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.
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.
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.
In 2018, 25 years after the debut of Magic: The Gathering, Fantasy Flight Games released Keyforge, a game from Magic designer Richard Garfield. Keyforge is a hybrid between a trading card game like Magic and a living card game like Netrunner, which has no trading aspect and includes all the cards needed to play. Keyforge is sold in complete, playable decks, so the card trading and acquisition (and significant financial outlay) aspects are reduced, though not eliminated. In 2020, Fantasy Flight decided the Keyforge setting was strong enough to be the basis for the next setting book for the Genesys RPG. And in June of 2020, my copy of that book, Secrets of the Crucible, showed up on my doorstep. Time to take a look.
I’ve recommended a few Masks: A New Generation actual plays at this point. From the amazing school days of Unlabelled. To the always entertaining and oft-times bizarre Critical Bits. And these stories, for all their hilarity, are no strangers to dark moments. However, today we are going to be talking about an actual play that began as something quite light only to transition to a very real dark side. And did it oh-so-well.
Today, we are going to be talking about Rollout Podcast. In particular, we are going to be talking about their longest running and, in my opinion, the most beautifully painful series: The Young Vanguard.