Are Kids Interested In Pencil and Paper RPGs?

Right out of the gate I’d like to apologize for my pontification. I’m not that guy, as I tend towards wanting to simply make and play cool games. So if you’re like me and tend not to like such soap-boxery, I hope you’ll bear with me, as I feel driven to post my thoughts on this subject.

Over the last several months I’ve found more and more blogs, news items and other publications filled with doom and gloom surrounding role-playing games. Obviously this isn’t something new. Ever since the glut of the early ’90s (1993 saw almost a dozen full-fledged, unique RPGs publish at Gen Con) and the rise of electronic gaming (especially consoles), the cry has been sounded. And when MMOs rose to new heights of technology and accessibility, those cries became wails of despair: a cacophony that rises and falls in volume but is a constant companion almost everywhere I look or read.

Now, many of the points made by a host of people have a lot of validity concerning the price of production, the overall downward trend in sales, and so on. My beef is not with such number-crunching, though I believe you need to be very careful when extracting information out of such data. Instead, my beef is when I hear things like, “Why would kids want to play an old-school RPG when they can plug into a console or an MMO with almost no effort?”

Not to sound too long in the tooth, but back in the early ’80s my imagination got broken wide open when I discovered such novels as The White Dragon and cartoons like G-Force, Star Blazers and more (which I remember getting up an hour before grade school to watch with my brother). At that time, I was desperate to find ways to get my geek on. I couldn’t read enough; I couldn’t find cool enough such shows to watch; there simply was never enough to fill my imagination. So I was driven to find friends with similar interests. And once you find friends like those, you look for others. You look in libraries, in study halls and eventually you find comic book shops, and finally you find a hobby game store and role-playing.

Looking at it now, it’s easy to cover that experience in a few sentences. In reality, I spent years looking and transitioning from the boy trying to find a way to get my geek on, until I was fully embraced in a group of friends with role-playing, board games and more. But I was driven. An insatiable hunger to feed my imagination that finally felt satisfied as I fell in love with RPGs and discovered the endless gaming sessions that good friends, great imagination, pizza and Jolt can fuel.

Like 90 percent of gamers, my introduction to gaming came through D&D. But it didn’t stop there as I sampled a plethora of imagination-boosting treats. TMNT, Heroes Unlimited, Robotech, Palladium, Earthdawn, Ninjas and Superspies, MechWarrior, Star Frontiers, Rifts, Twilight 2000: and those are just the ones we ran multiple campaigns in over the years. I’m not even counting the ones we sampled here and there (Paranoia!).

Yet it wasn’t just RPGs. By mid to late high school, I got my geek on every way possible: an RPG session every other week; a board game (Talisman to Axis & Allies) almost every week; BattleTech every other day (pretty sure my junior year I logged 300+ days of BattleTech, only taking off Sundays); major board games once a month (along the lines of Supremacy); and reading, reading and more reading (novels to comics and more). Looking back, it’s hard to believe I found time to eat (’cause sleeping wasn’t an option very often). All that to feed my geek habit.

Fast forward to today, and I see kids just as insatiable to get their geek on. My own 12 year old is about as geeky as they come, and his best friend is just as bad. Now some might say they’re not representative of a “standard” kid. After all I’m a stay-home dad who works out of the house developing and writing for numerous companies. Then I’ve got games flowing out the door, and he’s been playing board games with me for years (no Americana-style games here, but meaty games and of course a host of German-style board games). Over the last two years, he’s also blossomed into a huge BattleTech fan/player (how could he not, right?). However, while I’ve got RPGs on my shelves and obviously he’s heard me talk about them, I’m ashamed to admit I’ve not played in or run an RPG game since before he was born. So his indoctrination to such things is almost non-existent.

Now in addition to BattleTech, a host of board games and his insatiable reading habits, h’s also a huge computer game player, from PC games to the console; and as of a year or so ago, he discovered a certain MMO, and at times we have to lob him out the door to ensure he gets his Vitamin D quota. So, according to so many of the arguments I’ve read of late, my son absolutely should have no interest in playing an RPG. After all h’s got his MMOs, he’s got his computer games, and if he wants other types of games, he’s got a pile of board games.

Yet several months back, he attended a local gaming convention and decided he’d like to try an RPG. While I went back and forth between several panels, my son and his friend played a first session of D&D Fourth Edition (as mentioned, their very first RPG game ever): for almost 8 straight hours. And they loved it to death. In fact they loved it so much and have become so great at manipulating me (I swear they’re rolling 2D20 to make their negotiation rolls) that I suddenly find myself starting to run a D&D game. The first RPG I’ve run in well over a decade (I know, hangs head in shame…again). Yet the excitement on their faces as they played; listening to them talk about their characters and what occurred in the game; it re-awoke all my own insatiable hunger that drove me to play RPGs for so many years-a drive that stuttered and died, of all things, because I work in this industry, and with three kids, who’s got time?

Of course trying to start up a D&D campaign right before Gen Con is rather like trying to stop the advance of a BattleMaster with an UrbanMech–and about as effective. Yet thanks to Mike Mearls and a big box o’ D&D, my son and his friend continue to devour the books (if he re-reads the Monster Manual one more time he just might have it memorized), and continue to drive me to set aside the time to run the campaign. And he just set up another sleep-over for later this week so their PCs can enter Winterhaven and I can let them have a true taste of the best part of role-playing; beyond hacking up an Orc or two, of course.

Now that my son is just discovering RPGs, has he suddenly decided his MMO isn’t fun anymore, or given up HALO? Right-ODST is on pre-order and he keeps tossing those 2D20s at me to pick up a year’s subscription to the MMO. Not to mention making me come home from Gen Con with Fantasy Flight’s new Battlestar Galactica board game (when we’ve yet to really get a game of Tide of Iron in from last Gen Con). Instead, RPGs are just one more cool way to let his imagination soar.

