Bob Ross who hosted The Joy of Painting on PBS for a long time, changed the way many people think about painting. Painting wasn’t really viewed as a hobby, more like a calling. We get lots of that in the RPG industry and tabletop gaming circles too. As if RPG’s are something beyond a simple hobby.
Bob Ross never really talked about art, he talked about technique and using your imagination. More importantly, he boiled down oil painting to the simplest details of how to use a brush. And that’s all there is to it, really. Simple techniques.
And the most important thing is that he thought people should paint for fun. Sometimes in the RPG hobby, we forget about what we are doing. It’s easy to get caught up with things when writing a game, everyone does it.
What makes a game fun? Me personally, I have a few things I prefer to do when designing. I want to be inclusive. There’s no reason to write a game where being a minority is a drawback. If someone wants to address these themes in a game, they can do it without you, the writer, holding their hand. Fact is, most people don’t.
We also want a variety of styles to be possible. Not everyone wants to use a game the same way you do, so when writing, take into account the different styles. Lions of the North includes material for swashbuckling, political intrigue, exploration, horror and even dungeon crawls. Of course, sometimes you want a tight focus on a game, and it’s ok too. However, make it explicit. Don’t make your fantasy game all about wizards while not saying it aloud.
Forget about “dark”, forget about “adult themes” and forget about “gritty.” Everyone always says they want a low-magic realistic fantasy setting but no one really plays those. Have you ever seen a game that does “dark” and includes “adult themes” without it being repugnant or juvenile? No. Forget about it when designing, leave it to the players to decide. In short, don’t be a creep.
There’s no need to be afraid of being a little silly or just having fun. If you’re busy trying to get the hobby to be taken seriously, you lose sight of the fact that this can be a very silly hobby. If you present a face of seriousness, people think they must take these games more seriously than they have to, and if the face of gaming is nothing but grit and darkness, people won’t want to play. Embrace fun!
Last but not least, we’re not in the seventies anymore. Vallejo and Frazetta are dated. Stop using cheesecake pictures as your art. Try something new.
-Jussi Marttila, lead designer of Lions of the North
-Andri Erlingsson, writer of Sub Rosa