Tin Pan Alley and MMORPGs

I like old music. George Gershwin, Rogers and Hammerstein, that kind of thing. I was thinking about how music was distributed in those days. It was called Tin Pan Alley, and music sales weren’t measured in records sold–records were expensive–but in copies of sheet music sold. Consumers bought the sheet music of songs they liked, took it home, and played it with their friends and family. When records dropped in price after WWII, sales of sheet music were overwhelmed by record sales. Playing a record required less talent than playing sheet music, therefore more people could participate, and the mass market expanded. A record is a more finished product than a packet of sheet music. Thus, it requires less from its end user and so can reach more end-users. Sheet music became a tiny side business.

Tabletop RPGs are like sheet music. You buy the game you like, take it home, and play it with your friends. But MMORPGs are like records. They are a finished product requiring less talent and input from their end-users. This allows them to reach more end-users. And, are tabletop RPGs thus destined to become an even tinier side market than they have already been?

What else does this parallel indicate? A wider gap between creator and consumer. I’m sure there’s more there, but my weariness has overcome me.

Why does Mu have no name list?

So I’m just starting up a Dictionary of Mu game over IRC, and in guiding my players through charcter creation, I want to give them examples of names to use. So I flip through the book, and there’s TONS of place-names, and approx. 3 people-names. IIRC, there’s the omnipresent Oghma son of Oghma, Nimrote, the Tsarina of the Nines, and a demon in the “A” section. Everyone else has titles: “The Primite Prince” “The Damsel Messiah” “The Kid with the Rock” “The Jarl of Spiders”

Should I just tell my players to make titles? Or just choose whatever names float their boat and go from there?

Dictionary of Mu via IRC

To get more specific, here is what I posted to the Indie-Netgaming mailing list:

I will be starting a new game over IRC. I’ll be running the Sorcerer
supplement, Dictionary of Mu. The author’s brief description: Dictionary of Mu: Edgar
Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom meets Robert Howard’s Kull meets the Holy
Bible on Mars.”

We’ll be playing on Sunday nights, 7:30pm to around 11:00pm Eastern
time. Assume that Oct. 7 will be entirely character creation and
that play itself will start on Oct. 14.

Familiarity with Sorcerer and the Dictionary is encouraged, but not
absolutely necessary. I bit more info is available about the
Dictionary at the Dictionary of Mu Wiki Many
Sorcerer rules clarifications can be found at the Sorcerer

I can only take 4 players. If more people are interested, I’ll have
to narrow it down somehow.

We’ll meet in the #indierpgs channel and then move to a #marr’d_ooc
channel. I haven’t done very much IRC gaming, so any suggestions are
most appreciated.

If you’re interested, please let me know either here or in e-mail.


I’ve decided to look into running an online game. I don’t have tons of experience in this area, so it could be a little rocky at first. If anyone reading this is interested, let me know in comments or e-mail.

When: Sunday evening, from 7:30pm-11:00 Eastern Time
What: Unknown at this time, possibly Sorcerer, Hero’s Banner, Conspiracy of Shadows or the like
How: Unknown at this time. Likely Skype and/or IRC of some type.

A dream crushed

Quick note: If whoever made the anonymous comment on my last BTS entry could identify themselves, I’d appreciate it.

There’s a tiny, little video rental and coffee shop a few blocks from my house. I’d call it a “mom and pop” style store, but Rose is a single mom, so that doesn’t quite fit. Expresso Video and Cafe opened a year ago and has been a friendly fixture in our nearly-100% residential neighborhood. Kat and I would often walk there in the evening for a movie or hot chocolate. Saturday mornings often found us there for breakfast.

Last night when I returned our weekend rentals, Rose told me that she’ll be closing her doors at the end of the month. I’m really disappointed by this. I love small, locally owned businesses and try to support them as much as I can. It’s demoralizing that someone can put so much work into her dream (Rose sold her house to buy the business!) only to have it fall apart.

My hometown is a little more bland today.

By The Stars — “More machine now than man, twisted and evil” — Week Fifty-five(!)

Over a year I’ve been struggling with this damn game. Mostly out here, in public, on my LJ. After GenCon ’06 I thought doing a weekly update would keep me on track and focused. Instead, it kept me feeling guilty and pressured into producing something, even if it wasn’t worth producing. Couple that pressure to perform with one of the most stressful years of my life, and you have a recipe for what I have on my hands with By The Stars: an 80% functional game that I don’t particularly like. That’s what I’ve had on my hands all through the summer convention season.

I ran the turn-based version twice at Origins. The first time had 4 players plus me and crashed and burned. The game itself did not give us enough to work with. Plus, all the “clever” fiddly-bits of keeping the turn-based system running were too much trouble to keep track of. The second time had 8 players and went better, although still not real great. Both games at DexCon folded for lack of players. At GenCon, I jettisoned the whole turn-system and rolled it back to the LARP rules. For the GenCon Thursday game, I got 12 players and they had the best BTS game yet! The players even applauded when it was all over (not bad, considering I sat around and did nothing for 3 hours). On Saturday, I had 8 players and it was a rougher, more strained. Both GenCon games had strong critics among the players (often those who were succeeding very well, mechanically.)

Looking back, I see that the game structure I’ve crafted doesn’t do much but encourage players to get into lots of conflict after conflict. The attitude and imagination that the players bring to the game determines completely how the game is going to go. I’ve made noises about possibly polishing it up and releasing it as “By The Stars: The LARP,” but I’m not familiar enough with the LARP scene to be able to promote it properly. Perhaps I could format it as a PDF and sell it that way, but it’s not top of my priority list. I feel guilty to set aside all the work I’ve done, and all the great feedback that my playtesteres have given me, but this path is not working out.

Neither are the regular updates. I’ve let them slide over the summer, and I’ve seen my game more clearly. The only constant game design methodology I have is “Keep doing whatever works, stop doing whatever doesn’t work.” Thus, I’ll only be posting updates when I have something to report.

However, I have narrowed my focus on the game, have new, fresh ideas, and am working on it. One of the unproductive design goals I’m jettisoning is the “must be playable with up to 12 players.” It was seriously tripping me up. And I’ve regained some badly-needed focus. By The Stars is no longer going to be simply “a game inspired by my love of Star Wars,” but will be “a game inspired by my love of the Luke-Vader duel scene in The Empire Strikes Back.” It’s all in there. I just need some time and thought to tease it out.