So what does all this say to me? If a kid is a big geek, then there is no such thing as “enough.” It says to me that just as when I grew up and got my geek on in every way I possibly could, today’s kids will do the exact same thing.

Then what’s the difference, right? Why do we go on and on talking about the doom and gloom of RPGs? Because kids, in general, don’t need to go very far to get their geek on. Again, when I was young we had Atari and the first of the word-text video games. Hardly enough to satiate any geek hunger. Yet today’s MMOs and console games allow for a huge geek on without having to leave the house-even I started to see the MMO draw as my son’s character flew around on a gryphon on my brand new 24-inch monitor.

Does this mean that those same kids don’t want to get their geek on more? Is there too much chocolate, or too much good music? I don’t think so. What I do think it means is that, unlike my generation, who got driven out of the house to find the geek feasts and were ultimately led to discover RPGs, today’s kids aren’t driven out of the house.

What does that mean for RPGs in general? Well, it doesn’t mean that all is wonderful in the land of make-believe. I know the sales numbers on RPGs, and it’s nothing to smile about. At the same time, I believe the “kids nowadays don’t want to play RPGs because MMOs and computer games are so much cooler” mantra is not only erroneous, but potentially harmful as companies fall prey to that way of thinking and eventually give up on this fantastic medium.

Instead, I believe the most significant hurdle (a hurdle that’s always been the bane of our industry, simply more so now) is market penetration. With kids not driven out of their houses to get their geek on and discover gaming by accident along the way, getting them to find our games is all the more difficult.

Yet it’s important to recognize that the market still exists. It allows us to see that instead of giving up on RPGs, we need to think outside the box for how to deliver RPGs to a hard-to-find market. Instead of bemoaning the lost days of yore, we can step up to the challenge and declare emphatically that RPGs still rock, are cool and can find a great audience, including the next generation.

And because I’m ultimate about the cool game and getting all our geeks on, check out Eclipse Phase: from launching a website almost a year before the book was released to a cheap PDF price, from constant twitters and blogs to releasing the book as part of the Creative Commons License (for the “mix-it-and-make-it-yours” generation of electronic media): Catalyst is trying to do exactly what I’m talking about. Make an ultra cool, you-must-check-it-out-RPG: and try every new path we can think of to create that all-important market penetration.

Of course we’re not the only ones championing RPGs. There’s a lot of great companies not only supporting RPGs, but striving to create new and innovative ways for RPGs to find that elusive younger kid market. From the amazing work of the Indy crowd and their unique takes on what can be considered an RPG (a 64-page RPG that you understand and can run as a GM is awesome) all the way to the king in Dungeons and Dragons, where the developers were willing to take one of the greatest risks I’ve ever seen in our industry and completely reshape D&D in Fourth Edition to allow the next generation to quickly and easily pick up the game and understand the concepts in short order coming from an electronic angle; this is an awesome direction that I’ve seen work first-hand with my own son.

Ultimately, I don’t have all the answers. And while one of my greatest pet peeves is to counter-argue a point when you have no solutions, I felt the call itself was worth making. If there’s some out-of-the-box thinking out there for how to create that marketing penetration for any RPG, I would love to hear it; if you don’t have it now, but this thread gets people thinking of how to do it, then that’s exactly what I’m looking for as well. We’ve spent years creating some of the coolest, most fantastical game settings out there: now we need to concentrate on how to take those settings and get them into the hands of the kids that’ll make the next great settings.

I know at the end of the day this all may sound a little obvious…but against the backdrop of the endless “RPGs are dead” cries, sometimes the obvious needs to be shouted. So please: go make cool games I can read, play and enjoy…and along the way, figure out how to grab those kids in the process.

Randall Bills

Managing Developer

Catalyst Game Labs

36 thoughts on “Are Kids Interested In Pencil and Paper RPGs?

  1. I completely agree with your assessment of the situation. To survive, rpg developers have to use social media and every other trick (dirty or otherwise) to make sure that younger players realize that dice & paper are a great addition to their gaming experiences.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Fantastic post – and I agree kids today still have imaginations and still have an insatiable hunger for new and exciting ‘stuff’ whether it’s movies, music or RPGs.

    Market penetration is the key thing for any business. GW, while not strictly in the RPG business have their stores to grab people off the streets – video games publishers have intro trailers.

    RPG publishers have a harder task as there isn’t necessarily the instant ‘wow’ factor your can get with a cool video game intro or landscaped wargaming tabletop to pull kids in.

    You could potentially do a video trailer though – FFG have done some great looking trailers for some of their games.

    And then it’s the age old tactic of looking for where your target audience go and being there – whether it’s advertising on the forums/news sites they visit (if they do) or else simply infiltrating the after-school clubs with sponsored games evenings etc.

    Just a few thoughts.

  3. Oh I agree on the video trailers for a website…I absolutely love FFG’s site and the short but eye-grabbing videos they put together for their various games. We’re looking at potentially following that same sort of route.

    I also like the videos done by various companies that explain, visually, how to play a game with voice-overs, diagrams, even the sock-puppet. I know people that learn far better that way than by reading rules and if they don’t have someone willing to teach them, this is a way they can grasp the coolness of a given game. Not necessarily RPG related, as it might be a bit more complicated to visual show RPGs being played without making it look boring, but hook them to your company with a cool boardgame and you’re half-way there to transitioning them to your RPG line.

    Not to mention pod casts, regular blogging and so on. I went from never touching the stuff to blogging at least twice a week on monstersinthesky.com when it launched 4 months ago and had several people come up to me at Gen Con to demo the game having been ‘sucked into the universe’ by the site and my constant blogging. Again, Leviathans isn’t an RPG…but that type of connectivity just based off of 10 to 15 minutes every couple of days can be powerful in attracting an audience and getting some social networking buzz going.

