Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The Rule of Cool (for be67): Changing the Game outside the Rules?

We are meeting regularly right now to play-test The Rise of Robo-Hitler (which is tons of fun , just so you know), and something came up during play a couple of sessions ago, that should be in the rules as well: the Rule of Cool, or, in other words, a 'soft rule' to inject some grindhouse-awesomeness. Turns out, people have been doing this for decades now (shocker!). Still worth looking into, still what I'm writing about today. Lets take a look.

The Rule of Cool in other Media

So the (mostly?) great wiki TV Tropes defines The Rule of Cool as follows (find the whole entry here):

The limit of the Willing Suspension of Disbelief for a given element is directly proportional to its awesomeness.

Another great (and short!) way to put it, is 'rad herring' (see whole entry linked above). I like that a lot ...

Either way, we almost already have an idea what that means or what that might look like. It's when you lol in cinema, it's when a director or writer go out of their way to (consciously or not) visualise something absurd with glee, with a wink to the audience (when done well, even with a nod to the audience).

You know it ... [source]
I love the Expendables franchise for shit like this. Anime is having fun with this, like, ALL THE TIME, generating memes like crazy. The Rule of Cool is adding lots of spice to pop-culture and nerd-dome and we love having those moments in our games (me and my players do so definitely, but I assume this to be generally true?). 

That said, for this being relevant in gaming, it is important to realize that while we certainly applaud what's cool when we are surprised by it on the screen (or in the game or on the page ...), it is always the creator's intention to test the boundaries of the Suspension of Disbelief for that specific effect (successfully or not, even consciously or not!). Moments like this need a stage and preparation AND perfect execution (through several instances, if we are talking film).

Let's take a look at how to manufacture that in general.

So, artificial spontanity, or what?

We should start by comparing the techniques used to evoke The Rule of Cool with jokes, as those two actually seem to use some of the same mechanisms. Working towards a joke needs a lot of things that are relevant for gaming as well. There is precision and focus to it, as well as deception, it needs to establish a scenario that makes a sleight of hand (the punchline) possible. If you ever listened to comedians talking about their craft, you quickly get an idea how much work it is to get a presentable result. That includes, incidentally, enough practise to have the jokes come naturally.

If they are any good craftsmen (talented or not), they come extremely prepared to appear spontaneous. If they are brillant, they bridge the set pieces with improvisation according to the live feedback they receive on stage with ease. Which is, or so I have heard, the reason why sets presented without an audience don't work that well ...

And those things matter, because they show that those moments are orchestrated as well as tapping into the immediate moment of the presentation. You set the tone, but the tact will differ from audience to audience, and while a movie just has to assume that the attempt will work in general, good immediate crowd work allows for a different kind of setup and direct manipulation. As you'd have a good DM do in a game. Come prepared, work yourself towards the best delivery of your highlights you can manage under the circumstances.

So it takes more than some good ideas to surprise an audience into laughter or to get them engaged enough to integrate something strange into their suspense of disbelief just because it's cool. That sleight of hand, that surprise attack needs you to tap into something deeper hidden in our ways to communicate than mere originality (as execution can kill almost all good attempts at something like this, as you'll be well aware if you DM regularly).

This is just ... epic?! [source]
In a way, it actually needs to be spontaneous to have a lasting effect. I know there are games out there that evoke this with either fancy art or some stylish set of abilities/items/feats/what-have-you that will create "cool" moments in the game. However, this is limited to using the rules as part of the game and not necessarily related to actually playing, if you get my drift.

Ideally, the game should inspire players to create awesome moments and offer spaces for that as well, one would think. While artwork and templates can go a long way, it's having that room to allow for the players to come up with it on the fly during the game that really transports The Rule of Cool from the rule-book to the table.

So, how would one codify something like this into a rule book, one might ask.

Soft rules versus hard rules ...

Here's a good rule of thumb: the setting formulates the soft rules of any role-playing game. Social norms, physical/magical/technological/other anomalities, laws, all those things often help navigating characters through a gaming world without immediate involvement of the rules.

To communicate this, genre forms easy markers that allow translation of ideas and concepts between the participants of a game (offering hints, like, for instance: "Imagine Japan in the Edo period, but in Space!", or something like that). To some degree it allows players to make conclusions about a setting without actually knowing it very well. If the stage is set like that, the set-pieces of a setting will accumulate over time and allow for a unique "feel" of a setting.

Again, art can go a long way here to establish a base-line, but it's language you'll need to elevate all of that into something that can produce peaks of "cool". It also usually needs the build-up during a session to really come to fruition, so consecutive time is one aspect to consider here.

Sometimes a gif is more than 1000 words ... [source]

What's more, it's usually not the DM that should evoke The Rule of Cool in a game, it's the player. Actually, DMs going for The Rule of Cool will most likely have him lose credibility if they do so, unless it is not only very cool but also very beneficial for the players. The Rule of Cool is, in a sense, about subversion as much as it is about being impressive. The DM can barely act in that realm without seeming like a show-off*.

"Gaming the system" actually has a long and celebrated tradition in role-playing games. If you need any examples, look at creative uses of D&D/AD&D spells or for stories where the "soft rules" a DM offered where successfully used in-game to circumvent the "hard rules" (that's mainly the DM allowing access to some powerful tool or circumstance the players are bound to abuse as much as possible ... without the DM participating it beforehand).

Knowing this gives gives a skilled DM an opportunity to open the game into the meta-game. Because willfully done, leaving (or even provoking!) those (say) windows of opportunity for the players to exploit can actually help evoking certain genres. In a way, you play the players for them to "game the system" as part of what would actually be expected. HackMaster 4E excelled at integrating that kind of thinking into AD&D, imo**.


You'll never know for sure ... [source]

I think the above describes all the pieces we need to come to an understanding what The Rule of Cool can be in be67 - A Game of Extraordinary Splatter ...

The Rule of Cool in be67 (D&D goes Grindhouse)

The rules we play with are an extension to your Basic D&D rule-set. As such, people will lose limbs and gain extra xp for extra carnage. It's a bloody mess, literally. And comically excessive, of course.

The characters are quotes of the classic tropes the sploitation genre can offer. The Veteran, doing one last favor for the president, the convict doing something dirty to get his freedom, the spy doing James Bond things ... but they also experience great bodily harm.

Since all this happens in the pseudo-reality that is Grindhouse movie features, D&D magic is replaced by movie logic: The Rule of Cool! While D&D might offer a spell or miracle to recreate a lost limb, The Rule of Cool allows for a montage where a crazy scientist builds a new arm for the character (although with a twist, of course!). Or (as it happened in our game) the player gets to have a machine gun for an arm. Or mutants help a character to grow a new limb ... but it's a tentacle!

