5 Possible Barriers to Entry in RPGs

Brain SalsaWith an eye on designing a “house system” for Asparagus Jumpsuit, I’ve been narrowing down the problems I’m seeking to solve. I definitely want to create a system that appeals to veteran gamers, as well as new and casual players. The former I understand well enough; I fall into that category, of have in the past. To design for the former, I think it’s important took into barriers to entry to the hobby.

It Costs Money

When people think of tabletop roleplaying games, they tend to think of Dungeons & Dragons. Reasonable enough, since it’s the first RPG and still the 800 pound gorilla in the industry. The 5th Edition Players Handbook has a suggested retail price of $49.95. The Pathfinder Core Rulebook has a suggested retail price of $49.99. Then there are accessories, both necessary and optional, like dice and miniatures. It starts to add up quickly. There are also people somehow conflate tabletop roleplaying games with miniatures wargames and cases and cases of meticulously painted minis, or LARP with costumes, weapons, and other accoutrements.

Yes, there are less expensive alternatives — boxed starter sets, games with economical core books, PDF and ebook editions, used books, Amazon discounts, free basic and quickstart rules, and more. Yes, it’s relatively cheap compared to other hobbies and things like new video games and theater tickets. Yes, when you divide the cost by the number of players and the number of hours of play you’ll get out of a book, it’s ridiculously cheap.

But we’re dealing with perceptions here, and when most people see the hobby they see hardcore roleplayers who have invested in all of the toys, and big, thick, hardcover books on bookstore shelves. I’ve talked to people who think they have to buy all of those things, when they’re not even sure that they’ll like it. I invite them to my own games, loan them books, and point them to local game store and game day events where they can try before they buy, but I have to wonder how many potential gamers have gotten away because they think this hobby is expensive.

It Takes Time

My last regular gaming group had three teachers in it. Two of them also had kids. Carving out a few hours to roleplay was a big deal. Add game prep for the gamemaster on top of that, and it often meant we ended up playing Settlers of Catan. Even with multiple gamemasters, there were weeks when no one had any time to put something together. We used a lot of published adventures, but it still took time to read them through and become familiar with them before sitting down at the table and trying to run them.

Most of us like to tell tales of marathon sessions that ran all weekend, and epic campaigns that ran for years. That’s daunting to a lot of people struggling to find a couple of hours in their week for play. It makes time-restricted alternatives like going to a movie or playing a video game seem more appealing. They think tabletop roleplaying is going to require a lot of their time, and they’re not entirely wrong, so they have to decide how they want to spend their precious time.

Again, I’m aware that there are solutions to this, and games that are ready to play out of the box or book. Are new and casual gamers, who don’t have their pulse on the hobby, aware of this? Are the people who don’t browse forums or strike up conversations with the folks at the friendly neighborhood game store getting the word-of-mouth buzz about what’s available to them?

It Demands Familiarity

Roleplaying is thought of as a “geek” hobby, and “geek” implies genres like science fiction, fantasy, horror, and superheroes. While all of those things have become more mainstream thanks to popular television shows and movies, not everyone is into them in a hardcore way, or at all. They might be into games that offer tactical combat, or games that let them tell stories, or any of the myriad things that games allow you to do, but they might think they need some deep knowledge of genre to participate.

Yes, there are games in every conceivable genre and games without genre. We’re still talking about perceptions here, which again are based around D&D being the recognized brand name. If they think fantasy is stupid or science fiction is boring, and they think that’s what roleplaying is all about, it’s going to be a hard sell to convince them that killing monsters and taking their stuff, and exploring the relationships between fictional people they make up, can be fun.

It Requires Opportunity

Everyone roleplayer I know got into this hobby in one of two ways. Either we heard about a game, bought it, learned it, and ran it for our friends, or we were invited into a group someone else was running. There aren’t a lot of other options. You invite, or get invited. It’s rare, in my experience, for someone interested in playing but not running to seek out a group if they’ve never played before, or for a gamemaster to seek strangers to run for if they haven’t already cut their teeth running for friends.

Look, I know that there are game stores and game days and conventions and websites where players can connect. I know that there are people who jumped in with both feet and sought the company of strangers. There’s still a barrier to entry for people who don’t have an existing circle of friends who share these sorts of interests. It’s a stereotype that geeks are a socially awkward lot, and it’s not universally true, but there’s a kernel of truth to it.

It Has Its Own Culture

It’s awesome that we have game stores, conventions, forums, and all sorts of ways to connect and be part of a community. It’s also sort of terrifying. I’ve been roleplaying for over three decades, and I sometimes find gatherings of gamers intimidating. Imagine how potential new players and casual gamers who haven’t already found their place in a geek tribe — our RPG clans, or some adjacent form of fandom — must feel. The fact that we tend to fight amongst ourselves certainly can’t make outsiders feel welcome and, again, 30+ years in this hobby and there are corners where I still don’t feel welcome.

I’ve said this before, but I think that we need more games that don’t require interaction with the community at large. Yes, I know, you can play D&D and never interact with a forum, a game store, or a con and there are people who do just that. Yes, I know that the vast majority of roleplayers are very welcoming to new and casual players. Once again, I invoke perceptions of the hobby, and wonder what the outsiders who are interested in roleplaying think. We can talk about our experiences with RPG culture as insiders, but we don’t know if the culture is a barrier to entry, or how much of a barrier it might be, or what we can do about it. I can’t say that it’s a barrier to entry, but I also can’t say with certainty that it isn’t.

My Takeaway

  • I need to design a game that’s going to be affordable.
  • I need a game that’s easy to prep and can be played in short sessions.
  • I need a game that doesn’t require deep genre knowledge.
  • I need a game that people can play with existing friends and family.
  • I need a game that doesn’t require any sort of “geek cred” to play.

Ungeek Me

Brain SalsaYears ago I wrote that I no longer consider myself a geek. It’s not that I consider it a pejorative, of feel like I’m above anyone else. It just doesn’t feel like it fits. I don’t exhibit common behaviors, like collecting things or watching movies the weekend they’re released. I like geek things, but more in the way that I like pizza or hamburgers; I enjoy them and they make my happy, but I don’t feel the need to turn that into a lifestyle. I don’t feel as if I fit in with the geek community at large. It’s not a matter of interests, it’s more a matter of degree and intensity. Ungeek me, already.

One thing that I do have passion for is tabletop roleplaying games. My life has changed a lot since I was a teenager and rolled up my first fighter, and I’ve had several major upheavals over the decades. Roleplaying has been a single constant. Sure, the systems and settings I’ve played have changed. My role has switched from primarily a gamemaster to primarily a player and back again innumerable times. My tastes have changed and evolved, sometimes becoming more sophisticated, sometimes going backward in fits of nostalgia. My friends have changed as well. What remains is the experience of sitting down and creating shared stories with interesting people.

I know that some people fear geekery becoming mainstream, with hardcore geeks having to cede ground to casual fans and latecomers. There are people who have been superhero fans since back in the day who still have difficulty accepting fans of Marvel movies that have never touched a comic book. I get that. There are people on social media getting into nasty (and pointless) fights over which players of electronic games get to self-identify as a gamer. I get it. I don’t agree with it, but I get it.

For decades, people have asked what can be done to get more people into the tabletop roleplaying hobby. Too often, the definition of “more people” boils down to “more people like us.” The other assumption is that “people like us” translates to “people as we are in a fixed point in time.” For the past few years, I’ve been steadily playing games with people like me. Not the me from high school, or college, or when I was heavily involved with local game days and conventions. People like me, who have jobs and school and other interests, for whom roleplaying is a fun pastime, rather than an obsession.

I play games with people who don’t drop a lot of (or any) money on roleplaying games. I play games with people who don’t participate in forums or read RPG blogs. I play games with people who have never set foot in a game store or convention floor. I play games with people who aren’t into science fiction, fantasy, horror, or superheroes. I play games with people who aren’t geeks.

And they love it. They enjoy the same things that I do. They like sitting down with friends, making up stories, playing characters, and having adventures. Are they geeks? No, they wouldn’t self-identify as that. Are they gamers of the roleplaying variety? They probably wouldn’t call themselves that, either. What are they, then?