    Thanks for the comments!

  4. I was at my local public library today and right at the checkout area was a flyer for the library’s teen program announcing a weekly pen and paper RPG session in the library’s conference room! I was very pleasantly surprised to see it.

  5. Ah now that is simply fantastic, Laura. I think it shows others pushing this agenda, as well as a much more open-minded accepted of our geekdom…I almost got run out of libraries for roleplaying back in the day. Go Bill and Steve for helping geeks rule the world.

  6. One thing I have seen, myself is: The children of Gamers tend to be gamers themselves.
    When I was at GenCon, I cannot count the number of kids I saw there with their parents,
    where the parents and the kids both seemed excited about the stuff on the shelves
    (Seriously! At one of the places selling second hand stuff, I saw a kid of about 13 gushing over a Handbook:House Marik, while his dad was “Hey, look! I just found an original House Kurita handbook!”)

    Also, I have noticed a trend myself: It seems that there are fewer and fewer people who stop once they start gaming. They might take breaks for a time, but, inexorably, they get drawn back in when
    something cool comes out. I hear on the Battletech, Dumpshock, and other gaming forums about people who get their Significant Others into a game.

    But, you know what? I have seen the kids who play just MMOs, and when you hear them lamenting
    that there is something missing, and then, you see them gathering around at the comic shop when I am
    getting really into the descriptions in an RPG…Or they gather around at the excitement that comes
    from our battletech games.. It is amazing. It is, in fact, where a couple of my players came from.

    Something I firmly believe is the strength of our hobby is that we are in a social environment. And, no matter how you cut it, MMOs and console games are NOT social. Sure, they have chat and guilds, but..those are just not the same thing as sitting down with someone face to face, or using a voice chat and some computer programs, to play a game where you are actively engaging the imagination of everyone involved.

    Honestly, I think text based RP environments are the things getting hurt the most by the march of technology. And, yet, I also think that the solution for all environments is to find ways to make
    the social aspect better enabled, even when people cannot sit down at the same table.

  7. I think there are three things that will help draw people in:

    1) Put your product where they will see it (already mentioned above) so that people know it exists. In the current world this means making sure it appears prominently in search engine lists and also you want to get it mentioned on forums etc. Regularly participating in related communities and having a (small) publicising signature with a hyperlink also seems like a good idea. That will bring people in from related segments.

    2) Provide something that the other products aren’t giving them. The ‘problem’ with all computer or board games is that, by the limits of their medium, there are only finite choices available. In a RPG you can literally do anything you can imagine. That is one of the big draws of role playing. The truly social aspect of the game is also a big draw, with lots of dynamic interaction between characters and players.

    3) Make the barrier to entry low. You need an entry level product which is easily accessible, cheap (or even better, free), and relatively easy to follow / use. A short PDF which covers the core rules of a system and is self-contained would be a good option, and things like GURPS Lite are excellent examples (though arguably that is too complex a product).

    So, make a simple and cheap (but quality) product, emphasise the strengths over other geek options and put it out there in the new-world gathering places of the internet.

    Personally I am very confident about RPGs as a hobby, just not as an industry. I will always be able to play (using my extensive collection of books) as long as I can find players. And half of my current group I have know for about 20 years (the others only 7 or so), so little fear of volatility there. But I am not convinced that there is room for multiple significant producers of RPGs the size of WoTC or even SJ Games. Given that it is easier than ever to produce products and distribute them independently I see a much more likely future with multiple small press operations working out of people’s basements and using a completely digital model.

    Exciting times,
    Cheers,
    Dan

  8. Some great feedback there, Dan. As for a bunch of small companies…well…almost the entire industry survived as a bunch of small companies for a time. The number of companies that grew to a large size based on just RPGs is almost non-existent. Instead the largest of the companies over the years grew based on other types of properties: board games, collectible cards games, collectible miniatures and so on.

    Like so many other industries it should be a case of diversification. Just don’t produce RPGs. Make sure you’ve got board games and card games and so on to bolster cash flow…and along the way you should also be able to still produce some cool RPGs.

    Randall

  9. A good post. The doom & gloom is not without some foundation alas.

    Few RPG companies (perhaps only Wizards?) can afford anything like a marketing campaign that might reach beyond the usual choir. Competition from computer games marketing budgets is *vast* and with MMOs and so many other entertainment options, the time & effort investment in RPGs becomes less attractive to new people unless you already associate with people who play. An RPG requires at least two (often several) people at the same time & place to play (not so computer games).

    I go to a number of conventions and the demographic is greying overall. (old>new)

    What’s the answer? Someone with several million dollars for advertising RPGs pops up and gets celebrities to make it “cool” rather than “nerdy and (strangely) anti-social” all over the media. (Basically just spending the Millions of dollars.) – That’s the only real answer I can think of. Otherwise tabletop RPGs will become a curio of past and effectively die out by 2050.

  10. Never say die (unless proceeded by ‘roll a…)!

    I am part of a big LRP community in the uk: http://www.profounddecisions.co.uk, and have other friends who use to run Omega LRP here in the UK. One of them came up with a fantastic concept – ‘real life gaming’.

    People are starting to ‘get’ online gaming, as we all know. When looking at explaining LRP, my friend Juliet came up with the concept ‘it’s like WoW, but instead of playing on a computer, 1000 people get together in a field with costumes and game in real life’. This is a conceptual step that people can process, even non-gamers. Once you have them in to LRP, you can then look to bring them in to table top – it’s like LRP but without the muddy fields and you don’t get rained on.

    It’s all about bringing people in one digestible step at a time.