That's one way. Another twist in the rules is that characters do damage according to categories instead of weapons. If a player wants to, their fists are as deadly as a machine gun or they are able to do as much damage with a spoon as they would with a sword ... Again, movie logic helps explaining it. The result is that players can summon The Rule of Cool to do some very creative damage.

The Rule of Cool, for sure! [source]

In a sense, the soft rule here is more of a mind-set. Players can do what they want within the setting (if it makes sense at all, that is), but it comes with a disadvantage that matches the benefits while not really altering the "hard" rules.

The hard rules accomodate this to some extend, the rest is provided by a setting that might have a werewolf fraternity doing the dirty work for some corporate lizard people by fighting some eco-witches while the characters move between the lines to save some spirit of the forest (or something like that ... I'd add some possessed lumberjacks and laser guns). It's wild so the character can be as well.

It all seems so obvious now ...

 ... has it been done before? I haven't seen something like this written down in a role-playing game yet ... but it is implied, for sure. As a matter of fact, many lite-rules systems completely seem to rely on something like a "rule of cool" to compensate for the lack of rules. "Movie logic" seems to be replaced by "rpg logic" that way. No judgement, just an observation. A good DM with some creative players can definitely make that work (although not for any kind of long-term campaigning, I presume).

Anyway, it's not necessarily a big leap in innovative game design, but I thought it might offer some interesting perspectives on something every rpg-player might have experienced one way or another, why that might be, and how I aim to exploit this for the supplement I'm working on.

If you have seen other games implementing something like this, I'd be happy to hear about it! Always interesting to see how other designers handled aspects of the game like that.

I'd also love to hear stories where you guys made The Rule of Cool apply. I'm sure there are thousands of stories like this out there.

------------

In other news, I managed to publish a cyberpunk role-playing game and you can check out a free preview of the book right here (or go and buy it here).

If you need convincing, maybe this post will get you there. If you already checked it out, please know that I appreciate you :) It'll certainly help to keep the lights in here ...

 



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* Irritatingly so, content creators have found ways to provide DMs a good excuse to evoke The Rule of Cool by offering "artsy" and "edgy" content for them to recite instead of having them create content themselves, furthering that one way of playing role-playing games that reduces the DM to a form of entertainer (not to say "clown") by becoming the mouth-piece of the author.

** You want to know my opinion why? Read this.


Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Adventures in PoD publishing

Getting a book published in the OneBookShelf family of sites (drivethrurpg et al.) is relatively easy, all things considered. Style Sheets, guides and all the data one can think of are readily available and the team is quite fast and capable as well (not a sponsor, I'm just happy with them ...). When it gets down to the nitty-gritty (interesting little sidetrack on those words, btw) it can still get tricky. Especially if you have strange ideas like going Print on Demand only, like yours truly did. So here I write about my failings for you to avoid in the future (or something like this).

Why only PoD, though?

It needs a justification, of sorts. I think (and people asked, so there's that). Short answer: this was layouted with print in mind, so that's what you get. Claiming that there isn't much of a difference between a print book and a pdf shows a lack of understanding of both forms of media, imo. A proper book will make less sense as a pdf and vice versa.

Arguably, they should be two very different entities, considering how differently they will be used. Print will need a format that is limited by what a reader can handle, digital is limited by the device it is read on. Print needs a very different structure for the information it present than digital does (print references pages, for instance, digital might have searchable terms, and so on). Print is an object with a certain usability, look and habtic, pdf can be a living document with lots of possibilities to change and expand, actually - unless you try acting like it's a "printed book" ... I guess you see my trajectory at this point.

Epubs actually already show what's possible, or at least a direction. Text isn't ficxed to pages, but conforms to the display instead. Font size can be adjusted, you can have comments written into the book, there is a metastructure to access different information clusters. But Epubs aren't "objects". They are an arrangement of files and it's difficult for such a format to be anything other than a collection of information. No art, no layout, just interconnected words. However, that's not only totally alright, it's an important distinction.

Now, when we are talking novels or stories in general, plain text is all you get, so going Epub is perfect if you are going for content alone. With a good reader it's almost like reading a proper book. But we all know that there is a difference. Even at that basic level a printed book can be far superior to the same content presented in an e-reader (or, worse yet, on a computer screen). With a little care put into layout, paper and cover, reading can be a joy unmatched by the digital experience.

To have a rpg book like that, right? [source]

To some degree this is taste, but there are so many options a printed book has that are superiour to what digital can do right now, that taste really doesn't cut it as an argument. And as far as I'm aware, people are still buying far more printed books than digital ones. Significantly more (check the US market alone (here at statista): 675m printed versus 191m epub!).

Furthermore, print is not only its own thing, it's also an object you own and to do with whatever you want. It's not in a cloud that might go kaputt or be corrupted or change ownership, it's protected from being altered by anybody other than the owner after the fact (even the author, but also big corp or politics), you can borrow it to others, you can read it again 20 years later, actually, your children might be able to read the book after you are long gone ...

Printed books are objects that can have character. We have in our library the version of Goethe's Faust I my wife's grandfather had with him during the war. I own several different prints of the Tao Te Ching, same content but with nuances that make each publication unique and worthwhile. You just don't have that with digital files.

Life goals ... [source]

And that's just as classic an argument as you can get in this regard. Today it's even more distinct. In a society that tries to tell you that you don't have to own anything other than (maybe) the rights to use something (and even that limited to time or number of users or format), owning a printed book is a form of autonomy that gets more and more threatened by big businesses that really don't want you to have any form of agency at all. 

This trend is already so imminent in the digital sphere that people actually start going back to buying DVDs/Blue-Rays and games and all that as hard copies, just to be left alone at home (while streaming services are trying to have your living room scanned for the number of viewers and bullshit like that, I kid you not). Google listens to everything and not only reads your mail, but also offers to correct it for political correctness, facebook films your face to see what mood you are in and sells that information to advertisers, game companies want you to pay for every minute you play and some extra for good measure.

There's also a flood of content, and not only the newest or "best", but also bullshit content that gets offered for no other merit than that someone wanted you to be pestered with it. Look at Netflix, for instance: a sea of mediocre content that you can't really structure or control yourself, with shifting licenses and even occassionally alterted scenes for good measure. So bad, it's unbearably difficult to find even casual entertainment, never mind something resembling quality.

And we are not even starting to talk about how hard it got for small content creators to be "just" seen ... 

Big Corp being nice to you ... [source]

Anyway, I digress. The bottom line is, if it's digital, it's in constant flux AND control is out of the hands of those creating as well as those owning (if you are even allowed to own it). If it's digital, you almost expect that it is an unfinished product, that some update will come along, some form of alteration will happen sooner or later. So why bother? Why care beyond superficial browsing?

I have several GB of rpg pdfs on my drives. Haven't really looked closely at more than 2 % of them, but have seen the art in all of them! And those I really like, btw, I want in print ... So that's just that. Take all the above into consideration and you know why I went for PoD only. There is a rarity I really like to the fact that this is only available as print. It's also finite in that it won't change easily, and that comes with a special pressure to make it as solid a book as possible (for reading, for use at the table, etc.).

