Calendars in gaming

The beginning of the year also seems like a good time to address calendars and worldbuilding. Does your game setting have a calendar? Do you keep track of time within it?

A calendar can be a really valuable piece of worldbuilding, and a quick way of conveying a good sense of place to players. For example, the current year in my Calteir fantasy setting is 156 SD (Semlaren Dynasty). That instantly communicates several things: that this culture considers dynasties to be pretty important; that the current dynasty is something called Semlaren, so whatever Semlaren is, it’s pretty important; the current dynasty isn’t very long-lived; and this culture doesn’t keep track of history on a wider or absolute scale. The players have continued to keep track of days using this calendar, and at our most recent session, I briefly forgot how many days there are in a month and a player quickly reminded me (28). That tells me that the players are into the setting.

There are lots of other forms of calendar. The Chinese calendar traditionally used a combination of reign dates (auspicious names given to the reigns of particular emperors, sometimes with more than one reign date per emperor) and the Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches system that gave a cycle of 60 years.

Thus, I might tell you something happened in the Xingchou year of the Chang’an reign date of Empress Wu Zetian. If it’s currently the Renzi year of the Ruizong emperor, and you know your calendar, you know that the Xingchou events happened 11 years ago.

This calendar tends to emphasize imperial rule and the cyclical nature of time; again, important aspects of traditional Chinese culture.

Other cultures, naturally, have different ways of keeping track of time, from South Asian kalpas to Lakota winter counts. All can convey different senses of place. Tolkien’s millenia-long ages (3021 years, for the Third Age) convey the sense that someone in the world has a very grand, but not infinite, sense of time. Other forms of time-tracking will convey different values.

The trick, of course, is how to use these in an RPG. Should you even use a calendar in a game? It depends on your game, of course. If it’s a modern, cinematic game, it’s probably enough to say “It’s the beginnging of the year, around January”. Or even leave the time unspecified until it’s dramatically required. As an extreme example, characters in my current occasional Og game can barely tell time at all, much less keep track of months or years. Tracking a calendar there would actively go against the flavor of the game.

Even in a crunchier, more detailed game, calendars aren’t strictly necessary. Would I, for example, ever make my players learn a 60-term cycle and know the reign dates of all recent emperors in order to understand when a historical event happened? Probably not, mostly because it’s too little reward for too much effort. But I might well sprinkle in those kinds of details when giving other information:

“Really? The grand minister was assassinated? When did that happen?”
“Make a History roll. Ah, a success! You know it happened 27 years ago, during the Broken Temple year of the Sironok emperor.”

If and when it’s appropriate, an in-game calendar can be a valuable tool.

Festivals in gaming

Happy New Year! And happy holiday festival of the moment to PCs in any of your game worlds. Festivals can be tremendously useful in RPGs; here are some of the things I’ve found them handy for.

One of the biggest is giving a sense of your worldbuilding without being a blowhard. Festivals communicate cultural values. Little towns in the US, for example, tend to create festivals around local products that they’re especially proud of, and the ways that they celebrate — how important that pie-eating contest is, or deciding who gets to be in the parade — will betray even more about how the culture works, or doesn’t work. And the sights and smells of a festival are a great way to evoke setting. What unusual things do the PCs see? What delicious or repulsive odors are there? All these can give a sense of place, without resorting to expository spew.

In my monthly fantasy game, the PCs recently experienced the Feast of Roshanima, an avatar of a wind god. Roshanima is famous for diving off a cliff when confronted by ravening hordes, and being delivered to safety by a gust of wind. The festival is ostensibly a celebration of the avatar’s power to save people from inclement natural phenomena, and the temple of the wind god was a major focus. But it also made clear a lot of other facets of Morensian culture: ecstatic pilgrims throwing themselves off buildings in imitation of Roshanima; the temple using the festival to make clear how important and magnanimous it is (hinting at deeper politics); the wandering groups of mercenaries used in lieu of town guards; the importance given to providing honey buns for the the crowds (indicating the importance of honey production in this region). Quick, significant insights into the world and how it works.

Festivals are also concentrations of hubbub and activity, drawing in people from far and wide. They’re great for giving a sampling of the diversity present in your setting: groups of rag-clad pilgrims jostling alongside the sedan chairs of the upper classes; asteroid miners, laden with stories about what happens on the Rim, who’d rarely ever come to the domed cities otherwise; groups of GLBT people, perhaps banding together for safety on the bandit-infested roads. Foreigners might be attracted by festivals, and come to meet friends, or to experience the local culture, or to trade — a festival is a great place to have an encounter with a culture or group that the PCs normally wouldn’t encounter.

