When asked what my dream freelance project might be, I immediately thought, “boy, wouldn’t it be great if I could buy the RPG rights to Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels Trilogy,” since right now my work on the Lady Blackbird hack is stalled because, well, she expressly forbids RPG’s based off of her games, in spite of the healthy crop of play-by-post forums that populates the net (and has, for the last five years at least). Granted, there are only a few mainstays compared to the number that rise and fall in a given year (lesson of that story: it’s very hard to reach critical mass on a PBP RPG), but you have a dedicated fanbase with numbers enough to warrant multiple campaigns.
It’s the forum role-play audience that hasn’t been tapped, in my opinion, full of talented, design-oriented young (men but mostly) women who are fledgling writers and burgeoning storytellers. And there are a fair number of them. The former runs at over twenty two thousand users, the latter a “mere” eighteen thousand. Sure, you have the stigma of all the Harry Potter schools, network spin-offs, and “real-life” academies you can think of, but it’s just the flip side of the “role-playing is weird” coin. You want your women in RPG’s, there you have it.
My question is, Where are they in real life? The internet has been such a wellspring for communities of niche interests and hobbies, but I don’t think (m)any of these girls have touched a set of dice, much less tried to get in with the tabletop crowd. I role-played online for almost a decade before I finally drank the D&D kool-aid, and had it not been for a particularly inistant boyfriend, that would have never happened on its own.
The fact of the matter is these young women are probably not going to budge from their Invision Power Boards and the like, so the onus is on the game companies to figure out a way to bring the game to them. I’m hopeful for the World of Darkness MMO to be put out by CCP (same guys as Eve Online) eventually, but the paranormal genre only stretches so far, and not everyone can afford a computer with a dedicated graphics card.
The powerhouses of mainstream gaming have been slow on the uptake of the digital revolution, perhaps plagued by the general resistance to change that all print publishers are facing in light of the new paradigm, but their attempts at creating digital toolboxes for their games have been notoriously buggy and useless. A go-to virtual game table still eludes us, with D20 Pro and Fantasy Grounds leading the way after Wizards encountered technical difficulties on its own reveal and had to cancel their demo at Pax East 2011.
For what I’d like to see–that is to say, a marriage of tabletop and play-by-post gaming–a good deal of coding would be necessary, or an in-depth mod to the existing forum software out there, because as they stand now, most are simply not equipped to handle arbitrated (or rules-based) role-play, diceless or no. Google Wave came the closest to being able to handle conflict resolution given its various dice bots, but Wave is to be shut down by April 2012. Buddypress holds some potential, but from what I hear it isn’t quite up for the task either. Shinobicow and his crew tried to utilize Google Plus, but eventually migrated back to forums and then again to Google Docs. Regardless of its ultimate software, the product would have to have a serious eye for design, rules flexibility, a social networking aspect, and facilitating storytelling uber alles.
Because for all that I love me some tabletop, geographic restrictions are a heavy burden to bear; the more specialized the game becomes, the more one has to turn to the internet to find players. And the rules simply aren’t written for the online medium, or the online medium is as yet unable to accommodate the rules. Somewhere, a gap needs to be bridged.