Roleplaying games, aleatoric creativity.

by waxbanks

The standout feature of ‘old-school’ roleplaying games is the random table — the Referee reaches a decision point such as ‘What kind of monster wanders the tor at this godforsaken hour of night?’ and rolls on the table for the answer. Random tables leverage the ‘oracular power of the dice’: they function almost as divinatory devices, revealing the shared fantasy world in ‘realistic’ fashion (bit by bit, bottom up) and granting the Referee the creative benefits of being taken by surprise.

Random tables have fallen out of favour in mainstream tabletop roleplaying, where ‘story’ (variously, and for the most part poorly, understood) is the central focus rather than the similarly devalued term ‘simulation.’ And their decline is directly tied to other movements in (predominantly adolescent male) pop culture — from the ascendancy of sharply constrained video games, to the end of synchronous TV and other shared realtime media experiences, to instant-satisfaction parenting, to the none-too-subtle devaluing of DIY creativity in the era of cheap plentiful Chinese consumer goods. (The ‘”maker” movement’ is a local reaction to these shifts, particularly the latter, though it’s unsurprisingly a lot less radical than its poponents and cheerleaders claim.)

I have no overarching thesis here. I just see a big thing reflected in a small thing.

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