Non-Digital: Character is All

As a matter of purely personal taste, here’s what I like about tabletop roleplaying games:

1 – Playing a complex and contradictory character engaged in interesting social environments. Experiencing the game principally through this character.

2 – Sex and violence, craziness and stupid decisions, the kind of stuff that is a bad idea in real life but great fun in fictional environments.

3 – Playing interesting social situations, or watching others play them.

I like the kind of naturalism that emerges in good groups when people play their characters and come up with cool ideas for the whole game. Consistency is good when it comes to the characters, and immersion in their emotional circumstances is key.

I have never played or read a tabletop roleplaying game that had a system supporting these goals. I’ve been able to realize them only in games that have had a strong game master vision and a group that has had the required level of social and roleplaying competence to really go there.

Many, possibly most, of these experiences in my roleplaying career have been had in games where the system has been a set of loose social conventions and the rules mechanics an ornamental bauble that’s sometimes marveled at and then tossed aside when things get serious.

Tabletop roleplaying games are propagated through published game books that explain how to run particular kinds of games. For me, a big question is: Why is the kind of roleplaying I love the best apparently impossible to package into a book?

I’ve tried once, with my book Roolipelimanifesti, a general interest guide to roleplaying games and how to make them. I’ll leave it to others to judge how we’ll I succeeded. My other tabletop publication, the game Valley of Eternity, is more old-fashioned and doesn’t really reflect my personal playing style. It’s a game of tragic adventure, not a game of social drama.

Games like Dungeons & Dragons, design movements like the Forge and the Fastaval games have their own languages for expressing ideas of tabletop roleplaying in text.

Perhaps the kind of character based play big in my particular niche of the global tabletop roleplaying community needs to invent a new language of communicating about design. Or perhaps we have to ditch the idea of the guidebook as a democratic tool anyone can use, and move to glorify the individual visionaries of each game, be they players or game masters.

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4 thoughts on “Non-Digital: Character is All

  1. Three games that I really like, that approach your goals in different ways:

    Jonathan Walton’s Restless
    Jackson Tegu’s Kaleidoscope
    Ross Cowman’s Fall of Magic

  2. I share your goals. I’m not terribly familiar with the old World of Darkness games, but don’t they share a more or less similar ambition? Admittedly cluttered with unnecessarily gamist mechanics, but still. Since you know this genre very well, perhaps you could elaborate on them vis a vis this observation?

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