What is Tabletop Fiction?

Tabletop fiction is any work of fiction where the playing of a tabletop game is central to the plot. This includes works set in universes bound by the rules of a tabletop game, even if the people who are playing the game are never shown. Although most examples of tabletop fiction are Role Playing Games, this is not always the case. Erfworld is a comic about a tabletop war game. Up To Four Players, Semi Co-op, Going OverBoard, and Tiny Wooden Pieces are about board games. Also The Gamers 2: Hands of Fate and Cardboard Crack are about a collectible card games. These are all examples of tabletop fiction.

Those familiar with LitRPG may refer to tabletop fiction as "LitRPG with dice" however the exceptions above show that tabletop fiction sometimes isn't LitRPG and sometimes lacks dice. (Those unfamiliar with LitRPG, it means "Literature about Role Playing Games" but more precise and accurate definitions can be found here.)

Almost, but not qualifying as tabletop fiction is the film Jumanji. The tabletop game was central to the plot as it summoned things and sucked people to alternate dimensions, but actual playing of a tabletop game only happened briefly between running away from things.

Also almost classifying as tabletop fiction, was a brilliant comic Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic, as it directly references characters and monsters from tabletop roleplaying games, it touches on Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 alignment system, it even has the word “Gamer” in the title, but beyond that, no references to actually playing a game, and no game rules are mentioned. At its heart, the genre is a spectrum but a definitive line must be drawn somewhere. If YAFGC adds a couple more references to gameplay we shall reclassify it, but it’s sitting right on the line either way.

The same goes for fiction that inspired games, fiction that was licensed by games, fiction sharing a universe with a game, fiction based on a game, fiction based on the outcome of a played game, or fiction that exists within a game. If no game is being played inside the fiction, (explicit or implied,) it is not tabletop fiction.

Video game fiction, even if it has RPG elements, is not tabletop fiction. There can be a bit of crossover, as Unforgoten Realms references things such as NPCs with single dialogue lines and monster agro lines, both elements not found in tabletop roleplaying. Likewise in Standard Action episode 2.7 a spawn point is discovered, a feature found in video games. In situations like these, the exclusively video game elements and exclusively tabletop elements must be weighed against each other to determine which category a work better fits. For the purposes of this website, tabletop fiction and video game fiction are mutually exclusive.

(Current estimates suggest that there is approximately ten video game fiction webcomics for every tabletop fiction webcomic, and we suspect a similar ratio for video game film and video game literature. We will not be checking all of them to see if they include tabletop elements, as compiling the list as it is was expensive enough.)

Fiction is an equally important part of the definition. The recording of an actual game that is actually being played is not tabletop fiction (no matter how funny and famous the actors are).

Finally, one tabletop fiction scene does not make the entire work tabletop fiction. For example, season 2, episode 14 of the TV series “Community” is tabletop fiction. This does not make Community a tabletop fiction series. (However, as this website grows, we will be listing the one-off examples also.) Note: exceptions are often made if the rest of the work shares strong themes with the setting of the game. For example JourneyQuest has a character named Glorion, who is a metaphor for people who play a game and don’t take anything outside of the killing seriously. His interactions with The Watcher (a metaphor for a Game Master) show that this work is about tabletop players, not video game players. It’s a stretch, but the line between tabletop fiction and not must be drawn somewhere, so it is drawn between JourneyQuest and Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic, but they are both just touching that line.