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Gary Gygax & Role Playing Mastery


Gamer Talk

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My D&D roots don't go back to the very begining, but I didn't miss it by much. I remember going to our FLGS with my buddy. He would buy a shiny TSR module, and I would get a cool Judges Guild supplement.

And I remember how D&D was the center of the RPG world in those pre-PC/video game playing days. And Gary Gygax was IT. It all centered around him. So, I've been reading with interest a book that he put out in 1987, less than twelve months after he had severed all ties with TSR. Role Playing Mastery is his very serious look at RPGing. He included the 17 steps he identified to becoming a Role Playing Master.

I'm examining those steps on my blog Walking Through the Valley. The first entry is below, and the second one is up on the site. I hope to do one every week:

Gary Gygax's 17 Steps to Role Playing Mastery – Intro

If you're reading this post, you probably know that Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson co-created Dungeons and Dragons circa 1973-1974. Unfortunately it was not a long-lasting partnership and lawsuits would ensue. While both were instrumental in creating D&D, it is Gygax who is remembered as the Father of Role Playing.

In 1987, Gary Gygax put out a book entitled Role-Playing Mastery, which gave instructions on how to excel as a player in role-playing games. At that time, there were essentially two versions of Dungeons and Dragons. The Original, or ‘Basic’ game, had evolved under Tom Moldvay’s rules development. Gygax, meanwhile, was focused on Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, or ’AD&D’. They were marketed as separate rules systems and 2nd Edition AD&D would not be released until 1989.

Gygax had been pushed completely out of TSR (the company he cofounded to print the first set of D&D rules) by December 31, 1986, so he was no longer associated with D&D when this book came out.

In an interview not long before he died, Gygax was asked how he’d like to be remembered and replied:

“I would like the world to remember me as the guy who really enjoyed playing games and sharing his knowledge and his fun pastimes with everybody else.”

This book, which he wrote about twenty years before his death, reflects that philosophy. On a side note, he wrote a companion book that came out in 1989, Master of the Game, which focused on the Dungeon Master/Game Master side of role-playing. They are both interesting reads; partly because he takes the subject so seriously. And bear in mind that PC gaming consisted of titles like Ultima IV, Wizardry and Bard’s Tale. Pool of Radiance, the first of the gold box series, was a year away. MMORPGs weren’t even conceived of yet (yes, I know MUDs existed). But computer gaming was a very different world. People RPGd by sitting around a table together. And Gary Gygax suggested how they could be very good at it.

So, next post will begin a look a Gary Gygax's 17 Steps to Role Playing Mastery.


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Gary Gygax's 17 Steps to Role Playing Mastery: Mastery?

Gary Gygax took role-playing very seriously. This should not be a surprise since we’re talking about the man who co-created Dungeons and Dragons and what is now a billion dollar industry (there’s no World of Warcraft without D&D). He differentiates Role Playing Games (RPGs) from other games played to pass the time:

Many games are mere pastime activities, but RPGs are enjoyable pursuits of a sought-after nature and are hobby-like, rather than pastime creations aimed at filling an otherwise empty period of leisure. While some games are aimed at rainy afternoons or social gatherings that might bring boredom, role-playing games are designed for and should be played under far different circumstances. Participants engage in the play of such games because they have an active desire to do so. This is because the games of this nature provide them with fun, excitement, challenge, social interaction, and much more on an ongoing basis.

Gygax establishes RPGs at a ‘higher level’ than games such as Monopoly or Sorry. They are not something you do to pass the time. They are voluntary activities that players participate in for a continuing sense of fulfillment.

He also makes a point that I feel is important: the cooperative nature of role-playing:

Role-playing games are contests in which the players usually cooperate as a group to achieve a common goal rather than compete to eliminate one another from play. Chess, board games, cards, and miniatures games all pit individuals or teams against each other. Role games, in contrast, bring players together in a mutual effort to have their characters succeed or at least survive against the hostile “world” environment.

Roleplaying games foster creativity, imagination and cooperation. If the party doesn’t work together, they usually don’t last long. I played “around a table” from middle school into grad school. After a long break from that type of RPGing (replaced with Pc games), I now play via message board (known as ‘Play By Post’) due to real life constraints. But it is still rewarding to work together to solve problems and vanquish foes. RPGs deliver that in excess.

Regarding Mastery, he says:

As it is with other kinds of mature amusements and diversions, so it is with role-playing games: The higher the level of play, the more enjoyable the game. Simply put, mastery of role-playing is not so much an effort toward individual excellence as it is a broadening of personal knowledge, contributing to social group activity, and increasing the fun and excitement that stem from superior participation. This is when role-playing becomes captivating. When you master role-playing, you become immersed in an activity that is peerless among leisure-time pursuits.

Mastery is achieved by understanding the game system, using it fully and correctly, excelling in operation within the system, and assuring that the experience is enjoyable for all the individuals concerned.

In other words, it’s not about you. It’s excelling at the game to increase the enjoyment of those playing with you. Back to cooperation. When you have a butthead in your group, it ruins the fun for nearly everyone because they are focused on their experience, not the group’s. Mastery should not make you a ‘Rules Lawyer’ who challenges the GM and other players on every point to show how much you know. Mastery should lead to a better played game. I like that focus.

Next up: Step One – Rules Study


Dotting. :) (yes someone is reading this.)

Osirion

Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber

Shortly before his death, Troll Lord Games began publishing his Castle Zagyg, but his wife pulled it shortly afterward. The Gygax Games website said it was going to publish it themselves along with other Gygax stuff. After a year the website closed, but said something new was coming soon. It has been several years, but the website has not returned, nor have I seen anything on Castle Zagyg. Does anyone know what is happening?


Thanks. Nice to know somebody is reading it!

I hope to get another post up this week. If this concept works out, I'm going to try a similar one from Master of the Game.

I'm including at least one illustration with the posts over on my blog.
Walking Through the Valley

Charles, I don't have any idea. I don't know much about that project.

I did pick up a copy of his Necropolis this weekend, though. Looks pretty cool.


This is great stuff H&W. I've been doing my own musing lately on the role of the GM. Probably because I've started to feel a bit of burnout from running two groups twice a month, but that is neither here nor there. Your last quote from Gary:

Quote:
Mastery is achieved by understanding the game system, using it fully and correctly, excelling in operation within the system, and assuring that the experience is enjoyable for all the individuals concerned.

is so poignant, because it real boils down the job of the GM into a rigid set of standards.

1. Know the system.
2. Use it completely. (Meaning use all of it, don't pick and choose parts.)
3. Use it correctly. (This can be, and often is, a daunting task these days, especially with a system so complex and robust as Pathfinder. I've often left the table rethinking my rulings and realizing I did something wrong. Heck, I was midway through a campaign before I realized that reloading a heavy crossbow is a full-round action.)
4. Excel at using it! (I put this as a separate category because I really think Gary did too. Not only do I need to be a sagacious adjudicator of the rules, I need to excel - I almost read this as a challenge to never settle, but to constantly raise the bar of my expectations for myself - at it. That, as previously stated, can be, and often is a daunting challenge. One, I feel, that has kept good players from ever going "behind the screen.")
5. Make sure everybody (including yourself) is having fun. (I find it funny that this is what Gary puts last, as I know many GMs that put this first and sometimes, almost, in exclusion of the first four.)

I'd like to throw out a small... I won't really call it a counterpoint; let's say it's an alternate perspective. Another of the blogs I read is currently doing a set of posts on some of the finer points of DMing, as presented in the back of one of the rulebooks by Thomas Moldvay. In the above linked blog he quotes Moldvay as saying "but in the end, the DM's decision is final." Later, in the closing of the blog the author says "The players deserve to be heard, the rules do not - they are there to help serve the DMs needs for running a good game; guidelines, not laws."

This perspective seems to, on a certain level, be the opposite of Gygax assertions. I think, though, that what might, on the surface, seem a contradiction is really nothing more than a different perspective. Gygax wants a GM to know the rules before they get to the table, and to constantly hone their understanding and use of those rules. Moldvay says the rules are guidelines as a way of saying the game is much better when it moves smoothly and doesn't brook argument. So really, they might be saying the same thing. Either know the rules so well that there won't be arguments, or realize ahead of time that you don't (in some cases maybe can't) know all the rules perfectly and prepare for that by allowing the GM to be the final arbiter, and to make things as fair as they possibly know how.


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Mendedwall12: I think your take in the last paragraph is correct.

It really is reflected in Moldvay's D&D being more open and less rules-heavy than Gygax's AD&D. So much so that TSR marketed them as two seperate games, even though they were the same game. It was offering the same product from two different points of view.

I get Gygax's point, but I lean towards him taking it too seriously. Now, to him, the co-creator of the whole shebang, it should be taken seriously. When he ran a game, it was HIS game. He came up with it (in large part. Unless he was playing with Dave Arneson, no one could even remotely claim to know better).

