Saturday, January 3, 2009

Examining Role-Playing Mastery by Gary Gygax, Part IV

Chapter 2- The Master Player

There is lots here, and much discussion of various things. For the most part, I'll merely give the lists that Gygax considered important. But there is one section I enjoy:

Someone who intends to participate in an RPG on a casual basis can indulge himself with the selection of any sort of PC. Because role games are group activities, many participants join in casually because the rest of their group of friends and peers is involved in play. As one desiring to master RPGs from a player's standpoint, you will seldom if ever approach play so casually. The selection of a PC and its initial development is serious business. After all, it will be involved in play episodes for a long time. The scope of the system to be played and your attitude must be harmonious, so that the "laws" of the game will not irritate you or impede your enjoyment, and your PC will not constantly run afoul of the milieu.

This does conflict with something else that Gygax says later (more on that later on in this very post), but I liked his describing anything involved with the game as "serious business." Too often I see the DMG page 9 quote of, "In all cases, however, the reader should understand that AD&D is designed to be an amusing and diverting pastime... but in no case something to be taken too seriously," used as justification for treating the game and its play frivolously, when Gygax was constant and vociferous in his views that when you do play the game, putting your all into it is the way to get the most out of it.

Anyway... the first list of the section deals with how a player should choose his character.

  1. Does the GM encourage or discourage the PC choice you are leaning toward?
  2. What relationship will your PC bear to the balance of the group?
  3. Do you really have the proper mind-set to play the particular game persona at this time?
  4. Does the RPG deal with the concepts of good and evil? Law and chaos?

That last bit is where Gygax goes on about alignment (and gives the quote from the last post). In fact, all four of these issues has a lengthy discussion for them, but the essence is in the questions themselves.

Next is what I consider the grand achievement of the whole book, which I will re-type for you here. This stuff is too important to gloss over. I'll quote-box this instead of the usual bold-an-italics for readability.

