Why I Never really Needed The Tabletop RPG Industry

Hill Cantons posted an interesting (and long) interview with Rob Kuntz today: No Borders: A Conversation With Rob Kuntz. In this interview, Rob talks about the change in direction at TSR after (0e) D&D showed signs of being really successful from a game intended to be “the province of personalized creation on all levels” to a set of codified rules designed to promote premade adventures.

In the interview, Rob said:

With the advent and adoption of the concept of pre-made adventures the whole back-end “support” mechanism took upon a new meaning and form and one, by comparison, that flew in the face of TSR’s original vision for its role-playing game. Whereas there was at that point a solid corps of DMs creating their games from the ground up and doing so with great gusto, TSR succumbed to an opposite path of doing the “creating” for them with such adventures.

This had two immediate effects: It created two polarized camps of consumers for the existing, and soon to be changed, product line (I now refer to these as the “dissenting creatives” and the “eager dependents”); and as the move to AD&D with its codification of rules took shape (in part for legal reasons due to its lawsuit with Arneson, in part for IP reasons real or imagined, and in large part due to a changed philosophy which would require absolute/immutable mechanics to be adhered to in order to sell consistently packaged and designed adventures and to promote these via conventions and the RPGA), the split reached its head with the promotion and marketing of the remade philosophy….

….Thus the ongoing perception of D&D-RPG (past, present and future) is rooted in this predominant formula; but this is the antithesis of the original RP philosophy as honestly promoted before money, marketing and a formulaic approach won out and regulated D&D’s 100% creative form to a dismissed and diminishing minority who had been eager adherents in creating their own material and in supporting TSR’s original vision.

I am one of those “dissenting creatives” Rob mentioned who ran campaigns set in my own worlds using far more adventures I created than adventures I purchased. Even when I ran a purchased adventure I usually changed it so much that players could have had a copy of the adventure opened in front of them and it would not have helped them much.

I never thought of it this way before, but this is probably why I’ve never needed the RPG industry all that much. Once I had the basic ideas from the rules, I really did not require much more. The tabletop RPG industry grew around the idea of gamers as fairly passive consumers who needed the industry to produce a continuing stream of content for their use. I never moved to the “eager dependent” role the RPG industry has generally catered to, so I’ve never really needed the industry.

Sure, sometimes the RPG industry produced stuff I liked, could use, and was priced at a point I was willing to open up my checkbook and buy. However, if it did not produce anything I considered in that category for months or years, it did not interfere with my gaming. I could, did, and still do create my own campaigns, adventures, rules, character sheets, etc. to serve the specific needs of my players and my campaigns.

As time has gone on, however, the RPG industry has moved further and further away from meeting my needs and has become even less relevant to my gaming. As I’ve said before, the RPG industry of today could disappear tomorrow and it would have no effect on my gaming because the industry — pretty much as a whole — is built around the needs of those Rob calls “eager dependents” and that’s just not me. I already have more professional settings and adventures than I will ever run. I’m pretty happy with the games I already own or the games I write myself. I’m just not the dependent consumer the RPG industry is targetting.

My purchases these days tend to be limited to magazines like Fight On! and Knockspell, with a rare OSR rules purchase to spice things up (S&W Complete and Adventurer Conqueror King seem to be all this year) — all in PDF format. I’d be willing to buy more, but even the OSR part of the RPG industry isn’t producing much that I’m willing to actually pay money for. This isn’t because the products aren’t good, but because I just don’t need them enough to justify spending the asking price on them.

Randall Stukey

Randall is the author and publisher of a number of old school games (Microlite74, Microlite81, BX Advanced, etc) through RetroRoleplaying.com. Randall's main job, however, is being caregiver for his MS-afflicted cancer survivor wife. You can support Randall with a donation to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund.

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Randall is the author and publisher of a number of old school games (Microlite74, Microlite81, BX Advanced, etc) through RetroRoleplaying.com. Randall's main job, however, is being caregiver for his MS-afflicted cancer survivor wife. You can support Randall with a donation to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund. Gates & Glamours RSS Feed

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ADD Grognard

This is one I was going to post over at the follow up Q&A but I thought I would ask you first.

I see the well of imagination as being empty to begin with. It needs to have things put into it to yield its bounty.

My question is what do you think are the best items to put in?


There aren't any "best items" to put in, at least in my opinion. A wide variety of stuff is better than a handful of great stuff. I've gotten as much use from pulp fiction as from classics, from crap pseudoscience as from astrophysics, from the silliest revisionist history as from the best histories, etc. The more you have in your mind and the wider variety of knowledge stored there, the more your imagination has to work with.

ADD Grognard

See, that's what I find so strange. Maybe it was because that the primary influence on our group playing was a guy who learned the Original method and yet we played AD&D…and that was in'83. We only bought the few pre-made modules to strip for parts and were far more likely to buy a source book of one kind or another, often non-game related (like Barlowe's Guide to E.T.s or The Book of Conquests by Jim Fitzpatrick) to get ideas from. Interesting that this style of played had already been on the decline elsewhere. But of course living in a… Read more »


I guess "eager creatives" don't exist? 😉
Seriously, I think more gamers fit between the two poles than you give them credit for. I for one would know how the RPG industry "disappearing" would affect me. Even though I don't use it any more than Randall, it would make me sad. It would mean that the game stores would close. I met my best friend at a game store 20 years ago. If not for the market forces that Kuntz describes, would that have even happened?

There might be a baby in that bathwater is all I'm saying.