Accidental Death & Dismemberment: Lethality and Lasting Consequences in RPGs

There are no practical limitations in role-playing games. It’s all a matter of imagination, and as such anything is possible. So, of all the worlds you can create and stories you can tell, if it’s to have some fun with your friends, why would you make death a part of it? Even if a GM approaches a game intending to let the dice fall where they may, it’s often hard to actually commit to letting a character just die. It’s not fun—at least in the short term.

But that’s just a single moment at the table! There’s still the entire rest of the game around it, and I thing that the potential for death—or really any major, lasting, negative consequences—can often benefit the game as a whole. Not that every game will need or want it, and that certainly doesn’t mean a game has to be highly lethal, but rare is the game where a little hint of mortal danger doesn’t lift the game as a whole. Continue reading “Accidental Death & Dismemberment: Lethality and Lasting Consequences in RPGs”

God Plays Dice: Random Tables, Procedural Generation, and Storytelling

Writers have their own methods. There are meticulous writers, like Nabakov, who wrote novels one index card at a time, with a meticulous attention to detail; there are more free-form writers, like Jack Kerouac, who wrote On the Road on one scroll of paper inside of three weeks; and, naturally, there are those in the middle. There’s another axis entirely, though: giving up some level of authorial control, and leaving it all up to pure, dumb luck. It’s a much narrower spectrum, of course: if you leave a story completely up to chance, you’re going to get an incomprehensible mess. But, if you let go just a little bit, you might get something far more satisfying—like The Man in the High Castle.

In an interview with the magazine Vertex in 1974,  Philip K. Dick explained his method of using the I Ching, a divination tool that uses random numbers to generate a fortune, in writing his novel:

VERTEX: Do you use the I Ching as a plotting device in your work?

DICK: Once. I used it in The Man in the High Castle because a number of characters used it. In each case when they asked a question, I threw the coins and wrote the hexagram lines they got. That governed the direction of the book. Like in the end when Juliana Frink is deciding whether or not to tell Hawthorne Abensen that he is the target of assassins, the answer indicated that she should. Now if it had said not to tell him, I would have had her not go there. But I would not do that in any other book.

It’s just a small detail—The characters use the I Ching, and instead of picking the results himself to direct the story intentionally, Dick let the dice (or coins, rather) fall where they may, and let that pick his direction. Turns out it works well for games, too. Continue reading “God Plays Dice: Random Tables, Procedural Generation, and Storytelling”

D&Default

I collect RPGs. There are more books in my collection than I could reasonable expect would be used at the table, but I’ve got them anyway just because I like reading them. Being so familiar with the breadth and depth of games out there, it’s easy to forget that they’re all in the shadow of the mountain that is Dungeons & Dragons. Of course I didn’t forget about D&D entirely, but recently I stood at its base and admired just how damn big it really is.

Taking a look at the ICv2 report reveals, well, nothing surprising. D&D is the top-selling RPG, but we already knew that. Luckily, Roll20, the online tabletop RPG platform, releases reports on what games are being played. Not only is the top game the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons, it along makes up 54.93% of all games played! Looking at the extended list, 63.08% of games were an official version of D&D, and Pathfinder, based on third edition D&D, accounts for another 13.06%. Taken together, that means over three quarters of all games played on Roll20, 76.14%, are Dungeons & Dragons or a variation thereof, and that’s before including a small number of D&D clones, and a rather larger number of games that are heavily inspired by it.

(Fun fact: this roughly lines up with the number of subscribers to certain communities on reddit. /r/DnD has just over 400,000 subscribers, which is nearly three times as much as /r/rpg.)

To say that D&D is synonymous with RPGs isn’t hyperbole; it’s a fairly decent approximation. As much as I love the vast field of games out there, and hate to think of them as a rounding error, I have to say—I get it. And D&D kind of deserves it. Continue reading “D&Default”

Gaming Genealogy: League of Legends, Part Two

Last time, we traced the distant relatives of League of Legends from Kriegsspiel in 1812 through to Dungeons & Dragons in 1974. This time, we get to draw consistently direct lines of influence, and start with a recognizable game rather than end with one. Where the last article ended with fantasy war gaming leading to the creation of the RPG, this time we need to back up a bit, and see how fantasy war gaming developed on its own… Continue reading “Gaming Genealogy: League of Legends, Part Two”

Gaming Genealogy: League of Legends, Part One

Games don’t exist in a vacuum; they spread, change, and influence one another. League of Legends is no exception, so lets take a look at just what tabletop and video games had to exist before the world’s biggest video game could be created.

When making this list, I focused on games that introduced, innovated, or popularized game mechanisms and style of play, and, later, directly inspired other games. I tried not to make any single example too big of a stretch; I’m not going to start with chess just because it features dudes on a map fighting each other.

…but I am going to start just over two hundred years ago. In a nation that no longer exists.

Continue reading “Gaming Genealogy: League of Legends, Part One”

What’s My Motivation?

Bringing and keeping a party together in an RPG

I’ve always had trouble killing off player characters in RPGs. I understand the importance of real dangers to the party to keep the stakes high, but it’s difficult to separate a player from a character they spent so much time and effort into creating and playing. So, imagine my horror when I lost not one, but two player characters, in one night, to sheer lack of motivation.

One was an elderly preacher on a quest to see the fabled City of Lost Angels for himself; the other, the son of a wealthy rail baron trapped westward after a chance encounter with a fierce and sinister rival. Between the brutality of Ezekiah Grimme’s theocracy and the screaming fire of Darius Hellstromme’s ghost rock bombs, the two characters could not book tickets back east nearly fast enough.

And you know what? I don’t blame them. The characters would have left, and thhe players were good sports about it; they created new Deadlands characters that very night. Even so, it’s a problem I would do best to avoid. Continue reading “What’s My Motivation?”

A Change in Strategy

Hello! Been a while, hasn’t it?

The short of it that I just don’t play board games as much as I used to. Instead, we’ve been playing role-playing games, and (for some reason) I only slowly realized I can still write about RPGs, or any other games for that matter, without straying too far from the basic idea of this here website. So, the plan is for some exciting new content about running and playing in RPGs, the hobby side of tabletop gaming, the fascinating field of miniature wargames, and historical looks at a few video games and their roots in tabletop gaming.

Games are fun. Let’s be passionate about them!

—Chris