My #10RPGs post today made me think about how, for me, it felt like there was so much happneing in the hobby during the ’00s: the whole d20 thing, the Forge/Indie scene, the rise of Fate, the PDF publishing phenomenon, and (for me) the rebirth and then kinda-sudden death of Hero Games.

Nowadays it feels to me less like things are happening and more like things are just Kickstarting.

Sure, the ’10s have seen two big movements (IMO) — PbtA and the OSR — but those have honestly not had a whole lot of meaningful impact on me.

130 thoughts on “My #10RPGs post today made me think about how, for me, it felt like there was so much happneing in the hobby during…

  1. I’m also gonna be a grump and say that the whole mainstreaming of 5e and the watch-people-stream-tabletop-games thing have, from where I’m sitting, done zip-nada-zilch for the hobby as a whole. But I’m probably wrong. (And please tell me why.)

  2. I’m happy for the streaming thing and the people who enjoy it, because it brings more people into the hobby and keeps it alive. For a long time, people were convinced that tabletop RPGs were going to die out any day — now we have big companies mass-producing these really granular gameplay props and such, which would have been unthinkable to me a decade ago.

    But hobbies that get massively corporatized and monetized also tend to become ever-more-conformist, and seeing a streaming community that’s largely dominated by photogenic white people and minor celebrities doesn’t exactly make my heart soar.

    So, a lot of mixed feelings from me re: this post.

  3. For me:

    The weaponization of identity, with toxic internet assholes either close behind or simply an aspect of the first.

    Live play streaming. Awful. I’m running into weird shit at cons now where players are coming to expect the table to be populated with professional voice actor improvisers who crack wise. Also: a resurgence of assertively ditching rules, usually in favor of entertaining improv, voice acting, and cracking wise

    Kickstarter. Huge. A fucking golden age for game designers, not just PbtA folks. This is what made Guide to Glorantha and Dungeon Crawl Classics possible after all.

    Invitational cons. Heavy logistical organizing is just getting easier.

    Cosplay but that feels more like a slice of attention span more than a direct hit on gaming. I think it’s helping make prestige production more prestigious.

  4. Guide to Glorantha and Dungeon Crawl Classics possible after all. Invitational cons. Heavy logistical organizing is just getting easier. Cosplay but that feels more like a slice of attention span more than a direct hit on gaming. I think it’s helping make prestige production more prestigious.]]>

  5. I don’t understand the stream-casting of anything. There are people who stream themselves playing computer games I like and I see other people enthusiastic, but like, why wouldn’t I just play the game I like? I don’t even understand what the value proposition is supposed to be. (This is distinct from videos that teach me how to do a particular thing I’m having trouble with, which makes perfect sense.)

  6. Watching someone be excellent at something is always popular. I actually get that more than streaming a tabletop RPG, mostly because I stridently disagree that what they’re doing is even recognizable as roleplaying.

  7. Does streaming really do anything to enlarge the hobby? Maybe. Does it do anything to drive design in interesting directions? I don’t feel like it does; honestly, as Paul mentions, it feels like it’s doing the opposite.

  8. It’s possibly expanding the audience. There have been a couple streaming-specific games, too, but all that comes to mind right this second is Viewscream.

    I’m kind of surprised larp hasn’t taken off bigger in the streaming space. GoPros on everyone!

  9. possibly expanding the audience. There have been a couple streaming-specific games, too, but all that comes to mind right this second is Viewscream. I’m kind of surprised larp hasn’t taken off bigger in the streaming space. GoPros on everyone!]]>

  10. I think that, overall, Kickstarter has been bad for the indie part of the hobby. Originally it seemed like it could be solving a genuine financial problem that a designer might have, but when it became a cultural phenomenon with stretch-goals, etc., I think it ended up making things more about micro-celebrity. And with so many people wanting the kickstarters of their friends or favorite brands to succeed social media became a lot more focused on blandly positive signal-boosting. I think the possibility of Kickstarter money also encourages a lot of production-values focused thinking and not necessarily exploring interesting new ideas.

