Saturday, January 7, 2012

A New Year, A New Topic

I was recently asked if I was going to continue writing on this blog. “Of course,” I said. “Why wouldn't I?”
“Oh,” replied my sister, “because you haven't updated in a long time. I was wondering if you'd just abandoned it.”
“But I'm not writing anything,” I said, “except maybe adventures for our roleplaying games.”
“Why don't you just write about those?” she asked. It was a good question. Why don't I?

It's not like my content would change much. Devout readers will remember that I like writing about sci-fi and fantasy. It's not a surprise to hear that all of my gaming sessions are based in similar universes (that is, either fantasy or zombie mayhem, which is kinda sci-fi-ish). I've written two (crappy) novels that were set in a comfortable place between the two genres, but I hesitate to call it Science-Fantasy because another guy has basically defined that genre as something else altogether.

This is more my speed; bizarre.
But where should I start with a blog about roleplaying? There are already several blogs devoted to the mechanics of RPGs, and other still devoted to nothing but adventure creation. I don't really want a blow-by-blow account of a night's events, as I typically find those uninteresting. Because this blog is supposed to be my way of helping random strangers overcome writing hurdles, I think it'd be best if I covered the things I do from the perspective of an aspiring writer. Hopefully this will broaden the appeal of such a blog, ensuring that it can be read by people who might not care much about this kind of entertainment, but also by those who do.

Topic 1: What the eff is a roleplaying game?

Around December of 2010 I was regularly meeting with some friends from math. You can read the account for yourself in more detail. Long story short, I wound up trying to create and run a system of my design (read: poorly conceived) and play a rudimentary adventure with my friends. Well, most of those math friends only lasted as long as the class itself, so at the end of the semester I found myself writing stories for some new players, most of whom were directly related to me.

A few months and one systems change later, I found myself slightly more experienced with this kind of game. I had played board games in the past but I had never been a huge fan (note: this opinion has changed significantly since July 2011, but that's a topic for another blog).

To say that a roleplaying game is like a board game is to do them both injustice. Board games have very clear-cut rules and goals, and typically one player wins. They're made to appeal to a fairly broad audience; they're play-tested rigorously before production, which itself can be expensive. Roleplaying games are typically based around a system of rules, which can vary wildly depending on preference. They're written by one or more people, they're also play-tested, but these games are mostly distributed as a book of rules. There are no boards to print, no cards to make, no wooden chips or bits to include in a box. Some people are baffled by RPGs for this reason; if a board game comes in a box, then how can a roleplaying game come in a book?
Almost every game here is terrible.

So what exactly is a "system?"

Similar to how there are many different makes and models of automobile in the world, there are numerous roleplaying game systems. If I drive a Chevrolet and you drive a Toyota, we're both driving places but we're getting there with a different style. The feel of the cars might be different; the shape of the seats and the layout of the air conditioning controls might vary, but ultimately we're both driving cars. 

To continue the analogy, imagine that while you're driving your Toyota, I'm actually driving a completely different kind of vehicle. For instance, a train or airplane. Hopefully now you can start to understand the difference between the Dungeons and Dragons system and something more obscure. For instance, Savage Worlds .

The reason the game comes in a book instead of a box is because most of the game is about imagination. But how is that any fun? Some people think the idea of playing with their imagination is childish and stupid. Perhaps it is, but only as long as they're imagining childish and stupid things. The word imagination (like many other words) has suffered from Disneyfication; when people hear the word "imagination" they hear it in either a mysterious Sleeping Beauty Narrator kind of voice, or Ms. Frizzle shouting "use your imagination, kids!"


The first thing a you need to realize is that imagination can be a very dark and powerful thing. If you've ever read a book then you were subject to some degree of imagination both on the part of the author and from your own mind. Whether your were reading the driest and most boring narration of 15th century European history or the most exciting moments of the Lord of the Rings. Imagination is a part of your life whether you know it or not: If someone asks you what you're thinking of having for dinner, you'll probably look forward into the future with your imagination to see what you might eat. "What sounds good?" really means "what do you imagine yourself eating tonight?"

I googled "imagination"

Imagination isn't complete fabrication, either. When you're thinking, you're really pulling on every experience, conversation and memory in your life, usually with the most recent stuff floating to the surface.

With this in mind, I present you with the most simple explanation of why the heck anyone would waste their time playing a game like this. Essentially the game is one long string of hypothetical scenarios. If I said to you, "imagine that right now, while you're sitting in front of your computer, you look up and see a strange person standing in your doorway. The person is holding a knife and looks murderous.

What would you do?"

I'm not even sure they're playing a game. Looks like a really
terrible family reunion in the heart of the 90's.
Of course not every scenario is so dire, but these kind of scenarios are used frequently, even in things like employee training. This is nothing new to most people. So why is there such a jump in perception when I call something a hypothetical scenario versus when I call something a roleplaying game? A negative stigma brought on by horror stories of kids who killed themselves after playing D&D? The fact that the players of these kinds of games are typically really dorky? 

The fact is that tabletop RPGs are still fairly unpopular in the eyes of the mainstream, played only by an obscure underground of people. It's not all number crunching and funny voices; it's one writer creating a space for players to answer questions to hypothetical scenarios. It's this writing aspect that interests me the most.


  1. Hooray! I look forward to more posts in this topic! Lots of ppl may write about roleplaying games, but nobody has your unique style and gaming group. That's what I want to read about, is your challenges and how you overcame them, story-wise or just rolling really good on the dice.

  2. Wow, you did a really nice job with this topic. Great pictures too. You make me laugh. I caught the dig too. :)
    You know that I am and have always been big on you all using your imaginations. Still am so I have always thought a person who could use it stayed healthier mentally. I am glad you wrote, I have missed your writing style.