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The unlikely resurgence of Dungeons and Dragons (inlander.com)
351 points by gscott 14 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 282 comments

My friends and I play D&D because we have no real other option. We used to play Minecraft and other collaborative building games as a group, but then one in our group went fully blind. There is a complete lack of good multiplayer computer games for entirely blind players (admittedly that is quite a challenge), but D&D requires only imagination, which all of us still have. Highly recommend if you have friends with vision disabilities.

No real other option? There are dozens of other excellent RPGs available that rely more on imagination than sight. D&D is merely the gateway game.

There are of course D&D spin-offs and clones like Pathfinder and 13th Age, old school (OSR) "retro-clones" like Dungeon Crawl Classics, Lamentations of the Flame Princess and many, many others. Then there are the classic non-D&D games like Shadowrun (in its 5th edition now), Traveller, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (4th edition just released), and GURPS. There's Savage Worlds for fast-paced pulp-style adventures, FATE for absolutely anything you can possibly imagine (including publications for Dresden Files and others). There's FFG's excellent Star Wars games (Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion and Force and Destiny), and dozens if not hundreds of smaller indie games, many of which are completely free.

We are truly living in a golden age for roleplaying games. D&D is merely the most visible and best-known one.

Ah, sorry, you are absolutely right. When I said 'no real other option' I was missing the numerous other RPGs that are out there. I did not mean to denigrate them by omission. I meant more that we were forced away from computer games.

How about MUDs? There are a lot of choices with screen reader support these days.

Nice to see mention of Traveller, I thought I was the only person that even knows about it anymore. I think I spent more time designing ships than actually playing it, but I have fond memories of both Traveller and Car Wars (and still have the sets along with my AD&D books and modules).

Traveller definitely still exists, but I have no idea how many editions there are these days. I'm not sure anyone knows.

What non-D&D game would you suggest to someone who enjoys D&D but would like to explore other systems?

I’d like to recommend checking out Numenera, from Monte Cook Games. It’s kind of a sci-if/fantasy mashup. It takes place on Earth one billion years in the future. Eight great civilizations have appeared and disappeared in that time, leaving the world full of ruins and starnge technology, all of which is inscrutable to the people who live there now. The game materials have high production values, on the same level as the D&D books, and about the same level of complexity of game mechanics. The thing I particularly like about Numenera is its emphasis on exploration and discovery rather than killing things. There is still fighting, if you want there to be, but the focus of the game is on going out into the strange world and uncovering it’s weirdness.

If you like the basic 'fantasy' setting of D&D, but want a game with a more gritty and 'low' fantasy feel I very can highly recommend trying to find a copy of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying.

If you want a game which is more realistic and almost entirely 'straight' historic medieval Europe, but where magic, as they believed in it at the time, is real, go check out Ars Magica. Ars Magica is especially recommended if you like playing mages and want a game with one of the most fleshed out and 'realistic' magic system ever seen in a role playing game.

There are way too many options to give a simple answer to that question.

If you want to stick close to D&D, Pathfinder and 13th Age are obvious choices. If you prefer something a bit more raw, less polished maybe, deadlier, where survival is a goal in itself and combat may be better avoided, try one of the OSR systems, like DCC, LotFP, Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, etc. Lamentations of the Flame Princess is weird horror and explicitly 18+. If you want the feeling of D&D but with a system that focuses more on the story and the experience than on all the numbers in D&D, then try Dungeon World. A lot of people lauded Dungeon World for recreating the feeling they had when they first played D&D.

If you want to get further away from D&D, well, what direction do you want? Fantasy? SF? Cyberpunk? Historical? Martial arts? Horror? Steam punk? Espionage? Military? Old West? TV shows?

> If you want to get further away from D&D, well, what direction do you want?

SF or Cyberpunk

R Talsorian Games' Cyberpunk is a nice retro (think William Gibson Neuromancer) game.


But if I were to recommend a single (set of) games, it would be the classic World of Darkness games, like Mage: the Ascension 20th anniversary Ed:


For a game with some interesting mechanics, you might enjoy Underground:


And for something... Different, we've had a lot of fun with Microscope:


Shadowrun is the canonical cyberpunk RPG.

Starfinder is, I believe, Pathfinder in space.

GURPS is setting-agnostic.

>Shadowrun is the canonical cyberpunk RPG.

Aside from the dated and weird essentialization of Native American cultures, Shadowrun's setting is really good and fun.

Unfortunately it's hard to run a game with a decent narrative flow just because the combat system is so complicated. My group decided to shame people out of playing mages or riggers just because we didn't want to have to deal with simultaneously doing combat in cyberspace and the astral plane at once. It really puts a damper on having a fun game that flows. I wouldn't recommend it for someone new to pen&paper RPGs.

On the other hand, the tedium of combat gave us a strong incentive to talk our way out of problems instead of going the murder-hobo route.

GURPS works better in some eras trying to do modern you have dozens of skill's to keep track of.

If you want pure cyberpunk, take a look at R. Talsorian's Cyberpunk 2020.

If you like fantasy mixed in with your cyberpunk, Shadowrun is the gold standard. A word of warning: Shadowrun has a rather heavy, complex system, because it does absolutely everything. But I like it a lot.

Generic systems like GURPS and Savage Worlds can do cyberpunk of course, although I don't think GURPS Cyberpunk has been updated to the 4th edition. No doubt something exists for Savage Worlds, but I have no idea what.

There are other cyberpunk systems that I know very little about, but others are enthusiastic about, including Eclipse Phase (seems to include space and transhumanism, so it's probably not pure cyberpunk, but it might suit your taste), or Ex Machina.

Sprawl seems to be the Apocalypse World/Dungeon World adaptation for cyberpunk.

SF is much broader. The original SF RPG is of course Traveller, which is somewhat retro; the game predates computers and doesn't have many (any?) robots either. But if you want to travel around in a space ship, this is great.

Stars Without Number is an SF game that translates ideas from the OSR movement to the SciFi setting.

There are of course several different Star Wars games, including the original d6-based game by West End Games (recently republished by Fantasy Flight Games), the d20 (D&D-like) Saga Edition, and the Edge of the Empire-style games by Fantasy Flight.

GURPS is great at SciFi, and I'm sure Savage Worlds does it too.

Diaspora is a small but really cool hard SF game based on the Fate system. I love how you first generate the worlds together and then generate the party together. In space combat, dumping heat is a major concern.

Paranoia is weird dystopian funny SF. The Computer is your friend.

Starfinder is the SF version of Pathfinder. I assume the system is therefore D&D-related, but I honestly don't know.

Dark Heresy takes place in the Warhammer 40K universe.

But there are dozens if not hundreds of others.

In addition to the three listed above, Alternity (if it's still in print?) is a reasonable SF system.

Oops, not in print since 2000... yep.

Your list is excellent, but wanted to throw one more out there: Cyberpunk 2020.

Definitely a great game too. But there are dozens, if not hundreds, of games I have omitted. There's a lot out there.

I’d probably say thousands of games we both omitted, but it wasn’t my intent to list them all and very likely not yours either.

Yeah, I have no intent to try to list them all. It's better to point to RPGgeek.com[0], which lists nearly 10,000 RPGs. (Though that's counting different editions of the same game as separate games.)

[0] https://rpggeek.com/browse/rpg

Losing one's imagination seems more common than losing one's sight. :(

Fortunately there are plenty of cookie-cutter computer games available for people with impaired imagination.

That sounds like a good thing to me. It would be unfortunate if going blind was more common

The more common a disability becomes, the less of a disadvantage it becomes - with some lag, of course - the world does tend accommodate for the (visible) average.

Can confirm. I have a condition which makes it hard to see in sharp detail more than 8ish meters away. My wife has the same, as do many others in my family to some degree. There is a very robust industry producing adaptive devices for nearsightedness.

I've even heard things like contact-lenses-as-a-service advertised on general interest podcasts.

There’s even this thing where they use lasers to burn away chunks of your eyeballs, because yeah, losing unnecessary weight and all makes you see better. I had it done a few weeks ago and it’s life changing!

It is still undoubtably useful, even if thanks to technology we can manage without.

Reading as a replacement to everyday stimuli that we are all too used to like video games and youtube is what I found to help my imagination flourish like I remember it did when I was younger.

This comment inspires me to work on my art.

I used to have several blind friends who were very successful in text based MUDs. It's possible finding one with an active userbase is getting harder and harder.

Shades (a very early MUD) used to have a Deaf/Blind Player and she used to come to eyeballs with her Guide Dog.

Indra Shah (booker prize shortlist author) wrote a book called Cyber Gypsies that covers this late 70's online community

I was thinking about text based games for blind people, but since I don't know any blind people that I can easily ask this, I'll put it here in the hopes that somebody who knows the answer will notice it:

Presumably, text based games are played with a screen reader. Would music and sound interfere with the persons ability to play? I was wondering if you could mix text and 3D audio to create a richer environment.

That is different from person to person. As long as it's not overpowering the voice it should be ok for most.

Many preffer to be able to set the reading speed though (2x and 3x not uncommon) and to be able to skip to the important part of the message. Especially important when you can't use visual pattern scanning on text that shows up often.

Mabe use the browser to create a textbased game? The tools exists there already and the users are used to use them.


