Some talk on Twitter the other day (ending here) got me thinking about the best game I’ve ever played. Perhaps surprisingly, perhaps understandably, it violated a lot of the common assumptions about how to play role-playing games, but for at least two of us who played—me, and Austin—it changed the way we see role-playing games and what we felt that they could do. What follows is an anecdote, hopefully interesting.
What We Have in Common
The wonderful Joshua A.C. Newman recently tweeted this:
In my Human Contact backer’s survey, the players who said they played D&D said, “D&D, of course”. All three of 248.
This raises an interesting point. All three of us here at Transneptune began gaming with D&D. A lot of what we do exists in reaction to this, whether we want to admit it or not. A lot of our idea of what pathological gaming is and can be, and what good gaming is and can be, stems from this common ground we have.
But I think that the whole story-games movement is opening up the field to many people who might never have played RPGs precisely because they weren’t interested in D&D. The game is undeniably still popular, but the audience for games where you sit around a table with friends and make up a story with the aid of some dice seems to be widening.
So what, then, is the purpose of our D&D reactionism? Well, it certainly provides a common language and a common set of experiences among the three of us. But let me turn that question outward for a moment, and ask what you, our phantasmal readers, have found as the recurring touchstones of this genre? What benefit do you see to having a common set of references, and how common do you think D&D really is?
Hey there! My name’s Austin, and I form the third part of Transneptune’s game design trifecta. I got into gaming in high school, starting with Dungeons & Dragons. From there, I spent many winters playing World of Darkness and thinking about a game called Exalted. The latter influenced my game design ideas in pretty big ways, so I’m going to begin with saying that despite its many problems, I do love that game in all kinds of ways. But nevertheless, here are some things I’ve observed about Exalted.
The first thing I noticed about Exalted is the idea of Being Awesome. The Stunt mechanic exemplifies this idea. The concept that player characters should Be Awesome is not an integral part of every game nor should it be. Its sense of whimsical empowerment is particularly unsuited for Noir, Mystery and Survival Horror. But when I was playing Mage: the Ascension and D&D, I was always haunted by the suspicion that the game was promising more than it delivered. D&D may have elves, but when I played it, it was no LotR. It was just a bunch of morally questionable guys killing orcs and taking their stuff. When I met Exalted, I thought I had found what I was looking for, the Awesome.
Situation, Action, Character
I’ll chime in in kind!
I’m Kit. Similar to John, I got my start in RPGs with AD&D years ago, and took a meandering path from there through other games, until I ended up firmly in White Wolf’s World of Darkness territory for most of highschool and college. I had repeatedly skirted the amorphous land of indie games, until moving to Boulder, where John showed me the light, as it were.
On to the point. I’ve been thinking about situation, action and character lately. My friend Griffin has provided me with some interesting food for thought in discussing Aristotelian drama. Leaving aside much that’s extraneous, what seems applicable to roleplaying games is this: characters respond to situation through action, creating new situation, and actions in response to situations express character. If we take “character” less as “an agent or avatar in the game world” and more as a literary entity, the marks on our character sheet (assuming we have one!) exist just to remind us how to react to situations, to express that character.
From Humble Beginnings
The first step of creation is to go from nothing to something.
Hello! My name is John LeBoeuf-Little and I’m working with Kit and Austin under the auspices of Transneptune Games. I thought I’d kick off this blog with a post about my background and what we’ve been cooking up here in the labs. I’m sure the others are going to chime in shortly in kind.
I’ve been gaming since I was in middle school, having pleaded my way into my infinitely cooler sister’s Dungeons and Dragons game. Later on I moved onto the World of Darkness, including assisting with the Rice Mind’s Eye Theater LARP with a very good friend of mine who started the game in his back-yard. I’m a bit of a game snob and recently have been enamored of all things indie. Which is somewhat how I got roped into helping design In a Dragon-Guarded Land.