    Cheers,
    Dan

  11. While the star angle is an interesting take, commercials have been tried. When D&D3.5 (or was it 3.0, can’t remember) released Wizards poured money into a lot of TV ads…the first time I really remember seeing significant TV advertising trying to sell RPGs. As far as I’m aware it had zero effect on sales…why no such commercials appeared (IMO) when 4.0 released.

    As for roleplaying being “nerdy and anti-social”, while that stigma is still there to a certain degree, I feel it’s far, far removed from what it used to be. My friend’s 16-year-old is exceptionally good looking, charismatic, plays multiple sports, fends off multiple girls…and is one of the biggest geeks I know, carrying around multiple games in his backpack at school, leader of the school’s anime club, loves going to Gen Con and dressing up in costume and so on. Combine that with such things as the monstrous success of an endless series of “geeky movies”, more main stream and wildly popular comic/scifi TV series, or the manga at my local B&N that’s grown from a few titles a decade ago to a wall of titles that spans 3 entire shelving units, top to bottom…in many ways geek, IMO, has become geek chic. So while we are fighting market penetration I’m not convinced we’re fighting the “nerdy/anti-social” angle much at all. Not to mention when was the last time you saw a news item about someone (religion, police, family and so on) rising up again gaming? Back in the 80s not a year wouldn’t go buy where you’d see such an item…I can’t remember seeing that type of news in almost a decade. [Once again I go back to love them or hate them I think Bill and Steve showing that nerdy guys turn into billionaires and for making tech cool has a fair amount to do with this huge shift in our culture.)

    How do we capitalize on that? Again, I don’t have all the answers…but the kids are there, diving into geek concepts through manga, through movies, through television series and more…just need to piggy-back on that in some fashion.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  12. Thanks for an interesting read. I don’t think that computer RPGs and pen & paper are necessarily competing, but contribute to the popularity of our RPGs overall. Wizards have definitely done all us geeks a service by licensing the rules to PC and console games imo. Personally I still greatly enjoy RPGs in all forms and hope (and believe) that kids of all ages will continue to do so.

  13. Well I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who’s noticing this trend. I think that we now have one of the first generation of Mainstream Geek (I know, an Oxymoron)parents that are ready to teach RPGs to a new generation of geeks. That’s why WotC was so surprised by the many many requests for kid-friendly (i.e. targeted to the 6-10 market) D&D support from Gen Con.

    I think the way to market penetration will be trough parents and then through the next generation who will talk about tabletop RPGs with friends and at school. And in many households you’ll have parents say ‘Yeah, I used to play D&D when I was in Junior high, let’s take a look’

    The true power of RPGS is “Yeah, you can’t do all these cool things in a MMORPG’

    Great post!

  14. Welcome to the 21 st century!

    I beleave that rpg need to reach new mediums. We got Iphone, pocket book, portable computer… and the pdf are still designed to be on paper. Landscape documents, easily readable over a computer screen, character sheet easily accessible with Iphones and other web capable hand held devices.

    I am not saying we should abbandon paper medium, but to have a better exposure the RPG industry needs to have new way to reach people and the gamers must do their part by introducing the game to new players.

    MAPTOOL is a great tool but still a bit complicated.

    innovation and perseverence will be the key to the survival of the industry. Eclipse Phase is a great step in the right direction with the creative commons, time will tel if will work.

  15. I agree that RPG games allow people to connect on a far more personal level than an MMO for example. I feel though a good option would be if you could get a tendril out to the mainstream, perhaps something like the old Warhammer Quest that can be played without a GM and sold in conventional toy and board game sections. Places like Toys R Us, Argos here in the UK and so on. Of course some people will always stop with that, but others would be likely to be drawn in. It would make a great recruiting scheme.

    If you can tie the recruiting game with the RPG or other deeper game(s) in the same setting then so much the better, the two will feed off each other. Existing gamers would use them to introduce people to gaming, or just for rainy afternoons when they don’t want anything too heavy. Just be sure to include perhaps a small pamflet or reference somewhere to the other products available. Nothing too intrusive, just something that people who really thoroughly trawl through everything included in the box and books would be able to take advantage of.

    Personally I feel this would strengthen the hobby, and perhaps even create a deeper following for the property in question. People could get their fix for the same setting in which ever way suits them best at the time.

  16. I think there will always be a segment of our population who aren’t satisfied by the limited bleep, bleep interactions of computer games. My four children are discovering, through me, that RPGs are a social event to be savored, unequaled to the experience of playing predictable computer games in relative isolation. My wife and I have played D&D 3.5 for 2-3 years and were now moving to the new Pathfinder RPG. We’re planning to enjoy watching our children rediscover “wonder” again like we did when we were children.

    I’m doing my part by dusting off or reacquiring the classic games I played and teaching them to my younglings. My oldest son has developed his own interests in both Cortex and the Serenity RPG as well as GURPS. He’s started instructing me in those! We also play Ogre/G.E.V., Interceptor and other out of print games. I’m even proud to say that my flighty daughters are even catching on to RPG spirit of things. Games are and always be a major part of our lives.

    I also think the emergence of games like the Pathfinder RPG, with its own OGL, will cause a new resurgence of interest in RPGs. There’s also a lot of Old School things going on too. I’ve played for over 20 years and there’s no finer time to be a gamer right now because there are so many great options!

  17. Cheers for this,
    after reading that the Eclipse Phase PDF was released under the creative commons allowing it to be shared around I went on a quick mission to find a copy. Now having read it I will buy the book the week it comes out, even though I doubt I will ever run the game or play in it, the beauty of the book convinced me that I should own it. Also you never know, I might get round to be running the game or get someone else to run it.

    Anyway I am only commenting here to let you know the idea of letting people share the PDF to publicise the game worked for me, and I reckon will work for other people too.

