More Kids in Gaming Thoughts, The Future, and 5e

I ranted a bit about the myopic approach of WotC and the rest of the gaming industry to RPGs in My Little Pony: The RPG. Well, I am part of the large peer group of gamers with ~10 year old kids now (a 9 year old girl in my case).  I was out at the Broken Spoke last night with my friend Kevin, who has been getting his 11 year old boy into gaming, and as we talked I had some realizations that 5e needs some major direction change to not just be for the 40 year old grognards.

Simplicity

His observation is that both 4e and Pathfinder are too damn complicated.  It turns the kids off. Even with their basic boxes, the problem is that you run out of adventures and content very quickly. They are seen as very limited time intros whose goal is to convince you that you certainly want to read a 575 page rulebook now. Not! Basic D&D (BECMI) had loads of support but was 600% simpler than any of these current versions.

Weren’t around then or your fond memories clouding facts? Here’s a basic D&D stat block.

Giant Centipedes (8): AC 9; HD 1/2; hp 4, 4, 3, 3, 2, 2, 1, 1; MV 60′ (20′); #AT 1; D poison; Save NM; ML 7; AL N. (Courtesy B5, The Horror On The Hill)

Here’s an AD&D stat block.

Four normal crocodiles: AC 5; MV 6″//12″; HD 3; hp 13 each; #AT 2; D2-8/1-12 (Courtesy U3, The Final Enemy)

Here’s a Pathfinder stat block. After I remove many of the extraneous parts.

CENTIPEDE, GIANT    CR 1
Male Centipede, Giant
NN Medium Vermin
Init +2; Senses Darkvision (60 feet); Perception +4
DEFENSE
AC 14, touch 12, flat-footed 12   (+2 Dex, +2 natural)
hp 5 (1d8+1)
Fort +3, Ref +2, Will +0
Immune mind-affecting
OFFENSE
Spd 40 ft., Climbing (40 feet)
Melee Bite (Centipede, Giant) +2 (1d6-1/20/x2) and
Unarmed Strike +2 (1d3-1/20/x2)
Special Attacks Poison: Bite – injury (DC 13)
STATISTICS
Str 9,  Dex 15,  Con 12,  Int -,  Wis 10,  Cha 2
Base Atk +0; CMB -1; CMD 11 (can’t be Tripped)
Feats Weapon Finesse
Skills Climb +10, Perception +4, Stealth +10, Swim +2
(Courtesy Hero Lab, because who has the patience for modern stat blocks?)

I like Pathfinder; I play Pathfinder.  How much *more* fun is Pathfinder than Basic and AD&D were?  0%.  How much more complex is it? Uh, about 600%, roughly.

The line they’re laying down for 5e is that it’ll be simple and there can be “rules modules” on top to make it more complex.  Which will be fine, as long as they start at REAL SIMPLE.  As in Mentzer Basic simple. You can always layer stuff on to make it more complicated, but making something simpler is very hard. Many relevant lessons from the software industry come to mind here. Everyone says they want something with every feature – but then when they see something that achieves the core feature that is easy to use, they forget about all that.  It’s why e.g. Dropbox is kicking the ass of all the other more complex file sharing methods out there. Microsoft Office is collapsing under its weight as people realize “I don’t use 99% of the crap in here, but I’m paying for it and having to load it on my hard drive and making my simple doc editing a lot slower because of it…” Take a hint.

Support

So that naturally segues into the next topic, game support. Basic D&D was a whole game line unto itself, not necessarily a limited time “intro”.  Kev’s busily trying to hunt down all the adventures (which lucky for me I still have) – for Basic, the B and X series (and the less well conceived CM and M series), and for Advanced the many wonderful series (A, T, GDQ, I, etc…).  Because really all you need is the basic set and then a bunch of stuff to do.

Paizo has made their millions tuning in to the simple truth of what it is that made 1e and Basic the high point of D&D play.  It’s the adventures, stupid! 2e and 3e and 4e kept doing “Silver anniversary of the return to the return to the Keep on the Borderlands” because all the good adventure content was from the 1e and Basic versions.  That’s what catapulted third party companies like Green Ronin to real companyhood with the OGL in 3e – for them it was their Death in Freeport modules. At Gen Con 2000 I bought the 3e PHB and then every single module (we called them modules back in the day) I could get my hands on.

