This was a tough prompt…unique means the only one of its kind, but it can be used to mean distinctive. Do I go with “distinctive”, a bad synonym of unique?

Is role playing itself “unique”? It’s play, and not unlike that any child does when they are young and pretending to be a Power Ranger, or hunting aliens/zombies/bad guys, or exploring space, or or or… There are no rules, usually, in that unstructured play, but sometimes there are. Role playing has been called interactive story-telling, but people do that while talking over each other about an incident in the pub. “Theater of the mind” — like improvised theater, just at a table. But it’s also LARP. you dress up and pretend to be, well, usually vampires and werewolves, for that. It grew out of board games, wargames, and if you still use minis and grid maps, is it still kind of a board game? Is it unique? If fits in a bunch of Venn diagrams, when you think about it.

Are the game mechanics unique? Roll a die and hit a target number and/or above/below. Add a modifier, or add an attribute and skill together plus the die and hit a target number. Use cards to randomize. Use two d20s and try to figure out what the hell you did. How about some different die that do a different thing if you get a [symbol]. Roll to sixes and get above/below at target. Roll different die according to your ability or skill score to change the probability curve and hit a target. You roll and the other guy rolls: who gets higher? Are these systems, no matter how cool they might be explained, or how the math might work out truly unique?

That bad ass tiefling sorcerer with the androgynous look whose evil but really would like to be good but just can’t because zir a creature of the darkness that likes to wear leather and… Not unique. Look at the most popular race/class combos online. Tiefling sorcerer. Human fighter. Elf ranger. How about that spy you built. Nothing like another character that might have inspired it, but looks a lot like this character. That superhero that’s one part Tony Stark, one part Wolverine, with acrophobia and a bit of geeky wordplay thrown in? Unique? Maybe the way you play it!

Settings…your homebrew is certainly, in how it’s constructed unique, but it might be derivative as hell. But out there, somewhere, is there no one else who threw Pokemon for their little one into their D&D game with a side helping of steampunk because the teenager likes the look of the cosplay? Some of the best “new” settings started as a homebrew of something else — Shadowrun, for instance. Does it have to be unique?

“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” — Ecclesiastes 1:9, King James Bible. (But I think God was paraphrasing here. ) Is there nothing truly unique? Is everything a bit derivative? And is that such a bad thing? Familiarity with a story doesn’t make it any less impactful or fun; sometimes it’s quite the opposite. That’s why we tell certain stories over and over again, but the permutations are where we make it new, fresh, and…unique.

As you play, the characters, players, setting, and rules combine to make something fun, personalized, and wonderful.


This piece ties in nicely with this article…