Trad/mainstream rpgs

Just a general thread about trad/mainstream/blockbuster tabletop rpgs.

I’m not talking about the nostalgic charm of old TSR D&D modules or the aesthetic appeal of WFRP 1st edition, I mean the current editions of these games - D&D 5E, Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu 7th edition, Fantasy Flight Star Wars games, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4th edition etc.

Do you play them and if so why?
I don’t intend for that question to sound sneering or snobbish, I’m curious about what it is about these systems and settings that people like. I assume that relative ease of availability and a larger pool of players are strong selling points.

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I’m not super convinced there is a larger pool of players who will actually play with you. Maybe on Roll20? But as best I can tell, people mostly want to play DnD. Compare to the indie scene, where it’s never been easier to find people who want to play niche games. We do our part with Gauntlet Hangouts, of course, but I think the fact that the modern indie scene was born on the internet makes it easier to find people willing to play online or to go to Meetups centered on indie games.

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I’m about to start playing some D&D5e, because it was what the next GM in our group was offering, and no-one objects (it seems to have learned a few tricks from Dungeon World, and its certainly the most coherent edition of the three I’ve played (1, 2, and 5)).

I sometimes run CoC-derived systems at cons - things like Laundry Files or DELTA GREEN. The appeal there is really the setting, and that’s why people sign up for them. The system is easy enough for people to grasp, but I loathe character creation with a passion - too many numbers obfuscating your choices. Sometime I should really play around with Cthulhu Dark some more, since I have quite liked it when I’ve run it.

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You might be interested in a hack by our own @Dissonance:

https://moth-lands.itch.io/cthulhu-dark-green

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That is a good point.

I guess what prompted this thread is that I have just been looking through the current starter sets for D&D, CoC and WFRP and wondering how functional they are as introductions to roleplaying games and whether they’d be things that I’d be happy to pick up and play with friends who occasionally ask if I’d run ‘a dungeons & dragons game’ for them.

The D&D (Stranger Things) set with Hasbro and Netflix logos all over it felt like such a blatantly cynical piece of marketing. I guess all of these sets really are about brands and intellectual property. They all seem to have some relatively playable adventures in them but I think that I’d find it very hard to run those adventures using the intended systems rather than World of Dungeons or Cthulhu Dark or something.

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I currently run a 5th edition home game, ostensibly a dungeon crawl through a hardboiled Fairyland using the old TSR module B3 as a base.

I’ve had to change the system a bit around the margins (light isn’t a cantrip), replace some subsystems with my own favorites (slot based encumbrance), and use mechanics that are disfavored in the current ethos of 5E play (random encounter checks). It works fine, my players like the illusion of character power and it’s got an active enthusiastic online community.

The main difficulty I have with 5E is its implied setting, overstuffed with bland fantasy cliches, and its ethos of play that aims for novelistic high fantasy narratives about murdering various monsters in tactical combat. This isn’t part of the system mechanics, It’s a fixed idea about what a TTRPG should do and how. A fan base used to CRPGs seeking to replicate that experience.

Of course crunchy tactical combat, visually impressive powers and scene based narrative are all strength of CRPGs with their graphics, sound and mathematical processing power - or ways to overcome their limitation of being pre scripted. You can easily play 5E to TTRPGs strengths - a responsive GM, player choice, and complexity - but it takes players and GMs that want that experience.

Encounter based design v. classic level based design is an example of this, 5E assumes the adventure is a string of discrete encounters/conflicts/climaxes rather then exploration of a larger situation/location with parts that interact. Anyway, mechanically it doesn’t need to be but that is how 5E is presented and marketed.

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I know you specified “no nostalgia”, but I still have great fondness towards Vampire: the Masquerade. The tropes, the powers, the deep lore, the evocative writing, the absolutely endless expansions… It’s the game I learned to play roleplaying games with, and although it’s not a tight, well-designed game by modern standards, from page one it was obvious that RPGs were something different, badass and cool.

I would get frustrated by the Storyteller rules pretty quickly, and the updated and simplified Storytelling iteration from the Chronicles of Darkness line doesn’t sit much better. But I could still enjoy playing any edition of Vampire,if we took the same approach as we used to: strong GM, focus on narrating badass vampire superheroics, ignoring most of the clunky mechanics and occasionally rolling.

If you have experience playing like this, and your group can produce coherent play without engaging with the systems much, this is something many “trad” games allow quite well. I count this kind of flexibility as a significant strength of the design philosophy. If you don’t like the dice mechanic in Fiasco, you are pretty much out of luck.

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Lately I’ve been playing D&D 5E alongside other games like Mothership and Into the Odd. Why am I playing it? Partly because it gives me something to talk about on the internet at any moment of the day until the end of days. Sure, I can talk about indie games all day, but if I want to talk about something very specific about Mothership’s shipbuilding mechanics, I might have to wait a few hours for someone to respond. With the massive player base of D&D, I have players, and I have someone to talk to whenever I want.

