New School Manifesto

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

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3 Responses to New School Manifesto

  1. demoss says:


    I ran across this on dragonsfoot. Decided to comment here instead as the thread there is um, typical dragonsfoot. πŸ™‚

    Firstly, a couple of meta points!

    I think you should tighten this up, while adding a very small lead section about how this is your thoughts about your design — not what others should think. It’s sad that it’s necessary, but a lot of people seem to miss the point of a manifesto, thinking it’s “this is TRUTH” as opposed to “these are MY/OUR principles”.

    Tightening it up: you’re aiming it at the reader. Don’t do that, it’s preachy. ..see what I did there? πŸ™‚


    “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.”

    could be

    “We’re not in the seventies anymore. Vallejo and Frazetta are dated. We will not use cheesecake pictures as art.”

    I would also try to avoid calling this the new school manifesto, since either you will just be shitted on even if the manifesto is brilliant: the term is too wide and vague and many people self-identify with it without really agreeing on it. Maybe Marttila-Erlingsson Manifesto instead? πŸ™‚

    Re. actual content.

    Your comments re. dark/adult/gritty games are interesting, but way too sweeping. Speak about “In our experience…” “We don’t want…” “We want to…” Right now that paragraph alienates me completely. One of the best games I ever ran was a low-magic low-fantasy pseudohistorical game with adult and dark themes strongly present. It was also a lot of fun. I’m not saying your focus is wrong, I’m just saying that you’re setting up a strawman instead of identifying your own interests and desires.

    Comments regarding “fun” read as overly generic to me. I *think* I know what you’re aiming at, because I know the Finnish/Nordic scene — and RPGs-as-art are an actual phenomenon — but I think the international audience is likely to misread it, as you probably experienced on dragonsfoot. I think you should clarify this. Say what it is you don’t want to do, and what it is that you do what to do.

    I think the best parts of the text are the bits that speaks about inclusiveness and variety. You should expand on them. Make them more forceful and clarify your thinking.

    Cheers — and sorry about the pedantry,

    — d

    • kemper2011 says:

      Hi and thank you for your answer!

      We pretty much knew that the manifesto was going to see some angry replies, like on Dragonsfoot, but that’s just something we have to deal with when having opinions.

      Probably the thing we should clarify the most is that we’re talking about game design, not how to run games. I’ve ran dark games with emotional depth, and I don’t see any problem with doing that, since as a GM, I know my players and my players know me. I see issues cropping up when you do game design integrating these things: it’s hard to do right for a broader audience.

      We will probably re-work the manifesto at some point (since we don’t believe in absolute truths and everything is always a work in progress), and when we do, I’ll most definiently return to this post you made!

  2. Pingback: Focus on rules and more rules | Lions of the North

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