Roleplaying Theme

How can you use the literary concept of theme in a roleplaying game adventure?

Yes, roleplaying games are different in structure than other forms of fiction, and the needs of the story, the people telling the story, and the audience are all unique. They’re still stories, and embracing theme is a relatively easy way to make those stories better. It’s infinitely more interesting when the character kills the monster, steals the treasure, and levels up for some actual purpose — just look at nearly any fantasy novel or movie. Punching supervillains and overthrowing galactic overlords is a lot more fun when there’s some emotional connection to be made, something that people can relate to beyond the fight scenes and explosions.

Theme is Not the Premise

A story’s premise is the heart of what happens during the story, but on a very superficial level. The protagonist overcomes a series of obstacles, usually put in place by an antagonist, to achieve the story goal; that’s the premise. The player characters kill monsters in order to gain treasure and level up. The boy does what heed needs to do to be with the girl he loves, in spite of the people trying to keep them apart. A hero goes on a quest, survives the hazards of travel, and returns home with the prize he was seeking. Those premises might be interesting, and help to attract an audience, but it doesn’t convey any sort of profound meaning or emotional connection with that audience.

Theme is Not the Plot

Plot can mean a lot of things, but for our purposes let’s simplify the definition to indicate a type of story that follows a particular structure. The typical story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. A journey plot starts with the reason to travel, with the travel in the middle, and either reaching the destination or getting back home at the end. A rags-to-riches story begins with a protagonist in poverty, has them on a path to prosperity in the middle, and a happy ending where they’re literally or metaphorically rich. A mystery starts with a crime, has an investigation with twists and turns in the middle, and the crime being solved in the end. These structures can be a framework for the theme, familiar elements upon which you can build greater meaning, explore universal issues, and say something significant about the world.

Theme is a Discussion

When developing a story’s theme, you begin with the point that you want to make. It has to be clear in your head what you want to say, and why you want to say it. Then you need to lay out all of the arguments about why you’re right, and the counterargument is wrong. The protagonist can express your point of view, the antagonist the contrary view, and supporting characters other perspectives. All of the other other elements of the story should also point the audience toward accepting your talking points. You need to make the audience care as much about the theme as you do about the characters and the cool fiddly bits of the setting. They need to feel that they have a horse in this race. This leads us to the final point.

Theme is Universal

Theme is what makes your story universal. Every member of the audience, no matter what their age, life experience, or background, should be able to relate to what is happening in the story on some level. The purpose of theme is to help the audience — the reader, player, viewer, whatever — relate to the elements of the story on a personal level. The circumstances of the story, in terms of genre, time, and place, may not be elements that the audience can relate to, but the have an emotional integrity, a human core, that resonates with everyone.

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Lighthouse Roleplaying System™

Introducing the Lighthouse Roleplaying System  – easy to learn and simple to use. The subtlety and nuance lies in how you choose to interpret the die rolls and use them to tell your story. Here’s a quick overview of how the system works.

There When You Need It

Most of the time, you can use the context of the story and established abilities of the characters to decide what happens without having to roll any dice. Do what makes sense, seems logical, and makes for an interesting story. There are only two times when you need to roll dice:

The outcome is uncertain. The action that a character wants to undertake could succeed or fail, so you roll dice to find out which. Or, there are risks inherent in undertaking the action, so you roll to see if the character succeeds and overcomes those risks, or fails and has to deal with the complications.

You need to determine the degree of success or failure. You know that the character will probably succeed, but how well they manage to do so will matter. Or, even though you know the character will probably fail, the degree to which they fail holds some significance. The rewards and complications can impact the story going forward, so die rolls are required to help better define the outcomes.

Bid on Risks and Rewards

When you decide what action you’d like your character to take, you bid a die type (d4, d6, d8, d10, or d12). This represents both the risk you’re willing to take and the reward you’d like to achieve. The bigger the die, the greater the degree of success or failure. The more the character stands to gain if you succeed, the greater the injury or other complications the character will suffer if you fail.

Roll a d20 and Add Modifiers

The player declares what they’d like the character to do, and then rolls a 20-sided die. Add any bonuses the character is able to use, as well as any situational modifiers that the guide might impose, to the rolled result. There are no target numbers to compare the total to; all you need to keep track of is whether the total of the roll and modifiers is high or low, even or odd.

High or Low, Success or Failure

If the total of your roll plus modifiers is high (11 or more) your character succeeds. If your total is low (10 or less) you character fails. That’s it. No charts, no tables, and no screen are required to figure out whether your character succeeded or failed. You can focus on the story, not the dice.

