Updated: Oct 24, 2020
The image of adolescents huddled around cardboard boxes spilling miniatures of fantasy creatures, spiral bound notebooks, dice, and stacks of books telling of lore that tempted the mind to dark places, referencing mystical powers, and fantastic feats of heroism is one with which some of us are quite familiar.
These young but intrepid players argue about the rules, roll the dice, and cheer with delight at heroic successes that will be spoken of in legend! They scratch in and out their character's stats as they level up, wishing one day to have the magical equipment hidden away in the annals of most d20 based game systems.
Those who still hold the torch for such game play can invest hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in tomes that fill shelves upon bookshelf after bookshelf, and pay for digital subscriptions to round things out. And while there is a particular honor in understanding the intricacies of a certain game structure so richly ...
There is also another way.
Take the spark of creativity from fantasy role playing games, and let it set alight the imagination to unlimited possibilities through interactive, collaborative storytelling.
Theatre of the mind, and two six sided die.
There are a number of 2d6 variations that exist, and each has unquestionable merits. The most appealing aspect, shared by them all, is a narrative driven role playing environment. That is to say, that the character's choices, even in their building, inform the world around them and the story that is woven from the threads of the participants' imaginations.
The system that I use is an even more distilled version of the 2d6 concept that I think allows characters to make decisions without fear of retribution by the "Dungeon Master", and without expectations about how the game is expected to play out.
One of my personal methods of gameplay is to, as the "Dungeon Master", manage player's character mechanics "behind the screen", so to say. This takes weight off of the decision making process for the player, because their choices, when using a character sheet, are often colored by the perceived advantage of one stat or ability score over another. By allowing, if not forcing, the player to hold their character in their mind, they step into that character's shoes and are emboldened to *think* like the character, not just a player looking for the best odds of rolling high.
Players have to see the world around their characters, and are encouraged to contribute to the richness of the story and the environment with their own creative flair. In an instant, they can draw from the ether their garb, their weapons, supplies, tokens of favor, or even new characters for the Dungeon Master to play.
Another part, that blows the minds of long time players and newbies alike, is that creating a compelling narrative doesn't take as much structure as most DM's spend time trying to manufacture. The maps are great, and the balanced encounters actually do take an exceeding amount of knowledge and capability to run without breaking the game or the hearts of the players, and I have struggled with both enough to know that the imagination is more elaborate than anything I could produce.
This sort of game play doesn't just benefit the players. The "DM" has an easier job as well, which ultimately means that anyone can run a game just as well as they play it. The rules for running the game are best explained through game play. But the concept is simple ...
Theatre of the mind, and two six sided die.
A game that's simple enough for a 9 year old, but complex enough to entertain any whose imagination still churns hungrily for unknown adventure.
This is my new way, rooted in what people love about classic d20 games, but without having to limit the scope of adventures, villains, settings, or really any level of possibilities.
In four months I've played games ranging from high fantasy, to 20's detective noir, to 50's Appalachia with an Old Gods/Voodoo twist, to a space odyssey, to futuristic mech battles against alien life forms on a battle carrier in the sky. I've even done some pop culture inspired games, which I tend to let players take the lead on when it comes to tying back to a fandom, but for which I still guide narrative interactions.
Come play a game some time! I know you'll love it!