Social Mechanics in Table-Top Role-Playing Games

Wizards of the Coast recently announced the publication of a forthcoming adventure module for Dungeons & Dragons, The Wild Beyond the Witchlight, set in the realm of the Faewild. The announcement claims that ‘all encounters in the adventure include a non-combat option, allowing players to think and roleplay their way through the adventure if they wish’. The responses I saw to this ranged between enthusiasm about the potential of these developments as well as scepticism regarding how effective they can be within the core mechanics and gameplay of the system. While discussing what these changes to D&D could mean for the game, I found it useful to reflect on what ‘social mechanics’ mean, and how game systems implement them to different ends.

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Talking About How We Work

The third in my series of blog posts about learning to manage the workflows of academic writing and research, in which I discuss the various structural barriers that we perpetuate when we do not actively address the question of how we manage work in existing research methods training.

Getting the Hang of LaTeX

My second post in a series on workflows where I talk about why I am transitioning my writing to LaTeX, and what specific setup I am using.

Moving Away from a Manual Workflow

The first in a series of posts in which I reflect on my writing workflow, the difficulties I faced with it, and how I adapted and developed it going forward.

The Viva

I had my viva back in February, and according to my examiners I passed with flying colours. It still feels unreal for me to say. One of the most daunting things about the viva was the feeling of isolation as I was preparing for it. Most people I knew who had been through the process gave me fairly general advice, but it was never specific enough for me to put me at ease. Many of my friends and contemporaries are crossing the same milestones just now, as some of us are submitting our corrections while the other is at their viva or making the preliminary submission for assessment. So this is a good time to reflect on what happened, and talk about the things I wish I had known before.

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Candlekeep and the Politics of Knowledge

Published earlier this year, Candlekeep Mysteries is a supplement for Dungeons & Dragons published by Wizards of the Coast. It is an anthology of adventures by different writers, each story based on a specific book found in the eponymous library in the setting. Candlekeep, inviting comparisons with the Library of Alexandria, is imagined as a repository of knowledge like no other, maintained by an order of mystical monks who have dedicated their entire lives to the preservation of knowledge, in a fortress-like library town overlooking the sea. The setting has a wealth of lore and intricate textures that characterise it as a dream for any bibliophile. But reading between the lines of such romanticisation of a library yields some intriguing questions regarding the commodification of knowledge and the politics of its ownership and stewarding, making this an interesting thought experiment on the political and ethical issues that attend to the workings of institutions of higher learning.

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How the Pokémon Franchise Portrays Academia

The core drive in the mainline Pokémon videogames is acquiring knowledge. This idea is so central to the mechanics as well as the story that it underlies both the main quest of whatever world-threatening catastrophe the protagonist is trying to avert, and also the subsequent challenge of competing in the league championship. Thematically, this could not be more obvious than at the very start, as the game opens with a professor who is named after a tree talking to you about the magical creatures that inhabit the world, and how they’ve dedicated their lives to researching whatever new gimmick this generation of the game introduces. The same professor usually presides over the awards ceremony in the hall of fame after the players win the championship. And then you are tasked with collecting data on all the creatures in the game by traversing the world and catching them; you are rewarded for completing this task with a ‘diploma’. This theme is stated explicitly in the fourth generation games, in which the protagonist and their friends are referred to by the Professor as his ‘research assistants’. In that regard, some aspects of the Pokémon games paint a rather quirky picture of academia.

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What Table-Top Gaming Taught Me About Teaching

It never ceases to amaze me how big the overlap is in the Venn diagram of PhD students and table-top gamers. My experience of this hobby has been symbiotic with many of the other things I do, and in no place is that more salient than in teaching. Being a Game Master has made me a better tutor, but not for the reasons that one might think. Yes, many of the skills required to be a GM — a role which combines being a storyteller, referee, and moderator — are useful when facilitating a tutorial discussion: being able to improvise and adapt one’s game or lesson plan depending on the direction the conversation takes, integrating everyone in the discussion (especially those who might not be as confident), encouraging collaboration between people, resolving conflict or disagreement at the table, et cetera. Practising these skills when gaming makes managing tutoring feel more familiar, and the confidence I garner doing one thing bolsters me in the other. This is, however, a superficial understanding of the dynamics at play. GMing has helped me be a better tutor not just through practising the common skills involved, but by inculcating me with values and practices in contemporary play culture that have a strong benefit to how we teach.

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#RPGaDay2020: Days 1 to 7

August is #RPGaDay month. Seeing that there are several different prompts for every day, and Twitter isn’t the best platform for the length in which I wanted to write, I decided to write my posts to my blog. And instead of writing 31 individual posts for each day, I decided to do them in weekly blasts, starting with this post for days 1 to 7.

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Carrying it With You: Masculinity, Grief, and Table-Top Role-Playing in Disney/Pixar’s Onward

This year’s Disney/Pixar release, Onward, is a love letter to table-top role-playing games: two brothers bond over their journey of overcoming shared grief by going off on a fantastical and zany Dungeons & Dragons adventure. As much as the film is a delightful pastiche of high fantasy TRPGs, it ponders more delicate issues about masculinity and the expectations of stoicism and toughness that attend to it. It poses some interesting questions about the place geek culture occupies within masculinity, while also reflecting how things are changing very gradually.

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