  11. For me personally, the biggest one is online play over video chat. Finally I can play and run games which my regulars aren’t into. And play campaigns with people I don’t live near, but are still friends, whether they’ve moved away, or I met them online or at conventions. And play without leaving the house or wearing clothes from the waist down.

  12. Streaming a tabletop game is basically just streaming a performance of live improv genre-theater. You’re totally right that it doesn’t advance the hobby – there are people who watch streams but have no intention to ever play games – but it does advance the genre. Particularly D&Dish Tolkien-esque fantasy.

    I don’t believe streaming of tabletop games really has anything to do with tabletop games. The games are just a carrier wave for a popular form of entertainment.

  13. hobby – there are people who watch streams but have no intention to ever play games – but it does advance the genre. Particularly D&Dish Tolkien-esque fantasy. I don’t believe streaming of tabletop games really has anything to do with tabletop games. The games are just a carrier wave for a popular form of entertainment.]]>

  14. I used to listen to a lot of AP podcasts of indie games, but I stopped partly because I felt like too many of them were basically becoming improv routines which used the game as a prop, and that wasn’t anything I was interested in. My impression is that the video streaming genre basically started with that same vibe. I think observing play can be interesting, but I’m skeptical that video is the right medium for an RPG since usually there’s just not a lot of interesting visual content involved.

    https://plus.google.com/photos/

  15. To be clear, I was listing play over video chat as a big thing for me over the current decade. I wasn’t conflating that with streaming, and thinking about developments of the 2010s in general.

    Sorry for any confusion.

    When it comes to streaming, my feelings are conflicted, and hard to disentangle from the fact that I don’t enjoy watching streamed games at all. From the few times I’ve seen them, I find them incredibly boring, and there are an awful lot of things I think of as bad GMing habits (eg: the GM as an absolute and arbitrary god of the game, and the GM as entertainer with players as audience) which I hate to think of the shows encouraging.

    But they do seem to be bringing more people into RPGs, and I worry that my reaction basically amounts to snobbery.

  16. at all. From the few times I’ve seen them, I find them incredibly boring, and there are an awful lot of things I think of as bad GMing habits (eg: the GM as an absolute and arbitrary god of the game, and the GM as entertainer with players as audience) which I hate to think of the shows encouraging. But they do seem to be bringing more people into RPGs, and I worry that my reaction basically amounts to snobbery.]]>

  17. “It’s like sports, I guess.”

    Maybe? I’ve never enjoyed watching sports. For me, the enjoyment of listening to good AP is sort of a mix of two things. One is akin to the same enjoyment I get when I’m playing in an RPG but I’m not in the current scene, I’m just experiencing what’s going on with the other players. The other is thinking about how a game works, sort of vicariously experiencing the decision-making process other people are engaging in, but with a broader more relaxed view since I’m not on the hook for any of the consequences of the choices. Since game design and how games (and minds) work is something that fascinates me I find it interesting to watch them in action.

  18. “It’s like sports, I guess.” Maybe? I’ve never enjoyed watching sports. For me, the enjoyment of listening to good AP is sort of a mix of two things. One is akin to the same enjoyment I get when I’m playing in an RPG but I’m not in the current scene, I’m just experiencing what’s going on with the other players. The other is thinking about how a game works, sort of vicariously experiencing the decision-making process other people are engaging in, but with a broader more relaxed view since I’m not on the hook for any of the consequences of the choices. Since game design and how games (and minds) work is something that fascinates me I find it interesting to watch them in action.]]>

  19. I’ve talked at great length with folks about putting together a produced video that featured actual tabletop play, voiceover narration explaining what’s going on, some theory talk. The work involved in putting even a single episode together is just catastrophically expensive, mostly because none of us are actual videographers. We could pull in college students maybe.

    But the big part of the expense is that it’ll never, ever recoup itself. I’m not persuaded there’s an audience beyond maybe a couple hundred folks with any interest in either deep-diving a game to see if they want to play/buy it, and/or folks who want to actively improve their own hobbycraft.

