Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Pet Peeve

Today, I spend the better part of an afternoon browsing through my local game store. You’d think I’d have a better selection of game stores, what with living here in NYC, but rents are high and the profit margins on games are pretty low. In NYC, there’s really only one place to go, and that would be Complete Strategist. Many years ago, I wrote about this store, so I won’t rehash it here; you can go find it if you’re interested.

So, I spent the afternoon at the Complete Strategist, looking for old, out-of-print games. More on that later. (In fact, the entire experience has spawned several ideas for future blogs.) Over the course of the afternoon, several interesting small-press, indie RPGs caught my eye. I picked each of them up and flipped through them. Cosmic Patrol. InHuman. Aeternal Legends….

Each of them included my pet peeve: They included a “what is a roleplaying game” section, where each saw fit to define what an RPG is to the reader.



Time to put on my ragehat.

Look, I bought your game in a game store. Your game isn’t on sale at Barnes & Noble or Target. I’m not accidentally picking it up, thinking I’m buying the latest crap novel from Stephanie Meyer. I’m not getting it home, opening it up, and saying “HEY! What the hell is this?!”

Grandma didn’t wander into the game store by mistake, just grab something for little Timmy, and leave. Most game stores would sent grandma running screaming into the night as soon as she walked in. Which means that the chance of some friend or relative accidentally buying your game, with no idea what it was, are virtually zero.

Your customer knows what an RPG is. Your customer likely told grandma to buy the game for them. Or, they spent grandma’s $10 birthday check on your game on their own.

Seriously. Stop telling me what an RPG is. Or what polyhedral dice are. Or that I need pencils. I know. Again: bought your game in a freaking game store.

Moreover, I hate to dash your hopes, but no one is coming to your game cold. You are not an entry point to the hobby. Unless your game is called “D&D” or “Pathfinder” (or maybe even “Vampire”), the only people buying your product are already gamers. Like it or not, Pathfinder is a foundational product; it is how most people learn about RPGs. In that case, Pathfinder needs to define what an RPG is to its audience.

You do not.

No one is picking up your game about roleplaying socks in a drawer, no matter how innovative or insightful to the human condition, without already knowing what an RPG is. No one is being introduced to the hobby through your game about roleplaying bellybutton lint. Sorry.

One last time: bought your game in a game store, and already know what an RPG is.

I especially liked the indie game that said "we're not going to tell you what roleplaying is" then proceeded to tell me what roleplaying is. 

What I really find interesting, from an intellectual perspective, is how you people define roleplaying. They’re all virtually the same. Group of people. Storytelling. Gamemaster. Dice. No winners…. You’re not adding any new insight into the nature of roleplaying with your screed. Really, can’t we just settle on one definition, put it on a website someplace, and just put the URL somewhere in the text.

Call it “Don’t know what roleplaying is? Then how the f@&k did you get this book in the first place?!”

If one more small press, indie game tells me that dice are multi-sided polyhedrals used to randomly generate a number, I’m going to go to that person’s house and shove a 12-sider up their ass. 

Really the last time: If a customer is holding your game about playing psychopaths trapped on a life raft, they’re standing in a game store, and already know what roleplaying is. Trust me. 


  1. How about a game thats about bellybutton lint trapped inside a sock being worn by a psychopath trapped on a life raft...could be a very interesting game

  2. Use a d4... It'll hurt more.

  3. Anonymous, I don't know who you are (duh) but I like your style.

    Paul, d4s are great as caltrops. For ass-shoving, you want bulk and mass. I'd say 20-sider, but the edges are too rounded.

  4. Do you remember back in the days there were entire BOOKS on what RPGs are and how to play them. Some of them were actually pretty good. Now that I'm thinking on it, I wonder if I could remember enough of the title of one to find it on amazon...

    Here it is!

  5. I'm not opposed to explaining the concept of a roleplaying game in books that are designed to be introductory, or have mass market appeal. For example, for both Star Trek RPGs with which I was involved, we included this kind of information. Because the books were also geared towards Star Trek fans; you get a completist, obsessive fan who buys the books because it's crammed with Star Trek information and photos, and they have no idea what the book is for. Second, we were being sold to the mass market. In fact, I had the curious experience of working in a B&N and having my game featured on an end cap... So the likelihood of Star Trek being picked up by someone who had no idea what roleplaying is was pretty high.

    Same thing for D&D and Pathfinder. These products are in the mass market. In fact, when you walk past the game section, you mostly see products for these two games. The fact that B&N even has an RPG section is because they're stocking enough Pathfinder and D&D to warrant it. So when mom walks past the two bookshelves of Pathfinder faced out on the shelf, she might wonder what it is. Might even say "Timmy likes dragons and fantasy, maybe he'll like this." Maybe Timmy has no idea what an RPG is. Maybe this is his introduction to it.

    No so some small-press, niche game. In order for me to get my hands on Aeternal Legends or Cosmic Patrol, I have already be a high-functioning gamer. I'm not buying this game by accident. It's not an introductory product. It's not on sale in a place where someone would confuse it with another kind of product. No one is browsing the aisles of B&N and saying "gee, what's this?" They're in a goddamned game store; that's how they saw your game. So really, your paragraph defining the concept of roleplaying is a) a waste of time and space and b) vaguely pretentious and insulting.

  6. Actually, Unknown, now that I've had a chance to take a look at the link, the book was published in 1984. Back when RPGs were fairly new. At least, in the public consciousness, where D&D suddenly became a fad. And there were all kinds of stories about D&D leading to Satan worship and halitosis. So moms around the country were panicking when Timmy asked for D&D, a goat, and some black candles....

    So this was likely more about explaining the phenomenon to worried parents and the mildly curious. I think the rest of us learned exactly what roleplaying games were the old fashioned way: by actually playing a game. Usually in a friend's basement. With Rush blaring in the background.

    1. Sorry. Unknown is me. I have a heck of a time with commenting on your sites. Clearly a me issue, not a your sites issue though.
      I definitely agree on how most people get into RPing I think the way I was introduced to the hobby was a bit of an anomaly. For me, a kid I knew told me all about the game he was playing. It was Spelljammer and his GM was playing really loose with the rules so they were riding around on a space dragon that could catch cannonballs in his mouth and spit them back at other ships and had a giant floating silver pyramid as a base of operations. It was wild. He would NOT however let me play with them or loan me his books because he didn't really like me (and I didn't much like him either). I have no idea how we even started that conversation. I think we were forced to sit next to each other at a school event or something. So I ran out and bought the red box set (which 100% falls into your mass market section) from the local book store at the mall. Didn't even know game stores existed. After that I got some gaming books from the library, including the one I linked above. So while the "what is RPGs" section was more useful to me than most, I still was introduced via mass market stuff and I admit I was an outlier. I wasn't trying to say you were wrong though. I think you're on the right side of this issue. Just making conversation and waxing nostalgic.