Even or Odd, Narrating the Outcome

If your total of roll plus modifiers is an even number, you get to describe what happens. If your total is an odd number, the guide describes what happens. You can make your successes sound far more impressive, and your failures less painful. The guide can make your victories look like luck, and your failures look embarrassing.

Nobody Dies Accidentally

Because Lighthouse leans toward being a storytelling activity and away from being a game, it’s impossible for characters to simply die randomly because of bad die rolls or even poor choices. A character’s death has to make sense in the context of the story. It should also have emotional impact, as it does in fiction. Finally, the player and the guide have to agree that the character’s death is appropriate and adds something interesting or important to the story.

Lighthouse Roleplaying System™ Copyright 2017 Berin Kinsman. All Rights Reserved.

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Roleplaying Emotion

 How can you express your character’s feelings without embarrassing yourself?

Sometimes the hardest thing to do in a tabletop roleplaying game is engage with the roleplaying part. It’s not that we have a shortage of ideas on how our characters would behave. Their abilities aren’t a mystery to us, and we know how to use them to our tactical advantage. Things break down when we have to perform the characters. As people. In character. With feelings and reactions and all of that messy, potentially embarrassing stuff.

Roleplaying Emotion helps you to understand the character’s emotions within the context of the story goal, their personal goals, and their motivations. When this are going well, the character will express things like affection, contentment, happiness, hope, and respect. When things go poorly, they’ll express anger, disgust, fear, sadness, and shame.

Designed for creative tabletop roleplayers of all levels of experience, with clear step-by-step instructions you can:

  • Understand how to portray positive and negative emotions
  • Learn how to describe degrees of emotional states
  • Utilize 5 core positive emotions, centered on joy
  • Utilize 5 core negative emotions, centered on pain
  • Use emotions to gain modifiers on die rolls for tasks

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ReadWriteRoll: A Roleplaying Manifesto

How can you tell better stories with a tabletop roleplaying game?

ReadWriteRoll is a system for readers, writers, and roleplayers who love telling stories with friends! It combines familiar d20-style mechanics with story game sensibilities to create a simple system designed around the way stories are constructed.

The core mechanic is simple – roll a d20, add modifiers, and determine if the total is high or low, even or odd. If the total is high, you succeed! If it’s low, you fail. If the total is an even number, you narrate your success or failure. If the total is odd, the gamemaster or your opponent gets to describe you success or failure.

The game also uses risk dice, polyhedrals from a d4 to d12 that allow you to influence your level of success or failure. The bigger the die type, the bigger the risk. The bigger the risk, the greater your possible success — and the larger the consequences for failure!

ReadWriteRoll is divided into three sections:

  • The first helps you to determine the type of story you want to tell, and allows the gamemaster to put together a setting alone or collaboratively with the rest of the group.
  • The second section is character creation, so you can create the protagonists, antagonists, and supporting cast needed to populate your story!
  • The final section contains the rules, everything you need to play the game and tell your story!

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Roleplaying Alignment

How can you make alignment more useful and meaningful in your roleplaying games?

Roleplaying Alignment presents a system for using the traditional nine-point alignment system to enrich your game. It presents alignment as a means for customizing your character’s personality, goals, and beliefs. Simple mechanics reward characters who embody the tenets of their alignment, and penalize those who stray from it. Alignment can answer questions about a character’s stance toward morality, provide fodder to continue the never-ending conversations about good versus evil and law versus chaos.

Roleplaying Alignment was designed for tabletop roleplayers who play games using legacy categories of ethical and moral perspectives. With clear step-by-step instructions you can:

  • Define alignment in the context of character and setting
  • Understand the physiological, sociological, and psychological elements of alignment
  • Explore the basic tenets of the nine alignments
  • Utilize compliance and deviation from alignment

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Roleplaying Group Dynamics

How can you get your game group to work better together and have more fun?

Most of you don’t need to be told how to play well with others. Unfortunately, you’ll run into people who do. For whatever reason, they never learned this particular set of social skills. Sitting down to play a game with them can be like herding cats — occasionally entertaining, but mostly frustrating. You’ll wonder if you’re wasting your time, and begin to think about other things you could be doing that involve less hassle. I have seen people leave groups, and quit the hobby entirely not because they didn’t enjoy roleplaying or love the campaign they were in, but because no one knew how to coordinate a group or deal with difficult players.

Group Dynamics helps you to facilitate your group so everyone gets their needs met, learns to cooperate for mutual benefit, and has more fun telling stories together! Designed for all tabletop roleplayers from newbees to veterans, with clear step-by-step instructions you can:

  • Grasp the four principles of facilitating a game group
  • Understand player needs and how to meet them
  • Embrace basic group logistics for clarity and reliability
  • Manage table talk and channel distraction
  • Identify and deal with various types of difficult players

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