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... and it makes me sad, but not surprised. Given their thrust toward what they call D&D campaigns (and what I call "Table Top Video Games"), Dungeons & Dragons Online was, I suppose, inevitable.  Too bad it seems to incorporate all of the worst aspects of D&D (the eternal "whiff" factor, for example).  It wasn't that long ago that RPGA was a vital organization that promoted growth and fellowship in a hobby I love. *sigh*


Some terminology and background if you're not familiar with RPGA. Unashamedly biased and behind the cut to spare the uninterested...

RPGA - a "club" (in the way a commercially supported fan club is a club - no elected officers or votes, but lots of volunteerism) promoting role playing.  At various times in its existence it's been a number of things - from a full-service organization with support for local clubs and training for gamesmasters, to the dumping ground for corporate marketing that it is now.  Yes, I'm biased.  Get over it.

RPGA created something called "Living Campaigns", where players could play their own characters through a variety of adventures at conventions, just like at home.  Functioning in a shared world, Living Campaigns changed the nature of convention gaming in a profound way.  There's endless (and passionate) debate as to whether that's good or bad - I'm not going to get into that.

When I started playing RPGs at conventions, you would take the character you were handed, with personality, background and even opinions about the other characters, and do your best to portray that character.  At the end of the round everyone would read the description and (theoretically) everyone would vote on who did the best job.  It was great fun.

Then RPGA started Living City at GenCon.  You designed your own character (by their guidelines) and everyone played the same adventure.  You turned in a copy of your character, and the next year, you could play that very same character again!  It was also great fun, and it was revolutionary. People flocked to it.  At its height, there were hundreds of adventures to play. Our club ran mini-cons with 60-70 players every month.  Players received paper markers (certs) for the items they picked up in game, and these became highly prized and collectable (and the source of forgery and other cheating).  When Wizards of the Coast bought bankrupt TSR, I joked that it was so they could acquire "Living City, the Collectable Cert game" to go with their relatively new and equally revolutionary product, Magic: The Gathering, a hugely popular collectable card game.  Games with characters provided quickly fell out of favor (which I still think is unfortunate).

However one felt about Living City, though, it was a vital time for RPGA.  The membership kept the organization alive during the "Dark Times", when all but one employee (Robert Weiss) was let go.  There was a vibrant sense of community and volunteerism.  WotC bought TSR (and RPGA), and for a while there was growth and company support for community.  Clubs and networks sprang up around the world, and new Living Campaigns were created, among them Living Greyhawk, Living Death and Living Force. It was a great time to belong. 

Things changed.  Entropy always wins.  Living City fumbled the transition to 3rd edition D&D and was licensed to a company that, I believe, just didn't understand it, and it died.  David Wise (a tremendously energetic cheerleader for RPGA) left. Robert left (I think David left before Hasbro bought WotC, but these things all happened within the same year or so).  The new management cared not so much about the players (no longer treated as or thought of as members, but instead merely customers). 

They created a new style of shared world campaign, which they call "D&D Campaigns". D&D Campaigns have a short duration (2 years of story) and the adventures have an extremely short shelf life (from 2 weeks to 3 months). Characters are registered online, and are automatically bumped in level at intervals.  Characters can be completely redesigned (except for registered details like name) between play sessions.  The feel of it is very much like that of a video game - lots of combat, not much investment in the character.  RPGA management says it's wildly successful, and they're not sharing their numbers, so there's nothing but anectdotal evidence to contradict it.

Living Force just ended its five year arc, and will not be replaced.  Living Death ends next year, and there isn't any indication that it will be replaced either.  I expect that when the inevitable 4th edition D&D comes out, that will be the mechanism for killing Living Greyhawk (which is hugely popular).  Given what I've read and seen about D&D Online, I have a suspicion that it will eventually take the place of even the D&D Campaigns, since it's the direction that RPGA's management seems to be pushing toward.

It makes me very sad.  I made so many very good friends in RPGA, and most of them have trickled away from it in the last few years.  RPGA no longer meets their gaming needs, and the management opinion - as stated to me, though not published - is that they don't matter and can be replaced.  Fortunately the friendships continue, but I will miss having that center to rally around. At least, until there's a new center.

There is good news. Shared World campaigns are alive and well.  Dave Arneson's Blackmoor is spreading out from its Florida home into the northeast and midwest, both hotbeds of gaming.  Hey, what else do we have to do in the winter?  Shadowrun Missions is alive and growing with the 4th edition of Shadowrun.  The folks at Paradigm Press have been gradually taking the Living Arcanis campaign independent (which is good, as RPGA/WotC has dumped con support for them at GenCon, despite the campaign's robustness).  Living Spycraft has also gone independent with its new edition.

There's a lot of good campaign table top gaming to be had out there, despite the current lack of a centralized source of distribution and publicity.  D&D Online looks like it's going to be as big a disappointment as RPGA has become.  If I want online fantasy play, it looks like I'll want to check out World of Warcraft.

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( 12 comments — Roll the dice )
frabjousdave
Mar. 16th, 2006 05:52 pm (UTC)
That is indeed sad news. I haven't followed the RPGA closely for some time, but I've a lot of fond memories of the Living campaigns.
jaegamer
Mar. 16th, 2006 06:53 pm (UTC)
I think that "Living" style campaigns are still with us. What's needed is a nexus point - somewhere people can go to and find out about the games, and meet others who are interested. I have a desire to create it, but never seem to put the resources to it. One of these days, though...
femalegamer
Mar. 16th, 2006 06:21 pm (UTC)
I admit it, we mock the two "D&D Campaigns". I tried running Mark of Zeroes and it was pretty hideous. I love how they expand their list of games with the "DM's Mark" games - look, you can write your own adventure in our world, because really, it's not like the players can affect it anyway! Bleh. If I wanted to write my own adventures, I'd run a non-RPGA campaign...