People like to say “Oh, but that’s why D&D failed; I heard it’s that adventures aren’t lucrative…”  No it’s not.  D&D in the 1980s was bigger than 4e + Pathfinder added together and multiplied by 10. And it’s hard to disprove when you look at Paizo and Green Ronin and all those other 3pps – they all bootstrapped themselves as startups on adventures, to where they can now put out multiple game lines and whatnot as proper companies.

My content observation is that kids love manga nowadays.  My daughter and all her friends are all into Full Metal Alchemist, D.Grey Man, and a bunch of stuff like that. Guardians of Order kinda tried to do this back in the day, but a RPG with the same light mechanics coming out for each one of those would be a big seller (and potentially internationally!).  Japan loved D&D too.

IMO this approach could scale down to even very young kids.  I conceived of a Dora the Explorer game when my daughter was much younger, where you adopt their simple quest structure and your “explorers” have to surmount 3 obstacles, which are minigames or arts and crafts assignments or whatever, to proceed. Probably dice aren’t even required.

Here’s where, though, I’m w0rried about the 5e “ultimate toolkit” approach.  How do you make adventures for that? It was easy enough to juggle Basic and Advanced back in the ’80′s, that was a simple strata that made sense.  Now, you’re writing something for a group that may or may not be using big hunks of the rules?  It worries me that the adventures will be a big ol’ mess of “if/then” wasted page count.

Anyway, in my opinion simplicity and support are the keys to making a good base game that will be adopted by a new generation. And if the game’s adopted by a new generation, then money will be thrown into it and I can feel safe knowing there will also be fringe products catering to an old guy like me – just 10% of a large healthy market instead of 90% of an old dying one.

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23 responses to “More Kids in Gaming Thoughts, The Future, and 5e

  1. Broken Spoke? Lucky bastard. You can talk all you want about being a 40-year old grognard, but I am a 52 year old grognard and know at least two others who are older – who actually run games still.

    Whippersnappers! What’re ya gonna do?

    On the topic of kids ‘n’ games, I agree the properties are not being developed. It is, in my humble opinion, the fault of the company entirely, chasing as they do the wrong demographic because at bottom? the guys making the command decisions have never seen a toy or an RPG (outside powerpoint presentations) beyond their own youth. They are, to borrow one of their own favorite phrases, ‘out of touch with Joe Sixpack’.

    Speaking of Joe Sixpack, step back and think for a minute how much has changed since you were a lad. You can go into a honky tonk and [i]talk about D&D – and no one notices, or would care if they did.[/i] Weird, innit?

    As for making things simpler, I agree. It’s not dumbing down, it is just making the additional detail what (again, IMHO) it was back in 2e (and to a degree 1st Ed) – clearly optional and clearly the province of the GameMaster. Of course, not all was sweetness and rainbows back then. And as always, it was the GM who made the most difference, as opposed to the complexity or simplicity of the game. Da Rules were a framework. Then as now, the wise GM took what he needed and left the rest.

    I remember one really rousing adventure that owed a good deal of its fun to the fact that the GM had passed his monsters off to a ‘co-GM’, who generated stats and ran the critturs as the story required while the GM did what he did best – tell the story. There was a good deal of mechanical overhead even in those days. Of course, the co-GM was one of the players recruited by the GM, and you could see it dawn on the remaining player’s faces when they realized this guy knew all their tricks. Ah, but skeletons were never so challenging!

    A harried GM might run them like kamikaze robots, but a co-GM would have them fall down with one remaining hit point, looking for all the world like gonners (again). The players moved on to the next batch, whereupon half of the ‘dead’ undead would rise again with a good chance of backstabbing! Fun! And this was the same guy who taught us all a very healthy respect for flasks of burning oil – the gift that keeps on giving.

    Cent13

  2. Your stat blocks for all three variants of D & D are why I don’t play that game, and made Tunnels and Trolls.
    Giant centipede: Monster Rating: 44 Poison damage on 1s.

    That’s all a T & T player really needs. To expand on what that means a little bit. The centipede gets 5D6 + 22 adds in combat. It takes 44 points of damage to kill it. If it rolls a 1 on any of the 5 dice its foe is poisoned. How severe is the poison? The GM decides that based on the needs of the game.

    That’s it. D & D will never attain that level of simplicity and sheer playability.
    –Ken St. Andre

    • No offense, but… I think of D & D and it’s a trope. A *trope*. A cultural touchstone, one of the things that makes a nerd a nerd. Playing the various versions of AD&D over the years has been the equivalent of getting your geek on. It has spun off countless products and there have been generations of players who have passed the torch.

