So many good prompts today! But the main one was too good to pass. After all, have I not been doing almost exclusively tabletop roleplaying game (TTRPG) Theory this month?
I want to make use of this opportunity to present you with some of my foundational ideas or principles when it comes to TTRPGs and how they, as a whole, form the basis of my own TTRPG personal theory.
What Is A TTRPG? A Definition
A tabletop roleplaying game is a ludo narrative conversation between two or more people. One of these people acts as the Game Master (GM) and, as such, moderates the conversation through the use of the game’s rules. The GM also plays all the characters in the fiction, with the exception of the characters played by the rest of the players, usually known as Player Characters (PCs).
I like this definition. The first part is short and to the point, while the second adds all the necessary details, in my opinion, to understand the basics of TTRPGs. Of course it can be improved—anything can—but, at least today, I can’t think of a better version.
The Rules of a TTRPG Are Important
Or, in other words, System Matters.
It’s hard to believe that in 2021 this is still a discussion, but there you have it. The rules that a TTRPG contains are at least half of that TTRPG’s identity (the other half being the TTRPG’s theme or flavor).
Of course both theme and flavor can be had in a TTRPG session without the intervention of rules but, if that happens, I’d say that the TTRPG’s (system of) rules is at fault. For me, at least, a TTRPG lives in the intersection between theme and rules or, coming back to the previous definition, as a ludo (= gaming) plus narrative experience.
That doesn’t mean that there’s only one set of rules for a theme or flavor, or one set of rules that is objectively best than all others. Instead, rule system preference is a idiosyncratic choice, one that depends entirely on what all the players at the table consider to be best.
Safety Tools Are Not Optional
Groups of human beings are messy. Human beings in general, we are messy. We have this thing call “feelings”—don’t know if you’ve heard about them—and they get hurt really easily if you don’t pay attention to your actions and, most specifically, to your words.
And TTRPGs are all about words.
So, no: I don’t think that safety tools are optional. I’d much rather have them in play—and never use them—that have my entertainment become an emotional nightmare. Being safe is not an option; it’s a necessity. Plus: they are so easy to use and implement. You want another reason to use them? They’re FREE. Yup. You don’t need to pay any fee to incorporate them into your games.
Make yourself—and your friends—a favor and have them in place. I hope you never have to use them but, if you do, you’ll be better having them than not.
Trust me: I’ve suffered the lack of them in the past.
All TTRPGs Systems Should Be Open
With “open” I mean that TTRPG rules should be available for other designers to use and iterate upon. My reasons for this are simple: iteration inevitably, in my opinion, ends up in innovation, and innovation is great for all TTRPGers. Even if you don’t play the most innovative TTRPG out there, you can still steal ideas and even whole mechanics from them, and adapt them to the game you’re currently playing.
What’s even more, combining different influences in order to distil your own ideas is the basis of creativity. So, I’d argue that by opening up systems we’re encouraging creativity and progress in our TTRPGs.
Finally, rules are very complicated to copyright. So, publishers and/or designers aren’t winning anything by closing up their systems. Others will be able to use their rules if they want to and there will be little that publishers can do to enforce their copyright in this sense.
Overall, it seems to me that is a win-win for all those involved.
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