But as I try to master Pathfinder rules after a 20+ year layoff from tabtletop RPGing, I'm more with Moldvay. I'm learning as much as I can, as fast as I can. But if I tried to get completely on top of the PF rules first, I never would have gotten started as a player in Play by Posts. It would have taken far too long for the limited time I have available.

So I'm absorbing the PRD in relation to my game as it goes along. And the GM is making the calls but not stopping things dead if I mess up or disagree. That feels Moldvayian.


HolmesandWatson wrote:

... as I try to master Pathfinder rules after a 20+ year layoff from tabtletop RPGing, I'm more with Moldvay. I'm learning as much as I can, as fast as I can. But if I tried to get completely on top of the PF rules first, I never would have gotten started as a player in Play by Posts. It would have taken far too long for the limited time I have available.

So I'm absorbing the PRD in relation to my game as it goes along. And the GM is making the calls but not stopping things dead if I mess up or disagree. That feels Moldvayian.

So true. If I had to pick a camp, I'd certainly pick the Moldvayian camp myself. Not that I don't think a good GM shouldn't care about the rules. I'm constantly trying to increase my understanding of the rules, working things in slowly as they appear in my group's campaigns. Just that when we're playing at the table, I, and my players, need to remember that arguing about the rules isn't helpful "at the table." Arguing about the rules is a great way to increase one's understanding of them, and ultimately to become better at using them completely and excelling at it. Moldvay's assertion that rules are guidelines, hinges, I think, on the "at the table" play part of role playing.

Also, as you say, Gygax was the rulebook at that point. It would be akin to playing tennis with the inventor of the game and then arguing when they make a call. It just wouldn't make sense.

I find it interesting that in a later post on the same topic the author refers to an "age of innocence," where the players didn't know the rules; weren't supposed to know the rules. Imagine how easy play would be if the players didn't know the rules, and just said what they wanted their character to do?

There's a certain freedom in a game where only the judge has the rules. Of course there's also a certain distrust in a system like that. How is a player to know that a GM isn't favoring a certain class over another because they like it, or certain player over another? Putting the rules in the hands of the players made trusting the GM easier. It also made the job of the GM a bit more difficult.


Gary Gygax's 17 Steps to Role Playing Master: Steps One (Know the Rules) and Two (Know the Goals)

Note: Italics are quotes by Gygax, contained in the book, Role Playing Mastery.

Gary Gygax establishes two pillars that hold up the edifice that is Role Playing Mastery: …a thorough understanding of the rules of the game, followed by the selection of what sort of player character (PC) to portray in a given game situation.

Starting with those two concepts, we’ll look at his 17 Steps of Role Playing Mastery.

1 Study the rules of your chosen role-playing game. Being intimately familiar with the rules structure is essential to understanding what you are doing, and understanding is the foundation of mastery.

He makes the point that simply memorizing a bunch of passages is not sufficient. Memorizing does not mean understanding (I like that phrase). It is not enough to know what is in the rules, but how the components all work together with each other. He discusses the problems faced by the rules writers, such as taking the make believe of dragons and spaceships and making them seem real. Quantification and mechanics must translate into an experience that brings to life the game environment.

As a player, whether the rules are inadequate or overwhelming, you must understand both the rules and the spirit of the game (Step #3). It is this accepted combination that leads to such exasperation with rules lawyers who focus solely on Step 1 and have no use for Step 3.

An adept GM can help overcome player shortcomings in the area of rules knowledge. But if the player consistently makes mistakes with movement or feats during combat rounds, the gameplay will be impacted negatively. Likewise, forgetting that a paladin has smite evil available can be the difference between success and failure. Two players understanding the rules for flanking is going to be much more effective than if only one does. Hard to flank by yourself!

2 Learn the goal(s) of the game. In other words, understand what the role of the PCs is in the game environment- the responsibilities and obligations of the player characters around whom the game world revolves. This is not the same as knowing what your individual role as a PC is; that is covered in step 9.

Gygax moves under the umbrella of the Player Character (PC) for several steps. Again using AD&D, he contrasts the styles of play and problem solving of fighters (brawn), magic users (brains) and thief (stealth). Playing different character classes (or types) gives you different perspectives on how to tackle problems and succeed in the game. In essence, he is saying that you can look at what types of character (classes) are available and how they are structured/function. From this, you can learn about the goals of the campaign world and the game itself.

He roams rather broadly on this point and doesn’t talk too much specifically about the game goals. But the concept is that you can explore the RPG system through playing different types of characters. Playing a ranger will certainly provide you a different experience and require a different approach to problem solving than playing a sorcerer. And a lawful good paladin will function differently than a neutral druid. He also contrasts the class (profession) system of character creation from the skill system. The way the character is built and functions gives an understanding of what the player can expect in the RPG. While I get what he was saying, I found this Step (as he explained it) to be rather muddy and easier to understand in its Step 9 form.

Now, the parameters within a specific campaign can certainly be affected by the character constraints and the goal. Solving a mystery (like TSR’s The Assassin's Knot) will rely upon a different skill set and likely party composition than a slugfest dungeon crawl (like Necromancer Games’ Rappan Athuk Reloaded). But that is a micro look at what Gygax is saying, and he was really making his point a macro level.

Next up: Step Three – Spirit of the Game


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MendedWall12 wrote:


I find it interesting that in a later post on the same topic the author refers to an "age of innocence," where the players didn't know the rules; weren't supposed to know the rules. Imagine how easy play would be if the players didn't know the rules, and just said what they wanted their character to do?

I'd recommend checking out Dungeon World. This isn't the standard mode of play, but it's been experimented with by some people when they run the game, which the game naturally supports. One of the "rules" of the game is that you are never supposed to state out-loud which type of action your character is using. You are supposed to say what he does within the context of the fiction, and then if there's any confusion about what type of roll it is, you clarify, perhaps with rules context. If you play the way the game is intended, a player can go an entire session without using a majority of game terms.

I also like this article about the proto-rpg Braunstein. There had been some role-playing in the first iteration of the game, but the creator had thought it a failure because that wasn't what he was expecting. In the second and third he tried to limit player interaction to "fix" the game. In the fourth, Arneson basically took over the scenario through role-playing and "won".


Irontruth wrote:
MendedWall12 wrote:


I find it interesting that in a later post on the same topic the author refers to an "age of innocence," where the players didn't know the rules; weren't supposed to know the rules. Imagine how easy play would be if the players didn't know the rules, and just said what they wanted their character to do?

I'd recommend checking out Dungeon World. This isn't the standard mode of play, but it's been experimented with by some people when they run the game, which the game naturally supports. One of the "rules" of the game is that you are never supposed to state out-loud which type of action your character is using. You are supposed to say what he does within the context of the fiction, and then if there's any confusion about what type of roll it is, you clarify, perhaps with rules context. If you play the way the game is intended, a player can go an entire session without using a majority of game terms.

I also like this article about the proto-rpg Braunstein. There had been some role-playing in the first iteration of the game, but the creator had thought it a failure because that wasn't what he was expecting. In the second and third he tried to limit player interaction to "fix" the game. In the fourth, Arneson basically took over the scenario through role-playing and "won".

I'm thinking of holding a training session for Roleplayers on how to be a better player. What would you all recommend for research material and what topics to teach at these training sessions? We are already conducting DM training sessions.


Monnkplayer I use these rules from another poster on these very forums with EVERY group I run. I post them up on Obsidian Portal, and I remind the players of them as often as I can. They are a really good set of rules for players. Radu really hits on all the major points of what it means to be a good roleplayer. I'd make that my starting point for sure. If you post more rules here, I'm sure the community would help refine them

By the way, where are you holding these sessions, and on whose behalf?

@Irontruth: That was a great article, and Dungeon World seems like it has a pretty story-centric way to run a game, even with some (from what I can tell, decent) mechanics backing it up. I'd love to implement a rule at the table that the players aren't allowed to use mechanical terms. It's difficult, but I'm sure we could do it. The problem is that sometimes I have to use mechanical terms to correct their choices, or explain why they can't do something. Though I have taken this article and it's counterpart, to avoid having the immersion breaking bit of numerical pluses coming out when the magic-users make their spellcraft checks on magic treasure, there are still times when mechanical discussions become necessary.


MendedWall12 wrote:

Monnkplayer I use these rules from another poster on these very forums with EVERY group I run. I post them up on Obsidian Portal, and I remind the players of them as often as I can. They are a really good set of rules for players. Radu really hits on all the major points of what it means to be a good roleplayer. I'd make that my starting point for sure. If you post more rules here, I'm sure the community would help refine them

By the way, where are you holding these sessions, and on whose behalf?

@Irontruth: That was a great article, and Dungeon World seems like it has a pretty story-centric way to run a game, even with some (from what I can tell, decent) mechanics backing it up. I'd love to implement a rule at the table that the players aren't allowed to use mechanical terms. It's difficult, but I'm sure we could do it. The problem is that sometimes I have to use mechanical terms to correct their choices, or explain why they can't do something. Though I have taken this article and it's counterpart, to avoid having the immersion breaking bit of numerical pluses coming out when the magic-users make their spellcraft checks on magic treasure, there are still times when mechanical discussions become necessary.

