“Pen & paper games will be forgotten in ten years”

No, that line is not from me, but from game designer Steve Jackson, co-founder of Games Workshop and creator of the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. He has said these words in a recent interview with the German news magazine DER SPIEGEL.

And please note that the translation to English is from me, since the interview was entirely in German language, so it might be that some things got lost intranslation.

According to this interview he also believes that the tradition of pen & paper roleplaying games is continued in computer games, since “the most computer games today are just Dungeons & Dragons with pretty pictures and software that rolls the dice and uses the rules behind the curtain.” He continues: “The rules might be more complex but the game concept is the same“.
When he was not misquoted he also stated that one of the problems of pen & paper RPGs “was” that they are depending on the creativity of the players and game masters.

In my opinion Steve Jackson makes the same mistake that a lot of people do, they think that the new technologies, like computers and the internet will replace our hobby entirely. And that’s where they are probably wrong. The new technologies changed and continue to change who roleplaying games are played, created and sold, but I am pretty sure the hobby as a whole will survive.

Steve Jackson is currently developing computer and video games at Lionhead Studios which he co-founded with 2005 together with Peter Molyneux. If you ask me, he just lost touch with the pen & paper roleplaying scene a lot of years ago. Or am I wrong here and our hobby is doomed? What are your thoughts on the matter?

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

21 thoughts on ““Pen & paper games will be forgotten in ten years””

  1. I wrote an article on this subject last week that is coming out tomorrow but the gist is technology will change the gaming table. I also picked a 10 year timeframe.

    What I foresee is that certain technology trends will change the nature of your average pen & paper game. The basic idea of getting together to roleplay will stay the same but the mechanics of how we do it and what we do there will change.

    This won't destroy the traditional game but we will see the hobby fragment and become more diverse. With MMOs at one end of the scale and hard-core anti-tech traditionalist at the other.
    .-= Chris Tregenza´s last blog ..5 Great Supervillains from the Movies =-.

  2. Mr. Jackson is certainly exaggerating here. Of course, our hobby might shrink in numbers, but I think that it will take more than the advent of new and better computer role-playing games to kill off tabletop RPG's.

    However, I believe that classic Pen & Paper RPG's will embrace the new technology available more with every day. I run every game with a laptop on the table, and my players like to have a copy of the rulebook as a PDF on their home PC's, just to look up stuff in between games. Still, not even the most immersive computer game can replace the sound of rolling dice, the in-character discussions and the useless banter about the hot neighbour girl that a good ol' tabletop game has to offer.

    So, don't fear dear readers of Stargazer's World, I think that Steve Jackson just needs to vent his frustration from time to time 😉
    .-= Markus´s last blog ..Cool Guys Don’t Look At Explosions =-.

  3. What social networking games line WOW miss out on is the creativity to make your own rules and to break them. That's where pen and paper excel because they go beyond the box and create new ones. Without pen and paper WOW and other online rpgs obviously would not exisit and they would also not grow or evolve. The curse of the online rpg is its strict non flexible story lines that are finite and repetitive. The endless leveling quests which ammount to "kill 10 of these". Online rpgs lack scope, they may have the epic scenery but not the epic drama of pen and paper.

    Many pen and paper games are the basis for scifi fantasy novels and are often used by authors to work out plot twists and character development. Pratchette is famous for using Live RPG for this. His inspiration comes from people who p&p their game scripts.

    nah! It's like saying monkeys will write novels because we will all be in vr…

  4. I think you have to put it into perspective: If you look at it from it's heydays during the 80ies (as Mr Jackson propably does), fantasy roleplaying is dead already.

    Of course it will not die completely anytime soon – but I wouldn't bet on any growth either, as it will become increasingly hard to draw in new recruits. The threshold is just too high – anybody can play computergames within a few minutes while it takes a long time to get started with roleplaying.

    I am coming more from a boardgaming background and I can tell you, that there are lots of people who think a simple game like Settlers of Catan is overly complex. Lots and lots of other people feel it is about the most complex game they are willing to play.

    At the same time people who never even knew about roleplaying, never had any interest in fantasy, never played anything more sophisticated than Monopoly and are non-geek allround are joining World of Warcraft in droves. Where does this leave RPGs?

  5. It reminds me of James Mishler's statements about the nature of the industry and some comments made by Erik on his blog.

    It is nearly impossible to predict how the industry/hobby is going to be in 10 years. You can probably say that in it's current form, it won't last, but I bet there will be some innovations that will re-shape the landscape, and in 10 years it will still be around.

    Even if the industry implodes, roleplaying games will no doubt be kept alive by the people that matter anyways: the hobbyists (like you & me).

    So while I no doubt believe that in 10 years there will be major events/innovations that shape the industry/hobby, it WILL be around.
    .-= Mad Brew´s last blog ..Mad Brew’s Gaming Philosophy =-.