I’m especially interested in creating a 3D soundscape, maybe something similar to what is described here: https://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/131900/playing_by_ear... but not necessarily instead of text, but rather to augment it. Based on what you’re saying, it would probably work well enough: have separate volume controls for music, ambient sound and sound effects (as most games have already anyway — many games have a voice volume too, but I guess voice should be left wholly up to the screen reader and it should control the volume/speed).

Using a browser sounds like a good idea. Definitely wouldn’t want to implement screen reading capability yourself!

These days, the number of non-pay MUDs with an average of 100+ people on them at a time can be counted on two hands.

How about paid ones?

http://astaria.net/wm_client/webclient.php is still going, but I think it has only a few dozen on average.

I haven't done anything but one of the quick D&D campaigns with the prebuilt characters but I am REALLY enjoying gloomhaven as an alternative. I know there's some vision required there but it seems similar to D&D.

It's an alternative if your favorite part about D&D is fighting (if so I'd recommend 4th instead of 5th). The role playing you do in Gloomhaven is non-existent in comparison.

Can you please ask your friend from the blind community's perspective, what their take is on using Minecraft Education Edition as a way to access Minecraft? It is more programmable than Minecraft Jave Edition, and supposedly one can interact with the game completely from within the API. The API [1] looks fairly complete, but I can't tell if it has what a blind game player would want to build from.

I just saw a pic-to-Braille conversion bot on Reddit, and your comment made me wonder if something similar could be built for blind Minecraft players. So far, I'm not aware of open source Minecraft-alikes that exposes the game purely through an API, though an open modding API like Minetest's [2] could probably be leveraged.

Googling around for this information leads to a lot of dead ends talking about the in-game Blindness effect, and I'm not a domain expert in what blind gamers would want to see, anyways. But it would be really cool to see the blind community add new dimensions to current game genres through game interaction APIs (though managing that and botting using the APIs would be an open problem).

[1] https://education.minecraft.net/wp-content/uploads/Code_Conn...

[2] https://dev.minetest.net/Main_Page

A couple of thoughts on Minecraft, though note I am not familiar with Education Edition:

1. We played Minecraft with the specific intent of making visually appealing buildings. So at some point, when you can't see, that's not going to be fun no matter what you do...

2. Minecraft really doesn't have any accessibility whatsoever. You can scale the UI, but... high contrast mode? If you could even get that working with the base game, it's definitely not going to work with the mods we were playing with. As my friend went blind, it got harder and harder for him to deal with any zombies or anything that was moving, since it took him so long to slowly scan the screen and understand where he was. We considered trying to make mods to make things a little bit easier, but struggled with coming up with any mod that would actually improve things. :)

3. My quick glance at the API suggests that we'd end up with a situation where we were playing the game and he was... programming. That may work for some people, but I think for this group that borders too close on after-hours work...

Maybe Keep Talking & Nobody Explodes would be an option - I haven't played it, but what I'm reading is that it's a game where one player has to defuse a bomb while the others have to give him instructions. I'm sure that could be converted to braille or some other format that doesn't require vision. Would be a great project to adjust that for the visually impaired.

Unfortunately that wouldn't work. For the person who's reading the instructions, there's a lot of flipping through pages and skimming an entire page for instructions on the particular item.

That fast skim reading can't be done with braille.

It can however be done with a well structured document and a screen reader. Worked with a blind guy in college who used screen readers and it was incredibly fast moving through pages.

The game relies heavily on visual queues for efficient puzzle-solving, so I don't think its very suited.

I dont think so...the complicated wires, keypad, and maze puzzles in particular seem to be a problem. People can make custom bombs without those puzzles but His blind friend would still need a way to search through the manual at a fairly quick pace.

Tau Station was built to be entirely accessible to blind users: https://blog.taustation.space/blog/making-tau-station-an-acc....

I was wondering - do you tell your blind friend what he/she rolls or how do you deal with dice?

Tactile dice don't seem too difficult a thing to make: https://www.geeknative.com/53239/braille-dice-d20-style/

Plus, you don't even have to use dice—anything that gives a uniformly random outcome is alright. (E.g. local “Choose your adventure”-clone books had dice sides printed on each page.)

Now, tracking the character sheet and consulting the rules are probably more of a nuisance to the person.

If we are in the same place, either someone else will roll for him or he'll roll and we'll tell him what he got (and he has little choice but to trust us :)). If we aren't in the same place, he rolls virtually (did you know you can type '/roll 1d20' in Google Hangouts and it rolls?) and gets the result via a screen reader.

For a while he was DMing and he would use a screenreader to access his notes plus the rolls. We don't typically use maps or boards, but instead try to do it all with descriptions of places. It does mean that the rooms we enter all tend to be fairly simply shaped, and it's possible that each of us has pictured a slightly different room, but it all works out in the end.

I love theater of the mind sessions. Maps have their purpose, but it's so much more fluid and imagination-intensive when your boundaries are visualized by your mind. The game loses something when you tie it down with predrawn environments and grids.

My sons play D&D fanatically, I remember it from years ago. Very impressive you made the effort to include your visually impaired friend. I learn't something thanks

Sorry to hear about your friend's misfortune.

Are they using their disability during gameplay, and/or in-character?

Is it unlikely? Board games were already growing fast. Even CCGs were growing fast, not only through video games but still as physical games too. People want to sit down and get offline and spend time with each other, _and_ people who used to do that want to get online and hang out with each other.

All the RPG market needed was one publisher with good production values and broad distribution to discard a big chunk of its worst, thorniest rules. Wizards was happy to oblige...

Pathfinder saw it too with their precursor Beginner Box, which also threw out a big chunk of its worst, thorniest rules and sold like crazy off a Humble Bundle. They just didn't get the distribution (or the right YouTubers on board) until it was too late, and never plugged their Beginner Box into other content as elegantly as Wizards did.

> All the RPG market needed was one publisher with good production values and broad distribution to . Wizards was happy to oblige...

I think you can make a very good case that D&D 4e in 2008 was where they decided to “discard a big chunk of its worst, thorniest rules”, and that the big innovation in 5e, released in 2014, was less about discarding thorny rules and more about reconnecting the streamlined rules with the fiction, in a way to preserve (mostly) the mechanical streamlining of 4e while reconnecting with the feel of earlier versions (not just one of those, but supporting the different appeal of multiple of them.) Changes like swapping encounter and daily powers for powers recharging with a short or long rest aren't a big deal mechanically, but they are a shift from pure metagame balance to something that is better tied to actions in the in-game milieu.

4e wasn't “discard[ing] a big chunk of its worst, thorniest rules”, it was a re-write to sell splat books and accessories, to try and turn it into pen and paper World of Warcraft, and make it a miniature focused expensive game. It failed. It was D&D in name only and an abomination to those who really cared about it.

5e was the streamlining and modularization that was needed so you could play it like it was 2e, or 3e/3.5e, or even 4e if you wanted to. 5e was a return to D&Ds roots bringing along only the good stuff it had learned in 35 years.

> 4e wasn't “discard[ing] a big chunk of its worst, thorniest rules”, it was a re-write to sell splat books and accessories

The two are not mutually exclusive: the former is game design, the latter is business aim motivating game design, product strategy, and lots of other things. It was both.

> 5e was the streamlining and modularization that was needed so you could play it like it was 2e, or 3e/3.5e, or even 4e if you wanted to.

Some modularization, sure, but it many ways it took small steps back from 4e's mechanical streamlining. Which is a good thing, 4e's extreme mechanical streamlining without regard to the role of the mechanics at the table in service of RP is a big part of why 4e ended up flavorless and dull. 5e kept most of the mechanical substance of that streamlining, but refocussed on serving RP and, in so doing, made some compromises to the mechanical streamlining. This made it more accessible for the same reason a lot of programming languages that have less refined, pure, coherent, generalizable abstractions than Haskell are more accessible.

(Also, I think you are doing the people working on business strategy at WotC a disservice if you think 5e is any less well designed to sell splat books and accessories than 4e. In 5e, the choices matter more to players -- which makes having more choices more valuable. And returning to OGL and adding DMs Guild means that there is more opportunity for third parties to supply the relatively low-margin long-tail supplements that each have a small market but collectively provide a strong ecosystem that keeps people buying the higher margin core books and major supplements and accessories that Wizards dutifully churns out.)

>It was D&D in name only and an abomination to those who really cared about it.

That's just demonstrably false and sounds like gatekeeping. 4E had a lot of good ideas that didn't always have the best execution. And a lot of the grid-based stuff was pushed so that an online toolset could be released alongside it, but it never actually happened. I think it's telling that even in 2018/2019, D&D Beyond has only JUST started being good enough to be truly usable, and it still doesn't have an online grid/board system (ala Roll20). Imagine how much of a mess it was in 07? Even the character generator that you could get back then was insanely clunky.

D&D didn't need 4E to get people into buying minis, that's just ridiculous if you look at MinatureMarket or any other site that sells oldschool minis. You can disagree with design decisions or the marketing, but to say that it's not D&D is a bit much.

I'd disagree that 4e was far from D&D's roots. D&D evolved from miniture-based wargames, and it remains a combat-focused P&P system. In my view 4e had two primary problems: combat was complex took a long time to resolve, even by D&D's standards, and it was different to what people were used to.

Technically Correct - but once the Three brown Books where published in 75/76 DnD diverged from "proper" wargaming 100%

I agree D&D has evolved into a different game, but it's still a lot closer to wargaming than a lot of other P&P systems, like Fate or Fiasco for example. D&D is a system that revolves around simulating party-vs-party fights in a fantasy setting, with some roleplay rules tacked onto the periphary. I felt 4e very much continued with that theme; the problem was fights in 4e were just too complex and laborious, even for a system built primarily for combat.

