Friday, November 23, 2012

Death of the Hobby or what about those sales? Part one

Okay I'm going to touch a much talked about subject with this one. Is the tabletop roleplaying game hobby shrinking? We see this touted about from time to time, how the hobby is going through a slow death, less and less people are playing, it's all a perpetual spin towards the end. Which of course doesn't mean a whole lot since people will keep playing but they just might not have any 'industry' support or some such.

Now the usual reasoning behind the talks of the eminent demise is usually centered around sales. Or how sales are so small compared back to, say, the eighties. Back when you knew you could sell a few thousand copies pretty easily with plenty more to come. Well at least the big companies could count on this. Of course there are problems with this, first off is that a lot of companies now days don't release their sales numbers and the sales numbers of some older companies are pretty questionable also.

The one big thing that almost all doomsayers buying into this reasoning fail to take into account is one very simple thing, variety. The number of games available now compared to the eighties just blows one side away. People are setting up their own micro game companies all over the place to sell their idea of a great game. You don't have just a handful of sci-fi games to choose from, you have a freaking catalog of them covering nearly every variety of genre twist that you can imagine. A listing of fantasy games may very well take a couple of volumes and that's being positive about it. So when people have more choice the purchases they make are spread along all of them thus leading to lower sales across the board for just about everybody.

I'm completely aware there were small companies before, don't get me wrong there, I own a few of them and have at least laid hands on three times that many more. But they required a lot more investment to get them to the market. Let's face in the eighties there were very few ways of getting your game noticed by Joe Gamer out there. You could hit the convention circuit hoping that sales there lead to good word of mouth afterwards that leads to others finding out about your game. But conventions cost money to attend and to have dealers booths at. You could advertise in one of the gaming magazines like Dragon and hope your little ad catches enough attention to draw some sales, again this costs money. Getting the shops to put your game on their shelves, requiring a lot of leg work and either traveling, phone calls, letter writing and maybe even giving a few copies away to prove it will sell. So it was hard to release a game and for it to be successful so many didn't do it back then.

Well now we have the internet. So getting in touch with folks and trying to sell your game may just require some time behind the keyboard. Not to mention the whole moving trend towards ebooks so you can just set up a free ten page demo of your game for anybody to download. It's easy. Well it looks easy to do, actually getting success out of it is another deal altogether. But when you don't have to worry about printing costs, warehouse costs, markdowns and what you get between distributors, shops and yourself it becomes a very attractive proposition. So now every Joe Gamer who thinks they have written 'The Game' are actually going through with making it available. All of which adds up to, as I said before, more people selling more games leading to less sales per company.

Now this is only part of why I think the shrinking of sales numbers are not an indicator of the health of the hobby. I have plenty more to say on the matter. But for the sake of easy reading I'll be dividing this one up into two separate articles, the other should be out next week. So what do you think about what I've said so far?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Silence - rough base mechanics

Okay working on the basic mechanics for Silence (my Silent Hill inspired rpg I want to run).  I really want to keep it very simple, as little note keeping, detail tracking, etc as possible.  So I wrote down a sort of outline of how I want the rules to work.  This is a completely rough draft with no actual meat put into it whatsoever.  Just me dropping down idea onto the blank page. 

Here is the thoughts on traits, combat and a bit about challenges.


Four base traits. MOVE, FIGHT, THINK and HIDE.  Rated from zero to three.

Use just ten siders with the goal of rolling high.

At a zero roll two dice and keep the lowest
At a one roll one die
At a two roll two and keep the highest
At a three roll three and keep the highest

Goal is to roll higher than the difficulty of the action.

In hand to hand you roll FIGHT vs FIGHT. The amount you roll over your opponents roll is the amount of damage you do. Weapons will add a set amount more.

There is no initiative roll. If the GM thinks you surprised them then you roll vs a target number for damage or give you a extra die in your FIGHT roll.

HIDE will almost always be vs THINK

MOVE vs MOVE when trying to outrun something. Can also be used vs target numbers to make jumps, get out of the way of something quickly, etc.

THINK will commonly be used vs target numbers.