If you get this book, you'll hold in hands what I imagined it to be (for as far as that's in my control, that is). The fact that it's an actual object as well (an object you invested into, no less), will additionally make it far more likely that you will, at some point, actually sit down and give this some attention. I like my odds there.

It's just not what you'd expect, right?

At least that's my impression from my interaction with OBS. For one, while it is possible to sell PoD only (thank god! ... that'd been awkward), it's not possible to have a preview, as no actual pdf version was approved (print pdf does not count, for that matter).

That's actually a conundrum, since how are people supposed to know what they will get into without a preview. Artistic choices are all nice and dandy, but no one will buy a cat in a bag with price tag but no way to know what they'll get for the money.

The fix for this ties in nicely with reasons for why  and where pdfs can be useful after all. I'm long enough in the hobby to remember a time where you took your role-playing book to a copy shop to get some character sheets printed right out of the book itself.

No one is doing this today, or should be expected to do so, which is why I planned from the beginning to offer a pdf compilation of all the files you'd might want to have printed (they are still in the book, if you feel nostalgic about going completely old school about it). For someone actually aiming to be able to play this game at some point, it'd be a must-have download that had to be free anyway. Furtermore, it needn't be hidden behind a "mature content" curtain, as the game itself is, and the same is true for the book preview (if done properly). So adding the book preview to the supplement was an easy fix of the problem.

It's a separate file, so if you came for the supplement you can just ignore the preview. And if you came for the preview, you get files you'll need anyway if you decide to actually buy the game. It's a win-win, imo, so I went for it and you can check that out here.

One note on that publication as well (all resulting from self-made problems, for sure): I had already made the cover for the supplement as DIN A4 horizontal, but that isn't supported by OBS. Instead, it needs to be vertical to be displayed properly.

Here's the cover that didn't work ...
 Fixed easily enough, still worth knowing and noting that the cover-display file is a thing in its own right, and mustn't relate to the downloaded file at all. If you followed my line of thinking about pdfs above, you know what I'm playing at here: it's the arrangement of digital files that creates the illusion of an object while its utility and strength are actually in its fexibility.

Anyway ...

You've probably guessed it, I'm a fan of the physical book. That's a lot of my reasoning for this project, I wanted to hold it in my own hands and marvel at it. There is a whole lot more to it, however. The whole satire of the thing, the title no one will type without looking up some of the types used. The book is making it difficult and I hope you see the humor in that (I sure find things like that funny ...).

Some might be wondering if this is a viable tactic to begin with, and that's a valid question. I think the dice are still in the air about if this works out or not. That said, I make myself no illusions about the chances of one more role-playing game out there, competing with the rest (I talked here about why you might consider buying the book).

There's a flipside to that coin, though: there are people out there, trusting my work enough to get the book. Some of them might even consider making their evaluation of the book public (by sharing their enthusiasm, by giving it stars, for instance, or by writing a review) and that's just the amount of influence I have on the matter. I have no reach or clout beyond that, so those are the people I will concentrate on. If you are an indie publisher, grassroots is all you can do.

So I don't need a thousand people downloading a pdf they will skim for the art and forget about it soon afterwards. I need meaningful connections with people trusting in my work. If I manage to deliver and people end up liking my offer, it'll convince more people over time, so I'll give it my best and take my shot.

I know that at least two reviews are inbound on this (not sure how they'll take it, just knowing that they aim to share their thoughts). So stay tuned, if you are still on the fence about this.

You can get the book HERE and the supplement with the book preview HERE.

Next up, posters and mugs :)

Motive for the mug? Maybe ...


Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Ø2\\‘3|| is LIVE (buy this book?)

It basically went live the night after I posted yesterday, so I'll talk a bit more about the game today, collecting all the bits I shared all over the place here for one big preview ...

Why buy this book?

Well, for one, it would make me happy or you are obligated because you are family :D On a more serious note, it's the culmination of the work I did here on the blog over the last 9 years (5 years of those dedicated to designing, testing and writing this game). So if you appreciate what I do here, there's a good chance you will appreciate the game I wrote for that alone (it's worth 30 posts here, I suppose, but edited and shit).

It's furthermore one step closer towards getting Lost Songs of the Nibelungs done and published. I've alluded to that before, but it bears repeating: Ø2\\‘3|| is me testing what it takes to get a game written and published. My success with that will impact how I proceed with LSotN. So supporting this will go a long way in making that other game happen (which will happen eventually, just to be totally clear, but it is determining how much effort I can and will put into it ... Kickstarter, maybe?).

Purely speaking in technical terms, it is a proper artifact. Over 42 illustrations thoughout, many of them filling double pages, all of them from a professional artist and in harmony with text and layout. The book is full of little innuendos and easter eggs. The text itself is heavily edited and I've heard no complaints so far about how the rules are explained or arranged. It's proper quality and I believe it needn't hide behind the books other publishers put out there, Print on Demand or not (I know, PoD isn't ideal, but you have to start somewhere).

Many professionals working in publishing helped making this happen and it holds up to their standards. It is the best book it can be under the circumstances.



 
We are still not talking about buying a game here, you see, but about buying a book. And there's one more aspect to it that still doesn't need you to ever actually play this: it is novel design with a setting that allows for deep exploration. Seeing this unfold and come together, seeing the research that was put into it, reading it as a playground of ideas and inspiration, if you will, has merit in its own way (as you very well know if you read blogs on a regular basis ... the book is just long form, if you will).

If you are designing games, this might give you a kick as well (with an OGL coming, if you'd like to talk shop).

Now for the meat and potatoes, the game proper. Here's the blurb about the setting (as found on the product page):

The setting is Europe in the year 2081, unified under one totalitarian party called The Family. The United States of Europe (USE, for short) are a playground for all the bad ideas this century has already come up with (and some of the classics from the last 100 years). Citizens are rated by an arbitrary and mean Social Status system, puberty blockers are mandatory for all but the Elites. All of this is shrouded through a huge media ruse: reality is hidden behind a fully augmented and gamified layer, maintained by an AI implanted at birth and controlled by The Family. Citizens never grow up, just grow older and if they aren't high in social status, they are bled and used for everything they have, most of the time without even realizing it. That veil is lifted for some, and with that comes resistance (or opportunity).

It’s a game that assumes players are open to exploring all kinds of ideas and willing to put some thought into the stories they tell and experienced DMs who want to explore a system that challenges them as well. It is also a satire of a dystopian future that may not yet fall upon us …

All of those are no easy topics, and I believe they are handled with the care they deserve. I was asked recently if this is a game a novice DM could handle, and I'm of two minds in this regard. If this is the first game you'll DM, and you can make it happen, you definitely achieved something.

