Do you guys know the word “shibboleth?” No worries if it’s unfamiliar. You can learn about the term like I did from President Bartlet, or if you’re pressed for time make do with the dictionary definition.

a custom, principle, or belief distinguishing a particular class or group of people, especially a long-standing one regarded as outmoded or no longer important.

I bring it up today because our mutual hobby is worth celebrating. Whenever I see a dice dagger tat out in the world or spot a Hellfire Club shirt at a con, I think to myself: Shibboleth. There go my people. 

But what makes this subculture our own — the reason I’m willing to devote so much time and mental energy to it — is that RPGs are not just a lifestyle brand. I may own my share of officially licensed T-shirts and miniatures (and even a cookbook), but these objects of consumption aren’t the reason I love the hobby. As cool and fun as something like Marvel or Star Wars may be, I don’t get to play in those worlds. Not really. I can write my fan fic or immerse myself in their games or extended universes. But I come back to tabletop again and again for a simple reason. I am explicitly allowed to take the building blocks of culture and make them my own. 

If you’ve followed geek news lately, you’ve heard rumors about WotC trying to revoke the OGL. It’s early days yet, and I don’t know how worried we ought to be. But it’s important that we pause to consider what’s at stake. The Open Game License permits third party developers like me to participate in and profit from our common culture of fantasy. Doing away with the OGL won’t keep us from making up our own stories around the kitchen table. But it will stymie the creative community that’s grown up around this game.

Ours is a punk aesthetic. We lean into DIY, homebrew, and remix. When at last it’s time for my first gamer tattoo, it’s not going to be trademarked ampersand. It’s going to be based off a dumb inside-joke from my own megadungeon. Because the stories we tell are more important than the products we buy. And that is my own version of “shibboleth.”

How about the rest of you guys? Any sweet tattoos to share? Or lacking those, any opinions on licensing structures that enable rather than suppress human expression? Give us all your best close-up shots and hot-takes down in the comments!


ADD SOME NSFW TO YOUR FANTASY! If you’ve ever been curious about that Handbook of Erotic Fantasy banner down at the bottom of the page, then you should check out the “Quest Giver” reward level over on The Handbook of Heroes Patreon. Thrice a month you’ll get to see what the Handbook cast get up to when the lights go out. Adults only, 18+ years of age, etc. etc.