74 Considering Counter-narratives in Tabletop Role-Playing Games

Peeper Hersey-Powers


Hi everyone! For this final project, I wanted to consider how we might be able to use Tabletop Role-Playing Games (TTRPGs, like Dungeons and Dragons for example—although I detest D&D because of its reliance on racist fantasy tropes + bio-essentialism, and reinforcement of colonial kill-and-loot narratives, so not that one lol) as counter-narrative tools. I’ve been playing tabletop games since high school, and have been a co-president of the 5C TTRPG club for the past three years. Critical, meaningful storytelling has been important to me for so long, and has played such an important role in this class, so I thought recommending some games inspired by our work this semester would be a really nice way to close out my time in this class and my last semester at Pomona.

The first game I want to consider for this class is Enter, Patrocles by Paige Turner:

https://brownpaper-games.itch.io/enter-patrocles (This game is Pay-What-You-Want, so you can download it for free!)


“What do you do when someone that you’ve cared about forever is destroying themselves? What do you do when you’re being told there’s only one way to move forward but you know it’s at your own expense? How do you negotiate your way to happiness? Is someone else’s trust a gift or a responsibility, and how much can you accept?

Enter, Patrocles is a two-player game about giving bits of your trust to another person so that you can save each other.”


The game has one player play as The Martyr, and the other as The Savior.

“The Martyr: Your Color is White, your fate is to die for your cause”

“The Savior: Your Color is Black, your fate is to cut yourself off”


Sarah’s Iliad Pressbook post reminded me of this game! The name is pretty on the nose, inspired by both Patrocles and Achilles’ relationship and the song “Achilles Come Down,” but I think it would be interesting to see the stories that our class (or future classes!) would tell after reading the Iliad and considering our own counter-narratives. If we were to try and retell Patrocles’ and Achilles’ stories, how would they turn out? Would certain pairs have different ideas of who becomes The Martyr and The Savior? How hard would groups push for a happy ending? While this game seems like it can be intense (and luckily does have some Game Support Tools to ensure player comfort and safety), I think the classroom community that we’ve created would allow for some genuine and inspiring stories to happen.

The second game I want to consider is Odyssey by Riley Rethal:

https://metagame.itch.io/odyssey (This game is also Pay-What-You-Want (aka also free))


“odyssey is a one-page game for 3-5 players where everyone plays one main character—a wayfaring soul on a long and challenging journey home. it uses a twelve-sided die and a six-sided die.”


I would love to see the stories our class would tell with this game! I think its format lends itself well to our ideas of counter-narratives, giving us a chance to focus on the stories of people not like Odysseus at all. I think it would be cool to use the Odyssey-esque framework of storytelling while being actively critical of the Odyssey and Odysseus himself. My inspiration for choosing this game was Jayda, Kate F., Camille, and Kate S’s pressbook post for the Odyssey—I found the stories of the enslaved girls they wrote really incredible (and devastating, emotionally). What would it look like if we told the story of one of them being able to run away, to find her family again? Or what if we told the story of Penelope, turning her story into a quest to make her home safe from the suitors without Odysseus’ carnage?

Next, I want to mention Together We Write Private Cathedrals by Ben Roswell:

https://roswellian.itch.io/together-we-write-private-cathedrals (This one is $5.00 for a pdf, or $15.00 for a physical zine, but you can also contact Ben for a free copy if buying the game is difficult!)


“Together We Write Private Cathedrals is a letter (and other things) writing game for two players. In it you take on the roles of two lovers at some point in history. You are asked to tell the story of your love through bits of writing, and despite the fact that you cannot always be open or explicit.

This game deals with how we view and understand queer history, by asking the player to write a version of that history. It takes 1 six-sided die, a deck of standard playing cards, and materials to write with. It is an asynchronous writing game based on the work of Takuma Okada.

If the cost of this game is a burden to you, you can reach me at benaudenroswell@gmail.com or on twitter at @roswellwrites and I will provide you with a download code no questions asked.”


I think this game speaks to some of the things we talked about in discussing Sappho and her poetry. Queer history and our understanding of it is so affected by silence and fragments, and this beautiful game by Ben Roswell does an incredible job of bringing this out in play. As Ben writes himself, “There are love stories there if you know where to look, and there are love stories to be written between the pages.”

Finally, I want to consider briefly Agon by John Harper and Sean Nittner:

http://agon-rpg.com/ ($15 for the pdf, $25 for a hardcopy, but there’s a free demo + free character sheets for download)


“In the mists of ancient time, a poet sings of great deeds wrought by mighty

heroes—of monsters slain and justice restored, of wise counsel and devious

strategies, of courage, valor, and daring—defiant of the gods themselves. In

AGON, you create these heroes, crafting their epic tale into an immortal legend.

On their way back home from war, a band of heroes become lost among

strange islands populated by mythical creatures, dangerous villains, legendary

kingdoms, and desperate people—each entangled in strife, at the mercy of

the capricious gods.

It falls to you as the epic heroes of your age to seize this opportunity for

greatness—to set things right in these lost lands, overcome the trials of gods,

monsters, and mortals, prove the glory of your name, and win your way back home.”


I haven’t fully read through this game (because $$$), but I have looked at the character sheets and it seems very compelling! I would love to get this book and try running a session or two (if anyone’s interested,,, pls hmu). At first glance, the game seems to align itself more closely with epic heroes such as Achilles and Odysseus, but I am curious if we would be able to use it to tell stories critically and complicate the often problematic tropes present in these narratives. What does it mean for our “heroes” to have gone to war? What does it mean for “justice” to be restored? What does the quest for “glory” look like for our heroes, if anything at all? The book might provide more clarity than what is given to us in the free samples of play elements, so I am trying to be not The Most Critical of what little materials I have available (but there is a pronoun section in character creation so maybe we can play they/them war criminals #diversitywin).

If any of you end up playing these games, or even just read them, please let me know! I’d love to hear the stories you all tell or your general reactions to my picks for this class.

Thank you all for an incredible semester – this class has been a saving grace during Such a bad time. You’ve all made the end of my time at Pomona meaningful during a time where meaning has been hard to find. Thank you. <3


Gender & Sexuality in Ancient Greece Copyright © by Jody Valentine. All Rights Reserved.

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