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The Uncanny Resurrection of Dungeons and Dragons (newyorker.com)
341 points by petethomas on Oct 24, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 238 comments

I tried getting friends to play RPG's in the early 1980's but they didn't show much interest until I came across a supply of 6" (150 mm) square pieces of styrofoam (discarded packing material from work) which I painted with gray acrylic paint. I cut some in half and some in quarters and used them to depict the dungeons for use with metal miniatures. After that I had a group which showed up every month for 5 years.

I wrote a program for my computer which generated dice rolls, monsters, treasures, and random names to assist me in my role as Dungeon Master but the critical element was my ability to ignore or re-roll any result which seemed too unfavorable. Good players really help the game but a good Dungeon Master is essential for an enjoyable game. Computers alone cannot exhibit the empathy necessary for a great game.

Not just empathy - it's also a sense of drama that's required. A DM writes the story in (semi-)real-time, whereas in CRPGs the "DM" (the writers) have to predict player actions in advance and railroad the players a lot more in order to get a good story progression going.

This is the key insight which many new DMs seem to miss. D&D isn't a "game", it's a framework for telling an engaging story together.

It also goes both ways. The players have to engage and help build the story. I love the Feng Shui RPG for how they insist about the back and forth between player and DM. They also encourage the DM to pre-roll everything to make fights go smoother.

This is much more explicit in a different, much simpler RPG called Fate, which is my new favourite.

GM'ing (Game, rather than Dungeon Master) is nearly as hard because of the improv story authorship, but the lack of rules-lawyering judgement that is required of you in a D&D game (even in a good edition like 5th, sadly) is not missed.

A friend of mine is a very good DM in D&D, wrote his own stories, world, etc, and we got a group of 5 people together and played two games before he had to leave, so we disbanded.

We very much liked the vibe, though, so I want to get the group together again. Is Fate a good game for inexperienced players (especially with an inexperienced DM)? If not, what would be a simple system to start with and play, but still enjoyable?

Fate Accelerated seems to be what I want (I'm not even sure what the differences are with Core, even having read the comparison), but the site doesn't really do a good job selling you the system.

EDIT: Man, this site is terrible. It links you to a store where I can't figure out where to buy Fate Core stories, it doesn't tell you what equipment you need, where to get it, jeez.

I don't know much about the difference between Core and Accelerated, I just bought the Fate Core rule book (amazon?) and workout out of it. This is how I run pretty much all my games, buy the book and read it.

A new DM should (IMHO) try playing in a game of the specific system run by someone else first, even in a minimalist system like Fate.

The thing about Fate is that the jargon is generic fiction terms, rather than medieval fantasy or whatever. So you have to read the rules cover to cover before DMing, and make sure to jump forward and back to remind yourself of definitions etc. Once you get going, and are familiar with the two or three mechanics you can use, it's very liberating though!

If it's what I think it is, you should be able to start with Accelerated and then convert to Core if some things aren't working (i.e. it's too simple).

I see, thank you. Do you only need the book? The site mentions cards, dice, and various other things, but it doesn't tell you if you actually need those things.

> A new DM should (IMHO) try playing in a game of the specific system run by someone else first, even in a minimalist system like Fate.

That's going to be impossible, it's already hard to find D&D people in my city, something like Fate is just going to be nonexistent, unfortunately.

I recommmend an online game then - Reddit "looking for group" is quite good as a hub.

You need "fudge dice", but these are mappable from D6s. I recommend getting the dice though, as this is th table:

1 => -1

2 => -1

3 => 0

4 => 0

5 => 1

6 => 1

So it can get pretty confusing to do in your head.

Ah, thanks. I was thinking of doing the same with D6es. Good to know that you don't need the cards or anything else, I'll buy the book and read it. The online idea is also pretty interesting, thanks for the recommendation!

Ah, "cards" may mean index cards. I just use notepaper, but the book recommends writing stuff on index cards so you can "publicly display" them to the players and remind yourselves of the state of the world at that point in play. I didn't do that yet though in my game!

Ah, I downloaded the "free" version of the PDF and it does have a list of what to get in the first few pages. Too bad this isn't front and center on the site.

By "cards" I mean the "Deck of Fate":

> The Deck of Fate is an alternative to Fate Dice. It’s a deck of cards that mimics the probability of Fate Dice, and it’s designed to be used in the same way Fate Dice are.

I'm watching a video of Wil Wheaton playing with friends, and it looks like Fate doesn't even use a board, and you make the story up as you go along. It looks pretty interesting, I think I'll give it a shot!

In my experience, the contents of the Accelerated Edition are nigh incomprehensible without a prior understanding of Core. I'd recommend that if you choose to play Accelerated, the GM be familiar with Core. It'll also be a lot easier to understand if you watch some "actual play" on YouTube beforehand.

Note that the text of both editions (as well the Fate Toolkit and some other goodies) is dual-licensed under CC-BY or OGL: http://www.faterpg.com/licensing/licensing-fate-cc-by/

The Fate SRD site is a third-party creation that presents the texts in a more convenient/organized way: https://fate-srd.com/

There's really no need to buy any books, but they're very reasonably-priced; the Core and Toolkit books are also very well-constructed and can withstand a good deal of usage. Though you can technically play with standard d6's, I'd recommend picking up some Fate (or Fudge) dice; I got a couple sets on Amazon, each set having enough dice for 3 players.

For stories/settings, there are loads of freely-available "Worlds of Adventure" on DriveThruRPG: http://www.drivethrurpg.com/browse/pub/2152/Evil-Hat-Product...


You might also like to check out Dungeon World if you haven't already: http://www.dungeon-world.com/

It similarly is CC-BY and has an "SRD" site: http://book.dwgazetteer.com/

IMO it's considerably easier to grok than Fate, especially for people new to RPGs, but YMMV. It also has a pretty expansive section of "rules" for the GM, which leaves room for little doubt about what the GM should be doing (and is, in large part, applicable to other games as well). It also uses standard d6's, so there's no need to invest in special dice (though the Fate dice sets aren't terribly expensive anyway).

I'll also plug Open Legend (I'm unaffiliated other than being a KS backer): http://www.openlegendrpg.com/


No matter what you decide to play, I highly recommend spending some time watching some "actual play" videos beforehand. I've found the Rollplay R&D series enjoyable: https://youtu.be/ooa-apRt2wk

Interesting perspective. I'd take the opposite approach, recommending new game masters start with Fate Accelerated as being so affordable ($5 physical, pay what you want digital) and so short and saving Fate Core until you want to dive deeper and create a customized long term campaign. Watching a let's play video is a great recommendation!

The fundamental structure of Fate is very simple and straightforward. I'm working on a space opera variant (in the 27th century genetically engineered cosplayers, makers, scientists and pop culture enthusiasts set out to reconnect the lost civilizations of humanity) and am finding in playtests with strangers who have never played Fate that I can explain the core rules in 10 minutes or less and people can have a good time playing for 3 hours without any additional explanation.

I love Fate Core, but it's very wordy because it functions as a toolkit to adapt the game to any sort of setting imaginable. (and because it recapitulates a ton of stuff, rather than cross referencing)

Perhaps it's due to my own personal shortcomings, but I found FAE really difficult to wrap my head around until I'd read through Fate Core. I do like its brevity and simplicity, especially now that I have a good understanding of it, but I felt like some parts of it were unclear to me as a fledgling.

> I love Fate Core, but it's very wordy because it functions as a toolkit to adapt the game to any sort of setting imaginable.

I can see why so many people love it! I like it, though I must admit it isn't my favorite (I don't play a lot of pulpy games, and I've found Fate works really well for pulp, as designed to do, but not particularly well for other tones (though not particularly poorly, either)). I just finished up another reply to GP, wherein I mention that toolkit-esque quality. I don't think I truly understood Fate as a system until I internalized that it's not a game so much as a foundation and scaffold for creating games. Fate's immediate ancestor, Fudge by Steffan O'Sullivan, is very much in the same vein, but, I think, more obviously so (the Fudge book itself reads more like a list of possibilities than a list of rules!).

> I'm working on a space opera variant (in the 27th century genetically engineered cosplayers, makers, scientists and pop culture enthusiasts set out to reconnect the lost civilizations of humanity) …

That sounds fun! Is it available on the web somewhere for perusal?

I myself am working on a game, as well, though I opted to try my hand at designing a system "from scratch" (more of an amalgam of lots of ideas and mechanics that I like and that seem to work well together; exceedingly few of them are my original creations, but I have a ludography documenting and acknowledging my inspirations). Unfortunately, it's been on the backburner for a little over a year now, and the partially-written playtest document is out of date wrt my notes.

Perhaps we could talk nerdy game-design sometime :)

I have a website for the space opera game here: festive.ninja which will give you a sense of the game. I'm hoping to get a quickstart version of the game out shortly, after I get a chance to incorporate the playtest feedback. (Which was to double down on the whole "post-scarcity geeks, gamers and makers" aspects of the setting.)

Good luck with your game--when you get a draft in playable form I'd be happy to run a session and share feedback if that'd be helpful. Speaking of talking nerdy game-design, the RPG design reddit is surprisingly active, if you haven't had a chance visit yet.

I agree that default Fate is tonally suited best for pulpy games, or other genres where the characters default to remarkably competent.

> In my experience, the contents of the Accelerated Edition are nigh incomprehensible without a prior understanding of Core.

