Roleplaying Culture: An investigation into the Knights of the Kitchen Table
I did an in depth research into a subcultural group in Eindhoven called the Knights of the Kitchen Table. The Knights are students of the TU/e who share a range of interests all to do with gaming: board gaming, roleplaying, larping, online gaming etc. One of my key findings was that the Knights build relationships through gaming and are extremely social and tight-knit amongst themselves. Many thanks to the Knights for all their help!
ROLEPLAYING CULTURE An investigation of the Knights of the Kitchen Table CONTENTS INTRODUCTION LIFESTYLE Introduction Knights of the Kitchen Table 6 8 Culture and Behavior Clothing Designed posters/objects Language Use 14 28 28 34 GAMING CULTURE Board gaming Online gaming Roleplaying game Larp 38 48 54 60 INFLUENCES Timeline Music Books Movies Websites 66 68 72 74 76 SOURCES Textual Soures Image Sources 80 84 4 5 6 7 8 INTRODUCTION Subculture Research This research will investigate the microcosm of the Knights of The Kitchen Table which represent a part of a larger subculture which can be described as roleplaying or gaming culture. For this reason the book is structured in a way that it first focuses on the Knights of the Kitchen Table, a student organization which shares the common interests of gaming, roleplaying and LARP-ing (live action role-playing), and consequently looks at the broader influences on these group of people. It is interesting to see how these links are so clear; even the posters that the Knights make use similar type to their games. They try to create this world, of elves, board games, and storytelling, around them as much as possible. 9 THE KNIGHTS OF THE KITCHEN TABLE A cultural organization in Eindhoven. The focal point of this research is a cultural organization connected to the Technical University of Eindhoven, the Knights of the Kitchen Table (KOKT). Members of the organization have common interests, which include fantasy culture, roleplaying games, board games and LARP-ing. The group includes about 65 TU/e and Fontys Hogeschool Eindhoven students with studies ranging from ICT to history. The ages of the Knights range from about 19 to 28 years old. All of them mentioned they were interested in fantasy and sci-fi books from an early age. The overall atmosphere is very inclusive and open; everybody was welcome to join as long as they have the same interests. The Knigths came there more for the "gezelligheid," (cosiness) then for serious gaming. They mentioned that going to the Knights was just like going to your own, "huiskamer," suggesting that they feel very comfortable and at ease there. Thus, socializing and gaming are very much interlinked for the Knights. It seemed also because most of the TU/e students do not belong to a particular subculture, this subculture especially distinguishes itself, and the students clinch on to each other for social activities. Some of them even come to their designated space everyday. The Knights have several activities per week. Tuesday is the board-game evening, where groups of 2 or 3 play board games; some prefer magic, some more political oriented games and some prefer very strategic games. On Wednesday night a big gathering takes place where a game is played with the whole group. One night they played werewolf, a popular game where players each have their own secret role. The ones that `died' had to go to a different room; via u-stream they could then watch the rest of the game. Every first Saturday of the month they do a LARP, Live Action role-play, which takes roleplaying a step further. The participants create Player Characters, in a fictional setting. (in depth will be provided in separate chapters). They also organize workshops for learning how to be a game master or learning a board game. The organization also has smaller commissions with 10 INTRODUCTION names such as, the Scharlaken Hofmeesters, or De Orde van de Goude Troon, who are responsible for these activities. Why these people join the Knights is also of great importance. Mainly the reason for joining is that they share the same interests but also because they seek to be accepted. One thing a member of the organization told me was that some of the members are quite autistic, but as soon as they join the club they sort of bloom out of their shells. They have fun but they also learn some valuable social skills. Although surely the Knights might show some differing behavior and traits, they are not unique in the world, as they are part of a larger role-playing fantasy culture which since the 1970s has been entering the mainstream. (this will be explained in the timeline) Thus the Knights of the Kitchen table only represent a microcosm of this very broad culture, which comes forth in music, movies, tv programs, and books. The Knights are aware of this, and through the Internet they are in touch with this global culture, which heavily influences how they express themselves. 