To Dance with the Porcelain Pig

I recently completed a large purchase of tabletop RPG books, getting ever nearer to having the complete set of Classic D&D Modules. I embarked on the journey of collecting the books years ago, but only recently started to really make headway. With the purchase complete I emailed the seller to say thanks and that I hope to purchase again. We chat some more and swap details about our favourite games wherein he reveals a large stash of other RPG stuff I was going to get one day. I want to jump onto the purchase right away, but funds are limited so I start making plans for later, deciding what I do and do not want and what takes priority. It then occurred to me, I had found my Porcelain Pig, and it deeply upset me.

My history with the Porcelain Pig

I was often amused by people that collect little porcelain figurines. I simply couldn’t grasp what would possess someone to pay exorbitant fees for little mass produced trinkets. Sure, I understood that on some level these little figurines made the person happy, but to just have something only to look at seemed like a waste of a good hobby.

I think it was the 90s when Pigs were suddenly all the rage. Maybe it was in the wake of the movie ‘Babe’ or something, but it seemed many of my friends got ‘pig fever’ (totally unrelated to Swine Flu) and started buying up little porcelain pigs, or pigs of any type really. Oh how I laughed at such foolishness, and questioned the sanity of their purchases. These people might struggle to pay food bills, but somehow that little pen of pretty porcelain pigs persisted in their proliferation, overflowing from the mantelpiece into custom made glass cabinets. Maybe it’s because it was a hard time in my life, where I struggled to live on fried bread and butter sandwiches, so the thought of wasting money on something with zero entertainment value baffled me.

Back to the present

Many great roleplaying books are disappearing. Companies have died and these books simply won’t be remade. If they are reprinted, they will be ‘enhanced’ or ‘made for a new audience’. All the old magic will be gone. I don’t want my tabletop gaming turned into a dice version of an MMO, I want it to be an immersive gaming experience, complete with critical tables, limited spell use and the desperate need to manage resources.

As I watched games I love disappear one by one, I started to collect them up and offer them as part of the regular gaming offerings. On a limited budget it’s very difficult to collect books that have been out of print for 30 years, and what you do get tends to be of questionable quality. Yet everything I collected was collected to actually use. So I don’t care if it’s in the original shrink wrap or not, I just want to know that what I had was the complete set of maps and pieces, so I could use that system as it was meant to be used. To me, I was not just reliving nostalgia, I was investing in things that I was going to put into use. It’s easy to justify spending $40 on a game module when it will provide five people with twenty hours of fun. It works out as only cents per person then, which makes it way cheaper than a movie or even a beer.

Yet as time has worn on, my pool of players has diminished. I invest a lot into running a fun, fair and above all safe game, so I don’t want to waste time on people that will not treat me or other players with respect. This tends to exclude most of the drug addled people that formed the core of my previous gaming groups, leaving people like family men and career people with limited time to invest. Currently my gaming group consists of three potentials, none of whom can be relied upon to show even to a monthly gaming session. In order to play through the complete D&D collection I’d need to run weekly sessions for years; something that would not be an issue in days past, but now it seems to be an impossibility.

Pigs in many shapes and sizes

As I looked at the amazing range of books I could now source from a good provider it finally occurred to me. I was only buying the books for how they made me feel. Sure, it’s possible that one day I’ll find a gaming group willing to play, but the chances are slim. I had found my Porcelain Pig. As I look across the room at my Warmachine figures sitting in their glass case, having not been used in over a year, I realise that my RPG books are not my first Porcelain Pig. This after I only recently threw over 14K in points worth of Eldar into the trash because no one I knew wanted them.

Can the Internet save me?

Table top wargaming cannot be done online. Sure, technically it’s perfectly feasible, but for some insanely stupid idea, no company ever follows through on bringing the table top game accurately to life for internet play. I’m looking at you right now Privateer Press, your Kickstarter was a lie, but you are not the first company to disappoint.

Tabletop RPGs do offer an alternative though, in the form of various programs that are really just purpose built chat clients. With a webcam and a decent connection it is possible to find players all over the world willing to join you for some good old fashioned gaming. But is it the gaming that I want?

Sure, people are sitting around a table of sorts and the same old challenges are being met and resolved in the same way. I guess it’s the same, but why do I find it so difficult? I think for me the experience lacks many elements I crave in gaming. It’s not just about rolling dice and quoting Monty Python. Playing on computer also seems to put the focus on miniature play, using a map to move figures on. I find that miniatures actually impede imagination and simply adds more number crunching as you count hexes and divide by movement rates etc.

For me gaming will be about paper, dice and people. I don’t even run RPGs from my tablet. I will write stuff on computer but I print it to play from. For me there will always be a divide between computers and tabletop. The computer experience simply lacks the same atmosphere and for me, does not allow the same level of immersion.

Final Word

This leaves me with a lot of Porcelain Pigs. I have to wonder, do we all have our Porcelain Pigs? I think we do. I think the important thing is to recognise that and limit ourselves in a way that keeps us within our means. It’s fine for people with money to burn, where buying a moment of happy feelings just for having some piece of nostalgia is an affordable luxury. For most of us though, just be careful to weigh up what value we get for our dollar.

When faced with the choice of no gaming, or computer based gaming, I think I will have to invest in a webcam, but for now I do not feel that the internet can save me or give meaning to my Porcelain Pigs.