Sunday, January 23, 2022

Old School Gaming and Brechtian Drama

This blog talks a lot about materialism in role playing games, but I’ve not covered where these ideas come from. Before I got back into RPGs, I spent a decade trying to write theatrical plays. My inspiration then was a 20th century movement that went against the dominant theatrical form of the time. I must like to go against the grain, because it is the rebellious “Old School”(OSR) strand in RPGs that has felt like home here too.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Oath-breaker Paladins – The Problem with Character Advancement in D&D

I’ve recently been taking a harder look at some enduring features of D&D that can be traced back to game’s original edition (OD&D). My goal is to run a campaign that moves its centre of gravity away from the characters, shifting it instead onto the game world. My last post looked at how such a “materialist” approach to gaming could be applied to ability scores. Here I will look at D&D’s approach to character advancement under a similar lens.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Dumping the Stats – Do We Need Ability Scores in RPGs?

Taking a closer look at the Chainmail game has led me to place some long-standing features of D&D under the microscope. Chainmail as it was used in medieval wargames, prior to its shift into fantasy, has a concern with the physicality of the game world which appeals to me. It feels like some of this materialist essence was lost at the point wargames transitioned into RPGs. But was this outcome unavoidable?

I’ve decided to take a harder look at some of the staple features of D&D that have endured from the Original D&D onwards, to the extent of becoming ingrained in RPG culture. My angle is whether these contribute to a materialist role playing experience (you can see what I mean here), or instead distract from this by placing the character at the centre of the universe.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

How Into the Odd is like Chainmail

I’ve previously mentioned my goal to run a materialist RPG campaign. I’ve argued that Old School gaming (the OSR) seems aligned with materialism, in its prioritisation of the game-world over the character. Wanting to understand why this is the case has made me interested in the roots of the OSR and leads me to take a closer look at the Chainmail rule set.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

The 5e Dungeon Master as Pennywise

My previous post argued that the rule system of 5e D&D seems to encourage certain dramatic principles in its gameplay. I referred to these as idealist poetics, where outcomes in the game-world are determined by the characters in accordance with their personality traits. Here I will look at how this can play out in 5e campaigns.

I’m going to focus on a very character centric, high fantasy, approach to running campaigns. Of course, this won’t correspond to everyone’s experience of 5e. But as discussed in my previous post, the high power level of characters in 5e seems designed to encourage this style of play, where the fate of the kingdom hinges on their actions.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Is 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Tragic?

My previous post looked at how a certain approach to roleplaying games, that typical of the OSR, has seemed to align itself with a philosophical position known as materialism. The “Old School” (OSR) style of gaming is often contrasted with the approach characteristic of mainstream 5e D&D. It is not surprising then that 5e D&D itself shows an alignment with a different and contrasting position, one which I am going to refer to as idealist poetics.

My aim is to keep the philosophy light. A lot of the ideas I talk about here actually come from dramatic theory. This may not be their natural ground, but I think they help explain certain trends within RPGs surprisingly well.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Philosophy of the OSR

In my previous blog post, I talked about Into the Odd (ItO) as a basic materialist RPG. ItO emerged from a revival of interest in “Old School” gaming based on the playing style of pre and early Dungeons & Dragons. Here I will talk more generally about features of OSR gaming that align with materialist principles.

Delving a little into philosophy, a materialist RPG would be one where “being determines thought”. Put simply, the emphasis is on the game world shaping the characters, rather than the characters shaping the game world. I previously discussed how ItO fits with this principle. But elements of this are also widely seen in the OSR approach to gaming. 

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Into the Odd RPG Review

I’ve recently been looking through the old edition of the role playing game Into the Odd (ItO). There is a Kickstarter for a shiny new edition of the game that went live 21st September. As the rules are not really changing, this seemed a good point to reflect on one of my favourite RPG systems.