I’ve lost something…

By on 26 March 2011

I’m currently in one of my longest RPG-droughts ever. What makes it worse is that it’s an enforced drought, one I really didn’t expect or anticipate. And I find that I am missing role-playing a great deal. Sure I had a fix at Conception, and managed to find a range of RPGs to explore, but that’s about it. I won’t bother with the “how this happened” question because that’s the subject for a different article; the “what am I missing” question seems to me far more important and elusive.

So what have I lost? Shall, I’ve lost a social occasion, and opportunity to get together with some decent people and some old friends, have a chat, have some fun, and be mentally challenged at the same time. Important here, of course, is the fact that the mental challenge is a very different challenge to that I experience every day of the week. Furthermore whilst I’m trying to play in play by forum games they certainly are not in the same “enjoyment space” as RPGs.

It may seem an obvious thing to say, but the enjoyment is different too. I enjoy singing and performing and lectures, but the type of enjoyment is very different. All three are like RPGs in that they are mentally stimulating and challenging. What’s more, the first two can be like RPGs in that a role or persona must be chosen and played according to the rules of the performance, whether script, improvisation, notation or whatever (or in the case of John Cage or Cardew, an incredibly far out, crazy-hippie, indie game). Furthermore some of the choirs in which I sing the social element is similar, too.

It’s an easy copout here to say that none of them are quite like RPGs. No, they are not, but theoretically they should be able to provide me with each of the elements that go to make a tabletop, face-to-face Role-Playing Game so enjoyable.

We can look at the other components that have not yet been mentioned. There is teamwork, problem-solving, of course, and almost imagination. But these can be found in trying to sort out the peculiarities of a difficult score, or trying to sing with a quartet to get a balance that sounds good. Moreover, the imagination in many RPGs is constrained by the environment in which they are set, just as a song is constrained but is open to various degrees of imaginative interpretation. Creativeness or creative expression, within the boundaries of context of course, is easily served by composition.

So all the elements are there. But why am I whingeing? Will they do I still feel as if I’ve lost something?

So is it the miniatures? No, not really. Whilst I love using measures and really enjoy modelling, I’m quite happy to play an RPG with just picture props, imagination and very loose character sheets. To keep the creative juices going, I’ve tried to keep my modelling fix going at weekends – speak to my wife about the castle in our garage!

So is it the rules? No. I really dislike the constant expansion of D&D of whatever edition, but know and appreciate that this is just part of the success requirements of the game. I may love Openquest-style Runequest, but I really dislike the hyper complexity of the various BRP skills and tests. In games like Hyperlite don’t have many rules in them anyway. What’s more any urge I may have four walls should be satisfied by the occasional boardgame I’m still able to play.

Ultimately, in deconstructing Role-Playing Games in this fashion, we can find similar sources of enjoyment and satisfaction all over the place. But it’s that the particular combination and use of the imagination that makes role-playing so much fun and satisfying. It may seem obvious once spelt out, but I’m not so sure that we don’t take the unique fullness of the role-playing experience for granted. It’s something I suspect I probably did and only now realise what I’m missing: the social contact, the interpretation of a role, the challenges, the problem-solving, the teamwork, the laughter, the imagination, the exploration of a context…

It’s the unique combination of all these that make a Role-Playing Game an experience like no other. And it’s that combination that is lost; the individual elements just don’t hack it! 🙁

About Tim Bancroft

Tim's been a roleplayer since the mid 70's and now just enjoys running or playing tabletop RPGs as long as they are not too complicated. He's written for a variety of RPGs over the years and has even helped develop one or two. He occasionally releases products through Sceaptune Games, but is happy to write for anyone providing he doesn't have to do too much production work (not laziness, just physical constraints). He's playtested a variety of RPG and wargame rulesets, though he prefers board games to the latter. In addition to a little knowledge of computers, history and theology, he also studies choral music, voice and spirituality in Winchester. If you want to be nice, buy him a curry, a bottle of good mead or port, or even invite him along to, or offer to come round to his place for, a RPG session.

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