Crowds can also be great places for RPG action scenes. They present perfect cover for pickpockets to steal the important MacGuffin, or for clandestine meetings to happen in the open. Many movies feature chases through parades (viz: The Fugitive, The Pelican Brief, etc.) because they allow plenty of opportunities for pursuer or pursued to get lost in the crowd. Guards (/police/security-bots/other keepers of the peace) can get overwhelmed, leaving the PCs the only ones around to keep chaos from exploding. If there are fireworks, they can provide an excellent mask for gunshots; the screams of a victim are unlikely to be discerned against a background of drunken revelry.

And speaking of masks, if the festival is Saturnalian, all kinds of unusual events are possible: peasants trade places with queens; bishops pretend to be heretics; everyone stomps on honey-buns instead of eating them; people of all sorts wear costumes and roleplay within the RPG. In a Saturnalian festival, everyone can become the Trickster God for a day.

While I’m at it, here are some encounter possibilities at a festival:

  1. Two merchants are hawking (whatever the standard food for the festival is). They get in a fight over the correct way to prepare the food, and how the wrong preparation method implies heresy.
  2. An ecstatic pilgrim is speaking excitedly to all passerby about their religious truth. In among the babble, they sprinkle in a few interesting tidbits about (whatever the PCs are currently interested in). And then the pilgrim disappears into the tumult.
  3. The noise level is high: ecstatics are exhorting, merchants are hawking, everyone is cavorting. But suddenly, a hush falls over the crowd…
  4. Someone yells “it’s coming!” and the crowd starts to press forward; seek shelter or be crushed.
  5. A roving group of vigilantes is punishing festival-goers for what they believe to be infractions against the common law. The real police are nowhere to be found.
  6. A kind soul is handing out free amulets to whomever will tell a story related to the festival topic. The amulets turn out to be powerful magic tokens of protection against (the antagonist in the previous person’s festival story).
  7. Someone bumps into one of the PCs, and when they check their pockets, they have acquired a very expensive piece of jewelry.
  8. A priest is declaiming the hedonism going on, while the crowd is carrying a paper-mache griffin around. Suddenly, the griffin begins transforming into a real one.
  9. There’s going to be a tug-of-war between the priests and the mercenaries, and the priests have their ace in the hole, Sister Lumary, who’s built like a bear. The mercenaries try to recruit one of the PCs to help out.
  10. For the festival, it’s traditional to write predictions for the coming year on little paper boats, then float them down the river with a candle. Further down the river, someone is collecting the predictions and performing an evil spell on them.
  11. Far away in the crowd, one of the PCs glimpse someone very important from their past.
  12. A group of happy revelers try to include the PCs in their festivities, and will be rather offended if the characters refuse their kindness.

Is Jordan Peele a gamer?

If you haven’t seen it, go watch the “Kanye the Giant” sketch from Key & Peele. It has its problems — it plays into some of the sexist stereotypes in gaming culture, certainly. It gets a few small details wrong (do people say “dungeon master” rather than “DM” in real play?), but those could easily be dramatic license more than misunderstanding.

On the positive side, though, it hits a bunch of deep and funny issues in gaming: players who refuse to respect the GMs’ worldbuilding; GMs who refuse to let their worldbuilding bend to the desires of the players; how the social contract evolves through actual play; how whole sessions can be composed of what happens “in town”. And the use of terminology is mostly dead-on, a sign that either someone has done their homework, or didn’t need to because they already knew it. It’s pretty clear this sketch was created by someone who gets gaming culture quite well.

There are a bunch of other sketches from Key & Peele that show a pretty deep understanding of fannish culture, too. (“Pizza Order” seems to do for comic fandom what Kanye the Giant does for gaming.) A lot of their other sketches contain nods to SF&F fandom, action movies and other nerdy hobbies. So I wonder, is either Keegan-Michael Key or Jordan Peele a gamer? It’s certainly possible that one of their writers is a geek, rather than Key or Peele themselves, but, well, I can hope. And if one of them is, then for no reason I can pin down, my instinct is that it’s Jordan Peele.

Luck point economies: Encouraging liquidity, part II

We’ve discussed random and semi-random ways of awarding luck points. We’ve also discussed luck point sources such as Aspects, Attributes or Traits to keep the flow steady. What other methods are there?

