You probably know it as Dungeons & Dragons. Since 1974, classic pen and paper role-playing games like D&D were strictly, well, pen and paper. Every scenario, character and encounter existed within the collective imagination of the Game Master (GM) and their players. But in the last 10 years, new tech has completely rewritten the script, allowing GMs to have further control over the game’s environment.
Back then, though, you didn’t need much — just a pen, some paper and a copy of the Monster Manual. Your Game Master did the rest. Carefully crafting maps, bringing the world to life by imitating otherworldly creatures and detailing the characters of their campaign were just some of the GMs responsibilities. But lately, things have been changing and GMs are now embracing new additions to enliven their creations. Welcome to the new world of pen and paper roleplaying games.
Creations like Roll20.net have brought RPGs online, allowing players to connect from anywhere in the world using computers and tablets as vehicles for their adventures. The site allows GMs to host their campaigns in fully customizable 2D environments that eliminate the need for almost every physical accessory (though you may still want a book or two around for reference).
Miniatures have changed as well. For decades, GMs have used homemade miniatures and terrain pieces to add a layer of scale and personality to the world. With crowdsourcing sites such as Kickstarter, GMs from across the world can now pitch in to creators like Dwarven Forge to receive handcrafted, professional pieces to build cities, caverns and empires.
Dwarven Forge is the most successful terrain building company and has, on four occasions, received multi-million dollar backings from people looking to bring their imagination to life. One of the company’s Kickstarter campaigns is even the subject of the Netflix documentary The Dwarvenaut.
Another of the latest additions to any GM’s arsenal is the use of immersive sound. Film and video game soundtracks used to score countless basement D&D sessions, but environmental sound has become the new order for player immersion. From a roaring hearth in a bustling tavern, to the thunderous patter of rain in a castle courtyard, sound and ambiance have become integral to the roleplaying experience. Goblins skittering. Ogres groaning. These used to be — and in many camps still are — exclusively voiced by the GM.
Sites like Tabletopaudio.com and Syrincape.com look to change that and make GMs’ jobs easier. The sites allow GMs to play ambient sound for almost any imaginable environment in fantasy, sci-fi and more.
Even the tables have evolved. Gamers like Bum Kim have created intricate RPG tables from scratch. Kim’s table is equipped with cup holders, bottle openers and built in 40” flat screen TV to allow adventurers to explore dungeons on their playing table.
Every year the game inches closer to becoming alive. Worlds that used to live strictly in the mind now have physical cities and terrain. Those horrifying sounds of a thousand orcs — the ones that gave your GM a sore throat — are now only a click away. Even your closest friends and campaign companions who are now thousands of miles away can play from just about anywhere.
The game has changed, but only if you want it to. Welcome to the new age.