crowds, the flow of cross over is vastly unequal. I'd bet that the vast majority of self-identified "RPG" players would also self-identify as "board gamers." Whereas I suspect only a small minority of "board gamers" also self-identify as "RPG-ers."

I would bet, based on my theory of what an RPG actually is, that this relationship holds true between RPGs and all other games of all other types. That is to say, that if you enjoy RPGs, you probably likely to enjoy games of all sorts, but the reverse - enjoying a particular sort of game - doesn't necessarily imply you would enjoy RPGs.
 
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Tony Vargas

Legend
One of the slowest to change yes because when there is a huge change to it a lot of D&D fans form rebellions against any major changes... see demise of 4e as proof of that.
Indeed. For instance, 4e made D&D much easier to learn and easier for new DMs to run. I'd never seen new players - new to gaming, not new to the edition - transition to running games so quickly, nor having such a surprisingly easy time of it...
Putting those together, I wouldn't be surprised if the next trend (though it's not really an innovation in mechanics) is a move towards making the game quicker for the GM to pick up and run.
That's be something. ;|

This question of this thread, is this a question pertaining to just D&D, or rpgs as a whole? If it's just pertaining to D&D then it might take years for a new innovation to take hold. Yes D&D is extremely slow to change.
Presumably RPGs as a whole. But, D&D is such a dominant force in the industry (the top two games are D&D and a clone of D&D), that you can't consider RPGs as a whole, without considering D&D. D&D and it's clones and close imitators are in the grip of a somewhat-delayed/long-anticipated come-back of the 80s fad years, and that's got to impact the broader hobby. Whether it'll blunt the demand for more innovative - or sharpen the need to innovate to get attention...?

We have a ton of games available that do some amazing things that D&D just can't do based on how the game is designed (talking latest incarnation here).
Hasn't that been the case for most of the hobby's history, though? (The 3.x era stands out as an exception because of the dominance d20 achieved for a time.)
I think the hobby doesn't move forward so much as people have different problems at the table and different games attempt to address those problems in their own way. But not every solution is something that is going to gain widespread adoption.
That's a fair observation of how 'niche' games got in the 90s, for instance, and that may, indeed, be happening again with crowdfunding enabling more diverse and niche offerings.
D&D is a somewhat of a special case because it has to appeal to the broadest range of play styles possible (which is one reason I think we saw them roll back some of the innovations 4E introduced).
Not the best way of putting it, IMHO. D&D has to appeal to it's own past and it's established player base, and thus the often quixotic playstyles they managed to fit to it over the decades (which, yes, is one of the reasons they had to roll back some of the innovations adopted by 4e - though those innovations may have been made by other games years if not decades earlier). But D&D has never supported a broad range of play styles, it's just that, as it was the dominant game for so long, gamers have adapted many styles to D&D, as best they could.
At least where D&D is concerned this always seemed to be the case.
There's been a strong sense of a pendulum swinging on certain issues. 3e combat was too static, so 4e combat became dynamic and tactical, so 5e combat became fast. Then again, there are other aspects where it's just a straight trend - spellcasting just getting easier an easier with every edition, until, in 4e, it was no more risky or penalized to cast a ranged spell as any other ranged attack (like a bow), and, in 5e, where it's now easier to cast a spell in melee than to use a bow.
The present moment, the zeitgeist seems to be more a la carte (pick the style and approach, or happy medium of approaches, that works for your group).
On the DM side, yes, the pendulum has taken a longer swing from the player-empowerment of 3e & 4e, back to the DM empowerment of the classic game.
But adding VR means that the DM can't just imagine the setting and run up a bunch of stats to use - now he has to turn graphics programmer as well?
Sounds like fun.

The problem I see with evolving RPGs in a "board game" direction is that they run directly opposed to the primary value offered by an RPG over a board game in the first place --- evolving narrative and a sense of control over the narrative.
You can do that while adopting positive aspects of board games: good first play experiences, playability, balance/fairness, relative ease to learn, and, in looking at one of the recent innovations in boardgaming, cooperative boardgames (like Pandemic, for instance) and applying it to D&D: not needing a DM, or, at least, being much easier to DM or have the potential to spread DMing duties among more than one player.... That'd be a dramatic innovation, if adopted (again, it's already been done, but either by actual board games, or by obscure RPGs).

I've said it before on these forums, but the 100%, pure unadulterated "gamists" who really don't want to engage RPGs on anything other than a tactical challenge level would really better be served moving to something else.
Yeah, there aren't any of those - rather, they already have done just that, if they ever tried RPGs at all.

You can have tactical game aspects AND shared narrative experiences in an RPG, but the farther you go towards the tactical game side, the harder it is to make a workable RPG.
Mere OneTrueWayism. An RPG is both Role Playing, /and/ Playing a Game. Go too far towards either, and you don't have a workable RPG anymore. You may have a great game or an entertaining shared storytelling workshop, but not an RPG.

The people who want the shared narrative aspects simply get frustrated, because they're spending too much time in the tactical portion of the game, and the tactical gamists just start to wonder why it's so much stinkin' work just to get to the "fun parts" of smashing orcs.
And the people who want both wonder why the other two can't get along... ;P

I'd be willing to posit that though there is some crossover between the self-identified "board game" and "RPG" crowds, the flow of cross over is vastly unequal. I'd bet that the vast majority of self-identified "RPG" players would also self-identify as "board gamers." Whereas I suspect only a small minority of "board gamers" also self-identify as "RPG-ers."
I'm in agreement, there. I've generally considered them 'bored games,' in the past, but starting with Catan, board games got more interesting, and once cooperative boardgames came out, I'm happy to be a 'board gamer,' too.
 

There's been a strong sense of a pendulum swinging on certain issues. 3e combat was too static, so 4e combat became dynamic and tactical, so 5e combat became fast. Then again, there are other aspects where it's just a straight trend - spellcasting just getting easier an easier with every edition, until, in 4e, it was no more risky or penalized to cast a ranged spell as any other ranged attack (like a bow), and, in 5e, where it's now easier to cast a spell in melee than to use a bow. On the DM side, yes, the pendulum has taken a longer swing from the player-empowerment of 3e & 4e, back to the DM empowerment of the classic game. Sounds like fun.
.

I am not sure I'd agree with you on spells. I am still dipping my toes in 5E so I can't comment on that edition but the original spell system was very simply in a lot of ways, particularly in the amount of text each spell had. In some ways, I think 3E was more complicated than 1e or 2e with spells. I think it depends on what aspects you are focusing on though in your assessment.
 

Jhaelen

First Post
I doubt it. VR might well be the next leap forward for video games (though I'm skeptical of that as well), but for TTRPGs I really can't see it. As mentioned above, one of the big problems with a lot of games is that they're just too much effort for the DM to prep and run.

But adding VR means that the DM can't just imagine the setting and run up a bunch of stats to use - now he has to turn graphics programmer as well? Some of us can barely throw together a hand-drawn map to help us follow the action!
Well, I was thinking more along the lines of a 'DM Mode' toolkit that was part of a VR D&D game, similar to what they did for 'Sword Coast Legends'. But maybe I've actually not been thinking far enough: I recall an article about a game(?) fair that featured a live demonstration on how to create a VR environment just by using gestures. Unfortunately, I don't remember who did the demonstration (I think someone from Unity...) or what fair it was. But on YouTube I found a video with a promising title: Create a Virtual Reality Game in Seven Minutes (Google Cardboard). Perhaps the idea that DMs might create their own 3d environments isn't so far-fetched, after all.
 

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