A downloadable roleplaying premise

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Inspired by any and every roleplaying game ever played, except the editions legally precluded from inspiring any kind of non-monetised creativity

Taking minimalist reduction as far as possible, all tabletop roleplaying games, from free narrative to tactical skirmish, conform to two basic actions, either:

  1.  Describing a fictional situation, beit the game setting, the setting’s current situation, the thoughts, intentions, and actions of the setting’s characters as they experience situations in flux, or
  2.  Discovering each evolution of the situation, from determining likelihood of setting/situation details to resolving the success/failure/results of character actions.

From this distillation, all manner of games can be designed for all variations of playstyles and settings, tailored to suit your assembled players, from solo journaling play to international legacy megagames. Having stated all of this in fewer than one hundred and fifty extravagant words, what follows are  suggested tools you might employ to achieve your ideal ruleset for your chosen setting/style, as well as some simple examples of what play/settings might look like.

Suggested Tools

  • Respect, consideration and potentially love for your fellow players (yourself included) to foster a sense of fair play and safety
  • Note-taking apparatus, such as paper/pencil or electronic devices (audio recorders, mobile or desktop text editors) to augment human memory and aid in communication between players/spectators
  • A comfortable physical or online location for players to focus on play for however long is desired
  • Biological sustenance/amenities for existence to persist during the play session
  • An agreed fictional premise, including descriptors (with or without numeric values) to aid in measuring likelihoods
  • Agreed resolution mechanism(s) for determining unknown details of the setting, including uncertain outcomes of character actions. Note that you can start play without one, and determine mechanism as needed during play. You can even use resolution mechanisms to decide which mechanisms to employ (provided you can either agree on the first, or use one before objections arise). These could include:
    • Randomisation: flipping a coin or coins, rolling/dropping a die or dice against numbers or lists, drawing/playing cards or other blind tokens, or even playing games like rock-paper-scissors to determine a victor among conflicting ideas
    • Economy: Earning/spending real-world tokens to “purchase” momentary control of the narrative
  • Safety tools for emotional comfort to persist during and beyond the play session, when ruminating on the play experience or its setting/situations

Examples of Play

Solo Play

I imagine a world, similar to or alien from our own, and a current situation faced by certain characters. Imagining myself as one or more of the characters, I could ask myself questions about what happens next, then perhaps flip a coin when I would like to be surprised by the answer. I might record my descriptions and discoveries in a journal of some kind. I play until I am no longer interested or available. I can return to this setting or another whenever is convenient.

Co-Operative Play

Myself and one or more friends imagine a world, its situations and characters, by discussing ideas and reaching consensus as to the details of the settings and situations we’d most like to play together. We negotiate who takes of ownership of a setting detail or character during play, and the circumstances under which this is fairest to change. Characters (both personal and shared) might have relative values demonstrating their abilities, strengths, weaknesses, desires, appearance, etc. When we are uncertain about a setting detail we describe, or if our characters will succeed or fail at a task we describe them attempting, we might roll dice and compare those results to the values in question to discover the truth/outcome. We might transcribe events on shared notes and/or individual character sheets, or simply record/broadcast the play session. We play until the agreed end of the session, and can revisit the setting when convenient for whatever combination of players suits the current group in the future.

Guided Play

This is a variation on co-operative play wherein one or more players are given a measure of authority over certain setting details and/or characters. The intended result is that more surprises/preparation can be contributed to the play experience, because those players reveal their secret ideas or plans to the other players during play, without as much discussion/negotiation of each turn of events. This suspension of traditional equity is a trade, wherein some players temporarily lend their power to someone they trust, much in the same way that you might decide to trust dice or cards over making determinations yourself (or in concert). This is a situation where you honour someone with responsibility, and the way they choose to wield that responsibility will most certainly influence how you feel about granting it again, increasing/decreasing it, or continuing to play games of this nature with those individuals.

 Setting Ideas

  • Earth, past, present or future, with certain changes in either who you are or what is happening to distinguish it from reality
  • Far-flung worlds resembling our own in one or more ways, but colourful as magical fantasy novels or science fiction films
  • Supernatural or superhuman powers/abilities
  • Horror or suspense
  • Emotional exploration between entities
  • Political or other historic developments within or between societies/settlements
  • Technology (including language) or biology evolving

Closing Comments

You own your imagination, and no-one really invented or owns roleplaying games. From the first time you invoked the childlike instinct of playing make-believe (or simply lying as you explored the nature of truth/honesty/trust), you were playing the world’s oldest and most popular roleplaying game: imagining things were different, your world or yourself, and no-one can ever trademark, copyright, or restrict that in any meaningful way. The best they can hope to do is play a secondary game of names and numbers, lawyers and lawsuits, trademarks versus traditions. Play exists for its own sake, and fun is free. If you want to play an old game you found on a bookshelf, or dreamt yourself, no-one can ever stop you. They can only present obstacles for you to dance around. If they don’t want you to share their flag, paint over it and wave it yourself. It’s worth more that way than any profit spreadsheet.

Creative Commons

Descriptions & Discoveries by Matt Horam is marked with CC0 1.0


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