11 12 13 14 Culture and behavior, clothing, language use, objects LIFESTYLE In this chapter, the lifestyle and the forms of expression which characterise the KOKT will be examined. Gaming culture is in another chapter because it is the most important part of their lifestyle, which influences every way in which they express themselves. Although their goal is not to differentiate themselves from the mainstream, they love tov express their fanatisism and do this through their clothing and out of school activities. Language is heavily influenced by gaming culture, thus often they use English words mixed in with Dutch when they are playing games. 15 Playing werewolf and games, the KOKT always interact socially through gaming. CULTURE AND BEHAVIOR The Knights are a closely knit group, therefore the members mimic each others behaviour. The vibe is very friendly and comfortable; they are open to each other's differences. One Furry amongst the Knights explained that they all know about his fanaticism and have respect for it. They all have specific interests, and find the room to develop them within the club. Also towards a stranger like me, they were open and welcoming. Amongst themselves, there are smaller groups that hang out with each other. They seem to be quite relaxed and really use the space for their own leisure time. 16 17 CLOTHING When asked about the clothing that they like to wear the Knights tended to be quite nonchalant and down to earth about it. For them clothing is not a means of expression. However, it clearly distinguishes them from the context (in this case the university students) that they live in. From the Knights photographed, there were clearly two groups; the metal lovers, and a group with a preppy `smart' look. For the metal lover a black t-shirt of their favorite band, wide jeans is the uniform. The other group, often wore beige tones, jeans and a blouse, with a checkered pattern, and often wore glasses. 20 " I always wear baggy jeans with big pockets with some chains on it, and a black shirt." 21 22 23 24 LIFESTYLE 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 Interesting objects found around the KOTKT area. OBJECTS One of the most fascinating thing about the Knights is that they design everything around them accordingly, and unconsciously have objects that directly relate to their interests. This can either be by the type used, the color scheme, or the motif. They want the experience of coming to the Knight's space to feel as real and homely as possible. One could almost call it an escape portal. On the following pages one can see several poster, possesions of members which all add to the general atmosphere. 34 35 36 LIFESTYLE 37 LANGUAGE USE The use of language is another important distinguishing factor. Notably most of the words are in English, possibly because most gaming books and games are in English. Especially the language use on the website, shows the influence of fantasy culture. Most of the text is taken from the www.kotkt.nl website and from their blogs where they discuss their recent activities. Their language not only show their influence but also appreciation for the imagination and the other-wordly. Runnen: leading a game DM/ST: Dungeon master, storyteller Campaign: a series of roleplaying games which run after each other. D&D: dungeons and dragons. "Last wednesday I dm't in the roleplaying evening. I had three players and they were all new to D+D" One-shots: a roleplaying session which lasts an entire evening. Character: player in a game. `Stats': relates to the statistics of one's character. `Skills' relates to the skills of their character. `Powers': What special abilities one's character has. `Systeem': a setting and a set of rules for a game. "Ladies and Gentlemen, creatures of all sorts and sizes, make ready for something you never seen before" "After some time of not letting anything being heard, the Ivory Watchers are looking for a new protector of the Ivory Tower." "Spring is over, its now up to the summering to put on a crown and lead the `Vrijplaats.' The Summer marks the start of a fight in honor of it. Murder is of the order and powerful creatures divert their attention to the Ijsselmeer. The fight will come and their will be casualties." 