Low production values are better for my enjoyment

I’ve been thinking some more about my concern in my previous post – that “high production values” are a net negative for my pleasure in rpgs. There are three reasons for this. For clarity, I will express them purely in terms of art:

First, if the art doesn’t work for me, it damages my fragile images of the imagined world. For example, anything cartoony feels wrong to me — Dungeon World, Masks, Fate… even D&D 5e is too far down this path. I’m sad to say that Silent Titans gives me trouble, too — I find Leichty’s art powerful, but too abstract and far too garish. It thus prevents me visualising the Silent Titans world.

Second, even art I like can be a problem if creates an unwelcome contrast with things I’ve brought to the table. My own rules and texts have basic typography and little or no art. I might have art printouts or a Pinterest board, but they’ll have a mishmash of artists and styles. I might have made a map, but it will look a bit shit. If there’s a game text on the table produced to a high standard, my work will look poor by comparison.

Finally, I play rpgs to create, not to consume. I’m a consumer in almost all entertainment, but not here. This is my creative space — I make my own situations, my own settings, and (most of the time) my own rules. Anything that makes me feel less able to create things of value greatly reduces my enjoyment. Having things on the table, or in my prep environment, that are full of great art set an implicit standard that, I as a committed amateur, cannot reach. And that makes me feel, even if only transiently, less able to create things of value.

It’s not just about art, of course — it’s about production quality in other senses. Fine typography may be a problem. I even suspect that if the game design is too neat, it can be a problem too, because my designs and hacks are ragged-edged, dirty, flawed.

What does fit well on my table, alongside my fumbling, homespun pages?

Daniel Sell’s The Undercroft — especially the mono print run of the early issues:


Patrick Stuart’s Deep Carbon Observatory:


Emmy Allen’s The Gardens of Ynn:


All of those products fit well with things I might create for play. All of those products feel like something I could create myself (however misleading that might be). All of those products, thus, fit with the hobby I want to have.

I’m probably an unusual here. But I bet I’m not alone.

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