[Continued from Part 1]
- Ground the protagonists in community:
Goat Song‘s argument here is that in many RPGs, only the player characters are given agency, and they’re not necessarily as invested in the community as NPCs who have been designed with a compelling reason to place them within that community. This might also apply to villains, but the rest of the world are essentially extras. Personally, I’ve not run games in this manner, and I don’t tend to think about them like this either. In the games which I’ve played or run, there’s generally a sense that anyone we interact with could potentially be a help or hindrance. We worry about ulterior motives and whether we’re being spied upon or set up. Nearby characters are viewed with suspicion. There’s a bit of paranoia, which is probably my fault. Ultimately, though, NPCs have agency. They can potentially even have too much agency, considering that they’re being played by the GM, who can essentially come up with reasons to justify many actions and provide many resources, if needed and within reason.
Where the player characters fit into the scenario varies, but that’s also a side-effect of running games with skeletal frameworks and off-the-cuff improvising. Generally, the players I’ve had have found ways to integrate into their environment. Whether its seeking information, becoming involved in local or regional political struggles or working to build contacts in the area, they have found ways to mine the environment, usually just as much socially as scouring for enhancements.
I recently read a post from the Goat Song blog called Game Theory Chat: Decolonizing RPGs. Its main claim is that many mainstream RPGs (D&D is called out, specifically) rely heavily on combat for advancement and plot resolution. This combat is usually initiated against people labeled as “savages”, and they often find their societies destroyed and their dwellings plundered at the behest of more “civilized” peoples through player character agents. Essentially, groups are “othered” and eliminated.
At first blush, I agree with this premise. Historically, orcs aren’t befriended – they’re eradicated. Northern barbarians aren’t sought as allies – they’re hunted down before their warriors sack villages, and even other “exotic” peoples, like desert-dwelling mid-east analogues are viewed with suspicion and greeted with blades in the dark. I shared the post with a small RPG/geek culture group I started on FB, however, and their opinions differed from mine, which provided me with criticisms and opinions that I didn’t initially have.
So, Goat Song’s solution to this problem of colonizing violence is threefold:
- Emulate works that don’t glorify violence
- Ground the protagonists in community
- Decolonize incentives
Lets look at each of these in turn and then I’ll incorporate some of what my FB group said.
Over the past few months, I tried a few games. Its the most playtime I’ve had in years. On Independence Day, we had friends over and tried Munchkin when the kids gave us a few free mins. During a birthday party, we tried both Coup and Pandemic. Last week, we had a go at The Captain is Dead and Magic Maze. Of these, the ones that stood out the most to me were Munchkin and Magic Maze.
Pandemic, The Captain is Dead and Magic Maze are cooperative games. In each of these, players work together (not on separate teams – everyone is on the same side) to win. Munchkin and Coup are traditional competitive games, in which there can be only one.
Here’s something awesome for you Mage: the Ascension fans, from their Facebook page. Its a post from Pete Sears titled “How to talk like a Child of Ether“. It basically has a list of prefixes, nouns, adjectives and suffixes to use when a Child of Ether speaks about devices and/or… “science!”
It probably doesn’t even need to be said, but this can also work perfectly for other games, like for Inventors and Mad Scientist types in Savage Worlds or just about any steampunk game. Enjoy!
How to talk like a Child of Ether.
I’ve got something of a confession to make. I’ve always wanted to be a Mad Scientist. When I was very young, both of my parents worked in a restaurant that my grandparents owned. I spent a lot of time there in the large storage space upstairs playing with the gigantic coffee urns. Because of their size and proliferation of knobs, switches, spigots, and other unusual paraphernalia, it was easy for me to surround my-self with them and pretend to be doing mad scientist things. my parent thought it was cute…until I re-animated the cat…
How to use this list: It works not unlike a Chinese menu of old. Pick a prefix, pick a noun, pick as many adjectives as seem appropriate, and pick a suffix. If you don’t know what a word or cluster of words mean, don’t sweat it. Of all the traditions the Etheric mages have the most to gain by being able to talk a good line of bullshit. Besides, Anything is possible if you don’t know what you are talking about.
Eye of the Beholder is an upcoming documentary by X-Ray Films and Cavegirl Productions about the art of D&D. Its due for release in 2017. The film features work from both new and classic artists whose paintings and illustrations have shaped the look of the industry over the past 40 years. Throughout the course of the game’s lifetime, both TSR and Wizards of the Coast have solicited iconic artists to help bring their characters, worlds and events to life. Their artwork has fashioned the face of fantasy in the minds of millions of people. Before its demise, TSR released several art books that showcased some of these works, but this is the first film to give voice to the artists themselves.
A recently-released trailer shows that the artists will tell stories about their involvement in the game and their hand in creating its quintessential imagery. We’ll get a history lesson with a slant towards artistic and design perspectives, along with input from other industry insiders involved in the production of the game.
Here’s a fantastic article about a surge in tabletop gaming based on a gaming café in England. It looks like their main fare are board games and card games, but I’m sure RPGs could work in the same setting.
I love that tabletop gaming is on the rise, and that its driven by in-person social gathering. Its curious that it could be a reaction to the disconnect fostered by more “distant” social interaction from online games. My brother and some of his friends use online tools like Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds to play RPGs together, but being behind a monitor and using a webcam and microphone to communicate just doesn’t appeal to me for gaming. I think its fine for conference calls and even to speak with friends and family who are far away, but there’s something more magical and more intimate about sharing physical space with friends.
Thirsty Meeples owners John and Zuzi in Oxford
So, I mentioned reading two comic series over the weekend. One of them was Monstress, which I really love for its creativity and art. The other was 12 issues of Grant Morrison‘s 18 Days, which is a sci-fi-influenced retelling of the Mahabharata with Jeevan J. Kang, Saumin Patel and Francesco Biagini providing art and several writers (Morrison, Sharad Devarajan, Gotham Chopra, Samit Basu, Ashwin Pande and Sarwat Chadda) contributing to the story, under Morrison’s direction. It was released by Graphic India, a publisher that’s new to me.
Suitable for children if accompanied by adults (mainly due to the large cast and plot)
Suitable for teens (the violence is not gory, no sex or foul language)