Oh, really? That's too bad, accelerated seems to be a way to get up to speed with Fate in a very short time without knowing anything about the game, shame that that's not so much the case.

> The Fate SRD site is a third-party creation that presents the texts in a more convenient/organized way: https://fate-srd.com/

I browsed through that a bit and it seems to have the exact same text as the guide, so I'm a bit confused. Is it just the guide in HTML format?

> For stories/settings, there are loads of freely-available "Worlds of Adventure" on DriveThruRPG

That's a fantastic suggestion, thank you! I'll definitely check that out.

> IMO it's considerably easier to grok than Fate, especially for people new to RPGs

I've been playing D&D for a while, I just haven't DMed, so I'm not completely new to RPGs. I'll have a look at Dungeon World too, though, as it may fit our group better, thank you.

> I've found the Rollplay R&D series enjoyable

Good call, I'm going to watch a few to get a feel for how the game is played, thanks again.

> Oh, really? That's too bad, accelerated seems to be a way to get up to speed with Fate in a very short time without knowing anything about the game, shame that that's not so much the case.

You might be able to get by with just FAE and watching enough actual play to get a good grasp on how it works. For me, it felt like the FAE book sorta glossed over a lot of stuff that's more thoroughly explained in the Core book. That's just my experience, though; yours might well be different, of course!

> I browsed through that a bit and it seems to have the exact same text as the guide, so I'm a bit confused. Is it just the guide in HTML format?

Yup! It's exactly the same text, but some people prefer the organization and function to that of a book, so I figured I'd mention it :)

> That's a fantastic suggestion, thank you! I'll definitely check that out.

No problem! Fate—like its ancestor, Fudge—is so flexible and malleable that I've found it better to think of it as a framework/starting-point for creating a game rather than as a game in-and-of itself. Actually, it wasn't until I started thinking of it that way that I really felt like I understood the game. I think that if you take a look through some of those "Worlds of Adventure", you'll see it reflected therein: in tailoring the system to fit the setting, certain parts of the system are removed or restricted nearly as often as new parts are added.

> I've been playing D&D for a while, I just haven't DMed, so I'm not completely new to RPGs. I'll have a look at Dungeon World too, though, as it may fit our group better, thank you.

I wasn't sure how experienced your group is. Even if you decide not to play Dungeon World, I highly recommend reading over the GM chapters (The GM, First Session, Fronts, The World, Monsters, Equipment) and perhaps the appendices of the Dungeon World book (or "SRD" site as I linked before; it's the same text). The vast majority of the "rules", guidelines, and advice written there is generally applicable to GMing any sort of game. I've applied much of that stuff to D&D 5e and even GURPS games, and players have reacted positively. As an added bonus, I now spend far less time preparing for sessions (because I encourage and guide the players' own collaborative creativity so that we're largely creating the world and the plot on-the-fly, together as a group; they have more fun, sessions are railroad-free, and I have more freetime ;) ).

> Good call, I'm going to watch a few to get a feel for how the game is played, thanks again.

That group (modulo the guest player each season) has played a lot of different games, so if you're interested in checking out some new systems, I recommend looking through their videos :)

Thank you, this is all very useful information. I talked to the group and they seem to prefer dungeon hack-and-slash, so we might go with Dungeon World after all. I'll definitely read the GM chapters and some of the SRD to get a feel for it either way, it sounds useful.

Thanks again!

I'll note that there are great, thriving G+ communities for both Fate Core and Fate Accelerated, with the designers engaging.

Also the Book of Hanz is a great free resource that highlights what makes Fate distinct, and offers good advice on running the game.

Kinda. I would say that story is the least important bit when in the moment as a player. It is once the session is over that the story emerges.

Exactly. I played DnD, asynchronously, over the phone. Hours at a time with the DM, rarely a die rolled.

Eh, they don't have to (cf Eve), they just decided not to and so they've largely missed the chance for more interesting and sticky player driven story (cf Eve) by following EQ's model of "here's what you do next kids".

Eve is kind of a different thing, I think. Hardly anyone is actually roleplaying in Eve, for one. For another, most tabletop RPGs give you a fighting chance at being the hero, whereas in Eve you're overwhelmingly likely to be Faceless Extra #54265. There's nothing wrong with that, necessarily, but it scratches a different itch than RPGs.

The thing that turned me off is the fake british accents people seem to feel are necessary. It's a fantasy world, who's to say what kind of accent they have??

in my current game, the dwarves all have redneck accents, and if anyone questions why they're not talking in bad Scottish accents, they start talking about "ijits" who've never seen a real dwarf but only halflings dressed in fat-suits at the minstrel shows pretending to be dwarves...

Right, who is to say that, including yourself. :-)

Yes, I did something like that for when I DM'd Shadowrun! (Writing bits of computer code for dice rolls).

One of my favorite things about Shadowrun was rolling a 1/2 pound of D6s at once!

My campaign started in 1978. We're still playing. Over 60 players have come and gone, but the current crew has a half-dozen of the original players from the 70s and early 80s still going. We've outlasted at least 6 marriages, lots of moving (I currently Skype in, but will be moving back home next year), and all manner of turmoil. When I've been too busy or burnt out to DM, someone else in the group has stepped up to fill the gap.

It's hard to schedule because of family and work obligations, but we are pretty close to monthly.

Wow, it's really Loyd Blankenship! Forgive the gushing fan reply, but I'll take any chance I can to tell you how grateful I am for the GURPS Cyberpunk sourcebook. Definitely one of my main inspirations (along with Gibson's books) for taking up a career in coding.

Thanks! I was mostly happy with how it came out -- having to rewrite about a third of it because of seized backups was traumatic at the time.

Ahh. The book that supposedly kicked off “Operation Sundevil”.

What if I told you that there might have been a different GURPS book that was the real cause?

(Also, if I'm being pedantic, Sundevil had nothing to do with the the raid either. Sundevil was run by an idiot in Arizona. All of the Legion of Doom-related raids were run by an idiot in Chicago.)

Cyberpunk didn't kick off the raid -- that happened because of the BBS I ran, the Phoenix Project. The book was merely a casualty of the war.

Sounds interesting, Please do tell!

  +++The Mentor+++
The best part of HN is who hangs out here

I'm not sure if it's resurrecting, or just improving it's image, either way it's welcome. Still, it is sad that it is so focused on one game: D&D. It's a decent game, particularly fifth edition, but I can't help finding it a bit... um, artless.

Which isn't a problem, sometimes that's fun. But when there are so many amazing and sophisticated RPGs, with game mechanics that expand the form and support interesting play, it is a shame that DnD still gets all the focus.

I'd love to see more love for 'Night Witches', 'Dogs in the Vineyard', 'My life with Master', 'The Beast', 'Hillfolk', 'The Clay that Woke' even 'Apocalypse World', or 'Fate'.

It's like programming languages, sure you can do anything in D&D (≈ Java, perhaps?), but other games have different strengths. Sometimes, being into non D&D RPGs can feel like people saying "there's more than one programming language?"

We've got this amazing supply of great and interesting RPG engines out now, which I think the broad internet community (just people getting together to DIY stuff) and crowdfunding (lots of these systems are kickstarted) sort of came together to support.

That said, I think that most systems authors need to start with a paragraph or two about "why this RPG engine is necessary, instead of making it work as a plugin to GURPS / Fate / d20 / Apocalypse world." There's a lot of good reasons to do this, but there's also a lot of cruddy systems with half-baked rules that are ripe for rules-lawyering and just bad implementation details (looking at you, FFG Star Wars). Writing a well-crafted, minimal-bug RPG engine is similar to writing a front end framework or something along those lines.

I mostly agree, as a long-time FUDGE fan. And recently it's been interesting to see how much AW has captured the imagination of the indie community. It just really seems to work, and we're seeing it pop-up in so many other places. I've been absolutely adoring Night Witches this year, for example.

I slightly disagree, only inasmuch as I like to see exploration and innovation. Sometimes you're right it really doesn't work, But setting specific mechanics are important, sometimes essential, if very difficult to get right. Call of Cthulhu never worked in it's d20 incarnation, imho. Sometimes, I think, it is better to try and fail, than to take the safer route.

Yeah, I'm also in favor of experimentation and a rich ecosystem of ideas. Worst case is one of those heavily-contextual rpg engines that only lives in one system, such as Rotted Capes. It's an okay enough system (but mathematically flawed in some ways), and a pretty neat idea (zombie and b-list superhero mashup), but it would be considerably better if it were built on a different game engine. Then the author could spend more time building out the world and storyline, instead of making lists of superpowers and stuff.

Even then, though, I often back stuff on Kickstarter at the PDF level knowing full well what I'll really be doing is mining the product for ideas, setting, and story rather than mechanics.

Then again, I'm probably just like one of those people who says, "why would you write code in anything but LISP?"

I’m curious to know what you think needs improvement with FFG SWRPG. I have my own views on the subject, but I would like to hear others.


The first thing that needs to change is the core resolution mechanic. The dice system is just flat out silly, and looks like a transparent attempt to make money by selling custom dice. The die resolution system could easily and with very little change to probability of success be changed to something like a d6 die pool system with 5 and 6 as successes. I know the advantage / success split would need to be fixed, but that mechanic is confusing enough (empirically, my GM and several other players all of whom are experienced with RPGs but new to the system were all befuddled by what to do with a failure with two advantages). Just discard that and use a tested mechanic like extra successes - roll N dice based on skill, a 5 or 6 is a hit, you need N hits to succeed, based on difficulty, and overage successes increase the margin thereof. You can fiddle that to allow 1s to be extra failing etc, but that is a lot cleaner.