In some sense, it is a very lightweight basic system (as you can see in yesterday's post), but it goes in-depth and the whole DM part is extensive and constitutes its own little system, opposing what the players use (which seems to be unusual for most rpgs out there, is my observation). I know experienced DMs who'd play it for that alone: it challenges them while they challenge the players. A game within a game. However, it's a daunting proposition for inexperienced DMs, especially with those heavy issues on top.

On the other hand, it is complete and excessive with examples and support for those attempting to DM it. That's something I believe to be necessary for games that feature novel designs. You just can't assume that people are familiar with what you are proposing, so you have to make sure it'll work for someone who can't ask for support every other page (although people can contact me, of course).

And it's funny to play. Funny in a way where the players and the DM try to make sense of the absurdity that is this weird, dark dystopian future the game describes. Funny in the way you only have to apply common sense to be considered a problem or go along to make it work for a character. The satire emerges from play, not from the text. One test group reported they discussed the topics presented here three hours before they could even begin to make characters ... but had fun doing so (and the DM was up to the challenge).

Yes, it's high concept. Getting it done properly was the task on hand. Time will tell if I succeeded by any measure. I am proud of the result, however, like someone that build a functioning car, very well knowing that it won't be a Porsche but that it'll pass a test for certification nonetheless ...


So, should you buy this book?

To be totally honest, I couldn't tell you. I published it, and I stand by that. But one of the big open secrets about books is that you never can tell. It's special for me. Sure. Does that translate? Maybe. Then the above should do the trick. I can't tell you, however, if you'll be happy with it. You have a measure of what I can and can't do by checking out the blog. Beyond that, you are at your own right now.

But that's also a chance, actually. You can be among the first to see this new game, to read it, to get hyped about it. You could be among the few to play it and actually have an exchange with the author. You have a chance to make this your own, to grow with it. To challenge the game and be challenged by it. You could take a side, join the team, make a difference ... Maybe?

So if you ask me, sure, you should invest in my creation here. You should support the artist, for all or some of the reasons summoned above. Roll those dice, see what you get. I'll celebrate every purchase. Over time people will get an understanding of the game and probably even share their thoughts, which might help (or not). But take my advice with a grain of salt and make it an informed and conscious decision.

You can buy the game here (at the time of this writing with a heavy discount). And you can get a free preview here (with a collection of important files for the game).

Mature Readership Intended

Some in my circles seem to anticipate that this game will be somehow politicized. I want to make clear that, if anything, this is about challenging ideas, not individuals. If someone is invested enough to have their ideas do their bidding, I will not take them seriously. Taking this personal is like taking an episode of Black Mirror personal. Taking offense at the ideas and mechanics presented in the game is like taking offense at what Orwell wrote in 1984. It's foolish and shows a lack of character, imho.

Don't be that person ...

Instead, I'd rather have you engage with the content and (hopefully) be better for it.

If you need to know where I stand, read the back ...
 This is about love, isn't it?

If you decide to buy this book, I'd humbly ask you to also leave some form of evaluation with the site you bought it from. Stars go a long way, a short review would almost be too much to ask for (highly appreciated, nonetheless). This is a learning experience for me, every feedback is welcome.

In a way, this is an end and a new beginning for me. The book is out there, and whatever happens with it, happens. That's mainly out of my control at this point. Still, for whatever it's worth, I'd like to thank my readers here on the blog for tagging along, the community on MeWe for being the chill and inspiring lot they are (g+ is dearly missed, but MeWe really manages to fill that void somewhat) and all friends and family who endured me over the last 4 to 5 years. Love you all :)

You can buy Ø2\\‘3|| here.

You can get the free book preview here.

You can join the Ø2\\‘3|| MeWe-group for updates and discussions here (might need an account for it, but as far as Social Media goes, MeWe is alright, imo ... for now, anyway).

If you'd like to read more about the design, the philosophy behind it all or the writing, here, here and here are good places to start.

The book itself has some more informations about how to reach out. Next up is a collection of all the Sheets one might want to use for the game as a free pdf (here, on OBS and MeWe).

Feel free to spread the word on this, of course.

Once this is done and on its way, we'll talk some more about what YOU can do to prevent The Rise of Robo-Hitler (and how much fun that will be). I'm in dire need of some simple splatter right now ...

Monday, May 24, 2021

Ø2\\‘3|| is still coming! (now for sure AND soon)

Sorry about the silence on the blog, folks. It's the same old mantra: if I have nothing to say, I will say nothing. Still, I always feel bad when the blog runs on empty for months. To be totally honest, sometimes I have the energy to do all the writing I want to do, and sometimes it's a struggle to get anything done at all. Covid politics did a number on me, for sure (I know I'm not alone). Anyway, we have good news here at Disoriented Ranger Publishing! That game we wanted to get published close to half a year ago? It is about to go public. Time to talk about it in more than vague terms ...

Rules? What rules?

I kept this one close to the chest for some time now. It's an original system and I sat on it like a mother hen even after it had hetched and I knew it worked. Now it's a fully grown up gamecock, ready to stand its ground in the arena of published games fighting for attention ...

All grown up and ready to game ... [source]
 

With the book done and ready, only waiting for approval, I can start showing the engine a bit. While we are at it, I'll showcase the layout and the writing as well:

Open in new tab for details ...

As you can see, this is just a short summary, very much at the beginning of the book. It is followed up by an extensive glossary of all the game terms a player might need and then we go into character generation, advancement, combat and social media interaction. That's roughly a quarter of the book.

After those basics are presented, the book will feature a roughly 150 pages strong part with all the information and material a gamemaster might need. It all builds up if you read it in a linear fashion.

The basic idea driving the game is that characters have 10 slots they can fill with gadgets, contacts or skills over the course of a 'Season' (which streamlines levelling up into a cooperative endeavor). Damage (physical or mental) will block slots, as will missing 'Episodes' (which means sessions, of course).

Players come up with slots as the characters need them by describing them and manifest them into the game by randomly determining how strong the described slot actually is (a player might claim that the character can Judo, but the roll might reveal that he just saw something on TV and copy that with mediocre success). DMs collects slots in a similar way and when all slots are filled, the season has its finale.

Rolls are described as shared in the picture above: players roll 3 dice, take one of them versus a difficulty and might activate or buy the other two, depending on the situation. That 'buying' is part of a feature where the DM is stronger the more 'Pennies' (the game currency) they have. If the players keep buying dice, the DM gets stronger. If they don't, the DM has other options to get stronger. Either way, it will fluctuate and that struggle is part of the game.

Since it's all playing in a dystopian future, there's also a full blown system for social media interaction that has a strong impact on a character's social standing. The game will play very much like a TV series, strongly leaning towards anime, but mostly due to the setting. A different setting will change that feel (we've tried our hand successfully on a Stranger Things clone, for instance).

