Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Five Ancient Kingdoms and “Role-Playing”

I’ll admit it…in retrospect my 30+ pages of rambling discussion “On Role-Playing” wasn’t my hottest idea. On the one hand, this was just typical JB over-reaching: biting off more than I could chew on a subject that really deserves more care, time, and attention than I have the patience or resources to expend. On the other hand, it just wasn’t very constructive…if I’m going to spend so much time writing on a subject, it should at least prove somewhat useful to the readers, but the only real discussion it provoked was whether or not Yours Truly was off his rocker.

But I guess blogs aren’t really discussion forums anyway…just virtual soap boxes.

Anyway, folks who did manage to wade through the dross and venting are probably wondering how I applied all that “role-playing theory” to the new game, Five Ancient Kingdoms (5AK)…how did my feelings on “teaching” role-playing and blah-blah-blah get applied to my design principles when deconstructing Dungeons & Dragons and restacking the building blocks? How exactly did *I* define “role-playing” when writing the new project.

I didn’t.

In fact, I removed any and all reference to “role-playing” from the game. I made a command decision to totally excise the term…that poor, mismanaged, misunderstood, controversial term…completely from Five Ancient Kingdoms. In fact, there’s only one place in any of the three volumes where you can find the word “role” and that is with regard to a specific magical, curse-like effect…there is nothing about participants “playing a role” or “the role of characters in a party” or anything like that. There is nothing about role-playing in Five Ancient Kingdoms because I really wasn’t interested in writing a “role-playing game.”

Five Ancient Kingdoms is a fantasy adventure game. Nothing more or less than that.

It’s just easier this way…there’s no confusion, no conflicting expectations. What would people expect out of a “role-playing game” these days anyway? If an RPG is considered a type of video game (as opposed to the lesser, “tabletop RPG”)…well, there’s really little here that represents a video game. In fact 5AK bears LESS resemblance to a computer RPG than a “first person shooter” bears to a computer RPG. Might as well distance myself further by divorcing the term completely.

As far as “table-top RPGs” there’s certainly some resemblance. But there’s no explicit expectation that players “play a role” of anything. There’re no bonuses received for “role-playing,” nor does the game referee need to make judgments of whether or not a player is “role-playing,” let alone role-playing well or poorly. I really don’t want any distractions from the game at hand...and role-playing isn't necessary to play the game, nor to enjoy it.

Personally, I don’t want to market Five Ancient Kingdoms as a “role-playing game” nor as a game for “role-players” (though I'm happy to sell it to folks who enjoy role-playing, too). 5AK is a fantasy adventure game…it is written and designed for people that want to play games of fantasy adventure. The intention here is to also include those people who have no interest in “role-playing” or “role-playing games.” The three volumes in the set provide the information needed to create and play fantasy adventures; role-playing has nothing to do with it. I know lots of people who like the idea of fantasy adventure...from a marketing perspective, I’m hopeful the game might have broader appeal this way.

So there. No role-playing.

Now I’m sure there are folks who want to know what 5AK does contain much more than what it doesn’t and I will be posting that info…in the very near future. Stay tuned!


  1. I also have a problem with the term "role-playing" and what it has accumulated.

  2. that's a bit of a surprise! :)

    do you expect people will "roleplay" (whatever that means... :D) anyway when playing 5ak? do you believe it has the same intangible "quality" early d&d had that will make them want to?

    will 5ak work better without it?

  3. First of all, I think most of us busy adult RPG bloggers have topics that we want to write about but find ourselves always pressed for time. So I think we can relate to taking on an ambitious live project but the quality of the writing suffering due to our busy lives. I applaud you for the attempt and I think most of us understood the point you're trying to make for the most part. you had a subject that you wanted to expound upon quickly because it was something you are passionate about, but if you had more time to massage the content it would have been a much tighter and cohesive whole. At least you made the attempt. And what's to stop you from going back to refine what you wrote? Consider it public brainstorming, and screw the court of public opinion.

    As for no definitions of roleplaying in 5AK, I figured you were trying to hark back to the early days of ODD, which didnt include such definitions. Thus the format of three little books.

  4. For what it's worth I found them 30 perfectly entertaining pages.

  5. You focus too much on terms that ultimately don't matter. Semantics is for academics to bitch about, not hobbyists. People need to accept that terms have accepted meanings and multiple meanings, or we will devolve into the same sorts of debates that plauged Napoleonic zines back in the day.

  6. I think that semantic consideration can do a lot to set the tone for a particular game. Heck, the best thing 3.0 did was replace "non-weapon proficiencies" with "skills." And for a Vancian system that allows double-dipping of spells, "preparing" makes a lot more sense than "memorizing." I could go on. (The obvious counterargument would be Mythus, which attempted to rename absolutely every familiar mechanic for the sake of having a different name than D&D.)

    I have used with the phrase "Fantasy adventure game" with some of my old homebrews, but I gave it up because the most obvious abbreviation is also terribly unfortunate.

  7. @ Shlomo:

    It doesn't much matter to me (whether they "role-play" or not)...so long as folks take the time to play the game as written, I think the "fun" will "flow."

    I can't say for sure what "intangible quality" initially fired the imagination of players, but 5AK as many features recognizable from early D&D, including alignments, a "thief" class, and behavioral restrictions for the cleric-types. In addition, the game has a built-in setting with customs and religions (both of which carry their own mechanics), which might encourage players to consider their in-game behavior. Parts of the reward mechanism are also tied to (objective) in-game behavior.

    @ Anthony (w/regard to your 2nd paragraph):

    I'm definitely more insidious than that!
    ; )

    @ Rachel:

    I was definitely entertained writing them!

    @ The Degenerate:

    I don't "need to" accept any such thing. That being said, I AM accepting...which is half the reason I've decided to opt out of the conversation (with regard to 5AK anyway).

    @ Odrook:

    Unfortunate or not (and I've made note of this myself in prior blog posts), "fantasy adventure game" is still the most apt description of the thing. I've got more important things to get over than childish slurs (in other words, people will find a way to be "mean" with words regardless...you can't sweat that stuff).

    As for semantics setting the tone...it sure can tag a game with a bunch of unwanted baggage (or ill-conceived preconceptions). I'm just trying not to cripple the thing from the get-go!
    : )

  8. I'm also very fond of the term "fantasy adventure game". To me it sounds 1. more charming, and 2. more accurate.

  9. I also like the term, 'fantasy adventure game'.

    As a sidenote, after one of my recent games a player said something along the lines, 'yeah, I enjoyed it, but there wasn't much role-playing'. I said, 'well, you have to do that if that's what you want from the game - I can't stop you running your PC as a playing piece in a boardgame'. Unfortunately, that then devolved into an argument (over Facebook - never the best place to discuss anything, but a great way of delivering session summaries and new rumours, etc. to players between sessions) about what roleplaying *was*. I offered my definition, that essentially it involves making statements of intent from the point of view of the character being played, but the player said that wasn't his definition of 'roleplaying', without offering his own....