Steps to 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.
  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.
  3. Discover the spirit of the game, and make it your credo in play. The concept of "spirit" is defined in the foregoing text. Although the goal of the 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.
  4. 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 genre.
  5. Remember that the real you and your game persona are different. An obvious fact, restated here for emphasis. The you of the game milieu is entirely different frim 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.
  6. Know your team's PCs and those who play them. The only way to get along in a group is to be familiar with the other members of the group. Take the time to learn about the other PCs and the players who control them, so that you can understand and appreciate their intentions and methods and, in so doing, become a more useful and integral part of the group yourself.
  7. Know the campaign in which you play. This is different from knowing the genre, because the game campaign devised by the GM is a unique entity unto itself. Accept and assimilate all the information given to you by the GM about the campaign world, and always strive to learn more. Knowledge is power, and more important, knowledge leads to success.
  8. Understand the role of the game master and assist its fulfillment. More about this will be given in the text to come. For now, suffice it to say two things: The GM is the sole arbiter of all that goes on in the campaign world, but all-powerful in this case does not mean all-knowing; no game master can succeed without the willing assistance of all his players.
  9. Role-play your character fully and correctly. Make sure that your actions, decisions, and behavior as a player are faithful to the role of the PC you are representing. When you have a trait or tendency your PC does not possess, do your best to keep that aspect of your personal makeup from surfacing during play.
  10. Always seek to contribute the most to the team's success. From the players' and the PCs' standpoint, any role-playing game is a group endeavor. Individual success is secondary to the success of the group, for only through group achievements can the quality of a campaign be measured.
  11. Put forth your personal best during play. The advice given in step 10 does not mean that you should ever compromise in your efforts to succeed as a player. Your PC may have to subjugate his or her individual desires from time to time to ensure the general welfare of the group, but that is as it should be, and this does not mean that you should ever allow your enthusiasm and drive as a player to lessen.
  12. Play as frequently as possible. Just as in step 5, this could almost go without saying. The hobby of role-playing games is no different than any other endeavor in that exposure to the activity must be frequent and ongoing in order for the participant to achieve a high level of skill. If your life-style or life circumstances do not permit you to play often, or if you simply don't have the desire to spend a great share of your leisure time involved in RPGs, then you cannot hope to achieve mastery unless the prohibitive factors can be removed. You can, or course, still enjoy playing.
  13. Play various characters as often as possible in as many different circumstances as possible. It is not enough to play as frequently as possible if each of your play sessions is essentially the same as all the others. To gain mastery as a player, you must first experience firsthand what it's like to take the role of as many different character types as your game provides for. You do not play these characters simultaneously but consecutively. If you start a new character after one is killed or retired, make a point of selecting a PC type you have not yet played or one with which you have relatively little experience. If action in the campaign occasionally shifts from one place to another in the GM's world, you may have an opportunity to change the character you play from one game session to another. However you do it, expose yourself to as much variety in the choice and operation of PCs as you possibly can.
  14. Play outside your group's campaign frequently. In your quest for variety, don't overlook the opportunity for education and enjoyment that is offered by playing in more than one campaign. If you know more than one GM and are able to divide your playing time so as to be an active member of each campaign, there is no substitute for the breadth of knowledge and experience that this will give you.
  15. Play in tournaments. (text not transcribed, and I'll explain why below)
  16. Make yourself aware of the gaming community and contribute to it. As alluded to in the opening chapter of this book and in step 15, there's a great world of RPG activity going on around you. In addition to running clubs and conventions, or at least participating in them, aspiring masters can benefit from and even contribute to a number of amateur and professional magazines that cover RPG activity and the community in which it takes place. To keep abreast of what other gamers are thinking and doing, you should be a regular reader of at least one such periodical. To show evidence of your own expertise, you could prepare and submit article manuscripts to these magazines. If you are skilled enough and fortunate enough to have your writings accepted and published, then you will have accomplished something that only a few others among the millions of RPG enthusiasts can claim. Having your work published is not in itself an indication of mastery, but the converse does apply: Most of those who achieve mastery are eager and willing to share their ideas and their knowledge with others who seek that same goal, and in so doing, they maintain and increase their own high level of skill.
  17. Continue to learn and grow even after you achieve mastery. Mastery is like any other acquired skill. If you do not continually use and exercise it, the skill will atrophy. But if you remain actively involved in the hobby at the highest level you can attain, you will be pleasantly surprised to find that your level of expertise keeps rising all the time. The sky is not the limit to mastery, for - as any science fiction enthusiast can tell you - there are infinite worlds left to explore once the sky is left behind.

Whew. My fingers are dead.

I'm interested in your thoughts on these, especially ones you most agree with, ones you most disagree with, and ones you find most interesting.

I left out the description for #15 for a few reasons. One, are there really any tournaments anymore, anywhere, the way there used to be? Sure, there are convention modules and games played, but in terms of groups of players all tackling the same adventure and figuring out who did it best? I don't know of any. And if we remove the competitive aspect of #15, then #14 and #16 cover the rest of the point - to gain experience in as many different situations as possible. Perhaps #15- Play at Conventions, with the idea that you'll experience play with complete strangers, would be a good replacement.

I love #12 for the "tough shit" aspect of it. "Holding down two jobs, have a debilitating disease, are in college, and are a single parent raising three kids? Haha, no role-playing mastery for you, bucko!" I wonder how many people will reject the validity of the idea simply because they couldn't pursue it if they wanted to.

I like #4 because it shows that time and care for more than the activity at hand can benefit that activity. I'm probably raging at phantoms when I talk about stuff like this but I have a hard time believing that any great numbers of modern gamers read a lot of source literature. Gygax plainly laid out what his prime influences were in shaping the atmosphere of the game, yet there are always those that ignore that and dismiss when it's shown to them.

#16 has been taken over by the internet, which is probably a good thing, as there is greater participation and a wider variety of views on display. The professional mags really aren't an option (and are useless if they're just house organs), but a crop of fanzines has popped up (or are in the process of popping up) and I do think things in print (especially things that have been gone over by an editor, for presentation more than content purposes really) are more valuable than things just crapped out on the internet on a whim.