Players in control

How about if the players are in charge of generating their own luck points? In Blade & Crown, for example, you as a player are wholly in charge of deciding whether or not you’ll use your character’s Traits to make their life more adventurous (read: dangerous). The GM and other players can offer you enticements, and suggest ways of approaching situations, but it’s ultimately up to you to get those Traits back.

This can work well. In my experience with this system, I’ve seen players thinking through the roleplaying possibilities, trying to devise ways their character can get into trouble, and it’s great fun. When they ask “Can I get tokens back by using my Trait of Gregarious to talk with those guards, even though I should be sneaking past them?” — well, that’s exactly how Traits are supposed to work.

This system, too, has problems. I’ve seen players forget that they can get tokens back through Trait use (despite frequent reminders!). And it can be tricky when the GM and player disagree about how adventurous a Trait use is. “Telling the truth about how awesome I am is totally a good use of my Honest Trait!” — that kind of thing.

A major solution for luck point liquidity, seized on by lots of GMs, is to allow players to award luck points to each other. Put a bowl of tokens in the middle of the table, remind players that they can award each other and get back to other GM duties. In theory, this can work great; it’s handing off narrative control to the players, after all, and players often have much less to remember than the GM.

As is becoming rapidly apparent, however, no solution is perfect. What if the players can’t remember everyone else’s luck point sources? (After all, if the GM can’t remember 50 luck point sources, how can anyone else?) What if one person is really good at remembering to hand out luck point awards and no one else is? That person can begin to feel like their generosity is being met with silence.

One method I’d like to try, but haven’t had the opportunity: give each player a small number of luck points that they must distribute to their fellow players before the end of the session. (Perhaps using color-coded tokens, so players can remember who a given luck point comes from.) This could help make sure that everyone is on the lookout for nifty things each other is doing, and handing out rewards accordingly. But I can foresee problems with this method, too: players giving out tokens when another character needs rescuing, rather than when they’ve done something neat; giving out all your tokens in the first hour, then feeling like you can’t reward your fellow players for the remainder of the session; disagreements about just what constitutes “awesome” behavior. So while it’s an experiment I’d like to try, I’ll go into the experiment cognizant that it is no cure-all.

The social contract

There’s one major way of increasing luck point liquidity that I haven’t examined yet, though I’ve hinted at it. It’s the social contract.

In Blade & Crown, one thing I’ve noticed that helps the players ask for their Trait tokens back is having a formal way to do so. If we first formally establish the phrase “I’d like to get tokens for doing X because it’s a negative use of my Y Trait” as the way to ask for tokens back, the players know they can make it clear to the GM what they’re asking for, and that the GM needs to give a clear response.

This can all be for nought, however, if it’s unclear to the players that a) they’re allowed to make these requests or b) the phrasing itself is unclear. If someone says “That was awesome!” but there’s no group agreement that “awesome!” deserves a luck point, it may be unclear if they were just making an observation or actually requesting a luck point. If there’s no agreement on just how amazing something has to be before it deserves a luck point, the award system may seem capricious or imbalanced.

It’s also difficult when there are wider social sanctions against asking for what you want. Here in the Midwest of the US, people like to say that they are direct, but to actually say “I did something cool, and I deserve a luck point!” is seen as self-aggrandizing and greedy. It’s also thorny when combined with social sanctions against women (and other groups) saying what we want in direct, explicit ways. Some groups can overcome these wider social expectation, but (at least in my experience) it’s difficult and rare. More often, a player who declares their own awesomeness will slowly build up a reputation as a selfish jerk, even if they’re enriching the game by doing amazing things.

These are all aspects of the social contract, a topic that I think we gamers don’t talk about enough (and about which I’ll certainly say more later). Another aspect of the social contract is making it clear what out-of-game behaviors deserve luck points and what don’t. If a player makes cookies for the group one session and gets no luck points for it, but someone else brings chips and gets a luck point, then it’s likely become unclear to all concerned what behaviors are sanctioned for, what are sanctioned against. If a player keeps working witty Monty Python references into the conversation, is that something to be reinforced, or something to be chastised? It helps all of us have better gaming if we can address these kinds of questions in forthright, reasoned discussion.

In sum

What has all this taught me? What seems to encourage a liquid luck point economy?