Well, maybe not. I'm still a bit cheerleader for Arcanis, and we're hoping to be picked for one of their new Invisble Kings teams, who will get to write 4-6 adventures a year in their selected chunk of the world. I am, however, very disappointed that for very debated reasons, RPGA is not supporting Arcanis at Gencon. (Basically, that means that Arcanis games don't count for judges.) Since I already have a place to stay, I'm going to judge the whole convention, it looks like.

I read a review of D&D Online on Slashdot. I think the telling summary was that it's:
a) not for hardcore gamers, because apparently you can get to the level cap of ten very quickly.
b) it's not for totally casual gamers, because you can't solo past the very beginning
leaving... casual-ish gamers who have the time to devote to finding a group at the beginning of every session. So, I guess that's the Everquest paradigm?

It's also apparently a clickfest for combat, and combat is all you've got. I guess they stripped the game down to the essentials as they see them.

Anyway, I like WoW, though I wish I could get a little bit more roleplaying out of it. If you decide to try it and feel like looking me up, I'm Jenise, Heloise or Tarisper on the Alliance side of Earthen Ring, one of the RP servers.
jaegamer
Mar. 16th, 2006 06:56 pm (UTC)
I'll look you up if I decide to try WoW. I can't (for some reason) run City of Heroes - I get logged on and after a few minutes it lags and disconnects me. Comcast swears there's nothing wrong with the line, so I'm skunked. I've had a couple of house guests who used my wireless network to play WoW, though, so at least I know it'll run for me.

I've just recently started playing Arcanis, and have been enjoying it. Unfortunately I've been busy when you guys have been running it in Ft. Wayne, but I hope to make it down one of these times. I play a psion(Kineticist) whose catch-phrase is: "I can kill you with my brain". Maaaan, but psionics are broken! (grin)
snarg
Mar. 16th, 2006 07:14 pm (UTC)
This is why I started TechnoTerra; I really wanted to perpetuate the old Living-style campaign. The problem with stuff organized around a single person is that Life gets in the way and things die. :(

Maybe I'll have to take a stab at it again some time (or find someone willing to take it over).
jaegamer
Mar. 16th, 2006 09:30 pm (UTC)
Campaigns do take a *huge* amount of time to run. It helps to have a committee, a partner or at least someone to delegate to.
walbourn
Mar. 16th, 2006 08:16 pm (UTC)
Whack o Wolf is really just more of the same ole 'kill them, take their loot' only you have to be a member of a gang, I mean guild, to do it after more than a short solo career.

My biggest complaint about the 'new' RPGA is that there is no longer a central event that is a must-attend for as many RPGAers as possible. LG events have been francised out so that even the 'specials' are not special. LF, LA, and other story-campaigns have had no support for doing real interactives at major cons. Their whole focus has become tiny home groups playing in random stores around the world, which just lacks any social impact that early Winter Fantasy provided.

I'm not even sure I'll bother going to SoCal this year, much less WF or GC Indy...
jaegamer
Mar. 16th, 2006 09:29 pm (UTC)
I have a lot of non-RPGA fun at conventions, and I'd encourage you to keep going. There are fun games to play and neat people to meet. RPGA isn't as important as it thinks it is to successful gaming at cons.

Last year at Gencon I played mostly Indie RPGs and had a terrific time. Met new friends too. Ditto SoCal.

I miss the old Winter Fantasy too. It was all part of that sense of community that RPGA used to represent. But my feeling is that it was the people who made that community, and we don't need RPGA to provide it.
walbourn
Mar. 16th, 2006 10:24 pm (UTC)
I think for the money (given that I'm on the West Coast) it just isn't worth the expense, vacation time, or effort these days... which I find a bit sad. With Living Jungle, Living Force, and Virtual Seattle all gone there isn't as much of a 'unique' draw for those events for me. With Living Greyhawk making the 'specials' available a week later than WF 100 miles north of me, that's really hard to justify as a good draw.

I guess if I was into the stupid minis game...

Mostly I miss the old-school crowd that is harder to find all in one place these days.
femalegamer
Mar. 16th, 2006 09:46 pm (UTC)
I disagree about LA. At Origins, there are going to be several new hard points adventures, soft points, a new newbie adventure, a battle interactive and a LARP. If that's not special, I don't know what is. :)

Of course, it's mostly possible because RPGA isn't doing Origins formally, so they don't have to follow the new modules rule, like they do for Winter Fantasy. (Which, I agree, makes it a little tough for most campaigns to make WF special.)
walbourn
Mar. 16th, 2006 10:21 pm (UTC)
LA has always been 'psuedo-RPGA'... As a member run campaign, they do what they want and the RPGA seems to care less and less about them. Hopefully you guys aren't dealing with the LKoK people are dealing with being pressured/told to drop all non-open content from the campaign when WotC is making a point of releasing almost none of hte new books as open content.

I hear LA was awesome the first year, but reports since have not piqued my interest.
varianor
Mar. 17th, 2006 02:05 am (UTC)
I found a lot of the people who *play* RPGA are great players. A lot of the module creators (who often happen to also be the local triad) are egotistical maniacs. I think that good gamers will find ways to still get together though. I hope. Sorry your experience is going away. It sounds terrific.
( 12 comments — Roll the dice )

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