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

When it comes to "liking the way things were" there are, of course, extremes. You may think people are being elitist for commenting on it, but there are definitely a very vocal constituency of role-players that can make non-f20 gaming seem very unwelcome to the hobby. The problems aren't really from people who decide that they prefer to keep playing D&D 2e or 3e instead of buying and running D&D 4e or 5e. Those hold-outs happen with almost any transition in media. Game designers aren't bothered that you like some of your old games. That's normal for all media. I still play the 4th edition of of Gamma World from 1992 instead of the latest 3 editions. I also prefer George Romero's Dawn of the Dead over Zack Snyder's. As far as I can tell these preferences are harmless.

So a little nostalgia or a desire to just do the same old thing isn't the origin of the hostilities we're talking about. What I'm talking about are partisans who claim that other modern systems like Apocalypse World, Fate, and Gumshoe aren't really role-playing games and the people who play them are somehow ruining the hobby. And when D&D, the most mainstream RPG, tries to accommodate those play-styles from the rest of the hobby? It fuels that partisan narrative that the other styles of gaming are somehow a corrupting pollution.

You might say, "So those guys are jerks! Don't play with jerks!" Unfortunately, f20 has been a sort of shelter for those jerks. What's more, with the rise of OSR and 5e's focus on accommodating previous styles, those jerks seem pretty outspoken these days in forums and gaming stores. This wouldn't bother me if it weren't for the fact that D&D is almost synonymous with the rest of gaming. As a result, any barrier for adopting D&D becomes a barrier for much of the hobby. There's a lot of people I've met who are reluctant to get into role-playing because of bad experiences they've had with the D&D community. But that's really less D&D's fault, and more the fault of certain fans who wave its banner.

I guess the best metaphor I can give is that it's like trends in cars. It's one thing to avoid buying a new fuel-efficient car just because you're into restoring old muscle cars. Even I think that's kinda cool. It's another thing to react to the increased presence of hybrid vehicles by deciding to start rolling coal. One of these is a preference for a classic. The other is a very real hostility to innovation.

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There are mean people in all quarters of this hobby online. I have been involved in discussions on this topic for a while. Personally I see hostility on both sides and find would rather people put it aside. I've definitely seen the "X isn't an RPG thing" but I've also seen arguments swing the other way against old school or more immersions styles of play. It becomes chicken/egg situation after a while. If people are calling you a bad person because you like a World game, I think that is just as misguided as calling someone a bad person for not liking a World game. I think just because there are some mean folks out there though, that isn't a reason to dismiss concerns about new mechanics. You also can't pin the blame on the entire player base's disinterest in a set of mechanics on this small group of people I think. in the early 2000s, I think companies like WOTC were getting used to online discussions and criticisms, and it may have been the case that these kinds of posters had some influence. Now it looks to me like they are much more concerned about how actual people and groups play the game at the table.

I don't consider narrative stuff not to be RPGs. But I also think if they introduce a big enough shift in that direction in the core rules of D&D, that could present problems for people who don't play it that way. So with D&D, the issue of how much OSR, how much adventure path, how much apocalypse world, etc is a matter of balance.

I think the issue games like Gumshoe and Apocalypse World have when it comes to their innovations (which a lot of people really like) is similar to what 4E had: if they fit your style and needs, they are great, but if they address problems you don't have they can be a pain to incorporate into your normal style of play (I encountered this myself trying to run Gumshoe for example and my group is made up of folks who like all kinds of games). I'm fine with mechanical innovations. It is just that not every mechanical innovations addresses problems I have in my games. So with Gumshoe, I found it didn't really address any concerns I had running investigations (though there were pieces of it I liked and found uses for). Basically, they are just a bit more niche. These are perfectly good games. But if your attitude toward people who don't adopt their mechanics (for whatever reason) is basically that they are bad people, I can assure you your not going to persuade folks to give them a try. In a game like D&D, throwing in some optional tools is a great way to make room for that stuff. But building it into a core mechanic, where it would conflict with peoples' existing approach to running the game, might present problems. In the abstract it is a bit hard to dissect. Perhaps if you have a specific instance you think this issue has come up, it would be easier to discuss.

I am unclear on what you mean by D&D trying to accommodate those kinds of games though. From what I've seen 5E has sprinklings of a lot of different approaches, but none seem so overwhelming that they'd burden anyone's play style. So I haven't really seen a reaction against 5E on "its too like Gumshoe or Apocalypse World" grounds among the OSR and Immerssionist crowd.
 

