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Why a Setting with a Message Creates Peak Escapism

This somehow isn’t a popular opinion, but I like when there’s a message in my tabletop roleplaying. I like settings and adventures to be about something. Let me allegorically fight for a cause. Allow me to express my values through a fictional character. Help me to vicariously deal with real-world issues in the form of escapist entertainment.

I stay off of nerd social media because I got tired of the whole “stop using the thing you created to push your political agenda” crap. As if art hasn’t always been political. It wouldn’t surprise me if we someday learned that the Lascaux cave paintings in France turned out to be some sort of prehistoric protest graffiti.

“Oh no, creators are using comics and games and novels and TV shows and movie and photographs and illustrations and plays and music and (takes a deep breath) so on to express their thoughts and feelings about the world around them! Say it isn’t so!  If I have to learn about the lived experiences of people different than me, I might die!”

“Wait, people of color are writing about race issues! Women are writing about women’s issues! LGBTQ+ people are writing about LGBTQ+ issues! Health care workers are writing about health care issues! Puerto Ricans are writing about Puerto Rican issues! Where will this madness end! Other people existing is an attack on my existence!”

I say this with all of the politeness and professionalism I can muster: Just shut up already.

More voices means more people at the table, literally and metaphorically. It’s a big table with plenty of room for everyone. The problem is when there isn’t any room in hearts and minds for diverse opinions, representation, and new ideas. P

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Why a Setting with a Message Creates Peak Escapism

RPGaDay is an annual event held each August. It asks tabletop gamers to use provided daily prompts to express something fun, interesting, and positive about the hobby. David F. Chapman (Autocratik), the award-winning game designer, created it.

About Dancing Lights Press

Dancing Lights Press is a lo-fi publisher of tabletop roleplaying systems and system-agnostic creative aids, including the best selling Building series, the DoubleZero action thriller system, and Hippogryph, a fantasy story game system with traditional  roots. Our products embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation because roleplaying is an activity, not a collection of expensive rulebooks.

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How Unsolved Mysteries Helped Me Find My GM Voice

Today’s RPGaDay word prompt is “stack”. What definition of the word is meaningful to my own tabletop roleplaying experiences? Can bonuses be added together? Will poker chips or other tokens pile up? Something about the host of the original Unsolved Mysteries television series, Robert Stack?

I’m going to go with the last one. Because this challenge is open to interpretation, so I can.

Yes, Robert Stack and Unsolved Mysteries

Over the years I have developed what I call my “guide voice”. When I’m narrating scenes for players, they know it means they need to pay attention. I’m describing important things. It’s different from my “what is your character” doing voice, or any voices I use for supporting characters. I hit upon this voice from watching shows with a lot of voice-over work, including Unsolved Mysteries. For a couple of campaign, I had a loop of incidental music that I played to go along with it. Just to heighten the effect.

The first campaign I used it for was an espionage game, not unlike DoubleZero. At first it was a flashback mechanism; I used the voice of the player characters’ boss. They were in the field, but I was narrating what he had told them back in the office before the adventure began. It was a way to get directly into the action.

Having a specific voice — not so much an impression, as a cadence and tone –used only for narration worked well. If I was reading the “flavor text” from a published adventure, they knew that it was official information, not me riffing. It helped to keep things interesting, and got the players to refocus if there was starting to be too much table talk.

Robert Stack had great voice for it. Peter Graves was a close second. It was forceful and dramatic, without lapsing into camp or hammy overacting. There was a serious to it, but he could also be a bit tongue-in-cheek for some of the more outlandish stories.  Consider trying something like this out with your group.

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How Unsolved Mysteries Helped Me Find My GM Voice

RPGaDay is an annual event held each August. It asks tabletop gamers to use provided daily prompts to express something fun, interesting, and positive about the hobby. David F. Chapman (Autocratik), the award-winning game designer, created it.

About Dancing Lights Press

Dancing Lights Press is a lo-fi publisher of tabletop roleplaying systems and system-agnostic creative aids, including the best selling Building series, the DoubleZero action thriller system, and Hippogryph, a fantasy story game system with traditional  roots. Our products embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation because roleplaying is an activity, not a collection of expensive rulebooks.

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Weighing What You Want Against Player Expectations

“I think it’s terribly dangerous for an artist to fulfill other people’s expectations. I think they generally produce their worst work when they do that.”

David Bowie, 1997 interview

I write systems and settings that I want to play, but don’t already exist. They’re created based on my preferred style of play, and the parts of tabletop roleplaying that I enjoy most. The tools that I create are things I use for building characters, worlds, and adventures. They’re all the products that I would buy, if I weren’t the one making them. My own expectations take precedence over other peoples’. These are the things I want.

Of course, these aren’t the things everyone wants. That’s okay. I’m fine with no creating monstrous, expensive hardcover books. That’s not the problem I’m solving for. As a consumer, I can’t afford that stuff. As a minimalist, I don’t have the space for it in my apartment. PDFs and eBooks are better choices for me. I’m not making things in a format that I wouldn’t buy.

