General Tabletop RPG Thread


This is a bit like arguing that Safety doesn’t matter because it comes after Food and Air in the heirarchy of needs.

Which is totally understandable, simply getting a group of like-minded people together is a significant hurdle.

But once you get that taken care of, system changes your experience at the table significantly. Why is this in question? Pathfinder, Apocalypse World, Blades in the Dark, and Burning Wheel require players to engage in different ways.


I always found that the system makes the game. Pathfinder is harder to get into a role-playing mindset because so much of the system is spent on combat. If you’re doing dungeon crawls or murderhoboing that works. If you’re doing political stuff it’s harder. Storyteller on the other hand spends a lot of energy on role-play and non-combat attributes and is great for encouraging role-play.


A common game system can help form a group which can then experiment with other game systems. D&D and Pathfinder are also going out of their way with organized play at conventions and game stores. It’s basically the “speed dating” equivalent of RPGs, you get to meet new people and you don’t have any long term commitments.

As far as group dynamics go, sometimes there’s friction you can’t avoid. A and B might be friends and B and C might be friends, but A and C might not get along.


A bad person is going to ruin your game no matter what system you play. That’s also true for a board game. That’s also true for any social situation. Interacting with bad people makes for a bad time, no matter the context. It’s such a basic and fundamental truth that is doesn’t even bear mentioning.

You are playing a game with people, and we assume that all of those people want to play the game and get enjoyment out of it. Once you have reached this point, the game you play matters A LOT. It’s probably the most important thing. The same group of people will have drastically different experiences if they choose to play D&D, Burning Wheel, Dread, Munchkin, Monopoly, or basketball.

The opinion that system doesn’t matter and people matter is very prevalent in the tabletop RPG community, and I think it is obviously for two reasons. One is that the community is so full of disgusting human begins, that a quality group is very rare. Even a mediocre play experience with decent people feels incredible when put in contrast with the median experience, which usually involves “that guy.” Choosing a more appropriate system may raise that game from mediocre to great, but players don’t care because mediocre feels great compared to what they usually have.

The other thing is that the most popular systems are all effectively identical. Most D&D editions, Pathfinder editions, GURPses, Werewolfs, 7th Seas, L5Rs, FATEs, and even Star Warses are not really fundamentally different systems. They use different dice. They have different settings, but they all have the same basic structures. It actually doesn’t matter what system you choose when games like those are the choices. A player who has tried those is probably right to think that RPG system choice does not matter.

But if you go ahead and play some actual different games, this is when the eye opening can occur. Is anyone going to seriously suggest that it doesn’t matter if you choose to play D&D or 1001 Nights? Is someone going to really suggest that it doesn’t matter whether you choose to play Ghost Court or L5R? That position is so preposterous as to not even be acknowledged. What next, it doesn’t matter if you watch Bambi or Ichi The Killer as long as you are watching the movie with a good group of friends?


I’m kind of scratching my head at the end of your argument here. Comparing tabletop RPGs to party/board games to movies is like apples to oranges to pears. I don’t get quite what you’re getting at. Why wouldn’t a group have fun playing any of those games or watching those movies, assuming the group is on the same page? Maybe I’m misunderstanding your argument?


My argument is that it is not an apples to oranges comparison. A social situation with shitty people is bad regardless of activity. A social situation with good people is very heavily influenced by what the activity is. What makes TTRPGs some special case?


I’d rather play Munchkin with good people than Burning Wheel with even one Cat Piss Man.


FWIW my experience with rpg groups is that the issue often isn’t Cat Piss Man as much as the trend in group dynamics towards lowest common denominator activities.

One person doesn’t feel like captain sonar so we don’t play that, one doesn’t like America the board game so that’s out. This? Nah. That? Nope. Ugh, let’s just play Pandante or JBPP4 again.

No one person is being a jerk. (though some people are more opinionated than others I don’t hold that against anyone, having taste isn’t a crime) It’s just the rule of large numbers of friends in one place.


Oh, okay I reread it and I get what you’re saying now. My argument that system makes or breaks a game came from my perspective as a person who has for years carefully vetted and curated who I am willing to play games with and eliminated the shitty people part of the equation. It’s because among a group of non-shitty people people have different tastes. I have friends who likes freeform sandboxy RPGs with lots of fighting and are bored by social/political role-play. I have friends who are the opposite, and choosing the right systems and/or framing is important when GMing for either audience or a mixed audience.


