Cultural influences in roleplaying

hawkeyefan

Legend
I love The Wire. Stunning characters, great integrity and observations in the writing, wonderful and subtle performances. But I think I'm the only one in my group who is (was) into it, so there wasn't that shared overlap with friends. And it's almost too good, too sophisticated, to aim for in an RPG! So in that sense we used Firefly more as a template - nowhere near as great as a show (in my opinion), but a viable template for 'troupe' type play and something everyone had seen.

The OP was particularly around formative influences as well - it's not comprehensive and there was a lot of stuff I was individually into - but I was trying to think about shared music, film, graphic novels - and the attitudes in them - that helped glue my groups together. For me the timescale was a time between, say, 1982 and 1992, although it's purely illustrative to get to the question.

Oh yeah, The Wire is more specifically a personal one for me more than for my group. Sadly, despite my urgings, only one of my regular players has watched it. It just popped into my mind as I’ve been considering this topic, and so I figured I’d mention it.

Also sadly, I left musical influences out of my initial list because I don’t think my group shares much there, certainly not as an influence to our gaming. I have my own, and I’d say they inform my games but perhaps less overtly than other influences.

I probably also left off cartoons of the era (or prior to it that we saw in reruns)that were influential to our group, and others mentioning them made me realize that. He-Man, Thundercats, Thundarr the Barbarian, GI Joe, Voltron, Robotech… those all certainly influenced each member of my play group.

In the Pirates of Dark Water, the alien world of Mer is being devoured by the Dark Water (or rather, the Dark Dweller). It was a pretty transparent narrative about pollution and global warming, but with high seas adventure.

I remember liking this as a kid and being sad that it was only around for (to my knowledge) one season. It seemed a bit heavier than most cartoons of that time.
 

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Aldarc

Legend
I probably also left off cartoons of the era (or prior to it that we saw in reruns)that were influential to our group, and others mentioning them made me realize that. He-Man, Thundercats, Thundarr the Barbarian, GI Joe, Voltron, Robotech… those all certainly influenced each member of my play group.
I honestly have no idea how science-fantasy in the vein of these IPs from this era are not much bigger in the TTRPG market.
 

One thing that's struck me about the British RPG scene is its punk influence. There's a strong satirical, antiauthoritarian attitude. Heck, even look at Warhammer Fantasy's Trollslayers with their iconic mohawks, tattoos, and piercings.

Musically, this was all reinforced by a lot of punk, post-punk and early grunge - Clash, Bowie, Stranglers, Mudhoney, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, Pixies. Major film influences amongst my group included Blade Runner, The Terminator, Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Predator, Alien, Aliens, Platoon, The Deer Hunter, The Godfather, Reservoir Dogs, Akira. The films of Mike Leigh - in particular Life is Sweet and Naked - were admired.

If I had to look at my cultural influences for when I started gaming, it'd be a stew of Asprin's Myth series, the Thieves World anthologies, Tolkien, Star Wars, 80s Sword and Sorcery films, Norse folklore, and Nintendo games. Music would've been whatever was playing on MTV at the time.
 

MGibster

Legend
I'm a little surprised nobody has mentioned D&D itself as a cultural influence. When introducing someone to a new game, I can often cite how it's different from D&D in order to get them to understand something quickly. (Note: I don't bad mouth D&D when I do this. I just point out how this game is different.) In my years of gaming, I've found many players will often play the game as if its D&D and this is especially true of fantasy games. I remember having to explain to players in Legend of the Five Rings the looting the corpses of their enemies just isn't something they'd do because of the strong cultural taboo against touching the dead.
 

One thing that's struck me about the British RPG scene is its punk influence. There's a strong satirical, antiauthoritarian attitude. Heck, even look at Warhammer Fantasy's Trollslayers with their iconic mohawks, tattoos, and piercings.

Absolutely. This was something I tried to capture in the OP - there was a bleed from the punk attitude of comics and music in the UK into the RPG scene.

It was there in the artwork of Brian Bolland and John Blanche and Carl Critchlow (who drew Thrud the Barbarian in White Dwarf and also worked on 2000AD, and later provided art for 3E and MtG). It was there in the writing of Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman.

