A recent Grognardia post about Tolkien and Howard proposes that “as the years have worn on, [RPGs have] become more focused on surface elements of their supposed inspirations than on their deeper themes.” Commenters on the post discuss whether RPGs need or benefit from deeper themes, and a different guy called James suggests:
Players & DM’s will create their own thematic elements. Hopefully, there will be some synergy here, but, an amusing exercise might be to ask your players, after a year or so of play, how they would describe the deeper elements within the campaign.
I’ll bite! I think the amusingness is supposed to come from the match or lack thereof between what the DM sees as the themes and what the players do, so let’s have our DMs wait to weigh in on the themes until the players have had a chance. Here, though, are what I’d identify as the themes of Eric’s Glantri campaign:
– Mortality. Arguably this is not unique to Glantri, but is the theme of any old-school campaign that starts at first level. Nevertheless, our experience of play is shaped largely by the extreme transience of the adventurers involved.
– Belief. This relates to mortality in the usual way religions do; also in that it creates the need to regularly introduce new cleric PCs, which makes “what is the nature of your faith” an oft-asked question, and that the cult of the Boss is all about meeting an untimely end. The existence of that cult has also provoked interactions with other Glantrian religions, further exploring this theme.
– Family history. This is the one that seems to most emerge from Eric’s side of the screen rather than ours. As a player, though, I’ve been intrigued and impressed by the way that doors in the Caves of Chaos are marked with crests of different branches of the D’Amberville family, for example. So far this theme hasn’t been used much by players, although the arrival of Francois’s brother as a PC may change that.
Do y’all agree or disagree with these, and what do you think are the themes of the White Sandbox or James’ With Great Power game?
(We might need to have the ‘what is a theme’ conversation too.)