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Black Box Movement: Everything is a Remix

black box movement

RPG culture is remix culture. Everything is a remix. That’s it. That’s the blog post.

Well, almost.

I think it’s important for people to understand what remix culture is. People need to see how it applies to tabletop roleplaying games. You’re already engaged in it, whether you realize it or not.  When you’re able to do it consciously, it can be another tool for you to leverage in your own creative endeavors.

Everything is a Remix

Gary Gygax took miniatures wargaming, mixed it with ideas from his favorite pulp fantasy novels, and created Dungeons & Dragons. Most of us bring our favorite books, TV shows, movies, and even other games with us to the table. We throw Middle Earth, Hyperborea, Melnibone, Westeros, Medieval Europe, the unnamed world of The Witcher, and more into a blender, pick out the bits we don’t like, and call it our own. The things that work for us have the serial numbers filed off and get renamed. Things we sort of like that don’t quite click get reinterpreted and “fixed” to suit us. We deconstruct, mash up, and recycle all sorts of things to create our campaign worlds, our adventures, and our characters.

The Black Box Movement started with my friend and colleague Daniel M. Perez ruminating on the Dogme 95 film movement, wondering how something like that could be applied to tabletop roleplaying. I added the philosophy of black box theater to the mix, and Daniel used that for the title. It’s not only a remix of other peoples’ ideas, it’s a combination of a few of my ideas with his.

Someone once criticized one of my creative aid books by saying it looked like I read a bunch of books on writing, synthesized a range of ideas I found, and applied them to roleplaying. I have thus far resisted the urge to scream, “Well, DUH!” at the top of my lungs. Everything you read is a remix of ideas and experiences the writer has been exposed to, processed, and interprets.

RPG Culture is Remix Culture

That DoubleZero is a remix of ideas from the Victory Games James Bond 007 RPG and Basic Roleplaying (by way of GORE™, itself a remix of BRP) isn’t a secret. The Hippogryph Codex is an obvious remix of Fate and the d20 System, which will be even more obvious when the Codex is released. This remixing is not only permissible, but encouraged. Wizards of the Coast acknowledged that RPG culture is remix culture when they created the Open Game License. The OGL allows people to modify, copy, and redistribute some of the content designed for their games.

What matters in the end isn’t that we do it, but how we do it. When credit needs to be given, give it. If you’re able to pay it forward by sharing, share it. Support not just the RPG community, but remix culture. In the end, it’s beneficial to us all.

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Do What You Can

black box movement

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

Theodore Roosevelt

This cannot be overstated: there is no right or wrong way to create. That’s what the Black Box Movement is about. No one can tell you that you need to make a thing a certain way. Your game doesn’t have to be a full-color hardcover packed with original art. There’s no need to run a Kickstarter with a dozen tiers and a ton of premium rewards. It’s not a law that you have to have a YouTube channel or stream on Twitch. You can if you want to, of course. But that’s a creative choice, and maybe a business decision, not the One True Way.

Do What You Can

What I love about tabletop roleplaying is the DIY nature of it. We all get to make up our own stuff, whether it’s characters, worlds, or stories. Draw maps on graph paper if that’s what you’ve got. Fill notebooks and Google docs with ideas. I think that when we get swept up in the latest fads and trends and new technologies, we forget that.

Honestly, that’s why so many Dancing Lights Press titles are creative aids. My job isn’t just to make things, it’s to help you make things. Everyone should be out there making something, even if it’s just for the people in their game group, or for themselves. Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.


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Opinion: The Man in the Arena

black box movement

This is one of two posts I’ve written today on Teddy Roosevelt’s famous “Citizenship in a Republic” speech. It’s also known as “The Man in the Arena”. You can read the other post over on my personal website.

I’ve had this quote hanging up in my workspace for years. Should I ever get an actual office, I think I want to commission a mural of Roosevelt and have this painted on the wall. I think it’s something that every creator needs to remember.

“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; 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.”

Theodore Roosevelt, April 23 1910

The Man in the Arena

If you are involved in tabletop roleplaying games, you are the person in the arena. It takes guts to put yourself out there and play a character, in character. Running a game has a lot of moving parts and requires improvisation, so a lot can go wrong. Being a game designer or publisher means standing up and saying “I am going to share this with the world” even though that world is full of hateful trolls that live to tear other people down.

We know we might get beaten up, metaphorically, emotionally, sometimes physically if you’ve ever had to deal with anti-nerd culture. We do it anyway. When we get beaten up, we keep going. No one can stop us. That’s not failure. That’s persistence.

As a creator, not everyone is going to agree with your design choices. They will defend their own preferences, lean into their own experiences, push their own agendas. What’s great is that there’s room for them in the hobby. They can go create their own game. Nothing is stopping them from playing whatever system, setting, or genre they choose. The fact that you did something is an accomplishment. Their complaints about what you did, not so much.

About Dancing Lights Press

Dancing Lights Press publishes creative aids and story games that embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation. The spotlight belongs on the creativity of the players as they converse and collaborate on plot, worldbuilding, and character development. Roleplaying is an activity, not a book. Our titles are merely part of the delivery system.

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RPG Manual Cost as Barrier to Entry

black box movement

Let’s talk about RPG manual cost as a barrier to entry. It’s essentially “settled law” that tabletop roleplaying games are a good value for money. When you divide the cost of even the most expensive game manual by the number of players, and again by the number of hours spent reading and playing, it’s less expensive than going to see a movie. This is one of the great selling points of tabletop games, and one of the things that I love most about them as a form of entertainment. If you have a $30 book, and 4 people play 4 times, the cost per person per session is under $2.

That said, cost is still a barrier to entry.

For Creators

Production costs work the same way. If Wizards of the Coast spends $5000 for a fully-painted cover (and that’s a number pulled out of thin air, just to serve as an example) and they sell 5000 copies of the book, then that adds $1 per book to their production costs. If random game designer that you’ve never heard of spends $5000 on a fully-painted cover so his book can look like Wizards’, and he’s only likely to sell 100 copies, that add $50 per book to his production costs. He can’t sell the book for $30. He either needs to raise the price, or cut production costs.

For Players

That $2 per person per session sounds great, but we know that’s not all there is to it. We know that the gamemaster is the one who bore that whole cost when they bought the game. The players likely didn’t chip in. Most players will want their own copy of the book, so dividing the cost per person is sort of disingenuous. We also know that it’s not the only cost involved. At the very least people have dice which, again, become less expensive the more you use them. I know that most players have already invested in about 10 kilograms of dice.

The reality, though, is that you still need to have that money up front. You’re not on a payment plan with your friendly local game shop, tossing them $2 a week, assuming you play every week, until the book is paid off. You need to have that $30, or $50 or $100 or whatever, up front. We’re in some pretty dire times right now. Not everyone has the money, even if they have the time and desire to play.

The Benefits

I cap the price for my books at $10. Multiply that times the number of copies I reasonably expect to sell, and that’s my budget. It’s a fair price point for me as the creator, and I think it’s a fair price point for you as the consumer. You get a game, and I get to pay the rent on time.

Keeping my prices low also means that when people can afford to buy games, they can buy more of them. They can get my game, and your game, and someone else’s game too, for what they’d pay for a big fat hardcover from a larger publisher. It’s more games into the hands of players, and more support for a broader range of creators. Win-win.

RPG Manual Cost as Barrier to Entry

  • You can read the entire Black Box Manifesto here.
  • Read other posts about the Black Box Movement and how Dancing Lights Press interprets and applies its ideas here.