Appification of RPGs?

dbm

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I have been thinking about what seem to be current trends in the TTRPG market, and since I like analogies it occurred to me that perhaps it’s a bit like the trends you see in computer software.

When I started out with RPGs (I was in what I think of as the second wave - I started in 1983-4 so I wasn’t there at the beginning but was pulled in by the boom of satanic panic, Fighting Fantasy gamebooks and BECMI D&D) there was only a few available. There may have been quite a number in existence but finding them and buying them was next to impossible. This is pre-web and most people didn’t even have dial-up internet, at least in the UK. In the provinces I considered myself lucky to have one hobby shop within ten miles that sold RPGs, and there were no shops that sold, for example, a significant range of fantasy figures. I only started using figures for roleplaying another six or seven years down the line.

So, RPGs were few in number, quite complex to play (for a relative value of ‘complex’) and you had to work at them as there were few resources available to make it easy for you. Because of this, you had to wring more value out of the games available to you. If D&D didn’t have exactly the thing you needed you had to flex the game or make something wholly new to meet that need. You couldn’t simply and easily pick up a game to address a specific niche.

Spin forwards to today. There are hundred (possibly tens of thousands) of RPGs available at low cost, easy to find with a few clicks via DriveThru or the other on-line markets.

As someone with tastes that tend to the slightly more crunchy and simulationist, combined with an ageing brain that finds it less enjoyable to absorb new rule sets, I find the tendency for super-niche games counter to my predilections. People will post to this or other RPG forums looking for an existing game that combines exactly ‘X’ genre or world, ‘Y’ rules focus and ‘Z’ magic / technology assumptions. My instinctive answer is always ‘make it in GURPS / Fate / your generic system of choice’ but clearly this is not the prevailing assumption.

Which led to wonder why, and come up with my analogy that I thought I would offer up for musing / chewing / mauling: It seems to me that the evolution of RPG systems is similar to the evolution of computer software.

Computer software started off as occult and complex things. You needed to know exactly the command codes to make something happen, but the applications were often powerful and flexible once you did understand them. Think of things like the Vi editor in Unix. Complex, opaque but very capable.

As we moved into GUI based applications as the norm, the level of complexity dropped down for most users. You could see icons that (if well designed) intuitively told you what they did and so it was much easier for a non-expert to get value out of them. These applications still had ‘power user’ capabilities built into them, and so people with more experience with the systems and the desire to play around could still do some pretty impressive things. Many real companies still basically run their back-office with Excel, though that is starting to tail off a bit...

Most recently, we have moved into the world of apps, be those mobile apps or web apps. Smaller applications designed to deliver a more focussed set of capabilities in an easy to use way. This started due to the lack of underlying resources on these platforms (and we are seeing some move back from simple apps into more feature rich applications as they become more powerful) but they have had a big impact on consumer computing already and you can see the trend picking up in commercial software, too.

I wonder if the shift from ‘occult’ RPGs to ‘slick’ RPGs to ‘focussed‘ RPGs is similar. I also wonder if the change in expectation from the ‘user community’ is partly driving this?

What is the potential benefit from this analogy? Helping to see other people’s perspectives, helping to understand their taste preferences? Helping to find other people who might share you preferences and persuade them to try a game you like and think they might too? Interesting thought exercise or pointless navel gazing? You decide...

For me, it is wondering how come my tastes seem to be so far out of the mainstream* and wondering how to encourage people to like my flavour of gaming so players don’t dwindle away.

* I accept that most gamers just play and never second guess their own choices or games, I’m talking about the ‘mainstream’ of forum discussion.
 

EmperorNorton

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I honestly don't think the analogy is that accurate. I always think of it more like comparing a multitool to a specific tool made to do a job.

Yes, technically I can screw in a screw with a multitool, but there are times when the bulk of it/shape of it makes it hard to get into the same areas that a screwdriver would be able to get.

The assumption you seem to have is that your "generic complicated" ruleset can do everything that the "slick focused" rpgs can do, and I've generally found that is only true on a surface level. That instead generic rulesets tend to just feel the same with a new bit of paint, where as using something focused tends to have rules that better bring the feel the game intended.
 

dbm

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That wasn’t my intention. More that, with some grappling, you could get the game you wanted out of an old, complex game. The subsequent ‘generations’ deliver a smoother path whilst trading off broader appeal. None are intrinsically better than the others, just different.
 

Ghost Whistler

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Virtual tabletop apps might be a good idea, in place of buying minis and terrain. If that's your thing. Dice roller apps are already common, if not free (hint hint FFG). You might even consider pdf readers as 'appification'. I have WFRP4e in print but i've really only used the pdf version - which has the benefit that it can be updated regularly. The book, unfortunately can't.
 

Bunch

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but..what does "Appification" mean?
I would think of it as something like this. The applications on both sides of the pipe command in Unix. Little applications capable of a great deal in a small defined area. I take 'cat' to push the contents of a file to the terminal. Pipe takes the output of 'cat' and feeds it into the next application like 'grep'.

In my mind it's as if you have four rpgs. The first is overlandTravel. It covers the challenges preparing for and traveling across country. The negotiations, the environment the fear. It avoids dealing with combat or skims over it as just another threat like quicksand or starvation. Should you want more detailed combat you should use FightClub the RPG. Pipe your character into that, resolve it there and take the outcome and continue in OverlandTravel the RPG.


Or put another way pipe Arms/Claw Law into D&D for more detailed combat
 

Edgewise

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I wonder if the shift from ‘occult’ RPGs to ‘slick’ RPGs to ‘focussed‘ RPGs is similar. I also wonder if the change in expectation from the ‘user community’ is partly driving this?
I know exactly what you mean by this question, but I think it's more like they are both driven by a more general notion that commercial products should be as accessible as possible. Maybe digital products do lead the charge here. I think the last decade or so has shown the commercial world that "geeky" things (for lack of a better term) can be popular if they're packaged in a way that makes it easy to get on board. I remember one day in 2007 when I was riding a bus, struck by hearing two very working class individuals discussing file sharing tips.

Software developers have definitely learned that people will take the time to install and use software if it's some combination of intuitive and self-instructive. The MCU has shown that movies about scientific monsters and Norse gods can be popular if they wink at the audience from time to time. I'd say the word is out, and the role-playing community is trying its damnedest to figure out how to do it.

The thing is, I think a lot of attempts have failed. OSR has some great ideas, but new players will initially be at a loss as to which actions they need to specify, what level of detail, etc. Storygames try to remedy that with all their moves, but the hilarious problem with storygames is the density of their rules. For something so freeform, it seems like a lot of storygames have a complexity of mechanics and wall of terminology that lots of novices would bounce off of.

So my question is which games best emulate this idea of providing a great "UX" for novices?
 

dbm

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but..what does "Appification" mean?
I was drawing an analogy about how software has changed from {big and complex} to {small, focussed and accessible} and wondering if the trend in RPGs from broad tent to focussed experience is similar.
I would think of it as something like this. <snip>
Or put another way pipe Arms/Claw Law into D&D for more detailed combat
That wasn’t what I was thinking of, but it is also interesting. I really like modular systems because they give you tools to place more emphasis on different aspects of the game. The old standby ‘if all you have is a hammer, every problem like a nail’ has a lot of truth behind it, in my experience, and since many games major on combat (from a rules perspective) players gravitate towards combat as a resolution to all problems.