All this is rounded up with tools for the DM to construct and manifest a narrative (similar to what is used in Lost Songs, see here) and build a sandbox for the characters to play in (also a variant of what's happening in Lost Songs).

And that'd be the rules, roughly speaking. The book will also feature examples, infographics, a collection of all the information (for easy access during the game), an extensive glossary (including DM terms), essays on all aspects of game and game world, an index, cheat sheets for documentation of all the lose parts and even some ideas on how to use just the setting, how to alter the rules or how to play the game in another setting.

It's very much a unique and complete game. The over 40 illustrations are just icing on the cake :)

Open in new tab for details ...
Soon, now. Very soon.

As I said, it'll be released any day now (we are waiting for approval from OBS, it'll go live shortly after that). It'll be print on demand only (I thought long and hard about this). All the work was put into making this the best book it can be, not a pdf. There is a difference, and I stand by that. I also want people to actually engage with the game and not just download something that'll ultimately just get forgotten on some hard drive ...

Anyway, how's that for a first impression? I'll make a full blown preview as soon as we go live. (Update: here we go ... I'll write a post top that effect right now, but if you've read this right now, you can get the game right here) This is it for now. Check out the follow up post here :)






Sunday, February 21, 2021

Another exorcism of thoughts: Who are the Nibelungs, Part 3 (final word on culture? magic?)

I should be doing something else, but I felt the urgency to at least make an attempt to put those ideas down before they are lost in the bliss of a Sunday in the sun. It connects to a serie of posts I started 6 years ago about what understanding of the "Nibelungs" I want to evoke in Lost Songs of the Nibelungs. We had the base assumption in Part 1, going something like this:

Historically speaking it would be the children of those desperate and armed refugees that settled among the ruins left by the Romans. They are to explore the deep forests and dark valleys, following whispered rumors of treasure, secrets and sorcery. They will leave their mark on the world, as it is their time.

The game is about their lost songs.

 And then we talked a bit about difficult topics of the past and future in Part 2, concluding like this:

It's a harsh world the Nibelungs live in, haunted by the evils of a lost civilization. But it's also a world of opportunity for man and woman alike to claim a part of and become legends if it is their fate. Within this legendary realm everything is possible and a Nibelung could rise from slave to king.

It is a semi-historical setting they live in, with the pagan believes of the old world struggling and fighting the rise of a new religion that threatens the very fabric of magic itself. The Nibelungs are all the Germanic tribes and their lost songs.

This leaves a couple of questions open, all of them are about getting an idea how those tribal people mapped the world around them. What patterns did they see? How did they explain the world and why? This is an exorcism of thought and not yet fully fleshed out. You have been warned.

A world without reason?

Culture is a collective mental state ... let's begin with that. It's also dynamic. My understanding of how that dynamic might work, is (among other things) derived from what I could gather in the (great and highly recommended!) book Authors of the Impossible by Jeffrey J. Kripal (a book that'd be featured in the research list I plan to include in Lost Songs).

So the firt step would be to get an understanding how our culture works, then extrapolate towards 550 AD, right? Bridging this cultural gap would make the past playable while adding the extra value of gaining a deeper understanding of that Germanic mindframe back then. In a sense, they already did all the work for us in the stories they told (or what we know of them), so there is that. However, reading those stories today (like, say, the Edda), always seems like it needs a whole lot of extra knowledge to get the references, the subtext ... all the symbolic stuff that you'd read in those stories that, by our understanding, comes down to magic.

There's no bridge. You see: reading those stories is like seeing an island in the distance, obscured by mist. What you deinitely can't do in a roleplaying book is make it an excursion into history and demanding of the reader to catch up to "get it right". No, nothing of that sounds right to me. And what would knowing the history more than, say, superficially actually bring to the table?

See? Like that. No bridge at all ... [source]
 

I've talked at length about how language should be used in the game (and you can start falling into that specific rabbit hole here). It's also easy enough to get an idea what clothes they wore or how they fought, what they paid with, all that good stuff, for sure worthy. What all the trivia doesn't do, though, is giving you a mindmap, of sorts, that brings to live what made those people tick. That a day started for them with the sun going up, not in the middle of the day, like it does for us now, gives you an inkling of an idea what I'm talking about.

But I digress. My goal would be to cook all of the above down to an abstract level where that other culture transcends 'just' by playing the game and without using any visual material other than description. The Narrative Generator is the biggest tool in this, but just one side of the coin.

However, to do this examination proper justice (to build that bridge), or so I've learned, we need to understand that culture is the collective decision to interprete the world as concluded by an intellectual elite, with what is negelected making a comeback in popular culture. In other words, if your world is run by reason and science, the spiritual will be popular in the stories we tell. That's the premise, that's the material for the bridge laid out..

People in the past didn't have it good ...

There is a popular understanding that life was hard in the past and people just didn't have the richness of experiences and safety we indulge in today in huge parts of the world. Stuff like "I wouldn't want to live in the 18th century ... all that misery, the health issues, the harsh living conditions. Horrible, horrible stuff." or some tune like that. I'm of two minds with this: for one, I agree. If someone growing up in our cultural environment would be transferred a couple of hundred years into the past, they'd most likely die fast. That doesn't mean, however, that the people living back then felt the same about their lives.

Off to the Dark Ages ... to DIE! [source]
 

There is that joke where one doctor tells another how he stopped drinking and smoking and eating unhealthy so he had a chance of a longer life, and the other doc just looks at him puzzled and asks: why would you want to live longer, if you had to live like that?! I always found this 'joke' stupid and unfunny, for the simple reason that it puts consumerism on a pedestal it doesn't belong. If you just live to consume, well, you don't live at all, imo. There is more, for sure, if you care to look.

Anyway, it all connects. I'll even raise you one: the neuroscientist Andrew Huberman had a great talk in a podcast the other day (see it here, it's worth your time), and he talked about the plasticity of the brain and how we can rewire ourselves to receiving dopamine awards for things we did rather than for things we consumed. Turns out (or so is my understanding), people that manage to do that, will need nothing else to thrive and be happy.

No need for expensive cars or meals or holidays or houses or whatever, just reading that one book, a page at a time, just doing that sport routine, doing the things that help you grow, is not only 'enough' to be content, it'll give you the energy to push harder, to go further. People producing material like crazy have unlocked that for themselves, one way or another. As a matter of fact, the best way to make this happen is pushing through stress. Do what you feel resistance against, and the brain will award you for it. Crazy (I'm still mulling over that, as a matter of fact).

Well, you are probably guessing what I'm hinting at. We are not wired to live like fat cats in comfy chairs, we are wired to do stuff. Our brains and bodies actually help us doing more than we would think we are able to achieve ...and to get by with way less than we actually have. Our genes haven't changed much in the last, what, 300.000 years? Assuming that we are just now able to live properly is preposterous.Commmon sense will tell you that, and science is right there with it, nodding wisely.

