(Back in April I posted this on the Gaming & BS forums. I thought it might be interesting here...)
I’m happy with my favorite RPG [5e], but would like to respond to criticisms that I’m somehow “missing out” by not playing alternatives with my groups…
When people are asked why they don’t want to try a different RPG - a very popular response is “I don’t want to learn another system, I’m happy with what I play.”. There are a lot of folks (who happen to like other games) that then try to refute this position, or worse, dismiss it with glib retorts. I find a depressing number of these rebuttals on social media and even a few here on this forum.
From my point of view, many critics don’t understand the deeper meaning of “I don’t want to learn another system.” You see, this response is actually not about rules, it’s about time.
And time is the most constrained resource we each have, and is consumed in great quantities by our hobby.
Time is required for rules acquisition, rules learning, meeting coordination/schedule management, transportation, game/campaign research, model painting, prop building, character generation, adventure acquisition/creation, session prep, terrain layout, meal prep, family/work-time-off-bargaining, and actually running the session & debrief.
Then there’s “mastery” - learning to be a good player, an effective character, and an engaging and successful gamemaster - all continuous incremental investments. And those are each compounded by the number of players (including GMs) in the group.
Clearly, several of the time expenditures I listed are common across most TTRPGs but, most of the rules mastery and game/adventure/session prep are generally not portable between systems (see final section below for a notable exception). That’s one reason “I don’t want to learn a new system.” is often saying “I don’t have the time.”
Let’s not overlook the compound-time-costs of being in a group of X people trying to learn a new system. Starting from scratch takes a lot more time and energy than a single session’s incremental improvement in a long-standing game. Sean’s own rule of trying a game three times indicates how rough this bootstrap can be, and how much time it can consume, with a significant chance it will fail - never to be played again. This time-risk is also folded into “I don’t want to learn a new system.”
Case Study: OldSchoolDM [That’s me!]
In my personal case, I have personally taught the vast majority of the players in my home groups D&D, and it is the first (and/or only) TTRPG for all of them. The FLGS tables I’ve run are usually either all new TTRPG players, or experienced players who choose to play 5e because they like it (though not to exclusion.) I always run my games live at a table. That’s how I like it. It’s all about f2f in person, even though it takes more time.
So, Covid has sucked ass for me this last year. I’ve had exactly 0 minutes of play time, home or FLGS.
No, I don’t want to play or run online. If you were going to reply that I should, don’t, you’re missing my point. [For that live contact I need so much, I instead play WoW with my adult children and their spouses and other non RPGs via Discord with the grandkids.]
But, I’m not completely intransigent.
I do change rulesets, but it’s rare. When I came back to D&D after raising my family, I jumped from AD&D to 4e. Since I didn’t have any players for either system, it was a chance to start with a clean slate. I read the 4e rules, liked them, and knew immediately how to apply my AD&D DM skills to the game and started a campaign (my daughter invited a friend, and they are now married…)
Later, I migrated that multi-year campaign from 4e to 5e over a 1 year break - the systems were close enough, and the players had pretty much forgotten the fiddly 4e mechanics anyway. I am a AD&D style DM “What do you want to do?(and stop looking at your character sheet)” - so that helped too. The time they’d invested in specific mechanics mastery (inertia) had decayed. Advantage and Bounded Accuracy fixed the parts they’d had the most difficulty with for their Paragon tier characters.
This is an example of a reduced switching cost for moving between systems: version upgrades within a game-system-family; In the case of 5e, it was a specific design goal that this version would be as easy as possible for players to migrate.
Despite being happy with my D&D, thankewverramuch, I am very, very interested in hearing/reading exactly why and how people enjoy their role playing games - as DMs and players. Though I’m not about to dig into PBTA or PBA or PIP or whatever, I think it’s great how those games are exploring the space.
I’ve joined this forum, and listen to podcasts about what folks have learned, and it refreshes my soul: when it is presented in a positive (non-contrasting) frame. “System X enables this kind of play” or “Picture-dice can encourage narration” or …
I also love being able to share with folks my experiences with my favorite game, especially when they seem stuck on something that might be often missed in the rules, or is simply the side effect of particular table style or problems.
Lastly, I know for a fact that my engagement with the greater community led to me enjoying my favorite game even more than the bad-old-days when it was just me and my group making it up as we went along. I’ve even adapted some ideas from other systems to my favorite game!
Please let’s chat all about your awesome game(s) [systems] - it’s my personal joy and proxy for f2f actual gaming.
If you can, please avoid comparing System X to X (can’t evaluate that matrix for all X) especially using superlative language. It can easily be read as judgy.
But remember, not everyone has time in their life to even effectively/regularly play their favorite game, much less time to explore others.
Honestly, I’m more than a little jealous of how much time you’all seem to have to play so many games…
Questions and advice about gaming and groups
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