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Old 12-04-2012, 08:42 AM   #1
Anders
 
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Default Long-Term Trends in RPGs?

We're talking table-top here. I can identify two that I think hold.

1) Decreased lethality - early RPGs (mainly early versions of D&D) were ridiculously deadly. D&D was notoriously so, but I remember my youth spent playing various BRP clones and death came upon swift wings quite frequently. Today, you can actually expect to play the same character for years and years without more than a resurrection or two. D&D 4th ed. took it to a ludicrous level where PCs were almost impossible to get rid off.

2) A move towards building characters as opposed to rolling them up. GURPS is dear to our hearts here, of course, but White Wolf's WoD and Exalted do the same.
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Old 12-04-2012, 08:49 AM   #2
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Default Re: Long-Term Trends in RPGs?

Changes in people's main influences: In the 1970s it was Tolkein, Silver Age fantasy/sf, and pulp adventure stories, then in the 1990s lots of people entered gaming with heads full of ideas from novels based on D&D, then in the 2000s people start gaming with their heads full of ideas from MMORPGs and FPS (see all the threads on "how can I create a tank in GURPS"?) Similarly, the golden age of Traveller was when most gamers had read a lot of Silver Age SF by Beam Piper and Jerry Pournelle.
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Old 12-04-2012, 09:01 AM   #3
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Default Re: Long-Term Trends in RPGs?

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Originally Posted by Polydamas View Post
Changes in people's main influences: In the 1970s it was Tolkein, Silver Age fantasy/sf, and pulp adventure stories, then in the 1990s lots of people entered gaming with heads full of ideas from novels based on D&D, then in the 2000s people start gaming with their heads full of ideas from MMORPGs and FPS (see all the threads on "how can I create a tank in GURPS"?) Similarly, the golden age of Traveller was when most gamers had read a lot of Silver Age SF by Beam Piper and Jerry Pournelle.
I would say that the big visible change in the 1990s was people coming in who had read Anne Rice. I'm surprised that no one has come out with a major new game that trades on the J. K. Rowling craze.

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Old 12-04-2012, 09:03 AM   #4
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Default Re: Long-Term Trends in RPGs?

My experience seems to be different. Early D&D for me was more survivable than many of the more modern RPGs I play and run.

Now, this may be due to nobody in my area really being able to afford more than the base rules, and so having very little contact with published modules, so what we created on our own was always balanced towards the party. Sure, you expected the occasional death in the party (on average no more often than once every 5-10 sessions), but that's still the standard in this area for most combat heavy games.

But, I agree, there is a point in the early/mid 90s where it seems to suddenly diverge into two directions, increased lethality and decreased lethality.
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Old 12-05-2012, 08:06 AM   #5
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Default Re: Long-Term Trends in RPGs?

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Originally Posted by whswhs View Post
I would say that the big visible change in the 1990s was people coming in who had read Anne Rice. I'm surprised that no one has come out with a major new game that trades on the J. K. Rowling craze.

Bill Stoddard
Hardly surprising at all...
  • IP lawsuits are much more common now.
  • VTM traded not only on Anne Rice, but also on Marvel's Blade, Stoker's Dracula, the 1989 TV movie Forever Knight and several other vampire stories. All of which had gamer cred pre-VTM. It wasn't a single-source game.
  • The Harry Potter books/movies don't have enough similar literature to engender non-licensed games without major fear of IP lawsuit even by 90's standards, let alone the more suit-happy 2010's.
  • There are far more games in print now than when VTM came out - any one game is far less likely to capture enough initial gamer market share needed to be preached to potterverse fans.
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Old 12-05-2012, 08:27 AM   #6
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[*]The Harry Potter books/movies don't have enough similar literature to engender non-licensed games without major fear of IP lawsuit even by 90's standards, let alone the more suit-happy 2010's.
That at least is not the case. There are a lot of novels about schools of wizardry, from Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea to Grossman's The Magicians. And then there are occurrences of the same trope in other genres, from X-men to Ninja High School.

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Old 12-05-2012, 09:37 AM   #7
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Default Re: Long-Term Trends in RPGs?

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I'm surprised that no one has come out with a major new game that trades on the J. K. Rowling craze.
Do a little digging on her publicly expressed opinion of RPGs. That's all I'll say.
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Old 12-05-2012, 10:10 AM   #8
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Default Re: Long-Term Trends in RPGs?

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Originally Posted by Asta Kask View Post
We're talking table-top here. I can identify two that I think hold.

1) Decreased lethality - early RPGs (mainly early versions of D&D) were ridiculously deadly. D&D was notoriously so, but I remember my youth spent playing various BRP clones and death came upon swift wings quite frequently. Today, you can actually expect to play the same character for years and years without more than a resurrection or two. D&D 4th ed. took it to a ludicrous level where PCs were almost impossible to get rid off.

2) A move towards building characters as opposed to rolling them up. GURPS is dear to our hearts here, of course, but White Wolf's WoD and Exalted do the same.

IME, lethality only seems high in D&D at low levels. Both hit points and saving throws improve a lot as characters rise in level. But hit point inflation with edition changes, that's real. Same with the watering down of 'insta death' effects in 3E and 4E. Do these things represent a general trend, or just a trend in D&D brand stuff? I'm not sure.


Number 2 needs a qualifier. Partly random character generation features in plenty of games now in print. Less common than 'building' characters, I'll grant, but not exactly rare.

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Old 12-05-2012, 10:40 AM   #9
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I would say that the big visible change in the 1990s was people coming in who had read Anne Rice.
I'd have to agree, though I'd say that's just one facet of a bunch of interconnected trends . . .