  1. A manageable number of luck point sources
  2. Empowering players to distribute luck points
  3. Rigorous mechanical requirements that luck points be distributed
  4. Formal ways for players to ask for luck points
  5. Making the social contract clear to all concerned

As I said before, none of these methods is perfect, but together, and well-executed, they can create a pretty good flow of luck points.

Are there methods or combinations I’ve missed? (Must be.) What have you seen work even better? Let me know in the comments.

Luck point economies: Encouraging liquidity, part I

I discussed earlier how much a luck (/fate/hero/plot/benny) point system can resemble a monetary economy. The recent downturn has a valuable lesson for RPG luck point economies: it doesn’t matter how much money is in the economy, if it all just stays put in one sector.

I’ve been in a fair number of games with luck points where the GM seemed to have all the tokens, and the players had few or none. The players end up clutching their luck points through hours of gameplay, trying to decide whether this moment is the game-changing moment that will finally justify use of their incredibly precious luck point. And then they finally use it, and it doesn’t really change anything, and the result of all this tension is just… disappointment. The players learn that either luck points are more precious than anything, and therefore not worth using, or incredibly pointless, and therefore not worth striving for. Luck points end up a zero or negative effect on the game, and everyone is poorer for it.

As the recent downturn has shown us, money only helps everyone prosper if it circulates freely. In RPG terms, that means that luck points need to be exchanged frequently from GM to players and back again. How to achieve that?

GMs, just do “your job”?

The biggest remedy is, of course, for the GM to make an effort to give out luck points. In the real-world economy, the US treasury can’t just print a billion dollars in bills and then plunk them all in a safe, or (equally as bad) give them to banks who in turn just plunk them in a safe. In most games, the GM is the primary source of luck points; thus, it’s the GM’s responsibility to make sure that luck points are flowing freely. So ideally, the GM should be giving luck points out for cool ideas, nifty quips, amazing stunts, great roleplaying and everything else that luck points reward.

This is easier said than done, however. The GM has a lot to keep track of even without having to track who’s done something worthy of a luck point, and it can be very easy in the heat of the moment to forget that someone’s amazing quip or stunt deserves a reward. Adding one more responsibility to the GM’s load (usually heavy in even the lightest games) may even make the GM resent the need to distribute luck points, and thus shrink from it even more.

The Fate system has a particular problem with this, I think. In default Fate, every character has 10 aspects, all of which can give them Fate points when used, and all of which the GM can compel to reward the player with Fate points. It might seem like this is a good idea: more ways to reward points and more ways to use them should make the exchange flow more easily, right?

But in actual play, having 10 aspects means the GM has that many more things to track. Rather than increasing the amount of luck points flowing through the economy, it’s more like having multiple denominations of currency that everyone has to track. “Have you got change for a $π bill?” If there are five players, the GM effectively has to keep track of 50 (!) different possible compels going on to keep the Fate points flowing. All too often, in Fate games I’ve been in, the GM simply forgets most of the aspects and the players become shy about spending their Fate points because they know they may not get them back. And this is true for all the GMs I’ve played Fate with, not any particular one.

Reduce sources of luck points

A lot of games have learned from the Fate experience and kept their luck point sources in the range of 3 to 5. Jeremy Keller’s Chronica Feudalis, for example, gives each character three Aspects to start; the Riddle of Steel starts characters with five Spiritual Attributes. My Blade & Crown keeps the Traits to four per character. All these games work differently, of course, but Aspects, Spiritual Attributes and Traits are where characters’ luck points (or near equivalent) come from in these systems. If the sources of luck points stay within a manageable range, they’re more likely to get used.

Even then, though, it can be tricky for the GM to keep track of everyone’s luck point sources. Cutting the number of luck point sources from 50 to 15~25 makes it easier to remember, but perhaps still not easy. More manageable, yes, but still not perfect.

How else to keep the flow of luck points steady? It can also be good to have a mechanical requirement that they flow — something where the rules directly cause luck points to get exchanged. Heirs to the Lost World does this; when a character tries a Stunt and gets a very good result, they receive Heirs’ equivalent of a luck point. This directly encourages players to try to do outlandish acts of derring-do, because stunts are the primary way of getting luck points. This makes it really clear what the game is about and helps set the mood very well. James Bond 007 does a similar thing, where luck points are awarded for rolling high-level successes on skill checks. Roll a critical success, get a luck point; easy to remember.