I started a gaming association and we now have 137 members and are trying to get them all active, which most aren't unfortunately. I have a gaming store to hold the training sessions or my own gaming room. Thanks for the advice MendedWall! I will use the advice.


Monkplayer wrote:
MendedWall12 wrote:

Monnkplayer I use these rules from another poster on these very forums with EVERY group I run. I post them up on Obsidian Portal, and I remind the players of them as often as I can. They are a really good set of rules for players. Radu really hits on all the major points of what it means to be a good roleplayer. I'd make that my starting point for sure. If you post more rules here, I'm sure the community would help refine them

By the way, where are you holding these sessions, and on whose behalf?

@Irontruth: That was a great article, and Dungeon World seems like it has a pretty story-centric way to run a game, even with some (from what I can tell, decent) mechanics backing it up. I'd love to implement a rule at the table that the players aren't allowed to use mechanical terms. It's difficult, but I'm sure we could do it. The problem is that sometimes I have to use mechanical terms to correct their choices, or explain why they can't do something. Though I have taken this article and it's counterpart, to avoid having the immersion breaking bit of numerical pluses coming out when the magic-users make their spellcraft checks on magic treasure, there are still times when mechanical discussions become necessary.

I started a gaming association and we now have 137 members and are trying to get them all active, which most aren't unfortunately. I have a gaming store to hold the training sessions or my own gaming room. Thanks for the advice MendedWall! I will use the advice.

Ok, I have two-three ideas I want to present for the first player training session however I'm thinking for a one hour session you only need to present two ideas in order for the players to remember everything and not feel overwhelmed.

The first idea is being TEAM player like discussed above. This should encompass several smaller ideas on how to accomplish this. The second training tip idea should be....what?


Monkplayer wrote:
The first idea is being TEAM player like discussed above. This should encompass several smaller ideas on how to accomplish this. The second training tip idea should be....what?

Okay this is going to be the teacher in me coming out, but I think if you are covering the finer aspects of what it means to be a team player at a roleplaying table, you are going to be covering both the "what to do's" and the "what not to do's." If you get my meaning. With salutations and getting people settled, it could take you 30 minutes to cover those things if you are providing some real concrete examples. Speaking as a teacher, after I'd covered the do's and do not's, I'd want my "learners" to play around with some hypothetical scenarios. Give them some possible situations and have them roleplay (not with mechanics, but just with words and intents) how a true team player would handle it.

Examples?

1. The group is involved in a rather dangerous battle with multiple orcs, but for some reason the rogue is spending his/her turn sneaking about the already fallen bodies (you may or may not want to include here that the obvious intent of the rogue is to loot the treasure from the bodies while the other characters are distracted). What does a good team player do in that situation?

Possible answers will vary widely, and you may want to remind them that good team ROLEplayers would want to thoroughly examine whether or not their character would even be wise to the rogue's tactics. It's possible they'd have a hunch, but in the middle of a hectic battle, they may not even notice the rogue's absence until it was all over. To act otherwise would be metagaming. (Of course metagaming could, and probably should, be its own session :P).

2. The wizard just revealed a stash of magical treasure, a sword, a shield, and some really nice looking chainmail armor. What does a team player do?

Again answers will vary, but this is something that absolutely comes up in real game play. The best answer here is "do what my character would do." Meaning, if you have a greedy dwarf fighter who just spent the better part of his day slogging through goblin guts so everyone could get here safely, he might just step up and take some stuff and dare everyone else to stop him. (Again, this gets into the: does a team player metagame what's best for the party of characters? Or, do they roleplay what their character would do in all circumstances, while keeping their IRL interactions totally cordial, civil, and amiable.? I'm thinking, hopefully, it's a mixture of both.)

These are just two off the top of my head. Obviously I'm also hinting here, that if your ideas about the session include two topics, the second one should probably be metagaming. Especially if this is the first of many sessions. Being a team-player that does their best to separate their own metagame knowledge from their character's knowledge are two giant prerequisites to being invited back to any gaming table. (Also, bringing community snacks never hurts! :P)

Edit: Forgot to say, kudos on having such a (semi-)active gaming community. I'm pretty sure I could bring Gary Gygax back from the dead and I couldn't get 137 people from my city to even show up to see the magic of it all.


@MendedWall

WOW! What thoughtful and helpful suggestions. I would like you to continue to "teach on" because I was leaning heavily on team work being the first workshop. I can easily see that metagaming needs to be included as the second point.

What other topics would you teach if you're in my situation?

Thank you very much and please continue to post as many ideas as you can think of... for I'm "Grasshopper" and must continue to learn from you my "Master." :)


Monkplayer wrote:


I'm thinking of holding a training session for Roleplayers on how to be a better player. What would you all recommend for research material and what topics to teach at these training sessions? We are already conducting DM training sessions.

One book I like: Things We Think About Games, pretty easy to digest, mostly just a couple of sentences per page, sometimes just one. Written to help you think about what is important in games and what makes them fun.

I like teaching through practical experience. There's a game that I like, Penny for My Thoughts, which is an interesting game. No dice, no GM. It basically relies on an improve exercise(s).

The players in the game are patients in a mental facility, participating in a memory reconstruction exercise. They've taken a drug which allows them to see bits and pieces of each others memory. You start narrating a memory and when you come to an important fork where your character makes a decision, you ask two people what decision you make and pick the one you like better. A session consists of each player recovering 3 memories.

The game is entirely creative and story driven. There are no stats. Players get to add to each others stories and have to react to the curveballs they throw each other. It's all creativity and adaptability.

Another game that's interesting, but much more complicated is Burning Wheel. In that game players have to write their own plot points. The game uses a thing called Beliefs, they are kind of like goal statements. When these goal statements impact the game (successful or not) the player is rewarded. The game has its flaws, it is complex and if you get parts of it wrong the game play can definitely suffer. I still highly recommend it, it adds a perspective that is useful to creative gaming.


Irontruth wrote:
Monkplayer wrote:


I'm thinking of holding a training session for Roleplayers on how to be a better player. What would you all recommend for research material and what topics to teach at these training sessions? We are already conducting DM training sessions.

One book I like: Things We Think About Games, pretty easy to digest, mostly just a couple of sentences per page, sometimes just one. Written to help you think about what is important in games and what makes them fun.

I like teaching through practical experience. There's a game that I like, Penny for My Thoughts, which is an interesting game. No dice, no GM. It basically relies on an improve exercise(s).

The players in the game are patients in a mental facility, participating in a memory reconstruction exercise. They've taken a drug which allows them to see bits and pieces of each others memory. You start narrating a memory and when you come to an important fork where your character makes a decision, you ask two people what decision you make and pick the one you like better. A session consists of each player recovering 3 memories.

The game is entirely creative and story driven. There are no stats. Players get to add to each others stories and have to react to the curveballs they throw each other. It's all creativity and adaptability.

Another game that's interesting, but much more complicated is Burning Wheel. In that game players have to write their own plot points. The game uses a thing called Beliefs, they are kind of like goal statements. When these goal statements impact the game (successful or not) the player is rewarded. The game has its flaws, it is complex and if you get parts of it wrong the game play can definitely suffer. I still highly recommend it, it adds a perspective that is useful to creative gaming.

Irontruth

Thanks for the suggestions. I'll check the games and book out.


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I feel like I'm threadjacking HolmesandWatson's thread here, but I still felt this was the best place to put this post, because it is piggybacking off of my earlier ideas. I'll be posting in your other thread as well, but not to this length.

Being a team…

Interesting, and you may want to point it out, that many dictionary definitions don’t openly state that being part of a team means working towards a common goal.

dictionary.com wrote:


1. a number of persons forming one of the sides in a game or contest: a football team.
2. a number of persons associated in some joint action: a team of advisers.

It seems clear by their italicized examples that these teams are working toward a common goal (winning a football game, or giving helpful advice), but at no point does the definition itself say “working towards a common goal.”

I’m guessing if you started by asking people “what does it mean to be a team?” (and perhaps that’s exactly where you should start) you’ll get a lot of definitions similar to what’s above, except that many of those definitions will come with some phrase that means “working towards a common goal.” The interesting part here comes in that, technically, to be a part of a team, you need only be one person that is “forming a side” or one person “associated in joint action.” So having a common goal isn’t always necessary. Here’s where the metagame and the game really take a vast separation. This is also where, in my humble opinion, the primary key to being a good roleplayer sits. It can be summed up with two different questions: 1) Why is the player at the table? And 2) Why is the character involved in the conflict? Those are the two primary questions that any player needs to ask and answer before they can effectively be part of the social team, or the fictional team.

Let’s examine some typical answers to the above questions and expound on their implied intents.

