We all know the series. The one with the boy who had a scar upon his forehead. The great tale of a chosen one and their band of friends going off to challenge the far too powerful evil and bring them to reckoning. It’s a story that spawned millions of fanfictions and fanart. Millions more in profits off spin-offs and merchandise. Oh! It’s also responsible for slingshotting a violent and disgusting transphobe to having her hateful opinions validated and listened to by wide audiences and those in power.
Yes, the Harry Potter series cannot be detached from the many actions of harm done by its creator. Death of the Author is an act of cowardice when used to simply continue liking something without ever fearing being criticized for it. There’s also the fact the books themselves are far from free of her problematic ideals. Be it the depictions of Goblins and the valid issues the Jewish community brought up in how they are portrayed in relation to harmful stereotypes of them. The oppression tourism and mishandling of the topic of slavery with relation to house elves. And many, MANY more that could fill up the brim of this article.
All in all, JK Rowling is not someone anyone should try to emulate. But that leaves the question of what should be done with the books that had such an impact on so many throughout the world. Harry Potter is something we can’t simply do away with. People will have the idea of it, of how it can be done better, on their mind quite often. So, what do we do?
Well, I don’t have the answer. I’m not a smart or genius woman. The fact I just used two words that mean the same thing separately should show that. But when it comes to RPGs, we may have the answer for how to quell that Harry Potter craving without having to whip up your own homebrew. And most importantly, how you can do it better than that shoddy TERF ever could.
Space…the final frontier. The mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no-wait, I am being informed that we are talking about the wrong Star Noun here!
Joking aside, I am a firm believer that the Star Wars Universe has a vast potential to tell stories of different genres. The original Star Wars was born out of a desire to make an updated retelling the serials of the 1930’s and 40’s, of which there was a slew of westerns, swashbucklers, even noir mysteries, but probably one of the most famous update of these serials was another George Lucas project, the other trilogy that he is famous for, the most famous Action Archaeologist, Indiana Jones. As it so happens, Star Wars is absolutely chock full of single biome planets, abandoned temples, strange creatures, hostile natives and an ever present lingering group of fascists looming over the horizon. On top of that, there is the Unknown Regions, a vast regions of space that are uncharted on the hyperlanes. All of the tools for stories about exploration and colonization, and offers the chance to look hard the effects of those on the planets you visit. This cocktail actually is a great mix to harken back to Gentleman Adventurer tropes of Alan Quartermain, Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in 80 Days and Herge’s Tintin, but perhaps with an extra hundred years of hindsight to explore some of the ramifications of that your characters are doing. One eye on the past, and one eye on the future? That sounds like an excellent mix for exploring the great beyond!
Some RPGs are demanding. While you can’t homebrew D&D into anything, it is still flexible and doesn’t demand that you play it a specific way. Some games do. There is no end of teeth-gnashing about this; for some reason people take more issue with RPGs having set procedures than, say, board games. But, as the entire indie RPG community knows very well, making a game for a specific purpose and experience often nets you a better version of that experience than trying to simulate it with a ruleset designed with breadth in mind. I’ve been having some revelatory experiences with such a targeted game recently; I will say though that when I say “targeted game” and “specific experience”, most are imagining a zine, something small, not a 600 page hardback with red and gold filigree. Yeah, I’m talking about Burning Wheel.
Tabletop RPGs are not realistic, and this is a good thing. On one extreme we don’t really want to simulate the hygiene of our fantasy worlds, and on the other we don’t really want to play Apartment: The Playstationing. What RPGs should and do have, though, is verisimilitude. Verisimilitude is the appearance of being real, and in RPGs this means that the characters exist in a world which behaves in a way the players expect. One place where games fall down in this respect is in having a world that changes around the characters, one that might even be responsive to their actions. That is why I’m returning to my old stomping ground, the field of economics.