  1. Number ten, if it points at the players, is good advice; if to characters, it assumes cooperating player character party, which is not necessarily true within a given game.

    Fifteen is not very useful, for reasons you stated.

    I'd add: Play as both a player and a game master. Having both perspectives adds a lot to mastery.

  2. I have had many a player who needed to learn rule fact, some of them needed to have it carved into their foreheads.

  3. Since you asked.

    1. meh. To me this says use a minimal rules system.

    2. Not really sure I understand.

    2-3. I start campaigns with a intro sheet. Couple paragraphs of flavor, some notes on style(rp, combat heavy, dungeon crawl, oldschool, storypath etc) and rules. Goes a long way towards what I think these two items are on about and making sure the players are predisposed to like the type of game I'm running and like each others playstyle, etc..

    4. sort of. RPG's and esp (modern) D&D are their own genre's now. World of Darkness certainly is it's own genre. It's more important for DM's. #7 for players.

    5. huh? I can't understand why this even needs stating. "Remember kids what you imagine using paper and little miniatures isn't real." wtf? Really? Maybe it has something to do with faith and belief in God(s)/higher powers (another thing I can't understand). People who believe that fantasy is real, maybe they fear I'll believe mine is also real? The whole supplement IV backlash was a total mind boggle to me.

    6. Duh. Um, this basic social interaction. Everyone should be working on it all the time with friends, family, coworkers, people walking down the street. But it's stereotypically a "nerd" weakness and stereotypically rpg's are nerds so maybe worth listing in a book of this sort.

    7. yes. It helps when the DM plays along with "knowledge is power"

    8. yes. And this has been/is/will be lacking. Few players are outright combative/destructive. Few also are proactively helping, setting situations/rp for other characters, bringing attention/limelight to those being looked over a bit too much, creating/rping disadvantages, etc. To borrow an old comedic role, being the DM's straight man. I think some of the problems include; competitive nature, DM vs players perception/reality, and fear + loathing many have of "story games" where everyone sits around wanking florid prose on each other.

    9. No. I don't believe there is a correct. Or rather the definition of correct roleplaying of character X is how X is roleplayed by its player. If being perfectly accurate and in character is fun for you, awesome. If being a cheezy over the top caricature with regular anachronistic one-liners, awesome. If beating the traps and tactical challenge is what you jones on, awesome. Although, none of those should probably play together though. I know you hate it but the Fucking F-word is all that matters. #
    9 also directly contradicts the feel of "Gygaxian"/old school dungeons where player skill and knowledge about #4's genre mattered a lot esp in figuring out tricks and riddles.

    10. Maybe. Depends on 9. 9 and 10 would seem to be in conflict for many alignments/character types
    Although, you should always contribute the most to the other player's fun. But that is covered in 6, 8 and is really what this whole book is or should be about. RP Mastery can not be achieved in a vacuum.

    11. hmmm can't really agree. I'm not a "driven" success oriented person. I can agree with this "Never allow your enthusiasm and drive as a player to lessen." But drive and enthusiasm are symptoms/results. You don't control them directly. If they lessen it's usually cause you're no longer having fun. And you need to find the source of fun lack and address that.

    12. Yes. if you want "mastery". For most everything in life, including RPG's, experience/practice is the end all, be all. But I don't think mastery is a laudable goal (see below)

    13,14,15. same answer as 12 and this makes me start to think Gygax is too verbose. He could of had one item Gain Experience with all this under it.

    16. Yes, the internet has improved this. Still the local face to face scene is very important and rewarding. It's like the blogging scene but politer and you can drink beer. I'd say your new Olden Domain campaign is one type of game "club". (if I understand correctly you are having many players, coming/going as they have time to game?)

    17. Yes (if you want mastery), but because mastery is unattainable. Those who think they have it are fools.

    But I have issue with the core concept that maximal fun requires mastery, that mastery is superior to non-mastery in and of itself. I believe why is more important than how. I understand not everyone works this way, but they often do not(understand that).