There was an anime series back in the 90s based on a DnD compaign by the creator of Sword World (the most popular Japanese table-talk rpg – table-top rpgs are known as table-talk rpgs in Japan). That series is Lodoss. The creator of Sword World was inspired to create his rpg after reading a ‘replay’ which is a stage-play script style publishing of the session transcript with minimal edits and some anime-style art, all in the form of a light-novel sized book. The Record of Loddoss OVA is based on a replay of a campaign by the creator of Sword World himself.
The animation is quite limited but the artwork is gorgeous, modern anime just looks flat by contrast. Also both the elf girls are pretty hot. No lolitas here, sorry lolicons. The reason I was interested in this however was not the animation but because some voices on the internet said that it was the best representation of old school role playing table-top rpgs in animated form.
I have never played a ttrpg so I don’t know how it actually is but this looked pretty epic and brutal whereas I am told most modern ttrpgs consist of a party of murder hobos going on a path preset by the Dungeon Master mindlessly murdering anything to get xp because there is no risk and so no incentive for exploration or for anything player led. I wonder if this is why it felt like the story was a little bit all over the place in Lodoss and not that tight.. I have no idea how it actually went but throughout I kept on trying to picture the faces of players role-playing different characters.
I really wish I could read the replay for Lodoss but I can’t read moonrunes and Lodoss’ replay has not been translated into English yet. I am curious to read any authentic Japanese replay really but the few like the Shinobigami rpg which supposedly includes a replay to get the players into a groove cost a small fortune for a NEET like me.
Instead I bought Basic Fantasy RPG which is an open source TTRPG attempting to recapture what was good about early DnD in a way that is accessible to new players. They apparently used LibreOffice to make it which is a shame when they could have used LaTex but the end result, which I received into my hands yesterday by the grace of Jeff Bezos, feels pretty neat and the artwork is fine too as it puts the monsters above the player characters. It is also pretty cheap too (as all good things should be) as I only paid for the printing cost of 4 point something GBP(Good Boy Points also known as Great British Pounds).
Back to Lodoss. It is not by any means a masterpiece but if you let your mind wander on the fantasy artwork and try to picture the players and the GM behind these characters it might bring a smile to your face too. Yes, I know this is all head cannon but so long as I am clear that it is just that and I do not pile on any unearned praise on the anime then it is fine, isn’t it?
The problem with video games and anime, the latter being my preferred medium of joy, is that there is a wall of separation between the ‘creator’ and the ‘consumer.’ Even though I hate those terms because they exclude the actual quality of the content in question I will still use them for the sake of being intelligible to more people than just myself. It is true that this division exists in ttrpgs too hence the endless controversies around designers of ttrpgs and the need for a Game Master who even in old rpgs seems to be more than an impartial arbiter but the GM is a player himself often (either literally or through NPCs) and in order to play a table-top rpg there needs to be more understanding of how the game works than when playing a video game (just like you don’t need to understand anything about how anime is made in order to passively watch it).
Now that I have talked about how TTRPGs might help mend that division between ‘creators’ and ‘consumers’ first I would like to clarify why I don’t like these terms and secondly what the consequences of this division have been.
The reason I dislike the term is because it implies that simply producing and consuming anything regardless of the quality of the ‘product’ will lead to satisfaction. This dislike of mine is also linked to my disgust with naive primitivists both on the far left and the far right who view feudalism as this happy time where most people could just become blacksmiths and level up like in a video game or something. Now Marxists will think this criticism will not apply to them because they react negatively to the term ‘feudalism’ like Pavlov’s dog but their criticism of capitalism and its division of labour is really rooted in this isekai fantasy-tier platonic view of feudal society.
On the far right this very same delusion will take the form of assuming that because social hierarchies were stable (i.e. there was less social mobility) this meant that low-status people were happier because they did not have to resent their low social position for two reasons.
First because social class was an absolute that would not change which is silly because impotence is the fuel of envy. And secondly because their social position was less directly correlated with their abilities than in more meritocratic capitalist societies where your ability and talents are more correlated with your social status.
What this means is that if you are a low status person in a capitalist society that means that you are perceived by others and think of yourself as more deserving and hateful of your low status (i.e. your status = your self).
The problem with this second more intelligent reading is that social status has always been a gauge of ability because ‘ability’ at the end of the day is just power. Most people do not care about raw ability in and of itself but only of the social power it can afford in a more meritocratic society.
The consequences of the division between consumption and production have been a disruption in the power-process. Weakness corrupts and absolute weakness corrupts absolutely.
Or in more words – despair borne out of a sense of lack of agency not only in the procurement of goods needed for survival but even in our fantasies we are relegated to be passive viewers to great creations made by incredibly talented artists which we could not hope to replicate let alone challenge with our own creations – even if we could it would come at the price of time which we could have spent ‘consuming’ artistic creations by said talented artists.
The reason that sandbox games like Minecraft and Roblox are so popular and before that Runescape and World of Warcraft is because they give us some of that power (agency is just a nice word for power) we cannot have in the real world due to material limitations.
The virtual worlds in video games have become more and more graphically immersive but they have also become more limited in what players can do in them not just as players but as creators who understand the game engine themselves. For example if you are going to spend your life as a minecraft mod creator then that necessarily means that you are going to spend less time as an actual minecraft player.
I like POSIX software because of the virtue it posses in at least trying to keep things in simple text intelligible enough to allow for genuine customisation out of understanding of software that people run. However the truth is that computing has led the way to complexity to a point where most people cannot do anything with their software, be it for work or play, that has not been programmed by the developers.
More disturbingly the rise of ‘frameworks’ and ‘game engines’ in the soydev space means that creators themselves have become beholden to whatever workflow and user-interface changes that the maintainers of such frameworks and game engines decide because soydevs have no idea why what they are making works.
The worst offenders of this are artists who use software like photo$hit and apple-products(the pinnacle of locked down software) and have literally no idea of how the software they use works at all and so every-time some good or bad change to the user interface is pushed out by adobe they have to follow it whether it suits them or not – often because of the resources in the form of money for the monthly license and time they will become obedient and loyal consumers of adobe software out of a mixture of a sunk-cost fallacy and Stockholm Syndrome.
Replacing my anime viewing habit with playing TTRPGs is a way to reclaim sovereignty over my fantasies. It is going to be hard though to create an experience for myself on my own to replace what many more talented animators, writers, voice-actors and producers have created by pouring thousands of hours and many millions of yen. Video games never appealed to me because I always felt like their claims of my decisions mattering in a video game were always a lie whereas anime is honest in that it does not pretend that I have influence over the events on the screen and am only a passive viewer to the talent of those behind the screen at the anime studio.
I really do hope it is possible replace that experience with my own and POSIX software does sort of give me a hope in this regard because I have seen many simple POSIX computer programs fare better than their bloated, inelegant, graceless and uncustomizable counterparts. Lodoss has also given me hope because though it was an anime created by such talented artists the core came from some old school dungeons and dragons players giving it their A-game. Most likely though I am over-estimating my capabilities as usual.