Thursday, December 9, 2010

More Than a Game: An RPG Manifesto

When I dig through my files and piles of old gaming material the things that tickle me and bring a smile to my face are the hand-made maps and character drawings, painted mini figs, verbose letters from one villain to another, distressed and singed to be more "scroll-like".

Avid players of roleplaying games understand much of the appeal of the game is that it is wondrous and creative on many levels. The tactile joys of rolling dice and pushing miniatures around, the theater of stories both epic and ignoble (which never turn out quite the way the DM envisioned!), and the friendships we develop all contribute to the tabletop experience. There are books of new rules, plastic miniatures, dungeon tiles, and computer programs (all great stuff!), begging to stimulate our minds, but it is when I think of the objects players produce I am inspired by the RPGs I have played and run. Here's to the arts and crafts of D&D!

The best thing about tabletop gaming, which it shares with war-gaming, but most emphatically does not share with video games, is the spontaneous outpouring of creativity that goes along with every session of a game. At the very least we have the clumsy theater of role playing our characters and trying to make sense an imaginary world, but those golden the evenings end with someone having drawn a map, another promising to write out the glib limerick that struck the villain dumb, and a third convinced to paint his own mini fig for next week. These are not great works of art, often barely competent, but that is not the point, and no one cares about quality. We are not creating in order to be judged, but for the purest of reasons, spontaneous expression of joy and fascination, a gesture toward the collective fantasia.

The Arts and Crafts of tabletop are anachronistic, but they are inevitable in the process of playing, and they are what makes the hobby more than a game. There are dozens of products out there, pdfs, pre-painted minis, adventure modules that might be a higher quality than what we do ourselves, but we are roleplaying express our own imaginations and so there's still nothing quite so charming as our own imperfect products of our collective imaginations.

To those who may read this: What are some of your favorite ephemera from playing rpgs?
Here's one of mine: