Friday, April 23, 2021

Epigraphs in tabletop role-playing games (2/2)

This essay is part of the On the Shoulders of Cloud Giants project which studies citation practices in tabletop role-playing games. This post follows a first post published last year.

Some method adjustments

Coding of variables

The encoding of the variables was compiled in a CSV file deposited in the OtSoCG project on GitHub. The file is updated as it goes. R scripts will retrieve data from this file.

I changed the way of encoding variables. For example, for the epigraph type, instead of putting all the types together in the same column (ex: lahr) I put each of them in a separate column (ex: column l, column a, column h, etc.). I am following the advices of our data librarian who has relayed the Tidy data principles from Hadley Wickham.

Note: I would have to learn to use Jupyter notebooks to build code dictionaries for variables (name, format, selection, etc.).

Variable names

  • qid : Wikidata identifier of the generic game, or sometimes of the specific edition (ex: Q5457).
  • edition : label of the name of the edition (ex: 2nd, 2nd revised, etc.).
  • series_ordinal : rank of the edition in whole number.
  • label : name of the set (generic name of the game line). Group the games as much as possible to be able to make longitudinal series.
  • date : date of publication.
  • nb_forged : total number of epigraphs invented by the game (intra-diegetic).
  • nb_work : total number of epigraphs taken from pre-existing works in the game 
  • Type of epigraphs (ie. the game contains at least one) :
    • academic (coded as a) : essay, history book, article, etc.
    • literature (l) : novel, short story, poetry, etc.
    • historical (h) : quote from a historical figure
    • music (m): song lyrics
    • religious (r) : from sacred, religious or spiritual texts
    • game (g) : game (board, board, card, life-size, etc.) or quotation of game designers
    • unknown (u) : I did not find the type
    • bd (b) : comic strip, comic book, manga, manwa, etc.
    • cinema (c) : movie or tv series
    • videogame (v) : video game
    • franchise (f) : literary or other work, preceding the game and from which the game is derived or which is a direct explicit inspiration.
  • confusing_mix (x) : if the epigraphs invented by the game's designers and those taken from existing works mix together and create fiction-real confusion.
  • notes  (not coded): various notes


The following items were excluded from the survey :

  • Epigraphic texts from the scenarios (often props: press articles, letters etc.).
  • The epigraphs attributed to a character class to illustrate that class.
  • Epigraphs without a source.

First results

Some remarks during this review work.

Layout of epigraphs

In role-playing games, most epigraphs have a similar formatting :

  • Section: Often in the "fluff" part of the playbook. More rarely in the rule part. Almost never among the lists of items in the rules (spell lists, equipment lists, skill lists).
  • Positioning: At the head of the chapter, under the title of the chapter; or at the head of a paragraph, under the paragraph title. More rarely, in a boxed insert.
  • Structure: Text of the epigraph, followed by the source.
  • Paragraph: Indent to the right, or to the left or both.
  • Font: Slightly different from the regular text of the whole game (eg in italics, or in a different font, or smaller or larger).
  • Source formatting: Author, followed by the name of the work. Often preceded by an em dash. Example:
Zantabulous Zorcerer of Zo (2006), p. 5


In my teachings, I often warn my students against misquotation so that they do not make the mistake of including them in their work. For them, it is an immediate loss of credit since it proves they did not verify that the author of the quote really said one thing and in what document.

What was my surprise to see a (probable) false quotation from Einstein in Faery’s Tales Deluxe (p. 1) and in Zantabulous Zorcerer of Zo (p. 89)!

A librarian at the Library of Congress investigated this false quotation.

Graphic epigraphs

Sometimes I've come across quotations from comic book boxes (Prince Valiant, The Four of Baker Street), or captioned prints (Baron Munchausen).

Source : Prince Valiant : The Story-Telling Game (1989)

Quantitative data

The R code to produce the results below can be found here:
It can also be run online from this page (where I posted most of the scripts:

Intra-diegetic invented epigraphs

Some games make extensive use of epigraphic quotes invented by the game's designers. The main goal is to increase the immersion in the game world by adding a touch of verisimilitude. Indeed, they are intra-diegetic epigraphs giving voice to non-player characters.

