If you’re at all familiar with my work, you know that I try to shoehorn literary theme into everything. Some people find it off-putting. They have unpleasant memories of high school English class. The people that get it, though, they really get it. So I thought I’d take a moment to explain why I won’t let go of theme, and why it’s going into the Dancing Lights Press glossary.
Narrative theme is the central topic of the story. It’s what it’s about. For a tabletop roleplaying adventure, it’s what’s driving the action. The theme can be a single concept, like “love”, “revenge”, or “betrayal”. It can be the conflict of two opposing forces, like “humanity versus nature”, “individuals versus society”, or “order versus chaos”. Having a theme means having something to say, and that in turn gives me insight into villain motivations and the types of obstacles I can throw against player characters.
There are two categories of literary theme. One or both can be used. Thematic concept is what the work is about. An adventure with the theme of war will look at all of the good and bad elements, the reasons wars begin, what happens during a war, and how they can be ended. Everything in the adventure, or the campaign, is built around the central thematic concept of war.
Thematic statement is what the piece says about the topic. It is a stance. With the theme of war, the statement might be that it’s regrettable but sometimes necessary. It could be that war is horrible and terrifying. Whatever the statement may be, it definitely allows you to figure out the characterization of villains and supporting characters, and how various obstacles should come across.
Why I Won’t Let Go of Theme
Even if you just want to kill orcs and not think, theme is useful. Your adventures will be more interesting. Encounters will be less random. Characters will have a greater sense of purpose. I’m not saying that you need to turn your campaigns into great works of epic literary. Theme is another tool for your worldbuilding and adventure design toolbox. If you give it a chance, it’s a pretty great tool.
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.