Tabletop RPGs That Tell Stories From Disabled Perspectives

Mainstream tabletop RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons and their associated communities have been gradually improving their representation of people with disabilities in their gameplay and world settings; at the same time, game designers with disabilities have been creating RPG systems like the ones below, filled with settings and rules that tell stories true to their own experiences while also teaching non-disabled players what living with a disability is actually like.

Most modern games, tabletop or computer, are designed with non-disabled people in mind – people who can perceive light and sound at an arbitrary level and move their bodies around in a specific way. Many gamers with disabilities are able to play and enjoy these games despite this bias – gamers with impaired vision, for instance, can sometimes use sound effects and audio cues to navigate their way through fighting games, racing simulators, and so on. By including features to improve the accessibility of these games (filters for people with color blindness, special fonts for people with dyslexia, audio cues for people who have trouble seeing visual game interfaces, etc.) developers don't just reach out to an oft-ignored portion of their player-base, but also help break down the cultural ostracism and exclusion people with disabilities still struggle with every day.

Related: Deathloop Criticized For Lack of Accessibility Options

Tabletop RPGs, centered around written rules, physical objects, and the human imagination, are frequently more accessible than video games for people with disabilities. More vitally, the storytelling principles of tabletop RPGs give gamers with disabilities the chance to tell stories where characters like them are heroes, challenge the toxic assumption that people with disabilities are "broken," and bridge the gap between themselves and non-disabled people through understanding and empathy-building acts of creativity. The following tabletop roleplaying systems are excellent examples of the potential RPGs hold to entertain and enlighten people with and without disabilities.

Survival Of The Able, a horror tabletop RPG game written by blind game designer Jacob Wood, puts two new spins on the zombie genre. First, it moves the Romero-style zombie-apocalypse scenario from the modern age to Medieval Europe, where a new strain of the Black Death is causing victims to rise from the dead and eat the living. Second, it puts players in the shoes of people with disabilities who live in a Church-sponsored almshouse, deprived of resources such as wheelchairs, sign language, or Braille, and forced to fend for themselves as the non-disabled flee or succumb to the zombie plague. Currently available in ashcan form on Drivethru RPG, the final digital version of Survival Of The Able will have a layout gamers with vision impairments can customize to fit their needs, along with a core gameplay loop of surviving the hungry dead and overcoming discrimination in a world that views people with disabilities as helpless or cursed.

The storytelling card game Sign: A Game About Being Understood, is based on the real-life story of the inventive disabled people behind the creation of Nicaraguan Sign Language – not designed by scientists or academics, but created spontaneously by hearing-impaired Nicaraguan teenagers in vocational schools during the 1980s. A session of Sign: A Game About Being Understood is essentially a crucible that challenges players to create their own hand gestures in order to describe increasingly complex ideas, queries, and statements: a deck of cards contains an assorted set of prompts and conversational topics, and players tally up scores between rounds based on how accurately they communicate these concepts to each other.

Inspiriles, an RPG on inspired by a mix of classic Dungeons & Dragons and movies such as Labyrinth or The NeverEnding Story, takes place in a fantasy realm of faerie creatures and magical "Shaping" arts. Players take on the role of children who are ancestors of King Arthur and Guinevere Pendragon, called into this magical world to heal the World Tree and fight the dark forces of Disbelief using magic and Sign Language. The core mechanics of Inspiriles revolve around rolling dice while also learning both American and British Sign Language, starting with alphabet letter-based gestures and progressing to full gestures, questions, and sentences.

Next: Why D&D's Combat Wheelchair Is A Good Start For Disabled Representation

Sources: itch.ioDrivethru RPG

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