Well, not 100%; AD&D Battlesystem was a thing.

I had forgotten about that - I do have a copy of TSR's ECW (English Civil War) rules as well - must be super rare

I learned 4e first (modulo a one-shot 3rd ed game a long time before). I think it has excellent potential as a system that allows you to tell stories, even if the actual game mechanics are a bit too simple for most AD&D-heads. Check out the Critical Hit podcast by Major Spoilers, to see where a very effective DM can turn even 4e into a compelling story.

(I now play 5e whenever I run a game, because I can get people to actually play it with me.)

My biggest complaints about 5e are illusion magic rules and the lack of more core classes. I look forward to more source books for different planes in the future, but I can make do without those right now.

It's not just that. 4e greatly simplified the rules, which made it far more accessible and playable, but it made many classes feel very much the same; every class had daily powers, encounter powers, and at-will powers. 5e managed to make every class feel unique again, and brought many of the classic D&D players back.

That's the enthusiast perspective. I think closer to the truth of the article (which is talking about broad market share among non-geeks) is the fact that 5e made D&D accessible to kids again.

I've been suckered into running a weekly game for a gaggle of 10 year olds. They seem to love the game, but have absolutely zero interest in rules crunch. They're very happy having to be reminded about which die to roll and which bonus to apply (and which special abilities might be appropriate) every single round. Fourth edition has nothing to offer these kids beyond needless complexity and edge cases.

But my son will spend hours reading through the rulebooks and stat blocks. The game hooked him even if the rules haven't. And when I think back to my own experience learning the game at 9 at the dawn of AD&D... that's just about right.

I agree, the streamlining of the rules from 4E -> 5E is a big deal, perhaps the single most important difference is the fact that 5E is simpler to play.

Ask ten people and you'll get ten different explanations for what's wrong with 4E. For me, the problem was that combat is time-consuming. The time it takes to resolve a single combat encounter might be one or two hours! I really enjoy the combat in 4E, but I feel like this kind of crunch has narrow appeal.

For other editions, earlier and newer, it seems more natural to just ignore rules you don't want to play with and end up with a simplified game very naturally. With 4E, it felt like you couldn't do that with the combat system.

I’ve heard 4e described as “D&D Tactics”

When 5e launched my local store started hosting dungeon nights, and they started to fill up eventually competing in space with the MtG-players.

It was great and not heavily relying on maps and figurines makes it so smooth.

> They seem to love the game, but have absolutely zero interest in rules crunch.

I ran a campaign for my brothers when they were more or less at the same age.

They picked up interest in bionichles and kid being kid their way to play them was screaming "I hit you" in a growing brawl at each other until mom intervened.

of course I did not use dnd or any other crunch system, just contested rolls on every action and some rules based on range, and I did it so it could be used both for storytelling and wargaming, and they had a blast.

it's a GREAT way to start channeling their ruffle play into something more structured, rules be damned. just pick whatever some group of kid likes, throw some game rules and they'll figure out a way to make it work. it took less than six month for my brother to start playing at school with the rule given and then grew up into dnd.

> 4e greatly simplified the rules, which made it far more accessible and playable

I think it made it more playable as as an abstract combat game, but the divorce in presentation between the rules and the in-game fiction (particularly acute in the—albeit streamlined, simple, and consistent—way powers were defined) made it less accessible as a RPG in the deeper RP sense usually associated with TTRPGS as opposed to CRPGs.

For that, rule simplicity helps, but equally important is keeping mechanical actions grounded in the fictional world rather than abstracted from it.

And I think that's the unique strength of TTRPGs in a world awash in digital entertainment.

5e wasn't, IMO, in net a mechanical streamlining compared to 4e. It may have even made things a little more complex as an abstract game. But the presentation and the tie between the rules and the fiction was improved (and, as you note, things like class choices were given enough more weight in how characters played as to be more mechanically interesting.)

Incidentally, I'm one of the players of most previous versions of D&D (starting with B/X, missed OD&D, but played everything else) that it brought back to being a fan.

I do agree with that entirely. Our 4e group threw out half the explicit rules and did a lot of improvising.

One of 5e's greatest strengths was explicitly telling the DM how and when to wing it and improvise, rather than giving a rule for everything. The 5e DM's guide tells you that you can skip the encumbrance rules, that you can just give a level after every session or two rather than counting XP, that you don't need to do as many combat encounters if your players like story more, and spells out how to make new monsters.

The only decent D&D games I've played threw out at least half the rules. But at that point wouldn't you be better off starting from a more rules-light system? On the whole I've had better experience with games in the World of Darkness family, and even better with those at a FATE-like simplicity level.

The rules most commonly thrown out around my table are things like "carefully track how much all your equipment weighs to make sure that picking up that loot won't make you encumbered", or "track the exact number of experience points you need to level up". Those aren't the most interesting bits of D&D, those are just the "if you really need a rule for it, here's one" bits.

I enjoy rules-light systems as well, for certain types of games that don't fit at all into a D&D-ish framework. But for anything that roughly fits the parameters of 5e, our group tends to gravitate towards 5e and enjoy the majority of its structure.

It's very simplified compared to 3.5 or pathfinder and arguably gives players less customisation options - also some classes have been nerfed (rangers for example) look at how Laura Baily has to expend a lot of effort to protect Trinket

this a big point about 4e i recall more than a few pre 4th edition game circles that degenrated into pouring over books and arguing about the rules. wHEN I dm there are modifications to the rules that make more fun. for example sometimes characters dont "die" they meet thier maker and discover something about themselves or the deep lore of the campain world you have made, and then you can recycle them as if ressurected, by a deity. I think this is a very rewarding style if you have players that love to discover the story.

Can you explain the story mechanics of the “resurrection”? Is it more like the player is forced to switch PCs on death?

no not switching PCs unless you like. suppose a character "dies" they have an afterdeathexperience, a fireside chat with god so to speak. and are told some things about why the world exists the way it does, why the PC is so special, and perhaps a deal is made with a deity of some sort to fix the world [carry out the dietys plans] and they are ressurected perhaps as per the ressurection spell? or better/worse having a deity holding a debt against you, but having interst in keeping you going?

Interesting, I’ve been doing that in my Runequest games for years, but then the setting (Glorantha) has a really rich mythology that provides great context for things like that. I shouldn’t be durprised though. Rob Heinsoo the chief designer of 4e is a long time Glorantha and Runequest fan.

Wasn't 4th Ed when they did an Oracle move, and walked away from d20/open gaming license too?

Board games were already growing fast. Even CCGs were growing fast, not only through video games but still as physical games too. People want to sit down and get offline and spend time with each other, _and_ people who used to do that want to get online and hang out with each other.

A friend of mine used to say, "Sometimes you just have to get offline, get real, and face each other over a tabletop with some dice." Shortly after we met, we went to a haunted house together, and she won us the special T-Shirt prize by using her "spot the secret passage from the blank spot in the map" skills in real life.

I mean, a haunted house is undeniably "real life" in the "IRL" sense, but it wasn't like she used her new skills to actually save a life, or find a way out of hostile territory, or uncover lost artworks or something.

Not trying to be a downer, just saying that this is kinda stretching the definition of "real life application of game skills" for me. More like "applying a board game skill to a different kind of game"

It's one thing to apply such a skill in your imagination, looking down from a godlike top-down POV. It's another to do it in real-time, under an actual deadline, while being accosted in the flesh by people trying to scare you.

Also, those weren't "new skills." She was a veteran nerd's nerd.

FWIW: Pathfinder didn't win because it didn't have the name. The game itself is fine. But there can be only one D&D, and once WotC managed to figure out that the edition upgrade mill was a death trap and released a streamlined 5e, there wasn't much niche left for Pathfinder to fill.

Given a "Pathfinder" vs. "D&D" choice, and no overwhelming community consensus either way (the community rejection of the fourth edition is the reason Pathfinder exists as a commercial product at all), everyone's going to buy the game with the famous name.

> Pathfinder didn't win because it didn't have the name.

And the history. '80s nostalgia is a big thing right now, and D&D can drink at that well. Quite a lot of people who made it in Hollywood and are powerful right now, were D&D players 30 years ago when they were kids; so they supplied the glam factor that helps keeping games out of the "nerd" niche.

I wonder if Stranger Things featuring DnD made a significant impact.

> FWIW: Pathfinder didn't win because it didn't have the name. The game itself is fine. But there can be only one D&D, and once WotC managed to figure out that the edition upgrade mill was a death trap and released a streamlined 5e, there wasn't much niche left for Pathfinder to fill.

5e was the second D&D edition released after Pathfinder, so I'm not really sure what “edition upgrade mill” you are talking about.

> (the community rejection of the fourth edition is the reason Pathfinder exists as a commercial product at all),

Pathfinder was released to wide acclaim before 4e; it's true that with sufficient acceptance 4e might still have displaced it, but the real reason for PF was the announced imminent replacement of the 3e Open Game License with a more restrictive Game System License for the upcoming 4e, and what that said for both Paizo (who made Pathfinder) and other third-party players in the 3e/3.5e ecosystem.

It's perhaps worth noting that 5e returned to an OGL core.

OMG, we're actually having an edition war on HN! D&D really has broken through!