40 LIFESTYLE "The first session started with the audiention of the king. There they heard that they were selected to be adventurers to be sent to a new country. The King didn't know much of these new lands." "Ogar is a giant, he has to stay outside to not let anyone in, that doesn't show him a specific sign. Sometimes he has to use violence. He doesn't know anything of guilds. " "Then I told them about the `plot-hook': the a 100 everburning torches were stolen from the `House of Fire'. The only known thing is that the `house of water' is usually doing criminal stuff. So they go to the neighborhood pub in the region of the `House of Water.'" "After some time of not letting anything being heard, the Ivory Watchers are looking for a new protector of the Ivory Tower" "We attacked the golden fortress of Galgamouth." "The dungeon master was committing sneaky attacks." 41 42 GAMING CULTURE Board games, online games, roleplaying games, larp Gaming culture gets its own chapter as it forms such a large part of their life. Gaming culture is the red thread that keeps them all together. At the club they can discuss their favorite games, and make gaming a social activity. Interestingly these games all are closely knit in visual language, whether it's a boardgame, a larp or online game. The typography and use of color is closely knit, forming a holistic and believeble world that the Knights surround themselves in. 43 " These cards only cost only about 50 cents each, some can be like 15 euros! " 44 GAMING CULTURE From top left: Civilisation, Galaxy, Magic, Twilight Struggle BOARD GAMES On the board game night it was clear that the Knights had differing tastes when it comes to board games. Some preferred a Sci-fi game such as Galaxy Trucker, where one has to build the most ultimate spaceship possible. Others preferred to play a politically oriented board game about the Cold War. In the cupboard of the KOKT, many of the board games were fantasy oriented. For example, Rune Age is a deck-building game, set in the fantasy realm of Terrinoth. Age of Mythology relates to warriors, priests, heroes, and mythical creatures. Although some members were enthusiastic about board games, roleplaying games are much more the core that ties the members of the club together. 45 48 GAMING CULTURE Age OfAge Ofmythology mythology AGE OF MYTHOLOGY AGE OF MYTHOLOGY 49 From top left: Halo, Torment, Fable, World of Warcraft ONLINE GAMES Online gaming is what most of the Knights started out with. Most of the Knights mentioned an online game when they referred to their `favorite type of game.' Games such as Halo, a scifi game, and World of Warcraft seem to be the most mainstream. Interestingly the game World of Warcraft is heavily based on the RPG Dungeons and Dragons. Games with fantasy settings such as Fable, Kingdom of Loathing, and League of Legends were also mentioned. All are closely related in the visual and storyline aspect. 52 GAMING CULTURE 53 54 GAMING CULTURE TORMENT torment Torment 55 Torment type 58 GAMING CULTURE From top left: World of Darkness, Anima, Roleplaying dice. ROLEPLAYING GAMES Roleplaying Games or RPGs are games where the players can create their own fantasy characters, which they guide through series of adventures. The players sit around a table and make a story together, using the rules and guidelines of the RPG. The Storyteller of the game is the one that leads the conversation and represents the bad guy. In the cupboard they had a vast collection of games, from the `mother' of RPGs Dungeons and Dragons, to variations like Anima, an Japanese interpretation of the RPG. Many of these games also have a Massively Multiplayer Online (MMOs) version, which means they can also be played in the virtual world with hundreds or thousands of other players. 59 Images of larping activities on KOKT website. Live action role play LARP or Live Action Role Play is an activity where roleplaying is taken a step further. Every first Saturday of the month the Knights do a LARP, or live action role-play, where a story is enacted by Player Characters, wearing the most elaborate of costumes representing their characters. Like an RPG there is a GM (Gamemaster) who controls the fictional setting and the story. Furthermore, like RPG's LARPS can have many different themes, from combat-only to science fiction LARPS. The PC's themselves often make the costumes. Within the group there were two girls specialized in this (pictures of these are included above). They often `LARP' in a park nearby Eindhoven. 62 63 66 INFLUENCES Timeline, music, books, movies, websites The Knights of Kitchen Table exists for about 10 years, meaning that the influence of gaming culture is not new at all. The Knights are heavily in touch with gaming culture and refer to Dungeons and Dragons as a classic. Interestingly enough, these visual influences affect the way they design everything; from how they structure their website from the typography they use for small notices on the notice board. They have been able to surround themselves with the movies, bovoks, music, they love to create a comfortable escape world. 