The Death Spiral

The Death Spiral. It's a couple words being thrown around in rpg discussions for the past few years. Basically it's a reference to systems that start punishing a character as they receive damage. So the more they get beat on the less effective they are and it becomes more and more likely that they won't make it out alive. Usually it's negatives to die rolls, increased to target numbers and so on.

I kind of actually like this bit of terminology when it comes to game design. It sums up a few sentences of description pretty nicely and isn't entirely inaccurate. I believe the actual idea of having this happen is part of the push for game system to be more realistic. A push that's not entirely abandoned or bad, but usually runs right up against the wall of system complexity but that's a discussion for another time.

Now I have noticed that some games, especially the older ones, don't use the Death Spiral in their mechanics. You just take damage and function normally until you hit the point where it finally pushes out of the mortal coils and the character is dead. Recently there have been a few games that do the reverse of this and your characters are able to pull off even more amazing abilities since they are considered fighting for their lives at that point. Tenra Bansho Zero uses the Reverse Death Spiral and from what I've read players are liking how it all works out.

I'm wondering when the Death Spiral really started showing up in roleplaying games. Now not having a vast and endless game collection to dig through or a wide and varied gaming background either I can't even really offer up a guess at this. Was this an early development in game design or something that came along later? Anybody have any guesses or thoughts on it? Please use the comments section if you do.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Be A Better Player 14 - This costs money

GM – Alright guys I'm glad to be starting up Deep Dungeons again. It's been a while since we've played it. Let's knock out characters and get this rolling.

Player 1 – Sweet, pass me the Players Tactics 2 book would you?

GM – Don't have that one, just the core books and none of the new stuff.

Player 2 – Well that works for me.

Player 1 – What? The new stuff has all the updated classes and new skill lists.

GM – Yes and a fifty dollar price tag. I can't justify spending that right now.

Player 3 – The regular books work fine man. Just deal okay.

Player 1 – How can you run a game if you don't have all the books? Explain that.

GM – I have what I need to run the game, I ran it fine for years with what I have. There is really no need for me to get the new stuff right now. Maybe if we really get to playing this game heavy again but until....

Player 1 – No need? Really? It's all the new stuff. The stuff people want to play.

Player 3 – Look just deal with it and make a character alright.

Player 1 – Fine but don't expect me to be happy about it.

GM – Geez man chill. Here's the character sheets fresh from the copy shop printer.

Player 1 – Oh now what the hell? The one page character sheet? Why can't you give us the four player character sheets with plenty of room to write everything on and keep it all organized.... I mean really.....

I've seen this one several times. Both as a player watching other players spout this off or as a gamemaster listening to a player go on and on about it. The one who thinks everything that is produced for the game should be made available to them. Only the best character sheets will do and don't forget to give them a sheet or two of paper to keep track of things on. All on your dime of course.

I just want to grab them by the stack and swivel, pull them over the table and yell in their face “This shit costs money dammit!”. Now I know the old saying about how roleplaying games are probably one of the cheapest hobbies to be into once you figure in the costs per hour of usage and all of that. But it still isn't cheap and it's not getting any cheaper. Expecting the guy running to game to shell out his cash over and over again for books just so you can have access to them. Well that's a bit delusional if you ask me.

Top it off with the expectation of character sheets. While I agree that getting quick copies made usually isn't that costly it still adds up over time. If you go bulk to get discount rate you run the risk of the game you are running falling out of favor for a different one or an edition change that makes the old sheet useless. Then you are stuck with a mountain of paper gathering dust. Then, as in the example, there is somebody who expects the top notch multiple page character sheets that are mostly boxes with the words “Equipment Carried”, “Family Members” or some such in them. Making up for those to lazy to organize their own notes themselves. Really how hard is it to keep track of your shit man?

If you're going to complain about this then be ready to step up and put your wallet where your mouth is. Not just for yourself either, do as you expect the GM to do and be ready to provide and share with the others at the table. You want those four page character sheets, the copy shop is right down the street or you can print them out from your computer on a printer (and get ready for it to cost, I think copier ink is the most expensive liquid on the planet or something) AND bring enough for everybody. That new book an absolute must have, then buy it and let everyone at the table use it.

As for being an ass to the game master about not providing all this stuff on his own dime. That would not be a good thing to do at my table. Just thinking about makes me want to write a GM advice article about when it's okay to be an asshole to some players.