So there's no reason to believe that people weren't living fullfilled lives in 550 AD if the basic needs were met. There genes weren't different, the dynamics, generally speaking, would be the same as today or a couple of thousand years before that. They would laugh and love and sing and grieve and hate. kids would play, and have toys to do so. That said, they'd also live in very, very different surroundings than we do. Here is a little bridge to build up to that big bridge we are talking about: the dynamics apply, just on different surroundings, because it needs to work in the environment to allow survival and even growth.

I'd even submit that they didn't know less than we do, they just had different explanations and methods to get by (broadly speaking ... I'd fight you on this, though). That's the bridgehead.

Building a bridge across cultures, time and space ...

... with just some dice in hand. Wouldn't that be nice? Anyway, let's talk UFOs, because that's the logical next step. Why is it that we have more than 80.000 witness reports of encounters like that, all over the globe, and no proof? How is it that a lot associated with the UFO phenomenon relates so closely to religious experiences? It maps nicely (again, Kripal, quoting others). So nicely, in fact, that we can see the same dynamics between religious hagiography (basically stories what saints experienced) and UFO abductions ... or our ideas what those abductions are like.

I won't (can't!) go much into detail, but let's assume, just for the game's sake, that those phenoma are ... similar, only their interpretation in a different cultural environment will just turn up differently. Angels, fairies or aliens, all follow the same principle (abstractly speaking). I hope you see that bridge shaping up at this point. We can now conclude from our culture, to some extent, what that culture 1500 years ago might have set as priorities compared to us. There's the map, there's the pattern, if you will.

Not that I have done that yet to any reasonable degree. This is me playing around with some fresh impulses, so to say. But we know we can take the Enlightenment out of the equation. We can assume that life back then was way more spiritual than our lives today are. And going by the little I know about the paranormal and the unconscious and the idea of how all is connected, it is by no means said that we are entirely on the right track in our completely reason based cultural assumptions. So they might have compensated some of our advantages with knowledge now lost to us (as a matter of fact, that rising religion back in the day did their damnest to assimilate or kill that cultural heritage off). 

Who are the Nibelungs? (Part 3)

From what we can tell, it's been a very dynamic mix of different cultures settling down. In a way, the people starting their new lives in what would become Europe had their own intense culture war going. We know who lost, in hindsight. But how that war was fought is a different story. We also know of the tribal nature of those settlers, how they travelled a lot, and how they took impulses from everywhere. In that particular time, we can say we have lots of leeway to be creative within the imaginable. The smaller, the more isolated a tribe is, the more strange it could be.

Other than that, the Nibelungs are a spiritual people. How else could they have lived meaningful lives back then? Tapping into the (collective?) unconscious like that should offer some alleviation, help and even healing, but it also (for sure) brings our heroes a lot closer to things we'd love to keep in the dark nowadays. Those struggles back then were as real as today. Them going out to fight dragons or haggle with the gods should tap into the same sphere as us getting hunted or abducted by aliens. And just like we will find traces but no proof, because we tend to ignore those things in general, they might have encountered and fought those things for real (which is a leap I'll allow myself, since this is a game, after all).

What exactly that might mean and which symbols and systems to use to express it all in the game will be for me to explore in the future. A lot of it is already there. If you take a look at character creation (which is pretty much the same after all those years ...), you can end up with an elf, a dwarf or a troll. The sleight of hand here is that I'd argue that it is still as historically accurate as history can be. Ha!

Representing history accurately. Ha! [source]

One last thing. You might ask yourself, why go through all that to write a game, to which I have to say: it's fun, what else is there to know :) If there's value beyond that, we'll find out, I guess.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Lost Songs of the Nibelungs: Mission Statement 2021

Time to tackle this beast again. While we work hard on getting my first take on a complete game published and distributed, it's always been my declared goal to make all this happen to allow Lost Songs to be my best effort. Because I care about it. I have been a bit silent about it on the blog, about where I am in that regard, but that's just me being busy and doing this on the side. As you will have noticed, my ramblings had gotten somewhat redundant and more and more, let's say, baroque in the last few months ... Most certainly because 2020 was a snail-suckling fuckfest of epic proportions. So now for something more productive.(Maybe, no promisses) 

That time again ... [source]
What you don't need ...

Here's one preconception that won't hold for Lost Songs: it needs to be a pastiche of some sort of existing game. If you want to trace the origins of this (and I make no effort to hide any of it here on the blog), you are free to go on a deep dive to find and see all of it. Or talk to me about it. I'll probably give you an ear full or two of half-assed theories about why Hit Points are Confidence and how that is actually psychologically sound, design-wise and in general. 

The truth is, you don't need another clone or re-hash or reiteration of games that already exist. Not from me, anyway. It's all out there, most of it for free, and if you by now aren't avoiding the sugar-coated money-milking machine that is corporate roleplaying, I don't know what to tell you other than that I have a bridge to sell for you ... Anyway, there is a world of games out there, catering to many of the same basic assumptions. There are bad takes and there are good takes. You are good in that department. Roam free, my friends ...

All I'm saying, is, that since all of that is out there, I feel no obligation what-so-ever to cater to that in any way shape or form. There is room for all kinds of experiements, and mainstream looks a bit too cozy and a bit too insane to me right now.

What to expect

As I said, I'm giving this my best effort. What this meant up to this point, was going as far as not only writing and testing and more writing about Lost Songs in the last, what, six years, going hard on seven? I also wrote and am about to publish a (completely different? to some extent different ...) roleplaying game, just to see what it takes. Just to be prepared. I'm not saying it to brag (there is nothing to brag about, tbh, it is what it is), I'm saying it to make a point: I want to publish a game, I need to see what it takes.

There is another dimension to this, and that would be the fact that it actually helps to have different projects at different stages in the air. The ideas hold each other in check, so to say (which means I will give The Grind some love as I go into the next stage with LSotN). All of this already took years and will take some more, if I keep the pace I'm having.

Many will have moved on by then, I presume (many already have). In a way, it's funny. If you go the distance, you don't care that much about the turnout. Attention in the age of the internet is fickle. If something can't be satisfyied within a forseeable future, people will move on. That's ok. I have made friends here and we keep in touch. The same will be true when I get Lost Songs out there. So I'm sure I can make someone happy when this becomes a reality.

[source]

There's also an extensive amount of research to this. For what I'm trying to do, it needs a exhaustive knowledge about history, psychology and game design. 'Exhaustive' means in this context, enough for me to be comfortable with the result. I actually want to have an inkling how people have lived 1500 years ago in Europe. What houses, what music, what food, what languages ... That's some dark history right there, with lots of unexplored areas, actually. Which is where psychology bridges the gap, I guess. And since I'm not writing a fricking novel here, game design is my form of expression.

