North-Central Section - 50th Annual Meeting - 2016

Paper No. 26-7
Presentation Time: 10:25 AM


RICE-SNOW, Scott, Dept. of Geological Sciences, Ball State Univ, Muncie, IN 47306,

Gen Con, hosted annually in Indianapolis, is the largest tabletop game convention in North America, with more than 60,000 attending.Many of these enthusiasts are active members of roleplaying game (RPG) groups throughout the year, collaboratively telling adventure stories set in mountains, caves, and other natural settings, supported by game masters (GMs) who strive to provide detailed, dynamic, memorable settings and story elements. Gen Con provides a distinctive opportunity for informal education on natural landscape features and processes.

The subject matter of geomorphology connects to practical development of RPG adventure environments at many levels.Diverse types of terrain set mood, alter line of sight, impede character movement, present unique hazards, and provide unexpected resources. Active surficial processes provide key story elements overtly (flash flood in arroyo) and subtly (treasure revealed by dune migration). Even in games with fantastic elements, acquaintance with real landscape diversity enriches variety, detail, context, and continuity of physical environment. Novel surroundings energize players, and natural processes offer metaphors for story themes.

Enrichment seminars for GMs are well attended at Gen Con, and I have found these to be an effective means to disseminate deeper understanding of landscape systems to them and to their gaming groups at home.2013-2015 seminars have focused on cave, desert, mountain, river, and shoreline settings, with seminar promotional text emphasizing variety of setting options, exotic terrain features, active surface processes, and distinctive challenges for adventurers. GMs attending are hungry for new scene ideas, intensive in note-taking, asking sharply focused practical questions, and several are familiar faces returning for new topics year by year. My other outreach activities at the convention have included joining world-building panels for writers and dissemination of a PDF book detailing story applications for specific field sites.

Emphasis on issues relevant to story and gameplay also returns unique perspectives to earth scientists. It gives new employment of discipline key concepts, calls for focus on terrain details and unique context of place, and emphasizes the time-varying character of natural sites.