I mentioned once to @pemerton that the UK roleplaying scene of the time felt like its own little subculture of punks and goths and artists and misfits and malcontents. It wasn't 'nerd' culture - it was a broader melting pot of subversive and (as you say) satirical attitudes.
 

payn

Legend
I'm a little surprised nobody has mentioned D&D itself as a cultural influence. When introducing someone to a new game, I can often cite how it's different from D&D in order to get them to understand something quickly. (Note: I don't bad mouth D&D when I do this. I just point out how this game is different.) In my years of gaming, I've found many players will often play the game as if its D&D and this is especially true of fantasy games. I remember having to explain to players in Legend of the Five Rings the looting the corpses of their enemies just isn't something they'd do because of the strong cultural taboo against touching the dead.
I have noticed that too. Due to D&D's outlandish influence in TTRPGs, folks tend to export the playloop into every game they play. Although, that is the culture of mechanics and not so much the flavor/ambiance/setting.
 

Xamnam

Loves Your Favorite Game
I wish my memory on this specific front was better, but I can't think of a specific novel or series that has given me my primary Generic High Fantasy Setting™. I was a voracious reader in high school, and so it's a mélange. Tolkein, C. S. Lewis, Diana Wynne Jones, and Tamora Pierce are the names that come to mind, but it's hard to credit any one over the other, and I'm sure there are names I'd smack myself for forgetting.

That said, as far as mood, I doubt I can name anything more influential to me than the Legend of Zelda series, especially Ocarina of Time and onwards. A magical land, full of entrancing worldly wonders, varied cultures and peoples, and a sense of adventure and heroism that still allows for some non-urgent side questing. Other games worth mentioning, both for flavor, and for the sense of journey in a bit different sense than Zelda, are Final Fantasy X, Chrono Trigger, Earthbound, Super Mario RPG, and Skies of Arcadia. In this sense, I do tends towards a fair amount of tropes/Hero's Journey when it comes to the idea of a party questing together and eventually saving the world. Haven't burnt out on that yet.

As @Aldarc mentions, the works of Studio Ghibli are also hugely inspirational on both the setting and mood front. Even their "real-world" works find ways to make the mundane fascinating, and I devour the details of their fantastical ones.

The adventuring party I do think I pull more from television and film, and honestly, I would primarily point mostly towards Cowboy Bebop. Folks who would describe themselves as scoundrels and self-interested, but for the most part, can't help but seem to do well. Mostly thrown together by circumstance, with plenty of bickering, but loath to actually leave. Firefly, Community, and Star Wars 4-6 come to mind as well.

And of course, I would be remiss to not mention both Terry Pratchett and Monty Python (honestly, more show than Holy Grail) for my drive to fill the worlds with characters who are hopefully just slightly more engaging and entertaining than infuriating to interact with.
 

MGibster

Legend
I have noticed that too. Due to D&D's outlandish influence in TTRPGs, folks tend to export the playloop into every game they play. Although, that is the culture of mechanics and not so much the flavor/ambiance/setting.
I think it's flavor, ambiance, and setting as well. I described a giant in my fantasy game (Savage Worlds) and one of the players kind of tuned me out and assumed it was a D&D style giant about 15-20 feet tall. No, this dude was a Time Bandits style giant that could wear a ship for a hat. And then they ran into goblins and some of them automatically jumped to the conclusion that these were bad guys. Nope, these dudes just wanted to trade and get along.
 

GuyBoy

Hero
In late 70s/early 80s UK, the punk scene was hugely important to me (though I no longer have green spikes hair nowadays!) but it’s influence on my D&D was probably more in terms of attitude ( as @Ralif Redhammer suggests) than in actual gaming culture.
I leant a lot on the books I’d read, particularly LoTR and REH, but also Dunsany and Alan Garner. Traditional wargaming certainly played a part with many of my D&D friends, though less so for me personally. My team sport (rugby) informed much of my approach to playing and, as a kid from a tough background, both financially and in other ways, the experiences I got from army cadets was crucial.
2000 AD was also pretty important.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
So the question is what are your artistic and cultural influences from film, music, art and comics, and what themes and patterns from them have you noticed in your roleplaying?
I know for a fact that certain films, tv shows, plays, photos, pieces of art, architecture, design, music, fiction, science and history have all been major or minor inspirations for characters, scenarios or even whole campaigns. If I have experienced something, odds are good that it has influenced my actions in RPGs. The one exception I can think of is that I haven’t been inspired by anything culinary.

