Just forget I said the W word

Or the M word, or, uh, I guess the O word. Here’s the point for discussion: how can the next version of the D&D rules take advantage of the fact that there are other players with you in the room, instead of just falling back on it as granted? How can tabletop RPG rules actually make the fact of tabletop-ness part of the game itself?


  1. I will ask you a question in return…
    Isn’t how society is changing in general going to dictate that in the end?

  2. It hasn’t so far. The designers of 3rd Edition could have seen that getting people together to play was getting more difficult, and they could have changed the game not just to account for that, or even just to reward you better for accomplishing it, but to make being together more a part of what the game is – the better to compete. But they didn’t. My question is, what are the ways that they could?

  3. The easiest way would be to move to digital. Admittedly, publish the rule books and whatnot but also market a complete online interface for playing D&D. OpenRPG is nice but have a product specifically geared for D&D and easily updatable as errata/new sourcebooks are introduced.

    As to how to physically get people together to play? I have no idea. I’m fighting that now myself. I’d certainly be willing to try ANYTHING that’d encourage a more social aspect of the game though other than hoping that it happens. I’ve been in one to many dysfunctional groups to know that its a given.

    So, short answer, I have no idea.

  4. When I was young, I remembered making the time to gather ’round the table and play.

    Now, it ain’t that easy. We’re busy holding one or two extra jobs just to pay our credit card debts … which is why I no longer have plastic, especially when I just watched the PBS Frontline report: The Secret History of Credit Card … and it seems our “crave for comfort” also includes not leaving the house … thanks to the internet … and iPod.

    (So I have a beef with the commercial hype of iPod. Sue me.)

    And thanks to inflation, it’s cheaper to get a college textbook than it is a game rulebook in print. That forced the frugal-minded to get on the internet for low-bargain price. That means you must have a plastic to pay, which means you accumulate more debt, which means you have to get an extra job to pay off the debt, which means you don’t have the time to play with the newly-purchased electronic game book.

    IOW, it sucks to live and play RPG in the present day.

  5. Hmmm, moving to digital would not be playing on the tabletop-ness of the thing, quite the contrary…

  6. Support for web cams or streaming DV.

    True, it isn’t real “tabletop-ness” but, in a lot of ways, it’d be easier to get people together. So I guess you could target that as being social but I will admitt that its a stretch.

  7. I’ve been thinking about this question quite a bit. It really gets to the core of why I like RPGing the old school way rather than on a computer. I think the things I enjoy most are the social aspect of gaming (and here on out I mean table top gaming), having some buds in a room, laughing and goofing, to me in many ways the game has almost become secondary, which I think gets to your point.

    So what can you do? Add a dash of Diplomacy? Encourage players to make alliances or something simiiar to with the blessing of the GM to keep things from getting out of hand? That might make things get too cut throat though…

    In my group we switch on and off doing the GM thing and the GM models I enjoy most are the ones where the GM has people try and develop a decent back story for their characters and then incorporate that into the game. That takes more effort and work for the GM but when you hit the pay off it can be cool (my missing “dad” in a Star Wars RPG turned out to be a Sith Lord and I left our group to stand at his side in the final session!)

    Adding little touches like that help me feel more invested in the game. Of course none of these things are really “rule changing” or “adding” The more I think about what your asking the more I think, what a great question. I look forward to hearing more responses.

  8. What can we do?

    Help the newbie DMs. He’s the one guy or girl among the group that has to put together something fun for the rest. Problem is, in this day and age, as was complained by many DUNGEON readers, they don’t have the free time to prepare. But there’s one way to make sure the DM would make the time: pay him.

    Hey, if you can drop $10-20 a month (including the one-time purchase of the MMORPG software) to role-play online, which is used to maintain the online server as well as give programmers incentive to add new adventures and goodies into the servers, one should consider tipping your DMs.

    That brings another thing we need: “Plug n Play” adventures. DMs who have no time would rather pick up a published adventure — like players pick up an expansion to computer games or a booster pack to trading card games, and play it with little or no prep at all.

  9. Anyway, it seems that the next incarnation of D&D will have something to do with the fact that people are not anymore willing to commit to complex tabletop RPing… Amazon has a “Dungeons & Dragons Basic Game 2006 (Hardcover)” announced for June, 13th.

  10. “Complex tabletop RPing”?

    Another sign that the human civilization is getting dumber.

    Remember the old days when only geeks play D&D? 😉

  11. I don’t see next year’s D&D Basic Game hardcover as a sign that anyone’s getting dumber, just more used to the work being done for them by computers. That, and retailers haven’t had a Basic set for D&D to sell for several months now, and WotC is getting around to it a bit too late.

    This is all straying from the topic, though. Helping newbie GMs is a great idea, as is subsidizing them, but neither addresses the question posed.

    If RPGs were designed to *require* a certain number of players, each taking one of the adventure’s predetermined roles in order to complete the quest, that might encourage groups to get together. At the same time, the ability of a GM to improvise a session would be greatly hindered, since such a quest would have to be more carefully engineered.

  12. Maybe we’re all coming at the question from the wrong direction. Here’s a more basic question: What is it that roleplayers could get out of RPGs when all together that they couldn’t get when apart from each other? Well, players can see, hear, smell, touch, and taste (not each other, though. Eww…). So figure out what would appeal to the senses, would be presented to the group, and is within reason, and that may be the direction D&D4e needs to go.

