athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
[personal profile] athornton
I went to GaryCon again this year, which again kicked ass. I played a lot of Empire of the Petal Throne run by Victor Raymond, and a bunch of other stuff too.

I also went with a friend of mine, Tracy Jo, who has never been much of a tabletop gamer, but who enjoyed herself and who had a very interesting observation.

First, to set the stage, I've been thinking a lot about a topic that I think I pissed Skip Williams off with. It's this: RPGs are on the cusp of transition from product to folk games. The OSR is dumping fuel on the fire, of course, but it's more generally a symptom of the internet. I know that Google+ is widely derided as a failed Facebook competitor, but as far as I can tell the RPG scene on it is not just thriving, but fecund.

But I think a lot of what is going on--and I have no idea whether RPGing has enough cultural mass to survive this transition--is precisely the transition from product to folk entertainment. We're seeing tons of interesting things that are basically people's hacks of D&D appearing--things The Forge would call "fantasy heartbreakers" but might better be viewed as little pieces of specific-culture folk art: "this is how we play D&D in my neck of the woods."

This is, of course, terrible news if you want to get paid for writing and publishing RPGs. But it's awesome news if you're me, or someone like me, who has a day job, thank you very much, but wants to share the neat stuff I came up with or figured out playing RPGs with other people who enjoy it as a hobby.

So, back to the original point: Tracy Jo points out that this is very much what the bluegrass world is like, and that GaryCon felt to her very much like a bluegrass festival. There was the same thing where the old-and-famous-guard jammed with the newbies, there was the same sense of shared joy in an activity that the rest of the world just didn't get, there was the same family-reunion friends-you-only-see-there thing going on. And both worlds are facing the same crisis: the first generation is passing away. The activity is no longer as popular as it once was, and there's no certainty that it's going to survive the loss of its founders...but there's hope, and there's a younger generation that's also passionate about it, although they may be remixing it in different ways.

I'd love to see RPGs become a non-product entertainment choice some people play when they have a few hours to spare, like a rubber or two of bridge. No one buys "Bridge by Hasbro"; a lot of houses have a deck or two of cards lying around, and some tribal knowledge of how to play various games with them. Why should RPGs be different? Maybe someone has a set of books. Maybe they just remember ability scores go from 3-18, an untrained fighter hits an unarmored opponent half the time, hit dice are generally d8s, and work up something from there.

Fundamentally, playing "let's pretend" is never going to die off, and what are RPGs besides "let's pretend" with some not-completely-subjective method of conflict resolution? This, by the way, is to my mind the thing that separates story gamers from old-school gamers. I think both would end up agreeing that narrative is paramount, but story gamers want the narrative to be the result of negotiated choices between the people playing the game (that is, I include the GM there, if there is one), and old-schoolers prefer to construct narratives using dice as divinatory aids: the results of a succession of choices and the one-damn-thing-after-another falls of the dice eventually yield a chain of events which, then, stepping back, you can see forms some sort of narrative structure.

So, hoist a glass to the shade of M.A.R. Barker, or Earl Scruggs, whichever you prefer, and go play something--a game, some tunes, whatever--with your friends.
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athornton: Angry.  Drunken.  BOFH. (Default)
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