Monday, March 9, 2020

Tabletop role-playing games as hospitality and hosting rituals (part 1/?)

This post is the continuation of Tabletop role-playing games as hospitality and hosting rituals (introduction) of April 2018. Since this post, I gave a conference on hospitality applied to active learning workshops « From teacher-students to guest-host: revisiting the relations in library training activities ». (CPI, October 2019). This gave me the opportunity to deepen what an hospitable relationship is.


Hospitality is one of the foundations of social life. It is a series of codified and universal behaviors that reduce the emotion of stress when meeting strangers. It is played on short term, has a fixed duration and usually takes place once.

All participants will pretend they have en equal peer-like status. Except that one will have the role of host and the other will have the role of guest. These roles are clearly defined, separate and distinct.

For the host, the motivation to receive with hospitality is to maintain or increase its reputation. More spiritually, hospitality is a test of humility for the host and for the guest. This test is mainly expressed by a test of service for the host, and a test of voluntary dependance for the guest. (Shryock 2012)

Walter Crist, archeologist, claims ancient boardgames were functioning as social lubricants and ludic lingua franca between different societies. “People will play games when they vaguely know each other, to get to know one another.” The ability to judge another person was valuable. It helped find answers to important questions: Are you good enough to be part of my family? Should I trust you enough to trade with you? “This is how games passed between cultures” (Crist, 2019). [added 2020-12-02]


In contemporary sociability, invitations look like hospitality rituals. However, people are more familiar to each others and invitations can be recurring. (Augustin 2018; Burn 2017)

Good practices


The host has to prepare something. It is a question of reputation, sovereignty, wealth and generosity. He should even do a little too much. The guest has to taste it a bit at least. Hospitality being a test of humility, it is up to the host to adapt his service to his guests. Whatever the ranks of different guests, he should have spoken to at least each of them once.

Role-playing applications:

If you are doing low prep, remember that it is thanks to your years of experience, your culture and your ability to listen to players. If you do a lot of preparation, don't neglect listening to the players and adapt your work.

Even if all players do not have the same appetite for attention, focus the spotlight on each of them and actively manage the speaking time. If you are too much on laissez-faire, you may have given up your role as sovereign host. Everyone should feel like they are receiving fair attention (not necessarily equal attention).


The host does not ask their guest who they are, where they come from, what is their identity. A host must first receive his guest, feed him and entertain him. An example of a bad host: the giant Polyphemus, who eats his visitors, but also who harasses Odysseus with the question "Who are you?". Barbaric question to which Odysseus is well justified to lie by answering "My name is nobody." (Potter 2013)

Application for role playing:

Do not make a thorough presentation of the characters from the start. Let's play them first, do flashbacks later. Players, don't push the content of your 10-page background right away in one block. You are the guest: gradually weave it with the current game when an opportunity is served/offered.

Layers of the game

It is up to the host to accompany each descent or ascent from one game layer to another (Sniezak 2016). Each social layer is included/nested in another one (maybe: to explore). Each one is a new dimension, a new frame, with its rules, limits, roles, expectations, emotions.


A game master can invite in his home, in his campaign with a specific genre, in such a scenario, in this scene played in the first person, rules by this mechanic.

Favor a gradual entry into the game, with physical rituals (dim light, specific local, etc.) or communication rituals (key phrases, reminder of the past session, etc.). It clarifies the confusion of role, layers, playful attitude, etc.
The Top Traits of a Good Dungeon Master: Sly Flourish
The Top Traits of a Good Dungeon Master: Sly Flourish (Shea 2017).
The vast majority of traits are linked to an hospitable personality.

Sometimes the game master is a guest in the house of one of the players. The more explicit, discussed and shared each layers, the better.


The host must guarantee the safety and protection of his guests. In the old days, it was mainly about the physical safety.

Applications :

Emotional security around the table. The game master try not to confront the fears of his players: the fear of ridicule (“they will make fun of me”), the fear of madness (“they will find me weird”) and the fear of the obscene (“they will find it shocking ”) (qui revient de loin 2019).

