Monday, March 23, 2015

RPGs of the Future

I'm currently reading Volume One of the Hero System. The Hero System is one of the oldest role-playing games in existence, still in print and now on its sixth edition. It's first edition came out in 1984. The system is most well-known for powering Champions, one of the first superhero RPGs ever made.

The Hero System is also one of the most complex RPGs on the market today. Volume One is purely character creation, and it spans almost 466 pages! The combat rules (and all the other rules) are found in Volume Two, which, at 322 pages, is by itself bigger than many RPGs today.

Anyways, I was reading about skills on page 55 and noticed this little tidbit in one of the opening paragraphs:

"In ordinary situations, when a character is
under no stress or pressure and has sufficient
time to perform a task correctly, he doesn’t have
to make a Skill Roll (or Perception Roll) — the
GM can assume success for ease of game play."

And there it is, one of the main borders between old-school games and new-school games. Back then, all you got was a paragraph that said "don't roll unless it's necessary." Today, you have entire RPGs devoted to the concept of not leaving mundane tasks to chance.

I don't mean to pick on the Gumshoe system...ironically, it was made by a legend in the hobby, Robin Laws, who was definitely around and a part of things when the Hero System was new. But I find it fascinating how what was considered common sense advice back in the 80s and 90s is now revolutionary material worthy of an entire game system in the 2000s and 2010s. It makes me wonder what the future of the hobby is going to bring. What's going to be the big design trend in tabletop roleplaying in the 2020s? Here are some wild speculations of specific game designs I think are going to be a big part of role-playing in the not-so-distant future:

1. Rise of LARPing. If minature-based wargamming is an RPG taken to the rules extreme, then LARPing, or Live-Action Roleplaying, is essentially an RPG taken to the roleplaying extreme. I see more and more indie projects coming out now that emphasize live-action elements in their games, and I think it's only a matter of time before a LARP system becomes totally mainstream (like, D&D mainstream).

2. Tech integration. This one is pretty obvious. Yes, I know many people play tabletop games to get away from technology, but the writing is on the wall: technology is becoming more and more integrated with our daily lives, and soon it'll be inescapable. Some would argue we're already there. I'm certain RPGs in the next decade will have apps that do all the number crunching for you, apps that generate adventures on the fly; table-top monitors that can become combat grids with the press of a button; cheap and reliable projection screens that can shoot visual aids and references directly onto a wall, and countless other innovations I probably can't even imagine.

3. A return to detailed campaign settings. Current RPGs have turned away from the 80s/90s convention of the boxed set campaign setting, and modern gamers alike have been fine with that. However, there seems to be a growing tide of nostalgia for those massive boxes, for Dark Sun and Ravenloft, Planescape and Spelljammer. I think in the future those "deluxe" campaign settings will come back into style.

4. A return to a comprehensive rules system: Because the aforementioned rise in technology use at the table will make number crunching and organizing so much easier, I think a resurgence of RPGs going for game balance and "simulationist" style play will be in order. I snicker whenever I see some hot new rules-lite system come out and the first (and most common) thing I see all over that game's community are hacks, house rules, and modifications. Now of course that's always been the case (and always will be, to a degree), but I think as the 2010's go into their back half and there are an increasing number of scrappy indie games, there will be an outcry for a robust system like Hero or GURPS, a system that won't need as much hacking because it's got rules for everything! Just as people got sick of that style of play in the 90's, they'll be clamoring for it once again after 20 years of its opposite.

5. An increase of bits: With 3-D printing, affordable print-on-demand options, and better shipping availability, I think RPGs in the future will be ever-more inclined to use custom dice, cards, figures, or whatever else to help set them apart from their contemporaries. In this sense, I think D&D 4th edition was a little too ahead of its time: once production becomes easier, and technology more integrated, a game like 4E will probably be far less polarizing.

Think I'm wrong? Think I'm missing something? Got your own predictions? Let me know!

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