Of those, I’d have to say the biggest influences have been music and art.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
Absolutely. This was something I tried to capture in the OP - there was a bleed from the punk attitude of comics and music in the UK into the RPG scene.

It was there in the artwork of Brian Bolland and John Blanche and Carl Critchlow (who drew Thrud the Barbarian in White Dwarf and also worked on 2000AD, and later provided art for 3E and MtG). It was there in the writing of Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman.

I mentioned once to @pemerton that the UK roleplaying scene of the time felt like its own little subculture of punks and goths and artists and misfits and malcontents. It wasn't 'nerd' culture - it was a broader melting pot of subversive and (as you say) satirical attitudes.

Although I live in the US as opposed to the UK, that kind of punk counterculture is something I've only become aware of retroactively. In many fields, but particularly in my case in comics. All of that work in the UK that was railing against the government of the time and then how much of an impact all those folks had on the medium, especially as they found their way to US comics.

I don't really think that vibe was quite what was in place when I was young at that time in the states. Or that perhaps I was too young or immature to actually be aware of it. I think there were common elements and themes that came up in a lot of pop culture, and although there was certainly a punk aspect to some of it, what I took from it was more about being an outsider as opposed to a rebel? I don't know if that's the best way to say what I'm thinking, but hopefully that makes sense.
 

Xamnam

Loves Your Favorite Game
Oh, and I don't have much inspiration I can point to on music as far as D&D style play, but when I finally get around to running Ultraviolet Grasslands, I'm going to have a time putting together a playlist of stuff like King Gizzard, Oh Sees, The Sword, Hawkwind, Uncle Acid, Sleep, etc. both for inspiration and table music. That's half my drive to run the game, and the other half probably comes from watching Trigun.
 

I think that these days, D&D absolutely counts as a cultural influence. You've got bands that openly sing about it, movies and shows about it, and you can buy tons of D&D-themed clothing. Not just stuff the D&D fans like, but stuff specifically catering to us and our experiences.

I'm a little surprised nobody has mentioned D&D itself as a cultural influence. When introducing someone to a new game, I can often cite how it's different from D&D in order to get them to understand something quickly. (Note: I don't bad mouth D&D when I do this. I just point out how this game is different.) In my years of gaming, I've found many players will often play the game as if its D&D and this is especially true of fantasy games. I remember having to explain to players in Legend of the Five Rings the looting the corpses of their enemies just isn't something they'd do because of the strong cultural taboo against touching the dead.

It's absolutely true that if you take a goth, metal, or punk musician and dig a little below the surface, there's a strong chance you'll find someone that does or did game. In the 90s, heck, my gaming group was filled with people from bands, including myself.

Absolutely. This was something I tried to capture in the OP - there was a bleed from the punk attitude of comics and music in the UK into the RPG scene.

It was there in the artwork of Brian Bolland and John Blanche and Carl Critchlow (who drew Thrud the Barbarian in White Dwarf and also worked on 2000AD, and later provided art for 3E and MtG). It was there in the writing of Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman.

I mentioned once to @pemerton that the UK roleplaying scene of the time felt like its own little subculture of punks and goths and artists and misfits and malcontents. It wasn't 'nerd' culture - it was a broader melting pot of subversive and (as you say) satirical attitudes.
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
A book that influenced my RPGing early on was Our Island Story by H. E. Marshall which I came across while visiting a relative's home in London in the Summer of 1981. Subsequently, my first D&D character was a paladin named Albion that I played up to 10th level. He wasn't a giant like his namesake, but I imagined him as tall, strong, fair, and beautiful, as the son of Neptune is described in the book, if I recall correctly. Other characters from the book that left an impression on me (and my RPGing) were Caractacus, Boadicea, Arthur, and Merlin.

