The King is Dead, Long Live the King


Games come and games go, but there's something odd in the air right now, something I can't quite place. Is it the smell of quiet desperation as traditional pen-and-paper games fall by the wayside, stomped flat by their flashier computerized cousins? Is it the end of an era, or just the end of the beginning? Kenshiro Aette speaks his mind.

I remember purchasing my first role-playing game. At about the age of eleven, I bought a copy of the red boxed edition of Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set. Then, the first edition of the advanced game was still usually on the shelves in most of the bigger bookstores and all the hobby shops had it. Most of my friends had just heard about D&D and a few of them were impressed that I had it and wanted to play. My mother had some concerns that it had something to do with Satanic cults or something, since the news media was still reacting to the idea of role-playing. There was nothing really like the game to compare it to in the view of the general public; most of the hobby gamers out there still played war games, though there were the occasional Wizards & Warriors devotees out there. D&D was the first big game that wasn't a board game or developed from the Naval War College model.

I got into my first game session about a year later after finding a postcard tacked to the corkboard at the local library. There was a set group of people who played there, different ages, different backgrounds, though I was about the youngest. Not all of them liked D&D the best necessarily, but it was a gaming group and serious enough about playing games to devote some time to it, and they agreed on playing D&D for awhile because it was the game play they were after. There weren't many games around that were easy enough to find rulebooks for.

Flash forward a few years. Our group mostly went its separate ways, some discovering girls, some getting too busy, some trying to repair marriages or get a real job. We'd branched out to a whole slew of games by then, because there were a lot more to choose from than when we started. What I realized though, was that computers and the all-time nemesis, the Nintendo, were the reason a lot of the group was staying home.

Some of them still played RPGs despite the new machines out there, mostly because you couldn't find anything comparable in depth or interactivity to a tabletop gaming session back then. But a lot of people didn't need that much to get their fix. Besides, our group had always had its share of dice-rollers, the kind that just sat back and killed things to the annoyance of the Dungeon Master. These guys were the first to go. Now they had something else to do.

Fast forward a few more years. I went of to a University to start College. Ever the devoted gamer, I searched for people to waste my precious free time with, but shockingly, even at a major university, I could find only a tiny group getting together to play the games I knew. The excuse that these guys said they had most often was that no one had the time. Could it be that suddenly, College had stripped away the desire for this kind of recreation? As a computer science major, I knew way too many people who it didn't seem possible that they'd just grown up.

Then, a visit to the computer lab schooled me. Two reasons: Bulletin Board System games came first and then with the advent of the public Internet, Multi-User-Dungeon/Domains (MUDs) were out there. Armed with my old battleaxe 286, I found out what it was all about.

The players were still there, and just as devoted. But, they now had a choice; they didn't have to play the game of consensus with whoever was available. They logged on with their 9600 baud modems and - bam - they could get together for a game with players of whatever flavor they wanted, devoted to the same game they were, and stay for as long or as little as needed. They could still tank the Mountain Dew to stay up all night to play, but now they could also choose not to - without sending everyone else home because their character was too important. They could also go to the Super Nintendo or King's Quest on the PC if the online game wasn't interesting, but they could get their fix in their personal dosage of choice.

So, then I found myself hooked. All the players were there. Grades suffered, sleep disappeared, but I was happy again. I could play whenever I wanted, for as long as I wanted, and there was always someone around to join me. Even the dice-roller types were there, but really, everyone needs cannon fodder. Maybe the game wasn't as in depth as before, and maybe it was all text, but you could get into it right away and besides, hadn't we been playing what amounted to a cruder version with the old tabletops?

It made sense that this is the direction the games were going, because it was a lot easier to get into the game. You could roll up a character and do all the administrative work with the ease of a menu. You didn't have to roll any dice or figure out anything. The computer did it for you. All you had to do was learn a few basic commands, and you were set. If you wanted to, you could start a new character out any time you wanted, and instead of an hour it took about ten minutes. It was almost the same old thing, but with a computer to do all your chores.

