Monday, 9 May 2016
Much of what I wanted to say in this retrospective I summed in Z is for Zed, an epilogue.
However, I want to recap a little from my primer about Warhammer Fantasy Role Play, the regular game I referee, and a little bit about the what might be called a renaissance in table-top RPGs.
What is WFRP?
WFRP is short for Warhammer Fantasy Role Play. WFRP was introduced in the mid-80s as an extension for the Warhammer Fantasy Battle table-top wargame.
When people think about roleplay they either go straight for the gutter ("It's a sex thing right? Doctor-Nurse? Nurse-Patient?") or "playing pretend." Tabletop Roleplay is more like the latter than the former, but the "playing pretend" alone belies the origins of the hobby.
Jon Peterson probably has written the definitive book on the hobby, Playing at the World. The short story is that a hobby of re-enacting historical conflict in the mid- to late- 60s and 70s evolved into fantasy games of combat. To understand the wargames hobby in the 70s Edward Woodward, actor and wargamer, hosted a TV series on BBC called Battleground, available on YouTube (if you want to get a visual idea of the hobby). Peterson wrote an excellent article on his blog that probably captures the first wargame that gave rise to Dungeons & Dragons ("D&D"), the "world's greatest roleplaying game" and probably the title that most people immediately recognize. There are even YouTube channels featuring TV stars running campaigns like Titansgrave by Wil Wheaton playing Fantasy Age.
So WFRP is a roleplaying game set in a Germanic-Arthurian 16th century world beset on all sides by evil embodied by gods, orcs, goblins, ratmen and more. Elves and Dwarves are in decline as Humans are ascendant, yet Magic remains a powerful force.
In this world setting, I've been running a "campaign" with friends from all over the US over virtual table tops. The campaigns are now in their fourth year. The players have saved the world from an ancient weapon rediscovered and are currently sell-swords in an ephemeral princedom on the edge of the civilized world.
There is continuity in the story and setting. And the players shape the action as I introduce friction and story elements and dice shape the outcomes actions.
In the 80s D&D was subjected to a "moral panic." It was branded a "geeky game" or "a gateway to Satan worship." The bookish types that enjoyed the game didn't play football, but ate chips and drank pop in the basement. We, well certainly myself and my friends, never played wearing cloaks and burning candles and so the stereotype is grossly incorrect. It was never like Mazes & Monsters. Did I or anyone know a Robbie Wheeling, as portrayed by Tom Hanks? No. I had a friend that attempted suicide, but it was not about the game.
Sure we were bookish. Steven Spielberg probably helped the hobby a bit by opening E.T. with a game of D&D. Unfortunately, the hobby receded into colleges and we all grew up. But we, the bookish geeks, grew up to dominate the emerging computing and internet industries. We married and had kids. And we wanted to capture that lightening in a bottle we had as kids and give back.
No MMORPG is without fealty to D&D and those of us that played and now play D&D again in our 40s. A new edition of D&D, the fifth, captures those elements of the first releases as do too many to count "retro-clones" that leverage the original rule sets we played with in the 70s and 80s.
And such is the 21st century. A renaissance of table-top roleplaying.
It is the impetus that drives my annual A-to-Z challenge. Each year it reenergizes my creativity for the game of WFRP and hones my mastery of the setting. I have made my closest friends in the hobby.
And if my A-to-Z challenge is anything of a siren call, let it be this: if you are a fantasy author and you're not playing an RPG yet, do it. Pick up D&D 5e and create! Take a look at the new systems like Numenra and The Strange or Fantasy Age. But play and create.
And never call it "pretend."