Category Archives: RPG

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Mental Health in Roleplaying Games

Because of my personal and professional experience I know quite a lot about mental health issues. As you may well know I suffer from depression and anxiety disorder myself and since I work in a psychosomatic medicine department , I learned a lot about all kinds of psychological and psychosomatic disorders over the years. What sometimes bothers me, is how roleplaying games use mental health issues.

There are a lot of games which have rules for psychic disorders. The most prominent example is probably Call of Cthulhu. In most of these games your character gets a random disorder when he or she has lost a certain amount of mental health points. Most games don’t even bother to distinguish between different causes. Being confronted by unspeakable horrors from beyond has the same effect as seeing a loved one die or being close to death yourself. In one case my character in a Palladium Fantasy game was on the brink of death and got traumatized by that. What was the result? He suddenly had a phobia against fey creatures – no kidding!

This of course doesn’t make any sense. It might have, if the almost mortal wound had been caused by fey, but it was because of drowning. One other common mistake is that neuroses and psychoses are randomly thrown together – which doesn’t make any sense. Playing out a psychological disorder might be a very interesting and intense roleplaying experience. But in most games it’s handled so badly that it just becomes an excuse to play “crazy”.

I don’t expect total realism. But I would prefer it if game designers took these matters more seriously. Suffering from mental health issues is no laughing matter. And while some roleplayers can have lengthy discussions about how realisticly guns are simulated by roleplaying games, almost noone bats an eye when it comes to unrealistic “insanity” rules.

I have to admit I haven’t had the time yet to do some more research on the matter. I am sure there are a couple of games who treat the subject with respect. I faintly remember that the Trail of Cthulhu rules did a slightly better job when it came to insanity and mental stability than most games. But I have to double-check.

What is your stance on the matter? Are you bothered by the portrayal of mental health issues in RPGs, too, or do you just not mind? Do you know a couple of laudable examples you want to share? Feel free to post your thoughts below!

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Why do we play Roleplaying Games?

If you’ve followed discussions between roleplayers, read blogs, and played in different groups over the years, you’ve probably noticed that there are various approaches to roleplaying. In some cases you might even wonder if some people are actually engaging in the same hobby.

In addition to that the reasons why people play roleplaying games are often quite different. For some it’s just a way to spend time with friends, roll some dice, and stuff their faces with snacks. For others it’s a way to escape regular life and be someone else, have adventures, kill monsters and take their stuff, even if just for a few hours a week. There are also people how like the tactical aspects of some games and treat them like a slighty more involved miniatures game. These examples are just a small list of the vast reasons why people play roleplaying games. The reasons are as varied as the players themselves.

Recently I realized that roleplaying games are not just a nice pasttime but also something which helps me to relax, to charge my drained batteries so to speak. The social aspect of gaming is very important to me. But I also love the escapism, to be in someone else’s shoes for a few hours and to experience things I’d never do in real life. In real life I often feel helpless and overwhelmed. But in games I can stare danger right into the eye and overcome evil. I’m not that much interested in the tactical aspects of combat but I am a sucker for a good story.

Some people believe that there are wrong ways and wrong reasons to play roleplaying games. I doubt this is true. As long as everyone has fun regardless of why they sit at the game table, they are doing it right. What are your thoughts on this matter? Why do you play roleplaying games?

ThatGuy

How to deal with “That Guy” or do we need a Social Contract?

During the years I have been active in the RPG scene (offline and online) the topic of “social contracts” has come up from time to time. In the light of recent events I’ve been thinking about this particular subject a lot.

A social contract is a set of rules, an agreement among the members of a group that defines and limits the rights and duties of each member. In the RPG hobby its understood at the mostly unwritten rules at the game table which are not actual game rules. It covers things like “Is eating allowed at the game table?”, “Does the GM fudge rolls?”, “How is out-of-character speech handled?” and similar questions.

Over the years I’ve played in many different gaming groups and in most cases the terms of the social contract were pretty much the same and in no case they were actually written down. But I just had a case where I wished I had thought more about a social contract in the first place. There’s a player in my group who is actually a very nice guy, but sometimes mutates into “That Guy”. He likes to play extreme characters who tend not to fit well into the party, is extremely enthusiastic in a very tiring way, tends not to bring any dice or writing utensils to the game sessions and is generally unorganized.

Perhaps I’m getting old and grumpy, but his behaviour is driving me nuts at the moment. Recently I wrote him a pretty long email in which I told him what I was annoyed of and that I’d like him to change certain things. He hasn’t replied yet, but I actually don’t expect him to do so anytime soon, since he tends not to read his emails. Sigh

Some of you might think why I am even bothering. I guess it’s because I don’t think he’s doing it on purpose and I think that everyone earns a second choice. Some of you might think I am overreacting. Perhaps I am.

Let’s get back to “social contracts”. Currently I wish I had written down a social contract before. In that case I could just point to the rules we all agreed to, which could have included simple rules like “everyone brings their own dice and writing utensils”. The problem with unwritten rules is that some members of the group might just not be aware of all the rules. This never has been a problem before because I usually played with people that I knew for years. But in recent years I started playing regularly with people who I actually don’t know that much outside of gaming. Perhaps it’s time to write down a couple of rules – just in case.

What are your thoughts on social contracts? Do we need them. Do you have one at your game table? Do you actually write down the rules and what do you do if someone at the game table chooses to ignore them? Please share your thoughts below!