The Man in the Arena

Tabletop roleplaying games are punk. At least, they should be. Individual, do-it-yourself, unburdened by other peoples’ expectations. Now you have my game design philosophy in a nutshell. All glory to the man in the arena.

What attracted me to roleplaying, when I was still physically a kid and not just a child at heart, was the economy of it. With as little as one book, some paper and pens, and a fist full of dice, my friends and I could build worlds. We could populate those worlds with all sorts of fascinating characters. Then we could tell those characters’ stories.

Our peers were wasting their summers going to movies, and their weekends watching television. They were spending money and consuming, doing things that were expected of them, and engaging in activities deemed to be cool. We were creating things and figuring out how to express ourselves. Nobody understood what we were doing, or why, and we didn’t care.

I have nothing against full-color, heavily illustrated, hardcover tomes. Best wishes to the people who run crowdfunding campaigns, laden with all sorts of fancy rewards, in order to finance the production of those things. It’s cool to watch attractive young people on streaming channels acting their hearts out. There’s nothing wrong with people who watch those shows, and collect those books, but never actually play.

That stuff’s just not my jam, personally, is all I’m saying.

Don’t think that I’m stuck in the past, either. I’m not one of those guys that jams his fingers in his ears and pretends that anything created after 1985 doesn’t exist. I like that rules have been refined, and streamlined, and made more accessible. I don’t think that there’s only ever been One True Way. Currently, I don’t think the notion that everything has to be expensive and pretty is any more the One True Way than a crusty old edition surrounded by curmudgeonly gatekeepers.

I don’t have a budget or a staff or a huge social media following. I do the best I can with what I’ve got, which is sitting in front of a laptop, on my kitchen table, pounding out words. There are no tears shed, and no excuses made, because I can’t do things the way that other people do them, or how some consider to be the only “right” way. I do it anyway. Because this is how I choose to do it.

The Man in the Arena

When I decided to start a new RPG blog, I immediately knew that I wanted to title it THE MAN IN THE ARENA. You can take it at face value, as a nod to the combat-centric nature of traditional tabletop roleplaying games. It’s actually a reference to a speech given by Theodore Roosevelt on April 23, 1910.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

My stuff’s not perfect. I am aware. I don’t have physical books in stores, or at booth a the major conventions, and no one’s nominated me for any awards. But I’m doing it. I don’t want to sound like I’ve got a chip on my shoulder, but I’m tired of having to justify my existence, or explain myself, to people don’t get it, aren’t ever going to get it, and just don’t want to get it. I’ve got over 50 best sellers at DriveThruRPG. Somehow I’ve managed to support my wife and I for over two years just on what I make as a writer and game designer. I’m doing what I want to do, and I’ve found success at it on my own terms. To me, that’s about as punk as it gets.

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