For question 1: Why is the player at the table? The answer, hopefully, will be something about having fun. This should be obvious though. Roleplaying games are a hobby. Contrary to some fictional representations of our hobby there are no trophies or money being handed out. So, of course, everyone is there to have fun. This begs the question: why is the tabletop RPG such a breeding ground for “not fun.” (Disclaimer: I am basing this assumption off of the number of negative situations that I have seen crop up both at my own gaming tables, but also on various messageboards across the web. If everyone is at the table to have fun, why are so many people not having fun? I think the answer to that, is really the more detailed answer to our first question. Why is the player at the table? To live out heroic childhood (or adulthood for that matter) fantasies? To collaborate in a fictional narrative? To hack and slash and get “epic lewts?” To move a stylized three-dimensional miniature across a full-color map in conflict with other stylized three-dimensional miniatures? Etc. ad nauseum. The problem here is that everyone comes to the table with a different definition of fun. This is what makes GMing so difficult. In my experience the rules aren’t the most frequent point of contention at any table, it is the conflict between player’s opposing viewpoints of what kind of fun they should all be having.

So, what’s the best answer to the first question? It is much akin to JFK’s “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” The team roleplayer shouldn’t be looking at what the game can do for him/her. They should be looking at what they can do for the game. Which makes the best answer to the first question: To help everyone else have as much fun as possible. (Good luck teaching that kind of selflessness in today’s me-centric world.)

Let’s assume that you’ve channeled some positive energy and you actually got a room full of people to agree that their primary function at the table is to help everyone else have fun. Then you need to help them answer question 2). Why is my character involved in the conflict? There are a LOT of things going on underneath the surface of this question. Many of them have to deal with the fact that you have a character that is part of a “living, breathing,” actively changing, imaginary world. RPGSavant said it in the other thread, and I can’t say it any better.

rpgsavant wrote:
The character sheet just says what the character can do within the rules. Your character has wants, desires, fears, interests, family, friends, favorite haunts, old flames, old enemies, memories, etc. These are what make the character unique. Good roleplaying can't exist without fleshing out some of these features.

There could be a thousand different reasons your character is involved in this particular conflict. Guess what? You (the player) should know them all! If you want to be a good roleplayer, you need to know what role it is you’re playing, and that does not mean knowing that you are a wizard. Why are you a wizard? What in your past made you want to study magic? Why, if you loved the study of magic, did you then venture out into the wide-world?

The point is, inherent in the question: “Why is my character involved in the conflict?” is the fact that you have a robust and complex character that was somehow drawn into this particular sequence of events for a reason. Not just because you, the player, got together with some buddies to eat Doritos(tm), drink Mountain Dew(tm) and get away from life for a while. (Of important note, these are all very valid reasons to play a tabletop RPG, but you are not teaching people how to be a gamer, you’re teaching them to be a roleplayer. There is a vast difference between the two, and part of being a good roleplayer is understanding that difference.) If the player can’t figure out any possible motivation for their character to be involved in this conflict, they won’t have any buy-in to the role. It’s like an actor that doesn’t like a part so they don’t take the role. One significant difference, though, is that you helped create the role! Part of this onus lies with the GM. If they are running a homebrew world they need to make sure it is a world the players enjoy, and that they’ve created enough narrative value to give the players suspense, hope, and a little bit of fear. If they are running a published adventure they need to make sure that they don’t just skip over those little things called plot hooks. “You meet in a tavern” may be an old iconic tagline, but adventurers with significant background stories rarely have the stars align to put them together in the right tavern at the right time to become involved in the same adventure simultaneously. Part of your answer to the question: “Why is my character involved in the conflict?” should start with helping your GM figure out why they would be involved in the first place.

Hopefully once you have these sub-topics of being a team player covered, you can go on to those hypothetical situations that put people in an in-game mentality, and help them think about how a good roleplayer (which at this point means a selfless player that is consistent in the way they portray a fictional character) would react.

After you’ve covered these ideas (along with possibly a good definition of what is meta-gaming, and how and why you should avoid it) you’ll definitely want to spend some time talking about the ins-and outs of how a roleplayer creates a character. That can happen many different ways, but the key idea is that a roleplayer creates a character that they are interested in playing the role of, which sounds redundant and stupid, but is nonetheless true. One caveat, you can successfully optimize a character and still have them have a significantly robust and complex story background. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.


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:)

Gary Gygax's 17 Steps to Role Playing Mastery: Step Three (Discover the Spirit)

Note: Italics are quotes by Gygax, contained in the book, Role Playing Mastery.

3. Discover the spirit of the game Make it your credo in play.

The concept of “spirit” is defined in the foregoing text. Although the goal of a game may be contained within its spirit, the spirit of the game usually goes deeper. Perceive it, understand it, and have your PC live by it when you engage in play.

The Spirit isn’t something that you can easily tag with a phrase or a sentence. Gygax says that what lies between the lines (rules) is the Spirit of the Game. He elaborates:

To identify the spirit of the game, you must know what the game rules say, be able to absorb this information, and then interpret what the rules imply or state about the spirit that underlies them.

The Spirit pervades the stats, the mechanics and the descriptions of the rules. The Spirit of the Game gives the RPG a sense of tone, or flavor. Playing a board game like 221B Baker Street is a very different experience from one such as Wrath of Ashardalon. The Spirit varies greatly. Likewise with Pathfinder and Call of Cthulhu.

I like Gygax’s assertion that a player who masters the rules and just uses them to play the game without getting into the Spirit is simply going through the motions. He might become an expert in the game, but I would compare it to a dry, dusty experience.

If anybody could define the spirit of Advanced Dungeons &Dragons (AD&D), it is certainly Gary Gygax. And here it is:

I shall attempt to characterize the spirit of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game. This is a fantasy RPG predicated on the assumption that the human race, by and large, is made up of good people. Humans, with the help of their demi-human allies (dwarfs, elves, gnomes, etc.), are and should remain the predominant force in the world. They have achieved and continue to hold on to this status, despite the ever-present threat of evil, mainly because of the dedication, honor, and unselfishness of the most heroic humans and demi-humans-the characters whose roles are taken by the players of the game.

Although players can take the roles of “bad guys” if they so choose, and if the game master allows it, evil exists in the game primarily as an obstacle for player characters to overcome. If they succeed in doing this, as time goes on, player characters become more experienced and more powerful - which enables them to contest successfully against increasingly stronger evil adversaries. Each character, by virtue of his or her chosen profession, has strengths and weaknesses distinctly different from those possessed by other types of characters.

No single character has all the skills and resources needed to guarantee success in all endeavors; favorable results can usually only be achieved through group effort. No single player character wins, in the sense that he or she defeats all other player characters; the goal of the forces of good can only be attained through cooperation, so that victory is a group achievement rather than an individual one.

You can make of that what you will. I found two points that caught my interest. The first is that AD&D, as conceived (and created…) by Gygax was human driven. As a Pathfinder Play by Poster, I certainly don’t find that to be the norm anymore. I believe that humans are in the minority of two of my three PbP parties. And I’m playing a dwarf, a half-elf and a human, respectively. Humans may rule Golarion, but demi-humans seem to be the prevalent choice of players.

Also, playing evil characters is more acceptable now. Many, if not most, PbP recruitments I see still specify no evil characters (which certainly facilitates the ‘group working together concept’ of RPGs and mentioned in the last sentence of the previous quote). But playing an evil character is not as rare as it was 20-plus years ago. Fire Mountain Games is currently publishing Way of the Wicked, an adventure path for evil characters that is being used in at least one PbP at Paizo.com

But in looking at the big picture, you should understand the Spirit behind your specific game and incorporate it into your play. If you don’t do so, you’ll be experiencing less than the game was intended to provide.

I was a world class Ultimate (Frisbee) player. And the underlying premise, printed at the beginning of the rule book, is the concept of the Spirit of the Game. In essence, it is that it is NEVER acceptable to intentionally break the rules. In most competitive sports, the idea is that if you cheat (hold a pass rusher, goaltend, hand ball in soccer, whatever), there is a penalty if you get caught. You pay the price and move on.

In Ultimate, it's simply WRONG to do something like that. You don't do it and accept the price. You don't do it, period. That's why the sport does not have on field referees, even in world championship games. I played at world and national championships. I can tell you that a player who accepts Spirit of the Game and a player who does not have VERY different approaches to the sport. And they play the game very differently.

That's just an out-of-context example of how understanding and accepting the Spirit Gary Gygax talks about can impact a game.


Great stuff Holmes.

I think the one flaw in ascribing a concrete definition to the Spirit of the game, is that for many people the spirit means different things.

I also think it is a bit "old-fashioned" the way Mr. Gygax talks about the cohesiveness of the group, and how each character must needs fulfill their particular role in order to bring out "success." In today's gaming world where single PCs can not only successfully make their way, but, more to the point, actually win a fantasy based RPG video game, that mentality has lost some of its edge. Many times people want to create a character that doesn't have to rely on other characters (interestingly they still do, because it's a social game, but they still imagine their character to be able to overcome any challenge individually, should they need to) to overcome any obstacle. Now that does not mean that I don't appreciate his thought. I do! I myself am a much more "spiritual" partaker of the game than many of my players. I don't look at magical treasure as "one more step to my own awesomeness," or "one more thing that will make me better than everyone around me." I appreciate that many players believe the game should have a spiritual element that speaks to the inherent heroism of the game. I just realize, the pragmatics of that, in today's world, are not as neatly sewn up.