Recently, there was a new system proposed where the characters were illuminated beings who were intended to solve problems without just kicking ass. I asked the devs if they were going to include mechanically satisfying rules for non-combat actions, and they seemed surprised by this question. I’ll see if I can find a link.
I know exactly what you mean by this question, but I think it's more like they are both driven by a more general notion that commercial products should be as accessible as possible. Maybe digital products do lead the charge here. I think the last decade or so has shown the commercial world that "geeky" things (for lack of a better term) can be popular if they're packaged in a way that makes it easy to get on board.
This is pretty much on the nose, I think. And to be sure, it is a good thing. I think there are a couple of downsides, however, from my perspective.

The first is that there is an assumption that a different variation of game needs a whole new system. I actually think that this became strong with the ‘slick’ generation, most strongly illustrated by the WoD games with their meta plot. When I run a game, I (as GM) set the plot, not the authors of the system. At most, for me, they provide the background world details. The meta plot in WoD games seemed to take over a lot of head-space, with GMs being told they are ‘doing it wrong’ if they don’t follow the meta (by other gamers, not the authors). Again, this is perhaps more about what people talk about on the internet rather than about what actually happens at people’s tables.

The second is that I like to play a more diverse range of games over time and can’t personally be bothered with learning a new system every 6-12 months (the typical run of a turn at GMing in my group); neither can the rest of the players around my table. Why is this an ‘issue’? Only in the context that it walls off a lot of new games from my group. I’m not asking for sympathy, run pointing out the potentially self-limiting nature of the ‘niche game’ model over time.

So my question is which games best emulate this idea of providing a great "UX" for novices?
There is a design concept in UX which is ‘the principle of least surprise’. You should design a system to work how people will assume it works. This has two sides to it, in my opinion. The first is that processes should flow naturally and allow people to complete them in a way that makes sense (thought this has down sides - a topic for a different site!).

The second is that the controls should follow fairly normal iconography. The skeuomorphic approach that some designers use (for example, Apple used this up to iOS 6) is an example: an icon for ‘print’ looks like a printer, and so on. As users evolve over time, the icons drift and become more stylised. Stylised icons are quicker for your brain to recognise, if they are well done.

These two factors influence how a game is played by new and experienced gamers, in my opinion.

If you take a person new to gaming and get them to try out something like DnD 3.x then the flanking rules will probably seem odd to them. Flanking a Large or bigger enemy requires a high level of precision on where you position your character. Also, the ability to try ‘simple’ tactics is often walled off behind Feats. The completely new players would struggle to handle 3.x’s required precision as it doesn’t match natural language expectations.

Contrast that with something like Fate where the whole thing runs on natural language (aspects are language tags, to my mind). A complete novice would have an easier time playing Fate IMO as it can easily interpret what they try to do.

The above are examples of process seeming off, and actions seeming odd to different groups of players.

I genuinely struggle to suggest a game with widely ‘good’ UX but we all have our preferences and mine would tend to one set of UX qualities whilst others would trend another way. I think that is part of what I am exploring with my analogy: the modern vision of ‘good UX’ is very different to my older-taste view of what is ‘good UX’.
 

Edgewise

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There is a design concept in UX which is ‘the principle of least surprise’.
I think this is one valuable standard, but not the only standard. I think the best example of this I can think of would be Savage Worlds. It's really simple and lends itself to natural language descriptions. Another example might be Over The Edge (not the latest edition, although that's partly a matter of presentation). I wouldn't necessarily include Fate due to its metagame economy. It's not a complex mechanic, but there's a lot of interpretation, and it would take a lot of explanation for a new player.

Of course the question of least surprising isn't especially valuable when you're talking about people who are completely new to the entire space, who will be perpetually surprised no matter what you do. The approach that would theoretically work better here would be something self-teaching. I think that PbtA strives towards this with its moves, which are meant to strongly suggest genre-appropriate activities. But I think that this is heavy-handed and unappealing for a variety of reasons, including those that you allude to.

That being said, I don't entirely agree with your initial impulse to suggest that everything can be run with GURPS/Fate/Mythras/etc. I find that some genre-specific rules can be important as long as they aren't heavy-handed. For instance, this starts with skill lists in many games. Class-based games, for instance, suggest the players will assume the roles of well-established archetypes.

I think the problem that some designers are trying to solve is that RPGs are not self-explanatory. It would be very tricky for some groups to know what to do if they tried to pick up the rules and play it as a bunch of total newcomers. I guess the issue I have with this is that I'm not sure this is a big enough problem to worry about too much, and also it's very hard to solve.

After all, with zero prior introduction to board games, would an average person really be able to pick up a copy of Candyland and play with their similarly clueless friends? I posit that they would be completely confused by basic expectations and assumptions that the rules make. Most people are introduced to board games by someone else, and it's kind of crazy to expect someone with zero prior connection to RPGs to pick up Dungeon World or whatever.
 

Necrozius

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What a fascinating discussion. My day job is a UX designer, so this is right up my alley.

However, this is the first day of my 3-week holiday, so I’m going to take my time formulating a response. I vowed not to think about UX methodology and research until August, haha.

Great topic, I’ll likely share this with my colleagues.
 

dbm

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Recently, there was a new system proposed where the characters were illuminated beings who were intended to solve problems without just kicking ass. I asked the devs if they were going to include mechanically satisfying rules for non-combat actions, and they seemed surprised by this question. I’ll see if I can find a link.
Found it: TBP link
It's not a complex mechanic, but there's a lot of interpretation, and it would take a lot of explanation for a new player.

Of course the question of least surprising isn't especially valuable when you're talking about people who are completely new to the entire space, who will be perpetually surprised no matter what you do.
See, I think we all know how to play “let’s pretend” as kids, and RPGs at their heart are that with the addition of a mechanism to decide who shot who beyond “Did not!” ‘Did so!” :grin:

So I think most people would intuitively get the ‘role play’ bit of an RPG and just need education in the ‘game’ bit. I think Fate points are fairly easy to explain as the player having choice over whether they want something to be meaningful or not in a game sense, and ensuring that everyone has a fair amount of this. I think it is established RPGers who struggle - this, to return to my analogy, is where the controls needed to achieve a result in one form of game are very different and so surprising to gamers.

The approach that would theoretically work better here would be something self-teaching. I think that PbtA strives towards this with its moves, which are meant to strongly suggest genre-appropriate activities. But I think that this is heavy-handed and unappealing for a variety of reasons, including those that you allude to.
Either self-teaching or with an effective tutorial. Something similar to how the opening dungeon in many of the later Elder Scrolls games gives you the opportunity to use a wide range of skills and, based on how you play your character, it recommends a class at the end. I’ve heard of a couple of RPGs coming with a ‘choose your own adventure’ solo module to help new players decide on what they want to do and also try out the core rules.
That being said, I don't entirely agree with your initial impulse to suggest that everything can be run with GURPS/Fate/Mythras/etc. I find that some genre-specific rules can be important as long as they aren't heavy-handed. For instance, this starts with skill lists in many games. Class-based games, for instance, suggest the players will assume the roles of well-established archetypes.
It’s not a perfect analogy and clearly whether you make your game with Mechano, Lego or Playdo will influence what it turns out like, irrespective of using all three to make a car / horse / house.
After all, with zero prior introduction to board games, would an average person really be able to pick up a copy of Candyland and play with their similarly clueless friends? I posit that they would be completely confused by basic expectations and assumptions that the rules make. Most people are introduced to board games by someone else, and it's kind of crazy to expect someone with zero prior connection to RPGs to pick up Dungeon World or whatever.
Board game UX has also experienced a surge in creativity and quality, in my experience. A friend of mine has a serious Kickstarter board game habit and buys dozens of new games there. Some of the interfaces are beautiful, with well made tokens that you move around high quality order / faction cards. Scythe is a great example, with upgrades involving moving a token from a bottom rank space to a top rank space, revealing information on both sides to change how your faction works. Very visual, very quick to learn and with strong feedback in terms of what the moves achieve.
 