    I’m basing this on my experience writing the Indie Game Reading Club, which granted is a different medium but I have to think a similar audience. A video-fied version, even with skilled, charismatic players like MadJay Brown and Brand Robins and Rachel E.S. Walton, do you really think that will compete against improv and funny voices and “oh X is my favorite character!”

  20. I think I can literally see a generation gap laid out before me.

    I’m legit unsure we old people understand what kids these days are using steaming media for, on a socio-psychological level.

    But then, I am so old I am used to it. I’m not always sure I am down with television, and its bourgeoisie banality, much less setting unstated normatives through psedo-social interaction.

  21. Also, what Paul talks about—a show that takes the effort to really teach and get into how the game works—I think TableTop was close to that, but a) it was rarely RPGs and b) I think / suspect Wheaton is done with it.

    I suspect some of the concerns Paul laid out are why it’s unlikely to continue.

  22. Mark Delsing they do. I adore SUSD and they make me wish I was younger, better looking and English.

    The boardgames market is, just guessing here, 100x to 1000x the size of small press gaming. Maybe 10,000x.

  23. I saw a graphic recently that had a giant circle for console/computer game sales, a smaller circle for phone games, a much smaller circle for board and card games, and then a dot for TTRPGs. The indie stuff is a microdot.

  24. 1) I also feel there’s less happening design-wise. There’s not a great space for it, and it doesn’t help that over a decade, bigots have worked hard to drive some of our most innovative people out of tabletop while a lot of people stood by.

    2) I do feel streaming does a LOT for the hobby, actually. I was the kid who got Red Box D&D and had to introduce people to what RPGs were back when we had just boardgames, sports, and Atari. An example of what TTRPG looks like, in any form, gives a jumping off point for new people. Also, consider what Actual Play reports were like in the early 2000s… now you can watch/listen and see techniques/choices and how a game plays.

    Mind you, most of the people jumping in from this are all of the circles of friends I had who were “RPG adjacent” – they might have bought books from the Barnes and Noble, but they never knew how a game would work – they were already writers, actors, etc into deeply geeky things, fantasy, sci-fi, etc. Now they’re seeing what it looks like, and that it’s not just cishet white dudes. …I’ve got people asking me to show them D&D out the blue.

  25. Chris Chinn May I ask in what way you feel that less is happening design-wise? Quantity/quality/… of games/theory/…?

    [I found indie rpgs around 2013 and feel like I have been steadily discovering cool games since. Most of them from the ’10s. Some late (like Swords without Master which got a lot of seemingly unexpected attention this year), some from their Kickstarters onward (like the amazing Bluebeard’s Bride).

    When i think of the ’00s there are some (probably more famous) indie games that come to mind and that I’ve played like Polaris, Best Friends, 3:16, Breaking the Ice, but I’d still say the bulk is from the ’10s.]

  26. Julian Kluge I feel like most of the newer indie games are refinements rather than innovations.

    And while I’m also a fan of refinement in craft, I feel the quick drop off of innovation was not the usual natural flow, (innovate/refine/innovate/refine) but a hard, quick one that quickly brought us below a critical threshold of (“Number of people thinking deeply about games”).

    Part of the reason I also don’t feel it was the natural downturn is that many of the people who left a) expressed how much the hostile social space was harming them, and b) moved to other game spaces (videogames, LARP, academia) where they are thinking deeply about games, just not tabletop – they’re not out of ideas, they’re just out of patience for taking abuse.

    Likewise, it’s why I stopped participating in indie RPG spaces as well.

  27. Quick anecdote on streaming: There’s about 1,100 members (legit, not robots) of the Tokyo area RPG meetup group (foreign immigrants living in Japan mostly).

    When I run events locally, from Dungeon World to PTA to Soth, every single time I’ve had at least 1-2 people totally new to the hobby join the session (ages between 20-40); they’d never played before, but saw Critical Role — basically just D&D — and it looked fun: To a person, they all really brought their role-playing (and shared storybuilding: Not just passive players, but really responding to prompting, etc) A-Game. They joined the group idly to give RP-ing a shot at some opportunity, and turned out to be awesome players interested in far more than just D&D and voice acting.

