A few weeks ago, VintageRPG posted about the Dungeon Master’s Guide and mentioned how they’ve “kind of doubted the utility of DMGs for a long time. The only one that holds genuine, continued interest for [them] is Gygax’s, for 1E, and even that is mostly because it is incredibly idiosyncratic rather than terribly useful.”
Then, a bit later, Vintage goes on “Outside of the magic items table, though, is it going to get much use after the initial read or two? I don’t know. I suspect not.“
I agreed, and in that moment a question crystallized in my head: why is the whole rpg industry constantly producing books for just one of the players?
I’ve begun pushing back against referee-only books with Longwinter, which is split two, one book for all the players, and an additional one of tools for the referee player. I’m trying something similar with Red Sky | Dead City (notice how neatly the title splits over two books). But it wasn’t until this post about the DMG that it really gelled.
I look around at the plethora of modules and adventures and settings, and they almost all focus on the ‘game master’ first. Secrets, spells, abilities, bestiaries, adventures, plots, railroads, screens, dice, features, and more.
I think it may be because a lot of of classical tabletop roleplaying games divide the group at the table into players and masters or referees or whathaveyous. Basically, one person is the serious “adult in the playroom” and the others are “players” there to have fun.
Sometimes the “master” is advised to be a fan of the “players”. They might even have their dice taken away, because, you know … they’re fans, not players. Or impartial referees and world builders. Or designers of fair combat encounters using arcane formulae for encounter economies. And often the structure of play assumes that the “master” will invest much more time to learn the system and prepare the world, while the players will bring their time and good will and set their characters loose upon the world.
And I hate this. I think it is deeply, deeply stupid. Every one of us meeting for some roleplaytime is a player. It’s just that we play multiple and diverse roles. It’s an asymmetric roleplaytime, but that doesn’t mean one (or more) of us is exempt from being players and having our fun. It also doesn’t mean one of the players should shoulder 80 or 90% of the burden of making a roleplaytime happen.
Ok, so if we’re all in this playtime together, what does that mean? Are we all the same? Have we all been doing everything wrong all this time?
No, no, no. Of course not. That would be silly. This is about my preference as a player, my preference at my table, my laziness when it comes to extensive preparation or building intricate combat encounters using page-long stat blocks. But since I am in the unenviable position of actually writing and illustrating roleplaytime toys, it does let me posit a possible design constraint.
What if every roleplaying product tried to be useful and accessible to every player at the table? How would we go about this?
Now, I’m not saying it would be equally useful to every player in every situation, but that it would assume broader readership.
An adventure module might skip the read out loud text and provide location descriptions, rumor tables, equipment, encounter tables, and more directly to the protagonists.
A hero book might be designed with more pre-built characters and random character generators so that a referee can simply lift out non-player characters to improvise at the table.
A bestiary might include useful materials and mechanics for heroes (recipes, steeds) and narrators (myths, story seeds,) and referees (combat mechanics).
A referee (or DM book) book would have reference materials for all the players. It would compile the rules and provide tables for generating encounters, dungeons, and more … and encourage all the players to collaborate in generating those dungeons.
A setting guide might provide world-building tables for all the players to collaboratively build a world of their own, expanding from the core presented in the guide.
And what would be the starting point?
I suggest we drop the common dichotomy of dungeon master and role player, and look at what kind of things actually-existing humans do at actually-existing tables. At what kind of roles they play, if you will.
Once we have those roles in mind, we can try to figure out the needs of the different humans enjoying their roleplaytime together, and work to create toys that work for them.
This is something I’m trying to do with SEACAT. I may well only partly succeed, but such is the name of the game. By half-steps we climb towards a roleplaying we want … and this is a roleplaying I want. A playtime where I am no longer a master, but another kind of player, discovering what kind of living stories dice and decisions will unfold for us at the table from the dead, ink-stamped pages.
—Luka, A February
P.S. – if somebody mentions, “But Luka, what you are looking for is a collaborative story game without a referee or dungeon-master! They already exist!” I will say: “No. I explicitly want games with referees. But games that acknowledge that referees are also players.”
P.P.S. – in terms of world building, one game that is quite fascinating is Microscope. There may be others. Perhaps they shall appear in the comments?
Also News: UVG Hard Copies Have Appeared!
I’ve announced it on kickstarter, but should do it here too. The physical copies of the Ultraviolet Grasslands have arrived and soon they’ll start shipping out. Here are some initial rough photos … and even in these, they look dashing.
Also News: finally a logo for WizardThiefFighter
it’s modeled on the hero we deserve: Pointyhelmet.
And Per Standard
The patreon plug. The place where I post .pdfs. And books. And arts. More regularly than here. For no particular reason. Support the artist. Enjoy the books. See the seacats.