We’ve examined those who use their Strength to Fight. We’ve looked at those who use their Dexterity for Rogueish ends. We’ve seen what the Brawlers can deal with because of their powerful Constitutions. We’ve glanced into the magical worlds driven by the Arcanist’s Intelligence and harnessed by the Acolyte’s Wisdom.

But who tells the stories that we know these by? Who rallies the armies of the world and who keeps the team together? When you read about heroes who don’t fit into neat containers, heroes who seem to draw many skills from many different places, they all started out somewhere. They were, at first, simple apprentices to someone. A budding Fighter, Rogue, Arcanist, Brawler, or Acolyte. When they reached the point where they could dedicate themselves fully to their skills, though, their talents pulled them elsewhere. They formed their abilities based on the mystical pull they have with their persona, the strength and flexibility they have threaded through their being.

They’re now Journeymen, walking the world and learning what they can to do what they can.

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A samurai plucks arrows from her quiver and looses them toward an enemy before her, peppering the vicious ogre before dropping from her horse, drawing her sword, and moving in for the kill.

Fighting for his life, the gladiator bashes the first swarming goblin with his shield then throws the shield at the next. His sword cleaves a third goblin as he picks up one of their crude spears and uses it to old the mass back as he figures out his next move.

Plumes of smoke erupt from the guns of the small band of musketeers, picking off the flanks of the advancing force of armored knights. They keep in formation, shooting and falling back, until finally the knights number less than they and their swords leap into their hands for the final struggle.

All of these are fighters. Each and every one of them. They all stem from a single, pure ideal. A fantasy of the warrior who is an expert in all forms of warfare and combat. In Dungeons and Dragons, we call that warrior The Fighter.

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To continue discussing the importance of the fantasy in D&D’s design, I’m going to focus on the classes and their impact both in the game and the world the game exists in. Part of the joy and draw of roleplaying games, especially pen and paper roleplaying games, is the theoretical depth of the world they exist in. There’s a living, breathing world behind the heroes’ actions. Since there is a living, breathing world, though, there has to be a place for the heroes’ skills, abilities, and histories in that world. They cannot be entirely divorced from the capabilities of the people around them, and they must represent their power in the story in the mechanics of the game (as the mechanics represent the “physics” of a world, in a way).

Unfortunately, Dungeons and Dragons has always failed on this measure in one way or another. Fifth Edition represents the biggest failure in this fashion.

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It’s time to shake off my cobwebs and get down to work again. Touche isn’t really going anywhere and I think I’ll talk about another project that’s a lot easier to analyze and dig into. Which is odd since it’s much, much more complicated.

See, I’ve been playing pen and paper RPGs since I was a child. I’ve always been emotionally invested in the opportunity to be someone else – a powerful wizard, a swashbuckling pirate, a fanatical defender of my people, a mad scientist, a humble priest. I’ve been drawn toward all sorts of gaming systems over the years, from the AD&D I started with to the classic World of Darkness that got me into online communities to the new wave of story-oriented systems like FATE and Dungeon World.

Dungeons and Dragons, though, will probably always be special. Besides being my first taste at fantasy roleplaying, it also forms the basis of several of the video games many people love – Icewind Dale, Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Neverwinter, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, The Temple of Elemental Evil, Eye of the Beholder…the list is long and has its own storied history.

I’ve kept up with the edition changes over the years, griping about the things I thought were a problem but mostly seeing the games move forward toward better play and a better understanding of the “D&D Fantasy”, the game’s own unique spin on the high fantasy of Tolkien and Morcock. That is, until 5th edition.

Fifth Edition D&D shoots itself in the foot, so I’m rewriting it.

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Why Games?

June 8, 2016

I’m sure some of you out there, some of you who are friends and some of you who are not, are looking at the kind of person I am and wondering why games are so important to me. Not just a hobby I’m invested in, not just a cultural zeitgeist I count myself a part of, but something that I think represents and important philosophical and emotional technology to humanity. A very important element of culture that, I think, is currently being treated like no more than a toy. Games, I believe, are the cousin of narrative and storytelling that teach us empathy from the opposite direction. They inform our mechanisms for understanding empathy. Rules allow us to step into another person’s life and understand their motivations because the mechanisms tell us what we can and cannot do – that is, what decisions we would never make and which we would always make if we were the person we’re playing as.

To explain why in detail, come with me while I explore the very idea of what a game can be with you.

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I’m curious how many people out there that run into this blog are RPG players. Not console or computer RPGs (which I enjoy, mind you, and I’d love to discuss them with anyone at some point) but I’m talking about table top RPGs. Dungeons and Dragons, Tunnels and Trolls, Vampire the Masquerade (or any of the Creature the Verb White Wolf games, the two Mage games being my favorites), Burning Wheel, Legend of the Five Rings, Cyberpunk/2020, Shadowrun, Rifts/Palladium etc…any of these things.

I’m asking because I’m considering doing an OGL product, a rulebook, that jokes about one of the earliest problematic and racist books from D&D history. Just about everyone I know that has played since at least AD&D remembers just how, well, racist Oriental Adventures felt. It’s a classic example of exoticism and racial worship at the most common target for these things – Asia.

I, too, will admit I once idolized Japanese culture. No longer, though I do have a deep love for it in general from that period in my life.

As a bit of a backhanded homage to that, and a way of having fun with D&D, the d20 system, and privilege in general, I want to write an RPG manual for adventures in the savage and inesecapable West called “Occidental Adventures.” It’d include all the rules for playing as well as notes where it’s different from its (nonexistent) parent system. I’m considering naming the parent system after two things that are alliterative and part of classic fantasy and mythical discussions of somewhere in Asia. I’m not sure where yet, but it’d have to be deserving of being the “Imperial power” in this little cultural in-joke.

I’m sure this is offensive to someone and, if so, I’m sorry. But I’d love to write a description of the exotic and noble Knight. 

So, let’s chat about it.

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