Pathfinder beat 4e to market in a technical sense, but it absolutely exists because WotC announced it was moving away from 3.5e and the OGL with a new edition. Paizo never intended to release it to compete directly with 3.5, and it would have been insane to do so.

> OMG, we're actually having an edition war on HN! D&D really has broken through!

Are we? The disagreements seem to be about details of why various editions succeeded or failed, not about their superiority.

Well, we expect HN to have a slightly higher level of discourse right? :)

Pathfinder's entire market was "people who didn't like 4E and wanted to keep playing [/selling OGL supplements for] for 3.5," and on that basis they were one of the only games to come close to matching D&D's success. (They may actually have outside D&D for a few years; it's hard to be sure because WotC doesn't release those numbers.) It was only 4E's divisiveness that let them find a niche, and they started slipping as soon as WotC released a new edition that fixed most of the things that pissed people off about 4E.

Pathfinder does have a pretty large following. They also have a new Pathfinder 2.0 coming soon.

Yeah, there's a resurgence going on; Warhammer is getting more popular too again, even with the youth. I want to like it, but I can't bring myself to shell out €50 for a starter kit which looks like some plastic figures and a cardboard box on the back (some assembly required).

Warhammer (Fantasy Battle and 40K) is a beautiful but incredibly expensive hobby.

But Cubicle7 Games has just published the 4th edition to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, so that aspect of Warhammer is back too.

Fairly cheap per hour. I think it realistic to be less than 25 cents per hour. I suppose it depends how much effort you put into detailing, and playing.

How much it is per hour depends entirely on how often you play it. A Warhammer army can easily cost hundreds of dollars, and over $1000 is not unheard of. It can be cheaper, but RPGs can be completely free and eat up as much or as little time as you want.

Though I suppose if you count the time spent painting the minis as time spent playing, it's likely to end up fairly cheap per hour.

It's not so much that Pathfinder was too late; Pathfinder has been incredibly successful and has even outsold D&D in a couple of years. But D&D has and will always have the biggest brand recognition outside the hobby, and will therefore always be the game with the largest number of new players. And the largest number of old players too.

Speaking of CCG's, any collectors who happen to be coders? I haven't met too many at the local shops I stop by so I always figured collecting cards wasn't very popular amongst engineers.

I'm a very avid boardgamer (>100 games stored in a dedicated room) but CCGs never really interested me. I played some MTG way back but it was always very obvious that those games are a money sink. I like LCGs a lot more because you know what you get and can plan. For CCGs I always ended up buying a deck to play instead of "collecting". I tried again with Star Wars Destiny and enjoy the game a lot but I just can't bring myself to buy lots of booster displays just to get the stuff I want. My rational brain simply refuses to do it. I can buy a great board game for less than a booster display or I can buy a cool but expensive game for less than two booster displays (Gloomhaven).

And I can get the feel of a CCG from any of the great LCGs if I want that (Netrunner, L5R etc.). I get that in a CCG you get more carddrops and boom the entire meta shifts etc. but it's the corner of board/card gaming that interests me least by a wide margin.

I collected the 1996 Netrunner CCG for years; last year I found someone who was more or less selling off their complete collection (I didn't have any of the 2.0 cards or the majority of the 2.2 cards, and was also missing a handful of the 2.1 rares - inheriting a couple boxes of all the miscellaneous spares was fine by me if it meant a 100% complete binder) so that very expensive chapter of my life has closed.

I also went out and finished my "first TCG appearence of the original 151" Pokémon collection with one of my first few paychecks after graduating (had to shell out the money for Charizard and a couple others that were never in my collection from childhood). I really wanted to retroactively declare myself the coolest kid on the playground at recess, otherwise what was all that work for? :)

Sadly, while card games were an important part of my life growing up, a lot of mental switches flipped over the last year or so and I honestly regret spending so much money and time in the card game world over the entire first part of my life. In 2012 Android: Netrunner introduced me to the LCG model and made me realize that the CCG model was exploitative and a terrible use of my money (obvious in retrospect, but when you're in the thick of it, you try and rationalize it, you know?). Then, working towards my degree for a few years after that kept me out of the tournament ecosystem for so long that I found myself not wanting to go back - there were simply more productive uses of my brain cycles than deck construction and playing games. I know they say "time enjoyed wasted is not wasted time" but if I would have programmed or learned a few languages or focused on competition math or read classical literature or learned to cook or any number of other things in that first 18 years, I'd be so much better off [1]. It's possible many coders feel the same way, and that's why you're not seeing them.

[1] In fact, should parenting be in my future, I don't think I'd let my kids have nearly as much post-pubescent "non-skill-building" fun as I was allowed to have; competition for income is fierce and it's only going to get worse.

> I know they say "time enjoyed wasted is not wasted time" but if I would have programmed or learned a few languages or focused on competition math or read classical literature or learned to cook or any number of other things in that first 18 years, I'd be so much better off [1].

Better off in what sense? If we're talking about skills that apply to the rest of life, I honestly feel like deck optimisation was much better preparation for a real-world career (where the problem scope is never fully defined, the measure of success always involves an element of randomness, and hidden interactions abound) than competition maths was. And while it exercises a different kind of imagination and storytelling, I'd argue that games in a shared-world fiction can give a more intense practice of the things that classical literature give you.

My company has a number of MTG players at our office. We've done a number of booster box drafts, and one co-worker even ordered a proxied Vintage cube online so we can draft whenever we want without needing to buy new boxes (plus, it's the only chance the younger people like me will ever get a chance to play with stuff from the first few sets that are now way too expensive to actually play with even if you are willing to shell out the money)

I'm in NYC, a Lot of MTG players are Developers/Programmers/SREs/Webmasters etc.

Same but they'll almost never admit to it at work.

That, essentially, is the issue. If you don't already know they play Magic, you won't know they play Magic.

Gambling, in most traditional forms, is seen as low-class and stupid, while in reality many, many people in this industry are compulsive gamblers.

That doesn’t match my experience at all. From backgammon to poker to sports gambling I’ve experienced way more positive bias towards gambling in tech jobs than negative.

Ditto. Maybe it's because I work in data science though. Stats nerds are in their element with games of chance.

It's called cryptocurrency.

That is what I was alluding to.

We have a solid group going at our office playing MTG, Epic and Star Realms. We have weekly meet ups and do per release drafts of MTG.

Interestingly at the shop I go to play I'm the only one with an engineering background.

Back when I was in university (during the 1990s) everybody in the CS department played Magic: the Gathering. There were always people playing in the coffee room, we held plenty of tournaments.

Woah really? At my company (and others, at least according to my friends), MTG is really big among software engineers. Look around for sure - you'll find plenty of people like us!

Paradoxically, tech has actually made DnD much more accessible to the masses.

When my friends and I first started playing 3.5 in middle school, we pooled our money for a single player's handbook (they were pricey back then!) and would constantly be passing it around any time anyone needed to do anything, which really slowed down the pace of the game and made it hard to get intimately familiar with the rules.

Eventually someone found a PDF dump of some books, and suddenly not only did we have access to useful stuff like the monster manual and DM guide, but we could search the text super quickly and get familiar with the rules at home, on our own time.

Now that we're adults who can actually afford the books, we don't need the PDFs - but we still benefit from using phone apps for dice rolling and spellbooks, and roll20 for combat.

I've timed it in actual play: it's quicker to google for a monster stat block (one from the SRD, obviously) than it is to look it up in the Monster Manual sitting right next to the laptop.

Sure, but from experience in play, sticky notes in the Monster Manual are much faster for switching back and forth than browser tabs are.

That's a cache, though, when the use case at hand is random access.

I mean, if I'm willing to do some prep work I can surely do even better than sticky notes (like, heh, "google for all the monsters ahead of time and line them all up in browser tabs").

Perhaps that's your use case, it's not mine.

How DMs prepare, if they do, is highly variable. But most DMs choose monsters ahead of time. This appears in survey data in The Lazy Dungeon Master. The questionnaires are interesting, when asked how they would prepare for a session if they only had 30 minutes, most DMs explicitly mentioned choosing monsters.

Over the years, my personal experience is that running things out of the browser or PDF is great if you need to search for random rules and other situations that come up during the game, but paper books and notes are overwhelmingly superior for expected conditions like encounters and monsters. I've used various laptop systems (wikis, docs, text files), apps, and paper systems (typed, handwritten, paper or notecard). On the balance of things I decided that running the game with a laptop was worse than running a game without one, at least the way I play the game.

That's just a personal choice, but it seems like most DMs do choose monsters ahead of time.

I've been running the old d20 Star Wars game for my kid, and with PDFs of all the rulebooks, one of my main game prep things is printing out the pages for the creatures / characters / spaceships I think are likely for a session.

Yep, what also adds in my point of view to its popularity is that due to highly successful DND inspired PC games and cosplay DND is generally not considered some weird thing. Also people tend to be ok with the fantasy part of DND.

When I started playing DND in the early 90th you were considered a creep with too much fantasy. :D

Funnily enough, the reason I had to pool money in the first place (rather than just asking for the book as a bday or xmas present) is because my church-going Dad bought into the "Dungeons and Dragons leads to devil worship" myth! He knows better now, but even in the 2000s many people had some very odd opinions of people who played RPGs. I do agree though that video games and big budget fantasy movies have brought the whole genre closer into the mainstream though.