      T & T *is* simpler, but then, it was *never* complicated. Was it adequate? For some, sure. But not the majority, unfortunately. GURPS was also simpler than AD&D. But for some reason, not as popular. I believe the level of detail was the difference.

      Back in the day, when I wanted to improve my computer’s performance, I opened her up and plugged in new chips. Or I soldered new memory chips piggyback to the existing ones, then installed the daughterboard. I supplied my own know-how of electronics to fill the gaps. If I wanted a nice game and had no money, I typed a program in from that month’s issue of Compute! Gazette. Gaming was the same – I played with Traveller and Arduin and filled the gaps in the role-playing with my own details. I wrote *reams* of detail for those game and others. And we were all pretty happy.

      Nowadays, you need to have the detail available, ready to go. You *must* have it, because GMs and players are not usually pleased with plunking down bucks, getting basic rules and being told to wing it. There are not many who would be happy to pay for a computer, and find themselves with a box of expensive parts to assemble on their own, with minimal instruction – why should a role playing experience be any different?

      There’s also the mindset common to GW products – ‘if the rules don’t prohibit it, I can do it’ accounts for some of this desire. A lot of GMs don’t like confrontation – what easier way to avoid it than to point to the rulebook?

      Finally, a lot of folks these days won’t purchase the game if it doesn’t supply – ready made – the level of detail they want. They don’t feel they are getting their money’s worth. Never mind that half the rules will be ignored.

      The 5th Edition of D&D might do that. I hope it does. Folks who want the simplicity of T & T can simply ignore the extra stats, just as we old-shoolers did with AD&D 2nd Edition back in the mid-1980s. But if they are *not* there and someone wants that extra level of detail? Well, that’s a deal-breaker. The days of filling in details on the fly are not gone, but they are rapidly fading.

      • I’ve played AD&D, 2nd edition AD&D, 3e, and 4e, and now B/X. One of the things I’ve now learned is that the classic triangle choice must be made: you can have detailed, fast, and easy, pick two.

        4e gives you detailed and easy, but it’s slow to create characters and run the game events.

        3e chose detailed and half-n-half of fast and easy, making it easy but slow to create charactes and slow to develop encounters, moderate speed of running that goes faster the more you abstract things and slower the more detail you use.

        AD&D had detailed and fast, but not easy. The rules were a mess but character creation and game running was fast.

        Basic D&D had fast and easy, but not detailed. If you wanted detail you had to make it up on the fly or rely on random tables, which again: easy and fast, but still didn’t give you details built-in to the system.

        Given all these editions, and given my current tastes and free time, I’ll take fast & easy over detailed. If 5e picks detail over the other two, it simply won’t fit into how I game.

  3. Giant Centipede: Mildly Scary

  4. I think your stretching man. You want to have a cake and eat it too. You can’t have both simple, and complex at once. Your not looking through pink tinted glasses as much as neon pink telescopes. Whilst ADD was simpler, it required much “On the fly” making stuff up, which ALSO slows stuff down. The rules where a mess and required lots of GM intervention.

    Also Kids don’t need RPGs. Their imaginative enough as they are. For example: The thing you listed as a Dora the explora idea.

    Even if you get the kids to read even the most basic ruleset they will be bored. They have small attention spans and will quickly dump the game and go play equally as imaginative games with toys.

    Now even if they did find it interesting, they would quickly jump off rails

    “Why don’t we just walk around the laughing rock?”

    “Why don’t we just beat up and tie up swiper with this rope?”

  5. Did you really just say “making stuff up when there aren’t rules is hard” and “kids have enough imagination that they don’t need rules” in the same breath?

  6. I did not. You did. Twice.

    Making stuff up in rules interactions “Um…If you do that I guess Il give you a…um….-3 penalty?…Don’t do that again” is different then suddenly saying “and then it turns out my bear was a T-Rex all along”.

    Thing is kids don’t need rules…at all. Kids like playing it loose and fast with story structure and reason. Look at the superhero you drew in 1st grade. Im sure he has about 15 superpowers and is a robot human pirate.

    RPGs need more detailed rules in order to feel more immersive (My personal opinion).

    • Yeah, I’d be obliged if mxyzplk could clean that up.

      Anyway, I think we have fundamentally incompatible ideas about what roleplaying game rules are for. And a different understanding of kids, which aren’t (let’s see, judging by your examples…) all 7 years old. That’s fine, but doesn’t make for much basis of conversation.

    • So you are saying “RPGs need loads of rules” and “Kids don’t need rules” so I guess RPGs aren’t for kids? QED? Maybe you’re missing my main point which is that big ol’ complex games are great for the old folks but there is such a thing as a simpler one.