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You might say, "So those guys are jerks! Don't play with jerks!" Unfortunately, f20 has been a sort of shelter for those jerks. What's more, with the rise of OSR and 5e's focus on accommodating previous styles, those jerks seem pretty outspoken these days in forums and gaming stores. This wouldn't bother me if it weren't for the fact that D&D is almost synonymous with the rest of gaming. As a result, any barrier for adopting D&D becomes a barrier for much of the hobby. There's a lot of people I've met who are reluctant to get into role-playing because of bad experiences they've had with the D&D community. But that's really less D&D's fault, and more the fault of certain fans who wave its banner.

I guess the best metaphor I can give is that it's like trends in cars. It's one thing to avoid buying a new fuel-efficient car just because you're into restoring old muscle cars. Even I think that's kinda cool. It's another thing to react to the increased presence of hybrid vehicles by deciding to start rolling coal. One of these is a preference for a classic. The other is a very real hostility to innovation.

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I'd say this is an issue of people behaving badly though, not an issue of whether or not innovations should be adopted. I will agree, if people are being rude in gaming stores and driving away customers that is an issue. I don't play in game stores, so I don't really know what is going on there.But that is a separate issue from questions like should D&D have player facing mechanics or adopt Gumshoe's investigative approach to skill rolls. Ultimately WOTC has very little control over the behavior of individual players.
 


Reinhart

First Post
I am unclear on what you mean by D&D trying to accommodate those kinds of games though. From what I've seen 5E has sprinklings of a lot of different approaches, but none seem so overwhelming that they'd burden anyone's play style. So I haven't really seen a reaction against 5E on "its too like Gumshoe or Apocalypse World" grounds among the OSR and Immerssionist crowd.

That's probably because 5e is the pendulum swinging the other way. D&D 4e tried to reach out by adopting concepts and mechanics from the rest of the hobby, but some people got very abrasive and concluded that the result "wasn't D&D." And that's me putting it politely. It's commonly echoed that 4e wasn't even really a role-playing game. Now with 5e trying to cater to nostalgia, that abrasive element has returned and is often trying to push the "impure" back out. Let me be frank here: Even if there are rude elitists in the indie RPG scene, there's absolutely no threat to f20 fantasy dungeon crawling. No one can kill that aesthetic, not even WotC. What isn't as robust currently is the ability for this hobby to promote much beyond that. So while you may believe that misbehavior in the D&D community isn't an impediment to introducing diversity and innovation in play experiences, I can assure you that for many people it is.
 

Tony Vargas

Legend
URL="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rolling_coal"]rolling coal[/URL].
Wow. That is quite a statement, and, I'm pretty sure, would be illegal here in CA.

I guess the best metaphor I can give is that it's like trends in cars. It's one thing to avoid buying a new fuel-efficient car just because you're into restoring old muscle cars. Even I think that's kinda cool. It's another thing to react to the increased presence of hybrid vehicles by deciding to start 'rolling coal.' One of these is a preference for a classic. The other is a very real hostility to innovation.
Even so, your analogy doesn't quite hit the mark. For it to map to what we're talking about, you'd have to launch a smear campaign against hybrids and boycott major automakers until they discontinued production. And you'd have to succeed.
 

Reinhart

First Post
Wow. That is quite a statement, and, I'm pretty sure, would be illegal here in CA.

Even so, your analogy doesn't quite hit the mark. For it to map to what we're talking about, you'd have to launch a smear campaign against hybrids and boycott major automakers until they discontinued production. And you'd have to succeed.

True, I don't think coal rolling is going to discourage anyone from buying a fuel-efficient car. But I think the presence of a coal roller will make you feel unwelcome if you happen to drive a fuel-efficient vehicle or just care about the environment. Obviously, role-playing is more of a communal and social activity than driving your car, so that sort of hostility has a more dramatic effect on how, when, and where a person is willing to participate.
 

That's probably because 5e is the pendulum swinging the other way. D&D 4e tried to reach out by adopting concepts and mechanics from the rest of the hobby, but some people got very abrasive and concluded that the result "wasn't D&D." And that's me putting it politely. It's commonly echoed that 4e wasn't even really a role-playing game. Now with 5e trying to cater to nostalgia, that abrasive element has returned and is often trying to push the "impure" back out. Let me be frank here: Even if there are rude elitists in the indie RPG scene, there's absolutely no threat to f20 fantasy dungeon crawling. No one can kill that aesthetic, not even WotC. What isn't as robust currently is the ability for this hobby to promote much beyond that. So while you may believe that misbehavior in the D&D community isn't an impediment to introducing diversity and innovation in play experiences, I can assure you that for many people it is.