Edgewise

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See, I think we all know how to play “let’s pretend” as kids, and RPGs at their heart are that with the addition of a mechanism to decide who shot who beyond “Did not!” ‘Did so!” :grin:
It's not so hard for the players to follow along with an experienced GM, but a first-time with GM with no previous examples to follow would be completely out to sea.
 

AsenRG

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So, RPGs were few in number, quite complex to play (for a relative value of ‘complex’) and you had to work at them as there were few resources available to make it easy for you.
Wait...Fighting Fantasy was complex to play? Because you mention it in your post, and its very much one of the simplest systems I know of:smile:.
Anyway, that's just a clarification. Please don't dwell on it.

Because of this, you had to wring more value out of the games available to you. If D&D didn’t have exactly the thing you needed you had to flex the game or make something wholly new to meet that need. You couldn’t simply and easily pick up a game to address a specific niche.
It's the same in all fields. Abundance of specialised resources leads to them being used for more specific things:wink:.
Compare the training regimen of a MMA fighter training in boxing, wrestling, Myai Thai and BJJ (punching, takedowns, kicking and groundwork) and the training regimen of a streetfighter who could only know one of those, or something else entirely, and had to apply it to all the situations he faced. Seems familiar?

As someone with tastes that tend to the slightly more crunchy and simulationist, combined with an ageing brain that finds it less enjoyable to absorb new rule sets, I find the tendency for super-niche games counter to my predilections. People will post to this or other RPG forums looking for an existing game that combines exactly ‘X’ genre or world, ‘Y’ rules focus and ‘Z’ magic / technology assumptions. My instinctive answer is always ‘make it in GURPS / Fate / your generic system of choice’ but clearly this is not the prevailing assumption.
Ahem.
You mean apart from me saying "you can do this with Cepheus or Mythras, depending on how crunchy you want to go" just after Raleel says "use Mythras, you know you want to", right:grin:?
Also, I always assume that people would know that "doing it in GURPS/EABA" is an option, and just want something less front-loaded.

For me, it is wondering how come my tastes seem to be so far out of the mainstream* and wondering how to encourage people to like my flavour of gaming so players don’t dwindle away.

* I accept that most gamers just play and never second guess their own choices or games, I’m talking about the ‘mainstream’ of forum discussion.
What do forum discussions* have to do with it:shock:?
Thing is, if you want players to not dwindle away (in your area), you just have to run your game. It's that simple for most people, they play what's on offer. If you teach them to like GURPS, they'd like GURPS.
If you don't want players to dwindle away (on forums), talk about the games you like. Talk about the campaigns you've ran with them. Show how those games solve the problème-du-jour. Don't just shut up: tell the next person what GURPS supplements he needs to use to apply his ideas... and don't forget to mention that not owning all the supplements** is fine and dandy, you are meant to cherry-pick them:devil:!

*I know literally dozens of RPG players offline. How many of them are on this forum, though? None. How many are on any forum? Close to the same number, AFAIK:shade:.
**Speaking of which, when will we see GURPS on a Bundle of Holding?
 

AsenRG

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Oh god, that would be awesome, but I'm not holding my breath. Took SJG long enough to start putting them on DriveThruRPG, and the trickle continues.
Probably true, but one can always hope that they'd notice it as an opportunity:smile:!
 

dbm

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Wait...Fighting Fantasy was complex to play? Because you mention it in your post, and its very much one of the simplest systems I know of:smile:.
Anyway, that's just a clarification. Please don't dwell on it.
That was in the context of an intro example, and probably from the last five years. Anyhoo...
It's the same in all fields. Abundance of specialised resources leads to them being used for more specific things:wink:.
Compare the training regimen of a MMA fighter training in boxing, wrestling, Myai Thai and BJJ (punching, takedowns, kicking and groundwork) and the training regimen of a streetfighter who could only know one of those, or something else entirely, and had to apply it to all the situations he faced. Seems familiar?
I think that is different. It would be like a person insisting on only using Shotokan Karate, to my mind. MMA is a broad discipline, but I see people using more and more focussed toolsets to play very specific games.
Ahem.
You mean apart from me saying "you can do this with Cepheus or Mythras, depending on how crunchy you want to go" just after Raleel says "use Mythras, you know you want to", right:grin:?
Also, I always assume that people would know that "doing it in GURPS/EABA" is an option, and just want something less front-loaded.
Generic systems push the analogy the other way. If D&D is an old skool word processor then GURPS is a C compiler and Fate is Unity. There are definitely some people who want to build their own games from tool sets, and some who want to buy a broad game whilst others want a narrow focus game. I see a trend towards new games being focussed rather than broad in scope. Maybe this is because they are easier to make? Maybe it’s easier to sell a bunch of small games rather than one more nebulous game?
Thing is, if you want players to not dwindle away (in your area), you just have to run your game. It's that simple for most people, they play what's on offer. If you teach them to like GURPS, they'd like GURPS.
My challenge is that I want to play GURPS and to that end I have to run it and get my group to like enough that it is worth someone else’s time to run it...
If you don't want players to dwindle away (on forums), talk about the games you like. Talk about the campaigns you've ran with them. Show how those games solve the problème-du-jour. Don't just shut up: tell the next person what GURPS supplements he needs to use to apply his ideas... and don't forget to mention that not owning all the supplements** is fine and dandy, you are meant to cherry-pick them:devil:!
QFT
Speaking of which, when will we see GURPS on a Bundle of Holding?
Technically this has happened twice, for GURPS Traveller both times. But you are right, SJG are extremely hesitant to discount any of their PDFs and don’t seem to be willing to deep discount them in an effort to pull in new players.
 

AsenRG

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That was in the context of an intro example, and probably from the last five years. Anyhoo...
Maybe. I just found it surprising:smile:.

I think that is different. It would be like a person insisting on only using Shotokan Karate, to my mind. MMA is a broad discipline, but I see people using more and more focussed toolsets to play very specific games.
Yeah, OK, that's more like houseruling or modulary rulesets:wink:. Either way, please, don't get attached to the example! It really was an example, and there's another thread for that.

Generic systems push the analogy the other way. If D&D is an old skool word processor then GURPS is a C compiler and Fate is Unity. There are definitely some people who want to build their own games from tool sets, and some who want to buy a broad game whilst others want a narrow focus game. I see a trend towards new games being focussed rather than broad in scope. Maybe this is because they are easier to make? Maybe it’s easier to sell a bunch of small games rather than one more nebulous game?
Conversely, I think new games are actually returning to a broader perspective with some modularity. But yes, that's still more modular than playing, say, GURPS.
I can only guess about the reasons.

My challenge is that I want to play GURPS and to that end I have to run it and get my group to like enough that it is worth someone else’s time to run it...
...and maintain your interest after you end the campaign, instead of being attracted by another generic game! I know, it can be hard:devil:!
:thumbsup:

Technically this has happened twice, for GURPS Traveller both times. But you are right, SJG are extremely hesitant to discount any of their PDFs and don’t seem to be willing to deep discount them in an effort to pull in new players.
Yeah.
But I see new players sprouting for many games after a Bundle of Holding and/or a Humble Bundle. So I think SJG are missing an opportunity.
Of course it's their game, their marketing, and their financial results - they're free to do whatever they wish! But I suspect their fans would find it easier to attract new players for their games.
 