The confusing symbol math needed to decode a roll (there are what, six major symbols, some of which count as other symbols, others which cancel in pairs) is annoying enough that I imagine every dev who has played this game has written their own die roller.

While the story and fluff behind character generation is pretty good, the three talent tree thing feels again like a cheap attempt to appeal to video game semantics, but ends up introducing balance issues (it is extremely worthwhile to dip a tree to gain cheap skill updates and the low tree upgrades, given cost scaling).

Character generation also makes it way too easy to make a really cruddy character by accident. In this case, "cruddy" is defined as someone who is significantly less likely to succeed at resolution rolls in a variety of situations. In particular, because attributes play such a huge role in skills and are hard to increase outside of chargen, it is waaay better to invest initial points directly in those.

This is exacerbated by the fact that while it feels nice to add specialization to a skill, it does not actually increase the odds of success by all that much. You are a better pilot with three green dice than with a green and a yellow. This problem combines the funky and hard to understand statistics of the resolution system with permanent mistakes that can be made during character generation, where a novice player can spend a lot of their resources making a character who is 15% better of a pilot than anyone else, but is terrible at everything else, which usually results in unsatisfying gameplay.

There are a lot of other bugs in the system - the weapon / armor add-on system is ripe for exploitation if the game is combat-heavy and the GM is foolish enough to allow people to easily purchase custom stuff. There are so many moving parts and ways to minmax, it is hard not to. I mean, an under-barrel flame thrower is a reasonable option here. FFS, FFG.

Ultimately, I enjoy star wars RPGs, but that is despite the mechanics, rather than because of them.

Ob- my roller. https://stuff.spherical.fish/roll3/

If we're going to go off on a tangent of comparing rpgs to programming languages, I fondly remember GMing a Paranoia campaign back in the day where I took great delight in breaking the rules to kill off the player's clones in quick and gruesome succession. And then they all had lots of fun backstabbing each other to death.

I guess you'd call that RPG the equivalent of INTERCAL.

The Paranoia rulebooks were a joy to read. Comedic masterpieces in themselves.

Dissemination of classified material from Paranoia rulebooks is treason, citizen.

Typically though, if a blue or green or what have you reveals information that is classified to infrareds, the solution is just to execute the infrareds.

Try Nobilis or Chuubo's Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine. It's something completely new again - no dice rolls and more about "what do you do with power?" than "what can you do?".

Oh and the author has incredible command of English so it read like poetry, and she has PhD in Computer Science and it shows - the games are modular, the algorithms are precise, etc.

I'll give these a look, I also highly recommend Amber diceless (based on Zelazney's books)

Wow, it's been some time since I've seen that RPG mentioned. I have it, unplayed but very much read from back to back. For some reason, we stick to 5E currently.

Nobilis was heavily inspired both by the world in Zelazney's Amber books, and also by that system. If you like Amber diceless you'll probably enjoy it.

Thanks. I've not read or played Chuubo, but my 1ed Nobilis is a prize possession! A wonderful achievement, and seminal, at least for my journey in the hobby. Though I'm tempted to say mechanically now it does feel a little tired (or perhaps my memory is biased, it's been quite a few years since I played it).

James Wallace (of Hogshead as was, who published Nobilis, and other really groundbreaking games like De Profundis, and his own Adventures of Baron Munchausen) has been slow-motion (i.e. mostly failing at) releasing an interesting game "Alas Vegas" via kickstarter for a few years now. Given the esteem he was held in at one point, it's a shame to see so many folks who felt burned by the kickstarter. His publishing decisions definitely helped get the hobby where it is today. Nobilis being a particularly good example.

Actually, D&D is a very American thing. In Germany we have a pretty active Pen & Paper scene as well, but D&D is not so common. Instead, the "major" system is DSA (The Black Eye). But I have a feeling that we have a higher variety of systems played on this side of the sea. I played D&D once and didn't like it that much. Too much focus on being the hero, too much encouragement of powergaming for my taste. But that might be a cultural thing as well.

As an avid boardgamer, I've noticed there's a big difference between American and European board games (and probably also table top RPG frameworks) in the sense that the American tendency is to favour luck and hail Mary rolls to save the day. Eurogames tend to be focused on resource management and long term strategy. So definitely a cultural thing. Both systems do have their merits, but "rolling for combat" is traditionally associated with "Ameritrash" games, a term used both lovingly and derogatorily.

I see that The Dark Eye does use rolling for combat, but it calculates armour differently, in a more predictable manner (for example, in D&D armour makes you less likely to be hit, whereas in The Dark Eye it makes you take less damage) which I think demonstrates the different tendencies.

> I've noticed there's a big difference between American and European board games (and probably also table top RPG frameworks) in the sense that the American tendency is to favour luck and hail Mary rolls to save the day. Eurogames tend to be focused on resource management and long term strategy.

D&D especially since 4e, is very much by conscious design centered around structured resource management (that in 4e this was done in a very heavy-handed metagame way by way of, e.g., encounter/daily powers, I think, contributed to a lot of the complaints against; 5e’s short/long rest system is nearly equivalent in effect but ties the mechanic in a more organic way to the fiction.)

> I see that The Dark Eye does use rolling for combat, but it calculates armour differently, in a more predictable manner (for example, in D&D armour makes you less likely to be hit, whereas in The Dark Eye it makes you take less damage)

This is extremely common in American TTRPGs that aren't D&D or deliberate mechanical clones.

Well I think table top RPGs by necessity have to more closely meet in the middle on the luck vs resource management spectrum, but "normal" board games are where the differences really get highlighted. Risk is a traditional "American" game, where you role dice for combat, and it can be very frustrating. More modern examples such as Arkham Horror or Elder Sign are similar, where any turn could be horrible or amazing, depending on your rolls. Compare that with Terra Mystica or Agricola and there's very little "chance" and more about planning ahead, and following some sort of strategy.

I'm not passing judgement or saying one style is categorically better than the other, but there's definitely a huge correlation between continent-of-origin and level-of-chance-involved.

I disagree that (A)D&D was a very American thing. Certainly in Norway and Sweden it was huge (or at least as huge as pen & paper rpgs can be) when I was growing up. Sweden did have its own RPG home grown scene going on with both the other D&D (Drakar & Demoner) and Mutant being quite popular, but on the whole I'd say AD&D was by far the most popular game.

It was (is?) big in Britain and Ireland too. Maybe it's an English-language thing?

> "It's like programming languages, sure you can do anything in D&D (≈ Java, perhaps?)"

I love it. But I would choose different languages:


D&D 3.5: C++

D&D 4: Java/C#

D&D 5: C++11

Fate Core: Python


In fairness to Java/C# I think D&D 4 might be better represented as Scratch.


I actually heard that D&D 4 was even more rule-based/tactics ... so maybe even ADA? :D

C# should cover everything (or GURPS), it can do anything, if you can keep up with its caprices (a billion rulebooks) and afford the hardware (7/24 caffeine injections) to keep it going.

I would compare GURPS to lisp, given that it tried to encompass any possibility with increasing complexity!

D&D First Edition is Assembly?

I think most of the time AD&D is referred to as First Edition.


But to extend on your point - maybe Original D&D is like Forth in this analogy?

depends when you started 1st ed for me was the 3 brown books

As a total noob to all of this, where would I go to find helpful commentary on how these different games compare to each other and what they offer?

A good start would be the beginners guide on /rpg/ https://www.reddit.com/r/rpg/wiki/beginnersguide

If you've never seen how a particular game works and want to get a feel, search around and watch an episode or two of the game online. Rollplay on Youtube has a good channel that covers a lot of different types of games. You can also find games on Roll20's channel as well, and many more on Twitch and other channels.

As for game types, many of the ones listed here are very tailored games meant to play a very specific kind of game. I'll try to give you a summary of some of the popular ones.

Apocalypse World (AW) is a game, as you'd expect, about playing as a group of survivors in a post apocalyptic setting.

Night Witches is a varient of AW about a female bomber squadron in WWII.

Dogs in the Vineyard is a game about faithful 'God's Watchdogs' that go around Mormon-esque towns helping the community and enforcing the judgments of their religion.

Fate Accelerated or Fate Core is a mostly generic system meant to tell a lot of different kinds of stories. Fate Accelerated specifically is a very short and very flexible rulebook for whatever you could imagine.

D&D or Pathfinder are games about playing a group of adventurers in a tolkien-esque fantasy world, generally combat focused but you can play a lot of kinds of campaigns in D&D.

Dungeon World is a 'rules-lite' version of D&D based on the AW ruleset, which basically means it has a lot less rules and is more focused on the collective narrative.

Shadowrun is a game about telling cyberpunk heist stories in a fantasy/cyberpunk futuristic city run by megacorporations.

Blades in the Dark is a game about a scoundrel crew building their gang up from scratch in a city roughly based on the Thief or Dishonored games.

There's many more out there, it just depends on the kind of experience your group wants to have. Many of these rulesets are wildly different and the rules are tailored to create a specific kind of experience. Some of these rulesets are more generic and meant to be used to play a wide variety of games. Some are 'rules heavy/crunchy' which involve a lot more mechanics while some are 'rules light' and deliberately involve much less. D&D, Fate, Pathfinder are examples of more generic rulesets, whereas Blades in the Dark, Apocalypse World, Night Witches, or Dogs in the Vineyard are much more specific.