« The one who lose a character, a fight, a contest, who lose face, etc. has a final word on what happen to his character.» (Eugénie 2017).

The game master can facilitate a debriefing /feedback after the game to reduce confusion, prioritize the information, improve for the next times, listen to what was not said or heard during the game, etc.


At all times, the host must be sovereign and remain so, without losing this role. He is the only one who can exclude. Its better if he follows pre-established rules ("explicit, official, precise, transparent, auditable, deemed intangible, and leaving no room for arbitrariness"). The people you never want to be invited to game with are are the fairies because they are known to turn any social exchange into a justification.
   « Interactions with faeries in folklore and fiction are one part entertainment to three parts weaponized manners. » (Lauer 2019)  


"I will not abandon you" (Baker & Care Boss 2006). The game master is present and active for his players, whatever happens. He does not disappear unexpectedly. He does not delegate his role as host to another player (if he does, he trusts that player will not abuse this temporary role).

The game contract is an asset (Coeymans 2019).


The guests leave with gifts from the host. These gifts create a bond and they invite reciprocity. (Dobrin 2013)


Symbolic rewards (XPs, powers, etc.), invitations to collaborative worldbuilding, physical props (cards, texts, etc.), propose a player to be the next game master, etc.

Bad practices


The guest arrives unexpectedly, without letting the host prepare. This can be interpreted as a [mise en defaut] by the guest to the host who is unable to serve properly (Zink 2010).


Players who do not respond to an invitation to play, but invite themselves when they want at the times they choose.

The players decide that their characters leave the thorougline of the current campaign to go in another direction. The game master must readjust immediately his weekly campaign. (I was one of those players).

Host exhaustion

The guest should not exhaust the resources of the host. It is up to him to figure out how to politely refuse an overly generous preparation or invitation. Examples of bad guests who exhaust the resources of a small poor kingdom: the pretenders of Penelope of Ithaca who will be killed (with the maids of Ithaca too).


Do not stay too long and go home, even if you are offered to stay a little longer. (I was one of those players)

Dear guests, minimize your personal footprint. Remember that you have accepted a voluntary temporary dependance to the host. The expression "Make yourself at home!" is only an figure of speech of politeness.

Understanding the power gamer

If being a power gamer (munchkin, Monty Haul, etc.) type of player means "pulling the game towards yourself, to the detriment of the other participants, via the abilities of your character," then such behavior can be seen as a breach of the hospitality relationship. Indeed, by pulling the invitation to himself to the detriment of the host and other guests, this kind of player oversteps the humility necessary for his role and he is stepping outside the framework in which he agreed to be welcomed. [added Jan 24, 2021]

Host > guest?

Like gift exchanges, the success of a transformative hospitality for both the host and the guest, is when the guest has a real opportunity of expressing a reciprocity. And this reciprocity is received in return by the host.

    "Hospitality is not about changing people, but about providing a space where change can take place. "(Henri Nouwen, 1986)

Abraham received guests who turned out to be God and his angels, Zeus was the patron of foreign visitors, ... you never know how a guest can transform us.

Wikimédia Commons - L'hospitalité d'Abraham, Arent de Gelder vers 1680.
Wikimédia Commons – The Hospitality of Abraham, Arent de Gelder vers 1680.



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Zink, Michel. 2010. « Humbles et humiliés. Récits médiévaux de l’abaissement ». In Littératures de la France médiévale (1995-2016). Paris: College de France.

Special dedication

To all the hospitable game masters who welcome me in their stories : Gregory, Laurent, Alex, Yohann, Berli, Nico, Hélios, Florient, Zulaan, Olivier, Oliviorc, Fabrice, Janus, Christian, Cyril, …

1 comment:

  1. Hah, yes, this is spot on. Hospitality is one of those rituals associated with gaming that most gamers - and game designers - seem to miss completely; either taking it for granted or assuming its absence.