Justin Alexander

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I was drawing an analogy about how software has changed from {big and complex} to {small, focussed and accessible} and wondering if the trend in RPGs from broad tent to focussed experience is similar.
I think not.

The move to super-focused apps on tablets and phones was driven, AFAICT, primarily due to the incredibly limited input device, hardware capabilities, and intended use profile (generally short interactions on the order of a few minutes rather than long-term use).

Of these factors, the only one I would describe as being similar to the decisions going into RPG design would be intended use profile (insofar as we've begun seeing more games designed specifically for one-shot use rather than neverending campaigns).

My general understanding of the trendline for RPG design looks more like this:

(1) For the first decade+ of the hobby, design was almost entirely driven by simulationism/realism. There was an underlying assumption that the innate function of an RPG was to simulate reality and the more accurate a system's simulation of reality was, the better it was. For example, look at how every single fantasy RPG released in this time period attempted to distinguish itself by being "more realistic" than D&D.

(The degree to which this design ethos matched what a large percentage of the player base actually wanted is open to debate.)

What I often consider the best example of this is the first edition of Paranoia: In what universe does a satirical comedy game require a system in which, IIRC, there were three separate tiers for sub-specializing in skills? It doesn't. But the overriding design ethos here was "realistic simulation" no matter what the game was actually about.

(2) "More realistic" often meant "more rules." More rules to cover more portions of the game world; more rules to make your simulation more accurate or take into account more variables. There was a substantial portion of the player base who simply did not want this complexity, and around the mid- to late-'80s we start seeing a heavy counter-reaction: Games have gotten about as complex as they could possibly get, and so design bounces back the other way. By the early '90s we see a whole slew of games billed specifically for being "easy" and "simple" and "streamlined."

This design trend line connects pretty naturally with another trend line: Games which specifically support storytelling rather than reality simulation. During this time, it was widely felt that "simpler rules = better storytelling." You can see that ethos expressed in Over the Edge, Amber, Theatrix, etc.

(3) By the mid-'90s the bounce-back on complexity has also basically reached its end-state: The market is actually getting glutted on games that were basically nothing more than a resolution mechanic. Games couldn't get any simpler than that, and so the complexity spectrum was pretty saturated. The only direction left for mechanical innovation would be to design mechanics that were better suited to a specific desired experience.

Now that games had become as simple as they could possibly be, you also had a number of people who were beginning to suspect that there might be more to pro-storytelling game design than just getting rid of all these simulationist rules that mostly got in the way of storytelling.

In practice, things are a little messier in here, but the basic version is that these two trends (rules designed to create a specific experience and rules designed to specifically support storytelling) result in the Forge: RPGs and storytelling games that are hyper-focused on creating very specific types of stories.

And that, more or less, is where the "app" games you're describing come from.

My instinctive answer is always ‘make it in GURPS / Fate / your generic system of choice’ but clearly this is not the prevailing assumption. (...)

For me, it is wondering how come my tastes seem to be so far out of the mainstream* and wondering how to encourage people to like my flavour of gaming so players don’t dwindle away.
So part of the reason why a lot of new games aren't going the route of GURPS or Fate is because... GURPS and Fate already exist. There's actually a whole slew of "games designed to do everything" and if you want to create a game like that, the difficulty at this point is figuring out why you wouldn't just use GURPS or Fate or Hero instead, right?

Games designed to create a very specific experience? A lot easier for people to figure out why something like Ten Candles is offering them something that doesn't already exist.

Also, don't mistake the number of releases with what the player base actually wants: There still tons of big, complex games that feature elements designed to appeal to (and be flexed to) multiple agendas at the same time. And those games are still the most popular and bestselling games around: D&D, Vampire, FFG's Genesys games, Shadowrun, etc.
 

robertsconley

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1) the internet has made communications and support easier by a least an order of magnitude if not more
2) Digital technology has dropped the cost creating RPG materials by an order of magnitude.

As far as system design goes, there is D&D, Pathfinder, and then everybody else. Everybody else is a niche.

The closest thing analogy in software are vertical markets like the metal cutting industry that I work in. Even then it imperfect.

Yes the rise of smartphones and tablet have impacted both. The rise of apps goes hand in hand with the spread of the hardware. Otherwise we would be talking just about webfication as HTML5, Javascript and other web technologies are making the browser viable for sophisticated applications.

However a equally powerful drive is the need to sling data in and out of one's application. I been designing, developing, and supporting my company's metal cutting software since the late 80s. The majority of my work in the past decade is improving the collection, and collation of data along with reading it and exporting it in various forms.

This is not relevant to RPGs.

Instead you have a single dominant rule system combined with a dominant genre. Everything else is a vertical niche. To exploit these niches you have to do what my company does, understand the vertical market, understand its history, understand its expectations, and do your best work in supporting the preceding.

Also relevant to RPGs is that as a literary form of entertainment it is under the same pressure as book. So on the top of everything else there is that going on.

Rules design is only a small part of the equation and probably the least important part.
 

dbm

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Interesting perspectives, guys :thumbsup:
don't mistake the number of releases with what the player base actually wants
I guess I’m thinking more about the volume of fandom these games attract. Forged in the Dark seems to be generating a lot of interest and passion. I wonder why that has such a vocal fan base? Even the likes of Fate and Savage Worlds (both of which generated a lot of discussion for a long time) don’t seem to generate the same level of recommendations.
Instead you have a single dominant rule system combined with a dominant genre. Everything else is a vertical niche. To exploit these niches you have to do what my company does, understand the vertical market, understand its history, understand its expectations, and do your best work in supporting the preceding.
That doesn’t really explain the FitD phenomena, either, though. What trend makes it (seemingly) more likely that people will recommend home brewing a FitD variant to run a game whilst few people suggest GURPS (and even less recommend HERO)? Mutants & Masterminds also was a something that generated a lot of conversation for a while but now almost never gets a mention.
 

Justin Alexander

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I guess I’m thinking more about the volume of fandom these games attract. Forged in the Dark seems to be generating a lot of interest and passion. I wonder why that has such a vocal fan base?
There are probably several reasons, but my personal theory is that the primary reason is the clear scenario structure: Blades in the Dark does for heists what pre-2E D&D used to do for dungeon crawls. It presents a very clear, specific, and mechanically supported structure for a specific type of scenario.

People eat this shit up, despite the industry remaining remarkably bad at providing it.

This sort of thing is also really good at getting people to GM the game. And creating GMs is the primary viral vector by which any RPG propagates. For a completely different example of this, look at Monte Cook Games' Cypher System: The system is not only super easy to prep and run, but several key mechanics (notably the GM intrusions) makes it really fun in a surprisingly effortless way. Result? The system is incredibly effective at creating brand new GMs, and that's contributed substantially to its popularity.

Anecdotally, for example, I've run games for people for 30 years. In that time I've seen exactly one player decide to start GMing who hadn't done so previously... until I ran various Cypher System games for six months. In that time, I had three different players who had never GMed before all start GMing. This doesn't include convention play, where the number of people who've said "I'm going to go home and run a game of this" completely dwarfs any other game I've run sessions of (although Feng Shui 2, surprisingly, was very effective for this at Origins this year). If I could figure out exactly how to duplicate that, I''d be... well, not rich. This is the RPG industry after all. But I'd be, like, really good at my job or whatever.
 

