Friday, September 5, 2014

The Three Hs of Gaming

The Three Hs of Gaming

(To skip the introductory tomfoolery, scroll down to beneath the Zod picture.)

Hello and welcome all.  Beware of falling debris as I figure out a good design for this blog! You’ve been warned- explore at your own risk! Beware of dog! Take everything with a grain of salt! (But not too much; it’s bad for your health!) We CANNOT be held liable for any damages that might occur from exploring this blog.

Now with disclaimers out of the way, you may be saying to yourself, WHAT?!? ANOTHER GAMING BLOG?!? WHY?!? Well, you can blame the guy behind Chainsaw Chirurgeon for this. He pushed me into it- insisting he have a place to link to my 5e character backgrounds from his 5e D&D Homebrew Creation Index. (quite useful, go check it out!).  Go whine, moan, and complain about the existence of Yet Another Gaming Blog(tm) to him.

But now I’m here in Blogland, I’ve realized this is my chance to go on a soapbox.


Er, sorry about that, power sometimes brings on theatrics.  Now, you’re probably wondering, what’s up with the title of this blog? What are the Three Hs? What do they have to do with gaming?
Well- you’ve heard of the Three Rs in school, right? Basic stuff like reading, writing, arithmetic?
Well, the Three Hs are my equivalent of basics for gaming.


Heroism, accomplishing (or at least the potential for accomplishing) great things.  The opportunity to win the day (for themselves, for other people, or for a cause.)  Making tough decisions and having those decisions matter.   Player agency- giving them some degree of influence on the action.  In short, allowing participants in the game the opportunity to feel accomplishment and general bad-assery (given that it is due). Note that whereas heroism often has an altruistic or otherwise ideologically intrinsic motivation. 

The encountering of that which is threatening, vile, disturbing, depressing, frightening, or otherwise just generally creepy.   There is something that offends the player characters’ (and ideally, the players’) sensibilities of what they want and what they should be.  Most often this takes place in the form of a threat or obstruction to something they want or hold dear, and most often this involves (or implies) a threat to their lives.  But this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case- in many instances a more internally felt threat by a player is not something that threatens her character’s entire being but instead just a shrivel of the character’s identity.  And sometimes that which is horrific does not have to even be a true threat to the party at all- sometimes a thing (or worse, a person) can be disturbing by simply exemplifying what could, what should not be.


Absurdity, oddball antics, strange and eccentric characters, farcical situations. Irony.  Basically, anything that gives us an emotional release in the form of laughter.  Often the most spontaneous (and therefore most disparaged) element of a game.  It gets an unfairly bad rap.

Heroism, horror, and humor are elements of rpgs (and fantasy in general) that are often held in opposition to each other.  It is many a gamemaster who bemoans his players for not taking the game seriously or feeling true fear, or conversely are so panicky they won’t drink a pint of ale without casting detect poison on it first.  From the players side, boredom can arise when the game feels like too much of a cake walk or not serious enough, or conversely frustration and dread when they are not given enough of a chance to have some measure of success.   Truly, different games, different campaigns, different individuals will all have their own preferences for the balance of the Three Hs.
For me at least, although said balance may be different from case to case and even from moment to moment, many successful games will allow for some degree of heroism, humor, and horror.   The Three Hs need not stand in opposition to each other.  In fact, under the right circumstances, they can have complementary roles, even augment each other. 

Consider the following example. A person’s favorite food is Twinkies, and said Twinkie lover only eats Twinkies but never anything else. Eventually the eating of said Twinkies would lose its former appeal. The Twinkie eating experience becomes old hat, taken for granted.  In short, if a person experiences too much of one thing, it loses its former luster and can become boring or even draining.  So I’ve found it is with the Three Hs.  If I experience only accomplishment and great things, then it may become stale and cause me to lose interest.  If I must continually look over my character’s shoulder with no hope of emotional release, then without hope my fear may become despair and eventually apathy.  And with only humor in my diet, I may lose the situational context and unpredictability that allows for humor to be experienced at its best.

The Three Hs can not only allow for contrast from each other but also can give emotional and experiential catharsis from each other. Basically that’s fancy-pants talk for allowing a person to catch his figurative breath in between moments of heroic, horrific, or humorous action.  The trouble comes in when to elicit such moments and when to spontaneously follow them.  That requires tact and wisdom- elements more of execution more than philosophy.

On the occasions when this blog will get (pseudo)philosophical, you might see some ponderous pontifications on paradox.  Specifically, the paradox of how seemingly contradictory fantastic elements and themes can work well to highlight and function together in a greater whole.  
But that’s a subject of a future diatribe.  For now, I’ll be putting up 5E Backgrounds.  HAPPY NOW, CHAINSAW CHIURGEON?!?

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