If you got shitty people involved, any social activity will be shitty. Doesn’t matter if you play the best game of all time.

If you got good people, then suddenly the activity of choice matters a lot.

TTRPG people are so desperate they will often play with shit people. On the rare occasion they get good people together, even a shit game seems like an incredible experience, relatively speaking. They see no need to switch games and push for something even better since they’re so high on just being able to roll a d20 in peace.


I’ve become very comfortable excluding the “lowest common denominator” from a gaming/social activity rather than limiting the activity.


How sad, really. I’ve had so many good times with good people playing TTRPGs. Even games that didn’t go well or had issues from inexperience or just goofing up were worthwhile for learning and spending time with friends.


This is what happens automatically among our group. Hack’n’slash folks don’t join for socially focused games and vice versa. No hard feelings just people being considerate of others tastes as well as their own.


I do not follow what you are saying. You refuse to play lowest common denominator games like jack box party pack? Or you exclude people that don’t want to play anything but jack box party pack?


I feel that these kinds of discussions get clogged by the abstract ‘fun’. Of course having fun is important, the most important, part of playing role playing games, but it’s also important in all group activities. If you are just chasing ‘fun’ there is no difference between roleplaying games, board games and video games as way to pass time and have fun.

Thing is people generally have secondary goals when they play role playing games. They want to take part in collective story-telling, they want to experience a story told by a game master, they want to play tactical miniature game set in fantasy universe, they want to immerse into lives and stories of cool characters and much more. And for these goals the system absolutely matters, partially even defines the goals as not all systems can do all things.


I’m not arguing these “sides” because they’re… nonstarters for me, but there’s catpissman and then there’s groups that just have certain different interests at well. For an RPG no two tables are identical, even having the same players they might be different day to day, etc. You’ve got conflicting interests, different levels of peoples commitment, peoples preference/indifference to balance issues or story focus or whatever. Game rules and themes do interact with those things, and those things interact with game rules and themes.

As far as the RPG dickwaving goes I’ve run games since I was five and I’m over thirty now and I’ve been the PbP moderator over at Enworld. I’ve ran for a lot of groups, both friends and convention games. Big. Small. A wide variety of systems. From the DMing chair I try to run whatever game for the group that showed up at the table today, including myself. I’ve definitely succeeded most of the time, but also failed a few times. Sometimes the game people want to play is tactical miniatures skirmish mashup. Other times it’s double super secret spy diplomacy. And with those respects the window dressing and rules can matter a lot some of the time… but it’s certainly also the case that it can matter very little. Part of it is also expectations. Some people’s conception of “D&D” is informed very differently than others, so a lot of the time when I’m running for new players I need to both figure out what they want to get out of the game, but also maybe communicate with them what I or the other players at the table are trying to get out of it.


We regularly play those kinds of games.

But we also play games with people who want to play other kinds of games (like complex Euros). People who aren’t into that aren’t included in those games. We’ll leave them out rather than default to just games like jack box.


When you say leave them out do you mean, like just start playing a complex eurogame while they… stand around? Don’t invite them to begin with? I’m genuinely curious. I’d like to cultivate culture more conducive to playing more eurogames, the how is tricky though. When the culture’s default is one person, no matter who can shut down anything because everyone strives to be inclusive in everything we do.


Honestly? The one experience we’ve had with it was enough to exclude Burning Wheel from all future potential game discussions. If you think it was just a bad experience, you’d probably have to find a convention close enough to ROC that Dan and I could attend to give us a quality time or visit long enough to game with us for a day. I found the system itself to be a stalling point for the stories I wanted to tell, too much dirt and way too kosher a gaming experience for my taste (not enough HAM!).


Both. I just don’t invite people who aren’t into what we want to play sometimes. Other times, if we want to strike up a game with mixed company and 1-2 people don’t want in, we just play it without them. They can socialize or play a different game or whatever.

I just don’t bother being inclusive of a wide audience of gaming tastes with most of my social gaming time. When I do, it’s in the specific context of trying to provide a wide and inclusive experience.

I don’t have friends who cause these kinds of problems really, nor do I entertain gaming acquaintances who do.