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Superstitions Among Roleplaying Gamers

26/05/2008

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I just finished the fourth official episode of Natural 20 (a podcast about roleplaying gamer culture), which is our exploration of superstitions in roleplaying games.

I, of course, played the skeptic, while Emma played the believer.

Most of the superstitions surrounding gaming have to do with dice. Actually, pretty much all of them do. What I deduce from this is that since the dice are the randomising agent in gaming, they are the subject of superstitions. They are the aspect over which the player has no control, so superstitions, rituals and rules about them give the player a sense of control.

Through an informal survey on the RPGmeetup.com forum, I found that of the people that took the survey (n=13), most (58%) had habits or rituals that they performed, knowing full well that they had no way of influencing the dice. This was not really surprising, as roleplaying gamers tend to be rather analytical and educated, but seem to enjoy the idea of the supernatural even if they do not believe in it. What surprised me was how elaborate these rituals were and how anal people were about them. Also, if a person rolled well, they were less likely to care about their dice rules than if they rolled poorly. The rules only seemed to come into play as a remedy for a bad streak than a way of ensuring a good streak.

I performed a “road test” of some of the dice superstitions: I named my dice, I carried them in a container I imbued with specialness, I only rolled on my notebook, not the table, and I set my die at 20 when at rest. I did roll well during that game. I didn’t call this exercise an experiment because, obviously, it wasn’t. I was just giving the behaviours a try.

In the follow-up discussion and analysis of our findings, Emma had a very interesting point: Part of the reason to play a roleplaying game and not a videogame is that it is random. The randomising agent (dice) is the only thing that keeps it from just being a story. So, is there any point to trying to influence your dice? If the GM is making important plot points dependent on rolls in order to move the story forward, then perhaps the GM isn’t doing her job properly. So maybe, even if we do (secretly) want to believe we can influence dice, we shouldn’t even try to do so.

Anyway, it will all be available for listening soon at Natural20podcast.blogspot.com

Oh yeah, and I wanted to use Superstition by Stevie Wonder during the break between the two parts, but we couldn’t use copyrighted music. There will be a sound-alike song instead called “It’s All Humbug.” I won’t tell you who performed it, but I will say she wrote it especially for the episode and it only took 20 minutes, so please be kind.

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