I think wanting innovation and resisting it are both fine. What troubles me is lumping either group in with Elitist or Abrasive posters online. It is sort of like a backdoor argument, saying that WOTC should or shouldn't add/take away certain mechanics because it is attracting the wrong crowd.

I also think your greatly simplifying what happened with 4E. There were indeed some very hostile threads all over the internet when 4E came out. But pretty much both sides were going at it. And for both sides the stakes seemed high because that was a big change. For one group the risk was the loss of a new edition that met their needs, for the other the risk was the game would continue to go in a direction that didn't serve how they liked to play.

Being critical of 4E, and not adopting it isn't a sin. Me not liken 4E wasn't part of an effort on my part to drive people away from the hobby. For me personally, I didn't like the change to 4E. And part of the reason was for me, it just didn't feel like D&D. That doesn't make it a bad game. And it also doesn't mean it wasn't a genuine edition of D&D ( I am not the arbiter of what gets to called D&D and what doesn't). But what I meant by that criticism is it was different enough that to me it didn't feel like D&D any longer to me. I don't always play D&D, but when I do, I go to it for certain reasons (the way spells work, the way classes are,etc) and 4e just didn't have what I look for in the game. That wasn't everyone's experience, but it was mine and I think it is a valid point of view because it is just a subjective opinion. What I think happened in the flamewars is both sides saw subjective opinions as statements of fact as judgements on each others preferences. It got heated and people said a lot of nasty things.

I think the return to some of the older stuff is just a nod to gamers who felt a bit abandoned by 4E (and possibly aspects of 3E). I suppose it is possible that is inviting in some negative people. But one could just as easily turn the tables and try to suggest that 4E, with its appeal to indie RPG mechanics was inviting in bad players from that section of the community as well. I thin that isn't much of an argument in either case, because it isn't about what is good fro the game mechanically or what bests serves the player base. It seems like a way of getting certain mechanics out of the game by painting the fans of those mechanics in a negative light (where I think the truth is most people who like the nostalgia factor or the indie factor are probably just decent normal people looking for a game they can enjoy playing).
 

What isn't as robust currently is the ability for this hobby to promote much beyond that. So while you may believe that misbehavior in the D&D community isn't an impediment to introducing diversity and innovation in play experiences, I can assure you that for many people it is.

I am not so sure about this statement. I don't think the existence of 'nostalgia mechanics' is what is preventing the hobby from growing. We can certainly debate what is causing it not to grow. It is a topic people have debated for years. But it isn't like I saw a huge flow of new people into the hobby with 4E, for all its appeal to innovative Indie Design. The last time i remember seeing a big surge was when 3E came out (and that actually introduced a number of big changes to the system). I think with a game like D&D (and RPGs in general) the things that prevent it from getting huge are really varied.

I don't know if the hobby has shrunk or grown with 5E (I'd be interested in seeing the numbers though if people have them). But my suspicion is that the thing holding back new gamers isn't whether we use bennies or if the game has Moves. I think it is more that folks have long had this impression that it is an odd pastime for nerf and quirky people. When I was growing up the thing that made it hard to recruit new players was the stigma associated with the game. It may also be that behavior at gamestores isn't helping (again I don't know because I don't play at gamesters) but I don't think that is as much a matter of mechanics as it is a matter of store owners needing to eject people who are making the experience unpleasant for others.
 

Reinhart

First Post
I am not so sure about this statement. I don't think the existence of 'nostalgia mechanics' is what is preventing the hobby from growing. We can certainly debate what is causing it not to grow. It is a topic people have debated for years. But it isn't like I saw a huge flow of new people into the hobby with 4E, for all its appeal to innovative Indie Design. The last time i remember seeing a big surge was when 3E came out (and that actually introduced a number of big changes to the system). I think with a game like D&D (and RPGs in general) the things that prevent it from getting huge are really varied.

I don't know if the hobby has shrunk or grown with 5E (I'd be interested in seeing the numbers though if people have them). But my suspicion is that the thing holding back new gamers isn't whether we use bennies or if the game has Moves. I think it is more that folks have long had this impression that it is an odd pastime for nerf and quirky people. When I was growing up the thing that made it hard to recruit new players was the stigma associated with the game. It may also be that behavior at gamestores isn't helping (again I don't know because I don't play at gamesters) but I don't think that is as much a matter of mechanics as it is a matter of store owners needing to eject people who are making the experience unpleasant for others.