Even here there are problems, though. If luck points are awarded when the player rolls really well, as they are in Heirs or James Bond 007, it feels like the award of luck points is out of the player’s hands — like it just amounts to luck. And because luck points help make a character feel, well, luckier, it can feel like a vicious circle: roll poorly, lose luck points, stay unlucky. Heirs to the Lost World alleviates this to a good degree: by allowing players to come up with stunts, it feels less random. But if you have a bad string of rolls, it’s still possible to feel like your entertaining efforts are receiving insufficient reward.

Automatic luck points?

Is it possible to have a strict, non-random, mechanical way of awarding luck points? One example I know: In Fantasy Craft, you receive a set number of Action Dice (the game’s equivalent of luck points) per session. The luck points aren’t really rewarding any particular kind of player behavior — they’re just there, automatically.

How, then, do the luck points reward good contributions? How do players get additional Action Dice in Fantasy Craft for doing cool things? Here’s the game’s advice to GMs:

Everyone starts with a small pool of them but it’s your job to keep them flowing. Any time you’re impressed with a player or PC’s behavior or performance at the table, you can award the player a bonus action die and gain one for yourself.
Fantasy Craft, p. 365

(GMs in Fantasy Craft also get Action Dice.) The game then says that GMs will evolve their own criteria for awarding action dice, but gives some specific ideas.

So, even though there’s an automatic, non-random way of getting luck points in Fantasy Craft, the primary method — and the method that rewards players for doing cool stuff — still seems to comes down to GM fiat. And that still means the GM might forget to award them on a frequent-enough basis; the strong language used by Fantasy Craft (“it’s your job”) implies the importance, but also difficulty, of keeping the luck point economy flowing. Are there other strict, non-random, mechanical ways of getting luck points? Let me know if you’ve seen any!

And what other methods are there of keeping the luck point economy flowing? More in Part II.

Gaming tools: My gaming bag

Image of my gaming bag

Dozens of pounds, hundreds of uses

Whenever I GM, and fairly often when I don’t, I lug this thing with me. It’s a gym bag, Oleg Cassini I think, that I acquired for free somewhere along the line. It’s just about the right size. It usually contains:

  • My big three-ring binder with campaign and adventure notes
  • Three trays of miniatures
  • A plastic bag of pencils, wet-erase markers, combat markers and paperclips
  • Several copies of my game rules
  • A battlemap and other, laminated maps for my campaign
  • An accordion file of miscellaneous papers and cards
  • Occasional inspirational books, images, etc.

I plan to detail each of those items more later on, but this post is focusing on the bag as a whole.

It’s really nice to have all my GMing materials in one place. If combat breaks out and we decide to use a map, it’s good to have all those supplies at the ready. If someone wants to see the town they’re in, I pull out the laminated map; no squinting at tiny type in a book or on a screen. And for cons, it’s great to gradually accumulate materials in the bag — “ah, I need a map of the bandit caves! I’ll add that to the bag next” — and it’s great to have everything in one place, prepped and ready to go.

With all that stuff in it, the bag almost weighs more than I can comfortably carry. Heading to the monthly group (where I exclusively GM), I often have to slip a Subway sandwich under the carrying handles to have any way to carry it. When I bring my netbook and its accessories in addition (as I always do, these days), the load gets pretty cumbersome.

I’ve thought about what I could comfortably remove from the gaming bag. Minis? I don’t use them all that often, but when I need them, I need them. Extra copies of the rules? I could probably take out one copy, and in fact I think I will; the players usually only want one reference copy from me, and one player brings his own copy. But even removing one book wouldn’t lighten the load that much.

The thing that weighs the most is the three-ring binder. It’s got tons of notes, ideas, sketches, lists and references. Most of that stuff is contained in my netbook’s wiki, so I rarely even open the binder up. But again, when I need it, I need it.

Do I use everything in my gaming bag? No. Not every time, certainly. In the weekly group, when I’ve occasionally GMed Og of late, all I need is a copy of the rules and a few index cards. But when I’m GMing Blade & Crown, with all the complexity happening there, the contents of my gaming bag come in handy more often than you might think. The gaming bag’s purpose isn’t to get used every time; it’s more about being prepared for anything.

Spam & comments

Even though this is a very new blog, it’s already gotten quite a bit of spam in the comments. Some have been really clever, to the point where it’s hard to tell if they’re machine-generated or not. For this reason, I’ve put in place anti-spamming software. If you’re having trouble commenting (comments not showing up, etc.), please email me and I’ll look into it.