    Lambert

  18. I personally believe that in today’s day and age that pen and paper role playing games, card games, as well as TT games and miniature war games are not just fun and rewarding but are also very important in developing lateral thinking, encouraging interest in the mathematics behind games, as well as making people more aware, brighter, and develops intellect, where a lot of video games these days fundamentally “baby” people, and make it too simple that they don’t think, which I feel is damaging to the brain. I find it heart rending that even in the “certain MMO” of which you refer to a lot of players struggle to understand the basic fundamentals of their class, of the right gear they need and the basic combat mechanics and strategy that is needed for boss fights, and despite constant watering down of the game people still struggle with it. I think in hindsight it’s an issue of a lot of gamers today rather then wanting to expand their minds and enjoy a game that requires thinking and interaction which also is healthy for your brain to instead want to play games which are simply interactive movies or simplistic like your basic shooter, a quick fix or something to waste time because they got nothing better to do. Fundamentally this makes me feel saddened, and this general attitude people have blind them from enjoying something different or new, or an idea or concept, and gets them forming false opinions on things which they lack a fundamental understanding of since they never bothered to spend some of their free time to get into it, at the end of the day, if their not interested they should stay away, and if they are interested, put some effort into understanding it before waving a hand and moving on.

    I feel that the main issue in today’s world is that people get bombarded by so many things, advertising etc etc that now they don’t know what IS good quality and settle for whatever is advertised rather then take their own time and effort to explore their hidden inner geekness and go out. Another thing which has troubled me is the increased amount of anti-social behavior among the younger geek or nerd community during the late 90’s till recently, particularity my generation, a tend that luckily now is coming to an end, and the best way to fix it is well this, see someone, start a conversation, truth is people are friendly, you never know that random quite person on your train or bus you sit next to could love the same things as you too. Also there are so many things out there like conventions and other places, all people need to do is look.

    But lately I’ve noticed an increased reemergence of old school geek awesomeness, yesterday on the train I saw someone walk in front of me holding a Battletech RPG book in his arm, it brought a tear of joy to my eyes, a sight I’ve seldom seen till recent years. I’m glade to say that the age of corporate milking of video games, and the drop of interest in TT games outside of Games Workshop’s products as well as role-playing games being in the shadows of popular gaming is coming to an end as people again after a decade are now starting to search, seriously search for things which they would enjoy, to compliment their other ways of enjoying life in their spare time. Plus I feel it’s more healthy and more fun to play games with friends on a face to face level as well.

    Wall of text short, I feel that all I can add is really to agree with other people’s comments, And the best way to get the awareness of gaming outside video games since video games are so prominent these days is THOUGH video games, because people will play that game and then think “hay I really love this, I wonder if there is other stuff relating to this” and then they use a search engine and search the web for related content, then they notice websites to do with a pen and paper game of the same universe then they look at that then go “hmmmm, interesting”.

    And on a final note about what the person said about Wizards licensing their rules to the PC, the interesting thing is some of the BEST RPG video games use the D20 rule system, or game engines built using the rule system.

    And the truth is at the core of every video game engine, it is built using the same rules as in pen and paper role-playing games or table-top war games.

    So in hindsight it’s never a matter of who is competing with whom it is a matter of different styles and different ways of enjoying one’s free time and it’s up to the individual to pick how they like to spend it, all in all everything is fun in it’s own way and only YOU can enjoy something or find it boring.

  19. In my rural area we are seeing a resurgence in the RPG department. Alot of this is coming from MMo folks who are looking for something different than”camping the BM 4 the drop(or whatever the shorthand is). the big difference I’m seeing is people willing to run a game. We have 6 or 7 active groups in our network at the moment. I am playing in one, started a new Shadowrun group a couple of months ago and have just been asked to GM another. here in the county seat(population 3000 including goats and chickens) we are doing well.

    It may be we are just an island of geeks in a see of apathetic mundanes. I don’t know. but I do know that as times the economy gets tighter,folks look to the simpler( and less expensive)options. As much noise as is sometimes heard over the price of RPG books, they are still cheaper than say a year subscription to Everquest or WoW. and you dont have to stay up till 4 in the morning to raid with your guild cause they are based on the other side of the country.

    Just a tip of the hat,Randall, I love what catalyst is doing with the SR and BT line. I will be checking out Eclipse Phase,Cthulutech, and the other new stuff at Dragoncon next week. The wife has already itching for “Leviathans”(she’s a big steampunk fan).

  20. Even for MMO’s the real draw is the social interactions. That’s why guilds and kins are so common and why grinding and farming is boring. Face to face RPG’s have the advantage of immediate feedback on the social front.

    I run an RP game for my kids and their friends. Everyone of them looks forward to the game time each and every time. I am even drawing a few adults in to the mix. They play alongside the kids.

  21. Hmm “nerdy and anti-social” does seem to describe RPG’s for me. I have a “friend” if you could call him that, that fits into that particular niche. The college days I think it was he and a few others would come over to my place regularly and play Halo2, set up multiple boxes, TVs, etc. Much Pizza was ordered.

    Years later I move back into town and if he isn’t at work he’s role playing, or maybe WoW or some other open world game, but mostly just the role playing. Getting him to come over or even play other multiplayer games in next to holiday worthy now. It’s honestly a bit scary how he seems to have no real goals in his life, just role playing. Might not be intervention bad but almost seems like it’s in that area.

    On the other hand I have done role playing but for me face-to-face doesn’t work so well. Some people are fun to play with but a 250 pound man scarfing Cheetos and mountain dew (anyone remember that flash?) telling me that he’s a very attractive half demon girl… I just can’t remove the image of him that long. For me, I’ve always liked online instead. Forums read sort of like books. Mod friendly RPGs server for good semi persistent role play settings too. Granted the above stereotype isn’t ALWAYS true but I do find I can identify with role play far better when I don’t even have a clue what everyone I’m playing with look like, because that doesn’t matter. Though I’ve made friends that way too.