Edgewise

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1) the internet has made communications and support easier by a least an order of magnitude if not more
2) Digital technology has dropped the cost creating RPG materials by an order of magnitude.
It never hurts to restate this critical frame. It's all part of the post-millennial media explosion: with the cost of producing and distributing content greatly reduced, there is a massive diversification in almost all forms of media. All niches will be catered to. Just type what you want into google; the only trick is panning for gold through the results.
Rules design is only a small part of the equation and probably the least important part.
I have to strongly disagree with this. Differences in rules mechanics are what create all these separate standards for game content. Differences in mechanics are what cause people to recommend one system over another.

If your point is simply that 5e dominates the marketplace to an extent that it forms a bit of a monoculture, I won't dispute that, but the OP is a question about how (and perhaps if) game systems are evolving from generic to niche. And I'd say there's definitely an element of that outside of MacD&D. It's not all about market share; impact on insider culture can have outsized ripples down the line.
What trend makes it (seemingly) more likely that people will recommend home brewing a FitD variant to run a game whilst few people suggest GURPS (and even less recommend HERO)?
I initially wrote a lot about how I thought that generic systems were out of fashion for a variety of reasons. But in considering the topic, I no longer think that's the case. There are a number of popular generic systems now, and generic systems have never been terribly prominent, anyway. Here are some of the currently popular ones:
  • BRP/Mythras
  • Savage Worlds
  • Fate
  • PbtA
  • BoL/Everywhen
On top of that, don't forget the OSR itself (e.g. Sine Nomine games) and various hacks of 5e (e.g. AiME) and Pathfinder.

I think the main issue is that you picked two generic games that just aren't popular anymore. SJG has always held tightly to the GURPS license, so while they haven't done much with the system in the last 15 years or so, third parties were not there to pick up the slack. Keeping their catalog off DriveThruRPG for so long didn't help either. I know less about HERO, but I feel like GURPS was already overshadowing it a while back.

So while you might not hear a lot of people recommending GURPS or HERO, I hear plenty of people suggest Mythras, Savage Worlds and Fate. Forged in the Dark is just the new kid on the block, and it scratches a somewhat different itch with its mechanics. It has a lot more in common with PbtA, obviously. What can I tell you? Some people like what these games do and I see no reason to re-litigate that. Different strokes, it's all cool.
 

AsenRG

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There are probably several reasons, but my personal theory is that the primary reason is the clear scenario structure: Blades in the Dark does for heists what pre-2E D&D used to do for dungeon crawls. It presents a very clear, specific, and mechanically supported structure for a specific type of scenario.

People eat this shit up, despite the industry remaining remarkably bad at providing it.

This sort of thing is also really good at getting people to GM the game. And creating GMs is the primary viral vector by which any RPG propagates. For a completely different example of this, look at Monte Cook Games' Cypher System: The system is not only super easy to prep and run, but several key mechanics (notably the GM intrusions) makes it really fun in a surprisingly effortless way. Result? The system is incredibly effective at creating brand new GMs, and that's contributed substantially to its popularity.

Anecdotally, for example, I've run games for people for 30 years. In that time I've seen exactly one player decide to start GMing who hadn't done so previously... until I ran various Cypher System games for six months. In that time, I had three different players who had never GMed before all start GMing. This doesn't include convention play, where the number of people who've said "I'm going to go home and run a game of this" completely dwarfs any other game I've run sessions of (although Feng Shui 2, surprisingly, was very effective for this at Origins this year). If I could figure out exactly how to duplicate that, I''d be... well, not rich. This is the RPG industry after all. But I'd be, like, really good at my job or whatever.
Feng Shui 2 makes it really easy on the GM, IME, so that doesn't surprise me. From what I know Cypher uses many of the same tricks:smile:.

Still haven't tested Blades in the Dark, despite owning it, so I've got no opinion, but I suspect you might be right on that account as well:wink:.

Interesting enough, I've seen many more players starting to express an interest in GMing. But that might be because I explain my tricks for running a game easily and how to make stuff that boggles their minds effortlessly:shade:.
 

Stevethulhu

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What I often consider the best example of this is the first edition of Paranoia: In what universe does a satirical comedy game require a system in which, IIRC, there were three separate tiers for sub-specializing in skills? It doesn't. But the overriding design ethos here was "realistic simulation" no matter what the game was actually about.
I have come to dislike the whole "What is a game about" paradigm.

That said, when applied to Paranoia and it's overly complex skill system, there's also the line int he GM section of the book that says, and I paraphrase, the rules in the player section are a lie. Ignore them, tell them to roll and if you like the result then it's a success.

So what you've actually got isn't a game that is overly bothered about realism, or more accurately verisimilitude. Instead, what you have is a game that seems to be about one thing, but is actually about something completely different.

Oh wait, that's much like Paranoia itself. It's almost as if the original writers were aware of what they were doing.

How weird is that?
 

robertsconley

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@Edgewise @dbm

To explain my point better a short history lesson.

Back in the day publishing involved a expenditure of capital. You in addition to writing, layout, and editing; you needed to pay for print runs, warehousing, and shipping. While I am simplifying the situation, you needed to write for the broadest possible audience to see a return on your capital. The numbers needed to pay for everything demanded it.

As a consequence, what the hobby wanted in a general sense what vital to know. Obviously then as it is now, D&D was dominated, however there was a large minority looking for alternatives. Which allowed RPGs like Vampire, GURPS, and others to rise into top file in terms of market share.

Vampire is a good example in that in the 90s, interest in horror where Vampires had a history and cultures i.e. Interview with a Vampire was a thing. The same interest was expanded to encompass the supernatural in general and led among other things to successful shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed.

White Wolf got in early on the trend and it had broad enough of an appeal to be exploitable by the economics of RPG publishing.

Now back to our time.

The economics of publishing are that it is reasonable that one person can publish and be successful with an audience in the hundreds, make a living if the audience grows into the low thousands. The biggest limitation to most projects these days is time, how much time does the author or group have to devote.

However scale up big enough say to the level of Fantasy Flight, Cublicle 7, and of course Wizards of the Coast, then little has changed. On that level you need to keep a finger on what appeals broadly. Because those companies or group are investing the same relative amount of capital as in the 80s and 90s.

Dropping below that level it about what the author or small group is capable of and how they promote themselves than the particular of the projects.

James Raggi (Lamentations of the Flame Princess), Gavin Norman (Old School Essentials), and Daniel Fox (Zweihander) are three example of folks who are successful.

The rule system each of them uses is a factor but just a factor. The above and others would not have success if their rule system was terrible, but then they would not have success if they were terrible at other things related to publishing (or sharing material) as well.

Where the trend of the day comes into play it how easy it is to grow one's efforts. If you happened to write something that has broad appeal then that will have an impact and you may grow quite rapidly. But it likely will something related to what fueled White Wolf (vampire craze) or even D&D itself (70s/80s fantasy). Not something related to the design of the rules; lite or crunchy, generic or niche.

My view that only thing that required out of a set of rules, is that it is presented well, make sense, and play elegantly. How this is achieved is beside the point given the diversity of the hobby beyond the top tier of RPGs. I may not like a particular system but there will be others who will.

Hope this clarifies things.
 