Having had RPGs as one of my primary hobbies since 1979, I'd definitely say that Tolkien, and to an extent Arthurian myth and other classic tales, were the main inspiration up to that time . . . By the 1980s, however, "fantasy for lads" – from Howard's Conan to Moorcock's Elric, and (dare I say it?) the John Norman stuff – was significantly more influential, complete with barely dressed women spilling from cheescake armor. Most of this fiction existed long before it influenced RPGs, but it affected fantasy games in that order.

The 1980s also brought an interest in horror gaming. I'd accord this largely or entirely to the Cthulhu Mythos. It was hard to avoid Call of Cthulhu in the 1980s, and it's a testament to its influence that every last damned gamer can be counted on to get a throwaway reference to Cthulhu. This isn't a surprise, given that "fantasy for lads" and Lovecraft's tales share similar roots in the pulp era, had heavily overlapping readership, and were typically shown disrespect in the same breath by fans of "serious" speculative fiction (whatever that is). And certainly, Lovecraft and Howard influenced one another – and later on, it was hard to tell whether Moorcock and his ilk were writing fantastic horror or horrific fantasy, which was mirrored in RPGs.

The horror seed planted, it grew in the 1990s with tales of vampires. True, Rice didn't invent the genre and wasn't the only contributor, but her influence was definitely the catalyst for Vampire: The Masquerade. Its creators have even admitted as much! More important, this set the stage for traditional villains (vampires, werewolves, etc.) as protagonists in RPGs, a style that was previously considered an acquired taste, if not off-limits, in fantasy RPGs up to this point.

By the 2000s, digital games were mainstream enough to no longer be the hobby of geeks who knew how to build their own PCs and set up LANs to go head-to-head. Heck, they were being given away with new PCs! That medium blew all of the previous influences out of the water, restoring the primacy of grind-for-items-and-power fantasy, as well as injecting the media influences of digital games – which were previously a separate evolution – into RPGs.

Science-fiction gaming had a parallel evolution that didn't initially feed back into the fantasy-horror mainstream of RPGs. It had a debutante dalliance with classic space SF and space opera at its launch, and this has been resurrected by every major space-themed movie or TV series to come along from 1977 to present. But just as influential, or more so, was the cyberpunk and post-apocalypse fiction of the 1980s, shading into transhumanist fiction in the 1990s. "Purity of science" or "hardness" fluctuated, but on average it diminished over time. By the 2000s, it was often difficult to see the difference between science fiction, horror, and fantasy, with vampires and zombies getting rubber-science explanations and being battled with magical science or scientific magic in all media, RPGs included.

Supers also had their own evolution alongside this. There was a brief interest in Silver Age values when I got into RPGs in 1979, but by the 1980s this had been replaced with Bronze Age values, and it was barely the 1990s before Iron/Dark/Modern Age stuff was by far all that mattered on the market. There have been brief resurgences in interest in the Silver Age stuff (one of them quite recent), but these are always blown away by the mainstream media's insistence that supers kill their enemies and have problems with booze and depression. It would be fair to say that this process tracks the "noble hero to chauvinist action man to villain protagonist" movement of fantasy and horror in non-comics-inspired RPGs.

Sort of orthogonal to all this you had the emergence of anime influences. Back in the 1980s, you might have had a single "Japanimation" booth at a gaming con, and most people had no clue what that meant. By the 1990s, it was its own little niche. By the 2000s, it was squarely "anime" and every other gamer was into it. It didn't affect genre much, but it had progressively stronger influences on the character types and attitudes, and plots, in both RPGs and the digital games that influenced RPGs coming out of the 1990s and going into the 2000s.

If I had to mark transition points, I'd probably say that the hobby was born in idealistic fiction (heroic fantasy, space opera, Silver Age supers, and the core ideal that protagonists must be good guys), experienced a mood shift to darker content between the mid 1980s and the mid 1990s (the whole spectrum of horror-fantasy, vampire protagonists, dystopian cyberpunk, and Dark Age supers), and then an emphasis shift from story to trappings – call it medium over message – in the 2000s (with the visuals of anime, digital games, and high-budget live-action film dominating the plots, themes, genres, etc. of the associated fiction).

All of that is "in my experience," of course. However, the parts from 1995 on – i.e., covering the past 17 years – very definitely match the character of the proposals I've received from writers as the developer of a moderately large and popular RPG, and track the sales of supplements as well. GURPS is privileged in this regard, being generic and universal. It attracts both writers and gamers of all stripes, so managing it affords me a long view of what's popular in gameable fiction.
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Old 12-05-2012, 10:48 AM   #10
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Default Re: Long-Term Trends in RPGs?

Some Long term trends I feel impacts tabletop roleplaying games

1) The Internet and related technologies most importantly PDFs, Kickstarter and Print on Demand. Because of this tabletop RPGs and hybrid forms are increasing in numbers and diversity.

3) The maturing of virtual tabletop technology which free gamers from having to physically get together to play table-top rpgs.

4) The rise of the tablet and other hand held computer devices. One game change is a large cheap flexible screen that is touch sensitive and can be unfolded/rolled out on any flat area to provide a interactive playing surface.

5) The ongoing development of novel boardgames whose mechanics can be reused in the design of tabletop games.

6) The renaissance of older tabletop games and older editions.

7) Social network sites. For example Google Plus is being used for a lot of tabletop gaming.

8) The increase in importance of corporate and personal reputation.

9) The collapse of the tabletop mass market in favor of increase in niche markets for various games and genres.

10) The release of older tabletop RPG material in PDF or Print.

The main problem in developing a sense of where tabletop rpgs are going is the increase in diversity. What is happening depends very much on what news you keep up with.

For example over 350 products have between released for various older editions of D&D between January 2010 and May 2012. I only know that because I follows news and forums for older edition D&D. Somebody who follows Paizo releases will have a completely different view.
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