    I would say if I ever thought of doing an RPG that I might try taking it online in a way. Make it accessible offline. Something akin to D&D’s website having online role play boards in addition to the game seen on every Barns & Noble shelf. Not that I’ve looked at their website lately but that’s just my mostly not RPG player experience for you.

  22. Not to mention that RPGs are actually cheaper. Consider the following for MMOs:
    You need a computer, most aren’t console based. You also need to check system requirements.
    You pay an up front price and the a subscription every month
    You need a decent internet connection, preferebly an always on broadband connection
    You’re tied to the computer’s physical location. Laptops up to the job tend to be more expensive, run hotter and have less run time on the battery.

    While a lot of us already have the internet connection it isn’t guaranteed. Even compared to single player games pen and paper games are cheaper, four people can quite happily get hours and hours of enjoyment just from the CBT boxed set or 5 from the SR4 core rule book. You only need one to begin with, so it’s cheaper than 4 or 5 copies of the game. You also don’t need to worry about using a third party multiplayer service, or having an appropriate computer or console. I’ll note also many games are only available on certain platforms, so unless you have all of them your choice will be limited making it less appealing in a way.

    Games like SR4 can be run as blast fests with all action all the time, deep intrigue, or anywhere inbetween. I’m sure a lot of people also enjoy the experience of being a GM and letting their creativity loose. It’s also a lot easier to select who you play with, and you can avoid idiots and “griefers”.

  23. As much as I agree with what you say, I think that “pen and paper” will become “tablet computer with gaming application.” Trying to maintain the hobby with 19th century tools is not a viable option. It will change and survive. Storytelling never goes out of style, it just changes to new media.

    Trask, The Last Tyromancer

  24. There will always be people who prefer the tactility and hobby aspects of miniatures, for people who use them. Equally pen and paper is lighter, and isn’t platform dependent. I think that saying *all* gaming will use computers in some form is as much a myth as the “paperless office” if I’m brutally honest.

    No doubt the use of computer aids and portable PDF reading devices, whether this be laptop or a PDA/phone/ebook reader, will increase though.

  25. I will be getting Eclipse Phase (PDF) because of the Creative Commons license it just seems like the right way to do an RPG. A very good call on your part. I have to agree with Trask, I am looking at making a device (such as a Tablet) based RPG, it would be perfect for character sheets and tracking damage and effects.

  26. I have to agree with a few of the above posters….The future of RPG’s isn’t “Table Top” or “Pen and Paper”! It is iPhones, laptops, GameBoys, OpenRPG/MapTools, IM and VoIP. Heck, take a page from your own Shadowrun 4th Edition: Augmented Reality rev 0.9-beta. Getting out of the house to go hunt for like minded people who aren’t jerks has always been the most difficult and annoying thing about our hobby. Most of us probably don’t even REMEMBER how much pain and effort was involved, because once we found those other like-minded folks, we held onto each other as tightly as possible. Once we discovered that store of Wonders great and small, we visited religiously to discover new products.

    Now, it is simply EASIER and FASTER to find those people and products inside of MMO’s.

    I envision a new product-line for the future that leaves the isolated trappings of our industry behind. The Books, the Supplements, the minis, even the dice, MUST evolve and be ONLINE FIRST, dead-tree second.

    I should be able to play the latest video game, see an ad for the next new game called ‘XYZ’, search the net for the website and find:
    the Video Game,
    the iPhone App/laptop/GameBoy/etc searchable ruleset/character-gen/GM tools (NOT PDF!)
    the twitter/social media site of the week/feed info
    the Game’s PDF and Print-On-Demand dead-tree books/supplements,
    the OpenRPG/MapTool ModuleText/Counters/Maps/Critters/etc (and links to the tool downloads),
    the Augmented Reality 3D Models/Animations/How-To-Make-Your-Own Videos,
    an online Character Generator (with AugReal 3D model-to-customize and Forums)

    and, MOST IMPORTANTLY:
    Contact Information on how to hook up with others and get in on a game RIGHT NOW! (probably using OpenRPG, MapTools or whatever comes next, run by qualified company or a volunteer GM-for-stuff program)

    I know that all seems like a HUGE amount of materials to produce for a typical small game shop, but, really, it all feeds on each other. A “standard” way of doing this needs to be created, so that each game shop DOESN’T need to re-invent the wheel of delivering all of this to the newbie. Kind of like how the web was founded on the HTML standard and “The Internet” evolved over time.

    I say this because, as a gamer, I’ve recently struck out finding people I want to game with “offline”. But, after having discovered the convenience and surprising depth of “Online Pen and Paper” gaming using OpenRPG…I’m not sure I WANT to ever go back to actual pencils/pens and paper. Not if I can have five of my best friends sitting around the table, 2 of which can actually throw popcorn at me as I GM, while the three that live in other countries throw virtual fireballs instead….

  27. Friarzen, not sure I agree you have to do all of the electronic materials first before you move to paper. I’m also not sure I agree you have to have a video game to go along with your paper and pencil game. However, most of your other suggestions for electronic presentations I do completely agree with.

    However, I’m willing to bet a fairly standardized way of publishing similar to the fashion you present will work its way out. After all, until the recent popularity of Indy RPGs really pushed the boundaries of sizes, presentation and so on, heading into the 80s the majority of the RPGs fell into a format we still use today. So once a few daring souls try more and more of the above concepts and show its viable then you’ll see more and more companies giving it a try.

    As ever, thanks for the great comments!

  28. I started a D&D game last June, 2008, and I put a flyer up at a FLGS.
    Half my players are 12-15, 4-5 boys. One is my friend’s son, who played his first RPG in my game 5 months ago. It was great to hear my buddy telling me that his son can’t wait until we play again. (I only play once a month and the number of players changes a every session but it’s cool to know that the kids are excited to play.)