      Kids do accept limitations to their unfettered imaginations. Hell they watch Dora in the first place instead of just freeform LSD hallucinating all the time. They play Pokemon cards. They create rules for their little clubs. Even a 5 year old understands the structure of a Dora story and can stay within it. If you listened to yourself too much the kids would be incapable of playing Candyland.

  7. Im not sure what your talking about. What you ARE talking about are not RPGs but simply Gs. Or games. Kids play games alright.

    You mention a “Dora quest game with minigames”. Thats not a RPG. Thats just a G. Thats just a game.

    I was talking about when kids DO want to RP, they usually don’t accept any rules or try to bend them.

    When I RP as a power ranger I quickly discard any limitations or limits on the character and just start playing boom exploder man.

    • This reply only makes sense if you can claim with a straight face that an RPG is not a G. Why are you making absurd distinctions? You’re saying kids usually don’t accept rules, but they will if there’s no RP in the G?

      Unfortunately, you’re talking to people who a) know what an RPG is and b) personally know a variety of kids, so c) it’s immediately obvious that you’re talking nonsense about (a) and (b).

      It doesn’t help that you’re making really firm generalisations about 2 billion people. What’s your point again? Do you have a horse in this race, or are you just shitting on the internet for fun?

      • Sevensideeddie, if Someguy is on the internet for fun, bully for him. A lot of us are, including me. What brings *you* here?

        I don’t see him getting on your case for disagreeing, but you turn loose on him with an insulting tone and I gotta wonder – have you had a bad day? Someguy has obviously had a different experience than yours. Courteously disagree with him? Well and good. But you take it one step further and start suggesting the guy’s motivations are less than pure. Unlike yours, I guess. Like it’s some kind of badge. At least he hasn’t got what my Ma used to call a ‘gratuitous potty mouth’!

        Or is that the mark of the more ‘serious’ internet citizen?

        I have no horse in this race other than mild interest in a hobby I left a long time ago for tabletop gaming. You seem to have no problem with that – and if you do, you have been blessedly silent. Why can’t you extend the same courtesy to Someguy?

        Sheesh.

        Steve

  8. Yes. Im talking from my own experience. Im saying the opposite:

    Kids love games, but add Roleplaying to the games and they lack the patience. Unless you make a REALY simple game (at which point roleplaying is practically impossible) you just can’t do it.

    My 10 year old sister loves to play Castle Ravenloft. But even very simple games like Legends bore her to tears.

    And excuse me, why do you have to ad profanity and a sense of being offended? If you where patient and loved to Roleplay as a kid Im sorry for generalizing about you. But no need to resort to swearing. I generalised. I know there are wonder-children that started playing ADD from age 9.

    A)I know what an RPG is.

    B) I have about 50 kids I am good friends with. I helped host many of my two younger sisters birthday parties, with kids from ages 7-21

    So yeah. Go away and stop insulting me.

    • You’re excused. You’re threadcrapping, and I’m not really sorry you feel insulted by crap being called “crap.”

      What I’m trying to say: Do you have anything to contribute other than “You can’t do that! All kids don’t like roleplaying!” Because if you’re trying to say something else it’s not coming through. If that is all you have to say, then you ought to accept that people trying to solve a problem will throw rotten fruit and worse at the annoying guy standing around saying what they’re trying to solve can’t be solved.

  9. Play nice everyone.

  10. Geez guy. Whatever guy.

  11. sevensideddie

    I’ve been thinking on kids and gaming and 5e and reading things like The Delvers (http://thedelvers.com/2012/fighting-in-the-crypts). My conclusion? Screw WotC. They don’t know how to bring kids into the game. We do. We don’t need ‘em bolloxing up kids’ first gaming experiences anyway.

    There’s definite benefit to having an in-print game to hand to kids, or run for kids. I don’t really think 5e is going to be it. It sounds like it will be a very nailed-down, if modular, system and nailed-down is exactly the opposite of what I want to teach kids roleplaying is about. I’ve been thinking about how great it would be to have Basic D&D in print so I can hand my kid a nice red box when he’s old enough and just say, “Here! Take this over to so-and-so’s and have fun.”

    I realised I don’t have to hang that future moment on Wizards getting their head out of their (read: Hasbro’s) collective asses and putting their vault back into print, though. There’s lots of stuff in print that’s not put out by them. Labyrinth Lord would be what I’d hand him if I had to choose now, but we’ll see when the time comes.

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