67 TIMELINE EXPLANATION Fantasy culture has it's roots in the Romantic movement, which was a philosophical and artistic movement at the end of the 18th century. The Romantics valued the imagination over reason, calling it our, "ultimate "shaping" or creative power. "A revolutionary energy was also at the core of Romanticism, which quite consciously set out to transform not only the theory and practice of poetry (and all art), but the very way we perceive the world." Romanticism links to fantasy because it placed great value on myths and symbolism, on the unique, the individual, and the extraordinary. "The movement validated strong emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic experience, placing new emphasis on such emotions as trepidation, horror and terror, and awe."6 Similarily many fantasy books, often surprise us with the contrast to the stark reality that we live in. During the 19th century the popularity of fictional travelers' tales increased, being influenced by other early forms of speculative fiction along the way. Charles' dickens' A Christmas Carol (1843) was one of the first to use novelistic characterization in a novel. After this a wave of fantasy or fairytale books came out that are still famous today, such as Alice in Wonderland (1843), Wiliam Morris' The Well at the World's End, The Wizard of Oz (1900). However it wasn't until J.R.R. Tolkien published the Hobbit in 1937 that Fantasy became a recognized genre, and started to enter the main stream.2 The commercial success of J.R.R. Tolkien inspired a whole series of books, eventually starting up fantasy gaming, and storytelling in the 1970s. Dungeons and Dragons is the mother of all roleplaying culture, published in 1974. A main inspiration for Dungeons and Dragons was The Lord of The Rings, many character profiles such as half-elves, half-lings, orcs and dragons directly related to the trilogy. Dungeons and Dragons is a game where the players can create their own fantasy characters, which they guide through series of adventures. The site of Dungeons and Dragons describes the game as, "It's part acting, part storytelling, part social interaction, part war game, and part dice rolling." A book of rules, a character sheet, some dice (with numerous sides, which determine the outcomes of your actions) are all that is needed. There is also the Dungeon Master who narrates and controls the story. At the Knights of the Kitchen Table it was noticeably a social event, where one could create a character whom you always wanted to be. Many of them told me that they often created a variety; sometimes it was a character like himself or herself. 68 INFLUENCES D+D, as gamers refer it to, started a whole rollercoaster of tabletop roleplaying games, including Rune Quest (1978), Champions (1981), Gurps (another very popular one amongst the Knights, 1986), and Ars Magica. Each of these games has a different twist on the set of rules and gives more or less guidelines. Gurps (generic universal roleplaying games) can have many different themes, such as martial arts, star wars, or fantasy. While others have more of a historical element such as Ars Magica which focuses on `Mythic Europe' or 1200 AD Europe. Due to outright success of Harry Potter trilogy, the Twilight series, and other popular series, fantasy has become fully intertwined in mainstream culture. Also the The blockbuster success of several film adaptations of fantasy novels such as The Lord of the Rings and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has helped this trend proliferate. Each of these games has a different twist on the set of rules and gives more or less guidelines. Gurps (generic universal roleplaying games) can have many different themes, such as martial arts, star wars, or fantasy. While others have more of a historical element such as Ars Magica which focuses on `Mythic Europe' or 1200 AD Europe. 69 1700-1850 Romanticism 1840-1850 A Chirstmas Charol The Well at the World's End 1900 The Wonderful Wizard of Oz 70 INFLUENCES 1843 Alice in Wonderland 1937 The Hobbit The Fellowship of the Ring 1973 First Dungeons and Dragons 71 1983 Palladium, Paranoia (RPGs) 1970s onwards Gurps, D&D 2000s World of Darkness 72 INFLUENCES 2004 World of Warcraft 2000s Fantasy in Mainstream 2000s Fantasy in Mainstream 73 Some of the Knights wear their favorite band shirts, including Amon Armarth, Sabaton, and Equilibrium. MUSIC Music was not a strong coherent element of this group. Some preferred jazz, some soft rock, some dance music. However, it was clear that a group of them (usually wearing the black band t-shirts) were really into metal. One student mentioned that of all the types of metal; pagan metal, death metal, folk metal, Celtic metal, black metal, death metal was the most popular. Some of the bands mentioned are included above. Interestingly the fonts the bands used relates closely to the medieval and Celtic fonts used in the board games. 