Friday, July 14, 2023

6 RPGS with Gareth Hanrahan

Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan is an Irish game designer and novelist who has worked primarily on role-playing games, but in the last few years has been working on novels. Following his Black Iron Legacy (The Gutter Prayer) series, Gareth's new novel starts a new series, The Sword Defiant.

Today he does NOT tell us about his Six Books, but rather, given his deep background in roleplaying games, I have asked him about Six Influential Roleplaying games instead.,

Six Influential Roleplaying Games.

1. Dungeons and Dragons

Arthur C. Clarke had a line that the solar system consists of the Sun, Jupiter and assorted debris. By that metric, the Roleplaying game hobby consists of D&D and assorted debris. Dungeons and Dragons is still the ur-game, the game that looms largest in the public consciousness. It’s as foundational and influential as gravity; indeed, D&D reaches far beyond tabletop roleplaying to shape the fantasy genre, to computer games, to culture in general. Part of D&D’s potency is that the game is itself influenced so reality. The earlier versions of D&D were a hodge-podge of whatever the designers thought was cool (Aragorn, Conan and Rhialto the Marvellous team up to fight Cerberus!) and later editions have continued this tradition, absorbing and distilling the trends of fantasy, boiling them down into archetypes.
2. Star Wars

There’s an argument that getting a roleplaying game adaptation is the death knell of a setting. By their nature, roleplaying games need to codify everything, to fill in the gaps and define the rules. They circumscribe the possibilities of a setting; there can be no new stories, only variations on what’s gone before. I’ve worked on a bunch of licensed roleplaying game adaptations, and the argument’s not wholly without merit – a roleplaying game adaption does require you to figure out what other sorts of stories can co-exist with the original inspiration, and what can’t. (For example, in the Tolkien-based One Ring game, set between the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, we’ve spent a lot of time teasing out the adventures that might happen in that gap between tales). However, a roleplaying game adaption can take a single story and expand it to a whole universe, creating a solid foundation for other media to build on. Take the Star Wars roleplaying game – when it came out, there was only the original trilogy and a few bits of disjointed ancillary work. It was the Star Wars RPG that built much of the galaxy as it appears today – both the original extended universe of novels and the current television series draw heavily on material that first appeared in the RPG.

3. Call of Cthulhu

Similarly, the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game codified and categorised Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos – and in doing so, influenced generations of game designers, both tabletop and digital. Call of Cthulhu’s other great legacy is in adventure design, taking stories beyond the dungeon and presenting epic interactive stories like Masks of Nyarlathotep.

4. Apocalypse World

A game about surviving and building community in the wake of a worldwide catastrophe. The indie RPG movement and the influence of the Forge produced countless roleplaying games. Apocalypse World, though, stands out not only in its commercial success, but also its mechanical influence. There’s a whole generation of games (two, if you count Forged in the Dark and its successors) built on the Powered by the Apocalypse rules. One of the fascinating things about roleplaying games is that there are few external factors shaping the rules. Computer games are shaped by developments in hardware – more memory, faster processors – and board games are influenced by the availability of components and advances in printing and layout software, but roleplaying games are (mostly) just text and pencils and paper and dice. Physically, Apocalypse World could have been printed in 1974 – but it took nearly fifty years of design and development for the ideas to come together.

5. Critical Role

There has been one critical (ahem) technical shift in roleplaying in the last few years – streaming. Since its inception, a roleplaying game has been an essentially private activity, where the participants are the audience. They’ve been ephemeral, too – it’s very hard to capture the act of playing a game. Transcripts and examples of play existed, but for decades, roleplaying games were usually an oral tradition, where you learned to play from someone else (and they’d learned from someone else, who’d learned from someone else, on and on back through the years). Now, that’s changed, and it’s astounding. The huge growth of D&D in the last few years, the growing accessibility of the hobby, and the shift to online as a major mode of play augurs very well for the future of roleplaying.

6. DIE

In DIE, former roleplayers from our world are magically dragged into a fantasy realm and transformed into heroes. To go home, all they need to do is agree to leave – but everyone needs to say yes. The game was written by Kieron Gillen in parallel with the comic series.

It’s hard to say that DIE’s influential yet, as the rulebook only just came out. But DIE’s certainly interesting. It’s a game that celebrates – wallows in, even – roleplaying’s past, with dungeons and dragons and dice and unlikely monsters, and is fuelled by nostalgia. But it’s about telling new stories, about trauma and regret and change, and the game mechanics draw as much from the indie scene as from D&D.

The Sword Defiant

My new novel, the Sword Defiant, can’t deny its gaming connections. The initial concept – a band of heroes slay the dark lord, then occupy his city of evil – was inspired by a line from Tolkien, but got developed in a scenario for the Hillfolk roleplaying game. There’s as much D&D in its DNA as Tolkien; the Nine heroes are a well-balanced adventuring party, and the vast ever-shifting monster-spawning labyrinth beneath the city is a tribute to all the dungeons I delved in my youth.

Thanks, Gareth!

POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.