Great summaries. To round out my examples:

In "My life with Master" the party play the henchmen of an evil master. It explores ideas of culpability, fear, self-loathing, humanity and, possibly, redemption. It is the only role-playing game to give me heart ache. Literally, pathos I felt as a physical reaction.

"The Clay that Woke", another by Paul Czege, concerns a race of Minotaurs, more physically powerful but utterly subjugated by humans. It explores themes of racism, power, imperialism, and ethics. Not quite as good MLWM, but very much worth playing.

I added "The Beast" to go all in on a game totally unlike D&D. It is a single player game, using cards and a diary, with an erotic theme, and dark overtones. I haven't finished my play through, and I'm not sure I recommend it, quite, but it has got under my skin.

"Hillfolk" is Robin D Law's 'Drama system', essentially game mechanics built around generating interesting interpersonal conflict. The setting is Iron Age subsistence, but it includes several other settings, from horror to modern life.

http://www.story-games.com/ is a forum for indie game players and designers, including some who wrote some of the games mentioned in this thread.

Funny mix of games, as most of them are rather new in RPG terms, while Shadowrun has been around since the 80s (and has maintained a mostly coherent timeline since first release).

I cannot suggest a comparison list. I can tell you I played D&D but I liked more Stormbringer (both are Fantasy) and even more Cyberpunk2020.

I found this game Rêve: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R%C3%AAve:_the_Dream_Ouroboros and it was different but not easy to be the DM.

I am of two mind of some of those games. They seem to have taken the role out of roleplaying, and instead involve a group of authors gambling over who gets to write the next page or so of story.

Which, specifically? I chose them because, in my experience, they have deeper roleplaying than vanilla D&D (which, in the old threefold model is much more simulationist).

Maybe then a new game could be related to D&D as Clojure is to Java? Like, built on the D&D runtime?

Ha, there actually are engines, that many of the new RPGs share. But I am not sure D&D (or at least 5e) is well suited for being a base for many different games, because i.m.o. it has a strong focus on combat.

If you want a game with lot of encounters with monsters to defeat, getting more and more powerful to defeat even harder enemies, with combat system that is not overly complex but still tactical, you definitely could (and maybe even should) base your game on D&D

Heroic fantasy works. I could imagine Witcher, or Monster Hunter, even aliens style sci-fi reskin, fighting monsters in derelict space-ships should work... but i.e. Shadow of the Colossus would be harder, and Game of Thrones style political intrigue might turn into really simplistic dice-rolls.

But this is probably true of many games, i.e. I heard that Fate is really good if you want to do something with a structure of action-adventure tv-show, but probably not a psychological horror :P But doing i.e. politics in that system might be more fun than in i.e. base 5e D&D.

Probably the most succesful engine I have seen is in the powered-by-the-apocalypse games. Apocalypse World invented a really simple base machanic, where if your character wants to accomplish something, you roll two 6-sided die, sum the numbers, and if it is 10/11/12, you just do the thing, if it is 7/8/9, you do the thing, but something bad happens, and if it is 1 to 6, you don't do the thing and something bad happens.

Probably my favourite system I have played so far :-)

> you roll two 6-sided die, sum the numbers, and if it is 10/11/12, you just do the thing, if it is 7/8/9, you do the thing, but something bad happens, and if it is 1 to 6, you don't do the thing and something bad happens

Seems too similar to my real life experience. That's uncanny.

The powered-by-the-apocalypse engine sounds fantastic. Indeed as I read your comment I was thinking that one might want to repurpose the D&D combat engine to something more psychological, but the direction of the Apocalypse World engine sounds more interesting (and maybe profound) than anything I was expecting.

Dungeon World [0] is a hack/slash dungeon delving fantasy game using the AW engine. Fantasy isn't my bag, so I haven't played it. But it gets good reports. It won Indie RPG of the year, too.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dungeon_World

It's fascinating that the thing you note about PbtA is its dice resolution mechanic. It wouldn't occur to me to focus on that.

The thing about it I think is so strong is its 'move' mechanic: the way it neatly and obviously separates role playing from game action, and helps players immediately feel like they're playing in the setting. It onboards newbies really well, and sets the scene without relying on the need to read a short story.

I'm not trying to say I'm-right-you're-wrong, it's just fascinating how things resonate with different players. I guess Vincent Baker's genius runs deeper than I thought!

And if the sum is 1, something REALLY bad happens? ;^)

In the originating Apocalypse-world, no :-) It is apocalypse after all, everything is really bad :D

But I have seen hacks/systems with critical success on 12, (or more than 12, if you have i.e. modifiers for your character stats).

But having critical failures sounds like fun, go for it :D

You could easily add it to i.e. World Of Dungeons [1] probably the shortest rule-set for RPG I have ever run :)

[1] http://www.onesevendesign.com/dw/world_of_dungeons_1979_bw.p...

I think he might be saying that, if you find you've rolled a (natural) 1 on 2d6, it might be time to worry about more than just your character! ;)

There are other "d20 system" games - e.g. I remember the Babylon 5 RPG uses it.

I've reached the conclusion it's a bad idea though. The more generic a system it is, the less appropriate to the specific game it can be, and vice versa. So I much prefer systems that are very dedicated to their particular game experience. E.g. I absolutely love The Mountain Witch, which is a game that feels like a samurai movie, and everything in the system supports that: there's a special mechanic for duels, another for betrayals, all conflicts interact with your personal history/issues...

I think the main thing is 5th edition - it's really good. I briefly tried 4th edition and it just didn't feel right - way too combat heavy and video-gamey.

Then 5th edition came out and it was immediately obvious that it had that 1st edition feel but with all the bugs worked out. I play it with my kids and it's awesome.

Would you care to share some 'bugs'? I'm always pretty interested in those things, despite never having had a.. session(?) myself. I know of one where you used a Spiked Chain, made yourself a giant(?) so you got a big boost in combat stats, and because of how the chain works you'd almost always succeed in tripping someone, and when they got up got a free counter attack that again could trip them. Another one I do not know the method of (except that it has to do with Simulacra and Wish) which let's you basically make infinite copies of yourself.

In our Pathfinder campaign, we have a level 10 evocation (fireball, pew pew) halfing (I think?) wizard with a raven familiar. Said wizard has permanent Reduce person (so to be a tiny creature) and their familiar has permanent Enlarge Person to make it a small creature. The wizard sits in a backpack on the crow, and for roleplaying purposes (wizard lost a bet to familiar) the raven does all the talking and casting.

Before feats, the raven can fly 40' a round. Between that and items to allow for empowered and maximized fireball and scorching ray (I think?), our wizard regularly drops between 60 and 120 damage per round.

We basically have an Apache attack helicopter.

I suspect GP is referring more to complexities in the gameplay, not loopholes (though I'm sure 5e has fewer of those, by nature of being less rules-heavy and more reliant on the GM's interpretation). For example, weird corner cases like grappling rules have been greatly simplified. So have skills, weapon selection, and combat rules in general.

As late as 3.5e and Pathfinder, you could easily spend 5 minutes figuring out how to resolve a single 6-second action according to the rules. Say I'm grappling someone (complex rules) and move them across rough terrain (5-foot step or not?) while threatened by an enemy combatant (attacks of opportunity) with while under a Bard buff (pluses to defense)… figuring out who attacks whom when and how can easily involve flipping to many different sections of the rule book. Whereas in 5e half those rules don't exist and the remainder are simplified.

My understanding (not from experience) is that previous editions had even more complex rules than 3.5e, and 4e simplified the rules in the "wrong direction" (away from role-playing).

The two main ones that come to mind:

In first edition the Armor Class went from 10 downwards eg AC -2 was awesome. And you had to look up tables (before 2nd edition added the slightly simpler THAC0). That was changed such that numbers always go up and similarly, higher dice rolls are always better (in some circumstances in 1e you wanted lower numbers).

The concept of advantage or disadvantage. Sometimes you'd have to do a bunch of calculations eg -4 for being invisible, +2 for this, -1 for that, etc. Now, you just figure out whether someone has an advantage or disadvantage. If neither, it's a normal dice roll. If advantage, roll 2 dice and take the highest number. If disadvantage, roll 2 dice and take the lower.

Some classes were crazy powerful, and others weren’t. It was easy to get into a situation where one player would dominate the game. And not really on purpose. Now the classes are much more even. Everyone gets a chance to shine.

If you have any, I’d love tips for running a game for kids. (I’ve never DM’ed or played but am pretty familiar from many podcasts)

Honestly, forget about rules. Just tell a story and let them guide it. You can occasionally throw in some d20 rolls if you want to introduce some risk of failure, and from there perhaps start build in some bonuses which let them customise their characters. But the main thing is just collaborative storytelling (and bad jokes and accents) and the best role-playing sessions I've ever had have involved no dice rolls at all.

I used to play like this with my friends in high school. We'd just start talking about our characters whenever we were together. Occasionally throw in some dice. It was a lot of fun and could be done anywhere and anytime. Create a simple fantasy setting, dream up some characters, and explore your world.

This is the truth of it. The gaming system in use is less important than the game world and the story you're telling.

Graham Walmsley's short book "Play Unsafe" is a good introduction to running a game and incorporating advice from improv to improve your group's storytelling.