I don't disagree with you, but what I think you're missing is that I'm not saying that the existence of these mechanics are what is problematic. D&D, as a game in itself, is not hostile to indie games and different mechanics. That can't be said about many vocal parts of D&D's community, however. As a result, if you're new to the hobby, you're not going to find out if you prefer bennies or moves if the groups you run into can't even talk about what hit points are without starting an argument. And that's why some people check out long before they realize that not all of D&D is like that, let alone all of gaming.
 

Tony Vargas

Legend
I am not so sure about this statement. I don't think the existence of 'nostalgia mechanics' is what is preventing the hobby from growing. We can certainly debate what is causing it not to grow. It is a topic people have debated for years.
It can be a tough one to think about clearly from the insider PoV, but D&D, at least, has followed the general pattern of any fad. It made a splash, was huge for a little while, drew some controversy, then faded away to a sort of hard-core fandom for decades - and is now enjoying a comeback. From inside the hobby it looks a lot more dramatic and complicated than that, with TSR going under and 3.0 going open source and so forth, but that's forest for the trees sorta stuff. Endlessly fascinating, very real and compelling for us, obscure trivia outside the hobby.

But it isn't like I saw a huge flow of new people into the hobby with 4E, for all its appeal to innovative Indie Design.
Indie design, per se, appeals to the segment of the hobby that's moved beyond D&D, and D&D is still the biggest thing in the hobby, so you wouldn't really expect that aspect of it to /draw/ new people. Whether it's the indie feeling Inspiration system in 5e or whatever was supposed to be indie about 4e.
More likely, the main thing that draws new people to D&D is name recognition, so you couldn't really expect it to draw more players in the few years it was around than any other ed did in a few years. What astounded me about 4e was the way it retained new players. The D&D crowd at the FLGS where I play Encounters grew from 1 or 2 tables to 4 to 6 or even 8, driven by new players trying the game, some liking it, and some even becoming DMs - the owner opened up a new larger space to accommodate gamers (though, really, /that/ was driven more by card & board games, but RPGs got to ride the coattails). Today, some of those who started with 4e have dropped out, two tables continue to play 4e, and the rest are happily playing 5e, as are a large new group of players, who have returned to D&D, some from 3.5, most from a longer hiatus. I've gone from generally the oldest guy at an event to merely one among the older set. I'm seeing faces every week that I only used to see at a convention once a year.
It's really kinda awesome. ;)

The last time i remember seeing a big surge was when 3E came out (and that actually introduced a number of big changes to the system). I think with a game like D&D (and RPGs in general) the things that prevent it from getting huge are really varied.
3e 'back to the dungeon' also brought a lot of lapsed players back to the game (I was one of them, having been playing Hero and Storyteller for the last few years of the 20th century). But not the way 5e seems to be doing. I'm hearing "I haven't played D&D since the 80s" or "my brother and I tried to play this game when we were kids."

I don't know if the hobby has shrunk or grown with 5E (I'd be interested in seeing the numbers though if people have them). But my suspicion is that the thing holding back new gamers isn't whether we use bennies or if the game has Moves. I think it is more that folks have long had this impression that it is an odd pastime for nerf and quirky people. When I was growing up the thing that made it hard to recruit new players was the stigma associated with the game.
It was an outright, almost mainstream fad for a while, and the Satanism scare didn't exactly hurt, either, when it came to attracting teens to the game in the 80s. After the fad died out, yes, we hangers-on gave it a very nerdy vibe, but, well, that's not such a bad thing anymore, things nerdy, like video games and comic book movies, have gone mainstream. D&D, though, is still hovering at the edge, with mainstream name recognition, but not a lot of mainstream adoption.

I do think it has something to do with both the community and the system. Both are currently welcoming to returning players, but not so much to completely new ones - there is, as you mentioned above, a certain elitism among fans who have stuck with it between the fad and comeback periods... Then again, it may just be that the technological/cultural window for TT RPGs was narrow and is rapidly closing. With MMOs taking up potential new players who might have been interested in the hobby, for instance.

Even if that's the case, the comeback we have now is nothing to sneeze at, and could be parlayed into lasting growth for the hobby, depending on how WotC handles that 500 lb gorilla....
 
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