I miss the old days. Don’t misunderstand what I am saying. Things are better now, without a doubt. The Empire took everything from us that made us who we are. It ripped apart our most sacred monuments, it dismantled every part of our government that we prided ourselves in. It took our children away to be “reeducated”, they even took the spirit of the land itself away from us. But while they were directly in front of our faces, we hated them with unfettered ferocity. Before, in our old lives, you would have had a scion of a rival family that you would have been obligated to feud with for tradition’s sake. Now, they were in the work camp right next to you, swinging the same pickaxe. At the end of the day you both were literally too tired to care. The Arbiter saw that and knew what he could do with it. We were able to unite, to ignore generations of contempt for each other because our contempt for the Empire was so much greater. After bitter struggle we have at least some measure of ourselves back, but we bear scars: monuments defiled, power structures crippled, refugees who barely remember their old lives pouring back. Even the magic of the land itself has begun to forget us. But as those things are far from normal, our old rivalries have begun anew as every old faction, necessary in our struggle, now wants their voice heard. While we’re Free from the Yoke, we risk forgetting a grave truth: the Empire is still out there. It has not forgotten.
The Galactic Empire brings safety, security, prosperity, and progress to every planet that welcomes its care . . . or so the story goes, anyways. On one Outer Rim world, at first that all seemed true: oppressive nobles were overthrown, social mobility increased, and industry flourished. However, in the mines and the ‘reeducation’ camps the truth of Imperial rule can be found for those brave and/or unfortunate enough to uncover it. The Rebellion fights here despite the Empire’s good publicity, but what path will the different cells take to freedom? How will new additions to the base upset the balance? Check your power packs and calibrate your blaster’s sights, we’re joining up with the rebels of Jumar Base!
Dungeons and Dragons is the 800 pound gorilla of the role-playing game world. For what is arguably such a small slice of the space (swords and sorcery fantasy), D&D is utterly dominant, commanding a plurality of the hobby’s mind and market share (and that’s a majority if you count all games which are direct derivatives, like Pathfinder and many OSR games). For this reason, when someone lists “overtake D&D” as one of their design goals, even if it’s just part of a Twitter thread, your ears perk up. Indeed, TC Sottek did post those words, in that order, on Twitter. But people are listening. TC Sottek is the designer of Quest.
Every creative endeavor has a ‘how’ and a ‘why’. Even if you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it, your project will have something you’re trying to do or say, and then a method by which you do or say it. A couple weeks ago, I meditated on the prevalence and necessity of advancement in RPGs, coming to the conclusion that advancement as a story concept in games is a truism, a trope, and not necessarily a requirement. That article provided me with a ‘why’; today we’re going to talk about one potential ‘how’.
Welcome back to Kickstarter Wonk! As we enter into July, the world shows no sign of getting less interesting…and I mean that in the proverbial curse sort of way. Still, though, there are Kickstarters being launched and games being funded! Like before, we’ll take a look at a reduced list of Kickstarter campaigns, and hopefully add some valuable flavor to the discussion. Remember that with everything going in the world, often creators need the support to continue creating, so if you have the means, look for ways to help the creators that enrich your life, whether it’s through Kickstarter, itch.io, DriveThruRPG, Patreon, or one of the other platforms out there.
How much of a meme is RPG advancement? It’s so much of a meme that it’s right there in my pseudonym. Levels, experience points, and the various versions of same filtered through the ‘TSR don’t sue me’ lens have been considered inseparable from the notion of a tabletop RPG pretty much since D&D sold actual copies. The notion of awarding experience points (or XP) has become so ingrained in the concept of an RPG that tack-on advancement mechanics are *the* thing added to video games to give them “RPG elements”. The reason why this is the borrowed element is fairly clear: experience points have always been and continue to be an elegant mechanic to turn a game into a Skinner Box, to get us to keep pushing the lever in modern video games with perhaps repetitive mechanics. So why do they continue to be a mainstay of tabletop RPGs, where there should be more going on than just watching numbers go up? Well, read on.