I’m not sure what to call them, but I know they’re the future. They’re the people I need to be writing games for. We don’t need to be writing new iterations of the same old thing for the exact same traditional audience. We need to be creating things for the people who don’t know that they might enjoy a roleplaying game. We need to be creating for an audience that doesn’t identify a roleplayers. We need to sell the fun of the hobby disconnected from an identity.

Introductions and Declarative Statements

Brain Salsa

Recently I’ve been reading and re-reading a lot of roleplaying games. It’s part of what one does as a writer; you read, in the hope that you pick up good habits and learn to identify bad ones. In the best of all possible worlds, your writing gets better. You emulate the things that work for you, and you learn to spot when the things you don’t like about other peoples’ writing turn up in your own work. Something that’s really been punching my buttons are the seemingly obligatory introductions and declarative statements.

You know what I’m talking about. The padded page count where the game designer tells you why they wrote the game. Sure, it can serve a purpose. You build rapport with the audience. You show that you like the same things they like, and hate the same things they hate, and you designed the game around those personal preferences. In theory, it helps the reader to better understand the game if you know where the designer is coming from.

I’ve written such introductions, defining the problem I was solving for. I did it for the exact same reasons, to be understood, to be liked, to try to inject something of a personal relationship between the reader and I. After reading so many of them over the past couple of weeks, I’m done. I don’t want to read them, and I’m not going to write them any more. They’re rubbish.

To start, I’ve already bought the game. To some degree, I already get it. We’re already on the same wavelength, because I bought the game. You’re doing marketing spin after the fact. You don’t need to begin the book by reinforcing my decision to give you my money.

What you do need is to get to the point. If you want to impress me, don’t tell me why you made design choices or what you’re trying to evoke. Let me figure that out. If you include it at all, shove it into some designer’s commentary at the end, or save it for you blog or a Reddit AMA. Show me the game. Stop stalling. Get to the awesome.

It’s painful realizing that I’ve done it too, but I’ll get over it. I’ve learned something. I also take comfort in the knowledge that I’m in good company. Some really great games suffer from it. Say what you need to say, clearly and concisely, and then get out of the way.

Starship Tyche Voyages Bundle Sale

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Starship Tyche
StarshipTyche

This week only we’re offering a bundle sale featuring our Silver Bestseller STARSHIP TYCHE Roleplaying Game, Powered by Fate Accelerated!  Starship Tyche lets you assume the role of a starship crew member. Be a dashing captain, a most rational scientific officer, a humanist medical officer, or a brilliant engineer. Be any sort of alien race you please. Explore the far reaches of outer space! Meet interesting aliens, godlike beings, mad computers, and battle the forces of the T’Leng Empire in the name of the Coalition of United Planets! Boldly go wherever your imagination takes you!

You get the core rulebook and 4 adventures including THE RULE OF EXTINCTION, the next episode to be released this Saturday, May 2. All of these for the special bundle price of only $17.01 USD!

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Don’t Miss Out! Sale Ends Today!

popular_silverCharacter Workbook: BundleYou’re not a “dummy”. You’re not a “complete idiot”. But you could use a guide so you can just sit down with your friends and play. Each 48 page Character Workbook was created with the time-crunched player in mind. It is intended to help those unfamiliar with the system, yet want to make a character that is perfect for them…

Our highly rated, Silver Bestseller Character Workbooks for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Base and Alternate Classes are on sale until Sunday, April 26th!

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One of the great strengths of Pathfinder is that it provides players with so many options for their characters. Yet that very strength can also be a source of confusion for new players and casual gamers. For folks who have school, careers, family, and other activities, the seemingly simple task of creating a character and periodically leveling up can feel like a serious commitment rather than a fun pastime.

This sale ends today!

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Don’t Miss Out! Sale Ends Sunday!

popular_silverCharacter Workbook: BundleOur highly rated, Silver Bestseller Character Workbooks for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Base and Alternate Classes are on sale until Sunday, April 26th!

Currently priced at an economical $2 each, you can get all 11 in the bundle for only $11. That’s 50% off!