Edgewise

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To explain my point better a short history lesson.
Always appreciated! FWIW I think I understood what you were getting at but feel free to point out if this is not the case.
However scale up big enough say to the level of Fantasy Flight, Cublicle 7, and of course Wizards of the Coast, then little has changed. On that level you need to keep a finger on what appeals broadly.
I hadn't considered this but it sounds right. But I just want to point out that we're not talking about pure popularity in terms of sales. I think the OP is more talking about "mind share," which has to do with what he's hearing in community chatter. In a more insider community, the sheer number of of systems will weigh about as heavily as the sheer number of sales.

That being said, it's interesting you mention companies like FF and C7, because they produce some games that may (or may not) support the thesis of the OP. Nichey games with specialized rules, roles and dice. So even if we care a lot about sales volume, the question still remains.
The rule system each of them uses is a factor but just a factor. The above and others would not have success if their rule system was terrible, but then they would not have success if they were terrible at other things related to publishing (or sharing material) as well.
I think this is very true. It dovetails with some of my thoughts about GURPS, which is that the success of the system may have had more to do with the profusion of excellent supplements than the rules. GURPS is not bad; in fact, it's very nimble for the simulationist approach, which is how I'd broadly categorize its philosophy. But the supplements were rich, varied and numerous. I think a lot of people like me got many of the supplements with no thought to using the actual mechanics.

But I still feel like this is a little beside the point. Are you saying that trends in game mechanics are entirely incidental, since the popularity of the products relies mostly on supplementary content? Because otherwise the questions still remain: what are the trends in game design and what is driving them? @dbm feels that designers are "narrowcasting" their mechanics, but I'm not so sure (see my previous reply to him).

And again, we're not just talking about pure popularity. Where does a game like Mothership fall in this discussion? There is currently only one published adventure for this system, although it is truly excellent. Is it not worth mentioning just because it's small? It comes up in a lot of discussions here when someone asks for a sci-fi horror game (caveat: that may be because I am the one who keeps bringing it up).

Speaking of Mothership, it's a real odd duck in this conversation. In one sense, it's meets @dbm's notion of an "appified" game i.e. it's tiny and made strictly for a certain genre. But besides the stress mechanics, the rules themselves are super-generic and easily adapted to a wide variety of settings; you could easily use it for contemporary horror or more. There's no baked-in setting, and if you visit the Discord channel, creators push back against any kind of attempt to define one.

Anyway, my current thought is that the question is open enough that it might not be possible to answer. There are so many games these days that's it hard to pin down any trends from the sheer volume of systems. And @robertsconley does have a point: if there's a system for every afternoon musing, then popularity should have some weight. And what's popular is probably fairly conservative (but isn't that almost always true?). So maybe I am actually converging on Rob's POV? I don't know.
 

dbm

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creating GMs is the primary viral vector by which any RPG propagates
This is an interesting point, and I do agree with it.

As an anecdote, my group is made up of six of us, most of whom have been playing over 30 years. D&D of any stripe is the defacto option since everyone has that burned into their gamer DNA. I personally don’t really like D&D any more so I am on a slow-burn campaign to get the group to play more systems. Whilst I haven’t found the game I would consider ‘perfect’ GURPS is currently the game closest to it that my group are interested in playing. But the challenge is learning the rules and becoming comfortable with them, so before anyone else will consider running it, I need to run a game of decent length so that people become familiar and comfortable with it, and hopefully enjoy it playing it. My ultimate goal is that someone else will be happy to GM GURPS as I want to play. Another member of the group would like to play Shadow Run, and would even run it in the future, but he doesn’t feel comfortable being the first person to run it, so he is stymied.

In short - the ability to pick up the game and run it is, indeed, the factor limiting us here.

So, perhaps it is that these ‘app’ games have a couple of qualities which help people jump this hurdle easily:
  • A smaller set of overall rules, often using standardised mechanics and a smaller set of modifiers
  • A clear focus of the game, answering the question of ‘what do the characters do in this game?’
So while you might not hear a lot of people recommending GURPS or HERO, I hear plenty of people suggest Mythras, Savage Worlds and Fate
I’ve definitely noticed a drop-off in recommendations for Fate. A couple of years ago it was, without a doubt, the Number 1 in terms of forum traffic. Now, I see lots of recommendations for FitD. This shift was one of the things that initially prompted to wonder what kind of shift (if any) there was happening.

It’s very interesting to me that you bring up Mythras, and you are right: it does get a lot of recommendations. I find that very interesting. Having read Mythras / RQ6 I find it occupies a very similar part of the complexity spectrum as GURPS. GURPS has rules for how quickly you can clear earth with pick and shovel; Mythras has rules for how your character slows down when going uphill in armour. They are both very skills-driven games and fairly flexible in how you use them. To my mind, Mythras is not actually a generic game at all. There are no mechanisms that allow you to balance races, that I am aware of, and no ‘powers’ system beyond the different magic systems (this may be changing as new books get added, but GURPS has this in the core books). To my way of thinking, Mythras is actually a close analog to D&D. Primarily fantasy and with a moderately flexible system that allows you to run a broader range of game worlds than a system like, for example, The One Ring which is, naturally, completely focussed on producing a game in Middle Earth.
Vampire is a good example in that in the 90s, interest in horror where Vampires had a history and cultures i.e. Interview with a Vampire was a thing. The same interest was expanded to encompass the supernatural in general and led among other things to successful shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed.
There is definitely an element of surfing the zeitgeist or catching lightening in a bottle. I’m not up enough on the timeline to say if Vampire was inspired by the widespread success of Interview, or they were just lucky with their timing. A member of my group runs one of the largest LARPS in the UK (Profound Decisions) and had a very successful game with a fantasy Age of Sail theme (because pirates are cool...) and by pure luck launched when the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie released. It drove a lot of his early sales.

There is definitely a surge in urban fantasy in mainstream media. True Blood is another big example. As a genre, urban fantasy also seems to get talked about a lot. Certainly more than ‘straight’ horror in my experience. This definitely seems to drive interest in playing games of this kind.

But that also circles around to one of the things driving my original question: people looking for exactly the right game to emulate a specific property, and (in particular) looking for an RPG where both the system and game world matched. But I am gamer who sees game world and system as only loosely connected. Some other people seem to want a tight connection (which is cool); my answer would still be to tweak a core or generic game to get the outcome you are looking for.
 

AsenRG

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I disagree with your assessment of Mythras*, but frankly, that doesn't really matter:smile:.


*A game that can run Glorantha, historical campaigns, Star Wars and the like equally easily is generic enough for me:wink:.

But that also circles around to one of the things driving my original question: people looking for exactly the right game to emulate a specific property, and (in particular) looking for an RPG where both the system and game world matched. But I am gamer who sees game world and system as only loosely connected. Some other people seem to want a tight connection (which is cool); my answer would still be to tweak a core or generic game to get the outcome you are looking for.
OK, but what's the difference? Other than being able to claim in front of your group "it's all right, guys, we're still playing GURPS, you're going to get it in no time":tongue:?

I mean, you can have a campaign of GURPS that uses no Shock and Bloodloss rules, introduces the fencing styles from Martial Arts (with no lenses), gives everyvbody Combat Reflexes and Improved Dodge for free, and allows Wildcard skills, Cinematic options, and voodoo-style magic from Thaumaturgy*, so you could run a game "Pirates of the Carribbeans"-style.

And then you can have a modern game with 150 pts, using Shock and Bloodloss rules, adding the Harsh Realism For Unarmed Fighters rules from Martial arts, and mandating that styles must either have the Street lens, or the Art or Sport lens, with nothing in-between...also no Cinematic advantages, no Wildcard skills, and no magic. Then you run a gritty game about modern-day youth gangs.