Fast forward once again: I looked around the net. The MUD players I burned up so many hours were disappearing. They logged in less and less, and eventually, not at all. The discussion groups on every MUD I found looked about the same: "The game's not as fun anymore because no one's online," "We need people to help keep our game running," "Whatever happened to so and so?" Some of them moved on with life, I'm sure. I did too, really. Compared to ten years ago I spend a tiny fraction of the time gaming.. I got married and started a career. But I knew gamers were still out there. It's a need for expression that doesn't go away so easily and it's a widespread affliction. And there were new gamers out there - they had to be.

Logging into EverQuest, I found my answer. The players were migrating again. The Pentiums and the cable modems were letting everyone go right into a MUD that had all the people they wanted to play with, and not only that but they could actually see the world they were role-playing in. You didn't even have to memorize commands - a half dozen keystrokes and a menu interface and you were golden. A lot more dice-rollers were out there, but that wasn't surprising since the game was a lot easier to play (play I said, not win).

I've tried getting people for an old-time's-sake tabletop game with me. The new rulebooks are slick-looking, and have an even better feel down at the game store than I remember as a kid. But it didn't work. No one has the time, everyone has separate schedules. You get together with an instant role-playing group when you get online, and you don't even have to worry if the DM's mom will let him come over. I found a couple people who said they might play, but I got no replies when I actually tried to make a game go.

My favorite MUD, once host to a constant stream of players, now averages about two during its best times. A few of the old standby players have written the game off publicly, and still more are just giving up quietly. There's a few diehards around, but they aren't usually at their keyboards even when they're logged in.

EverQuest still shows over a thousand players online. Maybe I'll drop in for a quick game.

I'll admit I was never into MUDs and I've never played a MMORPG, but part of the reason is that I find a DM, 3 players, so paper and dice more that satisfying enough. Most complaints I've heard about MMORPGs is that they don't have a proper story.

Combined with the PK issue (i want to be able to kill who ever I want to / need to, but that leaves the door open to idiots and who nees that) mean that I probably won't bother. It took me a long time to find a group of role players that i enjoyed playign with but i've got them now, so i'll stick with them.

Ugh. I would recommend Asheron's Call over Everquest but it depends on what you are looking for in the game. In EQ there is a lot of downtime and camping and rudeness I found. I'm not saying AC is perfect but out of the three major MMORPGs out, I find it to be more enjoyable overall. I was heavily into MUDs and some are still pretty active but the problem is with UO/EQ/AC people now want more from their online games and it is very difficult for a grassroots group to put together a graphical game anywhere near the level of the games companies offer now. Even if a game offered more of a roleplaying slant instead of the hack-and-slash we have available now, it would still be tough to build and to run. I'd love to see MUDs brought to the next generation though. Maybe they will make the Meridian59 code open-source. That would be pretty cool. :)

Well definitely stick with tabletop if you are enjoying it. However PK is handled somewhat differently in each of the current MMORPGs and upcoming games have even more varied ways of handling it. Take another look when some of the newer games come out. AC does have an ongoing story though some feel it is slowing down... perhaps because the company is working on AC2. Time will tell. It is nice that there is new lore and items and monsters every month... I love tabletop as well and my wife and I just joined a group to try 3E and are having a great time. The bottom line is play what is fun for you, online or off. :)

I guess I'm one of the lucky ones. I managed to find a group of 8 players that I am currently running in a D&D game. Most of us in the game are married, and one couple has even had to bring their son with when they couldn't find a babysitter. (Also, most of us gamed in college together.) One thing that we found though, was game frequency. All of us, against our better judgements, have grown up and have careers now. We can't actually get together for a weekly game like we used to. What we do instead is play once a month. That way we can still clean our houses, do the dishes, do the laundry, visit the in-laws, and everything else g'ups have to do. People were interested when I said that I wanted to run a game again, but they were REALLY interested when they found out it wouldn't take a huge bite out of their time. I think that's the secret to modern gaming.

Picture an RPG then take away reason and accountability -- you now have an MMORPG.

For the first time this year the convention I help organize ran a LAN party event throughout. Prior to the con there was a great deal of debate between some of the more (shall we say) "difficult" organizers and myself over their fears that it would draw people away from the non-computer events.