I also play it for the genre, which (in my opinion) isn’t high fantasy, it’s “D&D.” My brain has learned to enjoy it like Marvel movies. Sure, Marvel is technically part of the superhero genre, but if I’m in the mood for Marvel, I’m not going to pick up Kickass or The Umbrella Academy. I want Marvel. Dungeons & Dragons is exactly the same way. It’s a genre of its own.

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The first RPG I ever played was Pathfinder, so it has a special place in my heart. I plunged head first into learning the rules (so many stats, bonuses, MATH!) so I dont mind a crunchy system. I didn’t know the indie scene existed until some friends invited me to play Monsterhearts. Now I understand that there is a system for whatever type of story you want to tell.

I see people use DnD for everything and it just seems silly. Like why make a cyberpunk DnD game when you could just play something else? I mean, once you have put the time into learning the rules of a big/complex system like Pathfinder or DnD, I guess it makes sense to want to get the most use out of that system. However, I think if more people knew about the wealth of indie games out there, more people would feel that gaming is accessible, and that there are rules and materials out there to support the flavour of game they’re looking for without having to hack a mainstream system.

Also things like Critical Role and Geek & Sundry shows have influenced a lot of people to try DnD. It’s everywhere haha.

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I think your D&D experience - starting with Pathfinder/3.5 E is fundamentally different then mine - starting with Basic/Expert in 1983. B/X is not crunchy and the esoteric design philosophy makes it highly adaptable. Excellent for adapting to various genres (Stars Without Numbers being a standout adaption/conversion).

Part of this may also be that in the late 80’s/ early 90’s there were fewer genre specific games and no online gaming communities (maybe a bbs forum - but that to would be very local). You could only learn games from either interpreting a rulebook (and B/X is an excellent teaching manual) or playing with someone who had. Thus every game was effectively a hack, unless it was a con game, and the step from simply your GM’s interpretation of the rule and rules changes to a new genre was minimal.

Plus since AD&D or B/X were widely known it was often easier to explain to new players at your table how you had genre swapped the B/X rules then to teach a new game as there were no extrinsic resources to describe play or teach mechanics.

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I’ve been playing Call of Cthulhu 7e off-and-on for the past couple of years and enjoying the granularity of the characters. I mostly run The Cthulhu Hack or Cthulhu Dark (for the same group), which I prefer from a keeper perspective, but the CoC variable percentages are quite fun to numerically differentiate the characters.

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Its on my list of stuff to try.

I was an organizer and GM for Pathfinder Society and then D&D Adventurer’s League for years. It was always easy to get enough people for a game. I could show up at cons and meet new people and we could talk about the various seasons and adventures that our PCs had been through, kinda like when folks talk about their play through of Keep on the Borderlands or Tomb of Horrors. It was just a nice cultural benchmark. I’ve just started a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4E game because I’m the only GM in my home group and wanted to check it out. My home group has mostly ran PbtA style games, but I’ve been wanting a change of pace with something crunchier.

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If you ever want to go back to stuff that is very story/character focused but has high crunch I always recommend The Burning Wheel.

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If you ever want to go back to stuff that is very story/character focused but has high crunch I always recommend The Burning Wheel.

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I think it was the Narrative Control podcast that introduced me to a Burning Wheel adventure/starter called The Gift and I’ve wanted desperately to play it. None of my players have really seemed interested though (in the system or the adventure).

I don’t love The Gift tbh. It’s a PvP setup that in my opinion is very much not how the game normally plays. There are a number of other scenarios out there. But if they aren’t interested in the system you might be outta luck.

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I don’t play the new versions of the big old games, for dnd/pathfinder/CoC its mostly because I can’t go back to binary task resolution, that is fail/pass results, its boring as hell. Secondly the whole ‘we meet in a tavern’ and first encounter is combat gets beaten to death, thus indy games start with less baggage.

To me part of the ease of people finding/playing those games is saturation. Dnd, Coc, Starwars have computer games, novels and RPG products, and have done so over 20 years, that’s alot of lore, acceptance and general presence out there in the geek/sci fi fan community, and the gamer community too.

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Recognizable IPs with a wealth of non-game related material to use in games. Star Wars, Star Trek, Warhammer, D&D, etc. All big IPs with decades of material behind them. My players don’t have to think about it when asked if they want to play a Trek game or a Star Wars game, etc. They know pretty intuitively what they’re going to get from a game experience based on that IP. Familiarity goes a long way.

But that’s only if you are willing to play online.
IRL indy games in non-urban, non-con settings are few and far between, at least in my neck of the woods. And I’m the only one I know driving to play them. FLGS doesn’t really support indy games, it being a suburban store, as opposed to a larger urban store.

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