Kieron Gillen, the mind behind Image Comics Phonogram, The wicked and the divine, and many Marvel comics, had a dilemma during development DIE: the role-playing game. When writing his comic book of the same name, he was unsure whether the project would be a game or a story first, which would entail “at least twice as much work”. That work eventually paid off, resulting in a comic and tabletop system unlike anything else, and fantasy fans took notice. The Kickstarter for DIE: the role-playing gamewhich will be online until June 10, has raised over $450,000 of its $37,000 goal at the time of this writing.
Designed and written by Gillen in collaboration with table designer Grant Howitt, the DIE TTRPG asks players to adopt roles closer to home than most fantasy campaigns. Players embody fictional RPG players living in the real world, who are then immersed in the fictional fantasy world of their campaign. Affectionately described as “Goth Jumanji,” “Alice in Wonderland Passing by Eberon, “ and “Nerd Isekai”, DIE takes players into a whole new realm of role-playing. Game Rant spoke to Gillen and Howitt about designing a game around this complex idea.
Role-playing as self-discovery
DIEThe basic premise of may seem recursive, role-playing as a role-player. But just like Gillen’s comic strip, the DIE TTRPG’s postmodern hook acts as a mirror of relationships between fact and fiction that might otherwise be invisible or taken for granted.
“So with DIE, in the comic and the game, the main thing is that their fantasy selves externalize their true nature (for better or for worse). They don’t change who they are. They reveal a part of themselves that they want to explore. It’s not just about their own fantasy either – the game still exploits the characters’ real-world backgrounds to blend into the fantasy world.
Exploring different aspects of yourself is central to every roleplaying experience. At their core, RPGs are less about becoming someone different, and more about revealing parts of the player that are dormant, repressed, or undiscovered. DIE Explicitly examines this process of creating personal mythos by integrating it into game mechanics. The result is an intimate and refreshing system. The “persona” characters that players adopt – fictional players living in a real-world setting – simultaneously act as vehicles for self-reflection and an intermediate step between fantasy and reality.
Fictional personas and real DIE catharsis
Making a game about games isn’t just a conceptual novelty, it’s also a potential recipe for fun sessions around the table. Navigating the tables, meticulously planning character builds, and determining dice roll bonuses have inherent appeal, but sometimes the arcane nature of the tabletop mechanics can be dry. Framing a campaign around the intersection of empowering escape and real trauma should lead to a degree of underlying emotional depth in every encounter. The sheer weight of these encounters makes the campaigns memorable, heartbreaking and hilarious, according to Gillen.
“I have no idea what it’s like to be an elf, but I’ve met a lot of depressed people who are dissatisfied with their lives and yearn for an escape. It’s really easy to play that last one role with precision, right? And the catharsis the character gets on their journey through DIE is very real. It can bounce between being really funny and absolutely poignant in an instant.”
DIE It’s not a crusty, combat-centric tabletop experience, but it’s also not lacking in depth, or exercise for the faint of heart. The game’s emphasis on finding reality in fantasy can force players to confront aspects of the game, or even their own identity, that are uncomfortable. Role-playing often leads players to personal epiphanies, but DIE is primed to elicit these reactions by design.
Essential Rituals in DIE
Gillen detailed painstaking “rituals” designed to make important topics like mind-body issues, resolving cognitive dissonance, and dealing with trauma more “fun.” DIE‘s Masters – the class occupying the role of a dungeon master – must address their players carefully to ensure things don’t get too real. When a master asks players to describe a case of betrayal, for example, the questions should be phrased in such a way as to make a clear distinction between the player’s true self and his personality.
These protocols allow players to tackle real issues with some degree of separation. By grounding their player characters in reality, there’s more room to incorporate demons and personal baggage into gameplay, with rituals protecting the party from psychological missteps. At the same time, the game’s fantasy setting is full of emotionally empowered knights, magical techno-thugs, mind-controlling diplomats, divine actuaries, and picaresque swordsmen, arming players with various means to do in the face of trauma.
The Kickstarter campaign for DIE: the role-playing game is online until Friday, June 10, 2022.
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