Thursday, February 24, 2011

The New Table-Top RPG Paradigm...

I got a comment on a thread about my Playbook app over on RPG.Net, and as grad school has given me some new tools for thinking on the subject, I thought I'd post up the comment and my reply (which is a more direct and precise statement of what I'm trying to achieve and why than the OP) here.

A friend pointed me towards your thread after a blog post I'd made wondering why there weren't games like this being made. Clearly there are. =)

There are two things I'm curious about regarding your approach to the product:

- The first is: Why did you opt to design it so that multiple devices would be needed?

- The second is: Why did you feel it important for it to feel like it was just like a tabletop game?

Part of what sparked my blog post was the number of other games that have play-and-pass modes for the iPhone, like Settlers of Catan. My thought was that you could have one game that you could play at any time anywhere you like. With the GM being the primary controller of the device, then passing it onto players when they need to take action.

From you description it seems like you are targeting a narrow margin of players who (a) want to maintain the feel of the standard TTRPG and (b) play with people that have multiple devices of the same format. When it seems like this is something you could approach from a new direction and bring new people into the hobby.

You don't need to have multiple devices. You could easily just let the GM use the tablet to keep track of everything himself, use a combination of the tablet and traditional paraphernalia, like dice and paper record sheets for players, etc. It's just designed to work that way as the full realization of a shift in play style from the pen and paper of old to the digital play-style that future portable computing devices offer.

As far as the importance of the TTRPG paradigm, I spoke to that in the OP, but I'll reiterate the thought process here with a more personal reason behind the design. Basically, it boils down to the areas in which a TTRPG is different from a CRPG that make it a viable and interesting form of entertainment in the modern age:

1. TTRPGs allow more freeform story-telling than CRPGs with much less work and in a much more flexible setting.

2. TTRPGs are primarily a face to face social form of game play more in line with board games than CRPGs.

3. TTRPGs are, for the most part, more portable and can be played in a wider variety of real world settings (from the dining room table to a pub to the park) than a CRPG.

4. TTRPGs (and this is going to get a bit academic, here) exist in a more immediate acoustic form of space than the strict visual space of the hyper-mediated CRPG, which is a very different play experience.

And then there are the very practical reasons:

5. Print is becoming increasingly impractical as medium of distribution for independent designers. PDFs, which are simply print in a digital format, are very passive and still require the GM and players to utilize extensive external paraphernalia. Modern digital tools are very generic and require you to already have the game and then you (or somebody else) must program its parameters into the system, and most aren't very portable and take little advantage of the current technology, like the ability to 'flip' information (in our case secret messages, dice results, or even wounds) from one device user to another using simple wi-fi.

6. Humans, themselves, are quickly adapting mentally to incorporate the presence of smart-phones, tablets, social media and other forms of instant communication not as simple tools but as literal extensions of their bodies and identities. To not adapt a pre-digital art form to this new paradigm and take full advantage of it is to, IMO, relegate it to the dustbin of history.

And now for the very personal reasons. Basically, I find the TTRPG experience to be superior to the CRPG in a number of ways. The way they encourage spending time with my friends and family in a positive social environment, the way I can choose the people I want to share that environment with, the way they stimulate my imagination and don't limit it, the way they encourage me to tell my own stories, and the way I can leave the house on a nice day, go down to the park and sit around on the grass and play games with my buddies while watching my kid play football and generally interact with the world outside instead of sitting around in front of a computer screen and shutting myself off from it.

In all I am passionate about what is a historically unique hobby that is, by my reckoning and by the reckoning of others in the industry, slowly aging and failing to truly keep up with the ever-changing face of human-technology interaction. I want to see it thrive and survive, to evolve into a form that will give it a whole new appeal for future generations right up until the time they finally create the SquID or holodeck, either one of which will probably kill every other form of media interaction stone-dead.

To do this I'm taking the basic strengths of TTRPGs and:

1. Digitizing everything necessary to play in order to free the GM and player up from having to carry around anything but a very portable smart-device.

2. Automating as many of the basic rules as possible so that the need to flip through books, mark changes, or do math or any form of number crunching and accounting is eliminated as a distraction from game-play and allow the users to exist in a much more immediate, acoustic brain-space.

3. And finally, putting it all in a single package that resembles the boxed sets of old, but in a format that takes into account the new human-technology paradigm.

Long post, but I hope that answers your question... 

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