Although it was the largest single event (14 to 16 people at it's height) it was clear that nobody there would have shown up without it. So (as I predicted) it was an excellent source of additional revenue that will be funneled directly into our next convention.

It seems that the prevailing attitude these days among many tabletop gamers is "computer games vs. tabletop games" but this is not a constructive way of thinking. Computers are the future of tabletop games and the reason for this isn't because we're all going to be herded into camps and forced to play Asheron's Call or Evercrack or whatever. Ultimately technology will spread to the point where you can do things like attend GenCon virtually. Once broadband becomes as standard as electricity in the modern home people will think nothing of playing their tabletop games via teleconference.

And once this happens? Then WE will have a vast pool of players for OUR games as well.

Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer meeting my fellow role-players face-to-face. On-line gaming just doesn't do anything for me.

I have played NES and PC games most of my life, but I am telling you now that given the choice I would drive 30 minutes out of my way to play the equiv. boardgame. There is just that 'personal contact' which is missing on-line, and no amount of high-speed access will change this.

I had a certain amount of personal contact playing an on-line game called 'Mechwarrior2:Mercenaries' on-line, because each game could only support 4 players maximum. I feel that with games supporting more and more people, you will lose whatever contact remains. Remember Quake2? Did anyone out of 16 or 32 players stop in the middle of a fight to say 'good shot' or 'hey, where do you live?'

Now picture everyone with super-T10s and 2,000 player games, RPGs or FPSs. Perhaps EQ has solved this problem with widespread guilds, but who knows for sure?

Ah, memories. Mercenaries, the MechWarrior that didn't suck. I loved it. It's the first game I ever played online, save a failed attempt or two at MUD/MUSHing - my English wasn't as good back then as it is now.

Nostalgia may have colored my memories somewhat, but I don't think I'll ever feel quite as thrilled as the first time I went up against a live, human opponent, somewhere on the other side of the planet, for the first time.

Of course, I got my ass handed to me. But after that rather humilliating first match, my opponent spent almost an hour instructing me in the fine arts of lag shooting, efficient Mech construction, and dueling etiquette (C1 laser duels, yay!).

When I first logged in to the MUD I still play, I was instantly grabbed by a couple of the natives, who slapped some armor on me, pushed a weapon in my hands, gave me the quick version of MUD Commands 101 and dragged me along on a massive killing spree.

The first other player I met in Ultima Online killed me and looted my corpse. Asheron's Call, someone asked me to swear allegiance to him, got angry when I refused. EQ, nobody actually deigned to speak to someone below their level.

MW2 I'd play again, if I could find the CD. I'm still junked to that MUD. Anyone want to buy the EQ, AC or UO CDs and accounts off me?

great game

There's no doubt that in the 20 years I've been role-playing, things have changed. One thing I haven't seen anyone mentioning here is LRP, or LARP if you prefer. There are Live Combat and Theater Style, and that doesn't even begin to describe the vast array of role-playing opportunities out there for a serious role-player to get involved in. You get the immediacy of face-to-face, just as in table-top, but you also get the satisfaction of actually doing what your character would instead of just saying what he'd do. After my first time at LRP, I started to slowly wean off table-top games because they no longer held the same level of excitement for me. LRP may also bear some responsibility for the so-called demise of table-top, though not likely as much as MMORPG.

As always, YMMV.



All this talk! my brain is going to explode!! look at the MMORPG there.
Best for PVP not so on graphics..
Write something about this..

very very good and intresting

If my fellow party members can't reach across the table and smack me upside of the head when I roll the 10th critical fumble in a row, it's not roleplaying. ; )

I agree Caliban, I was a D&D players and we used our own version of 1 (fumble) and 20 (double damage).
I would like to try LARP to. What Chris Van Gorder said is interesting. Chris, can you provide some info on sites in Europe / Australasia where I might get more information.

PS: Where is the nearest holodeck?

James, you might want to try looking up One World By Night. I don't know how active they might still be, but they had LARPS dotted all about the globe when I played. Met a nice chap that flew all the way to Chicago from New Zealand for one game.

For those who are interested in finding LARPs, or the groups who help make LARPs successful, then check out my site, LARPLand™.

OK, no good without the URL!