I also find it particularly egregious that Mr. Gygax would say, emphasis mine...

Gary Gygax wrote:
No single player character wins, in the sense that he or she defeats all other player characters; the goal of the forces of good can only be attained through cooperation, so that victory is a group achievement rather than an individual one.

Woof! Just, woof. This makes it sound like it should be the GM's job to kill the PCs because that is "victory" for the campaign world. It also has the negative effect of putting the idea in the minds of players that being the "last man standing" is perhaps a good thing (albeit in a reverse psychological sort of way). I particularly don't like the words "goal" and "victory." Does a module or a campaign have a successful finishing point where you've saved the people from disaster and catastrophe? Yes, of course, but "victory" sounds to me much to much like winning, and I tell my players all the time, "winning means you had a lot of fun while you played. Even if your character dies, and you had fun, you won, because fun is the point."

Now, I understand that Mr. Gygax is trying to put into words why it is that grown men will play this game, and play it together. What is it about the game that is so interesting and keeps us coming back. I get that part of it. I just think that perhaps, and maybe this is true of him, I don't know, and now can't ask him, that if he saw some of the optimization and character "perfection" that happens today, he'd want to change some of that wording. Perhaps not.


Dotting for future reading.

Fantastic thread.


MendedWall12 wrote:

I also find it particularly egregious that Mr. Gygax would say, emphasis mine...

Gary Gygax wrote:
No single player character wins, in the sense that he or she defeats all other player characters; the goal of the forces of good can only be attained through cooperation, so that victory is a group achievement rather than an individual one.
Woof! Just, woof. This makes it sound like it should be the GM's job to kill the PCs because that is "victory" for the campaign world. It also has the negative effect of putting the idea in the minds of players that being the "last man standing" is perhaps a good thing...

I see what you're saying on winning and victory. But I think there are two different apsects here.

Gygax is talking about the character. And the goal of the characters is to achieve whatever the quest is, which, presumably, involves overcoming obstacles and vanquishing the villain/guardian/etc whatever the specifics are. There are degrees of victory, but for your dwarf figther or whatever, winning doesn't mean that you, "Joe," had fun.

I agree that if you had fun, even though your character died, you won. But you are talking about the player. Now, I think that is the most important part: if I'm not having fun, I'll find something else to do. But I can have fun even if my character is not doing well.

As GM, I think the measure of 'winning' is whether or not the session went well and if the players had fun. This is a recreational activity, after all. I think the GM only has a relationship with the players, not the characters (that's a statement I need to evaluate a bit further, I think). The characters the GM runs have a win and lose relationship with the player characters. The one laying dead with a sword through the neck is likely the loser!

But the GM coordinates the game play. He doesn't necessarily win with a total party kill (though the GM characters do). He wins if the majority are pleased with the session. Of course, different things make different people happy. But as GM, you get a sense if it was a good game or not.

So, I think you have to limit Gygax's comments in this post to the player character side of things.

@Artemis: glad you like it. I don't see everything the way Gygax does, but I am interested in his take on what he's talking about.


HolmesandWatson wrote:

A lot, and articulated it well.

and this...

So, I think you have to limit Gygax's comments in this post to the player character side of things.

Excellent counterpoint, and certainly worthy of some deeper examination. As I think about it, though, I think that even with Gygax's comments being wholly separate from the player, they do lead a player down a certain road. That road is the road where power gamers are made, and immersion roleplay gets lost. If Joe starts to identify all of his fun from how "well" his dwarf fighter blazed through the melee combat, and how many kills he had, he's going to start down a slippery slope. In short, if a player starts to identify their fun in a direct correlative to whether or not their PC is "winning," then they will begin to do everything in their power to make sure that "winning" is all that their character is capable of doing.

The same is true on the other side of the table. Many a GM has become combative because they started to identify their own "greatness" or "achievement" (for some intents and purposes, their winning) with how well their monsters and NPCs carried out their job. A GM can become antagonistic very quickly if they see their job as doing everything in their power to make the "bad guys" win.

If you've never watched it, I'd encourage you to take a look at the movie The Dungeon Masters. One of the GMs makes a statement that he doesn't feel he's done his job unless he can kill the player characters. He also has a sort of ridiculous history of people leaving his games and not coming back.

That's why I find Gygaxian commentary on the "victory" of the PCs so disconcerting. It is fodder for those players and GMs to say, "look, this is the way it's supposed to be played." You are correct, though, that a thoroughly thought-out argument on the subject must inherently include a strong division between the player's fun, and the character's achievements. Unfortunately, at least insofar as my own experience, I see a lot of people who equate the one directly with the other, and see no room for fun in the midst of character calamity.


I've spent negligible time playing MMOs (gave D&D a short look) beause role playing is so minimized and people 'getting ahead' and levelling up is the goal for most. I get your point related to 'winning means the character being successful'. I think it's at the crux of MMOs and for me, not an enjoyable way to play. I think MMOs have exacerbated the problem you point out.

As for the types of GMs you mentioned, they are among the many people in all facets of life who need some perspective. How anyone could bask in that kind of achievement is beyond me. Except for very much needing to get a grip on life.

I'd say that a player who wants his character to succeed but realizes that's measured within the framework of a group working together, is likely to play 'the right way' and be successful.


HolmesandWatson wrote:

I've spent negligible time playing MMOs (gave D&D a short look) beause role playing is so minimized and people 'getting ahead' and levelling up is the goal for most. I get your point related to 'winning means the character being successful'. I think it's at the crux of MMOs and for me, not an enjoyable way to play. I think MMOs have exacerbated the problem you point out.

As for the types of GMs you mentioned, they are among the many people in all facets of life who need some perspective. How anyone could bask in that kind of achievement is beyond me. Except for very much needing to get a grip on life.

I'd say that a player who wants his character to succeed but realizes that's measured within the framework of a group working together, is likely to play 'the right way' and be successful.

So true. That's probably one of the most difficult things to find in a player, at least in my experience, and when you do find a player like that you better hold on for dear life (though not too hard or they might feel smothered). It is also a very difficult thing to try and teach. Teaching someone that the fun and "success" of the group of players and their characters, as separate but equal entities is, again only in my experience, nigh on impossible. I've yet to find what I would consider my "ideal" group of players. I still have a crapton of fun, as do the players, but I'm constantly bobbing and weaving amidst the tangle of selfishness, and necessitated individual character spotlight. It can be difficult sometimes, but is nonetheless still rewarding on a certain level.


A comment from Gygax's book that isn't going to be tied into a post (I think) is:

Too often, new material purporting to add to a game system is
nothing more than a veiled attempt to dominate the game milieu
through power, not skill. Such creativity, if it can be called that,
amounts to a perversion of the game. It is much like cheating at
solitaire. Understanding the scope of opportunity offered to PCs
by the game system will certainly discourage the intelligent player
from such useless activity.

I'm not sure why, but I wanted to look this up after running across the announcement of the new Prestige class guide. I discovered Pathfinder in 2010. And it seems to me the rules bloat has been like a tidal wave since then. The ongoing expansion of race and class options through official publications seems ridiculous to me. I get the financial aspect, of course, but Pathfinder looks like a big gob of stuff now.

There's a half-elf/half celestial in one of my PbPs that is overpowering. The half celestial is like adding a paladin class to the build.

Just something I got to thinking about. The core rulebook classes and races seem marginalized with paizo's ongoing rush to dump new ones into the system. And from what I see in PbP posts, there's an awful lot of power gaming on and a desire to come up with more outre characters than the last one.


Upon further reflection, I do know why I started pondering this. I'm hoing to run a PbP soon (first GMing in a LONG time). And I'm going to limit race and class options to the Core Rulebook. Paizo has simply made Pathfinder options too vast.

Regarding Gygax's principle of "Know the Rules," I don't want to deal with teifling gunslingers and aasimar samurais. Using obscure feats from some supplement. "Options bloat" is echoing in my head. Pathfinder player options are constantly growing in size and oozing down the way like a gelatinous cube.


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HolmesandWatson wrote:

Upon further reflection, I do know why I started pondering this. I'm hoing to run a PbP soon (first GMing in a LONG time). And I'm going to limit race and class options to the Core Rulebook. Paizo has simply made Pathfinder options too vast.

Regarding Gygax's principle of "Know the Rules," I don't want to deal with teifling gunslingers and aasimar samurais. Using obscure feats from some supplement. "Options bloat" is echoing in my head. Pathfinder player options are constantly growing in size and oozing down the way like a gelatinous cube.

HolmesandWatson, let me start by saying your contributions to the boards via this thread are spectacular. I never do as much spiritual reflection about the game as I do after reading one of your posts.

That said... I hear you, and yet, at the same time, I don't.

That bears explanation, obviously.