Is there an advantage to that approach over picking two different skill-based systems, like Honor+Intrigue for the first, and Kuro (without the magic and campaign supplements) for the second?
Because I've tried both, and frankly, I'm not seeing it:shade:.

*I think that was the supplement, but honestly, magic isn't my strong point in GURPS. I was so used to starting my campaign descriptions with "no magic allowed" that I sometimes forgot to write it down. My players still tended to assume, correctly, that it applies:grin:!
 

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OK, but what's the difference? Other than being able to claim in front of your group "it's all right, guys, we're still playing GURPS, you're going to get it in no time":tongue:
Pretty much, yes!

One of the guys in my group who is a big D&D fan was quite keen on playing Starfinder because it’s similarity to D&D would make it easier to adopt.

Currently, we are 30 hours into a Dungeon Fantasy RPG game that I am running (the all-in one boxset which was Kickstarted by SJG). My cunning plan it to run this for the group through a few adventures (probably giving them 100 hrs plus play experience by the time we have finished) and hope that someone will be comfortable enough to run it after that. This is me building their familiarity with the game in a genre I know they already enjoy (fantasy adventure).

If that isn’t enough for GURPS to click for them, the next stage of my strategy will be to run something a little different for them using the rules. Maybe I’ll do a GURPS powered Shadowrun game.

That is a little bit of a drift from the main thread here, but the key point is: people are not fully rational beings, and feel anxious when pushed out of their comfort zones. This can include learning to play new RPGs, and no one wants to feel anxious about how they are going to use their precious hobby time! On a serious note, we are all in the 40-50 age range so have significant work and family commitments in our lives. Our opportunities to role play are limited and valuable to us.

Maybe this is a factor: when we were younger and had less complex lives we were more inclined to learn new systems on a regular basis. Now we are older and brain-whacked at the end of the day / week we are less into that side of the hobby and so this is why playing lots of micro games isn’t to our taste.

It is quite possible that the answer to my musing is just that we are now old farts!
 
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Edgewise

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So, perhaps it is that these ‘app’ games have a couple of qualities which help people jump this hurdle easily:
To be honest, I'm starting to feel like the app comparison does not totally fit. I mean, is FitD a simple game? I wouldn't call it super-crunchy, but it has a lot of abstract mechanics and terminology, a lot of rules to cover things like downtime and even prison sentences. At least BitD does; I don't know how the SRD compares.

Anyway, analogies can help illustrate a point, but ultimately it's useful to define what you're talking about and give some examples. So what are the characteristics of the kinds of games you're talking about, and can you list a few? Not every game has to have every characteristic - this would just help me understand more what you're getting at.
To my mind, Mythras is not actually a generic game at all. There are no mechanisms that allow you to balance races, that I am aware of, and no ‘powers’ system beyond the different magic systems (this may be changing as new books get added, but GURPS has this in the core books).
Mythras does not for one second claim to be a generic game. I just thumbed through the intro, and interestingly enough, it never actually says what it is at all. This is definitely a game that doesn't waste time on a "what is role-playing?" section. It's actually nice to not see that. I've never read a section of the Monopoly rules entitled "Wait...I'm not actually a thimble! What's going on?"

But the game starts off with character creation rules that are definitely meant for a generic fantasy setting. It is a generic fantasy RPG, for what it's worth. Nevertheless, people seem to use it for a lot of non-fantasy stuff. I think this makes sense in context; Mythras is a very recent and well-regarded iteration of BRP, which is a family of systems that are built on a pretty generic framework of mechanics (as you note). So it gets a lot of third-party supplements and straight adventures that are set all over the multiverse. So I'm comfortable calling it effectively generic.

A point-buy system is theoretically nice for ballpark balancing, but balance is not required for genericism. Besides, even HERO's point system can be exploited fairly easily. And I don't think the edition of GURPS core rules that I own has a section on generic powers, either - just magic. I think that was all in the supplements for GURPS as well.
But I am gamer who sees game world and system as only loosely connected. Some other people seem to want a tight connection (which is cool); my answer would still be to tweak a core or generic game to get the outcome you are looking for.
There is a huge range of options, and what works best will depend on the setting, the GM and the players. In discussions on this board, when people ask for system/setting pairing advice, suggestions will range from generic systems to genre-specific systems to hacks and mash-ups. Hacking GURPS may truly always be the best option for you for very legitimate reason. But don't be surprised if other GM's feel there are better ways to spend their time than reshaping GURPS into an Arthurian romance simulator when there is already Pendragon.

Maybe the big reason people ask such questions is because there are just so many options these days. In the olden times, there was a small handful of games in any one genre that an average GM could hope to get his or her hands on. It was like choosing to watch one of three TV channels, one of which didn't even come in very well on your antenna. Some sort of work was always needed to watch a good show back then.
 
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robertsconley

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I hadn't considered this but it sounds right. But I just want to point out that we're not talking about pure popularity in terms of sales. I think the OP is more talking about "mind share," which has to do with what he's hearing in community chatter. In a more insider community, the sheer number of of systems will weigh about as heavily as the sheer number of sales.
Just keep in mind it not quite about popularity it more about volume of sales. Obviously tied to popularity. But even today selling on the internet only goes so far. So if you want more volume you need to go into distribution. Once you do that then you need to start considering how appealing are my products are to the broader hobby. Which means you need to understand what the current trends are and how they work with your product line.

But I still feel like this is a little beside the point. Are you saying that trends in game mechanics are entirely incidental, since the popularity of the products relies mostly on supplementary content? Because otherwise the questions still remain: what are the trends in game design and what is driving them? @dbm feels that designers are "narrowcasting" their mechanics, but I'm not so sure (see my previous reply to him).
There are two tiers. One where the volume of sales is such that the company needs to stay on top of trends to maintain sales.

A second tier where it entirely dependent on the interest of an individual authors or a small group and it is incidental whether they are following a trend. In terms of sales volume the former dwarfs the latter. In terms of people writing for RPGs the latter dwarfs the former.

So one can survey all the people who are authoring RPG material and spot trends. However it will have little predictive values for the 2nd tier.

It used to be that 80% of the industry was in the first tier due to the dynamics of publishing in the late 20th century. Limited space on store shelves, ordering print runs, keeping stock in distributor's warehouses and so on. So anybody who was serious about publishing RPGs had to keep on top of trends in the hobby to have a broad appeal.* The remaining 20% were small press doing what they wanted through mail order, convention sales, and maybe the occasional placement in distribution or store.

Today it flipped because of digital technology 80% of the industry can afford to carve out niches for themselves and not worry about following trends. Whether they used a system designed like GURPS or Hero System versus a more specialized system is based on the whim of the author.

For the 2nd tier to answer why one company uses one design over another you need to look at the personality and interests of the people involved.

And again, we're not just talking about pure popularity. Where does a game like Mothership fall in this discussion? There is currently only one published adventure for this system, although it is truly excellent. Is it not worth mentioning just because it's small? It comes up in a lot of discussions here when someone asks for a sci-fi horror game (caveat: that may be because I am the one who keeps bringing it up).
What your related a good example of the 2nd tier in operation within the hobby. It largely reputation based and dependent on word of mouth.

As opposed to 1st tier products which are generally found through advertisement because the volume allows the publisher an ad budget large enough for most of the hobby to see what they release.

