Friday, July 13, 2012

Everything I Need to Know About RPGs I Learned From the Hobbit

I've had the wonderful opportunity to read the Hobbit with my summer school students, and we've also been working through a lecture series on iTunes University regarding Tolkien and the Hobbit. Several wonderful discoveries have come from this...

1. You need to know what you are doing. Tolkien knew exactly what he was doing and why. He understood his world, what he wanted to accomplish in writing this text, and he didn't concern himself with how people would react. He didn't write a book to please anyone but himself, and expected (knew) that this would give it an authenticity that would make it appeal to people. I've endeavored to emulate this as I move towards final edits, making sure that the tone and details of the text reflect what I want it to say, not what I assume will be popular or be seen as somehow more modern from a design standpoint. I've completely given up any pretension I had towards trying to intentionally weave innovative elements into the design of the game.

2. Enjoy spending time in the world. Tolkien didn't need to necessarily have a huge battle or violent encounter to keep the story going- the story is about the characters and their interactions with every facet of this fantastic world. A great game should do the same thing. I've spent more time thinking about the world and the ways in which the heroes can interact with it in non-confrontational ways, and making sure that the game supports and rewards this sort of approach. One of my sets of play test notes is focused on having a character progress and gain levels only through non-violent interactions with the world. Is it possible to have your character advance and never draw a sword or cast an offensive spell? In short... yes, I think it is.

3. It takes time to develop something great. I've felt some levels of guilt for how long I've been working on an 'ideal' version of my game, and how many times I've published a game edition only to ditch it and rework from the ground up within the year. The development of the Hobbit shows that to truly refine your work takes space and time. It's okay. My first (and only) priority as a sub-creator (as Tolkien coined it) is to the work itself, and to making sure that I'm maintaining the integrity of the work. Whew. That right there lifts some weight.

Okay, back to editing...


  1. Point two has to be one of the most important lessons that gamers learn as they develop within the hobby. When i first started, I was all about the action, doling out the damage, showing off about how much of I could take. These days I spend way more time just being a character in the world the GM has created. And you know what, it's a hell of a lot more fun.

  2. My wife and I went to see Snow White and the Huntsman yesterday, and that was one of the things the movie did well... the moments where the characters were simply interacting with the fantastic world were just as powerful as the action scenes, and made for a more complete experience. I want my games to be the same way.