I totally understand how the character options bloat can be overwhelming. I also totally understand how seeing some people's need to find the most extraordinary conglomerations of those options into never before seen combinations can create a great deal of distaste for the game. Where I have a tendency to slightly disagree with you is that these outre options are game "ruiners." As you say in your post, as GM you can (and absolutely should) limit the character options to fit your feel of the game. That is as it should be, and you will (hopefully) find many players with a similar mentality. However, not everyone plays the game with that same mentality. Some people like to have an aasimar samurai with the half-celestial template. Does it mean they aren't playing the same game you're playing? No, it doesn't. What it means is that they've found certain avenues of the game that they particularly like, that you do not.

I don't ever get mad at a gaming company for publishing more options for characters. Why? Because if I don't want to allow them, I don't have to. It doesn't make them any less valid, it doesn't make them overpowered, nor does it make them part of a different game. This is the greatest, and sometimes the most overlooked, element of table top role playing games: they can, and should, cater to every audience. Pathfinder, like almost all other RPG games, at its heart, is nothing more than a mechanical rule system for approximating a fantasy reality. That's it. That's all it is. Now, gentlemen like myself, and yourself, might have a certain irrevocable connection to the game, and have an obdurate idea about the spirit of the game's essence. That does not change the fact, though, that the game itself is nothing more than a collection of rules to adjudicate fantasy physics.

Adding ever-increasing fantastical options for the different types of things that can interact with that, and, no less importantly, the new and interesting ways they can react, does not ruin the game. In fact it can be a great enhancer, because it might provide that one option that really piques a person's interest, and finally gets them immersed in the hobby we all love.

Just because rulebooks come out that are "official" Pathfinder does not mean any GM has to use them at the table. Of course, not allowing things can have the adverse effect of turning people away from your table because you're not going to allow them to play the character they really want. That's perfectly fine though. Every group of players should come together with a similar view of the game. If one table wants lich-tiefling gunslinger anti-paladins they should be able to do that.

So what's the end of all this chatter? Simply this: the game should never tell any player they can't do something. A GM has the right to tell their players they can't do something whenever they want, but the game should never do it.


I pretty much agree with your entire post, Mendedwall12. And as a big supporter of D20 and the OGL, as well as a buyer of much third party product, you think I'd be naturally inclined towards more 'stuff.'

But I just can't get around the feeling that too many "official" options cheapens the game. When paizo puts it out, it has a stamp of 'inclusion' that a third party product doesn't.

And certainly, the GM gets to decide what's in and what's out, which is the fail safe that ensures nobody has to run something they don't want to.

This isn't one of my better arguments and I know that my footing is less firm than usual. So what if somebody wants to play a half-troll, half dwarf, pathfinder rogue/dominatrix? My day goes on.

Giving players more options sounds like a good thing. But I feel like Pathfinder is a very good game that is being spread thinner and thinner.

I loved the APG and Dwarves of Golarion, but I thought that Ultimate Magic was a waste of paper and didn't have much use for Ultimate Combat. But those are in the core rulebook line. Maybe I assume (based on experience) that you hit a point of diminishing returns and the more you put out, the quality decreases over time. People don't use the word 'bloat' when all the subject matter is of high quality.

More rules can lead to rules bloat. I feel the same way about character options. And to compliment Paizo, it's easy to compartmentalize the options and exclude what you don't like. They aren't all lumped into one big pile, even on the PRD (which is a FANTASTIC tool).

I'll just write this one off to being wrong, but not liking it nonetheless.


I don't think you're wrong. I mean we're all entitled to have an opinion about the ideal game, right? I do agree with the idea that more leads to more problems. I don't think RPGs is the only place where that happens though. The same can be said in business. Look at huge companies that create new policies every year. Sooner or later they find out that they have two policies that actually conflict with each other and they have to say things like: "at supervisor discretion." Which is pretty much like saying "Rule 0."


A computer problem has the next post on hold for a bit. Should have it straightened out next week.

On an unrelated note, I am reading the second Del Ray collection, The Bloody Crown of Conan, by Robert E. Howard.

I've read a lot of fantasy, from Tolkien, Moorcock and Lieber up through Glen Cook (Black Company and Garrett) and Robert Jordan. Robert Howard is the best writer I've come across in the fantasy field. He puts words on the page unlike any who followed. And the fact that he was writing this stuff before Tolkien had set the standard and before D&D, video games, etc... is amazing.

Give a read to The Scarlet Citadel. Then remember that it's about 80 years old. I am currently on his only novel-length Conan tale, The Hour of the Dragon

There are some good, bad and decent Conan pastiches by other authors, but NONE of those authors are as good at writing as Howard was.

Grand Lodge

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HolmesandWatson wrote:

I pretty much agree with your entire post, Mendedwall12. And as a big supporter of D20 and the OGL, as well as a buyer of much third party product, you think I'd be naturally inclined towards more 'stuff.'

But I just can't get around the feeling that too many "official" options cheapens the game. When paizo puts it out, it has a stamp of 'inclusion' that a third party product doesn't.

The thing is I don't think the game itself is something that needs to be revered. Game systems for me are just a means to an end. It's the campaigns, the GMs, the characters, the stories that arise that are special. Without that, the game system, no matter how well crafted is just words on paper.


LazarX wrote:
HolmesandWatson wrote:

I pretty much agree with your entire post, Mendedwall12. And as a big supporter of D20 and the OGL, as well as a buyer of much third party product, you think I'd be naturally inclined towards more 'stuff.'

But I just can't get around the feeling that too many "official" options cheapens the game. When paizo puts it out, it has a stamp of 'inclusion' that a third party product doesn't.

The thing is I don't think the game itself is something that needs to be revered. Game systems for me are just a means to an end. It's the campaigns, the GMs, the characters, the stories that arise that are special. Without that, the game system, no matter how well crafted is just words on paper.

Yes!


I know you're all breathless with anticipation for entry #4.

(Go ahead, breathe...)

Should be back on track for a post by the weekend.

In an unrelated aside, I'm reading through Raging Swan Press' Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands. VERY COOL first level adventure.

I had previously been very impressed with their Retribution module, which is a nifty mystery in an abbey.

And Creighton Broadhurst, the boss, is a very nice guy, which I've found to be true of several third party publishers. Makes it easier to buy their stuff.


Okay. Much of the weekend was spent power washing and staining/sealing the back deck, which also left me almost too sore to walk.

Got half of the next entry written and will post it shortly.

Unrelated, after slogging through the rather unimpressive Conan, Scourge of the Bloody Coast, by Leonard Carpenter (which included THE SILLIEST romance exchange between Conan and a woman I can ever imagine reading), I'm on John Maddox Roberts' Conan the Rogue.

I am a fan of both Dashiell Hammet and Humphrey Bogart. Thus, I love The Maltese Falcon. Roberts must like it too, because he's got a couple characters in this book that he lifted from that great mystery novel. I think I'm gonna like Robert's styl in this one.


And we're back Hope everyone had a nice Easter.

Gary Gygax’s 17 Steps to Role Playing Mastery: Step Four (Know the Genre)

Note: Italics are quotes by Gygax, contained in the book, Role Playing Mastery.

Know the genre in which the game is set, and study it often. If your PC is to act as though the game world is his or her native environment, then you as a player must feel comfortable and at home in the genre of the game.

You cannot have a meaningful experience in a fantasy RPG without being familiar with the genre of fantasy as described in myth, legend, and literature. Likewise, background knowledge in science fiction, modern-day espionage, or the exploits of comic book heroes is vital if your game is set in one of those genres.

Gygax devotes an entire chapter (Searching and Researching) to this concept. He goes into detail on the different types of games, including fantasy, science fiction, time travel, detective/espionage, historical, etc. As I’ve mentioned before, he takes the book’s subject matter very seriously. He approaches selecting (or switching between) an RPG with the same gravitas that I use for buying a refrigerator or a lawn mower (can you tell I’m a home owner?). You really have to read this chapter to fully appreciate the work Gygax says is required in this area to become a Role Playing Master.

He makes an observation that points out how different the environment is today:

First, consumer demand changes as players tire of one subject and decide to shift to another. This is a meaningful shift whenever it occurs because most subjects dealt with in RPGs have very small audiences (a few thousand each)…

While most systems have relatively few numbers of players, when you add in PC/console RPGers, many millions of folks are playing RPGs now. Also, in the ‘old days,’ you didn’t simply fire up the PC and find everything you needed to know about any obscure RPG in a matter of minutes:

Probably the best way of finding out the available games is to contact game publishers for their catalogs, send away for catalogs offered by the big mail-order firms in hobby gaming, and go to a game store or “hard core” hobby shop and check things out with the people there. You should know the extent of what is offered. It is part of being involved in the hobby.

He also includes appendices of national conventions, associations and trade magazines to help players find out supplemental information. Many of us were introduced to RPGing through ‘someone’ we knew (that had the books). It’s a whole other world out there today. I’m not making fun of Gygax, but what he wrote below just isn’t how people think about RPGing today due to changes in technology and available information.