    For example: cool miniatures, props and such appeal to the eyes, and are certainly within reason, but aren’t necessarily a group-only thing, so they aren’t the magic ingredient we’re looking for. Lighting, adventure soundtracks, and such are just extensions of the “cool props” idea, so they aren’t the magic ingredient either. Sure, if you aren’t with the group, you don’t get to see the cool props, but a GM could roll out cool props for a single player session too.

    Hmm… lemme think a bit more on this…

  13. I could counter the “cool props” argument with the time and effort to build them vs. what’s already provided in the MMORPG’s feature, thanks to advances in 3D graphic technology.

    Granted, there are high points to tabletop RPing over online RPing but to most players they won’t miss them much if they would rather stay home and not bother to get dressed even for a friendly, informal social gathering.

    Kids. Sadly, they are our society’s future.

  14. OBTW, the next D&D Basic Game is a hardcover format?!?!!!

    That damn thing still better come in a box full of maps and minis and whatnot.

  15. That’s another one of my next questions: what could D&D learn from LARPs? (Indeed, that’s one of my wild-assed predictions for 2006: The Forge will find that it has to come to grips with LARPs, and there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth thereafter.)

  16. Dai: Yes, the “cool props” are certainly not the key ingredient D&D4e needs (as I already said) for a number of reasons, including the nifty sound and graphics advances of computers. What I’m still trying to hone in on is the group aspect: what can players experience as a group that they can’t apart?

  17. Allan – I think that’s very simple: Real communication. Even through phone and Video conferencing, it is still difficult to get a visual que to something you are trying to be subtle about. We as humans communicate with way way more than just words. You move your hands, furrow your brows, shrug your shoulders…all things you simply can’t get virtually. I think thats the strongest arguement for still sitting around a table together…pure, real communication. It allows for an immersion or acting style I find terribly rewarding in my gaming sessions.
    I think those that are much more interested in just rolling sice won’t find this a necessary or needed. Since so many people approcah “role-playing” in so many ways, it’s often hard to come to one definition of what it is, or how it is done.

  18. Gotta agree with Chris. There’s something purely and intimately interactive and social when communicating and expressing in person, as opposed through an electronic device … err, not counting phone sex.

  19. “Anyway, it seems that the next incarnation of D&D will have something to do with the fact that people are not anymore willing to commit to complex tabletop RPing… Amazon has a “Dungeons & Dragons Basic Game 2006 (Hardcover)” announced for June, 13th.”

    I have the WoTC catalog in front of me here, and there is a June Release called the “Players Kit”. ISBN-10:0-7869-3945-1, and it is a boxed set, and basically the next logical step beyond the basic set. Is that what you are talking about?

  20. Er, make rules in 4th edition D&D to play to the tabletop-ness? To each, their own, but I don’t know that it’s a good direction at all.

    For one thing, it’s wonky.

    For another thing, it just seems like a non-starter for me. I read the original stuff off-site, and after some thought, it strikes me as one of those seemingly deep questions that goes nowhere.

    All the groups I’ve gamed with have enjoyed getting together as a social aspect, being at the same table, and collectively enjoying their experience. I’m not sure how more rules which someone play to this social experience would enhance the game – but I can easily imagine how they’d make it worse.

    Do we need rules in our D&D to tell us the equivalent of why dialing in over iChat AV and drinking a beer isn’t the same as actually sitting in the pub with your friends drinking beer in person?

    Thanks, but no thanks.

    If anything, perhaps RPGs have a marketing problem and need to stress the actual “get together” social nature of the beast. Actually, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen ads to that effect lately.

    Mike’s LARP comment is perhaps more “tangible”, but having regularly found LARPs to be … let’s just say “not to my liking”, I wouldn’t know how to address it.

  21. Trying to make rules that directly address physical co-presence may be a non-starter. I think one problem is that any rule that addresses it successfully will probably address it indirectly… and that’s the kind of thing that’s hard to think up when you start from the intended effect and try to work backwards.

    Co-presence is definitely a part of the marketing message now, but my concern is that it’s a weak part of the marketing message if it isn’t more strongly coupled to the game rules themselves. Right now, co-presence is an incidental result of the game, as evidenced by the fact that you can play the game one-on-one or via chat without changing the core gameplay at all. It utterly changes the way you play the game, visual cues and interpersonal dynamics and all, but it isn’t a big part of the game itself. And maybe it can’t be made a part of D&D without destroying part of what D&D is.

    I’m not trying to start a big tussle over the definition of “game” or anything, and I may be looking at the wrong lever in the first place. Another possible lever is: how can WotC find and/or create more people who consider co-presence (and everything that comes with it) important enough in a game to make sacrifices for it?

  22. What you get out of gaming with a group around a table is the same as what you get when doing anything with a group. I could have watched the super bowl alone. I could have even sat in a chat room while I watched it and discussed the game. But sitting in my living room with friends munching and drinking is a totally different experience. I get together with my friends to play D&D because we can share in the experience together. The game is just the focus of our social gathering.

  23. Mike, the question was, “how can the next version of the D&D rules take advantage of the fact that there are other players with you in the room, instead of just falling back on it as granted?” Your response is a neat summary of the “falling back on it as granted” position. I still hold that nothing in the rules of D&D makes the other players a part of what any given individual player is doing.

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