High fantasy, space opera, post-apocalyptic dystopia, gothic horror; these are the realms of the modern tabletop roleplaying game. There are quite literally dozens of game systems in each of these genres, all attempting to reinvent the wheel. Because let’s face it – any nerd worth his salt loves Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, or at least the basic ideas that these properties espouse. We all want to carry a sword and slay monsters, to fly a spacecraft through the emptiness of space, to prove that we can survive the zombie apocalypse.
But these established genres are limiting and they also exclude groups of people who may otherwise be interested in giving tabletop gaming a try. I think its time for young and innovative developers to start looking beyond the traditional boundaries of the RPG, to really explore the endless history of human cultural output for new ideas.
These are just a few of my suggestions.
Hard Science Fiction
Despite a long history of science-fiction games, most remain staunchly in the dominion of space opera and cyberpunk, genres more concerned with adventure and intrigue than the deep, philosophical questions of speculative fiction. I’ve often wanted to play around in Philip K. Dick’s repressive, paranoid, psychedelic dystopias; world’s that are shiny and clean on the outside, but ripe with corruption and mystery. I want a game that forces me to contemplate my existence and the question that permeates Dick’s work: “What is reality?” This metaphysical postulate could be the inspiration behind some amazing game mechanics, forcing the players’ to be skeptical of the information their receiving from the Gamemaster and allowing for mind-bending plot scenarios. This kind of game wouldn’t be for everyone, it would be serious and intellectual, but could also be insanely fun in the hands of the right group.
Tabletops’ love to add elements to the classic American western - zombies, steampunk, and magic – but I haven’t found a single game that gives me the same electric feeling that a Peckinpah or Leone film does. Western’s are the great myths of America and if Tolkien built a world around European folklore, than I don’t see why a game developer couldn’t do the same for the heroes and villains of the Wild West. Red Dead Redemption brought the genre back into popular consciousness and proved that gamers are hungry for the dusty roads, wide brimmed hats, and rugged lawlessness it brings with it. But video game success hasn’t translated onto gaming tables and that’s unfortunate. It might not be as conducive to long-term campaigns, but my mind races at the thought of getting a band of outlaws together to raise hell in the closest mining town.
Neil Gaiman is probably the best fantasy writer alive today and American Gods is his magnum opus. Set on the winding back roads and tourist traps of the American Midwest, the novel is a tale of the gods of the old world – Odin, Anansi, Anubis – fighting for their existence against the gods of the new world – The Internet, Mass Media, Technology. It’s a phenomenal examination of the American psyche, fused with an imaginative modernization of common mythological tropes. It’s practically begging for a game developer to come along and bring its world to life. Players’ could take control of any figure from world folklore, predominantly in a human form that would keep them hidden in plain sight. Magic would be rare and understated; combat would take a backseat to intrigue and exploration.
And with a few tweaks, it might be possible to bring Gaiman’s Sandman universe into the fold, even Neverwhere. Somebody make this happen!
I haven’t watched wrestling since I was a little kid, but in the early millennium there was an internet trend known as “e-wrestling”: groups of players’ building their own over-the-top athletes to compete against each other in text-based matches. It was really my introduction to the world of roleplaying. Thus, I’ve always thought it would be interesting to have a tabletop game that would allow for my old tag team – The Value Shoppers – to bring their particular brand of hardcore frugality back into my life. I can picture large groups of friends’ getting together to talk trash, to create elaborate storylines, to compete against each other by tossing dice on a table. Championships won and lost, friends’ betrayed, all of the drama that makes roleplaying games worthwhile. Mechanically, matches could be particularly interesting, creating rules that simulate the ebb and flow of a great wrestling competition. It would also have the added bonus of bringing sports fans into tabletop community. +2 to Accessibility.
Hear me out on this one. There aren’t many roleplaying games built for two players, but I think it would be interesting to explore the dynamics of human relationships inside of a game system. Imagine that you’re a couple, looking for something unique to do on your weekly date night. What better way to introduce your significant other to the wonders of gaming than to replicate the cinematic romance of Before Sunrise or Cinema Paradiso? How about the gut-busting comedy of Annie Hall, Knocked Up, or His Girl Friday. This genre is awash with common links that could be built into a loose, casual roleplaying game. I have no idea how the details would pan out, but telling a funny, romantic story together would enhance the relationship of any couple with an overactive imagination.
This is a bit of a pre-emptive strike on my part, because Pacific Rim is on its way this summer and Gareth Edwards Godzilla remake is on its way next summer. It’s always difficult to predict cultural trends, but if these films’ take off, the Kaiju genre could be in for a pop cultural rebirth. What isn’t cool about monsters the size of a skyscraper? You tell me, because as far as I’m concerned, nothing compares. Obviously, roleplaying a Kaiju would be a bit on the simplistic side, so I’d like to see a game revolving around the defense forces designated to protect the Earth from these massive beasts. In Pacific Rim, two soldiers have their minds linked to control gigantic war machines in an effort to quell the threat. Imagine if two players had to synchronize their dice rolls to perform insane combos against a GM controlled monstrosity. Another player could be the engineer in the hull of the robot, holding the whole thing together. Perhaps a fourth could be the General on the ground coordinating the military assault. All of this could lead to some incredibly unique game design, pushing the industry just a little farther forward.
I was hesitant to put this on the list, because it’s a no-brainer. There’s already a published Dragon Age RPG, so I’m not sure why BioWare hasn’t thought to take their flagship product – Mass Effect - in the same direction. It’s arguably the most detailed science fiction universe of this generation, a framework for an infinite supply of storytelling. Its focus on choice and consequence could give players and GMs tons of new tools for roleplaying; and that’s what I would want to be the focus. Yes, Mass Effect is predominantly an action shooter, but it’s those intimate moments with the characters whom become your friends’ – and the way in which you manage those relationships – that make the property what it is. Giving players’ options to create fully fleshed out characters and placing them in legitimately threatening situations, where death is only a heart-beat away, feels like a Mass Effect game.
And BioWare, if you’re listening, I’m sure I’m not the only person who would play this. You have a legion of fans who are waiting for their opportunity to mingle in your expansive universe. Give it to them.
Initially, my idea was for a Toy Story RPG. What better way to introduce kids to tabletop gaming then to let them use actual toys as props and miniatures? But as this idea coalesced, I began to realize that there is wealth of great material that Disney as a company could provide to the hobby. It’s a company that is built upon childhood nostalgia; and a company that likes to diversify the products it offers to consumers. So, why not offer a tabletop roleplaying game that parents and kids could share with each other? Like Kingdom Hearts, you could establish a universe in which all of the various Disney worlds’ exist together and from the massive catalog of Disney films’ and media, the family could explore these amazing, magical stories. You could make it incredibly simplistic, light on the math and heavy on the roleplaying. You could eliminate combat altogether in order to emphasize the whimsy and wonder of these animated worlds. You could even design the game to have rules so simple, that anyone who’s ever played a board game could understand them. It could be like an interactive bed-time story.
Ultimately, it could serve as an introduction to the hobby of gaming, without the daunting nature of some of the more advanced titles. Kids already love to pretend, so Disney could give them a game that emphasizes this kind of play and that allows parents to return to the mindset of a child. It’s incredibly unlikely that Disney would ever even consider something like this, but if they ever did, I’d be the first in line to try it out.