That's what you can expect, then. If you care enough to stick around (or if the short attention span cycle brought you by in a couple of years from now). A game based on the potential exhibited so far here and with my other publications. Is that enough? I'd say, it's honest. Let's go from there.

What I aim for

It's not that there isn't any vision, and it might very well be out of my reach. Still, something to aspire to, so here it goes. I want players and DMs of this game to get an inkling what live had been like back then. To gain some insight into the kitchens of the old Germanic people. Playing Lost Songs of the Nibelungs, you should take away an idea how those legends of old came to pass and what they meant to the people telling them.

Not in the sense of a documentary, or anything like this. It'll still have zombies and tentacles and cosmic horror and Elves and Dwarves ... just through the lense of someone who lived 1500 years ago. See? That's the thing. It's not something the players need to bring to the table, it's something the game needs to evoke when it's played, not even when it's read. That's with the designer. If I'm not able to deliver that, I failed you when you actually decided to explore the game.

I keep saying that roleplaying games are a distinct form of medium, so this is what it takes to make that happen, imo. Player will be heroes, but they might die from the damage they received in a snow storm short before fulfilling their destiny. It should be a wild ride, the game should allow players to play the system to have their characters excell, but failing needs to be satisfying as well. The story told needs to be great, just from the system output alone. It needs to make the DM look good, offer a (plat)form of expession specially customized for this experience.

It all needs to come together, and I have a very specific idea about the layout, that will be very experimental (to say the least .. but it might just work). It needs to be complete, which might make another intensive play-testing campaign necessary .. In the end, I need to be happy with it. A good friend of mine said the game so far reinded him of a very complex clockwork of a system (a comment I still appreciate, after all those years). Problem with that is, that it takes little to go wrong with that big-time.

Either way, you probably guessed it by now, it will be very special interest :D

Goths, before it was cool [source]
Anyway, lets write this mother ...

You see, many, many construction sites. As it is, I can make that happen at the table, if I DM it. To some extent I can make it work if I'm accompanying a DM helming a game. It needs more than that, and if you actually read the above, you know I have set up some hard standards for this. So far it's a fun experience (and yes, I know I'm strange).

I'd love to see the following happen in 2021:

  • a complete collection of everything I did for the game so far (all 4 books)
  • collecting, expanding and summarizing my research into the Dark Ages
  • getting an idea what this should look like, as far as layout and artwork go (what can I do, what could I invest, how far can I push this) 

I expect this to keep me occupied for some time, with some fun projects on the side (we are play-testing/developing that module I have talked about, called THE RISE OF ROBO-HITLER, and it's a hoot). So I will keep you all informed (the three people reading the blog, ha!).

One last thing I have learned and will dare to share here: it doesn't matter as much how long it takes to get something finished, finishing it is what counts. That's what people need to have confidence in. I want this to exist, so it will exist. And as long as I have a say in how it will exist, it'll be something I will be proud of to have in the hands of others.

I wonder, of course, if anybody out there is still interested in seeing how this turn out. So if that's the case, it'd make me really, really happy to see a comment about that below. Show some love, if you feel like it. Gimme that vote of confidence. It goes a long way (as this might still go sideways, for some reason or another ...).

[source]

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Roleplaying Games might not be games anymore (although it's in the title)

I should find ways to check my blogroll more often ... Anyway, here are my thoughts on the post What is a Game over on Classic RPG Realm (it's good reading). I commented there as well (comment still pending as of this writing), go at it here from scratch and from another angle.

Not yet back to full form (and I should start talking about something else, maybe), but I gave it my best shot. Here's to more writing in 2021! I'll try to keep it short ...

So 5e is not a game, is it?

Classic RPG Realm (CRR for short?) goes with the definition offered by a philosopher called Bernard Suits called Lusory attitude (wiki source for the following book quote):

"To play a game is to attempt to achieve a specific state of affairs [prelusory goal], using only means permitted by rules [lusory means], where the rules prohibit use of more efficient in favour of less efficient means [constitutive rules], and where the rules are accepted just because they make possible such activity [lusory attitude]."

I can only argue against what is written above (haven't read the book, but it isn't necessary for the argument I'm going to make), and I would say that while the quote above mirrors to some extent what is happening before and during a "game", it is vague in what I deem most necessary, that (as he puts it) "specific state of affairs": the motivation.

The reason to engage and invest is our most fundamental drive for all activities, and shapes our personalities as much as it expresses them. We do stuff for fun, of course, but also out of friendship or pride or guilt or greed or fame or dopamine or ... well, there is a whole hierarchy of reasons to do anything (or nothing) at all.

So, where I think the definition above is faulty might best be described as a lack of First Principle Thinking (following Elon Musk's definition here, as per the link): the evidence suggests that "gaming" traditionally* is not a separate activity that is to be distinguished from other activities people engage with, as for instance "play" naturally emerges with children as a method of learning and could therefore be argued as a fundamental means to learn about the world surrounding us. It is a variant of adaptation, as can be observed from very early on with babies, for instance. A theme we carry with us through life.

[source]

Proof that we are biologically and psychologically wired like that can easily be found in all research out there about immersion and flow states and all that other fun stuff we experience when reading or when "playing". Sports would in that regard be a rudimentary form of "play", so this can be applied very broadly. As a matter of fact, the etymological meaning of "game"  not only derives from old versions of "fun" and "entertainment", it actually includes "sport" (from Old Norse).

And this is where, in my opinion, First Principle Thinking is applicable. At some point we started deluding the original meaning of "game" towards an analogy to what we saw around us instead of connecting it with why we are motivated to do the things we do. In assuming there is a distinction to very fundamental (biological, even) functions we need to exercise in order to thrive, one must end up with something like the definition offered above.

Mr. Suit furthermore defines games as "the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles" (same book, same wiki quote), and I take issue with the word "unnecessary" here, for the reasons summoned above. To solve, for instance, a morale dilemma in a "virtual" or mind space is no different than doing so in reality and by no means trivial. We learn and grow by doing (playing!) those thought experiments.

What's more, taking the "game" serious can actually yield tremendous emotional feedback. In other words, the more a "player" believes it to be real, the more they are engaged, the more insight they may potentially take away from the experience. I'd argue that one could not achieve that kind of involvement without acknowledging that our need to "game" is deeply wired into personal growth and learning!

[source]

However, the meaning of words may change ...

We need proper definitions to describe and (ultimately) understand reality. It's how we roll. There happened a lot in the good old world since Old Norse had need to describe it. Things actually changed quite a bit, and so did our entertainment. The question is if the meaning of the word "game" changed with it or if we just expanded on the semantic content the word carries.

This isn't a binary problem contained to the described metric, in my opinion. It needn't be just the one or the other, it rather offers an opportunity: we can define us within that (fake, see below) spectrum between the traditional or modern understanding of what "games" are or we can exclude roleplaying games from being "games" as per the definition mainstream keeps pushing as the new reality what "games" are supposed to be. Because that's where that new definition of "games" nowadays comes from, which would be something to consume, entertainment for entertainment's sake while generating enough motivation to make one pay for it.

