|Fake Shepard isn't as badass as my Samantha Shepard.|
But she'll do for now.
If everything goes right, then eventually everything will change.
Whether incrementally, as is the norm of things from what I can tell, or as an aberrant massive sweeping change or series of changes, everything will eventually be different. On a long enough timeline, nothing is recognizable. Why people seem to fight this baffles me on a regular basis, even as I occasionally find myself guilty of such stupidity. Change is the true unstoppable force, and this particular linear meat sack is as yet incapable of imagining the immovable object that might contrast it. It has been said that death comes to all things, but even death would not come but that it is carried on the wings of change. Or do they just fly together?
Regardless, it comes to everything, and in some places I want it to arrive sooner even as I lament the loss of what once was. As an example; tabletop RPGs. On the one hand, I am very much a loving fan of books in their physical form. I love holding a book; the tactile feel to me brings to mind thoughts of wizards' tomes (and, given my cherished nickname of "wizard," and my favorite class having always been the spellcaster, I am fond of these thoughts). I love the smell of old books; it puts me in the mood of history, and the older the book the more pleasant the feeling. I love the sight of a well-stocked library; it feels to me like the physical manifestation of knowledge. I fully believe that tabletop RPGs must leave books behind.
I will miss books, don't get me wrong. Terribly. Yet I do not think they can give our hobby the adaptability and flexible power that is offered by the online format. The most obvious example of this shortcoming comes in the form of updates or errata, a thing with which many gamers who like to play the most up-to-date versions of our favorite games are very familiar. Many gamers are, I am quite sure, very happy to buy their core books and play that game as it is for quite some time. Others however, and I am among them, quickly jump upon each update and errata posted and apply them to our existing campaigns as we go.
These updates can be a pain, as they are rarely ever added to future publications of a game's core rulebook. Even if and when they are, purchasing new copies of the rulebooks we already have is onerous at best and a waste of money from any viewpoint. What's more, implementing these changes can be aggravating, as it involves either constantly flipping to the updates document and contrasting it with the core rules to find changes, or taking the time to scribble notes throughout the core books (or at the very least leave marks indicating a particular rule or element has been changed).
Much more significant than rules updates however, are genuine rules changes. Fundamental changes to a game system are inevitable; as the players discover flaws, loopholes, or weak points in the rules that no game designer can ever anticipate; as the game's design philosophy changes, matures, or undergoes revision; or as any other event brings about a significant change in a rules system (which is inevitable, and usually for the better), owning a previous version of a game's core rules book or books becomes a bit of an issue.
It has been said by some that any significant change in a rules system (whether a fundamental change like 3.5 or Essentials, or a full-on system reboot that is a new edition) renders the previous books obsolete, useless, or other more colorful terms. While I wholeheartedly disagree with such an assessment (in fact, I recently played a 2nd Edition AD&D game, and had a blast), I can definitely share the frustration of being forced to buy yet another set of books if I want to keep playing with the most recent version of a rules system. That shit gets expensive, and most gamers aren't rich. Yet from a business perspective, the purchase of books is of course the most important thing any gamer can possibly do (thus facilitating yet another reason that rules system changes and edition changes come about).
All of this--the problems caused by updates, the expense and occasional frustration of fundamental changes or new editions, and the inevitability of each of these occurrences--leads me to the conclusion that the printed format is just something that the tabletop RPG hobby should move beyond. Much like hit points and experience points (both of which are things I believe the hobby has matured enough to leave behind), I believe printed books are something that will only hold the hobby back if we do not actively choose to move forward.
Obviously, Wizards of the Coast has taken a great step with D&DI. I believe this can and should be taken further, however; much further. I envision a tabletop game released entirely via software that can be downloaded (or of course purchased on disc if someone is really tied to physical media), and accessed by paying monthly fees. These fees can be extremely small (smaller than even those for D&DI), and supported by a system of micro-payments similar to those that are becoming ever-more popular among most console and computer games. Updates could be made in real-time, new sourcebooks could be released and downloaded without any hassle, fundamental changes and edition changes can be applied without any fuss or replacement of previously purchased books, and everything moves along smoothly. Hell, off the top of my head it would even be possible to enable user preferences such as "I want to look at the 2nd Edition rules today, not the 3rd Edition rules," or "I only want to reference material from these select sources."
This is my pipe dream, and something I hope to do with my own game system one day in the future. I just felt like talking about it to you, my throng of beloved readers.