    Backgrounds from all over, too: Thai, Japanese, German, Russian, Filipino, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Argentinian just off the top of my head.

    Also of the above, about half were women as well. It seemed that the connection went something like “liked anime; Critical Role turned up in their YouTube recommendations (Matt Mercer voice acting etc); they watched it and really dug what was happening; they wanted to give “roleplaying” (some are wanting to try just D&D for now, but again a lot of new RPers showing up at my table for really minor/story focused RPGs) a shot”.

    My regular gaming group in Yokohama of 2+ years is 3 women and 3 men; 1 of the men and 2 of the women learned or became interested in RPing from Critical Role or other streamers, and they are fantastic players; some of the best I’ve played with in Japan.
    meetup.com – Tokyo Roleplaying Games (Tokyo, Japan)

  28. I have moved to a foreign country twice and found players, a significant fraction of whom wanted to play and had little to no experience and had watched streams. Games were OSR or D&D 5 run as a hardcore challenge-OSR game.

  29. Critical Role, by itself, is bringing new players into the hobby on a daily basis. Smaller budget shows like Friends at the Table, Sneak Attack, and dozens of others are doing likewise. D&D specifically, and RPGs in general, are more popular now than they have ever been, and growing.

    If you had told me, while I was getting bullied in grade school for playing D&D, that live play events would some day fill huge theaters with paying fans, I would have scoffed, but that is happening.

    You haters and naysayers keep standing on your lawns shouting at clouds all you want, the kids are confidently striding into a future filled with ever more glorious gaming.

  30. ever been, and growing. If you had told me, while I was getting bullied in grade school for playing D&D, that live play events would some day fill huge theaters with paying fans, I would have scoffed, but that is happening. You haters and naysayers keep standing on your lawns shouting at clouds all you want, the kids are confidently striding into a future filled with ever more glorious gaming.]]>

  31. “the idea that pro gaming streams ruin expectations for regular gaming is as ridiculous as saying watching pro football ruins playing backyard football.”

    Couldn’t someone make the opposite argument with a similar analogy that uses pro wrestling rather than pro football?

  32. “the idea that pro gaming streams ruin expectations for regular gaming is as ridiculous as saying watching pro football ruins playing backyard football.” Couldn’t someone make the opposite argument with a similar analogy that uses pro wrestling rather than pro football?]]>

  33. Dave Michalak If what makes something like pro wrestling popular is the spectacle and showmanship then someone who is invested in wrestling for the techniques and competition might very reasonably think that people would develop wrong expectations of what wrestling is “really about”. In pro football the playing of the game is a very important aspect. It seems to me that it’s an open question about whether it is in the world of RPG streaming or whether it’s a scaffold around which a performance is conducted.

  34. Have you actually watched Crit Role? They consult the rules regularly throughout each session. They know the fans will give them shit if they mess up.

    Also both pro wrestling and regular wrestling are still going strong. There’s room for both, always has been.

    I find your argument lacking.

  35. Dave Michalak It seems to me you’re responding to something I didn’t say. Do you agree with me that there is a difference in kind between pro wrestling and the kind of wrestling people do as a sport, while the difference between pro football and playing as a sport is more like a difference in degree?

  36. Provisionally. I do not agree that the difference between pro and sport wrestling is equivalent to the difference between pro/streaming and local gaming.

    Anyone can start a gaming show. You could start one tomorrow and go pro in a year if it caught on.

  37. Dave Michalak I wasn’t trying to make the affirmative case that wrestling was a better analogy, I was saying that they are both plausible analogies and therefore we shouldn’t treat either one as “moving the ball down the field” in terms of what we should believe about RPG streaming.

    While I could theoretically go pro as an RPG streamer in the “anything is possible” sense, I think a more realistic prediction would be that I’d be no more popular in that medium than my efforts in the related fields of AP podcasting or video game streaming, i.e. a flop.