I would strongly suggest you take a look at "The Lazy DM" by Sky Flourish [0]. He has other books that are pretty good also. This method of running games will get you going immediately and takes almost no preparation. You will stumble a couple of times when you first try it, because it feels unnatural versus drawing everything out ahead of time. But once you get used to it, you'll never go back, and you'll be able to run any number of games with almost no preparation. That isn't to say you shouldn't prepare some things ahead of time: Great adventures and fantastic dungeons are always best created when you have the spark. But this method of running games will make you much, much more efficient with your (precious) time. I have a personal library of drop-in dungeons and adventures that I've created which I wrap with this method of running games. And if I didn't have this method, I don't think I would be able to run, since I just don't have the time as an adult with a regular job. Good luck!

[0] http://slyflourish.com/lazydm/

This looks really interesting — the only reason I don't run more games more often is the time burden. At a glance it appears to be focused on the various D&D editions + Pathfinder, and was published pre-5th (though I can't find a publication date on the site).

Is it generalised/generalisable enough for use with other source material and RPGs? In other words, is it D&D specific?

Yes, absolutely generalized. It basically outlines a generic "world/story engine" using index cards and a kind of "rule of threes". I've used this in all kinds of systems: Shadowrun, D&D, Pathfinder, AD&D, Star Wars d20, etc. It's totally usable in any system. It cuts down on the preparation time required by orders of magnitude, seriously.

One tip that I use in every game that is incredibly useful and isn't in this book (or Sly Flourish's other great book, "Dungeon Master Tips") is to have three NPCs who represent "Money, Power, and Fame" and are always on the move. Their storylines develop even if the players are not interacting with them. Remember "Fame, Money, Power" and create a single NPC to represent each of these three things. For example, you could have a local baron who is hungry for power, an evil guildmaster who is trying to expand his influence over local trade routes for money, and a retired, good-hearted adventurer who helps out new adventurers at the local adventurer's guildhall because he enjoys the fame and recognition.

Each of these three NPCs will have some immediately obvious conflicts which will generate storylines you can very easily improvise. I don't even need to give you an example since you can probably think of some conflict in those three examples just off the top of your head. These three NPCs also have easy access to each of those three things (money, power and fame respectively) and typically, at least some of your players will be motivated by this to some degree. That makes for an easy carrot-and-stick for players. Do your players need money for an expensive spell component to save the mayor's daughter? You might find the guildmaster willing to pay a handsome reward for completing a small side quest, for example having the players bluff or sneak their way into the baron's palace during a party and steal some important documents. The local baron of the land can probably give you the power to raise a small militia to stop a rampaging band of orcs in the area. Does the king's court have no idea who you are? It turns out the retired adventurer might be willing to write a note on your behalf, if only you could do him a small favor...

And the important thing is that you should always be moving these three NPCs along their life paths even if the players aren't around to see it. This is very easy to track with your index cards. And if one of these NPCs is killed or retires or somehow drops out of the game, you should come up with another to replace them. Perhaps the evil guildmaster has the baron assassinated, and now that he's had a taste of power after his guild is given control of the barony, he becomes your "Power" NPC, and a rival guildmaster becomes the new "Money" NPC. See how easy that was? And you can do this in your sleep really, so it works out great for the method described in The Lazy DM.

The starter set is pretty good to get you up and going with DMing.

The best bit of advice I can give is to let the kids be creative and don't be too fussed about the rules. It's like improv - any idea is a gift - even if it's an outlandish idea, let them do it, make up some difficulty score and when the dice come up with a failure, try to be as creative and funny as possible in describing the outcome.

I agree with the parent. In a sense always say yes to crazy ideas and just make up something similarly crazy to challenge them.

I’ll point to an article I wrote on my blog if I may. I started my game audio website after lots of trial and error gaming with my kids.


This is great, I'd love to post your site to Cooking With Sound (twitter.com/CookingWthSound) :D

If you're not married to the idea of D&D you can check other systems that are more focused on a "pick up and play" style such as "Fate Accelerated" from Evil Hat.

The FATE & FAE products are excellent

depending on the age of the kids, you might be interested in facilitating No Thank You, Evil. It's designed to be run by an older kid, but parents can GM as well. I've not played, but I have heard good reviews.


Its a bit streamlined compared to pathfinder/3.5 and allows for less customisation to fit a wide range of character concepts.

but then again I am so used t dnd having started in the 3 brown books days

From what I remember, the main criticism of the d20 systems was that it was too flexible, and that the game ended up very build-oriented. Some of the design decisions behind 4th edition were an attempt to streamline it with lessons from online RPGs, but part of the reasoning behind it was that this streamlining would move the focus away from the character sheets a bit - by not writing everything down in rules, things would be more up to DM interpretations.

I cannot say to which degree the game systems actually helped in practice; I switched groups between editions, and my 4th edition group was 90% improv theatre people. That there would be more roleplaying was pretty inevitable.

I also haven't played 5th edition so I don't know the changes there.

Does anyone remember the MUD [1] days ?

It was a terminal text based D&D where you could connect to a server and create a character and play with other people. Every mud service was a completely different world you could explore and had different characters. You would team up with people and go slay monsters to gain experience and level up or just hang out and do stupid stuff.

You could use a dedicated mud clients like zMud [2] that added some nice key mapping for going north/south/up/down etc. All interaction was text based in CLI.

I was a teenager at that time, late nineties. I spent so many hours playing on a mud called "Merging of Fates" [3] [4] meeting great people day after day. They had occasional meetups in real life, but I didn't grow up in the US so I didn't attend. I think mud was the major factor for improving my English vocabulary as a kid.

I miss those times.

1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MUD

2: http://www.zuggsoft.com/page.php?file=zmud/zmudinfo.htm

3: http://www.mudconnect.com/mud-bin/adv_search.cgi?Mode=MUD&mu...

4: http://www.mudstats.com/World/AMergingofFates

My 11yo plays Minecraft and one of her activities is roleplay, which is 90% text based since graphical character actions are so limited. I think there's a potential for a resurgence of things like MUDs.

I also have a 17yo who's into writing, and I plan on working with her to put together some interactive fiction that resembles MUDs.

Yes! :) I played Wheel of Time MUD for years. It was great fun. I've not played a video game since that managed to capture the atmosphere, danger and risk in the PlayerKilling system there. WoW and other MMO's never really came close. I heard DaoC was pretty good but was still busy MUDding when that was popular.

Coincidentally I just started a sideproject making a browser based rogue-like game... with online multiplayer! Don't know if it's been done before but it's a fun little project...

Just moved the MUD I used to play in around 2007 to "my" server because the old one was crashed. Absolutely tiny playerbase, but the content is still there :)

Yep. I used to be an avid MUME (http://mume.org/) player with a big group of friends. I learned to code by creating a clone called MEM :D .

Mume's still around. I've been indulging in a little memory lane playing lately.

I think there's also a passionate little group of followers in a few reddits. Don't remember where, though. Maybe just try /r/MUD etc and you can find it.

Yep, yep. I've been building a MUD from scratch in Go for the last few months. Super fun project, and the nostalgia is overwhelming. Love it.

I always wanted to give it a go, but could never find a group. Now as a careered adult with kids, it is even harder to find time to try this kind of thing, especially since my spouse has few gaming tendencies. Last year or so though, I saw a Pathfinder Humble Bundle for a bunch of rule books and I decided to buy them for fun. And that got me thinking..I started poking around some forums and ended up joining a play-by-post (PbP) Pathfinder campaign over at paizo.com.

I've really enjoyed myself! After a while I joined two more campaigns. A post or three a day is easy to fit in my schedule. It really gives me something to look forward to each morning as I sit down with some coffee.

e.g. http://paizo.com/campaigns/GMNayrsCarrionCrownAP/gameplay&pa...

depending on where you live, you might have some luck via meetups. i'm a long-time rpg player, but I lost my group when I moved to esseph. Meetup started the networking process - there's a lot of D&D and other RPG meetup groups.

Many local game stores host RPG nights and welcome new or drop-in players.

When I was doing PbP a while back the best site, hands down, was https://www.myth-weavers.com .

I suggest you give it a try

What features in a PbP forum do you like?

I write that I'm having a great time doing PbP at paizo, everyone writes that I should try something else.

You could always play with your family.

Yeah, I got my teenager and some of his friends into D & D in middle school... I jus bought the current box set and dm'd for a the first couple of sessions and then one of his buddies took over.

A few months later, a parent stopped him on the street with tears in her eyes. “What are you guys doing?” she asked him. Her son was dyslexic and had been role-playing at Brooklyn Strategist for a couple of weeks. Before D. & D., he couldn’t focus on writing for more than a few seconds. Now he was staying up all night to draft stories about his character. “Whatever it is, bottle it and sell it to me,” the mother said.

I mean, product endorsements don't get any stronger than that!

I live a couple of blocks from Brooklyn Strategist, the "game space" featured in the article. When it first opened I didn't expect it to last a year. Instead they've gone from strength to strength and more than doubled their size, moving into an adjoining space that had been an architect's office. They have approximately six large game tables which are constantly at capacity. They also have a wall with a library of hundreds of board games that I marvel at. I love that I live in a time and place where such an endeavor can succeed. I only wish I had something like this when I was a kid. Instead, I had our school D&D club which lasted a month before a parent complained that it was devil worshipping and had us shut down (circa 1982/3).