Paradoxically, DnD actually made tech much more accessible to me.

weather generation was the impetus of my first programs on a Vic 20

>we could search the text super quickly

This is really the killer feature for me. As much as I love the nostalgia and imagery of leafing through a hefty tome, the practicality of it wasn't so good for new players. Having to keep pausing the narrative to be like "Hold up. leafs to index, leafs to page, scans page to figure out which die to roll" really just bogs everything down. Especially if you're playing with indecisive munchkins.

How is that at all paradoxical?

We started playing a year ago, it was my first time playing since the mid-80's, and we're doing it all from my old AD&D (first edition) books and modules that I had collected from then.

We really like it because as a group of newbies - four of the five players had never played before - it gives us permission to do things that are really fun but we never really would have found time to do before. We've incorporated poetry reading, table-reading of scripts, songs, and silly tasks (I made my wife pick a real estate lockbox we didn't have the combination for, before her thief could advance to level 2).

So for us anyway, it wasn't anything about Wizards of the Coast or 5e... this is strictly Gygax-level stuff we're playing. But I think some of it is a blowback from many of us just feeling exhausted and discouraged about online life, there is greater appetite for making these sorts of memories and being creative together.

That sounds like a good time! I've actually had some of the most fun role-playing experiences playing with new players who don't really have a preconceived on what the typical limits of role-playing should be.

For example, we've got one player who decided to try and buy drugs in-game at one of the seedier cities we were stopping at. Fast-forward many sessions later, and she's now a kingpin of sorts with an owl-delivery service and contacts of varying trustworthiness all over the place. It does help to have a very creative DM who likes creating random effects (inhaling ground up flail snail shell turned out to be particularly silly) and teammates who don't get bent out of shape over "less than optimal" play or whatever.

This is the D&D I remember. Half the time we we didn't have the books accessible (basically each friend had bought a single book, so if they weren't around, neither was their book).

Due to limited transportation, we spent most of one summer playing on a 3-way phone chain. Whenever someone's parents needed the phone their character would become an NPC until they could dial back in. No maps — just a lot of trust and imagination.

In Germany there's at least one other big P&P RPG called "Das Schwarze Auge" (sold in the US as "The dark Eye" iirc and not very successful). I think it's a good system and the lore is pretty nice (even though compared to my child-self I now realized a lot of it is heavily influenced by real world history/cultures).

Which makes me wonder...what are other native language systems that are popular in the country but might not be known outside? My working hypothesis would be that those exist in many countries because P&P RPGs are language driven after all and so native language systems are the most natural tool for storytelling.

Please do share if you're from a non-US country and have an interesting system (and share if it is the go to system over DnD or comparable in popularity).

In Poland there were Krzyształy Czasu (Crystals of Time) - a generic high fantasy system made by people from Magia i Miecz magazine (pioneering magazine about RPGS in Poland - it was the only such press for decades). There was also "Wiedźmin - Gra Wyobraźni" - an RPG based on Witcher franchise and targetting new players reoughly at the time that Witcher was first adapted as movie and TV series. It wasn't very good mechanically, but got some people in the hobby.

There was also Dzikie Pola (based on Polish 16-18th century - inspired by books of Henryk Sienkiewicz - Polish Dumas). If you've seen "Deluge" or "With Fire and Sword" movies you know the setting. Sabres, flintlocks, Polish nobility, Ottomans, Muscovites, Cossacs, and wide steppes of modern Ukraine :)

On sci-fi side there is Neuroshima - fallout-like setting with some quirks. It was popular a few years ago but I don't hear about it much anymore.

But the most popular was (and still is) fantasy Warhammer RPG. The first Polish edition was the first time an RPG system was marketed in Poland and it was a big deal, almost everybody to this day started playing RPG with first or second edition of that.

Apart from that the most popular is Call of Cthulhu I think? Or maybe Vampire:the Masquerade and related systems, but that's losing popularity recently I think.

D&D was never very popular, that slowly changes recently.

Very cool, I never realized that the boardgame Neuroshima Hex! (very recommendable, recently also "reskinned" as Monolith Arena) is actually based on an RPG :D

Poland is a great boardgame nation, Ignacy Trzewiczek is one of my favorite developers :)

In my previous job we played Neuroshima RPG after work sometimes. It was crazy - the whole office participated - like 12 people including our boss and the secretary, and one of the programmers were a DM.

We never really got to the point where plot happens, because it took forever to fight stray dogs on the way with 12 players, but it was a lot of fun. The fighting mechanics was inspired by Cyberpunk 2020 - a lot of dice throwing for each attack :)

Age of Aquarius https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%AD%D1%80%D0%B0_%D0%92%D0%B... was a pretty popular Russian role-playing game back in the day. Setting is modern urban fantasy (with guns and spells), with spies and magic mixed up together. I used to play it a lot in high school in early 00s, and at my first job in the game industry I actually got to know one of the game's creators, Slava Makarov, who later went on to create World of Tanks. I didn't know the game got the second edition in 2011 until just now, though.

Ah, yes! There was also a Dutch translation of Das Schwarze Auge (called Het oog des meesters, i.e. The Eye of the Master) which got me hooked to roleplaying. There were even tv commercials for it at the time. (Talking about the mid eighties here.)

The Dutch version soon lagged behind the original, but fortunately we lived near the German border and bookstores in Germany were loaded with extension kits and prefabbed adventures. It was a great boost for my German reading skills! ;-)

Ha, that was my starting RPG as well :-) I think I still have it somewhere....

My first RPG too. I have all the old books in my big RPG book case. My dad got it when I was 10, and I was hooked immediately, though the system at the time was really simple. DSA has been expanded quite a bit since then.

Incidentally, there's been a Kickstarter for a new Dutch translation that's about to deliver soon. I'm curious how recognisable it still is.

Sweden has produced quite a collection of P&P RPGs over the years, with Drakar & Demoner, Mutant and Kult probably being the three most popular. The last two I know got English translation of various versions, but I don't think they ever got popular outside of Sweden.

There is a fabulous (but sadly not well-known) RPG in the UK called "Clockwork & Chivalry" set during the English Civil War in an alternate 1640s.

This pits the clockwork machinery of Parliament's New Model Army against the magick of the Cavalier-Alchemists commanded by Prince Rupert (of the Rhine) fighting for Royal Absolutism.

Clockpunk Fantasy in a world of gunpowder, political machinations and fanatical righteousness.

L oeil Noir! Surprised to know it still lives on. Is the scene very active?

It's still very popular in Germany with new adventures, boxes and also a lot of novels set in the universe being released.

As an aside: I also really like the old PC games "Das Schwarze Auge: Die Nordland-Trilogie" (Realms of Arkania in English iirc) but it's a very unique/strange adaptation. It's very close to the game system but has been criticized quite a bit for the gameplay content (I actually liked the storylines). When you selected the complex rule system it was very fun to just level the characters and try all the spells etc. The round based combat was also very unique/interesting (imo)

There's a remake of Realms of Arkania which has been released a few years ago.

The article undersells the whole story.

The Open Gaming License of 3rd edition D&D was definitely open source inspired (despite my personal beefs with it) and kicked of a huge burst of new game developers, and that bubble collapsed right on the tails of the CCG collapse, which caused a big churn in the industry.

This led to a spike of online offerings, and the crowdsourcing era has meant that while the last 10 years is anything but safe for authors, for players it us as golden age.

Well beyond d&d (though there too) there is a wealth of options and better support and community than ever, between publishers and players, and amongst players. Tabletop games continue, as do video chat based games and play by post forums. All while the old school games, MOOs and MUSHes thrive. Different playstyles are supported, the communities are getting better about tolerance, and the Satanic Panic is not part of mainstream culture anymore.

I play D&D in person using a paper character sheet and physical dice, but I created that sheet using D&D Beyond. And most of the rest of the party uses D&D Beyond on iPads.

Holy hell is that more convenient for tracking spells and subtle rule interactions than what I used to have to do as a kid.

In my eyes, it's letting technology do what it does best -- get details right -- and frees up slightly more casual players to do the fun roleplaying part without being so bogged down.

Sorry if this is lazy but I can't really Google game related stuff right now, but can you link an image with that sheet?

The OGL was a big deal and hugely beneficial to the pen and paper RPG community as a whole. A lot of small publishers got their start publishing OGL supplements and then branched out into their own original games. That plus cheap digital publishing, and a one-stop-shop to buy PDFs in the form of DrivethruRPG, Kickstarter, plus the rise in geek culture generally through things like Comic Con has lead to a huge resurgence in gaming. It's never been better.

I don't think it's surprising at all. As mentioned here, people are looking for alternatives to spending time online all the time. Then, as the article mentions, LOTR, GOT, and Harry Potter have primed the culture to be big into fantasy. And finally, we're a good 30 years past the peak of the D&D bashing by religious types and the stereotype of it being a game for basement dwelling stoners and creeps, which means we have a full generation of young adults who don't have huge preconceived notions about the game.

If you enjoy D&D then Critcal Role[1] is a must watch. Matt Merser is an amazing DM. And the other players(all professional voice actors) are really good as well. It’s great sit on the couch for a while or watch while working type of fare. Each episode is multiple hours of great voice acting and D&D.

[1] https://critrole.com

Also relevant - check out HarmonQuest[1], it's Dan Harmon (of Rick & Morty) doing a campaign which is then animated over. It's absolutely hilarious and very well made. Also, given each episode is only 25 minutes it's not quite as big of a commitment as Critical Role!

