So, there’s been some discussion about an article entitled “Five Destructive Myths Perpetuated by Roleplaying Games,” and I decided to see how my games stack up against these myths. To be clear: I don’t consider any of these to be destructive per se. I think that many of these are viable topics or facets for an RPG. The exercise here is to look at something identified as ‘destructive’ and then see how my games conform or subvert and why.
1. RPGs are about the “great men of history” and not the little people: Sword Noir, Kiss My Axe, and Centurion are all specifically about the little people, not the great men. Nefertiti Overdrive, however, is about iconic heroes that change history, and that’s kind of its point. So on this, I think I score pretty good. 75%?
2. Social ties don’t matter: Kiss My Axe includes a discussion about Viking honour and Viking society. There are very specific points about social ties, although the game is not about them. Sword Noir is based on hardboiled detective fiction, in which social ties – even those recently minted – tend to matter to a large degree. Centurion is set in historical Rome and explicitly states how important social ties, especially patronage, matters. Nefertiti Overdrive is all about the social ties – ties between team mates and ties to a nation and its population.
3. Idolization of explorers when most explorers haven’t ‘discovered’ anything . . . unless you count the Moon: None of my games are about exploration. While Kiss My Axe refers to the far-travels of the Vikings, but in the context of trade, which – by its nature – is not exploration, except perhaps exploring for people one has not yet exploited.
4. What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger: Yes, as we age and mature, we do not always get better. Life and events take a physical and psychological toll. My games are guilty of this, however – as the article itself states – creating a game that dispels this myth would be incredibly niche. Even when I’m not playing an iconic, legendary hero of mythic ability – as one would in Nefertiti Overdrive – I want to play a character with above-average competence. So this is kind of like saying RPGs perpetuate power fantasies. Yes, many do, but generally in a healthy and cathartic manner.
But what about ongoing suffering due to violence, or permanent damage to characters? Both Sword Noir and Kiss My Axe specifically have a Flaw system that can be triggered by massive damage. Centurion and Nefertiti Overdrive, on the other hand, only have temporary and removable damage, so let’s say I’m 50/50 on this one.
5. Violence Is the Ultimate Solution: Epic violence is kind of the point of Nefertiti Overdrive, however there is a lot in the characters and the mechanics of the game that stress other avenues of addressing opposition. While the Monk’s “Kind Philosopher” or the Spartan’s “Political Exile” could be twisted into application in a fight, these and other Qualities are indicators of those other avenues of conflict resolution. Centurion is about the legions, . . . so, yeah, violence. However, Centurion‘s mechanics work just as well for social or mental conflict resolution, and this is very clear in the rules. Kiss My Axe is about as straight up ‘fix with violence’ as any of my games, but this is a game about Vikings, so there’s that. Even in Kiss My Axe, the Vikings as traders and far-travellers in implicit in the text, but I don’t think I can let myself off that one.
Sword Noir, however, is kind of violence averse. Well, it’s “fair-fight” averse, since the rules can be very punishing if you start to lose a fight. This is again part of its hardboiled roots. There are plenty of people in the world that can put you in the ground, and those that can’t might know someone who can, so walk carefully. Violence exists, because this is a dark, gritty, and unwelcoming world, but it is not the ultimate solution.
Can I give myself 75% on this one? I’m going to.
So I might score 4 out of 5, and I think that’s pretty good. What’s interesting is that Sword Noir, my very first game, scores the highest. It subverts all these myths. Not so bad. Maybe after Nefertiti Overdrive is done I can go back and give Sword Noir some more love. It’s coming up on four years since its release.
New edition? Would anyone commit violence on me were I to do so?
You can read the referenced article here.
You can find all of my games – except for Nefertiti Overdrive – here.
You can find the free Nefertiti Overdrive Quickstart rules here.