29 December 2020–4 January 2021: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Art from Bully Pulpit's 2020-themed playset for Fiasco

This week, we look backwards (at the industry in 2020, at Wizards’ history with race, at the rise of cosmic horror) and forwards (at the future of RPGs, and what to look forward to in 2021).

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2020 was a trash fire of a year, but you folks, our readers, and especially our backers, made it a bit better. Wishing you all a much more hope-full year. — Amy

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Looking Back

RPG Historian, Shannon Appelcline, charts the trends of the industry in 2020.

Wired looks at Dungeons & Dragons overdue reckoning with race.

IGN looks at how cosmic horror went mainstream, via games like Call of Cthulhu.

Kotaku releases its Gamers of the Year list, featuring RPG creator and streamer, Tanya DePass, aka Cypheroftyr.

Speaking of which, DePass streamed a game of Animal Crossing with Georgian politician and voting rights activist, Stacey Abrams. The stream featured an ASL interpreter, which is damn cool. — Amy

PC Gamer looks at the mysterious disappearance of Paranoia computer RPG adaptation, Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory.

A game of conspiracy and treachery being mysteriously pulled, and no one will say why? The logical conclusion is that there’s a legal kerfuffle happening. My totally unjustified conspiracy theory is that it’s a marketing ploy, and it’ll have a dramatic reappearance. I was totally uninterested in the game until it became a mystery. — Amy

Looking Forward

Lewis Pulsipher hypothesises what the future holds for RPGs in a two part series.

EN World releases a list of the most-anticipated RPGs of 2021.

Agency & Assault

Swordsfall creator, Brandon Dixon, writes about the removal of player agency in an RPG as a form of assault.

(CW: Sexual Harassment; Assault) I really don’t know what to think about this piece. There is some truth to the idea that removing agency from players can be something like assault.

When I was eighteen, I played a game where my character’s clothes were removed by the GM, and she was sexualised by the other players (all men in their 20s). Nothing actually happened, it was just a twist of the fiction, but it felt horrific, humiliating — as though something had happened, and to me. It affected me. “Assault” isn’t the word I use, but it’s not wildly inappropriate.

But Dixon is talking more broadly — indicting any case where a GM forces player actions, in particular for the sake of their own grand plot. Is forcing player actions a bad DM move? I’d say always. Is it assault? I’d say sometimes.

It’s worth us having a framework for describing how harm can be done to a player through their character. “Assault” may be a useful term to employ. I just don’t buy Dixon’s liberal use of it. — Amy

Sexually assaulting a character in game — without clear signposting, consent and safety tools — can reasonably be called assault. But starting your game “in media res” and assuming that the players have made certain decisions that lead them to that point, is often an entirely valid and reasonable technique.

I think it’s more helpful to discuss the social contract of the game and have players understand and sign up for how much authority the GM (and players) will have in game in advance. It is always a failure when the players and GM have differing expectations. Informed consent is key.

Incidentally, this isn’t just a five year old debate, as Dixon suggests. Debates about railroading have been around for as long as I’ve been roleplaying since the early 80s. Much of the work of Ron Edwards and the rest of The Forge creators in the later 90s onwards was focused on it.

I welcome any discussion about player agency, but I think it’s a more complex subject than this article suggests and I fear that the blanket term “assault” could be seen as trivialising real-world assault and emotional abuse.
— James

New & Upcoming Releases

Bully Pulpit releases Trash Fire 2020, a 2020-themed playset for Fiasco.

Cubicle 7 releases PDF editions and launches preorders for Power Behind the Throne, Middenheim: City of the White Wolf and Archives of the Empire for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.

River Horse games will create an RPG adaptation of Dark Crystal. This follows on from the Labyrinth RPG, and seems to take a similar format: a choose-your-own-adventure style adventure game.

Crowdfunding News

Noteworthy New Projects

Epic Battlemaps: A book of fold-out battlemaps, by Guy Sclanders (A complete Guide to Nautical Campaigns). So far this project has raised $66,000 from 1,100 backers. Ends January 15th.

Closing Soon

Monster Description Cards is a set of prompt cards for writers, storytellers and GMs to use to develop their ideas. So far this project has raised $107,000 from 2,000 backers. Ends January 9th.

This looks like a really polished project and I didn’t realise when first reporting on it that it also includes an app that includes all the cards in a digital format. Still toying with the idea of whether to back this or not (I’m veering towards the digital option). — James

Field Guide to Memory is a narrative journaling game about a missing cryptozoologist. So far this project has raised $51,000 from 1,400 backers. Ends January 8th.

Not a lot to add to this from last week; the project has already passed all the listed stretch goals (the last of which was to pay contributors more, which I feel should be more of a thing than it actually is). Journaling and solitaire games really found their place in 2020, and I expect this will continue into 2021 and beyond. — James

Shim actually tweeted about another pretty cool stretch goal at $56k. — Amy


Limitless Encounters vol. 3: A collection of encounters and adventure hooks, by Limitless Adventures (5E Pirate Bundle, Limitless NPCs Revision, The Blood Queen’s Defiance) — January 30th


Olde School Wizardry: An RPG about bumbling wizards, focused on problem-solving, by Fearsome Games — January 7th

I wasn’t sure whether to count this as an OSR game or not as it associates itself with OSR but feels like a slightly different animal. Hence the “ish”. — James

This update was made possible by Keenan Collett, and the rest of our Patreon supporters.

1 Comment on "29 December 2020–4 January 2021: Looking Back, Looking Forward"

  1. I don’t want to make assumptions about Brandon Dixon, but nothing in his article sounds like it came from someone whom has endured genuine assault in real life. Instead, it reads like someone who’s worried about being called “that guy” by his players. Yes, there has been a literal fight for agency/control between players and GMs for decades in the hobby.

    However, I argue that spun out of the predominantly white-straight-male creative viewpoint leaking into other places. I would continue to argue that across the board fantasy/sci-fi media was full of sexism and other forms of non-inclusivity in the 1970s to early 2000s. This has lead to the consequence that whatever injustices and abuses that occurred in the past were not discussed then; and thus a clear set of terminology did not properly form simultaneously.

    Instead, those discussing the hobby today are borrowing terms from elsewhere which leads to confusion. Yes, loss of agency (noun: The capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power. Merriam-Webster) can be quite upsetting to players. However, I’m not inclined to agree with Brandon Dixon that any and every action that happens towards a character is an indirect attack on the player behind them.


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