It's because of Stranger Things. The article sees it as a symptom, but from a lot of people I know, it's actually a cause.

Shameless plug: If any of you have ever wanted to try DnD but didn't know how to get started, or if you've played before and want to start again, try playing my fun-optimized rule set, _DnD: TL;DR_ - https://github.com/Miserlou/dnd-tldr

Tabletop and other Youtube channels, plus various podcasts, have been around a lot longer and spread the idea to a lot of people who are caught up in the current zeitgeist of nerd culture but hadn't grown up in it (and so largely had missed out on the RPG games the rest of us played as teens).

There was also a strong movement away from heavy mechanics to narrative heavy games with lighter mechanics over the past decade which offered a lot more ways to introduce people to tabletop RPGs. Video games also helped. A ton of jocks and frat guys, folks who never would've played a tabletop RPG in the 80s or 90s (or not in large numbers) were won over with 4th edition last decade because it was like the video games they were playing (for better or worse, I never really took to the system).

Kickstarter catching the public's attention has also helped, with lots of indie or otherwise smaller presses being able to publish their systems.

Lots of factors involved. Stranger Things may be helping this year, but the trend in increasing popularity has been happening for several years.

I'd give Critical Role a lot of the credit for the jump start a couple years back. Seeing how much fun a game can be had to inspire a lot of people, or remind the old timers. It's the reason I started looking for a pickup game on Meetup, and now play weekly.

Critical Role, 5e, Stranger Things, and the desire for “poker night” without the poker.

Source- The lions share of my earnings come from running a company that sells accessories for D&D.

Some shameless self-promotion, please. Link?

This can't possibly be the case.

Nerd culture has spread and with it all things nerdy.

Look at the growth of GenCon for one example of how explosive this has been. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gen_Con#Timeline

Board games sales are up 28% in the US http://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/from-monopoly-to-explo...

If anything, I'd say that Stranger things is a symptom of nerd culture. I mean, look at things like Big Bang Theory. There is no way that show would have hit mainstream without nerd culture being even remotely popular.

BBT is an attack on, not a celebration of, nerd culture.

And the reasoning behind this sentiment usually is that the jokes in the show are made at the characters' expense - people watching the show laugh at them, not with them.

Here's an example of a post that explores that topic: http://butmyopinionisright.tumblr.com/post/31079561065/the-p...

Agreed. Tabletop rpgs endured in the convention scene, and video games and cosplay revitalized fannish cons, a ton of people were introduced to or reminded that the hobby was something that "people like them" did.

Something as mass-market as Big Bang Theory did a D&D episode years before Stranger Things existed. It's been a much longer process than that.

Something more niche but still network TV (Community) did one a few years before that, even. That's around the same time I started noticing it popping up in more stores in suburban TX.

Also, Freaks and Geeks did it too, in 2000.

Not just stranger things, but Adventure Zome, The Gamers/Journeyquest, Harmonquest, Nerd Dice there's a lot of D&D in the Zeitgeist.

And its just the best known path in. Someone mentioned Java, but maybe PHP is a better example, something everyone has heard of with pop culture paths in and you can spend all your time there or dig deeper into esoteric paths.

For myself and a number of friends, Community's D&D episodes were the cause. But the episodes, like Stranger Things, were probably a symptom of larger trends.

For people who don't already know the game or the current edition, it might also be of interest that you can download the basic rules for free.


These are actually all the rules needed to play, minus special classes, character options and spells found in the players guide. Best place for new players is probably the starter set, because it includes a rather good adventure in addition to premade characters and a rulebook. It is also available at a low price, but you can't beat free of course.

>half a dozen paid Dungeon Masters...

Still trying to process that. Do I need to polish my resume? What type of experience is required? How many applications did he get? How old were the applicants?

i thought about this at some point (i enjoy game mastering and have a lot of campaigns i've written up in notebooks and so on), but I can't see any way to make this actually work. Assume you can run one session a night, for five players each session. It's unlikely you'd be able to run more than one per day, just because your players only are really able to play in the evening. This puts your effective work week at around 20-25 hours.

You would need to have a really high hourly rate to make this a primary source of income, and I'm not sure you can ask players to pay more than 20-30 bucks each per session. You could use this to supplement income from writing or whatever, but I just doubt the market would support an hourly rate that actually paid a GM a wage they could live on.

In some real way, this is just like hand-knit socks. If you knit socks, you know how much time and effort goes into them, but you still give them as gifts. But if someone wanted to buy a pair, would they be willing to pay $150 for them? Probably not, despite the socks often taking five or six hours to make (if they're intricate or interesting).

Similarly, I game master because I enjoy it. I get to play my favorite part of the game (storytelling). I will say: I'd pay to have someone else deal with the (rare, but still nonzero frequency) drama that happens when you bring six people together on the regular. As GM, it somehow ends up being me who has to referee.

Paid DMs can be a great experience for everyone, especially if all the people in your play group "just want to play."

Yeah. I won’t play DND because it’s too open ended. I simply don’t want to commit that much time to a campaign.

But there are board games like Mansions of Madness that use an iPad as DM. You can play as many or as little of the scenarios you want. Then DM later if you get into it.

There are also sandbox type board games. There is no DM but you get to decide what you want to do.

Apparently there’s a big trend for after school role playing game sessions in Israel, with paid GMs. The problem there is the economics mean most groups consist of 20 or more kids, so games tend to be highly abstracted with very simple rules.

I'm from the era when GMs were paid in pizza, Dr. Pepper, and thank yous.

I'm shocked by the number of people popping out of the woodwork. I've been gaming consistently for the past 35 years, and while gaming was more popular overall in the early 80s and late 90s, I know more gamers right now personally than ever. I have a game group, of older people, on my fucking street!

I did play some RPG when I was a kid (born 1981) and I’ve been thinking about how to get back to it for the las 5 years. I was probably difficult not so long ago, but my friends are starting to freeze their fb accounts and restrict mobile use, might give a try!

I'm in a similar demographic and recently got back into it (D&D 5e). The impetus for me was that (a) it had been "long enough" since I'd stopped playing (probably 15 years, Jesus) that I was craving it and (b) I wanted an excuse to drag a group of friends over to my house on a regular basis.

Any resurgence is probably rooted in a number of factors, like the good design of 5e, but I wonder how much of it stems from the same cohort who played it in the 90's simply reaching some point in their life (spending less time at bars, looking for more of a break from work, wanting to spend time with friends "IRL", etc etc) that they fall back into it.

I'm guessing.. Portland?

Close? Ann Arbor. Ok, so not close ... but close in spirit :)

Seriously, I could have 3+ groups of 6 players, playing weekly, without a problem. I know at least a dozen people at my work that play, and that are people I'd like to play with.

Crazy :)

Yeah, that's quite unusual, but evidently not for Ann Arbor. College towns are cool!

I'm still hoping for a really good online platform for D&D. My play group has aged, sprogged, and struggles for a regular evening to play. We've used forum-based stuff in the past, which has actually led to some really good role-play heaving campaigns, but it's no good for real-time encounters or the beer & pizza fuelled camaraderie that really makes D&D great.

Have you tried Roll20.net? I've used it for Pathfinder, D&D, 13th Age, and Blades in the Dark to great effect. The platforms always getting better.

I currently play with a group on roll20. It's not perfect, but it's adequate. (We pair it with a discord server for voice and secondary/out-of-character chat and logistics.)

I've never played any DnD, but I've spent countless hours playing various video game RPG's from the Baldur's Gate series (based on the ADnD rules) all the way up to modern RPG's like Dragon Age and Pillars of Eternity.

A decade ago, when developers attempted to bring Dungeons & Dragons into the twenty-first century by stuffing it with rules so that it might better resemble a video game, the glue of the game, the narrative aspect that drew so many in, melted away. Players hacked monsters to death, picked up treasure, collected experience points, and coolly moved through preset challenges

Baldur's gate is almost 2 decades old, and I disagree that it did not have the narrative impact that a good DnD game could have (or maybe I'm misunderstanding the authors words). I'm not sure you can even compare what "need" Baldurs Gate satisfies for a gamer compared to DnD. I know gamers who enjoy both. I for one, am glad that computer games like BG exist.

Your quote is referring to is the changes that DnD went though to keep up with modern DnD style videogames _like_ BG. Rather than saying those video games did not have a strong narrative impact, its saying DnD lost its own; As the DnD rules became more complex often the priorities of a party shifted to min-maxing over questing for the sake of it.

Recently there has been a change in the core DnD rules away from heavy beardy / min-maxing play back to a DM running a narrative campaign.

If you have tried getting your friends to play D&D and they say, "too many rules," try Dungeon World. It's designed to be in a similar setting but uses much simpler rules. It also allows you to be much more collaborative in story-building, requiring substantially less DM prep.



There are also many RPGs don't have much mechanics and are more about playing the characters, if you're not hung up on dungeons.

Try ADnD.

Are there any AR apps that let you set up dungeons/maps on your table (through the view of your phone or tablet)?

I just searched for something like this about a month ago and found nothing. I think both an ipad app to design 2d dungeons for print or use on sites like roll20 as well as an AR app could corner the market. The only good d&d mobile apps are on iOS only and have no real competition either (Fight Club 5 and Game Master 5).

http://berserk-games.com/tabletop-simulator/ ?

> Now with VR Support! > Take your tabletop gaming to a whole new level in virtual reality with the HTC Vive!