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HarmonQuest

+1 on this.

Critical Role is the perfect storm of * great friends just playing a home game on stream * who are excellent voice actors (they have Overwatch, Last of Us, Spider-Man, Horizon ++++ credits) * who aren't afraid of improv and who GET D&D

And the players are so well behaved :-) I have found that watching CR has changed the way I Dm and play as a character.

Thanks; as someone who has never played "hardware" DnD, this looks very interesting!

What a shame that all this attention goes to D&D. There are so many other good tabletop games with exquisite worldbuilding, languishing for attention... Vampire: The Masquerade, RIFTS (my personal fav)

I mean, in a casual discussion I'd frequently say that I "play D&D all the time" even though I have never in my life played Dungeons and Dragons - we usually play derivatives of DnD and other roleplaying games. But DnD is something that most people at least recognize so for me it became a generic term for roleplaying game, just like hoover became a generic term for a vacuum cleaner.

dnd is the kleenex of table top RPGs?

Probably more like the 'dumpster' of ttrpgs. I think almost anyone outside of the genre has no idea that it even is a brand name.

Rifts has a wonderfully gonzo setting saddled with possibly the worst rules system available in this century.

The Savage Worlds conversion is pretty cool, though.

I know. I ran a campaign of RIFTs and globetrotting in that setting was awesome... But the rules were so very boring.

Palladium crashed catastrophically, sadly. There was some kind of theft problem, and then they had a disastrous Kickstarter.... Such a shame they couldn't find a way to modernize.

They're still around, if that's what you're saying. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18862412

What was it about the rules you found to be boring? Rifts was my first RPG and I remember the rules being complicated AF but I think we all sort of accepted that as the price of entry or something

No customizing characters beyond rolling stats and picking skills/spells (and just picking them, not saying how good they are at them) and weapons.

Fighting was mostly attack/parry/dodge. Not much variety in combat actions, particularly with massive health values on everything.

Your stats hardly mattered unless they were above like 16 and got the skill or combat bonus.

Most of the rules for non-combat actions were just simple skill-tests.

LOL, I loved Palladium's weirdo rules, particularly the SDC/MDC distinction with Rifts and a few others.

Don't think I've seen/heard anything about a Savage Worlds conversion. Do you have any details on that?

And it's a shame how Palladium died, small company got fucked over by their accountant

They didn't die. Kevin Siembieda sold a bunch of art prints and asked fans to buy books direct from the web store, and they got back in the black. That was 12 years ago and they're still alive.

Siembieda has a habit of going all-in on bad ideas and then blaming everyone but himself afterwards. E.G., there was interest in a Rifts video game, so he licensed a studio to make one...for the Nokia N-Gage, despite all his fans urgently telling him that it was a dumpster fire. Then when the game flopped like everything associated with the N-Gage, he announced that no one could have seen this coming and clearly video games weren't a good avenue for Palladium. More than once he's commissioned a book, talked up the author in a big way, then by the time the manuscript is half-completed he's decided to cancel the book and tell everyone that it's because the author just didn't get it.

And apparently a lot of the losses to the crooked accountant happened because Palladium had no inventory control system, so no one realized stuff was vanishing.

All of which is to say, I suspect that anyone but Siembieda wouldn't have fallen victim to that guy in the first place.

(Oh, and there was a $1.5 million Kickstarter that somehow crashed and burned with 90% of the promised materials undelivered, even though all the tooling was ready and they were actually printing books.)

Oh I've heard plenty over the years about Siembieda's business chops. Glad to hear they are still around, I should probably check on these things :P

There's a whole raft of "Rifts for Savage Worlds" products now (https://www.peginc.com/product-category/rifts/), but really I think you need only the following two to get going:



They recently(ish) released vampire: the masquerade 5th edition and it’s great! Gone is the “requiem” stuff and gothic punk is back. The storyline finally continues post-ghenna too.

In the 90s these were the #2 and #3 RPGs after D&D and they're both still around and have new books released. If Rifts had evolved in the same way D&D had and Siembieda wasn't so controlling maybe it would be as big or bigger than D&D now. See comments below about why Rifts/Palladium aren't as popular as D&D.

Or TORG .. so many possibilities in that game (badum tss)

The saddest thing about having board games is not having anyone come over to play them.

In particular for me at the moment, I have Battles of Westeros https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/67492/battles-westeros

that many feel is one of the best tactical board games out there: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/979785/battles-westeros-imm...

and yet I've played it twice in five years. ;(

To be fair, deep strategy games aren't exactly the most friendly thing to just "dip your toe into", especially two player deep strategy.

If you wanted more chances for people to come over and play games few things could be worse. Maybe 18xx (very crunchy simulationist games about early railways) or full blown scale wargaming (e.g. Napoleonic). But even lighter variants of those let people ease into it (e.g. skirmish wargaming, you can buy a couple of boxes of miniatures and play skirmish variants of 40K or various WW2 settings, and there are train sim games where you just run trains and don't have a stock market, a territorial map and so on)

I know I won't have people over often enough to justify big set piece games, so I carry things like "Love Letter" which you can play in a pub in 10 minutes.

That is very fair assessment that I also share. That is why I have other games. But I do lament it!

For the most part, I get my gaming in by playing with people using play-by-post in a Pathfinder roleplaying forum, which I like alot for the creative writing and rp.

I've had the same problem. Then I got married, and my oldest son is now 9, and we played Terraforming Mars this weekend and he loves it.

It takes a bit of time and investment, but there is a way out.

I think that D&D is interesting in terms of the contrast with computer roleplaying games.

In a way it does a good job of showing both the current strengths and weaknesses of computers. Managing the rules and stats by hand can be fun, but I have seen many recorded sessions where it is obviously a burden that a computer would be perfectly suited for.

On the other hand, aspects of D&D like face-to-face interaction and language-based free creativity are things the computer can't handle well. Although video chat is a thing. Computers can't understand language at this point so they can't manage everything for you. Of course DMing is the most fun for many people so they wouldn't want a computer to DM.

I wonder if there would be a way to translate the freedom that you get as a DM or player in terms of world creation, scenario management, and freedom of action, to an interactive video-game type experience. Maybe in VR?

Neverwinter Nights 2 had some solid tools for campaign building that were the closest I've seen to creating a world with scenarios like those you see in DnD. It helps that the game was almost literalally DnD, but still impressive.

I don't think DM'ing is necessarily fun though. Most everyone I know who DMs sometimes, including me, finds it to be pretty stressful and a lot of work. The real value to me, is that a really good DM knows when to break the rules to enhance the game experience, and how to do it without making people angry. They create scenarios that specifically challenge the characters that are playing, not just for combat, but for role-playing purposes. Ie, a Lawful wizard is tempted to steal a scroll that would contain the knowledge he seeks the most, or a cleric who must decide whether to uphold her team's plan to ally with an unscrupulous NPC, or to go rogue in the name of their ethical code and deliver justice to said NPC. Good storytelling and cooperative play is just something that comes very naturally to some people, and having a human in the loop to respond to events in the context of an overarching narrative and party experience is really hard ot beat.

Thanks for the info on Neverwinter Nights 2. I will check it out.

I agree about having a human in the loop. My idea though was that maybe you could have the best of both worlds with a computer to help the DM. The trick would be making the sandbox rich and responsive enough that the DM and characters would really have freedom in the moment. Maybe the DM could have tools that easily allow him to rez and customize appropriate objects and NPCs in the visualization.

As far as I remember, in NWN1 multiplayer sessions you could have a player play as the DM. He had access to stuff like spawning items, could spawn monsters on top of the party etc. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3pclUiro-4

NWN1 is still being actively developed by BeamDog. Graphics are more dated but they are working on improving the engine.

Oh cool, that does help me understand what you were getting at better. Definitely does sound like it would be fun, especially with VR.

if you have a scrungy flatscreen, lay it on its back on the table and use it as the terrain surface. plug it into you laptop or box and open a GIMP or some other image editor. drop bitmaps for terrain on the players window, and pick markers and image snippets to drop into the terrain. use physical miniatures, [coins 4th ed tokens etc.] for the players, its great for players that like eyecandy

I would recommend check out urealms[1]. It is a improv/role playing show running on rules similar (but simplifed) DnD rules. The format is a group of twitch personalities steam their gameplay for a live audience, contents including improv jokes, pre-planned dramma, pre-made animation cut scences and at the center of it, dice-roll based table top game play.

The primary tool used for the show is tabletop simulator[2], which is a game designed for any tabletop games: cards, dices, chess etc. and can be customized quite a bit. It's mostly a low-tech solution, replicating physical acts of throwing dices, moving pieces and shuffling cards on a virtual table. In addition, the creators of URealm also invested in other custom softwares and artwork. However, the show is a for-profit project seeks to provide entertainment value for an audience rather than purely for the enjoyment of participants.

[1] https://www.urealms.com/ [2] https://store.steampowered.com/app/286160/Tabletop_Simulator...

Should not be a problem

I use Index cards and have all my spells, special abilities and my various attack sequences (for combat classes) written out long hand.

I also use an A6 notebook per campaign to keep a record of each session.

There is one aspect where I think digital board games are superior: you don't have to spend time setting up, putting away, or resetting the game. If there was a way to do that in the analog version as quick as the digital ones, then I would more willing to participate. Another thing might be "saving" the state between long sessions: you can use a camera phone for certain parts, but its more difficult for when there are secrets and you need a neutral 3rd party (e.g. a card hand).

