Tuesday, 15 February 2011

None Shall Pass!

I've been flicking through some of my RPG books recently and I was reminiscing about some of the games I've parted ways with. One of the games I sold was my original Red Box Basic D&D game and I regret that for two reasons - 1, it was a great little game and I get all teary-eyed and nostalgic sometimes for some classic gaming and 2, it was written in a style that eased new players into roleplaying games and didn't have them running for the hills because the rulebook seemed to be written in a different language and was so big you could beat someone to death with it.

And here lies my problem.

Rulebooks these days seem pretty impenetrable for the first-time or young gamer who's entering the hobby cold, that is without any kind of peer to help with explanations and examples. In fact, the whole hobby seems to be something of an enigma to those who don't know the game or haven't been involved with it for longer than a few years. I did a little digging by sticking the basics into a search engine, acting as if I was a new and interested gamer with no experience, and I was somewhat mystified by the results.

I got the basic details about roleplaying from Wikipedia - that much was sort of okay - and after sifting through computer and online roleplaying games I finally found some dedicated tabletop roleplaying websites. What I was greeted with was a whole mess of voices and opinions using words and phrases that, if I had been a new gamer, would have confused me straight away and possibly made me change my mind about getting into gaming, especially if I had been a (lot) younger and a bit shy. Lots of different posts from people, some of them vitriolic and confrontational filled with words and references I would have had no idea about. I don't want to surf the internet looking for translations or meanings, I just want to play a game and if I have to be made to work, or even seemingly earn, that privelige then what's the point? Gaming websites seem to cater to the experienced gamer and that will immediately put off new players as they don't want to seem like they're intruding and they don't want to look foolish.

Then there's the rulebooks. Some of them are somewhat accessible but otherwise they can be tomes of words that make no sense. They can be massive books filled with options and tables that have little meaning because the new gamer has no context. Sure, follow the rules as far as creating a character is concerned and learn the basics of dice-rolling, but how do you use it? The advice in some books can be cryptic and confusing as it doesn't talk about gaming in general but about gaming in that particular rulebook's world.

So, this is where I come back to basic D&D. It spoke to the new gamer as a kid, because it was kids that got this hobby fired up in the first place. Pre-teen and teenage kids who wanted to pretend to be warriors, wizards and elves. The books took them through everything, held their hand and explained it all in simple, kid-like terms. That's how I learned the game, and the only thing that made me nervous was sitting down for those first few games with other people. I didn't have these swathes of web pages making my head spin with words and phrases I didn't understand, or hundreds of experienced gamers telling how I should be playing a game of let's pretend.

I sometimes think that the RPG community is it's own worse enemy. They talk about the fading hobby but they spend so much time carping on about the minute details of their game using incomprehensible and sometimes offensive language that they don't realise that they're scaring away potential new gamers. We've managed to make the hobby this strange game in the shadows that people are afraid to approach because we simply make no sense - this was bad back in the 1980s when I joined in but the internet has only served to make that worse. How can we compete with the popularity and simplicity of MMORPGs and CRPGs if this is the case?

So this is what I miss. Simple, talk-to-them-like-children roleplaying games that ease gamers into the hobby with simple rules and long-winded explanations. A game that stands on it's own, like the different coloured boxes of Basic D&D.

Roleplaying games seem to be a dying breed and I have to wonder sometimes just who's fault that is.


  1. It's our fault! It's our hobby, our fault! I've read this entry like a call to action. Perhaps we should set up startroleplaying.com and offer 'do this, do this' advice. We could use youtube cartoons and include a simple as pie game (like Dungeonslayers or WR&M) to teach people what fun it is. We should show, not tell.

    What do you think?

  2. Right, I've asked the philanthropists what they think. I think there is merit in this.


  3. I have always believed that simpler was better in gaming, and leaving most details to the (hopefully very good) gamemaster was the way to go. I started with basic D&D and then the first AD&D, but once I discovered the simple and elegant MERP (Middle Earth role playing) I never looked back.

  4. I think I would go simpler still, Ted. I would go all the way to Dungeonslayers, Warrior, Rogue and Mage or even (dare I say) Jon's Sketch system!

  5. @Rob - That sounds like a good idea. I was also thinking of something published that might get kids into the RPG hobby, and so I got in touch with the publishers of the Fighting Fantasy books. Lete's face it, that's as simple as it gets for introductory RPGs. I've been thinking for a while about a magazine format game, and after the longevity that was the 'Battles for Middle Earth' magazine, there's nothing stopping RPGs from doing something similar. A mionthyl mag with the very simple rules covering about five pages, adventures, and maybe a free miniature. Anyway, I never heard anything back, so I'm going to wait to see what happens with the new Advance Fighting Fantasy rulebook out soon - I've spoken to the guy doing that and he's a nice bloke so fingers crossed it does well. Either way, let's see what the rest of the community thinks and we'll get a boiling pot of ideas on the go.

    @Ted - Ah, MERP, the very rulebook I was envisioning when I spoke about unapproachable RPGs for new gamers! :) I love that game (it was one of the games I kept after my selloff!) and we got many years of fun out of it. Simple can be good, though, as I've figured out recently playing Dragon Warriors and, even better, Star Wars first edition.

  6. @Jon - what about a partwork magazine? Rules in first one and then a figure on each cover?

    Please do come over to #1km1kt, seeing as you inspired the idea, it would be lovely to have your input!