  29. Like I said, one of the strengths of pen and paper is you don’t have system requirements or platform dependence. Going too deeply into 3D graphics etc jeopardises this.

    I’ll also mention something related to markets that ebooks very much assist with: disability. For the first time there is a segment of a “mainstream” market which people like myself who are as far as completely blind can access to a high degree. Text to speech software exists across Windows, Linux and is even built into Mac OS X as “Voice Over”. While tables still present some issues, the fact is the visually impaired can now actually access the bulk of the rule books. I myself have read but not played a number of the SR4 books, and am planning to organise a game of Earthdawn with a couple of very good friends since one of them has her heart set on fantasy. Combine ebooks with online or other computer based dice rollers, and you’ve got just about everything you need. I’ve actually heard of a group using the internet to play D&D who are all visually impaired, and I know through a forum someone who is visually impaired and who plays RPGs with others (D&D, mutants and masterminds, seventh sea I believe).

    I’m sure you will continue to produce ebooks, and I very much appreciate it. It is worth considering “diversity” in markets as well in this regard, and I’m sure ebooks are equally helpful for people who struggle particularly badly with printed words such as some dyslexics. It might not be worth the time to make an MMO playable by us, which is certainly possible in technical terms, but ebooks require little work on the part of the developer to be usable to at least a basic level. So long as you don’t disable “accessibility” in your PDFs we should be able to cope more or less, and I have been very glad to find so many PDF products in existence. (“scanned image” books don’t count, since there is no underlieing text to read)

  30. I have been playing Battletech and RPGs since 1995 or 96 back when I was a sophmore in highschool. I did not have parents that were into gaming. My parents did see Starwars several times and my Dad did play pacman and space invaders with us but that ended when the original Nintendo came out. From that point on it was just my brother and I playing video games back in a time when most people did not take games to seriously. Few would admit to playing them very much.

    Back when I was in highschool I was playing Final Fantasy 3 while class mates were talking about drinking, sleeping around and drugs. Nobody dared to talk about video games. In fact I remember a guy from elementary school asking me if I still played Nintendo. It was the only time we had said anything in over 5 years. My answer of “yes but I have the newer systems” simply got me a strange look , a shake of the head and the conversation flatlining then and there. I eventually went to a birthday party for a friend who had a friend who I used to know when I was little. We started talking about FF3 and he mentioned other RPG games that he plays. Of course it sounded cool but sounded as though he was making stuff up! I took what he said with a grain of salt and asked where he hangs out at lunch and decided I would talk to him and his friends about FF3 later on.

    I ran into this friend of a friend a week later at school and overheard what he and others were going on about as again it sounded like an awesome RPG game I had never heard of. Once I started to hear how one of the guys did this while the other guy did that and a 3rd and 4th person did other things it made me pause. I assumed they were talking about video games the whole time until they got to the odd 3rd and 4th player! Thats when the first guy explained the existence of paper and dice games, how they were played and their similarities and differences to console based RPG games. I thought it was odd but my curiosity and love for RPG console games made me want to find them the next day during lunch to hear more about it and check out the books a few of them were hauling around with them(which I thought was an odd thing to do).

    I have always been a big time video game nerd and book worm so when I heard that they could buy these game books at a bookstore at the mall I made it a goal to check them out next time I was there. While looking over a DnD manual is when I found BT:compendium:RoW and instantly fell for it. It was awesome and as I flipped through the pages while being hyped about the imagery on the cover I fell further for it and had to have the book! Did I mention that I was a giant robot junkie ,80s kid? Did I forget to mention my love of turn based strategy console games or that I used to draw/play my own before I ever heard of such games? Basically i would draw a tank and then on the other side of the paper draw another tank from an opposing force and soon it grew into a massive battle where I was thinking what would I do next if i was in charge of each side?

    I have to say why I love Battletech so much is because it takes giant robots, turn based strategy as well as has its own RPG tied into it. Basically it takes all of the stuff I loved about video games and cartoons as a kid and teenager and put them into a game where I could hang out with others. Thats what RPGs also did, they took my love of Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy and put them into a format where I could end up being part of a group of friends kicking back, joking around, ordering pizzas, negotiating who would bring what snacks to an overnight game. We still played video games, we had music, we would go play laser tag and go to the mall and gawk at the girls. So while we were geeks we were not total shut-ins.

    I think that the reason I got so heavily into BT and to a lesser extent RPGs is because it was something I could do as part of a group of people. It was the thing in common and everyone could participate but we could also leave the game table and do normal stuff as well. As an MMO player,myself, the best our group has done was hang out 2 times over 4 years in Las Vegas for a few days. While it is a load of fun when we can, it is simply not something we could do on a regular basis. I would love to have a chance to live down the street or a city away from the guys and go hang out all the time but its just something that is impossible! At best we get Teamspeak and killing stuff in a game. Its better then playing games solo because its a step up but MMOs will never replace having a group of people near you that you can hang out with and game or simply go hang out with on a normal basis.

    Theres 2 points that are constant in my story and that is video games were fun but lacked “more”, also that videogames(console/pc, mmo/fps) are limited in their social aspect. We all had lots of video games to play but those became secondary to an RPG or BT game and fell further behind with the introduction of the Battletech CCG(the CCG became back up to rpgs). The customizability, depth and social aspect of “paper and dice” heavily outweighed the shine of any new video game back then. That was the major selling points of such games to someone who was the nerd of the family. I know my Dad wished I got into baseball like he was, when he was my age back then. That leaves me feeling that gaming is not something only a kid of a couple that plays games is going to do. People will find games on their own.