  6. Hello, here is the full quote in English Steve Jackson gave me:

    Q: How big is the influence of classic RPGs on modern computer games? And: Is this something good, something bad?

    A: Well today's videogames are all simply Dungeons & Dragons with pretty pictures and a behind-the-scenes calculator, aren't they? The game stats may be more complex. But the principle is the same. 'Is this something good or bad?' Well I am no crusader maintaining that the original is best or the old ways are better. Gaming has only become such a major hobby and a major industry since computers and consoles arrived. In 10 years' time, paper and pencil will have been long forgotten. The only slight regret I have is that pencil-and-paper games relied heavily on individual creativity. Videogames let you play what is in someone else's imagination rather than testing your own. And I regret the demise of social gaming. Gaming sessions 30 years ago involved friends getting together. Now you play largely on your own. Having said, MMOs offer a new type of social gaming. But I still want to see the anguish on my friend's face when I blast him with a fireball spell. Not quite the same seeing a stock expression on a MMO character…"
    .-= Konrad Lischka´s last blog ..Spielbücher: Gedruckter Gameboy (Spiegel Online, 4.8.2009) =-.

  7. I think everything is fine. The sky is not falling. It's a good time to be a gamer, even. I think the industry is in a slump, but big deal. It's been in a slump before. Every time it does, some company comes along, creates an entirely new way of doing the same old thing and the industry is revitalized for another 10 years.

    And you can't compare MMORPG's to table top games. Mostly because you can't be certain that someone who would play an MMORPG would ever pick up a rule book and dice. Same went for the 80's and 90's with Ultima and Final Fantasy. Sure, lots of people played them. but it's not the same audience, even though it's the same mechanics.

    Video games make money. Duh. They've always made more money than RPG's (well, maybe not during the video game crash of the 80's…but that had to do with Atari's poor judgement and less with the viability of the two industries).

    People will still get together and play dice. In a few years the industry will bounce back, there will be another boom. C'est le vie. Television and Movies haven't replaced books yet, not by a long shot. Video games won't replace RPG's.
    .-= Paul Jessup´s last blog ..OMG- the future of RPG? =-.

  8. We discuss this a lot in our group. Typically, the guys who only play WoW these days take Steve's POV. The guys who go to the cons and play every week take the opposite view. I have to agree with the comment that he is just too far removed from the industry to make any sort of clear judgement.

    Or perhaps he thinks gaming will go the way of the board game, books, and radio? Oh wait – those never died either.

    PS: GURPS 4th Edition was terrible – maybe THAT is why he has such a dim view of gaming?

  9. Always 10 years, that magical ten years. Not nine years, eight years, or eleven years.


    As computer/console and tabletop gamers since the 80's, we all know that the expectation, engagement, execution, and ultimate experience of the two types of gaming are so different that one doesn't replace the other.

    And if one *is* going to replace the other, what constitutes the argument that electronic gaming replaces 'pencil and paper' gaming, rather than the reverse? People constantly maintain that computers are going to swallow up 'something X'… apparently for no other reason than that the language/discourse of computers has swallowed up other *languages* and other *modes of discourse*.

    So if anything is going to be a memory in an arbitrary period (just long enough for us to forget the prediction if it doesn't come true?), then I pick computer gaming. After all, it is dependent on huge dollar investments at both producer and consumer ends, a hypertrophic distribution channel, specific highly technical media, and the indulgent illusion that maintaining real relationships with other people is an unnecessary irritant.

    Pencil and paper gaming requires… pencils and paper.

  10. I simply don't understand how the concept of computerised role playing in the traditional manner is the "death of our hobby". I mean, I already create my own self-calculating character sheets, I game over Skype, I use multi user map programs online, and generate digital avatars to represent my character, and use online die rollers all with normal pen and paper rpgs.

    I've always maintained that rpgs will eventually go entirely online and be played exactly like they were in my parent's basement back in the 90's. All it will take is a versatile enough toolset that GM's will be able to alter scenery on the fly and emote actions in real time and CGI avatars will replace miniatures.

    There are 10 year old games that have successfully done this in the past, certain games are still innovating aspects of this approach. Advances in technology and user-interface have made more fluid control of a play-environment possible online, and ever so slowly the older technologies that are still quite viable for RPG's are becoming more accessible to the small scale publisher.

    The internet is the obvious medium for RPG's to migrate to, it's just like online poker. Poker sites haven't caused the death of the friday-night poker group but you'll be hard-pressed to find a die-hard poker player who doesn't play a good portion of his games online. This is simply because the internet makes finding a group to play with easier because it eliminates the boundaries of geography.