74 75 76 77 78 INFLUENCES From top left: Mistborn, De Wetten va de Magie, Inheritance, Harry Potter, Tek Power, Stardust, Fablehaven, Glen Cook, A Dance with Dragons, Night of the Knives. BOOKS A few of Knights' favorite hobby were to read fantasy books. One guy shyly mentioned his favorite book was the mainstream trilogy of Harry Potter. In the Eppo store, some popular sci-fi and fantasy books were pointed out to me. Thriller from Karin Slaughter and books related to Dungeons and Dragons were also amongst the favorites. A dance with the dragons is also very interesting in that it has many escapist fantasy thoughts in it. 79 Shrek, The Gamers, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Bridge to Terabitha, The Lord of the Rings, Alice in Wonderland, Scott the Pilgrim vs. the World, Spartacus Movies The Knights mentioned that the most clich� of films is called "The Gamers" a movie about a bunch of `dorks' that do about the same activities as the Knights themselves. Clearly they love to watch it because they can relate to it. Mainstream `fantasy' movies such as Shrek, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Scott the Pilgrim vs. the World, The Nightmare before Christmas, Alice in Wonderland are also celebrated. Action packed films such as Angel, Sparticus and Supernatural are also often watched at the KOTKT. 80 81 82 INFLUENCES From top left: whitewolf.com, emphebion.com, wizards.com, boardgamegeek.com, stevejacksongames.com, landsinexile.com, darkheresy.com, Websites Above are listed some of the websites listed on the KOTKT website, some of them are games websites, or other organisation in Holland that have the same interests. The game sites form online communities through discussion forums, and also act as a source of information about the games. The Knights took a lot of inspiration from the layouts of these sites. 83 84 85 SOURCES INTRODUCTION (PAGE 8-13) 1) The Knights of the Kitchen Table. Mar 2004, 04 April 2012. <www.kokt.com> LIFESTYLE (PAGE 16-39) 1) The Knights of the Kitchen Table. Mar 2004, 04 April 2012. <www.kokt.com> GAMING CULTURE (PAGE 42-69) 1) Shapiro, Dave. A Brief History of Gaming. The Games Journal. Mar 2004. 04 Apr 2012. <http://www.thegamesjournal.com/articles/BriefHistory.shtml> 2) Griffith, Adam; Hartsvarg, Bjoern-Eric;Stuble, Stuart. "How to Play GURPS." Dummies. 04 Aril 2012. <http://www.dummies. com/how-to/content/how-to-play-gurps.html> 3) "What Is a MMORPG?" WiseGeek. 04 April 2012 <http:// www.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-mmorpg.htm 4) "What is D&D?" Wizards. 2012. 04 April 2012. <http://www. wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/whatisdnd> 5)"History of Fantasy." Wikipedia. 29 Mar 2012. 03 Apr 2012 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_fantasy> 86 INFLUENCES (PAGE 74-87) 1) "Romanticism."Academic Brooklyn. 12 Feb 2009. 04 Apr 2012. <http://academic.brooklyn"Citing Website".cuny.edu/english/ melani/cs6/rom.html> 2) Shapiro, Dave. A Brief History of Gaming. The Games Journal. Mar 2004. 04 Apr 2012. <http://www.thegamesjournal.com/articles/BriefHistory.shtml> 3) Griffith, Adam; Hartsvarg, Bjoern-Eric;Stuble, Stuart. "How to Play GURPS." Dummies. 04 Aril 2012. <http://www.dummies. com/how-to/content/how-to-play-gurps.html> 4) "What Is a MMORPG?" WiseGeek. 04 April 2012 <http:// www.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-mmorpg.htm 5) "What is D&D?" Wizards. 2012. 04 April 2012. <http://www. wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/whatisdnd> 6)"History of Fantasy." Wikipedia. 29 Mar 2012. 03 Apr 2012 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_fantasy> 87 SOURCES OF IMAGES ONLINE GAMES (PAGE 54-59) 1) "totorO." "Event Horizon:Ghost in the Spaceship." Scifi Blog. 15 Aug 2009. 04 April 2012. <http://scifiguide.blogspot. com/2009_08_01_archive.html> 2) "League of Legends: Overview." MMOFan. 04 April 2012. <http://www.mmofan.com/league-of-legends/> 3) Kate, Lauren. "Torment."FanPop. 28 Sept 2010. 04 April 2012. <http://www.fanpop.com/spots/torment/images/16300445/title/ torment-wallpaper-wallpaper> 4) Alford, Lynn J. "Kingdom of Loathing."PipWeb. 05 Dec 2004. 04 April 2012. <http://www.pibweb.com/review/kol.html> 5) "Preston." "Kingdom of Loathing." 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The Guantlet. 11 Jun 2009. 25 Mar 2012. <http://forums.thegauntlet. com/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=19978> 5) "Andras - Iron Way."NaturMacht. 25 Mar 2012. <http://naturmacht.com/shop/catalog/product_info. php?products_id=248> BOOKS (PAGE 80-81) 1) "Waylander." Elbalkin. 25 Mar 2012. <http://www.elbakin.net/fantasy/roman/cycle/waylander-323> 2) "Fallen ." Karen Slaughter. 25 Mar 2012. <http://www.karenslaughter.net/fantasy/roman/cycle> 3) "Stardust." John Smith . 25 Mar 2012. <http://www.johnsmith.net/fantasy/roman/cycle> 89