One would not claim to be an expert traveler, for instance, on the basis of having read many books on the subject and always having watched “National Geographic Explorer” on television. These activities may be evidence of a great interest in travel, but they are not themselves sufficient to warrant a claim of expertise in the field. When the enthusiast’s library is expanded and cultural, social, and ecological material is added to his background, a truly serious interest can be acknowledged. The interest can be even further explored and indulged through the viewing of travelogues and the collections of maps, photographs, and souvenir materials.

However, without the firsthand experience of actual travel by airplane, ship, railway, boat, auto, and all other means, the individual professing to be an expert traveler would be perpetuating a pretense. Imposture might be fun to read about, but it is hardly useful to the role game enthusiast outside actual play.

I’m pretty well read, but I’ve never tapped these books for my RPGing:

I recommend the reading of works such as A History of the Art of War in the Middle Ages, Town Government in the Sixteenth Century, The Domesday Book, The Welsh Wars of Edward II, and Numbers in History. Armor, weapons, fortification, siege craft, costume, agriculture, politics, heraldry, and warfare are the meat and drink of a serious participant in a game such as Dungeons & Dragons.

Want to play the new Middle Earth RPG, The One Ring: Adventures Over the Edge of the Wild? You’ve got some work to do first.

For example, one company has produced a role-playing game based on the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien, specifically his books and stories set in the fantastic land of Middle Earth. The primary source material for the game master is the game itself. Beyond that, a game master who aspires to an intimate knowledge of this milieu should read the author’s works and keep them on hand for reference.

He should also learn about Tolkien by reading biographical or autobiographical information, to determine which literature, myths, and legends influenced the author’s creation of his fantasy world, and then peruse Tolkien’s source material. Likewise, the game master should examine previously published role-playing games and compare them with the game in question to ascertain which things influenced the designer and how the designer interpreted and presented these concepts in his own game. This need not be the end of the information-gathering process, for as noted, the quest can go on indefinitely, but this much work ought to give any student a solid and sizable background.

The chapter ends with a rather detailed Outline of Study for Mastery. I will make that the next post. I can’t really convey the depth of commitment Gygax references in this chapter of his book. But I can assure you that you can’t just read a couple sourcebooks, maybe a fantasy/sci fi novel or two and be ready to be Mastery-level familiar with the game world of your choice. The level of effort required for a Masters Thesis would be more in the neighborhood.


Another great post Holmes.

I can't say as I'm really surprised about Mr. Gygax level of devotion to his "baby." I think anyone that was around he and Dave Arneson during the creation process of original D&D would admit that it was always more to them than just a game, or just a hobby. A Masters Thesis is really a great analogy for the level of commitment Gary must have had for this game. This is probably even more true at the time of his publishing this book. Severing all ties with TSR must have been a somewhat difficult and tumultuous time for him. It's possible he was thinking about and writing ideas for this book while he was going through the turmoil of "losing" TSR to mismanagement. What better time to talk to the future of the hobby and let them know that to be "great" at this game you had to have a commitment other than just showing up and being enthusiastic.

It's one of the interesting things about this hobby we partake of, that you can't just show up to a game and get the rules down in a few minutes and start playing (like you could, say, with a board game). It's the entire reason companies like Paizo put out things like the Beginner's Box; introducing an unfamiliar audience to this hobby requires a set of scaffolded steps. Obviously the higher up those steps you go, the more dedicated and involved you end up having to be. I don't think anyone would argue that Gary Gygax was probably at the top of the RPG gaming ladder of devotion/knowledge.

Your views on the differences between the gaming time periods are right on, in my view. In one of my groups every person came to the hobby from either console or PC rpg games. It's a different beast altogether nowadays. Especially because finding a game is much easier, what with websites like nearbygamers and infrno.

I wonder though, does the modern era of gaming create an atmosphere where that level of commitment is really unreachable, or even undesirable? I mean, I don't have the time to devote to this hobby to write a Masters Thesis on it. I'd think the only people who do have that kind of time to devote to it, are already involved somewhere in the creative development or publishing process, ergo, they're getting paid to work on it. I'm not sure even a hard-core gamer is going to put in the time, reading, and energy Gary is suggesting.

Qadira

Please sir, can I have some more?!

More! MORE!

-Pain


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Did I miss step 5 etc?


Like this thread slot will be reading it through when i get home ( not easy on a phone)
I met Mr Gygax once at a con he was sitting in the lobby of the hotel i was staying in so i had a fairly long chat with him and he was a very nice easy going man and a real pleasure to talk to


Howdy folks. I had a computer failure and real life stuff converge at the same time and this project died.

However, I'm working on step 5 to jumpstart this again (albeit posting more irregularly than before).

RPGing is well down my list of important activities (not that I don't really enjoy it: that's just how my life is ordered). But that makes some of Gygax's comments even more interesting to me. He (understandably) was so completely "all in."


I would say that Gary Gygax' advice about how much you need to study for being able to GM might be a two-edged blade. Yes, studying every nuance and reference of J R R Tolkien's work might give you a good idea how to expand Middle Earth as a setting for a game, but at the same time, it is debatable if that doesn't also lock you into the patterns Tolkien already used. Admittedly, you need some of this knowledge to do a good job, but it's easy to get stuck in the details of the world and not dare create what you need to create in order to make the setting breathe for you and your players. I believe the term used is setting bloat.


@Sissyl:
I agree with your point. Keep in mind he was talking about becoming a top flight GM (as opposed to just a decent one). The amount of time and effort he suggests a person invest in his Role Playing Mastery and Master of the Game books is just not reasonable for most of us today.

And also, I think, looking at the issue now, we've got such a broader RPG base to work from. I've been immersed in the Wilderlands, Greyhawk, Arduin, the Forgotten Realms and Golarion: just from an RPG standard. And I've read dozens and dozens of sword and sorcery novels with different settings, from Robert E. Howard to Steven Erickson.

Back when he was develping D&D, there weren't any RPG settings. He could have read REH, Lieber and some Moorcock (that's not an exclusive list, but bookstores didn't have a fantasy section). But the fantasy worlds of Brooks, Eddings, Feist, Donaldson, et al didn't exist. I mean, the guy said to read National Geographic for GM help. I can't think of anybody I know today who would do that.

I think learning as much as you can (have time to) is great. But you pick and choose what you want to use/incorporate. And you do constrict yourself at your own peril.


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National geographic is actually a very good source of inspiration. I would recommend it warmly. :-)


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Sissyl wrote:
National geographic is actually a very good source of inspiration. I would recommend it warmly. :-)

I too have found some great ideas, pictures, and even a few maps from National Geographic.

But as far as the point of time vs ability, I do agree that most folks do nto have the time to spend like Gygax recommends. Most of us have real lives with real jobs etc. There are very few who are lucky/blessed enough to work for a game company and are given time to play as part of their jobs.


I stand (rather, sit, corrected). I've used historical stuff on England (The Tower of London is awesome!), but never National Geographic.

A guy I used to work with quit his job to start a d20 company and RPG (Edwardian horror setting). It's doing well. Of course, his wife made much more than he did, which helped the transition...

To anybody reading the whole thread, the next entry was going to be Gygax's Outline of Study for Mastery. It's a bit intimidating, so I'll save that for last. Next entry: Mazes and Monsters ring a bell?


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Gary Gygax’s 17 Steps to Role Playing Mastery:
Step Five - Remember That the Real You and Your Game Persona are Different

Note: Italics are quotes by Gygax, contained in the book, Role Playing Mastery.

An obvious fact, restated here for emphasis. The you of the game milieu is entirely different from the YOU of the world you actually live in, even if your PC happens to possess many of the traits present in your own personality and behavior patterns. And, just as obviously, the same goes for all the other players and PCs in the group.

DISCLAIMER: Just about every RPGer I know thinks the "RPGs can cause bad behavior" theory is 100% bunk. I'm not quite one of them. Read on..

I still remember the disbelief on Tom Hanks’ face when he realized his character had died in Mazes and Monsters (I think he jumped in a pit expecting treasure and got spikes instead). If you don’t know what happened after that, go rent a copy (not that it’s a great film). But in the seventies and into the eighties, there was a big to-do about Dungeons and Dragons having harmful psychological effects on kids and causing them to do violent things: to others and themselves. Mothers Against Dungeons and Dragons was perhaps the most visible entity of that movement.

Gygax was obviously sensitive to the issue and discusses it a bit in the book. Among the things he says:

Certainly, those who are or aspire to be role-playing masters do not have violent or aggressive personalities because of their participation in role-playing games. They understand that the conflict and violence in such games are only simulations, not meant to be translated into real-life experiences or used as an excuse for such behavior.

A master player or game master does not allow - in fact, never gives a conscious thought to allowing - actions taken in the context of the game to dictate or affect his or her activities in the real-world environment. A master knows the difference between role-playing, role assumption, and real life and never mixes one of these with another.

