#RPGaDay2021 – Day 19 – Theme

Today is Thursday, August 19th, 2021 and we will be using the large-print prompt today for #RPGaDay2021. What is that prompt, you ask? It is theme. If we cast a look backward through the prompts, beyond the shadows of the weekly framing device of Sunday, we can see the threads of theme extending through the days leading up to and away from it. We can see its connection through limits and improvise, through reward and risk, coiling around engage and inspire, while exploring explore and defining and being defined by our senses and voice.

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We have talked about theme a lot in the past and for good reason. It can be a strongly supportive framework in which to enjoy our roles at the gaming table either as single characters or troupes of characters, or as the world and all of its wonders. In this context, from the multiple meanings of theme I am drawing from the notion of a recurring idea or fundamental aspect of the setting and its people that informs and helps shape what goes on in play.

I see having at least a rudimentary notion of a theme as being an essential part of making a first pitch to a group. As that and other pitches get discussed, I find the most evocative and interesting elements of that proto-theme are brought out and are often a part of a reason why a particular pitch is chosen over others.

Like any other sort of limit, the idea behind having or recognizing a theme is not intended to tie the hands of the players and the GM, but rather to provide meaning, context, color, and drama to the decisions that come into being in play.

Theme in the Open?

The theme, however it takes shape and regardless of how pervasive it might be in the fabric of what gets said, done, and described in play, does not have to be explicitly shared with the players. If it is clear, stated openly, and made a part of preparation then play from all corners will tend to reinforce and reference it. If it is veiled, or outright kept secret, then play and how it responds to and rewards the characters can be about revealing this fundamental root of the setting and the reasons for why things are the way they are.

Like genre, unless all aspects of play are inconsistent, random, and without thought to what has and has not gone on in the campaign, a theme will present itself. Whether an intention is in place or not, there will very likely be a theme that comes into focus as play progresses. The intention to play within a certain theme may wind up being play that represents a different one. I find that particular truth to be incredibly valuable in the interest of self-reflection on play and how we play.

Themes can be simple. They can be personal. They can be high-concept. They can be challenging. They can be inspiring. Most importantly, they are ours – even if we do not recognize that they are there.

In Our Play

A playlist of Star Trek Adventures that was built on and also revealed a theme~

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