RPGs: No Expiration Date

Lately, there's been a lot of to-do over on the Doctor Who RPG (DWAITAS) boards over the fact that Cubicle 7's products are suffering from terminal lateness, and I suppose the same could be said of another game I've played lately, Green Ronin's DC Adventures. Both are based on licensed properties and getting the info and images approved is no doubt proving to be a big drag. And while I'd have liked to get their products sooner than later, as a fan of both the games and the root properties, but getting new product into my hands is NOT a factor when it comes to deciding what game to play. It kind of bugs me that some are claiming that their campaigns are doomed before they can even start.

I've of course played games where there was a lot of product available, some might say TOO MUCH product and they would be probably be right. Sourcebooks, splatbooks, adventure modules, revised rules, additional rules, miniatures, screens, fancy dice, dedicated magazines, tie-in fiction, and so on. But are they necessary? Among the games I've played the most is Dream Park, a little game from R. Talsorian Games that rapidly put out a short core book, a screen with extra splats, and three adventures before disappearing forever. It didn't stop me from playing it with three different groups for more than a decade. My game didn't die when the game did, nor did it prevent me from attracting players who liked the basic premise. (So if I'm not playing DWAITAS right this minute, it's because my core players aren't Who fans, NOT because the UNIT sourcebook is a year late.)

I keep coming back to the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space example because I find it particularly mystifying. The game is relatively Rules Lite and stats for various alien monsters are rather easy to make up yourself, so easy that in most cases, there's really no need for a shiny sourcebook. And while I appreciate good adventure modules, the industry has turned its back on these for the most part because they don't sell very well (only to GMs who represent the smaller proportion of tabletop gamers). "Adventure seeds" are common, but not detailed enough to cut down on prep time. DWAITAS follows this model, with a short seed book in every boxed set to date, and a couple of more detailed scenarios. But again, the game's improvisational take on storytelling invalidates the need for these.

So the lack of new product is not going to stop me from playing DWAITAS (or any other game) today, or next year, or ten years for now. If I can imagine it, I can play it. We live in the information age, which has pretty much created this type of grumbling (I remember new releases magically appearing at the gaming stores without warning), but it also means you have alternative means of getting at "product". The Internet is full of games who use their personal web space (or public forums) to go where publishers could not tread. Stats, adventures and background info is constantly being generated and webbed. You need never have an original thought yourself even during a product drought.

More old school than that? Fine. You can adapt a product from another game, pull an adventure from an old gaming magazine, etc. Many games tread the same ground, after all. Most fantasy games are close enough that you can file off the names and numbers on key monsters and dial up or down the Monty Hauling to get a workable plot and playable NPCs. The Doctor can materialize into any historical, horror or SF game without much trouble. And superheroes are used to hodgepodge settings anyway (or what do you can a world in which Dr. Strange, Ka-Zar, Rocket Raccoon and the Punisher exist side by side?). If your game IS based on a licensed property, then any book or website on the subject counts as a sourcebook. DC's Who's Who, Doctor Who Annuals, Star Trek Recipe Books... Who cares if they weren't put out by Mayfair/Cubicle 7/Last Unicorn/FASA?

Really, the only expiration date I see on the carton is the one at which point you or your players are no longer enjoying that game. And even then, you can put it on the shelf and take it out years later, blow the dust off the cover and find enthusiasm for it once again.


Tim Knight said...

Great article. My personal experience with this kind of grumbling is that it comes down to 'boredom'.

Those grumbling - and I include myself here when I was a grumbler - are those NOT actually playing in a satisfactory campaign.

I've discovered this year, now I've got my V&V game off the ground, that I no longer care when new books (for any system) are coming out because my mind is full of V&V!

Yes, I still get excited if I hear of a new product in the pipeline, but I've got more than enough to keep my mind occupied at present to not be bothered when that new product actually comes out.

Of course, a lot of DWAITAS's problems came with the change in Doctor Who regimes, the total rebranding etc which wasn't exactly C7's fault!!!

Craig Oxbrow said...

I'd love to see DWAITAS become a reliably and frequently supported thing because (a) I want to write adventures for it and (b) it's generally nice to have new shiny things, and it stops potential people thinking a game is "dead" despite the lack of expiration date.

But I'm not gonna get all A Certain Poster about it, for much the reasons you state.

Siskoid said...

I understand completely. And when I was talking about internet resources, I had in mind things like your own Series-ful of Plots series on The Door in Time which would make a very cool pdf sourcebook/adventures book.

Craig Oxbrow said...

Cheers. :) Now, to convince them of that...


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