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Glossary: Why Context Matters

Dancing Lights Press

Today’s glossary word is context. The circumstances surrounding an idea or event allow it to be better understood. Changes the circumstances, and you change the meaning. I’d like to take a moment to explain why I think context is the unspoken game stat.

Let me start with a simple example: a soldier. In tabletop roleplaying terms we can look at the fighter character class, or any number of archetypes and templates from a myriad of games. There’s a collection of abilities there that allow us to define whether a character does or doesn’t fit the definition of a soldier.

But a soldier can be many things. Sometimes they can be a defender, acting nobly and selflessly to keep innocent people safe. At other times a soldier can also be an invader, killing innocent people and destroying things. They can act as liberators or invaders. They could defend an ideology or impose it on others against their will. That’s context.

There’s a reason I harp on context. I believe in what I used to call the Three Pillars: Characters, Worldbuilding, and Story. I’m not wild about the term “three pillars”. A better term hasn’t grabbed me yet. Those elements are equal, though. They act upon each other and provide context. Characters are in turn shaped by the setting and the adventure. Adventures play out differently depending on the characters and the setting. Settings are perceived, then, through the lens of the stories set there and how the characters are affected by them.

So goes it with rules as well. The main job of a guide is to determine what skills and abilities apply. They determine degrees of difficulty, and assign modifiers. What the character is trying to do, what they looks like in relation to the genre and tone of the setting, and even whether it’s “in character” character for them to be doing that all have to factor in. That’s why I put so much emphasis on the notion that context has to be considered every step of the way.

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.

1 thought on “Glossary: Why Context Matters

  1. […] goes hand-in-hand with “context“, because it’s about defining a moment. I use the word “relevant” a lot as […]

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