MetaArcade: A New Frontier in Roleplaying Games

The MetaArcade Logo: The word MetaArcade in stylized letters, the first four in blue and the rest in red.One of the more interesting things that I got to see at Gen Con was the MetaArcade booth. They’re working on an interesting new concept: digital roleplaying. That sounds like computer or console-based RPGs, like the Final Fantasy series or Secret of Mana. But it’s not. Here, let me explain. In order to explain, we’ll need to go back in time to 1975, in Phoenix, Arizona.

The Tunnels and Trolls logo: the words in a fancy serif font, coloured yellow, curved up in the centre, with a troll's head at the end of the text.Tunnels and Trolls

A librarian by the name of Ken St Andre read a friend’s copy of Dungeons and Dragons, and loved the idea of fantasy roleplaying. However, he thought that D&D‘s rules were too complex, and the need for multiple polyhedral dice would intimidate new players. So he wrote his own game in the same genre, calling it Tunnels and Trolls. Although it was very similar to D&D in feel and style, the rules were more straightforward, and it only required six-sided dice. St Andre self-published the first edition, and in July of that year, Flying Buffalo mass produced the first commercial edition.

One of the many things that set T&T apart from D&D (and other later roleplaying games) was that the game line included several solo adventures. These were choose-your-own-adventure-style books that walked a player through an adventure. Something like this:

68) You emerge from the tunnel to find yourself in a large chamber. The walls are decorated with banners embroidered with the symbol of the sun god. Two goblins are standing to one side. When you enter, they immediately attack. They both have 3D6 + 10 combat adds. If you fight them off, go to 35. If they are victorious, go to 82.

There’s much more to be said about Tunnels and Trolls, but this article isn’t about that game per se. So we’ll move on:

What is MetaArcade?

In a nutshell, MetaArcade is a platform that converts solo adventures like the ones described above into a digital format. I got to demo their sample game at Gen Con. They handed me a tablet computer with headphones. The game first asked if I wanted to use a pre-generated character or if I wanted to make my own. I chose to use a pre-generated one. It then provided me with text describing the story. I was playing a prisoner in a town where the guards gave criminals a sword and escorted them into the tunnels beneath the town. Anyone who survived to exit on the other side were set free.

Soon, the text was describing the first tunnels I saw, with black-and-white line drawings to illustrate. It asked me which corridor I wanted to follow, and allowed me to click on a button to indicate my choice. Any time I needed to make a roll, it animated some dice rolling across the screen, and informed me if I had succeeded or failed. It kept track of all my ability scores, hit points, and spell points. All I had to do was make decisions (such as ‘Do you want to go left or right?’ and ‘Do you want to attack the orc, or try to talk to him?’)

MetaArcade partners with Tunnels and Trolls

The first MetaArcade adventures will use the T&T rules set. If I remember correctly, some of them will be original stories by Ken St Andre himself. This seems appropriate, given that T&T pioneered the solo adventure in RPGs. What better game to use to launch a new digital solo adventure platform?

Plans for the Future

I spent some time talking to the representative at the MetaArcade booth. She told me that they plan to make more rules sets available when they are able. But even more exciting, they hope to open the system to authors and illustrators. The way she described it to me, it sounded as though anyone who wanted to would be able to write adventures for players of MetaArcade, using any of the available rules systems. Authors would decide whether to make their stories available for free, or to charge players to play.

The system is still in early development stages. They put me down to receive an email once the system was ready to go. But for now, we’ll just have to wait.

One thing that I did find very promising was that, after I had completed my adventure, the nice young woman who was talking to me informed me that she had checked out the PinkFae site. She said that the company was looking forward to being inclusive, and that one of the advantages of letting anyone write adventures was that people were free to include any sort of character they liked. She was very affirming about the possibility of trans characters in stories on the MetaArcade platform. So that’s reassuring!

In Closing

Obviously, it being early early days yet, it’s hard to say for sure what the future holds. But I think the project has potential. If nothing else, for people who have trouble finding others to game with, this platform may offer a solution. I for one will be keeping an eye on the MetaArcade site with great interest.

Next time, it will be another game review. I look forward to seeing you here again next week. Until then,

Game on!

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J was introduced to tabletop roleplaying games in high school, where he found that he enjoyed telling epic stories through the medium of games. Since then, he has only grown more fond of games, and is now an active supporter of his local board game cafe. He's been blogging about games at gamingdork.blogspot.com for a while, and is even working on play testing his own original RPG. He lives in Oklahoma with his wife, a cat, and two rats.

About J

J was introduced to tabletop roleplaying games in high school, where he found that he enjoyed telling epic stories through the medium of games. Since then, he has only grown more fond of games, and is now an active supporter of his local board game cafe. He's been blogging about games at gamingdork.blogspot.com for a while, and is even working on play testing his own original RPG. He lives in Oklahoma with his wife, a cat, and two rats.
  • Jewelfox

    This sounds a lot like Twine.