Friday, May 29, 2015

The Wrong Side of History

What do the Fantasy Flight Star Wars games and the fifth edition of D&D have in common? Two things, one good, and one bad. The good thing is that they are both high-quality standard bearers of their respective genres, well-loved and heavily played.

The bad thing is that neither of them have official digital versions. And it's for this reason that neither of these games see heavy rotation at my table.
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay uses virtually the same system as the FFG Star Wars game, but with one key difference: you can find WFRP at DriveThruRPG. That, in my admitedly-bizare opinion, makes this the better game.

About 98% of the things I read are in a digital format, either as a .pdf file or a .mobi file. It is much, much easier to carry my slender iPad Air with me on my daily commute than it is a full-sized hardcover book, not to mention more convenient for bed reading and night reading.When we look specifically at RPGs, I can keep entire product lines on my iPad and access them with just a couple of finger taps. And that's just straight up reading; if we start talking about hyper-linking, cross-referencing, and alternate formatting, we have a whole bevy of convenience options via tablet or PC that aren't available in a physical version.

Yet two of the hottest commercial role-playing games out today simply don't utilize these options. I'm sure their PR teams and their licensing teams and their design teams can roll out a whole cart of reasons why this is the case. All of them are bullshit, and I'm tired of hearing it. I'm tired of the big, resource rich titans, unable to get with the times, simply ignoring the writing on the wall and then acting like it's not a big deal.

I know the reality of things are a little more complex than this. But I also know that Wizards of the Coast and Fantasy Flight Games are not merely bucking a trend; they are straight-up ignoring evolution for no better reason than they can afford to ignore it. Could you imagine where Evil Hat would be if they didn't make Fate Core available as a .pdf? Or Sage Kobold with Dungeon World? 

As a grown-ass man, I tend to be busy. My free time tends to come in spurts and clumps, not long stretches like it did when I was younger. It no longer makes any sense for me to carry around a heavy hardcover book (let alone several) just for those moments to come up when I can flip through them and prep for the next adventure. I need a format that utilizes the existing technology I have to work with me and help me get the most out of my time.

I'm not saying I'll never play D&D or Edge of the Empire ever again. Far from it; I'm currently in an EotE campaign, and I plan on starting a D&D campaign soon. But I plan on steering away from those games very, very soon, and when I do, I won't be looking back. In fact, for this reason, I'm thinking about switching my D&D campaign to 13th Age. About a year ago, I wrote that I was worried that 13th Age wouldn't be very successful because of D&D's sudden resurgence. But now, I'm actually thinking 13th Age has a great opportunity, here. As part of the Bits and Mortar Initiative, you can get free pdf copies of every physical book you buy from Pelgrane Press (13th Age's publisher). That is absolutely brilliant. Now there's a company that appreciates my time and wants me to make the most of it!

I love the Bits and Mortar Initiative so much that I'm tempted to exclusively only play games from companies that support it. Because that is modern design. You have the big, colorful, hard cover book for common use at the table, and the discrete, portable digital version while you're riding the bus to work.

So, again, it is absolute bullshit and backwards thinking that prevent these modern games from having a digital presence, so disappointing that it weighs against my inclination to run them (I should make it clear that my disdain only extends to GMing these games; if someone else wants to run them, then I shall gladly play in them!) Let me shoot down a couple of counter-points before I wrap it up, here:

1. I think D&D Basic is a great idea. But not great enough to be a total stand-in for the core game in digital form. When working on an adventure or just brushing up on rules, I do not want to worry about if "the basic version" has everything right. I also don't want to have my options reduced, and I definitely don't want a situation where I can cite a rule from the Basic file but have no damn idea where it can be found in the "real" books. So while the D&D Basic .pdf is, admittedly, a step in the right direction, it is not a valid solution in and of itself.

2. Scanned bootlegs. Seriously? Is this what we've come to, Wizards and Fantasy Flight? We're so scared about piracy that we're actually going to create a demand for it? This is exactly what I'm talking about when I say "backwards thinking." Bottom line: I don't do bootlegs. I just don't. Everybody's snobby about something. This is what I'm snobby about, okay?

3. I was talking with someone not too long ago about what it takes to be a good GM, and how to create more good GMs. One point I always come back to is this: a good GM has to be comfortable. It doesn't matter if I should be fine without the digital files: the fact is, I'm uncomfortable running a game without them. And if my sensibilities prevent a game from getting played, then my sensibilities should probably be addressed.

So, Wizards and FFG, I know you guys are capable of doing this. I know the reasons you don't. Please just let me know when you get your shit together, and I will be first in line to run your games. Until then...