Friday 4 June 2021


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Looking at Qualitative Design has got me thinking about Expectations that RPGs carry. Again, I'm throwing back to the manifesto, where I say:

When you learn about a new game your mind races with what could be possible. The reality is often a compromise. I want to remove everything that stands in the way between how you imagine a game could be and how it plays at the table.

My first exposure to tabletop games was through Warhammer Fantasy Battles, and I don't think I can overstate how little context I had for this new hobby that was unfolding in front of me at age 10. I didn't have any friends that already knew about it, there wasn't a handy website or video I could watch to explain it, and I wouldn't get an actual rulebook for months after buying my first few miniatures. 

So my monthly exploration was limited to what I could glean from White Dwarf. Battle Reports were a lifeline here, where I could pour over them and try to imagine how this thing would actually work on my own dining table. 

Years later I would go through a similar experience with D&D, when I picked up the 3rd Edition core books and mostly experienced them through reading about other people's games on forums, with the occasional dissatisfying facsimile of a game on pbp or irc. 

In a way, nothing can live up to those naïve imaginings. I never used to imagine hitting a rule that we don't understand, our game grinding to a halt. I never imagined being matched up in a game with that player who ruins it for everybody else. I didn't imagine having an idea for a daring gambit and being told that I should really just do the boring thing instead. 

I don't think this imagined perfect game is necessarily worth chasing in earnest, but that endless pursuit has been core to so much of what I try to do with my games. 

Did you have an expectation with games that never quite survived reality?


  1. I was lucky enough to experience mostly games where the cool thing was done, and when the rules got in the way, we made it work within a loose framework based on the rules. There was the understanding that *of course* the rules could not cover every conceivable idea. They were just the baseline for a common understanding. When I finally met groups that were very rules-effectiveness oriented and put the letter of the rules over the spirit of the story, they were, to me, odd groups of people, not odd rules systems.
    Lucky me!

  2. "I don't think this imagined perfect game is necessarily worth chasing in earnest..."

    Yes, it is. Chase that dragon, hoss!

  3. When I played my first game of AD&D at age 8, my friend’s older brother ran some module out of a book. I thought there must be, not just dungeons, but vast wilderness, towns, biomes and whole worlds defined in perfect detail. I thought the world we were exploring was already fully defined in a thousand modules and this corpus of modules was ‘D&D’.

  4. The mystery and wonder I felt from reading about Jorune never quite translated into the playing of it. 'Let us go on a journey across this ancient alien landscape and see the fabled Mountain Crown of Tan-Iricid' somehow always just turned into 'Bitchin! We can throw these cystals like GRENADES!!!'.

    1. And yet, I'm certain everyone had a jolly good time :D

  5. I had a similar experience with Warhammer and such, piecing whatever I could from white dwarves and the free reference sheets. I played a bit at various clubs, but always enjoyed playing more solo where I could do what I wanted and make narratives without worrying about strict rules or "the best move".

    When I played magic the gathering I also imagined something very different from what I ended up playing in. Played a while against hyper-focused (and expensive) decks that I stopped, probably what put me off people super-optimising in RPGs.