Thursday 5 August 2021


This Bastionland Editorial was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

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August will herald the 10th anniversary of the birth of Into the Odd in its early form.

Some time in August I'll have another look back at these early drafts of the game, and as I teased in the backstage video there will be a bit of ITO news to come over the next month or so.

Looking back at those posts I noticed the three posts before it were some clearly frustrated ramblings about the state of RPGs. Hard Truths, as I dramatically described them.

I can look back on the summer of 2011 with mixed feelings. Some great things were happening in my life. I'd met my partner not long before, and I was enjoying the creative energy around the OSR of the time. However, I was deeply unhappy in my career as a school teacher, and I was unable to get a regular game group together, or even one-shots, outside of what was happening on G+. 

I think that series of post is fuelled by that frustration, which was perhaps amplified by the highs and  lows that were happening in my life at the time. When everything's good or everything's crap it's easy to slip into dull complacence, but contrast brings a certain  sharpness to things. 

So I wanted to revisit some of those "Difficult Truths" to see if there's anything of value there, and whether my positions have changed in the past decade.

People don't want to play RPGs now.

Here I was lamenting the lack of RPG mass appeal, and I guess I look like quite the fool now. It's muddied by the fact that I moved from my small town to a large city during this time, and as such the floodgates of players opened up, but something has definitely changed. 

People don't want to learn rules.

I mean, I kinda stand by this as a massive generalisation, but I always see that look of relief on people's faces when I've finished explaining a simple game. "That's it?" they say, a raincloud lifting from above them. Of course it's not universal, but there's something here.

People don't enjoy number crunching.

See this is just me projecting myself onto everybody else. I think it's admirable to have a game that doesn't require number crunching, but it's definitely the meat of the game for some people. 

Fantasy and SciFi are only popular with nerds and goths.

Eh, even in 2011 this is a hard one to back up, even if I was mostly writing this point for a bit of shock value and reframed it as "let's not limit ourselves to these genres". Of course RPGs should explore a wide range of topics, but I think at the time I was vastly underestimating the amount of universal appeal that good fantasy or sci-fi can have. 

People don't want to play a PbP.

I think this mainly holds up. Forums are in decay, and video calls have come so far that I can't see PbP going through some triumphant renaissance. I kinda hope it does, as an option for people that enjoy that style of play, but not holding my breath. 

People are more interested in videogames than a paper-based approximation of one.

Now, perhaps this is just me and my friends getting older, but I feel like I'm actually more likely to get a bunch of friends around a table for a game than synchronise a time for us to play an online videogame. Even if we're playing a tabletop game that might have been better made as a video game, it has a different feel entirely. I totally take this one back. 

Most non-gamers would rather try this out online than commit to an evening of play.

Again, I think I had it wrong here. Online RPG sessions are fine, but my anecdotal evidence tells me that people who want to dip into it are doing so in person, whether with friends or at a meetup group. The past 18 months is perhaps an exception to this...

As soon as a game starts to interfere with other areas of life the game is in trouble.

Yeah, scheduling is still shit. Think we're stuck with this one.

Non-gamers don't want to identify as gamers.

Identity is in a weird place right now. Definitely different than it was 10 years ago, but I haven't got enough space here to go into that. In short, I think people are perhaps more likely to want to self-identify as a tabletop gamer now than they would have been in 2011. 

GM and Player are completely different roles and many people will settle into just one.

Yeah I still think this is fair as a generalisation. Not absolute, but certainly a trend that I still see. 

What big changes have happened to your 2011 outlook on RPGs?



  1. I would love to play by post. Paper, snail mail post. And something fairly crunchy & slow. Unfortunately, nobody else does.

  2. My outlook has gone a bit in the opposite direction. I've come to appreciate solid, not-to-simple rules and a bit of crunch. Not full blown Rolemaster of AD&D, but too many rules-lite games are just too handwavian. They posit some sort of unified mechanism, throw in a gimmick or two & then tell you to wing it because story matters and rules don't. Only, to get the game to work as a game in practice, you as GM often need to put in quite a bit of work interpreting & houseruling. And don't even get me started on games that have rules entirely unsuited to what they're actually trying to model!

  3. Wow, OK. In 2011 I was playing Pathfinder mostly, and looking for other games I might like better, and the Alternity driven version of GammaWorld.

    I've come a long way but I completely agree with "people don't want to learn rules" and "people don't enjoy number crunching" now - although maybe I didn't then!

    I like to switch between GM and player, if I can, as both have their joys and frustrations. But I can see why some people like to stick to one only (most often player?).

  4. I had no idea how rpg's worked. So I made up this 1d6 4+ 3-7 HP star Wars game, and my siblings had a ton of fun with it. Then I found dnd 5e, but that just made me want to make it better. 100 ideas later, I've adopted Electric Bastionland as my #1 gaming system, mostly for the decisive combat and no more rolling to "miss".

  5. Thanks for sharing!
    To me, 2011 meant playing less than I would've liked. Ten years later, it's become even less.
    THE big change? My switching to freeform, rules-light and minimalistic games like ItO, FU or [insert OSR stuff]. Before, I used to play the German rules-monster Das Schwarze Auge, but I really became a close friend to everything not too complex. ItO, yeah!

  6. In 2011 I felt invincible. It was a year since I released Terminal Space and despite horrible translation it received really good reviews. I was running a game twice a week.
    It was before my depression kicked in. The world seemed almost friendly, haha!

  7. I can feel you on a couple of fronts. I'm a teacher and I've really, eally found it hard to achieve at, at times. But then at the right schools, in the right systems- it's been really enjoyable & rewarding again. I think we might be more fairly compensated in my country though (if US media is true).

    People don't want to learn big rules anymore- I the hell don't. My group recently moved to Mothership for a change of pace and LOVE that it's only 40 pages of content & you can play after reading about 2 pages. I've brought new (to rpg) players in great with it.

    If I went to fantasy with this mixed experience/interest I'd probably go with ITO because of the RP groundwork strength it lends to recognisable folk/myth/fairytale vibes we all grok.

    I can add anecdotal- having lived in a few different countries recently then returned home at last- bringing new players in face to face is WAY more succesful at retaining players than online. The later is , "ok but almost meh", face to face they "get it". That's 3 sample groups, 3 countries, 2 continents, mix of 1-3 newbs + 1-3 experienced/known players each time. Love rules light, love starting without knowing all the rules & face to face way more satisfying for all.

  8. As with board games we are in the post-Catan era. Long gone are the full weekend games of Diplomacy, Axis & Allies/Risk/Attack, and Twilight Imperium. Honestly, I am happy they happened but I am happy playing 30 minute games of Century:Golem Edition or maybe even a full hour of Agricola.

    I'm the same person, but I think the games capture the drama, narrative, and excitement better now then before. So too with RPGs. We don't need yesteryear to give us what we can get with rules light.

    Well, almost the same person. I am deeply unhappy with my career as a teacher right now. In 2011 I was ready to take on the world. turns out, the world has a lot of INERTIA!

    1. The world needs more good teachers. It seems to me that what needs to change is the curriculum. I wish you the best of luck, the children are our legacy, teach them well.