Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Introducing Newcomers to Games: Theme & Mechanics

Last week’s post about “Attracting Newcomers to Roleplaying Games” inspired me to consider two factors that might influence people in trying new games. A game’s theme and complexity are usually topics discussed from the design standpoint: does one start with a theme and build game rules around it, or does one begin with a play mechanic and build a themed game around that? Yet theme and the complexity of mechanics also figure into the conundrum of how best to introduce people into any games within the adventure gaming hobby. For beginners – especially complete newcomers – I find an attractive theme can best engage their enthusiasm to try a game, while good mechanics (with light yet intuitive complexity) can provide an enjoyable play experience and bring them back to the table for a second try.

For many people a game’s theme initially interests them. Theme gets players to the table, understandable and engaging mechanics help transform that theme into a rewarding play experience. For instance, if I asked a five year-old if he wanted to play a game about hunting dinosaurs or one with a “push your luck” mechanic, he’s going to want to play something with dinosaurs; as it happens, these elements both describe Steve Jackson Games’ Dino Hunt Dice, yet new players hone in more on the enticing theme than the game rules.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Attracting Newcomers to Roleplaying Games

The recent discussion over at Tenkar’s Tavern and blog posts like Sword Peddler’s about the effectiveness of Free RPG Day started me thinking once again about how we as gamers, designers, and publishers can draw newcomers into the adventure gaming hobby. It’s a tricky gambit considering roleplaying games are still a very niche hobby, despite popular culture’s general acceptance of Dungeons & Dragons as a permissible geeky pursuit. Most people still associate roleplaying game exclusively with D&D without realizing how many amazing games exist from both established publishers and innovative individuals, in game stores and online, for sale and for free. How can we do a better job of sharing our hobby with curious newcomers?

Free RPG Day is an organized event meant to promote roleplaying games. Since it’s run by a game distributor it has the understandable bias of supporting sales at brick-and-mortar Friendly Local Game Stores (FLGS) that give them business anyway. Just as a distributor can’t force a store to conduct business a certain way, it can only offer unenforceable guidelines on what to do with the “free” loot provided for this event. Free RPG Day is, as its organizers freely admit, no longer about introducing newcomers to the hobby but more about rewarding the hobby’s ardent supporters with free gaming materials. This effort remains highly dependent on the FLGS whose facilities and enthusiasm in hosting these events vary immensely (as well as publishers providing appropriate material). I’ve heard of stores charging for the free items, hoarding them for later sale or giveaways, and not participating at all (like the two closest to me). I’ve also heard great reports of stores with busy play areas, gatherings of avid fans, and attempts at introducing newcomers to the hobby with demo games.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Artifacts from the Vault of Schweig

I’m culling some of my roleplaying game library and reorganizing the shelves to put more relevant material in more central areas. In doing so I uncovered a few intriguing artifacts I often forget about yet keep for various reasons. Some come from an appreciation of the designers, others for the significance of the games in the overall context of adventure gaming’s history. They offer an interesting window into what engaged me as a gamer over more than 35 year in the hobby and the diversity of publishing efforts from a variety of sources.

Cthulhu for President Pack: I ordered this by mail way back in 1992, possibly the first year Chaosium offered it. Despite leaning in one particular political direction thanks to my wife’s enlightening influence, I still staunchly believe in the Elder Party ticket. This packet came with a button, posters, leaflets, Elder Party membership card, and other goodies. I’m resisting the temptation to print a slew of flyers to leave around town, but I’m afraid they’d figure the guy with several Cthulhu-themed t-shirts and the Cthulhu “fish” on the back of his car was stirring up trouble....

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

WEG Memoirs: The TORG Map

West End Games' offices, Honesdale, PA, 1993
When I first began working at West End Game as the Star Wars Adventure Journal editor in the summer of 1993 I passed the massive TORG map every day. It sat in a windowless inner office in the second-floor offices (with the infamous shoe company and “management” downstairs). Someone had somehow acquired a huge, wall-spanning world map (possibly from National Geographic, it’s so long ago I don’t recall) and pinned on it different notations to show where each TORG cosm had invaded, such as triangles of yarn or construction paper circles. This was the map, the place where the game-designers could chart the progress of storm knights from across the gaming landscape. And it was already too late.

I never got into TORG, the game in which multiple dimensions or “cosms” of various genres invaded a near-future earth and the characters – heroic “storm knights” – had to foil their plans for world domination. But in its heyday in the early 1990s it tried charting new territory for roleplaying game campaigns...certainly new for West End Games. It launched in 1990 after an aggressive and enticing ad campaign. I remember seeing the color advertisements in Dragon Magazine, then perhaps still the best “pulse” of the gaming industry. They warned that a storm was brewing, with dark clouded, lightning-streaked backgrounds and ominous in-universe quotes from characters spanning several genres. The “Possibility Wars” were coming. It was going to be “A New Roleplaying Game Experience.” And it did pretty well initially. Several novels developed the setting from a literary perspective. The boxed set came with a slew of rule- and sourcebooks, three decks worth of cards, and two speckled 20-sided dice. The game line churned out an impressive slew of sourcebooks and scenarios, along with an occasional newsletter. I’d daresay it is one of the more notable creations from Greg Gorden and Bill Slavicsek.