140 Characters and Nuance and Online Dependent Table Top RPGs.

Twitter doesn’t do nuance very well. There is a debate today about whether online dependence in a table top RPG would be a bad thing. The debate started with this post very little of which I disagree with. Rob Donoghue is talking about the difficulties third party developers face with 4e D&D, some of which are due to the electronic tools that WOTC has put out. Robertson games followed with this post which got me to wondering whether this is true. At this point thanks to the micro nature of twitter the conversation fragments a bit, 4e isn’t online dependent, WOTC should make better tools, etc. I really don’t disagree with anyone in the chat, it would be great it the WOTC tools were more open to third party input, I don’t think you have to use DDI to enjoy the 4e game, WOTC really should do a Mac version of their tools and other good points. What I want to get back to is the idea of whether a table top RPG (lets forget 4e here) could ever be online dependent and still be good. All this is theoretical obvious, this horse doesn’t exist at the moment.

Table top RPGs are all about having fun playing an RPG with some friends. Currently this is done mostly with pieces of paper, both by the DM whose notes, encounters and maps are all on paper and the player who’s character sheet is also paper. This is already starting to get chiseled away at however by laptops and smart phones. I expect to see this more and more, there are already fights at the local game days for who sits where so they can plug in, and this is at shops with no internet connections. So paper is the common delivery mechanism today, but lets jump up a couple of years.

The DM’s module is delivered to him as the game runs by the designer of a world wide event. Everywhere around the world parties are playing part of a massive campaign event with live connections to the designer who tracks the results and sends updates out based on how the parties are doing around the world. Minipaper versions of this occur today with battle interactives, they could easily be done globally as well. Everyone plays it today and your group can change the way the entire event comes out. Could be a lot of fun, one day of real hard core table top rpg energy that is entirely online dependent. Is it likely anytime real soon, probably not. WOTC is the big dog and I don’t think they could pull it off today, but could it happen? Certainly. Don’t get too hung up on the delivery mechanisms, online or paper don’t matter if the game is fun. That is the point I was trying and failing to get across in 140 characters. Hopefully 500 words will make the point better.

  1. Stuart says:

    The current system is less than optimal. Good luck making a “Cactoid” race and having your players enthusiastic about creating level 15 characters for tonight’s game without the e-tools. The game is dependent on the online tools and the online tools make adding 3rd party (even your own) material difficult.

    On the other hand if it allowed you to subscribe to free 3rd party content (XML/RSS) that was added to the builder — or better — allowed you to purchase high quality 3rd party content, you’d have a lot more material available.

    This would effectively turn the DDi into iTunes for RPG rules. I’m sure nobody at Hasbro/WotC would consider that level of success to be a bad thing. :)
    .-= Stuart´s last blog ..Weird West Adventures Podcast #4 =-.

  2. Brett says:

    Yep I agree that would be optimal, would love to see it. I would also love to see more DM tools, a real encounter builder tied to the monster builder would be epic. Even better if it was open to outside content.

  3. Nicholas says:

    This discussion at least partially reminds me of the comedian Louis CK and his shtick about “Everything’s amazing and nobody’s happpy.” (Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8r1CZTLk-Gk )

    We are easily spoiled, and stuff the the Character Generator just make the process SO much easier that we quickly take it for granted. Of course I would also argue that perhaps because of the existence of such tools, the designers feel free to make the rules that much more complicated and intricate. I would wager that the amount of materials you need to consult for an average 4E PC is significantly more than in previous editions.

    While I think that the “Uber Internet Battle Interactive” idea you outlined would be awesome, it would still only be a rare one-off. The core D&D experience I think will always be one table, on their own time. If the game ever does evolve to a persistent online world, then I think it won’t be a TT RPG any more, but rather some kind of MMORPG/LARP hybrid.

    So, no, I do not think that the core game will ever be entirely dependent on electronic tools or Internet connection, but those tools may become so convenient and tempting that we reach a stage where we decide that we would rather do something else than play without them.

    I myself drool over the idea of using a projector and some kind of map tools/virtual desktop software to manage the map (while still using minis). And if a few years down the road we can do 3D holographic minis, I’ll want to use that too :-p

  4. Swordgleam says:

    Here’s a check-in from the real world. Of the 20-odd gamers I know in real life, I’m the only one who follows blogs and whatnot. None of us use online tools like the character builder.

    It’s easy to think everything is focused around digital products when we’re all conversing in digital space, but plenty of people out there just pick up books and dice and pencils and play.

    • Nicholas says:

      Swordgleam makes a good point. Just because we may perceive the “majority” as moving towards more and more digital and online tools, doesn’t make it necessarily true. BUT perception is often equal to reality… So will game designers ultimately cater to the highly visible and vocal online audience?

      I love the Character Designer because it allows me to make a character of any class and race quickly and effectively without me having to actually own something like 9 hardback books (PHBs and Power Source Books) and every Dragon Magazine article. For my tastes, the rules are spread too thinly among multiple sources.

      Of course, that being said I could play a perfectly fun game of D&D using only the PHB, but I do not think I am an atypical in delighting at having all the various bells and whistles at my disposal.

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