#RPGaDay2021 – 9 – Medium

Day 2 of Week 2 of #RPGaDay2021, otherwise known as Day 9, brings us the prompt selections of Medium, Role, Emotion, and Percentage. After a fair bit of deliberation, I have decided to go with the first on the list today. We talk about this a lot in passing around these parts. but rarely devote a specific post to it. So, for Day 9, we will explore the prompt: medium.

Sean Plott

LISTEN to the Casting Shadows blog instead


With my role as lead editor for the Ubiquity roleplaying system lines at Triple Ace Games, these days when I see the word Medium – even on the tag in a shirt – I automatically think of Leagues of Gothic Horror and dangers and difficulties of being the sort of person who can communicate between the living and the dead. For this post, however, I will be taking the prompt in a different direction.

As a medium, I find RPGs to be extremely satisfying and satisfying in ways that other media cannot deliver. I am an avid reader and I have a strong appreciation for film. In these delivery mechanisms of fiction, we are passive recipients of characterizations and conflicts, and the events which have been set up to reveal them to us. It can be intense and powerful and a good book or film is often like a friend we visit over and over again throughout our lives. Where I find the specific differences of an RPG to literature or film matter are our points of potential focus, and on their more relaxed limitations on length and structure.


While ad-copy for RPGs almost routinely uses phrases like “tell a story” and the largely unnecessary ‘what is a roleplaying game?’ section doubles down on such language, the truth is that story is just one of the things you might choose to focus on. You can instead focus on other things, such as the perspective and experience of the characters. This can be done to such an extent that you can step away entirely from the perceived need or habitual interest in maintaining a recognizable consumer story structure. Once that has been recognized, the ways in which RPGs differ from other fiction entertainment media start to stand out more. There is no physical need for film reels or digital storage limitations. There is no page count limitation. There are no chapters. The moments of rising and falling emotion, the moments of crisis and catharsis, the pace of your play are all free of these restraints. These restraints, while they can be imported from their original medium into that of an RPG – they do not need to be.

For one thing, the game never needs to end.

The medium of roleplaying games allows us to carve out a fictional perspective and occupy that space and use it to explore experiences. From a certain point of view, that is the very core of the experience. That fictional perspective might be ‘Me as a teenager granted superpowers’ as we can find in Villains & Vigilantes. It might be my personality reskinned as ‘Sir Berenger the Bear’ a knight of the roundtable as we might see in a Pendragon campaign. It might be a personality constructed from a list, based on a fictional character, determined randomly from charts and suggestions, or it might spring into being through moments of play and only take on a cohesive form after time and thought allow it.

Regardless, this can be the entire focus of play. Who are the characters and how will they respond to the things they do, cause to happen, and which happen to them? The GM, if there is one, conceives of their role in the game as creating NPCs, the Players create PCs, and the group agrees on a setting. Never once do character arcs, story beats, scenes, stories, or planned progressions have to be a part of anyone’s play. Such things can be added on top of this base experience to achieve some particular goal of the group – but are not required. The medium does not need them.

All of this further puts into focus how mutable, interactive, and collaborative the medium really is.

It is not just eyes which allow us to see a story unfold, nor only a pair of wings which allow us to fly to places unseen.

It is the alchemical mixture of transmutation taking our base material and elevating it to a height that even dreams must stretch to reach.

In Our Play

To Play the Character is the Character of Play

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