Differences Between Writers Running TTRPGs vs. Other People Running TTRPGs?

Apropos my last post about being critical of D&D Twitch games: my wife opined that the character group’s extremely diverse background is mirrored by computer RPGs like Dragon Age and Mass Effect. Even though there is considerable racism in the setting in both games, it never throws back on the player character. Like, you can drag your Krogan around everywhere, and no one in Mass Effect will shut their doors as you approach, even though in dialog with the character, they’re likely to rattle on about the discrimination they face. So, she thinks that this contributes to the willingness of GMs to tolerate high-diverse groups without consequence.

I think this is likely true. The circle has closed, particularly for D&D, from influencing how computer role-playing games run to being influenced by CRPGs. Now it’s an ongoing loop, I think, with the two feeding on each other. The game I run, Cypher System, is clearly influenced by CPRGs.

So, the basis of my criticism likely arises from how I think of my settings as a writer and the built-in differences between computer and tabletop role-playing games. I look at a game like Mass Effect, and I understand why they create this wildly diverse cast – to enable the player to explore the different elements of the setting with convenience and some depth within the confines of a quite linear story. (For while you can do the NPCs missions without any particular order, they are designed to be modular, with none of them affecting the other stories, though having a small effect on the endgame.)

For a writer of stories and not a CRPG, it’s crude to ignore the group’s diversity. If the setting has discrimination, and almost all D&D settings are chock full of discrimination if you follow the flavor text much less read the setting-based novels, then that’s part of the reason to choose that kind of character, right? If you’re playing a drow in Forgotten Realms, why on earth wouldn’t you expect people to be absolutely terrified of your character, given that all drow in FR is demon-spider worshipping murderers and slavers? That’s what the Forgotten Realms is.

It also ignores the difference between a CRPG and a TTRPG. It would be prohibitive in time and money to create scenarios that are keyed to whatever NPC you’re dragging around for every scene. So, sure, if you’re dragging around your Krogan in Mass Effect, in a lot of places, the response could well be for people to board up their shops or run away – or at least notice that you’ve got a hulking killing machine in your party.

However, a human GM doesn’t have a write forty different scripts for every scenario to represent the setting’s diversity. Most of them are off-the-cuff, so they can keep in mind that most people are, in fact, utterly terrified of drow or Krogan or whatever. They can just say that people say things like “tieflings aren’t wanted around here,” have people mistake them for demons and flee for their lives, or whatever. It’s the point of having a human GM – we’re Turing compliant, we don’t run on scripts but can generate free-form content! Otherwise, yeah, we should all just be playing CPRGs.

At some point, I might like to run a Twitch-based TTRPG with writers and see if there’s an actual difference in how we manage RPG content relative to other Twitch streamers. Maybe in the post-covid world, when I go around and talk to human beings, again!

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