  38. Andy Kitkowski Tommi Brander That’s really good to hear! I am happy to be proven wrong on this.

    Dave Michalak My gut response to the sports analogy was “There a bunch of kids with concussions who’d probably disagree with you.” Granted, I get what you’re saying.

    Really, though, I think there is a much clearer divide between pro and amateur in the sports realm, i.e., I’m not sure how much expectation there is that your local flag football league should play like the NFL. I mean, there is no “pro” roleplaying.

    /waits for someone to show me that there actually is pro roleplaying​

  39. Brand Robins I assume they get ad revenue from Google, but I’m thinking in terms of skill level. There’s no, “I played D&D for USC and then got drafted by WotC my sophomore year,” going on that I know of.

  40. Whether you feel my football analogy holds up or not, my point is that pro/am rpg podcasts and streams do nothing but encourage more people to get into gaming, whether that’s to start playing themselves, or simply enjoy it as spectators, which is 100% valid.

  41. Also, I think the pro vs sport wrestling analogy is a pretty good one because they’re totally different things that feel the same to outsiders.

    Professional wrestling is an event about physical acting. They have a lot of skill, but it is not a competition between the wrestlers. They are putting on a show in the same manner as a circus performer.

    Sport wrestling (freestyle and greco-roman as well as judo and other similar olympic level sports) are direct competition between two individuals. While there is certainly a show aspect to it, it is not on the same level as professional wrestling. These events are more about the skill of the competitors.

    The analogy is apt because professional streams like Critical Role are more like professional wrestling – a lot of effort is put into the showmanship of the thing, and this can attract a wide range of viewers. But what you and I do at the table is closer to sport wrestling, and generally watching skilled things requires knowledge of the skill – so the viewer base is much smaller.

    https://plus.google.com/photos/

  42. And if it does, what’s so terrible about that?

    But seriously, people aren’t total idiots. I know my friends aren’t professional voice actors. I know not everyone can afford custom Dwarven Forge gear.

    Also, the CR players started out just streaming their ongoing campaign, as friends, with no money or fanbase, that they’d been playing for years. Yeah, they all happen to be v.o. artists, but they’re also die hard gamers who would be playing even if they were still in someone’s living room with no cameras.

    As far as expectations, I don’t see them doing anything that I don’t see at any regular table, they just do it really well. And if that raises the bar and gives home groups something to aim for, that’s not a bad thing in my book.

  43. Mark Delsing I think it does, but so does everything. You look at like, the art in the base 5e books and think “oh man I can play THAT guy it’s gonna rule” and then the play is often not like that at all.

    Hell, even examples in some of the books are nothing like my play experiences. Vincent’s MC voice in Apocalypse World is nothing like the MCs I’ve played AW with.

  44. Dave Michalak Upthread, Paul shared an anecdote where newbies did have unrealistic expectations based on their viewing of streaming shows. So apparently it happens sometimes?

    Does it always happen? I dunno.

    Does CR demonstrate skills worth striving for? Maybe? I don’t think so, based on the few episodes I’ve seen, but maybe their style is not my style.

    At this point I’ve acknowledged that there is good being done by the streaming phenomenon, so I don’t see any need to keep yelling at me.

    How about instead you recommend some shows that you think are fun and display good play habits?

  45. did have unrealistic expectations based on their viewing of streaming shows. So apparently it happens sometimes? Does it always happen? I dunno. Does CR demonstrate skills worth striving for? Maybe? I don’t think so, based on the few episodes I’ve seen, but maybe their style is not my style. At this point I’ve acknowledged that there is good being done by the streaming phenomenon, so I don’t see any need to keep yelling at me. How about instead you recommend some shows that you think are fun and display good play habits?]]>

  46. Aaron Griffin the art in the base 5e books and think “oh man I can play THAT guy it’s gonna rule” and then the play is often not like that at all

    And that’s a problem, IMO. (Someone else was just talking about it in another #10rpgs thread.)

  47. the art in the base 5e books and think “oh man I can play THAT guy it’s gonna rule” and then the play is often not like that at all And that’s a problem, IMO. (Someone else was just talking about it in another #10rpgs thread.)]]>