How Game Conventions Reflect the Worries of D&D Next

Regardless of who you are, you probably know that “extra-special” gamer fellow who needs a little bit of help with his math while playing Pathfinder or who wears shirts too small for himself in mixed company, or who waits until his turn round the table to get his dice from his bag. Maybe he thinks “are you a werewolf?” is a good game. Or perhaps he’s into every new miniatures game that gets released and spends his life savings on figs, paints, and cases to store it all in. Maybe he has trouble remembering the simple eurogames scoring algorithm that is identical across 88% of that arm of the hobby. Or he’s the extra special player who always wants diagonal to be adjacent, even though it never is. Maybe he brings a dump-truck full of terrain bits to the FLGS every saturday morning and spends 6 hours prepping for a 4 hour game of Warhammer.

If you are anything like me, your special friend is 50% of the local game convention, people you instantly can see from the looks of them have “special gamer needs.” And while there is nothing that can be done for these players, we all endure them. As gamers, we have a special knack for accepting nearly every proclivity known to man. Now, maybe the convention isn’t a perfect sample of the gaming community at large. Perhaps only 25% of the gaming community is special needs. Perhaps if I went to my local FLGS (a horrible den called the War House that I will never visit again) I could assume that 105% of the gaming industry has a knack for some kind of brain damaged behavior.

But I’m not here to make fun of gamers who are different than me. And I’m not here to use my site as a soap box for the high levels of aspergers that exists in our hobby while we all look away and just shrug. “Meh.”

30 Years ago, the industry was an homogeny of white, midwestern, pasty faced math nerd males who went from doing science during the day to rolling up 1st-level wizards by night. By the late 70s, there were some 20 games (of value) to choose from and everyone knew the names of all of them. As the hobby grew, so did diversity of choice and the people making those choices. Video games drove a lot of the anti-social gamers out of the hobby, so they could play mudds, diablo, and bejeweled 7 in the privacy of their gamer cocoons. And the hobby grew more diverse. Vampire came along, bringing hot girls into the hobby. Shortly thereafter, CCGs came along and now rich college students could win at games when before they would roleplay and not win anything. And the hobby grew more diverse. But then RPGs died for a little bit, until 3rd edition came along. But the hobby didn’t grow more diverse then. D&D became cool again. Collectible minis were cool. Board games were cool. All of a sudden, there was a resurgence of interest, but in order to love Euro Games or D&D or Mage Knights, you have to start from scratch. You threw out all your old books. Or your started investing time and money into something new.

The hobby was becoming homogenous again. As best as it could. Women started being a bigger part of the hobby. The golden age had arrived.

And then everything changed. In the last five years, the industry has splintered again. Some would say for the better. There are more choices now then ever. Nerds made nerd babies and now those kids are finding D&D and “Are you a werewolf?” and every other kind of old guard contrivance, hip… or retro… or whatever. The fracture continues.

When I look around my game convention, a place I’ve been going for over 20 years, I see a landscape that is very different than it was in 1991. I have two friends from that age who still attend. Everyone else is new to me. Every group a subset of some other group that I would never socialize with, let alone game with. Those guys over there are showing butt crack and playing some spaceship building game that is nothing more than Colonia with different names. Those guys at that table haven’t bathed in several days and refuse to buy a new copy of Nuclear War, because this soda stained one is “just fine.” That group playing Basari seem obsessed with a game that fourteen people have heard of, and they are five of them. To my left is a large group arguing about AOO and instantaneous actions. It’s 1am and the 21st century. Isn’t it time we moved passed AOO.

The industry is fractured because we are fractured. We’ve been promised 24/7 fun from a media mindset that suggests happiness is unending. And when we find out it’s not, we search everyone for the next fix. Perennial gaming formats such as card games and board games have become fads and carrying D&D books is now hip. If you want to know why 5th Edition is going to have its work cut out for it, working to make everyone happy, it’s because you can’t make everyone happy. We can’t even make ourselves happy. Gaming is finally having to obey the laws of economics. Demographics and focus groups determine who makes what product for what part of the world. Mr. Pibb isn’t available in bottles or cans west of Texas. Don’t ask me why. It just isn’t.

Some games just aren’t for everyone.

And that’s okay.

Move along. There is nothing to see here.

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9 thoughts on “How Game Conventions Reflect the Worries of D&D Next

  1. i was the original creator and designer of the world. i actually made 4 games in the gameline, but i left the company and have not kept track on what they are doing with any of the games. that link you sent me is a file i made. 🙂

  2. on a related note, i just played Days of Steam, which isn’t very good… and if it is good, it’s because someone has fixed the rules somewhere online. ironically, the game sold well-enough to be in B&N… i had never played it until tonight and my own game for the line in question about gondolla racing is 100 times better than this, but similar in structure. it galls me to think that someone is saying the game is unfit for print when something like this is out there. buh.

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