Speaking of Mothership, it's a real odd duck in this conversation. In one sense, it's meets @dbm's notion of an "appified" game i.e. it's tiny and made strictly for a certain genre. But besides the stress mechanics, the rules themselves are super-generic and easily adapted to a wide variety of settings; you could easily use it for contemporary horror or more. There's no baked-in setting, and if you visit the Discord channel, creators push back against any kind of attempt to define one.
I would say it reflex the complexity of people's creative interests. How speaking about general concept breaks down when talking about specific individual writing specific projects.

Another example is that you mentioned Cublicle 7. C7 has both The One Ring RPGs and Adventures in Middle Earth targeting the same setting and sharing a good amount of material between the two. TOR is it own thing, yet AiME obviously caters to the D&D 5th edition hobby. Yet the same setting and the same adventures are used for both.


So maybe I am actually converging on Rob's POV? I don't know.
I hope the above helps further the discussion.
 

Justin Alexander

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So, perhaps it is that these ‘app’ games have a couple of qualities which help people jump this hurdle easily:
  • A smaller set of overall rules, often using standardised mechanics and a smaller set of modifiers
  • A clear focus of the game, answering the question of ‘what do the characters do in this game?’
Yes. And I would add:
  • Explicitly designed for short term or even one-shot play.
It's not just the difficulty of picking up a new set of rules that discourages people from picking up a new game; it's also the implied length of commitment.

When I pitch Ten Candles or Fiasco or Lady Blackbird, I'm innately and pretty much necessarily saying, "Hey, do you want to try this new thing for one night?"

Pitching something like GURPS or Eclipse Phase or Shadowrun is far more likely to be saying, "Hey, do you want to play at least 10-12 sessions of this over the next 3-6 months of our lives? Maybe even more?"

This is a major bifurcation in the hobby. Look at the relatively recent explosion of the "session zero" concept, for example: There are a lot of great things about this concept and it undoubtedly improves many campaigns. But it also undoubtedly makes it even more difficult for people to try out new games: "Hey, do you want to spend a full night getting READY to try a game that we will then spend at least the next 3-6 months playing?" Session zero makes the hardcore commitment wing of the hobby even more hardcore.

One thing to recognize, though, is that this bifurcation is not inherently hostile. Games that are easier for one-shot and pick-up play are what creates new die-hard fans who are willing to commit to session zeroes and 6 month campaigns and more complicated, indepth systems.
 

CRKrueger

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Justin has a point, the one-shot games serve a purpose, a great way to get people into roleplaying.

Now we just need people to make one shot games that don’t teach people to roleplay by means of OOC narrative mechanics or dissociated tactical mechanics.
 

dbm

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I think that I’ve come to a better understanding of the overall picture, and how that leads to where we seem to be.

My take on this now:
  • Desktop publishing software being mainstream has made it possible for micro publishers to spring up
  • The internet has allowed them to find a market
  • If you are publishing a micro game, it makes sense to start with something smaller and focussed rather than trying to ‘boil the ocean’
    • Alternatively, things like the OGL has given them a tent-pole to build around
  • Smaller games present a lower barrier to adoption by players, asking less of them (in a good way)
  • Some of these games ‘hit it out of the park’ and get a positive reaction / vocal fan base (the rest don’t get mentioned - a positive / negative feedback loop)
  • People seek to emulate or build on success, driving more of the same (in a good way)
  • Occasionally a spark or brilliance or innovation happens to kick out a new node that people build off (it’s a numbers game in some respects)
I think there is probably another side to this in that people who experience these games and have a great time want to promote them more vocally, plus people aren’t necessarily aware of them and so ask questions. This sort-of explains the dip in chatter about games like Savage Worlds or Fate as they are well known enough not to need the promotion that a new ‘internet darling’ might warrant.

I like the ‘narrowcasting’ label.
 

dbm

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Picking up on some specifics...
Mythras does not for one second claim to be a generic game
I agree, however @AsenRG mentioned it along side Savage Worlds and Fate. I would say SW is a generic game. I would personally class Fate as a core system but that is splitting hairs at the moment. The main tangent here is that lots of people seem to think of Mythras as a generic system, but I wouldn’t class it as such and, as you say, it doesn’t claim to be. I genuinely wonder why people are so keen to use it as a generic, it could be the BRP roots as you suggest.
Now we just need people to make one shot games that don’t teach people to roleplay by means of OOC narrative mechanics or dissociated tactical mechanics
Can you think of any examples of this? I suspect it’s really hard to create a simple one-shot that doesn’t use a high level of abstraction.
 

Edgewise

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Today it flipped because of digital technology 80% of the industry can afford to carve out niches for themselves and not worry about following trends. Whether they used a system designed like GURPS or Hero System versus a more specialized system is based on the whim of the author.
I like your explanation of the tiers. That rings pretty true.
For the 2nd tier to answer why one company uses one design over another you need to look at the personality and interests of the people involved.
Sure and this is probably where one needs to start thinking about popularity about which you speak. There are billions and billions (small exaggeration) of RPG systems out there, so like I said before, sifting through those for trends is a pointless exercise.
Can you think of any examples of this? I suspect it’s really hard to create a simple one-shot that doesn’t use a high level of abstraction.
Abstraction and OOC are different things. You can have very abstracted statistics and die-rolling mechanics, but as long as it can all be narrated without any special gaming terminology, OOC is avoided. If anything, avoiding OOC mechanics makes a game easier to learn - actually, players don't have to learn any rules whatsoever if mechanics are simple and entirely IC. I speak from experience.

Honestly, I think you can take a lot of existing games and make them into one-shot experiences. The main thing is to avoid wasting time with session zero setup, which requires simplicity. If all mechanics are IC, you don't even have to teach the players a thing if you're content to perform all the rolls yourself. Besides that, it's all packaging - just ignore the stuff in the manual about running a campaign and it's a one-shot. Harder than finding suitable one-shot rules is finding suitable one-shot adventures.
 

zweihander

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!!!

I'm literally giving a talk on this here at Andrews McMeel Universal on Thursday, addressing what I've come to call Mastering the RPG Ecosystem. In essence, I suggest that there is a biz strategy to use 'snackable', digestible one-shot content as a way to convert people who are curious about RPGs to become purchasers, and how to nurture them in high-touch ways to keep them loyal/buying over time.

Here's 3 slides from a 42-page deck I'm using:

10617

10618

10619
 

Brock Savage

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Now we just need people to make one shot games that don’t teach people to roleplay by means of OOC narrative mechanics or dissociated tactical mechanics.
Hey @CRKrueger could you please give me an example or two? I can't tell if you are describing a new thing I'm not aware of or an old thing in a colorful manner. Thanks!
 

dbm

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Abstraction and OOC are different things. You can have very abstracted statistics and die-rolling mechanics, but as long as it can all be narrated without any special gaming terminology, OOC is avoided.
Sure, but @CRKrueger also wanted games without ‘disassociated tactical mechanics’. Perhaps I have misunderstood what he wanted?

Either way, are there any one-shots you are familiar with that would meet the criteria of being non-narrative?
I'm literally giving a talk on this here at Andrews McMeel Universal
Interesting. What is their interest?
 

Edgewise

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Sure, but @CRKrueger also wanted games without ‘disassociated tactical mechanics’.
I think the key word there is “disassociated.” A simple game can handle real world tactics through simple narration and GM rulings. But I won’t try to put anymore words in @CRKrueger’s mouth in case he has something else in mind.
 
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