This naturally means that people constantly tell me I’m doing it wrong. According to whom? I’m happy with the things I write. I’m making a modest living at it. That’s all I want. And at some point, that’s also really all I need.

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Enter your email address to receive notifications of new releases, products in development, and other news and updated from Dancing Lights Press by email.

Weighing What You Want Against Player Expectations

RPGaDay is an annual event held each August. It asks tabletop gamers to use provided daily prompts to express something fun, interesting, and positive about the hobby. David F. Chapman (Autocratik), the award-winning game designer, created it.

About Dancing Lights Press

Dancing Lights Press is a lo-fi publisher of tabletop roleplaying systems and system-agnostic creative aids, including the best selling Building series, the DoubleZero action thriller system, and Hippogryph, a fantasy story game system with traditional  roots. Our products embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation because roleplaying is an activity, not a collection of expensive rulebooks.

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Why Is Roleplaying Hard to Learn?

Dancing Lights Press

The first time I played Dungeons & Dragons was in 1978. Yes, I’m really that old. There weren’t any groups around to join back then. I wanted to play, which meant that I had to learn how to be the Dungeon Master. That’s why I have nothing but sympathy for people that find roleplaying hard to learn. Even having nothing to worry about other than the core mechanic and your character’s abilities can be daunting. I think that’s why so many new players tend to drop out within the first few sessions.

Scott Niswander addresses this, and many other issues, in his latest video. He chronicles his journey from finally getting to play D&D (and having a bad initial experience) to running a one-shot within a year. It covers all of the obstacles he faced. He talks honestly about the things that killed his enthusiasm. Then he explains how he found his interest again, and fell completely in love with roleplaying.

It all comes down to people. I’ll keep saying this until the day I day. A book isn’t a game. Dice and maps and miniatures aren’t a game. A group of kind, supportive people able to share their creativity, that’s the game. The biggest obstacle to the industry isn’t the price of printing, or the impact of the pandemic on conventions. It’s the toxic elements in the culture.

We need more voices like Scott’s. People willing to be open about barriers to entry. New folks coming into the hobby who will share hard truths, ask great questions, and propose workable solutions. Along with that, we need more people to step up and celebrate the warm, welcoming elements in the greater community. The good people are out there. It needs to be easier to find them. It doesn’t matter f you find roleplaying hard to learn when you have cool, patient people willing to help.

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Why are we named Dancing Lights Press?

Today’s prompt is “light”, so I’ll finally explain why the name of the company is Dancing Lights Press.

As some readers know, I started off as an RPG blogger under the handle UncleBear. From 1996 to 2009, I ran a fairly popular blog. Many people who went on to do great things said nice things about it. I have been cited as an inspiration a few times. There was, briefly, a publishing company called UncleBear Media. Behind the scenes there were business shenanigans. Long story short, I don’t own the name or any of the intellectual property that was generated. The old domain was sold to a stock trading company.

The Asparagus Jumpsuit Years

I did venture back into publishing, sans partners. The name of that company was Asparagus Jumpsuit. I chose it specifically to be weird, offbeat, and have no specific meaning. Some people found the name off-putting for some reason. One person told me that he would never, ever buy anything because he hated the stupid name of the company. It had nothing to do with the quality of the work. It has nothing to do with what was being published. There are boundaries around creativity, I guess.

In truth, Asparagus Jumpsuit has been created to serve as a learning lab while I was in business school. It allowed me to experiment with product ideas, marketing methods, and so on. I wrote papers about the results that I got. In that regard, it was a smashing success. I graduated Summa Cum Laude  with a degree in Business Administration, Entrepreneurship emphasis.

The Rise of Dancing Lights Press

The original idea was that after graduation Asparagus Jumpsuit would scale up. By that point, though, I’d learned so much and had so many new concept that I wanted to incorporate. It was easier to start fresh with a new company than try to revamp the existing one. That meant finding a new name. Hopefully one that would resonate better with my potential customer base.

I wanted products to focus on creativity and ideas. The notion of the light bulb over a person’s head kept coming up in my brainstorming session. At that point I was already in Finland, land of the aurora borealis, the Northern Lights. Another light reference. Thematically, everything was pointing toward light. After checking the availability of several names, and bouncing potential candidates off of people I trust, I settled on Dancing Lights Press.

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#RPGaDay2020 – Light

RPGaDay is an annual event held each August. It asks tabletop gamers to use provided daily prompts to express something fun, interesting, and positive about the hobby. David F. Chapman (Autocratik), the award-winning game designer, created it.

About Dancing Lights Press

Dancing Lights Press is a lo-fi publisher of tabletop roleplaying systems and system-agnostic creative aids, including the best selling Building series, the DoubleZero action thriller system, and Hippogryph, a fantasy story game system with traditional  roots. Our products embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation because roleplaying is an activity, not a collection of expensive rulebooks.