“What’s you’re weirdest RPG?” asked the #rpgaday mouthpiece. Jolly good! I like weird rpgs.
At least, I think I do. Let’s consider a few definitions of “weird”:
- uncanny, supernatural or unearthly.
- fate or destiny.
- (v) alienate, or promote disbelief or unease (“that weirds me out”).
I’m going to stick my neck out and say weirdness is a default state for games. Strange and uncanny is our (gluten free) bread and butter in roleplaying worlds. Now, it’s obvious what #rpgaday means by “weird” — we have our mainstream weird, and then we have the really weird that doesn’t fit into our normalised weird world that is the gaming weird. That’s a bit weird, don’t you think?
And gamers are weird anyway. Some are uncanny, some are fated, and some of us alienate the rest of humanity.
Furthermore most people equate RPG product with setting. In the weirdness league tables I fully expect Over the Edge to be right up there in the top three — and almost certainly overshadowing similarly arty games like Don’t Rest Your Head (one for Dark City fans) and Itras By, which is of course consciously surreal. Then there’s the kitchen sink settings like Rifts and Synnibarr and Planescape, which most gamers probably wouldn’t consider weird except they have such incongruous components. I guess alternative settings like Dark Sun could be considered weird by the way they mess with expectations, if it weren’t for the fact that those expectations are, frankly, weird to begin with.
I don’t feel alienated by the surreal, nor do I feel the surreal is necessarily uncanny or otherworldly in the context of a surreal setting. I expect surreality from David Lynch. It is not weird, it is a norm. I’m sure plenty of other people feel Lynch is pretty damn weird, but it’s just not a vibe I get from him. That’s the thing with weirdness, it’s highly subjective.
Let’s consider something objectively weird, then; consider Raggi’s definition of the weird:
amoral forces from outside which are inimical to humanity
This is a distinctly Lovecraftian weirdness, and I’d say that the definition is apt, and that Lovecraft qualifies — but not because of the ghosts and monsers and tentacles. No, we have plenty of those already. What’s truly weird is the crushing nihilism of anything approaching a Lovecraftian setting, such as Call of Cthulhu (where the game is a slow spiral into madness unless it’s cut short with a quick death), Lamentations of the Flame Princess (which is technically D&D, but it’s nihilistic in the way that every official module I’ve seen exists to punish the players) and specifically LotFP’s Carcosa which is just horribly horribly bleak (never mind the coloured humans and the dinosaurs and the ray guns). Why would anyone ever enjoy fiction in such an irredeemably grim setting? That’s weird, if you ask me.
What about procedural weirdness? Apocalypse World’s “fiction first” procedures turn our traditional approach to skill checks on their head. Don’t Rest Your Head rolls dice in odd ways, and Amber doesn’t even have dice. Perhaps not uncanny, but certainly capable of alienating players. What about games with no plot up front, like Sorcerer’s story now approach? What about games where the characters just wander a sandbox aimlessly — isn’t that a bit weird? What about games with no GM, with player narrative control, with limitations on the language you can use?
None of these seem strange to me. So I’ve concluded that either all my games are weird, or none of them are. To find a game that is truly uncanny, inexplicable or alienating I will have to think laterally, and the best I can come up with is my original copy of Maelstrom, simply because it has some unidentifiable and potentially toxic stain on the back cover, hence me picking it up for 50p in a secondhand bookshop a few years ago. Handle with gloves.