Tabletop Simulator is kind of like VASSAL [0], people do all kinds of things in it, even playing regular card games like poker with it (so that you can flip your cards dramatically onto the table).

[0] http://www.vassalengine.org/

Deep integration with rules may have licensing issues, and as D&D Beyond expands, apps which lack such integration may have trouble competing with the growing first-party service.

What's the growing first-party service?

D&D Beyond.

WotC is not exactly known for having overly usable digital services. Not to mention there are thousands of other RPGs you can make headway in

I had a buddy from a gaming group a few years ago that had worked up a Java app that he ran through a projector pointed at the table. Lost touch with him though, or I'd point you to it or him.

I tried to turn him onto some modern development practices since he was looking to try to become a professional developer.

It's not exactly a low-cost build, but Tabletop Simulator has very acceptable RPG mods in the workshop, and is compatible with PC gaming VR gear if you've got a bottomless budget.

My gaming group has used TTS + Skype to regularly bring in a player who moved intercontinental and keep the campaign going.

Fantasy wasn't mainstream then, and now it is. Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Harry Potter kickstarted fantasy into the mainstream conciousness. It's no surprise that a growing acceptance of the genre in the large would also lead to a growing desire to participate in it, and the streamlined rules and whatnot are just a little boost to help in that direction.

The best advice I can give any DnD or aspiring DnD players is to invest in a 3D printer.

I've been playing DnD for 22 years now and I don't see why. Figurines are completely accessory. I didn't even used maps until 5-6 years ago when we moved to Dnd4.

But if you do use them, investing in a 3D printer will allow you to create your own and save a lot of money on the long run. You can even scale down regular models such as chests, barrels, etc.

It's a fun toy that you can buy together as a group of players. It usually take a few hours to print a model, so you can start a print while you play a game and have a nice surprise when you are done playing.

Printing the exact model of the boss your players are going to fight is priceless.

(I'm talking about a $200-$400 price range printer and not a $2000+ one mind you.)

Hmmm yeah that would be nice... If we buy it together we can have it one week each. And you can even print coins, I guess.

There's something special about breaking the fourth wall and having the players carry mementos in real life.

> At the end of the 1982 TV movie “Mazes and Monsters,” a troubled gamer, played by a pre-fame Tom Hanks, loses touch and starts to believe that he really does live beside an evil wood in need of heroes.

Man, I have seen that movie. Having spent a good part of my youth playing AD&D, I did not know whether to laugh at it or yell at it angrily. Either way, it sucked really, really hard.

I got into DnD in 3rd edition and played it every weekend throughout high school.

However, once I started teaching this game to other people, even with the "fixed 3.5" Pathfinder, I realized it was super complicated. It requires such a big time investment from the players to figure out what they're doing, especially if they come from a video game background where they want to have "the best".

Now, I use Savage Worlds since it's much quicker, less complicated and you can pick your theme. Only problem is that it requires a more invested GM if you want the same texture as in DnD.

I actually shudder at the thought of playing D&D. The idea that I have to make up a story as I go along and am dependant on what the DM thinks about my decisions, just does not appeal to me.

Considering I have never played D&D, I could very well be completely off the mark, however there is nothing that was said in the article that changed my mind, but (and this is important) this is a purely personal view of what I like to play.

I can see the appeal to other people and salute a game (and genre) that brings people together and away from being glued to a screen or computer.

Resurrected my old account just to reply to this. I just started playing 9 months ago or so. I was sceptical as I've always felt poor at acting/drama.

Turns out, it's really fun.

You're not making a story alone. You're in a group with 2-5 other 'heroes' and a DM. You're all making the story together and it's easy to go along with the flow until you think of something that pops into your head and you can then do whatever it is you want to.

In my experience, good DMs aren't going to judge you for what you do or don't do.

For me, D&D is way more lighthearted than I thought it would be. I guess this depends on the group, but, I've now bounced around a few and it seems to be a common thread. It sounds ridiculous, but, last night the group I DM'd 'invented' brunch before taking on a quest to save a girl that had been abducted by goblins (but, not before finishing their brunch and making a little picnic for themselves).

It's surprisingly easy to try D&D - there are often people running 'one shots'. These are small stories designed to start and end in a few hours so that you get a feel for it without needing to invest a huge amount of time.

if you want a fun game try the pathfinder "we be goblins" scenarios as our gm said it allows you to ply with moral compass of a toddler.

These days you can actually go look at examples of various D&D (and other RP) games being played, to see if it really matches up with your expectations. Check a couple out on Twitch and YouTube. (I'm a fan of Critical Role, if you need a search term to start, but there are a LOT of different RPGs.)

If RPGs turn out to not be your cup of tea, search for Wil Wheaton Tabletop on YouTube, where he plays various tabletop games with guests. There are a lot of pick-up tabletop games at comic book stores and the like if you find a game or games to your fancy.

It’s certainly not for everyone, but I honestly don’t think it’s possible to know for sure who it’s for and who it isn’t without them actually trying it. The reality of it can be very different to how people imagine it.

Of course a huge amount also depends on who you play with and whether their style of play works with your personality.

Why D&D and not one of the later RPGs? It seems the RPG world has degenerated since the 90s if adult/YA players are using it for more than an introduction to RPGs.

Because it is simple and available without any effort. Everyone knows it exists, it is not obscure.

So they start to play and have good fun, convert their friends by telling them how fun it is, but is there any reason to stop.playing and explore other often more complex rulesets?

I think they are using DnD as a short hand for RPGs in general as most "dnd" players now play Pathfinder or 5th Edition

I’d have liked this article if it had taken a more critical stance as to the resurgence of RPGs rather than hand-waving some ineffable bs about simpler times and half-allusions to political tensions.

The more accurate answer is, IMO, two fold: (1) kids who grew up on RPGs are now old enough to want to want to play with their own kids, and funnel disposable cash into it (2) kids who are interested have less stigma to approaching it, so conversion rates from interest to player should be higher (3) a lot of technical advancements from the US indie scene and the Western European LARP scene have slowly diffused out into the more mainstream RPG community, resulting in play that’s a lot more fulfilling to various types of players

Another very important reason was left out: The 5th edition of the game was very well designed and received critical acclaim among veterans who were disappointed by the 4th edition. The article makes it sound like there's been a resurrection when in fact the game was just hibernating.

There was also a very interesting podcast [1] the other day with Mike Mearls, Adam Koebel, Matt Mercer, and Matt Colville discussing the design decisions in 5th edition. Specifically, one of the most interesting points Mearls made is that the 5e design team specifically set out to craft a game which "felt like" Dungeons and Dragons, and which explicitly recognized and created a place for the "culture" of D&D which has been around for years (certainly since I was futzing around with 3.5 statblocks in high school!)

An example they brought up is the alignment system: it's one of the most criticized aspects of the game, especially with regards to mechanics. Nevertheless, it's baked into the culture of D&D by now ("What would Batman's alignment be?") and while getting rid of it might improve the gameplay, it would be removing something core to the game experience.

1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqjLO6YNKV0

That also struck me as odd. While the article says that "interest fell like an orc beneath a bastard sword", D&D seems to have been more popular in 3e than it is now (although it's certainly rebounding and more visible in pop culture than it was in the past):


(not sure why it's showing results for pathfinder before 2008)

What on earth are these edition things? I'll have to dig out my DMG, PH, MM, FF etc. Apparently, they might be cool.

Then there is Traveller, Runequest, Tunnels and Trolls, Car Wars (with Truck Stop etc) and rather a lot more.

Every 8 or so years they revamp the rules and release it as a new edition. Aside from few exceptions, they're mostly incompatible with each other and offer different rules for combat, skill usage and training, etc, and quality-of-life improvements.

3e (more specifically 3.5e) was extremely popular. There's now a ruleset called Pathfinder made by another company, Paizo, that continues the style of 3.5e and is mostly compatible with it (though it has its own core rulebooks and most people I know don't mix 3e and PF).

4e wasn't as well liked but it still had mostly good reception. It was very polarizing to many players. This obviously isn't the space for a debate about it but I think the biggest cause of complaints are the way the combat system was overhauled. Many people compare it more to a modern RPG video game rather than a pen and paper one.

5e has had a great reception from old and new players. It's rules are definitely closer to 3rd edition than it is to 4th. Though it brought in a lot of quality of life improvements from 4. For example while it makes sense that 'Hide' and 'Move Silently' are two separate skills, it just means a rogue has to split their skill points between two things. There's not many scenarios outside of comedy where you give a character 'Hide' but not 'Move Silently' or vice versa. 5e has merged both of these into a single Stealth skill.

All the editions are still considered Dungeons and Dragons though, and not separate games (of which there are many wonderful ones, some of which have their own 1e, 2e, 3e, an so on...)

Note that the main benefit of Pathfinder was breaking compatibility with the huuuuge number of splatbooks for 3.x, and in cleaning up the skills system.

Unfortunately, as Paizo seeks to grow its business and publish more content, they tend to keep adding special rules and things that kinda distort that original accomplishment.

Nice analysis. I play a bit of Pathfinder from time to time. Do you think 5e copied Stealth from Pathfinder?

Probably, but the skill system in 5e is totally different from 3.5e/Pathfinder. To me, 5e feels like it took the ideas behind the simplifications in Pathfinder and ran with them.

