Violence (1999)

Oh man, this game. Violence (1999) is a satirical RPG of ultraviolence by “Designer X,” a not very secret pen name for Greg Costikyan. It is definitely for mature readers and probably not meant to be played at all. It is a strong critique of a lot of behavior we take for granted in many RPGs, particularly D&D.

The basic idea is that you play violent drifters who go to places, kill the inhabitants and take their stuff. But, rather than monsters in dungeons hording gold and magic items, we’re dealing with normal folks in apartment buildings filled with heirloom jewelry and hi-fi stereo equipment. Murder Hobo: The Game, well before the term was coined (around 2007, sorta). It is thoroughly repulsive.

Costikyan’s prose is purple and full of loathing. He is blithely insulting of the reader and everything about them (surely they are truly degenerate if they are reading it). The whole thing smacks of 90s-style edginess, and it grates, but it is also incredibly effective and keenly, causticly insightful. Does Costikyan tarnish his legacy here? Perhaps a tiny bit. Will I ever think about the fundamental construction of D&D and similar RPGs the same way again? Nope. And whatever Costikyan’s snarling bombast, it conceals a lament, a deep sadness that so much play is centered around violence. That certainly is lamentable, and it is actually a bit heartening to note that in the years since Violence, a good deal has changed in the way we design and play RPGs.

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