Posted by: markfender | March 8, 2016

Wrong Tools, Pt II

Man, that was a long, unexplained break. What happened? Boredom? Vision quest? Long illness? Drug-induced stupor? We’ll never really know…

badluckAnyway, Joe commented on my last post, saying:

“So what *is* the experience you want to create? And if you can’t get it through the means you described, will you seek out alternative methods?”

Good question(s), Joe. Also, congrats on being the 500th comment ever made on this blog, a number that is far less impressive when you consider how long I’ve been doing this and how often I post (I choose to interpret it as everyone just agrees with me).

I guess part of the issue is that the experience I’m wanting to create depends. Sometimes I want to make an action movie at the table. Sometimes, I’m just curious what people will do if I present them with different scenarios. Sometimes I want to explore the psychology of my players’ characters. And sometimes I just want to prove something to myself. All of those experiences require different tools, I think, and not every game offers those tools.

The action movie one is pretty easy to grasp, so let’s explore that one. RPGs are pretty bad at replicating this experience. Combat in RPGs takes forever, slows everything to a crawl, and doesn’t replicate the experience of watching a movie at all. Even games specifically designed for action movies, like Feng Shui, still suffer a bit from the simple fact that they have rules to govern things and rules take processing time. So, it seems to me that RPGs are inherently bad at replicating this experience. And yet, that seems to be the most common touchstone for our hobby – seeing as how practically every game spends the majority of its time describing combat.

Now, I think tactical combat games can be pretty fun. There may be a lot of “game” there to play, but that “game” bears no relation to the action I’m trying to emulate. Which is where the disconnect arises.

As for alternative methods to capture those experiences, isn’t that the eternal question? I mean, if we’d solved every problem in gaming by now, we’d only have three systems and no new games would ever come out. Everyone thinks they’ve got a better/funner/faster way of doing what this hobby says it does, and so we keep seeing systems. Which is cool and all (I like new systems), but it does point to a fundamental problem – none of us can emulate what we’re actually after from RPGs.

Of course, the easiest solution is to just not try. If I want to make an action movie, I should just get a video camera and make an action movie, not try to recreate it in an entirely different medium. Which could be the problem at its core – instead of accepting that RPGs are their own thing with their own rules and experiences, we try to recreate other experiences in them. And maybe we shouldn’t.


  1. If you want to make an action movie, then maybe you should do that. If you think that would be a more rewarding experience. However, it’s probably a lot harder than accepting games for what they are. If you enjoy games, which you do, maybe figure out what they’re good at and embrace it. That may not be easy either, but probably easier than movie-making.

  2. So it’s been three months since the last podcast and a year since your last entry here. I’m guessing both podcast and blog are over? You’ve found something better to do? I don’t mind, but I’d just like to know so I can stop checking. 🙂

    • You are not the only one hoping for a new entry on the blog

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