Edit/Update: My mistake. I've seen a few photographs of people playing D&D (even the ones in the article), and it seemed like there was more of a board and initial conditions represented by many pieces like board games. I've played board games like Settlers and Monopoly where set up requires more time and effort. Sorry again.

While you can fool around endlessly with miniatures and terrain and whatnot if you wanna, setting up a game of D&D mostly consists of emptying out your bag of cool shiny polyhedral dice onto the table, throwing in a few bucks for pizza, and pulling out your character sheet.

Mostly it's just about making up a story with the other players, with a handful of rules and dice to put some randomness into the outcomes.

Digital board games are superior in almost every way except face to face player interaction. For games with a high level of complexity, the analog version is always terrible. Forgetting to move a bit when the game state changes is always a sore point. Unfortunately, these games are generally more challenging to port to digital as well.

For more casual games, I prefer to play in person with a beer in hand.

(PS My day job is running a game store. If anyone needs a recommendation on a board game, let me know.)

I'd love a recommendation on a starter game (or a few!) if you find yourself with a minute! I play with a group who, including myself, are novices when it comes boardgames. Between 3-6 players most of the time. We found ourselves getting really into Puerto Rico and recently tried Terraforming Mars but didn't _love_ it. I think TR would be better on a second playthrough when we actually know the rules though :). I played Battlestar Galactica once as well and found it great! Looking at boardgamegeeks is a bit intense with the selection there so I'm hoping you might have a narrower range to suggest.

Terraforming Mars is my favorite game. I think its worth giving it another try. I would remove the Corporate Era cards for now. These are the cards with the white triangle near the bottom left.

Here are some games I would suggest for a group that likes Puerto Rico:

  -Lords of Waterdeep
  -Castles of Burgundy
  -7 Wonders (scales well to 6 players)
  -Pandemic Legacy (co-op)
These all have different mechanics and feel, so it is a good starter set. Let me know if you have more questions. Hope you enjoy these!

I played Splendor for the first time a couple of weeks ago when I visited my parents and immediately bought my own set, it's just such a simple premise that lends itself really well to interesting tactics.

Thank you! We actually did remove them, and all started with the “starter” corporation. I think there’d be more variety next time when we don’t. Also we know not to end the game so quickly now!

Settlers of Catan is of course super popular/famous for a reason -- it's fairly easy to learn, the games are short, and it's well-balanced and fun (until you get sick of it).

Ticket to Ride is one of the simplest to learn fun "fancy" board games I know.

My current favorite is Power Grid, which I don't think is much more complicated than Puerto Rico, if any. If you can do Puerto Rico, you can do a game that isn't the _simplest_ out there.

The more of em you play, the easier other ones are to learn.

If you like Puerto Rico you are probably past the gateway stage. Similarly strategic games I can recommend

  - Concordia, 5 players. 6 with Venus expansion.
  - Lords of Waterdeep. 5 players. 6 with expansion iirc
  - Istanbul. 5
  - Power Grid. 6.
  - Dominant Species. 6.
  - Eclipse. 6.
  - Dead of Winter. 5.
  - Tiny Epic Galaxies. 5. Filler game.
  - Agricola. Current edition is 4. 6 with expansion.
  - 7 wonders. Up to 8 iirc.
  - Scythe. 5. 6 with expansion.
  - Viticulture. 5.
  - Pandemic. 5.
Just stick to the top 100 until you know what you like. Anything in the top 100 is good even it’s not particularly to your taste. You’ll get a good taste of what makes a good game.

But once you have a good idea, you’ll find games you enjoy in the top 1000 or so.

Edit for formatting.

Will definitely look into these, thanks!

Agricola Dominion Pandemic are classics for a good reason.

This isn't entirely true: physical games allow house ruling, even to the point that the game could be considered a new game.

I also disagree that the analog version is terrible in high complexity games compared with the digital version, because for the groups I play in the overhead of the complexity causes analysis paralysis... the automation of a digital version doesn't really help that much in my experience

What would you recommend for 2 players? (often I can only play with my SO)

Without knowing what kind of games you like, I can safely suggest Splendor and Azul. Both plays well with 2 and scales up to 4 equally well. If you like more strategy, Lords of Waterdeep.

There are some excellent 2 player games as well. I would start with Patchwork. If you like something more heavy, 7 Wonders duel is an excellent game.

Azul and Patchwork seem really good.

Thanks for the suggestions! :)

> There is one aspect where I think digital board games are superior

D&D is not a board game, though a grid and figures of some kind are a useful play aid for combat; and for that part, there are virtual tabletop (VTT) systems (and digital character sheets, both integrated with VTTs and independent of them.)

There is one aspect where I think digital board games are superior: you don't have to spend time setting up, putting away, or resetting the game.

Back in the 80's, a group of friends and I played Car Wars post apocalyptic vehicular combat game. (Think Mad Max from the 1st movie. We had the "Sunday Drivers" unmounted add-on.) We spent most of the weekend setting up, and got through 2 minutes of game time.

Yeah, back when I was playing competitive card games I was trying to figure out a way to put nfc chips or something in card sleeves and scanning them with my phone as a way of rebuilding game state later when you have to pick up and leave. Didn't really get past the idea phase, and I imagine scanning 60 cards would get pretty tiring anyhow.

Those are actual board games. The setup of a p&p like D&D or call of cthulhu consists of me getting our 8 sheets of paper, 4 pencils with rubbers and 2 dice.

The worst part is finding a time slot with 3 - 5 people.

and...finding people to play with if you aren't already in that crowd and have a family/full-time job.

I can confirm that my 15 year old daughter and her group of friends got into it because of Stranger things. Now have regular sessions with obligatory pizza. I'm rather jealous.

Ironically, the best way to actually play D&D is...online, using Fantasy Grounds software. This saves on an incredible amount of time and micromanagement, creating time for actual RP and gameplay. Highly recommended, plus you can actually include your non-local friends.

Roll20 is awesome as well

Whenever I hear Roll20 I just think of this post https://www.reddit.com/r/DnD/comments/9iwarj/after_5_years_o...

I had not heard that yet. I've always had a positive impression of Roll20, although I'd never used it. This makes sure that I never will.

That thread is a good source of some alternatives.

Does the social aspect become different?

Given the amount of studies/reports coming out talking about how bad screen time is for people, and how insane the amount of screen time we all log is - I foresee a big resurgence in anything "analog".

> the amount of studies/reports coming out talking about how bad screen time is for people

I haven't heard of this, do you have any links for me?

A really nice D&D 'implementation' is Lamentations of the Flame Princess, at least in terms of the supplements, particularly Zak Smith's stuff. The last time I played D&D was during the 2e era (though I stubbornly stuck to 1e), and the LotFP has some of the flavour of the good I remember from that time (with its own twists).

I personally know of at least 5 people that started playing D&D because of Stranger Things of all things.

Likewise, several people. Stranger Things also got some people (like myself) who never tried before to give it a whirl.

Watched stranger things with my teenage kids which led me to show them DND. They found a nice break from playing fantasy related computer games

I first played it in the 80s and then again in the 90s as an aside to playing MTG.

The opening to ET was my first exposure.

Mine was cub scouts, someone's older brother. I was already playing MTG then though from Taekwondo back in 94. I don't think I started playing D&D or others like VtM until 97 (I remember buying the VtM book and then months later a new version came out) and even then I played VtM almost exclusively on IRC heh.

I love DnD 5e and its approachability/newb-friendlyness. That said, the game I have become enamored with here recently (one that I feel is underrated) is Shadowrun.

It gets a bad rep (somewhat deservedly so) because of its overwhelming depth and detail/learning curve, and the pretty horribly written core handbook. But once you get past the pointy bits and really learn the utility of the system, it's a pretty fantastic game that really scratches that itch for cyberpunk fantasy.

It isn't just DnD plopped into fake leather trenchcoats and hacky-hacky terminals (it has those things, of course). The gameplay is set up differently, and has a heist-movie like flow, consisting of "shadowruns" which are follow a meet client->make plan->prepare->execute flow, and lends itself well to one-off sessions.

Give it a shot if someone around is interested and has played it before. You might like it.

I just realised what was really magical to me with pen&paper rpgs. My uncle used to have this funny / ridiculous trick of his, with a deck of cards where he would secretly see the bottom card of the deck while finishing shuffling it and then ask you: "red or black?". You'd say "red", then if the bottom card was red, he would say "then we take the red", or if the card was black he would say "then remains the black". Basically whatever you would say would lead to the bottom card and you'd supposedly be amazed when he'd show it to you.

In a rpg, it's like "you're in the forest, what you do?", "well I walk east". "ok you found a tower". Whatever you do, you'd find that tower haha. It's like whatever you say have fun consequences but with thousands more options than my uncle's trick.

Want to play but don't know how to get started?

Try my guide! https://github.com/Miserlou/dnd-tldr

I like this a lot; I'll be trying it on a few victi--er, boardgamers I think might be able to appreciate tabletop RPGs but are pushed back by both social stigmas and a belief that the rules are more complex than they are.

It solves the latter problem, at least. :)

This is how I played the game as a kid. You don't really need any rules at all, we had no idea which "edition" of D&D we were playing, the DM just decided what a roll would mean.

We did it this way cause some very experienced older DM's introduced it. It does depend on the DM being good at telling an interactive story to be fun. but i suspect it does anyway?

