Tabletop Role-Playing Games and the Actual Play Show: Author, Audience, and Adaptation

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Virginia Tech

Though tabletop role-playing games, or TRPGs, have received some scholarly attention since the creation of Dungeons and Dragons in the 1970s, very few scholars have considered how TRPGs function as a vehicle for long-form narrative. As an inherently collaborative form of narrative, the TRPG demonstrates a unique relationship between author and audience, as participants take on both roles during play. Previous narratological models of author-audience interaction are insufficient to understand the way that authorship functions in the TRPG, and the rise of actual play shows, where TRPGs are broadcast for an audience of nonparticipants, adds an extra layer of complexity to these author-audience relations. This thesis identifies key narrative elements of the TRPG, including game mechanics, framing, and collaboration, and examines how popular actual play shows and their graphic adaptations engage with these elements to create their narratives. This examination indicates that TRPGs create complex author-webs where each participant is both author and audience, and this influence pushes actual play shows and further adaptations of TRPG narratives to expand the ways in which audiences can influence and interact with narratives as they are created. The TRPG genre continues to explore how these elements can be developed beyond traditional understandings of narrative, and this development provides a framework for further narratological study of interactive works, which will only continue to evolve and grow in popularity and complexity in the continuing digital era.

tabletop role-playing games, adaptation, graphic narratives, narrative theory