Again, if you see "gaming" as an activity isolated from activities necessary for personal growth (as in learning or doing sports, for instance), you end up seeing (and treating) it as a commodity in the classical economical fashion, which MUST lead to a process in which you sooner or later derive the isolated activity of all, say, more artsy or even spiritual elements and reduce it to the equvalent of a theme park experience. And that is, ultimately, what 5e attempts to be.

Hence, my argument would be two-fold. While 5e might be less of a game in a more traditional* sense, it is very much so in the common understanding of the word. We can easily acknowledge that. However, that has huge implications for those more traditional* roleplaying games, as they (and the title of this post already alludes to as much) are not games anymore.

Different realities [source]
 

See what I did there? The meaning shifted, not the activity. But what does that leave us with? Well, anyone spending any time here on the blog should have an inkling where I'm heading with this ...  If roleplaying games are, indeed, a form of medium (like books or movies are) and if we can accept that all those "classic" mediums are symbolic (or abstract) representations of reality, altered to offer growth through interaction, then we already have our answer. Somewhat.

Here's what I'm saying in other terms: rpgs offer, just like books and movies and all other mediums, an invitation to explore reality by other means (rules, languages, pictures ...). This is the core value of roleplaying games. That the means of interaction with this specific medium can be described as "playing" or "gaming" is only problematic if those words can not mean the same as "reading a book".

To be a traditional rpg, it needs to mirror reality in some non-trivial capacity. In other words, it needs to offer patterns that relate to our understanding of how things work. Can have magic and monsters and all that, but must follow the principle of "what if magic was real" or "what if monsters were real". It needs to connect meaningfully so that those interacting with the medium can extract insight from it that applies to their life. It needs reference to test hypothesis ...

On the other side, if characters are always winning with no risk of death, damage, loss or injury, if the learning pattern is reduced to some form of accumulation dissociated from actions or capabilities (xp just for playing or being there, for instance), if all of it is, in short, reduced to mindless entertainment (as in, entertainment that suggests the mind needn't be engaged**), we sure could argue that we are talking about different types of activity.

And if furthermore the definition of what the word "game" means is shifted so far from the requirements described above that the experience doesn't match that way anymore between editions of the same product (say, 2e vs. 5e), we might have to (at least) make those distinctions known.

Other mediums have the same problem, oh my!

Yes, it's true, the requirements stated above also don't apply to all media. Or rather, all media can manifest more on the 5e side of things. I can't argue that, instead I would say it actually proves my point. If you reduce all forms of entertainment to commodities, you will observe the same phenomena across all media for the same reasons.

Here's an angle that highlights the problem from another side: one way to see that this is true is that the content of media is more and more questioned and then regulated along ideologic or political guidelines. Huckleberry Finn was censored and is censored instead of being discussed in its (historical or morale) context and the discussion if orcs are racist just can't seem to die (they aren't, here's why), to name but two examples.

How does this relate, you might ask? Well, if entertainment is generally deemed a commodity instead of, say, a form of expression (or a sport or even an artform!), it is obvious that those not understanding this as a misconception are tempted to superficially "fill" content with the meaning they see fit or change it to their liking. It's not a new problem, but one that occurs more and more regularly, actually to an extend where people (today (again?) start to self-censor to avoid social media repression (one shouldn't break the law, of course).

And that's just that, since the phenoma are similar across all media, we can not only postulate that rpg are a form of media, but also say that there is a meaninfull distinction between media manifesting as commodity (basically the big corp. or capitalist appproach) and the manifestation as some form of "symbolic (or abstract) representations of reality" (or art, maybe?).

There is a struggle going on and one could be inclined to call it more of a spectrum (art - commodity). However, that would imply that we will see a measurable and more or less static expression of all forms of manifestations across said spectrum, and that definitely is NOT the case as one side (the commodity-side) more and more dominates the other***.

In its extreme, the consumer-approach to media could destroy or taint almost all forms of meaningfull medial expression. Everythig is a theme park, everything is a beautiful icecream cone and everything costs while being a meaningless waste of time. Nothing will relate to reality. Consequently, you own nothing, you owe instead of earning and you do nothing but being entertained as it is deemed proper and ...

[source]

We are talking extremes here, of course. Not saying any of this is happening, of course. Microtransactions are fake news, of course ...

Anyway, I digress. The terms "game" and "play" can only mean all of it if one isn't trying to own and destroy the other with an agenda to hold sway on how reality is to be interpreted. It is a general problem concerning all media, and it needs to be addressed.

A rose is a rose is a rose ...

I sure don't have all the answers, but if 5e wants to be a game, it can have the monicker, but it isn't a "traditional" rpg anymore and we should start exploring what those old rpgs are or how to call "our" way of interacting with that new form of medium in a hostile media landscape ... This is my little contribution towards that end, and there will be more of the same in the future (I hope).

Let's close with saying it's a complex issue, but very much worth exploring and talking about, as there are real dangers in how we treat our media. I see a lot of freedom vanishing with big publishers getting more and more powerful. Little voices disappear, big corp dictates the narrative and something needs to be done about that.

Just saying "5e isn't a game" touches on some truth, but really doesn't cut it, imo. 5e is on the winning side, and if we want to see some change, we let them have the terminology and come up with our own. Or at least create some awareness to the difference between playing as a consumer and participating meaningfully in a media-driven interaction.

So what do you guys think?

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*Damn, first footnote in ages, feels like. Anyway, "traditionally" is unfortunately a very vague term in this regard, as the original western (culturally, not etymologically) understanding of playing or gaming was that it's a waste of time. It's that old-timey concept you might know from your grandparents, for instance. So to be more precise about what we are saying here, I'd define "traditionally" as the short period of time when psychology recognized the value of play and before it the culture shifted the terminology towards gaming being a commodity. For anyone interested in an excellent treatment of the subject, I recommend this paper by Piaget as a good starting point. I'd wager it mirrors Gygax's understanding of what play means, as he grew up with teachers echoing it into schools ... it's definitely what I'm talking about here.

** Which is, btw, my main gripe with this sort of thing: since we still interact, suggesting that we don't need to reflect on what we are experiencing is VERY VERY problematic as it very nicely covers all forms of manipulation up to infecting people's minds with all sorts of dangerous ideologies. You were just reading Harry Potter, now you accept a society ruled by the elites, that kind of thing ...

*** Ok, this might be a more controversial opinion. That said, scientifically speaking, spectrums describe a more or less static order between two extremes, or if there are shifts, they are also at least cyclic, so that there might be differences in different states, but an overall constant that allows a classification as "spectrum". I'd argue that this isn't the case here, as one form of media expression seems to supersede the other ...