Tellings is story. It is where the drama of action and adventure merge with the spirit of character, where strategy meets spontaneity, where thought meets excitement. Tellings is imagination. It is fantasy. It is the suspension of disbelief and the confidence to believe. It is the desire to work magic, to see miracles, to make history, to fell monsters, to ask questions, and to answer them. Tellings is community. It is the gathering of words, images, ideas, and feelings. It is the joining of voice and gesture, contemplation and celebration. In the deepest sense, then, Tellings is play.
To tell the tale, you must live the tale—that is the truth of Tellings. To share the tale is to become the tale—that is the heart of Tellings.
What is Tellings?
Tellings is a pen-and-paper, high fantasy role-playing game. Tellings is a point-based, skills-based RPG, using ten-sided dice. This newly updated Tenth Edition (25th Anniversary) features a rich and robust character creation, 100+ combat and non-combat skills, 50+ character strengths and advantages, 30+ character weaknesses and limitations, a detailed and distinct magic and prayer system, unique fluid-time combat mechanics, and guidelines for role-playing and game mastering. You can purchase a copy here.
The Role-Playing Game (RPG)
What is a role-playing game?
The answer lies as simple as its three component words or as deep as the imagination. An RPG is different from most games familiar to non-role-players. However, all games—card games, board games, playground games, digital games, even baseball games—share similarities. All have players, referees, rules, goals, and strategies to achieve those goals. All have their own fans, champions, adversaries, playing fields, victories, losses, and most importantly, stories.
All games are lived and re-lived by spectator and participant, by winner and loser, by beginner and professional. It is in the telling that the scores, the saves, the chances, and the gambits are preserved.
The role-playing game is about playing and telling, about imagining and creating. Like reading a good book, acting on a stage, or watching a powerful film, role-playing games distill the drama of the world and pour it into the imagination. The eye-witnessed event and daydreamed fantasy become equal ingredients in the collective story.
In a role-playing game, the player is both coach and quarterback, both director and actor, both writer and reader. The creation of image, action, comedy, tragedy, and memory form the possibilities of the RPG. The limitations of what can and cannot happen are set only by the expectations and creativity of the players.
The Role of Player and Character
An RPG allows the player to become a part of a story by taking on the imagined persona of a character. Depending on the game, the character can be a historical figure, a sports star, a super-spy, a fighter pilot, or a sword-swinging warrior. The player takes on the role of the character much like an actor takes on the role of a character in a play. The player must imagine what the character does, says, thinks, eats, feels, and hopes. The player dons the living mask of the character and strives to see through his or her eyes. It is the responsibility of each player to pretend to be their alter ego and interact with other player-characters. The character is the pawn, the game piece, to be moved and brought to life by the player.
The Role of the Wright
One player takes on a special role—that of the Wright of the Telling—often called the game master (GM) or dungeon master (DM) in other places. Like a shipwright or wainwright or playwright, the Wright of the Tellings is the maker, shaper, and artisan of the telling. He or she is the referee, the judge and jury of the game. The Wright is the scriptwriter, the director of each scene, and the extras on the set. It is the Wright’s job and calling to organize the game, to gather the players, to create the game world, to plot the adventure, and to describe all that the characters sense, discover, and encounter. He or she sets the stage for the story and serves as guide and beguiler, responding and reacting to what the players say, choose, and do. The Wright must lead yet challenge the players and their characters.
Like any game, an RPG is about action and reaction, about the play-by-play. However, the game field is not a checkerboard or a stadium green, but the fertile landscape of every player’s creativity and vision. All of the action and interaction occurs in the minds of the players around the gaming table.
The Master begins the telling creating setting, building history, leaving clues and hiding clues, weaving intrigue, and playing the friends and foes the characters will meet. The players add to the telling describing their characters, revealing character personality, reacting to the Master’s characters and other players’ characters, and adding to the atmosphere of the adventure. The Tellings adventure begins with a single word and ravels out into hours, days, even years of trial, triumph, entertainment, and even education.
Unlike more traditional games, the role-playing game has no final card, no last move, no fourth-quarter buzzer. The Tellings adventure is always in over-time. There is no simple end or simple victory. Each gaming session, each episode, each plot line adds to the “lives” of the player characters. Regardless of wins and losses, the adventure continues to play out as long as the Master and players have the desire and vision.
An adventure may take several hours to several days of playing time to complete. But playing time does not necessarily represent game time. A week or month of game time may pass in only minutes of actual gaming. Like a book series or sequels of a film, a series of adventures forms a campaign. And like the stars of a series, player characters may live to see many adventures in a long campaign — players often keep characters for many years before retiring them to a hall of heroes.