    Pen and Paper RPG's will migrate predominantly online. In ten years I predict that 90% of the major games will have a computer toolset that you will be able to download from Steam or from the company's site, hell maybe they'll even be able to get some of the more popular ones selling in chain stores like Wal-Mart and actually expand the hobby to a reasonable user base.

    Do not interpret this to be "all RPG's will become MMO's" because just about everyone thinks that's what I'm talking about. I not and they won't. The versatility of the narration will remain a hallmark of these types of games weather they're around a table with dice or in front of a computer monitor.
    .-= Helmsman´s last blog ..Contemporary RPG Settings =-.

  11. In one sense Mr. Jackson is UNDER stating things. When one considers the numbers of players of games like WoW and their influence on the broad-spectrum hobby of "playing games", the (comparative) death of P&P RPGs has already happened – at least as being a major choice of what and how to play a game. Sure, lots of people still play P&P RPGs (myself included), lots of people still play Monopoly too, but neither are the choice most people make when they decide to play a game. By an overwhelming margin, most people these days sit in front of their computer and play an online game. This isn't an opinion or a judgment against P&P RPGs or any other kind of game, it's just mathematics. There's currently 100,000,000+ WoW players world-wide, and that's just one of many online games! Did P&P RPGs EVER reach such numbers? I doubt it. While I intend to play P&P RPGs for many years to come, I also expect that the percentage of people continuing this specific hobby will keep shrinking as it has been doing since the 1980s.

  12. Hi Stargazer (and others),

    I had some thoughts on this myself recently. The first thing I'll say is that for tabletop/pen and paper roleplaying games to survive (and I believe they are worth keeping alive), we need to distinguish these games from other games that are essentially 'Roleplay Simulators', in the same way that Guitar Hero is a guitar sim, not to be confused with actually playing the guitar.

    When I say tabletop/pen and paper, of course I may be talking about a game that contains a good deal of computer assistance, as others have commented on, and may eventually be played almost entirely online.

    Maybe we need to find some new way of describing these games. 'Narrative' games would be treading on freeform/fanfic type gaming territory so that's not going to work. I don't know what the answer to this is but I do know that it is going to be hard-to-impossible to take the acronym 'RPG' back from the g@m3rZ who have misappropriated it.

    The reason we need to find a way of drawing the distinction in a way that the lay person can immediately grasp, is that otherwise their default assumption is that computer RPGs are an upgrade or replacement for tabletop, and that the latter is effectively obselete.

    The other day, I was inspired to write a sort of 'Introduction to the uninitiated' in which I tried to explain the differences between tabletop roleplay and computer RPGs. Comments and criticisms are welcome:

    But there has to be a simpler way to enlighten people than getting them to read an essay. Pointing out that WoW is a 'Roleplay Simulator' is a concise way of doing it but also a negative one, and you'll never get them to let go of the RPG tag anyway.

    *sigh* Maybe we should call what we do 'eXtreme Roleplaying' or something…hmmm…'XRP gaming', anyone?
    .-= lurkinggherkin´s last blog ..Quest For The Hanging Glacier – Part 8 =-.

  13. Until they come up with a computer than can adapt the way humans are able to, this just won't happen. Mr. Jackson's comments are a disturbing devaluation of the human presence in the experience, something gamers should never abide.

    Humans bring two (at least!) irreplaceable things to the game table that no machine can: the human face and a capacity for boundless adaptation, especially in the face of illogical or zany of circumstances. Machines can't keep up with that.

    Computer gamers maybe not realize it, but it's they that adapt the computer's rules, not the other way around.

    Besides, computers can't over-stuff their mouths with pizza, gargle soda and laugh at the same time either. No, games are a face-to-face social experience to be savored like a trip to a fine restaurant. Computer games isolate and dull the pallet.
    .-= AWizardInDallas´s last blog ..With the Chaos of Many Voices =-.

  14. They said exactly the same when magic and Pokemon came out, they said the same about Baldurs gate, they'll say the same when MMO's are plugged into VR sets and you get to wade throught he blood physically. It's not worth paying attention to.

    The Hobby goes through pits and troughs, and outside elements like computer games do have an effect on them. however for every gamer who completely drops table top games for an MMO, another computer gamer is brought intot he fold for the first time bytheir guild mates.

    Modern technology is a great boon for pen and paper gamers, it allows us (and is increasing to allow us) to play face to face with people across the globe, it allows us to get our greedy hands on the books, dice, tools and chat that wa sonce relegated to dingy shops. Rather than chatting about how to emprove our games with our five mates, we can now chat on forums with thousands of geeks.

    perhaps we should view computer RPG's more realistically, as a way to cut the chaff from our gaming groups, a way to get soem hack n slash in when theres no game scheduled and a great tool for spreading the urve of the hobby.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.