What’s the ideal session length?

This is a question that I think about perhaps too often: what is the ideal session length?

I’ve played in groups where we met for an entire day, I’ve played in groups where we met for an entire night, and I’m currently in two groups, one where we meet about once a month for about four hours each time, and another where we meet once a week for about two and a half hours.

Long sessions used to appeal to me, a lot. Especially in college, when most of my players were also my housemates, it was easy to start a game whenever and keep playing til whenever. College was a time when gaming was relatively easy to come by. In fact, I still have fond memories of how we’d often start designing cars for Car Wars around midnight, actually start playing around 2am and not get done until dawn. No drinking binges for me, but late-night gaming was free and easy.

After college, it became harder to find gaming. During the brief time I had an RPG group in Taiwan, we tended towards starting late and playing very long, but that only lasted a few months. Since college, sessions have tended to be much shorter. Since the turn of the century, I’ve been in two groups that met for longer than six hours at a stretch, but they both collapsed within a few months, partially because the sessions were too long.

Is it that people I game with are older? People’s priorities certainly change as they get older. House repairs, mowing the lawn, taking care of children, etc. were all things that we didn’t have to worry about so much during college. Schedule conflicts seem much more common now that my gaming friends are older.

But it’s not just about getting older. In addition, I think modern life has just stretched everyone thinner, regardless of age, such that none of us have as much time (or perhaps attention) for any one activity as we used to. I think that’s a big reason why boardgames are so much more popular than RPGs now: people want games that can begin and have closure, all within a few hours. Many boardgamers I know don’t even like long boardgames, which usually seems to mean anything longer than an hour!

So nowadays, gaming sessions tend to be much shorter. My weekly group meets for maybe three hours a week, and the monthly group tends to meet for about four hours each time, and that’s the vast majority of my gaming. There are exceptions, though: I go to at least a couple cons a year where it’s all about jamming as much gaming as possible into a weekend. But even there, it seems like a lot of people are trying to game as long and hard as they can in one weekend because it’s the most they’ll get all year — maybe even the only gaming they’ll get all year.

If I had my druthers, I’d probably still have those long, languid gaming sessions once a month, where we all meet in the afternoon, play until evening, take a break to have dinner, then continue playing until late in the night. I don’t know if my schedule could handle more than that, but it’d be nice.

The gaming I get now is very enjoyable, though. The sessions may take more planning and (perhaps) have less total duration per month than they used to, but the play is also more informed, more intentional and, really, more fun.

That’s all my impression of it — what about you? How often do you game now, vs. when you were younger? (Assuming you gamed when you were younger — perhaps a bad assumption?) Do you find the time is higher in quality now, if not higher in quantity? I’m curious if your experience matches mine.

A small manifesto

Roleplaying is like improv, but better; it’s like a children’s game of make believe, but better; it’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, but better. There are many things that roleplaying games resemble, but RPGs are different from all of them. When a group plays an RPG, they use a set of rules to guide the story, and to tell them what’s possible and what’s plausible, but the story that emerges belongs solely to the group who weaves it — the story is not determined before the group come together to collaborate, nor is the story determined by the rules. The people in the group describe their characters’ actions, and the game master conjures up the world that they explore. Unlike improv, there is no audience other than the people playing the game; unlike make-believe, there are rules that clarify what works and what doesn’t. And unlike any pre-written novel, computer game or even boardgame, the nuances and possibilities are endless.

RPGs are a unique artform. There really isn’t any other form of art where a group of people get together to spin a story, for their own enjoyment, while they are creating it. Theatrical improv gets close, especially when the audience is invited onstage and given opportunities to make suggestions, but even then, there’s a performer-audience duality going on that isn’t present in RPGs. Novels can offer the complexity of RPGs, but not the unpredictability or interactivity; boardgames give unpredictability without the fine-grained infinities of possibility that RPGs give.

Roleplaying games create art that is meant to be enjoyed while it is being created, by the people creating it. Roleplaying games eliminate the border between author and audience; roleplaying games eliminate the border between creation and appreciation. Roleplaying games are one of the most transgressive forms of art that exist.

These facts have all kinds of implications for how RPGs work, from use of music in gaming, to how genre emulation works and doesn’t work, to how we enjoy or don’t enjoy other people’s gaming stories. As with so many topics, I will explore these more in future posts.