Saturday, November 27, 2010

De Profundis - Can role playing actually be Dangerous?

It's a weird question, but from time to time you'll see a discussion pop up about how dangerous or risky role-playing or playing a specific RPG can be. It's a debate that dates back to the roots of our hobby with the demonizing of D&D. To this end, it the idea of dangerous role-playing seems to be founded on a false premise since no one has ever, ever, ever tried to summon a demon using a player's handbook (not even with 4th Ed!).

Let me take a step back though, what do I mean by "dangerous"? When we're discussing the dangers of role-playing, usually it's in regards to people losing their grip on reality. A poor, young teenager starts looking at Vampire: The Masquerade and the next thing you know he can't tell the difference between real life and the weekly Tuesday night game session. Of course there are people out there with disabilities that have a hard time keeping reality and fantasy separated, but these aren't the people I'm talking about. Someone with schizophrenia starts out with the problem and will use anything around them, whether it's D&D or the Tonight Show as fuel to feed the delusions or hallucinations.

So if we discount people who already have disabilities (and RPG's have never been shown to cause disabilities), then where does that leave us? It leaves us with you and me. I'm an individual who spends over half his hobby time reading about and planning different RPG's. You might be a fellow blogger, player, or even a GM yourself (maybe all three!). We're normal people with a normal hobby who mostly just read a lot of books that look like a history of art college text book. We're responsible adults!

So, why bring this up now? I recently picked up the newly-released De Profundis 2nd Edition (pictured above). It's a game I had heard much about and was interested in reading and trying it out for  awhile. If you're not familiar, the book is short - just 108 pages long - and is very compact and portable. The game is unique in that players are encouraged to use themselves as characters. You write letters back and forth, and if you want to do something in the game, you do it in real life. Want to go to the library and do some research on local cults? Don't make a roll - hop on the bus and get your butt to the library!

You can see the the game encourages the blurring of realities. There's no formal start or end to play - it's open-ended and simply flies back and forth between players with each new piece they write. You usually don't do anything face-to-face. It's the role-playing equivalent to playing chess with someone in another city by mail. What's even cooler about De Profundis is that the rules are written as if they were the game itself. The introduction is the author writing notes to a friend about this... thing which he calls De Profundis and about how role-players will want to read this and try it for themselves. It seems like a dangerous raving of a madman, and it seems awesome.

Even with De Profundis, I just can't see anyone mixing the game up for reality and getting too wrapped up. I could see some troubling falling asleep if the game's done right, but it wouldn't be worse than a really good horror movie. I'm interested in how others feel about this whole "dangerous" thing and if it's really something up for debate. For example - do you think authors have a responsibility to their audience to put a disclaimer about role-playing and reality like so many core books do in a sidebar blurb? On a sidenote, I may have to give playing De Profundis a try, and maybe post it over at Blogged All Over Myself. If we give it a try, I'll make sure to post here to let you all see how it works.


  1. I was often berated in high school for playing role playing games. "Nerd," or "Loser." Nothing new or even particularly insulting (Jocks are not known for their wit).

    However, I did have one friend who kept calling me, "concerned," about the dangers of the game. Now, she was highly religious, but I'm not attacking that. I'm attacking the ignorance her family and church instilled in her in some of the most ridiculous things. One being role playing.

    I was even invited to her house one day (as I said, we were, in fact friends, so I thought nothing was amiss). I got there and she had organized an intervention. I was baffled.

    "D&D made a man go insane and kill his girlfriend." the pastor told me.
    "Well, we don't live action. We just sit around a table..."
    "A man in Alabama went mad trying to summon a demon!" he interrupted.
    "That's... nice. We don't actually believe in what we're playing. It's just a..."
    "Just a game?! Children have died because they've been neglected by parents playing 'Just a Game.'"


    There was no use to it. I tried to reason. To explain what it is we're really doing. "Role Playing" is misleading. "Story Telling" is a far more accurate description. We were telling a story from multiple points of view of various characters.

    He would hear none of it. Finally, and I am ashamed to admit this, I exploded. I stood up, shoved my finger into the tiny old man's chest and asked "What is the THAC0 of a 7th level Wizard with a +1 longsword?"

    He stared me blankly, not knowing what I was talking about. I looked him square in the eye and said "You know nothing of this game. You've not researched it at all, and yet you preach against it, blindly. Sit down and play one game some time then you can get back to me." and walked out.

  2. They should make a movie about your experience. It would be fascinating. Sorry you had to go through that craziness, but your THAC0 line is genius. Well played!


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