    The problem is how easy are these games to find? I remember seeing a boxed set of DnD in a Gamepro magazine years before I met my friends and heard about DnD. The ad got my attention but the stigma of DnD and lack of people to play with ultimately left me wishing I could play but forgetting about it. of course the costs of advertising is restrictive. Demo teams can only advertise the games to established gamers for the most part and gamecons will do the same.

    The difference between now and before I got into RPGs is that the internet was something I had never heard about back then. Today just about anyone with some $$$ can get a site started. Heck people can blog away for free. There are social networks out there. The problem is that there is no geek/dork/nerd social based site. I cannot log into “gamers.com” as an example and look up a list of Battletech players, DnD players and so on. Individuals can, as well as game companies take advantage of the established social sites to help reach people. Catalyst has the Mechwarrior video game line which could draw in loads of players. The problem is to connect those players to Battletech, something the MW games of the past have ALL FAILED to do!

    Imagine the next MW game being released, if its good and true to BT then its going to be a bloody hit! IF the game sticks to the mechanics of the BT game, as MW3 did with the construction rules, then you prime players of PC games for the actual BT game. If the ranges of the weapons and damage and so on is accurate then by playing the game the players are learning about the game and can see a real connection if they are shown the QSR in a pdf tagged onto the MW game. Throw in linkage to a site with videos of how MW = BT and how BT=MW and you will ignite interest. I know I am not the only kid /teenager that wanted more from video games! I know there will be those that could not care less but there will also be those that do! Show them how MW= a single pilot but BT=you control full units of their favorite mechs. Make videos connecting the in game LRMs(tonnage,heat,ammo and range) to BT LRMs and how they work in the BT game.

    If you,Catalyst, can take the best possible advertisement of a paper and dice product, which is a video game, and create connections to the core product….then your golden. More people know Mechwarrior then they do Battletech. The forums proves that with people declaring they had no idea BT existed and the first time they saw it they were reminded of MW! Do NOT let someone else make that connection for you. Instead take advantage and make sure those bridges to Battletech are included on the disk of that MW5 game. Give them a sample TRO using the mechs in the game or some and showing them what they would see if they picked up a TRO. THen show them what a TRO is! SHow them a list of all of the TROs out there with samples to show the depth of designs that BT has. Generate sample lances and tell them how they would be played. Maybe MW5 will have NPC lance mates and you can explain how that lance would operate on the BT table. Tell them how MW is the game of a pilot but BT is the game of Command(of many pilots) in the same universe. Give them sample stories as you do in the books. All in all make sure that not a single Mechwarrior 5 player can play for a day and walk away without knowing what in the world “Battletech” is. That is the sins of the old MW games leading to players going through the game many times without ever knowing what Battletech is.

    Strange idea but what if MW5 gave you a report after each level on how you did or what you did? Imagine the player was a MW and was being given a run down of what happened. You would show them a digital version of a BT game playing out. The game could show the movement and fire of all units(player,friendly npc and hostile npcs) as though it was a game of Battletech being played out. It would be kind of cool for us but it would build yet another bridge, prime the player a bit more for playing a real game of Battletech. “I played as a pilot and now I get to watch what happened on a larger scale after the mission” is the idea. This will lead to “oh, now I see how that Battletech game is played out…” is what you want them to say. Mr.Bill I ask you to cut out all of the years that I and others have spent looking for something more in a game. I played the SNES MW game and loved it but it was years before I heard of Battletech! Remove the disconnect and the Cat will reap the benefits of reaching out to those players through a powerful gateway media!

  31. Thanks for the extensive comments…we’re also hoping for a better connection with the next MechWarrior computer game…but we’ll have to see how that develops…

  32. I am posting this here because it is mostly on topic, given some of the other comments. I have been playing and GMing Shadowrun since 1990 and Battletech since 1991. I’m also a professional Systems Engineering Team Lead with some networked video game development experience. I love both Shadowrun and Battletech enough to DONATE some of my time to make a MMO for these games happen. I also know that legally you guys don’t own the actual video game rights, Smith and Tinker does, if I’m following the news correctly. While that is disappointing (since you guys have proven with SR4 that you love these games, too), what I don’t know is how close your relationship with S&T is. However, you *DO* seem to own all the rights to Eclipse Phase, which I am only starting to discover. Perhaps a way to “put my money where my mouth is” (given my comment above) would be to start there. You have released Eclipse Phase with a “Creative Commons”-like extensible license, so, would you be interested in video games based in the setting?

  33. I started playing rpgs within the last six years. We move in very different circles! (although not that different as I’m commenting here :) ) I’d say that people will play rpgs if they are better at doing their thing than computer games are. There are legit reasons people will want to sit down at a table facing each other for a start; ever tried playing some twitch game like halo then deal with a potential argument? Not good. Wheras a game like an rpg gets you aware of how the other person does stuff, looking at their face. There’s a reason Germans play boardgames as a family.

    Then you can get into all the creative stuff that these games do; the fact that instead of following somone else’s story you’re playing your own, the whole imagine->inspire->get inspired->”wow we really need to write this down”->never do but continue to inspire cycle works so much better if the people you are designing for and writing for are in the room with you. In computer games that takes years and a multi-person community, in rpgs it takes a few weeks to get started and then happens every five minutes!

    There are also those who rp because it’s free, and those you won’t get much from! But those who rp because it’s cheap and one of the most efficient money/creativity ratios will always be around, so long as supliments really add to the quality of the game.

    People like me will not play rpgs that are just bad versions of what I am playing on the computer. I’m no “retro” lover for the sake of it! But on the other hand, if there are games that are easy to get started with, that do some special flexible thing like no other, and all that business above, then I’m there!

  34. Ooh I forgot to mention my marketing technique; making starting to GM easy, make adding in characters midway easy, so people playing can go “I know, I’ll start my own game”, and the whole thing can go viral!

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