I don’t normally read the long emails that come in from DriveThruRPG.com. Usually I just scan through the products the mention to see if there’s anything I want, and then hit “Archive.” but sometimes I find something nifty. This time it’s an article by Stephen Chenault that originally appeared in Crusader Magazine. The money quote for me came in the middle:
People aren’t suffering from attention deficit (with all due respect to those so clinically diagnosed) but rather from an acute sense of boredom brought about at the long-winded, never-ending, pointlessly-rambling, overly-controlling text and subtext that role playing games are written in. When I bought my truck some 11 years ago and took it home I had a gander at the manual. It was/is some 250 pages long and filled with such utter nonsense as to explain to me how to turn the air conditioner on or roll the window down. I tossed it in the glove box and haven’t looked at it since, save to write down the last time I changed my oil. This is, I’m afraid, the fate of m ost role playing games and the major reason for their decline amongst young people. Multi-volume rule books that verge on 1,000 pages of rules is not anything that can attract young people, casual gamers, people with children, people with jobs, people with lawns to mow. Throw in a high, steep price on top of that and you’ve pretty much slashed and burned any market growth you may have had. And if that didn’t put a damper on the new potential gamer then go ahead and take 300 of those pages and explain to him how he should be playing a role playing game and you’ve pretty much salted the fields of your market.
I’ve been feeling the sting of that myself lately. I have three huge book shelves filled with game books, many of which I’ve never even played a one shot of. I don’t buy many new games these days, but will drop a lot of money into a single game that I like. I have a flat request to have new books for Shadowrun and Exalted to be put into my box at my friendly local comic shop. But still, splat books do wear down the soul.
This became more relevant for me after having a flashback to a blog post I had read some time ago. I thought it was by Ryan Dancey, but he took down the blog post I thought referred to it and so now I’m not sure. The general idea was the evolution of roleplaying games and using smart phones and stuff in lieu of rulebooks. I had pretty mixed feelings about it at the time.
It came to mind recently while playing Catan on my iPhone (the mobile app version of Settlers of Catan). It is, for all intents and purposes, the board game loaded into my phone. It’s one of several board games I have installed on my phone. The fiancée and I will sometimes bust out the play-and-pass games of Scrabble and Catan when we’re dealing with public transit.
While playing Catan, I remembered my frustration with John Wick making a Settlers style land resource management system a key part of Houses of the Blooded. This combined with the quote above and the half-remembered blog post exploded in my head to form the phrase: MY GOD! WHY AREN’T THERE PLAY-AND-PASS ROLEPLAYING GAMES?!
Seriously. Rather than having to track my D&D and Exalted characters on a heavily notated Word document on my laptop, what if I had an app that could create all the PCs and NPCs, handled combat for me, and prompted us for actions outside of that? It could be a GM-free game like Polaris or even a more traditional game.
This wouldn’t have value for games like Amber or Best Friends, but could be extraordinary for more system heavy games. I tried searching for proof of someone doing this in the app store, but couldn’t find anything except apps to support traditional tabletop games instead of replacements for the games themselves.
Sadly, I don’t know a damn thing about making mobile phone apps.
But if I could get the same game for a fraction of the cost and no need to deal with poorly written rulebooks? Win!