I am a Christian. I read the Bible and do a devotional every morning. I also listen to AC/DC, watch Justified and play Pathfinder. My belief does affect what adventures I choose to play and how I play. But I recognize it is a game and not real. When my dual wielding ranger in Age of Conan slices and dices a Pict barbarian, I don’t think, ‘It would be cool to chop up John in Purchasing like that.’ Though John could use a punch in the nose…

However, I do think that if you spend time in a fantasy world where you are shooting, chopping, killing and otherwise causing mayhem, that can affect your real world persona. It’s not the cause of what you may do, but it may contribute to your personality. If you’re not already rooted or well adjusted, RPGing can further knock you off balance. Just as other influences can. So, I do think there’s something to the issue.

But there’s not a cause and effect going on. I do agree that another point raised by Gygax is worth evaluating. He says that engaging in vicarious aggressive behavior is an outlet for such tendencies in humankind. It can be a substitute for some; just as it can be an influence for others.

If you replace the word ‘master’ with ‘player’ in the last sentence of Gygax’s quote above, I think it is exactly how things should be: A player knows the difference between role-playing, role assumption, and real life and never mixes one of these with another.

Whether or not you believe that RPGing can contribute to violent behavior, his point, that you absolutely should realize that you are not your character is a pretty basic one for role playing.

He added, Two reports mentioned to me indicate that in the group of RPG hobbyists, the incidence of such behavior is fifty to two hundred times smaller than is typical of the populace at large.

No reference, no footnote, nothing. Just that mention. I found that rather amusing. Not exactly backed up enough that I’d use it in an argument.

Next up is a look at the group you're in.


Another great post Holmes, and one that I would feel obligated to comment on, even if I hadn’t received a personal invitation back into the thread. ;)

There are a lot of things that this post touches on, that I’d like to hit more in depth, so I’m going to break them up into sections, they are: Metagame, Intimacy (not to be confused with immersion), and Moral/Ethical Influence (could also be headed as Character Flaws but that sounds much too much like an in-game concept).

Metagame
It’s there, so often like the huge pile of elephant turds in the middle of the room that no one wants to talk about. “No don’t mention that, it will break my immersion!” “Don’t talk about damage dice, talk about how mighty a sword swing Faramir laid down.” The fact of the matter is, in order to play this game with any semblance of practicality groups not only need to acknowledge the metagame, they need to embrace it and make it their plaything, like a slave mind to an Illithid. At any session you’re going to need to talk about “plus 1’s” or “plus 2’s.” It’s part of the game. “How many D sixes am I rolling?” It happens. Trying to ignore it or come up with cute ways around it, can be fun, but it also creates a, sometimes, ridiculous amount of extra work for all involved. Gary hits the nail right on the proverbial head when he says: ” The you of the game milieu is entirely different from the YOU of the world you actually live in, even if your PC happens to possess many of the traits present in your own personality and behavior patterns.” You might know a cockatrice’s bite can cause someone to turn to stone, but does your character? Not if they fail their knowledge check.

One of the great things about Role Playing Games, is that you get to pretend to be somebody you’re not. It’s the oldest of games. Two children go in the back yard and fight with sticks pretending they’re knights from some ancient medieval kingdom. Now-a-days we call that LARPing. Back in the day they used to just call it “playing outside.” The key here is, that after the two boys have beaten each other with sticks, they, hopefully, go inside and have some cookies and milk.

This same element needs to be embraced, at least in my opinion, if any gaming group is going to work cohesively and efficiently. Does every group have to be a snacks and beer group? No, of course not, but every group needs to be keenly aware of the necessity of separating what they know, from what their characters know. This however doesn’t address the “Tom Hanks Syndrome.” You can be completely and intimately aware of the differences between your character and yourself; that, in and of itself, doesn’t always take away the sting of having the dying condition applied to your character. This brings me to my next section.

Intimacy
There’s a very significant bond that forms when a human being creates something, be it a painting, a sculpture, an organization, or a military bent on world domination. Regardless of what it is, the creator has a very strong and sometimes inexplicable bond with the created. Causing something to come into existence that was not there before (in addition to being impossible – since man can neither create nor destroy matter, but for what follows I’ll use the term to mean making) is a process wrought with emotion. Creating a novel requires a lot of work, time, and effort. Creating a masterpiece painting requires the same. It can be truly said that creating a character for a role playing game can, and often does, require much the same. It is a labor of love. We gamers create alter-egos because of the fun they afford, and because of the chances they give us to temporarily “be” someone else. As with any such labor there are varying degrees of investiture that take place. Some people are so attached to their characters that even taking 1d6 hit points worth of damage feels like a personal affront. Others have a laissez faire attitude, and are perfectly happy with their character dead or alive.

Depending on the level of investment in the created, and depending on the temperament and friendliness of the participants, (obviously that’s a lot of dependencies, each of which could have their own section, but I’ll just suffice to say that human beings are only as bad as their worst member, and as good as their best, and leave it at that) being divested of something so dear can cause sudden and emotional responses. It happens. It’s happened in games I’ve played in before. Heck, I even remember once, in my younger days, shouting about an imagined disadvantage, and GM unfairness. In the end a person’s level of intimacy with their character is going to be something they need to reconcile with reality. For some people new to the tabletop form of role playing, they want a convenient “save point” to return to, so they can continue on the adventure as if nothing ever happened. Part of this game we play is that, at least in every game I’ve ever played in, character death is a real danger. Backlash in its varying degrees from that can take on the gamut of responses. This, like any other situation in life that has emotional investment, needs to be tempered by ones view on the rights and wrongs of life. This, of course, brings me to my final point: moral/ethical influence.

Moral/Ethical Influences
If you’ve never experienced it, I’m happy for you. For those that have, I feel your pain. I’m talking about the royal rumble, or the volcanic eruption, at the table. I’ve only been witness to a few over the years, but the ones I witnessed happened in epic fashion. Screaming, shouting, frothing at the mouth, thrown dice, thrown minis, thrown paper, I’ve witnessed many of these. The gamer blow up has become something of a trope over the years. Why? It is one of those extreme circumstances that stick in people’s memories. Many gamers have been witness to these. This, of course, also means that many gamers have produced them. Why the vitriol? Easy, too much intimacy, and not enough practical application of the metagame. We laugh at people who produce such strong emotional responses, but sometimes we laugh with a healthy dose of latent fear, that we could erupt just the same. But it’s only a game right? Sure, but so is tennis, and many a tennis player has blown up at what they perceived to be a bias or injustice. Remember a guy named Johnny McEnroe? He was a pretty darn good tennis player, but is much more famous now for his tantrums. What’s all this have to do with morals and ethics? Simple, a person’s relationship with a moral standard is usually the factor that prevents them from these kind of intemperate emotional outbursts. It’s true that social awareness is part of what can prevent such outbursts, but many times social awareness is not enough. Many times it is someone’s philosophical or theological connection to a moral code that will help them have the perspective necessary to realize that IT IS JUST A GAME. Holmes does a good job of explicating this through his own Christian faith.

Spoiler:
Incidentally, I’m a Christian man myself, and have exactly the same view that you do about these things, Holmes.

Gygax does a good job of explicating it through pragmatic common sense when he says, “A {player} knows the difference between role-playing, role assumption, and real life and never mixes one of these with another.

Please don’t confuse this as me saying people with philosophical or theological backgrounds are more controlled than other people. If there’s one thing I know it’s that people are people no matter what their ethical line. What I am saying, is that many times people that are self-aware enough to have made decisions about following philosophical or theological strictures, often have a much more external or spiritual view of their lives in general. In my experience they also find it much easier to clearly analyze what’s worth worrying about, and what isn’t. To be even more clear, this game is at NO POINT worth worrying about. I’ve told everyone at every table I’ve ever run, “If you are no longer having fun, it’s time to find another game.” I also game by the same axiom. If at any point the game isn’t fun, I know it’s time to take a hiatus, or find a different group.

If playing this game actually had a causal relationship with increased violence there would have been attempts to strictly regulate it by some group a long time ago. Throughout the history of the game it has constantly been surrounded by the myth that the game is like a gateway drug to the occult. This is a ridiculous myth perpetrated by the ignorant. Are there people with ill temperaments playing tabletop RPGs? Sure. Likewise, though, there are people with ill temperaments playing any game out there. Interestingly the societal finger seems to point much more at RPG video games these days than at the table top variety. Perhaps that’s because of the longevity of the hobby, and the fact that any noteworthy incidents of violence within the history of the hobby have only been anecdotal at best.

In the end I think Holmes said it best when he said, “If you’re not already rooted or well adjusted, RPGing can further knock you off balance. Just as other influences can.” Can table top RPGs set an already unbalanced person off kilter? Sure, but so can a lot of other activities.


HolmesandWatson wrote:
If you’re not already rooted or well adjusted, RPGing can further knock you off balance. Just as other influences can. So, I do think there’s something to the issue.

As can watching TV, listening to the radio or walking down the street. I really don't think RPGing is more or less likely to "knock you off balance" than any other hobby.

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