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The Future of Role Playing

I’m going to take a moment and ponder the future.  Where will role play go, and what form will it take when it gets there?  What will influence the future generation of gamers?  Let’s face it, even if you play your first session ever this week…of any game…in a few years you’ll start to experience some of what I have in the last 15 years.  You’ll experience the hobby change.

Change is inevitable.  It’s just going to happen.  However, I’m not talking about a switch from D&D 3.5 to 4e.  That change is inevitable as well, but D&D doesn’t shape the entire hobby by any stretch.  While it is probably the largest and most played role playing game in the world, there are tons of others that owe little homage to Wizards of the Coasts offering.  So what all will be happening.

First, where will future gamers come from?  After all, publishing role playing games is a business, so they want to get new players as they’re able to.  The thoughts seem to be to get MMORPG players to convert over to tabletop RPGs, thereby bringing new blood into the role playing fold.  4th Edition seems to be well suited to ease this transition over for this group, but in time that field will dry up as well.

For my money, I see the future gamers of the world all the time.  Every time I go see a Narnia, or Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter, or any other fantasy-type movie in the theater.  Our future players are cutting their teeth on some of the same works of fiction we did, only in a film format.  People who don’t necessarily enjoy reading still make these movies hits, and the numbers that flocked to Lord of the Rings is indicative of the fact that no matter what, the hobby is still going strong.

The biggest phenomenon in literature in the last 50 years or so has to be Harry Potter, and so I figure it’s just a matter of time before someone convinces J.K. Rowling to license her beloved wizards to some game company and we’ll have Harry Potter: Role Playing Game.  I can hear some of you cringing right now, but I really think that it’s inevitable.  In fact, without having even done a Google search at this point, I still can’t help think there’s probably a couple of home brews floating around out there right now.

Technology is another new area that I see changing the shape of things to come.  Despites Wizards of the Coasts lackluster performance, computer technology will take on a more active role in even table top games, and here’s the example I envision.

A group sits around the table, all with laptops open and running.  They’re not connected to the net, just each other.  The DM has access to all character sheets, so no more asking “what’s your AC?”  Instead, he just looks at your sheet.  Firewalls prevent anyone else from seeing your sheet though…that’s only between you and the DM after all.  He can also deduct gold after dealing with a merchant automatically, making it one less thing a player can forget about.  Dice are still rolled as usual, but the computer can calculate all the buffs and such a player might have (who knows what future editions will have as far as buffs go), so all a player has to do is roll and enter their roll (or an alternate setting as the DM do is to prevent cheating).  When the DM has a note to pass along, it takes the form of an instant message to the player instead of physically passing a note, creating suspense among the players.

I don’t know if any of this will happen, but it’s just one thought I’ve had.  Since I wasn’t sleeping well anyways, why not dream a bit while I’m awake?

September 9, 2008 - Posted by | RPG | ,


  1. For Harry Potter, Jared Sorenson made Broomstix.

    He has reorganized the memento-mori website, so it has disappeared. i have a copy I’d be ahppy to share if interested.

    Comment by Ryan Shelton | September 9, 2008 | Reply

  2. Very cool. I’d definitely be interested. I’ll shoot you an email later this evening if that’s OK. I know my wife and son would definitely get a kick out of it 😉

    Comment by Tom | September 9, 2008 | Reply

  3. Actually, I contacted the publishing house for J.K. right after the first book, before the word-of-mouth. It was already licensed to Hasbro. My wife identified both as the next-big-thing following Goosebumps (remember those books?) and nothing that would interest her. Right on both counts.


    Comment by Fang Langford | September 9, 2008 | Reply

  4. Very interesting. Thanks for the heads up.

    I wonder if Hasbro has any interest in developing it. Things that make me go Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

    Comment by Tom | September 9, 2008 | Reply

  5. Actually technology has already begun a very large integration into the roleplaying scene. I can’t for the life of me remember the website, but I recall seeing a video of a DM using a digital overhead projector and a cleverly design DM-assistant program to reveal the dungeon map on a big screen in realtime as the PCs investigated it. There are programs out there right now that can run live combats, keep track of player changes, XP gains, campaign changes, and has entire adventure modules built in that are hotlinked with monster stats and descriptions, treasure tables, condition summaries, etc.

