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  • Writer's pictureleodoulton

The Literary TTRPG

Updated: Aug 7, 2023

Within the indie TTRPG space, there is a common joke: that people have more TTRPGs than they will ever play, but keep buying more.

That is to say: they buy TTRPGs to read, not play.

They might have the intention of playing them, but not the means to (friends with compatible schedules, spare time, friends with the interest…)

This raises the prospect of an interesting phenomenon: the TTRPG that is written more as a literary work than a game to be played.

To be clear: I do not merely mean a novel in the form of a TTRPG. Part of the pleasure of reading a TTRPG is in the elegance of its rules, and the functionality of it, much as one appreciates the fine carpentry of a table up to the point that the table becomes useless.

Nor do I mean a well-written game. Grant Howitt and Jay Dragon both have this field well covered, in their own ways.

Most certainly, I do not mean a game like Game Lamprey, in which the concept of the game is artistic.

The closest thing I have ever seen to it, which I cannot find any longer, is a House Of Leaves style TTRPG so obtuse and beautiful, with such vague wildly conflicting rules, that it must have been intended as an artpiece rather than a playable game.

But this literary TTRPG should be playable. To read it should itself be the core experience, but one might be able to play it, much as there is poetry designed to be complete on the page which can be read out loud (this is a key difference between, say, Milton - designed to be read aloud - and contemporary poets - designed to be read silently).

Its text should be gorgeous, but also that of a meaningful game. The game might be an arthouse game, or a straightforward tactical crawl.

But it must be a pleasure to read.

There is a space into which such a work could crawl.

So this is a challenge to myself: can I write such a thing?

I might try.

A picture of the book 'The King in Yellow' by R.W. Chambers.
Perhaps, like The King In Yellow, those who read it shall not be able to speak of it.


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