RPG Game Design for the Fun of it

From the Blog


The Walled Garden

Posted by Chubby Funster on December 3rd, 2011 at 8:45 pm

There has been a bit of a uproar in the online RPG community this week about a game called Realms of Atlantasia that was recently released. The creator’s website is here. My understanding is that the spark for all this was a article in a local newspaper that made it’s way online. Once it was brought to some people’s attention, it eventually wound up on an RPG net forum thread that is now 50+ pages long. Michael Tresca talked about it here. Stuart Robertson talked about it here.  Rob Donoghue talked about it here.

Much has been said. I will keep the recap brief and you can read to your heart’s content elsewhere.

Basically, a lot of people have been trashing the game and the creator from three different angles.

1. That the work obviously is terrible (obvious to them, 99% of whom have not cracked open the text)

2. That the author is a mysoginist because he doesn’t allow half-elves (based on a single quote, see a deconstruction of that argument here)

3. That the author is woefully ignorant of modern RPGs (and thus his claims of innovation fall flat)

I think each of these says far more about the people saying them than it does about the author of RoA. 

However, my objective is not to attack the criticizers nor defend the author. Such things are a waste of time. People are going to believe what they are going to believe, no matter what I say (or anyone says). Instead, I am going to talk about what I think is one of the biggest problems facing the RPG online community; it’s insularity.

The structure of the RPG hobby is such that only a handful of people are here talking about it online. A large majority of them only use online resources to find games, through something like meetup.com. But there is an elite at the top of the hobby that talk about this stuff constantly online. They are aware of a LOT of what is going on in the hobby. They know about almost all the games. They are on top of the situation. If I say “well, that’s kinda like Dogs in the Vineyard”, they know what that is.

But they are not most people. Not most people in the world, most people in the RPG hobby. If I walk into some random FLGS and start talking to a person there about Dogs in the Vineyard, they are probably going to give me a blank stare. This is not a negative reflection on Dogs, it is a reflection on the degree to which this small internet community is separated from the rest of the world.

We have built a walled garden here. We use terminology that most people don’t understand. We use acronyms that people don’t understand. So there are a lot of people out there that don’t even know we exist. Just like European-style board games.

So when some dude in rural Canada isn’t up to speed on the state of the art in the hobby, this shouldn’t be a surprise to us. He is actually in the same boat with a huge number of other people. Almost all the things that you know about the RPG hobby, he doesn’t know.

While it is easy to blame his insularity for this lack of information, perhaps the insularity and secluded nature of our community can be faulted as well. Do we not bemoan how there are fewer books in gaming stores? That gaming stores are moving towards board games for their revenue? That even GenCon is almost as much about board games now as RPGs? Do we not talk about gamer shame? This dude had the balls to talk to the paper about how he was proud of his RPG. Have you?

But let’s assume that he was aware of our existence (which I don’t think is the case).

There are still substantial barriers to making a game. And truth be told, some of them are being reduced every day. PDF only distribution, print on demand, and similar technology is making it easier than ever to get a product to the market. But this is a delivery vehicle. These things bring what you have made to market, they don’t necessarily improve the quality by a whole heck of a lot.

The production quality barrier remains firmly in place. When you are just starting out, the production quality of an RPG product seems astounding. That is because it actually is. An RPG product is the fusion of writing with layout, both in an informational flow sense but also in a graphical quality sense. The proverbial man/woman on the street doesn’t even know where to begin. Most people have never heard of InDesign or Quark. These programs cost a LOT of money. They have no experience in art direction, layout, or technical writing. They cannot personally produce the art.  They don’t have the skills or the equipment (Photoshop, Illustrator, Wacom, etc). They are not a professional editor.

In the off chance that they are/have ONE of these things/skills, they still lack the others.  And even a professional editor will have trouble editing their own work.

For me, I came from a background of having taught myself InDesign to make better PDFs for my job. But that was a long long way away from being a formally trained professional. I have actually learned a lot of what I know now by doing, not from what I started with. For proof of that, check out the Synapse layout and compare it to Novarium when I release it tomorrow at midnight. Huge difference! That is 2 years of skill building. Nothing to write off as easy.

And much of this stuff is so alien from the average person’s life that it appears to simply be magic. They can’t see how it works, any more than they can open their car up and see how it works. They just know that it does.

And on top of that, if you want be on top of your game here, you need to read dozens of RPGs produced in the past few years.

Now you can make up this shortfall with money, but that assumes you have a lot of money to burn. I assume you don’t.

So we have this person out in rural Canada who makes what he thinks is really awesome, in the context of what he knows. I say, good for him.

Instead of throwing stones, perhaps it would have been better to consider how lucky we are to know all this stuff. Perhaps we should step out of our privilege and throw the guy a bone. Realize that he is coming from a place of ignorance, not arrogance.

Because let’s be honest, whether Realms of Atlantasia is a roaring success or not, as long as we stay in this walled garden, nothing is going to change. Except that we are going to become old and bitter. So stop slagging on someone trying to do something and get off your own ass and make our community more open, more helpful, and more prevalent in the society we live our real lives in.

Reading an RPG in Public should not be something you do one day a year. Come out of the closet and create change.



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