Thanks for Zappa!

Not only Dungeons and Dragons, board games are making huge waves around the world. As a game store owner, I have observed a huge growth in tabletop games, including board games. So it's probably not a coincidence that the most highly rated board game (at least according to Board Game Geek) is an RPG based board game. At the time of its kickstarter, I think it raised the most money as well.


Speaking of kickstarter, I believe some of its most funded ideas were board games.

Pandemic Legacy is some of the most fun a person can have!

I've found Gloomhaven, Pathfinder The Card Game, or other "hybrid RPGs" to be the better experience because it doesn't take up a full day.

Maybe my group is doing something wrong because Gloomhaven takes up at the VERY least 3-5 hours each time we play. That's only with 1-2 dungeons.

I've just spent the past week reading/watching game reviews on BoardGame Geek. So many great games, so little time and money!

I would think a major factor would be the surge of modern board games. Last year alone 5,000 new board games were published. This is called the golden age of board games, and D&D would seem to be just one aspect of this trend.

I've tried and failed to get into some RPG campaigns in a few different systems (my general anxiety didn't help) but I listen to and absolutely adore The Adventure Zone podcast[1].

There's scope for some really wonderful collaborative storytelling in these systems, and the TAZ group are a few brothers and their dad and they gel together perfectly. Helps that they have lots of podcasting experience too, very high quality production.

[1]: https://www.maximumfun.org/shows/adventure-zone

I used to listen to TAZ but once the story started getting more and more away from traditional fantasy or even high fantasy, I got bored with it. Specifically the Crystal Kingdom arc drove me away. Just couldn't get into it.

There are two reasons to pick other game systems over D&D:

1. You don't want the medieval + magic world and want to explore other timelines. Maybe futuristic, Star Wars etc.

2. You don't like the mechanics. Maybe the game system complexity slows you down or else there is some weird arbitrage opportunity that messes up the incentives. (Let's spend the whole game killing orc babies to build up XP instead of solving the clues and then just beat up the bad guy at the end).

Do people have good recommendations for substitutes that solves #2?

FATE. Designed to be about the simplest thing that could be called a system, but endless flexibility in what you use it for. The Accelerated version is about 40 pages, the Core version is a more detailed, but still less than the typical RPG rules set.

The system is designed so that the players can influence the events of the game at the cost of increasing difficultly. For instance, every character has a High Concept, such as "Best swordsman in the kingdom". This can be used by the player in many ways, such as celebrity notice, justifying related skills, background, etc. but the game master can also invoke it for things like bitter rivalry, getting conscripted or not being able to go incognito.

As such, the system can work at many different levels. One popular setting has characters as magical cats, another as post-human cyborgs. And it all works.

For a list of various settings: https://www.evilhat.com/home/fate-worlds-and-adventures/

Isn't #2 solved by a good Dungeon Master? The DM should be able to take control of the game so that players aren't just going around killing orc babies. "In the distance, you see a group of 1000 orc parents coming searching for the killers of their babies..."

I don't like too much explicit intervention by the DM.

Part of it has to feel like the player to feel like there are fair predictable rules that the game adheres to. Yes, the DM has to step in to make sure the game feels good, but the extra work to combat game mechanics doesn't feel like a good use of the DM's time.

Your solution is a good, creative one but I don't like that poor mechanics got us here.

If you play dnd like #2, the solution is a new gm/group, not a new rule system... that said, I'm not a great fan of level based games, and really do like White Wolf's Storyteller-system. (vampire the masquerade, mage the Ascension).

But like with any other rules I've seen - it requires some discipline and agreement to not stray too far into the rules part. Rules are just guidelines that help avoid the worst of: "Bang! Bang! You're dead!" ; "No, I'm not! You missed!"...

No rpg rules are complete enough to form a full simulation - any attempt to do so will likely sap fun out of the game. They're just a helpful frame of reference.

A lot of 5th edition adventure modules have started advocating "milestone levels" instead of XP levels. It requires a good DM to know when it's appropriate to award a level up but it's basically DM fiat leveling; XP is gone entirely and the DM decides when your party levels up typically based on the party achieving certain milestones -- find the McGuffin, defeat the boss, solve the mystery, etc. I'm running Curse of Strahd for my table right now and we're using milestone levels instead of XP and the players seem to really enjoy it.

Nice idea as long as the milestones are laid out in advance.

It’s hard to do that without spoiling the plot. Milestones should also be flexible. Strahd has more milestones than you need to reach the stated end level of the campaign. It’s a sandbox so some of them won’t get done, some will be done after the party has outscaled the encounter, some are coupled to plot reveals. But it’s not hard to manage.

Look into the Powered by the Apocalypse games (Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, etc). My gaming group switched over to them after we spent an entire 3 hour session fighting a few vampires and everyone was sick of it. PBTA puts storytelling and player agency over granular combat.

I got into D&D by chance around 2009. Unfortunately I started with 4th Edition (I know...), but I'm very happy that I did, because all throughout High School I was one of the outcasts, but never had any of these mediums to confide in, and often made fun of "nerds" even though I technically was one. Just playing D&D has given me another way to meet new people and do something other than play video games in my free time. I only wish I had more time in the week. I have too many hobbies.

I blame /r/dndgreentext and Critical Roll in part. Those highlights are addictively fun to read/watch. Sir Bearington level DnD is a life goal for sure.

5e made great progrsss by stripping down rules and making things more accessible. I think they should do it even further.

The core game is fun, but combat is quite slow, tedious, and, in my opinion, not much of a good role play experience. Nix weapon stats, health, spell slots, etc. Differentiate more heavily on specialties. Ward off fear of death with a system of injuries and what not. Fighting can still be a huge part of the game, but it shouldn’t be the underlying goal of most mechanics.

It sounds like you might like Dungeon World a lot more than D&D.

I'm just wondering, are there many casual D&D groups for non-geeks? (like the Adrian family featured in the article)

My only exposure to D&D was the episode of the "Community", and it looked pretty fun. I wonder if the demographics of that group is normal.

I only ask because most of my friends have this perception that D&D personalities are a little "awkward" and would not give it a chance, but have no issues going to board-game nights.

So I felt the same way about it; I'm a card-carrying nerd but most of my friends are decidedly non-geeks who still enjoy board game nights. At first, it started off with me being afraid of introducing them to the less mainstream boardgames. But one night I pitched Settlers of Catan (not exactly underground but also not Monopoly by any stretch) and surprisingly they took to it. And as we started playing more and more esoteric board games (some of them even having faux tabletop/RPG elements to them) I was continually surprised that everyone continued to enjoy them.

The most surprising thing to me, though, is that eventually they approached me about trying out D&D. It was something I'd wanted to do for a while but had never communicated it to them because I just assumed they wouldn't be interested.

Point being: You may be surprised. You have nothing to lose by suggesting it to them other than them saying "no". The 5th edition starter set even has the option of using pregenerated characters to reduce the friction. Maybe even start by showing them one of the CelibriDnD videos on YouTube; there's one with Vin Diesel and one with Terry Crews, not people who the general public usually think of as geeky.

>I only ask because most of my friends have this perception that D&D personalities are a little "awkward" and would not give it a chance, but have no issues going to board-game nights.

The game only has as much awkwardness as you bring with you. If they like each others' company playing Settlers of Catan or whatever, there's no reason that will change playing D&D.

That said, it does take a little commitment and pushing out of your comfort zone to really get into role-playing. But in that sense, your D&D group shouldn't be any more awkward than an Improv troupe, music jam session, or Toastmasters meeting. Any time you're asking people to "perform" in some way it can be uncomfortable, but it's the good kind of discomfort that helps you grow as a person.

Just figured I mention tabletop simulator which is a sandbox and editor that allows you to recreate and play nearly any boardgame ever created. I'm using it to play a tabletop RPG with some other people I met online, and it works very well.


And you can find almost any game you can imagine in the workshop for free. Best part is that some of the complicated games are scripted with Lua so you don't have to worry about setting up the game yourself.

I had a 25+ year gap in my D&D gaming. It started again when I moved to the PNW and met a couple in their 40's who took gaming very seriously, and started playing with them again. They introduced me to something I had overlooked: comic book stores that had Walmart-sized gaming arenas! Now I'm hooked again, but with people who care more about story than treasure. The amount of work my DM puts into backstory is insane, and he asks the same of us (well, not insane levels, but a commitment to character).

TL;DR - Playing D&D as an adult, with adults, is vastly different than playing as a teen.

I don't like the new crop and the new style. Tables I played were overtly aggressive in a bad nerdy/intellectual way. I could sense the influence of mmorpgs and competitive tabletop games. I play for the story and the camaraderie, not to master loopholes in the rules and asserting dominance through numbers.

D&D 5 has a lot less of that than say 3.0 and 3.5 or Pathfinder, they're gone a long way to streamline the system. The general trend in RPGs over the last few decades has been towards lighter weight, more story driven games. I'm not personally a fan of D&D and it's tropes, and even then I'd go for something lighter like Dungeon World, but for what it is D&D 5 hits the nail on the head.

If you're interested, Meetup has a lot of local games groups listed you can try out to see if you can connect with a like-minded bunch of people.

Thanks. I checked meetup again but there are no groups where I live (Belgium).

If anyone is curious, I run a Pathfinder (D&D fork) campaign in the Santa Rosa, CA area.



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