    I foresee a game wherein, either on an overhead projector or a LAN client to each computer, a virtual Warhammer board is loaded from the DM’s server, allowing what will be in essence a Final Fantasy Tactics experience with better graphics and more options. Likewise, as Tom points out, live-updated PC info and DM-pushed monster pics, etc.

    Comment by Liambic | September 9, 2008 | Reply

  6. Liambic,

    If you find that website, please let me know. I’d love to see it.

    Remember folks, the future is now! 😉

    Comment by Tom | September 9, 2008 | Reply

  7. Licensed games are not the future, even if those licenses are huge. Licenses are too costly for all but the biggest companies to do properly. Plus approvals and such are a nightmare for an RPG company.

    J.K. Rowling could make more money for less effort by licensing Harry Potter lunchboxes than she ever could doing RPGs.

    Comment by blackpharaoh | September 9, 2008 | Reply

  8. Sorry, but I disagree. While only the biggest companies can afford them, they have the luxury of less risk than starting something from scratch with name recognition. While we will see many, many more unlicensed games, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of licensed games any time soon.

    Besides, if J.K. Rowling has already sold the licensing for Harry Potter, then the deed is done 😉

    Comment by Tom | September 9, 2008 | Reply

  9. This is true, nearly every licensed property that has been converted to an RPG has developed a cult following at worst (see Star Wars, Wheel of Time, and (World of) WarCraft as a few examples).

    Comment by Liambic | September 9, 2008 | Reply

  10. Also, Green Ronin is working on the Song of Fire and Ice game right now. I believe the Beta PDF is available on their site.

    Now, I will agree that it’s possible that Rowling would opt to not license Harry Potter for a role playing game, but I seriously doubt we’ll see a lack of licensed properties any time soon.

    Comment by Tom | September 9, 2008 | Reply

  11. Addressing the earlier daydream, does one really need to have all the technological bells and whistles? I’ve been running by AIM for the last three years; admittedly, it’s a mapless game most of the time, but that doesn’t seem to have slowed the players down much. And oftentimes I’ll stream in music through Ventrilo, or link them a picture I’ve uploaded… honestly, I don’t see the point of using more software than is absolutely necessary.

    Comment by Ravyn | September 9, 2008 | Reply

  12. Ravyn,

    Is it necessary? No, it’s not. Of course, all that’s necessary is some friends, some dice, some paper, and an agreed upon set of game mechanics.

    The daydream about the technology was about a concept where the crunch would be handled by the network in a way that makes tracking information easier on the GM more than anything.

    However, all that’s ever really been needed in this hobby is some friends and a story to tell. The bells and whistles are just nice for some to have 😉

    Comment by Tom | September 9, 2008 | Reply

  13. I see the computer games and MMO’s taking over the “kill stuff and take their loot” style gaming because computers can just crunch up the numbers so much faster (e.g. do a whole dungeon in 2-3 hours, not just two fights) and make it all look very pretty.

    I see the table top pen and paper RPGs taking over in the areas where the computer games are lacking – characterisation, dialog, group planning, collobrative group storing telling, etc. For that reason I’m predicting a resurgence in game systems that promote these aspects, rather then mechanics-heavy based game systems.

    Comment by fatalibert | September 10, 2008 | Reply

  14. You’re probably right, and frankly I’m really OK with that 😉

    However, those people will still play some table top, only because the computers are still limited to some extent in what you can do. Of course, as new games push those limits, it could very well prove me wrong!

    Comment by Tom | September 10, 2008 | Reply

  15. I’ve been hoping that the laptop scenario would happen for about two decades now.

    I started MUDding about two decades ago. I immediately said, “Hey, these MUDs have complex rules that provide depth. If we could have this at the tabletop, we’d have the best of both worlds.”

    So, yeah, that vision is a great vision. In the meantime, the existing codebase of MUDs, MUXs, MUSHs, etc. provide a starting point.

    Comment by fb | October 16, 2008 | Reply

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