As an example, Pathfinder simplified lots of different combat rules under the Combat Maneuver system (CMB/CMD). 5e simplified them even more, simply as contested skill checks selected by GM fiat.

Thanks for the run down. My comment was somewhat tongue in cheek.

To be honest as a DM/GM I generally threw out the rules as soon as they got in the way of a good narrative.

I'm quite tempted to give it a dabble again ...

> as a DM/GM I generally threw out the rules as soon as they got in the way of a good narrative.

5e seems to be designed with that in mind. Bonuses are largely replaced with the "advantage/disadvantage" system which gives the DM much more leeway in determining bonuses (beside simplifying the mechanism overall). Skills are greatly simplified and reduced in number, and partially replaced with "Backgrounds" which are 100% DM fiat.

Example from my first 5e session. "Use Rope" is gone, but my character has the "Sailor" background. So by DM fiat I was able to identify the condition of a rope. No dice involved.

My gaming group stopped playing Car Wars after I min-maxed a trike vehicle to absorb damage with armored beer fridges. The beer fridges had more "hit points" per pound than regular armor. Every attempt to be clever after that felt like too much work.

Roll for pop-culture-perceptiveness

The tighter your grip on the threat of D&D, the more mid-40s nerds slip through your fingers!

of particular note, D&D 5e accomplished many of the technical/balance things 4e was supposed to accomplish but failed at, while still retaining the excellent flavor and sense of power from 3.5e.

5e did what I would have thought impossible: the people that preferred 4e to earlier editions largely liked it, the people who were repulsed by 4e but stayed with 3e/3.5e or forks of those liked it, and a lot of the “old school” crowd that preferred OD&D, B/X or BECMI D&D, or AD&D 1e or 2e also liked it.

Why would someone who already knows AD&D 1e switch to the new one? What does that person gain?

Imagine this hypothetical person wants to spend as little time as possible learning and on details, and as much as possible on creative experiences.

> Why would someone who already knows AD&D 1e switch to the new one? What does that person gain?

Aside from network effects, the rules are much easier to use in play without referencing fairly arbitrary tables; there's a lot of streamlining and consistency that lets them handle more situations with less lookups, different mechanical subsystems, and fiddly bits.

Notably, a unified success mechanic that covers skill use (including what were “thief skills” in core 1e, as well as “nonweapon proficiencies” from some of the 1e supplements), attacks, ability checks, and saving throws is a big improvement from 1e (D&D has had that in some form since 3e, though.)

Improved class balance classic DnD had some op classes - the original paladin class for example.

the short answer is that some systems better support creative experiences than others.

Each system provides both power to tell stories and restrictions on what stories make sense within the framework. 3.5e, for example, was a high-powered but extremely clunky framework -- it let you build epic creative experiences, but often got in its own way. 4e was a lower-powered storytelling experience because it was so focused on "balance". (My experience doesn't go all the way back to 1e so I can't comment on its specific strengths and weaknesses.)

One thing I really like about 5e is that it's quite streamlined, but has a variety of options integrated into the core game. Things that were clunky in prior editions (like prestige classes in 3.5, or ritual-casting in 4e) are now supported smoothly. So it's high-powered but also kind of gets out of the way.

EDIT: I think the fear of learning new rulesets is itself a reaction to the overly complex early-edition D&D rules. You have to learn so many different types of mechanics and try to keep them all straight. You have a bunch of different bonus types and have to learn which ones stack, and then try to maximize the overall stack. 5e is actually really quick to learn, and as such, it gets out of the way of the creative storytelling experience a lot more than earlier editions.

> 5e is actually really quick to learn, and as such, it gets out of the way of the creative storytelling experience a lot more than earlier editions.

To add to this, one minor thing I like about 5e is how much freedom the game explicitly gives the Dungeon Master. Obviously nothing is truly different, the DM is god in every edition. But I've played with many, many DMs (usually new DMs) who will refuse to do something fun because it goes against some way a rule is written in the book. Even if they and the whole party wants it to happen, it would be breaking "the rules".

The first DM I ever played with actually would never let us call anything a rulebook. It was a Player's Handbook or guidebook, or what have you. Because as she said, she was the rules, not the book.

I think that really helped form a mentality of "Fun First" when I run a game. The 5e books felt a little heavy-handed at first, every third spell says something along the lines of "If the DM chooses". But it's already helped me in some real games as a player, where the DM can do what they want and not what the book says, because by doing what they want they're still doing what the book says.

The biggest gain: A much larger pool of potential players/DMs. If you limit yourself to other old farts who still have their battered old AD&D 1e books then that’s a pretty elite set of fortysomethings - my D&D Blue Book and my set of AD&D 1e is long gone, after three cross-country moves and one hurricane.

Also 5e is AMAZING for giving out a TON of story hooks as part of the character creation process. Sure, you and your GM may be old pros who know how to make a story, and that’s great. But if you’re having an off day, or bringing in some new players who don’t know how to prepare the seeds of a story, it’s pretty damn useful to have all these hooks lying around.

Everything is generally streamlined, you will mostly be rolling a d20. Other dice show up for your HP and damage, because it’s just not D&D without that handful of weird-shaped dice.

> If you limit yourself to other old farts who still have their battered old AD&D 1e books

AD&D/1e (and other pre-5e versions) books are available in hardcopy and PDF, new, today. There's certainly a network effect benefit to 5e today, but 1e isn't limited to people with battered copies from the 1980s.

FWIW I've had more Dungeon Masters/referees for Lamentations of the Flame Princess (a modern horror-themed retroclone of the 1983 Mentzer D&D Red Box) in my home city than any other edition of D&D or any other tabletop RPG.

Not having to use THAC0 ever again would be one thing they would gain.

I'd make a silly wager that the net time saved by using 5e rules would outweigh the cost of learning them.

THAC0 didn't come around until 2e, 1e had hit tables. You can see them on p. 74 of the AD&D DMG, with some more notes on p. 82.

You can get rid of THAC0 if you just use this simple rule: roll d20, add the opponent's armor class (plus your own to-hit bonus if any), and a result of 20 or better is a hit.

That's true; it's easy to forget that THAC0 was a simplification from 1e.

Though that kind of reinforces the point.

Yea the salient point there was the second part - whether it be hit tables or THAC0, 5e rules would expedite play.

Course some of us will sit there and say y'all should just be playing 3d6 instead, but I digress...

Actually it was introduced before 2e but wasn't a core system in 1e.

I don’t know editions subsequent to 2e, but I kind of liked THAC0. Tough to explain, but flexible. A useful abstraction.

3E's Base Attack Bonus was mechanically identical, but expressed in an easier-to-understand way. Briefly, they rearranged things so that higher numbers are always better--having +1 armor no longer means you subtract 1 from your Armor class.

For me, nothing. I play 1e (and have played 5e et al). Pick the one that gets you excited. If you like the art, the names of the monsters, and the community, those factors outweigh any minor differences in rules or organization.

It's similar to programming languages - there's an ineffable quality to a language that makes you just want to use it (or not). I knew someone who picked up DarkBASIC several years ago; I could have suggested he get into Python or something more "mainstream", but I think the right choice is the one that makes you want to sit down and work on your project.

Never having to look up the rules that govern attacks of opportunity made by a giant creature with long reach.

Pathfinder still has a dedicated following though - maybe that's the one niche (tons of detailed customizations and third party add ons) 5e didn't fill?

Sure. I'm not saying 5e killed every other D&D and clone system, just that it seems to have come done a good job at appealing broadly to what had become a very balkanized fanbase with separate communities that were hostile to each other's preferred systems.

I would also throw in that board games have blown up in the last decade or so, especially with the advent of Kickstarter. There's a lot of crossover between between the communities (as the article illustrates) and, I think, a bit of a push-back against the lack of choice/flexibility + social disconnect in most electronic games.

Anyone interested in D&D should understand that it originates from Jack Vance's Dying Earth novels. I highly recommend https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Eyes_of_the_Overworld

Still waiting for that resurrection. Hard getting friends to devote the time, and playing online is meh.

I started to DM and in order to find people, my wife and I put out requests on Instagram and now we play with some extended acquaintances and old friends. It is going great and never would of happened if we didn't put out that open ended request. I also recommend watching Critical Role as a way to experience the game without being able to play.

Check comic book stores and Meetup.com for pick-up games in your area. Then, drag the friends in one by one till they're hooked.

The only site I know of for gamer matchmaking is NearbyGamers.com - my profile is http://nearbygamers.com/gamers/cugel if anyone is looking for a game between SF and San Mateo.

I'll have to look into it again. Lost interest in AD&D at 3rd Edition; everything from the book artwork to the game mechanics made me feel like I was hand-executing a computer RPG game.

I still use my old 2nd Edition manuals for the rare social games I play these days.

You should definitely give 5e a try! I only started at 3.5, but I love how much they streamlined the newest edition. It's much easier to DM and play, which leads to better stories imo

not sure if mentioned in the article, but Vin Diesel is an outspoken fan of D&D :-)

I got back into it because of the Acquisitions Inc podcasts and then the PAX shows.

I played a lot through high school then got distracted in college. (Beer, girls, tougher classes, etc) I was pleasantly surprised when my last company started a D and D night!

I know that my brother started running a game for us because the podcasts he'd be listening to other people play on had started to run out.

You'd better be a level 7 necromancer with an hour to spare if you want to redirect your teen-age table-top golden-years!



I cast magic missile at the darkness!

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