Dozens and Dragons

Legacy and Affordance

some games focus on different things



  1. Legacy
  2. Affordance
  3. Conclusion


I have the epiphany over and over again that Dungeons & Dragons is, at its core, a tactical wargames simulator. And that’s why I often find it so unsatisfying. All of its rules serve to make your character more and more capable, through combat, of descending into a dungeon and returning with as much treasure as possible.

For better or for worse, my formative ttrpg years were spent playing D&D. It’s the frame of reference I have for all other games.

So anyway, I’m playing a quick-and-dirty little email play-by-post fantasy game with some friends. And this morning, one of my players (Hi, mio!) had this amazing update that threw me for an absolute loop.

First of all, it was wildly creative and funny, and I loved it.

Secondly, it was entirely implausable, and utilized advanced skills and knowledge that there had been no hint of them having before. My inner Dungeon Master had the knee-jerk reaction of, “Yeah, there’s no way that happens.”

But then I remembered that we’re not playing D&D.

We’re playing a ruleset designed to be as accomodating as possible. We don’t have character classes, we don’t have rules for combat.

The core rule in fact is “To do anything, roll a d6”.

There’s a big chance that the attempt will fail in some way. But you are encouraged to try anything. And they did. And it was awesome.

And as soon as I remembered that we’re not playing D&D, I felt happy embracing the awesome. Nobody is here for tactical realism combat. That’s not the point of the game. The point of the game is to have an awesome time.


In design, there is the concept of affordances. They are things that allow or suggest or encourage a certain way of interacting with the thing.

A bar on a door affords pushing. A handle affords pulling. A knob affords twisting.

D&D affords killing things to get xp so you can level up and kill bigger things.

On the other hand, not having rules for combat affords creative approaches to conflict. My players have not killed a single thing yet (on purpose).

Gaining xp on a failed roll affords trying lots of risky things.

Having one catch-all rule for “doing anything” affords limitless options (as opposed to a limited set of class skills and abilities).

These are the things the game encourages.


There are lots of games out there, my own Shoes in the Dark included, that seem minimalist to an extreme. As though they are more experimental design than an actual playable game.

But having played this style for a while now, it is extremely liberating and exciting to see how creativity and imagination can blossom once freed from the constraints of a medieval combat simulator.

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