This bundle contains one Character Workbook for each of the 11 classes contained in the Pathfinder Advanced Players Guide, Ultimate Combat, and Ultimate Magic. Includes Alchemist, Antipaladin, Cavalier, Gunslinger, Inquisitor, Magus, Ninja, Oracle, Samurai, Summoner, and Witch.

One of the great strengths of Pathfinder is that it provides players with so many options for their characters. Yet that very strength can also be a source of confusion for new players and casual gamers. For folks who have school, careers, family, and other activities, the seemingly simple task of creating a character and periodically leveling up can feel like a serious commitment rather than a fun pastime.

You’re not a “dummy”. You’re not a “complete idiot”. But you could use a guide so you can just sit down with your friends and play. Each 48 page Character Workbook was created with the time-crunched player in mind. It is intended to help those unfamiliar with the system, yet want to make a character that is perfect for them…

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SALE! Character Workbook Base/Alt Classes

Character Workbook: Bundlepopular_silverOur highly rated, Silver Bestseller Character Workbooks for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Base and Alternate Classes are on sale this week!

Play something different! One of the great strengths of Pathfinder is that it provides players with so many options for their characters. Yet that very strength can also be a source of confusion for new players and casual gamers. For folks who have school, careers, family, and other activities, the seemingly simple task of creating a character and periodically leveling up can feel like a serious commitment rather than a fun pastime.

SALE! Character Workbook Base/Alt Classes

You’re not a “dummy”. You’re not a “complete idiot”. But you could use a guide so you can just sit down with your friends and play. Each 48 page Character Workbook was created with the time-crunched player in mind. It is intended to help those unfamiliar with the system, yet want to make a character that is perfect for them…

This bundle contains one Character Workbook for each of the 11 classes contained in Pathfinder Advanced Players Guide, Ultimate Combat, and Ultimate Magic. Includes Alchemist, Antipaladin, Cavalier, Gunslinger, Inquisitor, Magus, Ninja, Oracle, Samurai, Summoner, and Witch.

Currently priced at an economical $2 each, you can get all 11 in the bundle for only $11. That’s 50% off! But only through Sunday, April 26th!

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Don’t Miss Out! Sale Ends Today!

popular_silverCharacter Workbook: BundleYou’re not a “dummy”. You’re not a “complete idiot”. But you could use a guide so you can just sit down with your friends and play. Each 48 page Character Workbook was created with the time-crunched player in mind. It is intended to help those unfamiliar with the system, yet want to make a character that is perfect for them…

Our highly rated, Silver Bestseller Character Workbooks for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Classes are on sale until Sunday, April 19th!

Currently priced at an economical $2 each, you can get all 11 in the bundle for only $11. That’s 50% off!

This bundle contains one Character Workbook for each of the 11 classes contained in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook. Includes Bard, Barbarian, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Ranger, Rogue, Paladin, Sorcerer, and Wizard!

One of the great strengths of Pathfinder is that it provides players with so many options for their characters. Yet that very strength can also be a source of confusion for new players and casual gamers. For folks who have school, careers, family, and other activities, the seemingly simple task of creating a character and periodically leveling up can feel like a serious commitment rather than a fun pastime.

This sale ends today!

Download your bundle now!

Don’t Miss Out! Sale Ends Sunday!

popular_silverCharacter Workbook: BundleOur highly rated, Silver Bestseller Character Workbooks for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Classes are on sale until Sunday, April 19th!

Currently priced at an economical $2 each, you can get all 11 in the bundle for only $11. That’s 50% off!

This bundle contains one Character Workbook for each of the 11 classes contained in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook. Includes Bard, Barbarian, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Ranger, Rogue, Paladin, Sorcerer, and Wizard!

One of the great strengths of Pathfinder is that it provides players with so many options for their characters. Yet that very strength can also be a source of confusion for new players and casual gamers. For folks who have school, careers, family, and other activities, the seemingly simple task of creating a character and periodically leveling up can feel like a serious commitment rather than a fun pastime.

You’re not a “dummy”. You’re not a “complete idiot”. But you could use a guide so you can just sit down with your friends and play. Each 48 page Character Workbook was created with the time-crunched player in mind. It is intended to help those unfamiliar with the system, yet want to make a character that is perfect for them…

We don’t want you to miss out!

Download your bundle now!