Games    EditionNumber of invented epigraphs
Nobilis1st. ed.373
Earthdawn3rd ed.111
Rogue Trader
ChampionsThe New Millenium92
SLA Industries1.1 (2000)73
SLA Industries1st ed. (1993)73
Nephilim20e anniversaire64
                                    Top 10

 Confusion between real and fictional works

Edgar Alan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft liked to mix fictional works (e.g. the Necronomicon) with real works (Harnušek 2013). No doubt to produce an effect of verisimilitude of fictitious works, to disturb the reader, to play with him and to put him in a state of confusion.

Some games invent fictional books and mix them up with existing books. For example Call of Cthulhu takes up what Lovecraft was doing by listing books of Mythos with existing occult books. Or Baron Munchausen 3rd ed. mentions a dozen fake book titles with a clever mix of humor and geek scholarship.

However, the essence of this literary process is taken up in the epigraphs. Indeed, I spotted 21 epigraphs of invented works mixed with epigraphs of existing works, or pseudo-historical quotes from historical figures who have existed alongside actual quotations from other historical figures. Most of these games can be categorized as urban fantasy or contemporary horror genre.
Source : Godlike: Superhero Roleplaying in a World on Fire, 1936-1946 (2001)
Achtung Cthulhu!
Armageddon: The End Times2nd ed.
Bitume10e anniversaire
Changeling: The Dreaming1st ed.
Cypher System
Fanhunter, el juego de rol épicodecadente
In Nomine Satanis – Magna Veritas1ere éd.
In Nomine Satanis – Magna Veritas4e éd.
Nephilim3e éd.
Nephilim20e anniv. (4e)
Over the Edge2nd ed.
Space Master2nd ed.
The Laundry
Werewolf: The Apocalypse2nd ed.
List of the 21 games mixing real epigraphs with invented fictitious epigraphs

Epigraphs of existing works

Among the existing works, the most represented types of epigraphs (in general, see note below) are :

Types Number of time represented
confusing mix21
bd, comic, manga20
I did not indicate the proportional% of each type because there can be several types for the same game.

Note: I did not count the number of each type of epigraph. I think this is a mistake because I could have had finer and more relevant coding. I didn't do it believing I would save myself time, but in the end I don't think it would have created more work for me.

GamesEditionNumber of epigraphs of existing works
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Roleplaying Game
SengokuRevised ed.310
The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game
Arcana Mvndi
Mage: The Ascension1st ed.112
Vampire: The Masquerade1st ed.93
A Game of Thrones
The Dying Earth Roleplaying Game
Miles Christi
The One Ring Roleplaying GameAdventurer’s book90
Top 10 games that cite the most existing works

Future avenues of research

  • Include other games in the survey.
  • Identify citing practices in bibliographies, inspiration lists, reading tips, historical references, etc.
    • Compare if games with a bibliography are also games with epigraphs. Correlations?
  • Build a list of notable games with a weighting system. For example, Vampire: The Masquerade has not had the same weight in role-playing culture as La méthode du Dr. Chestel. Establish objective criteria: number of editions, number of translations, number of citations by other games, existence of a Wikipedia page, etc.
    • Indeed, I realized that presenting data without this type of weighting had less relevance and less value because we cannot generalize.
    • Once the list of games with notability index has been compiled, draw a graph with the number of epigraphs per year to see if there are any trends.

But why all this?

  • Tabletop role-playing games and thei citation practices allow me to do some amateur science.
  • It produces a modest knowledge about tabletop role-playing games, a niche area that I have had at heart since elementary school.
  • It allows me to practice methods and then be cognitively and emotionally closer to the students and researchers I support.
  • In the scientific process, there is an important aspect: a painful irrational obession. We cannot do without grueling and costly data collection. A bit like the scientists who count birds on rocky islands. I think that science cannot be done without this tedious process. Knowing that fact is good, but practicing it helps to empathize.
  • I think studying a subject thoroughly, whatever it is, you increase your general knowledge. In addition, by studying this subject in depth, it forces us to discover methods and good practices (which can then be applied elsewhere).

References : how to embedded R code in a webpage

Harnušek, Ondřej. « Lovecraft and Poe: Masters of the Macabre of Providence ». B.A. English Language and Literature, Masaryk University, 2013.

Rothman, Joshua. « How Does Science Really Work? » The New Yorker, Consulté le 15 avril 2021.

Szalai, Jennifer. « Modern Science Didn’t Appear Until the 17th Century. What Took So Long? » The New York Times, 7 octobre 2020.,

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