Tellings or any role-playing game for that matter is not about determining a winner or loser. The telling is about making stories, about making memories, about building community. The creation of great adventure is what brings true victory — a victory as unending as gaming itself.
To play Tellings requires a little preparation and a lot of imagination. The materials needed are few: each player should have a copy of the rulebook, copies of the character sheet and combat record sheet, pencils, a pocket calculator, scratch paper or small note pads (“telepathy pads”) for in-game and out-of-game notes, a handful of ten-sided dice, and graph paper or a hex- or grid-map for laying out combat. Appropriate lighting, a generously sized table, comfortable chairs, background music, and RPG miniatures add icing to the gaming experience.
The Game Premise
Tellings is designed for play in a high fantasy setting and to accommodate a medievalesque fantasy world. The weapons, armor, skills, and abilities have in mind the myriad places, peoples, and cultures of Medieval and early Renaissance Earth inflected and stylized with the sword and sorcery, the myth and monsters of literature and film.
Tellings embraces the spirit and magic of the fantasy genre. It casts a wide net and draws from many worlds. From crusading knights to sovereign chieftains to honorable samurai, from viking conquest to courtly love to jinns granting three wishes, from shaman huts to ancient temples to magical towers, the telling evokes the journey of the hero. From tribal plains to frigid steppes, from lofty pyramids to old growth forests to great walls, from lake to sea to shining sea, the telling paints detailed pictures of distant lands and sacred places. From One Thousand and One Nights to N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, from Macbeth to Carmilla to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, from Conan the Barbarian to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the telling brings to life the mystical, the mysterious, and the magical. Tellings is inspired by a long tradition of tales, always shifting, growing, changing, and continues toward a long future.
Remember that good fantasy can be realistic and all good fiction contains some truth. Whatever the setting, wherever and whenever the world, the place for Tellings can never wander far from the sources of good story. Though inflected with certain personal conventions and philosophies drawn out of years of play-testing, Tellings is designed to be a template system to be overlaid a game world of the players’ choosing or design. The game world of Tellings is as wide and as wild as the players and Wright imagine. Chapter Nine provides general considerations for the game world.
The System Premise
Tellings is a point-based, skill-based, character and story driven system, but it is much more than that. Tellings is a game system born out of many years of thought and many more hours of play-testing. The rules, the methods, the mechanics, the descriptions, and the overall feel and philosophy of the system attempt to address the RPGs of the past, reconsider traditional gaming ideas, and revolutionize the way RPGs are written, read, and played.
Tellings is full of promise and makes every effort to polish the ways of gaming that work and propose alternatives for ways that do not work. The telling of the tale is paramount and the flexibility of the game system only adds to the story. From character generation to combat to world building, the Tellings system hopes to bravely make changes and depends on the consideration, education, and common sense of the players to smooth and finish the edges of the game. What emerges from the system, from the mechanics, and from the minds of the player is what drives the game striving to be more than just the sum of its parts.
One of the fundamental lessons in game-making and game-playing illuminated by the creation process is the need to balance and sometimes purposefully, playfully skew realism and playability, to artfully dodge between the rules of the game and reasons for the game. The rule of play strives to produce a system that sensibly accounts for the complexities of living, learning, traveling, building, training, sensing, and fighting. However, the rule of play also strives to ground a system in the delicacies of playing, saying, living, and laughing. Role-play over roll-play. Whether the character is swinging a sword or singing a tune, the rule of play reminds players to see the forest for the trees, the game for the mechanics.
Adjunct to the rule of play is the rule of intent. No rule or system can cover every possibility or every contingency. Remember, there is more to an RPG than what is just laid out on paper. The rule of intent reminds the players that splitting hairs and diving through loopholes fails to preserve the spirit of the game. However, the rule of intent does not discourage creative ways of working within the rules nor does it mean the rules are fixed in stone. The Wright and the players must embrace the system and decide judiciously and sensibly what to tailor to style and taste.
In the end, players must decide what parts of the system are most important and most vital to their role-playing experience. The responsibility lies in everyone around the gaming table. Tellings begins with a well-conceived, well-meaning system and encourages personal inflections and “house rules.” The system, itself, becomes an extension of the telling, another living story—changing, growing, and sharing with every new player.
A Note About Pronouns
Throughout Tellings, the plural pronoun ‘they’ will often be used in the place of ‘he or she’ when possible. Though slowly becoming grammatically fashionable and acceptable, the simplification of long strings of ‘he or she’, ‘him or her’, ‘himself or herself’ outweigh the traditionally proper usage. The easy use of ‘they’ seems both visually and verbally more natural than ‘s/he’, ‘him/herself’, or some other invention. Furthermore, Tellings is committed to creating a system, text, world, and experience that is diverse and inclusive of all genders, fantastic or otherwise.