The AD&D core books were also influential. My second character, for example, was a half-orc fighter/cleric named Ogrithion Magion, which was my own corruption of "ogre mage" from the entry in the MM. His backstory was suitably tragic for one of his race, although perhaps more heroic than suggested by the core books.

One of the first games I DMed was for my older brother who introduced me to D&D. His character was a Native American style ranger travelling across the map of Greyhawk from the folio edition. The campaign, as long as it lasted, consisted of random encounters rolled up from the tables in the DMG.
 

One thing that's struck me about the British RPG scene is its punk influence. There's a strong satirical, antiauthoritarian attitude.
I came to RPGs in 1979, and my biggest influences were the books of Tolkien and Michael Moorcock, Asterix albums, and heavy rock music: Motorhead, Deep Purple and Hawkwind. Plus other people's homebrew settings: I realised fairly early on that TTRPGs are a narrative form of their own, and trying to "do" books, songs or TV shows in them doesn't work to my satisfaction.

The RPG subculture I was inside was full of science and engineering students. We had very limited respect for E. Gary Gygax and TSR, because a lot of what they wrote seemed silly to us. We were being fairly postmodern in our plots and imagery, although we'd never heard the term, and we didn't take ourselves seriously.

Nowadays, I'm deliberately trying to pick up new cultural influences, by running an occult WWII game set in India.
 

There have been a lot of impacts when it comes to works that have affected my running of games. All the standard ones like Tolkein and Star Wars and 80s toys and so forth. But I think three particular works and 1 genre might be the most consequential to me in terms of themes that my running of games has orbited around along with the sparking of the imagination of that 7 year old and the years just after that:

Bridge to Terabithia

Where the Sidewalk Ends

The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger

Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (which is verrrrrrrrrrry Western-ey) and several actual Westerns: The Magnificent Seven, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Silverado
 

In some ways, I'm the opposite. Gaming is what led me to Moorcock (when one of my players showed up raving about Elric and his black blade). And Moorcock led me to Hawkwind.

Tolkien at least, I came to before gaming.

I came to RPGs in 1979, and my biggest influences were the books of Tolkien and Michael Moorcock, Asterix albums, and heavy rock music: Motorhead, Deep Purple and Hawkwind. Plus other people's homebrew settings: I realised fairly early on that TTRPGs are a narrative form of their own, and trying to "do" books, songs or TV shows in them doesn't work to my satisfaction.

The RPG subculture I was inside was full of science and engineering students. We had very limited respect for E. Gary Gygax and TSR, because a lot of what they wrote seemed silly to us. We were being fairly postmodern in our plots and imagery, although we'd never heard the term, and we didn't take ourselves seriously.

Nowadays, I'm deliberately trying to pick up new cultural influences, by running an occult WWII game set in India.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
In some ways, I'm the opposite. Gaming is what led me to Moorcock (when one of my players showed up raving about Elric and his black blade). And Moorcock led me to Hawkwind.

Tolkien at least, I came to before gaming.

I wasn't actually much of a fantasy fan before I started playing D&D. An SF fan, yes, but if West Coast D&D fandom didn't have a fair bit of SF seeping into it, I'm not 100% sure it'd have caught me (though I was always interested in mythology and monsters, so it had that going for it).
 

Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (which is verrrrrrrrrrry Western-ey) and several actual Westerns: The Magnificent Seven, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Silverado

All those were influences for me. I'd say only The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and Josey Wales were widely shared by the rest of the people I gamed with back then. We didn't play much with an overt western emphasis - I think there was a game or two of GURPS Wild West (or whatever it was called) and the old Avalon Hill Gunslinger.

I bet you're an Afro Samurai fan.
 

pemerton

Legend
Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (which is verrrrrrrrrrry Western-ey) and several actual Westerns: The Magnificent Seven, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Silverado
All those were influences for me. I'd say only The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and Josey Wales were widely shared by the rest of the people I gamed with back then. We didn't play much with an overt western emphasis - I think there was a game or two of GURPS Wild West (or whatever it was called) and the old Avalon Hill Gunslinger.
I love the aesthetic of The Seven Samurai, and also Yojimbo. But I don't think I've ever successfully incorporated it into RPGing.
 

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