Thursday, January 8, 2009

Examining Role-Playing Mastery by Gary Gygax, Part VII

Chapter V- Rules: Construction and Reconstruction

In this chapter, you will learn about the major pieces that comprise any RPG framework, how they fit together, and about how pieces from different games might be combined into an entirely new and unique game form to suit the special needs and desires of a playing group.

I wonder if he'd even attempt such an essay in 2008. Gygax goes on to talk about how "time and distance" scales are important (along with movement rates, concerns for terrain), combat, different character types, "technical data" (how items and such work), and rewards ("Because a participant does not 'win' an RPG in the traditional sense of the word, rewards in such a game come in the form of augmentation of the PC."

Hmmm. Is Gygax's definition of what an RPG is out of date (although certain of those factors were not present in some games even then), is he simply using a narrow view of what an RPG is, or is the definition of "RPG" really that narrow and people have been abusing the term more and more over time?

Then, in a section called "Adding Flavor," Gygax lists seven "major elements" than RPGs must possess in order to "have a good chance of being exciting and enjoyable (and thus popular):"

  1. wonder and fear
  2. adventure and heroism
  3. problem solving
  4. role-playing
  5. combat, conflict, and battle
  6. group operation
  7. enlightenment and education

Some quotes about each of these:

Wonder and fear underlie the popularity of the whole hobby of role-playing games.
Adventure and heroism are present to a measurable degree in all role-playing games in which player characters are called upon to perform remarkable feats under adverse conditions.
There's nothing like the sense of satisfaction we get from using our minds to solve or accomplish something.
Role-playing is not the reason for the existence of role-games. Role-playing is the vehicle through which play becomes possible.
Conflict, combat, and battle are integral to all games.

Here's one:

Certain games claim to have a basis in role-playing while in fact all they offer is an aspect of role gaming. These designs feature role assumption. That is, you are given a game persona - you do not create and personalize the character you are to play. Typically, the situations you find the character in are also prescribed by the game. Choices are limited, and game play will always be channeled and of relatively short duration. Do not be misled by claims to the contrary. Role-playing and role assumption are quite different... [role assumption] is a different and lesser game form, I believe.

Does this take care of the Braunstein example (at least from Gygax's point of view)? Wouldn't this also include D&D if played using only modules (which isn't a problem since Gary really didn't play that way)?

And I like this one:

If one cannot define the subject matter, one cannot possibly expect to master it.

Gary then goes on to talk about the RPG play unit, noting that the minimum number of people needed to play is two (GM and a player), but that it is desirable to have more than two players for greater chance of game longevity. Player versus player is again discouraged:

The stronger the provisions within the rules for encouraging cooperation, the better the game... To invest effort in a work that is internally geared to destroy itself is unwise.

Gary then tackles the question of how many players in a session is best? His answer? Three or four. Double that with an assistant. So were all those classic modules, intended for these larger groups, meant to be run by a DM and assistant (that was curiously never mentioned)?

Last, but not least, we have the element of enlightment and education. The game system should in and of itself provide enlightenment. This applies to the correct and expert play of the game proper and also to the genre and the milieu in which it is set... the latter, most certainly, will come only if the participant pursues study on his own. All RPGs should, in fact, encourage such study and provide information as to what sources can be consulted for the effort.

Then it moves on to a section entitled Defining Parameters of Play.

The parameters of the game delineate, for the reader of the rules, just what is possible. Therefore, the reader must compare what is written and implied with what he expects from the game.

Emphasis mine. The text then describes that many house rules suggested are not to improve the game, but rather control it. It then talks about the folly of re-tooling a system to be something against the spirit of the game:

No thinking participant would seek to create a game persona who was a liberal, pacifist, nonviolent crusader for world harmony in a system based on survival after a worldwide holocaust. Yet to a lesser degree, this frequently occurs in RPG campaigns. Game masters beware!

"Hey," you might be wondering. "That sounds like it might be interesting!" Obviously, you're not a thinking participant!

The text does go into some general guidelines (nothing even remotely system specific) of how to properly introduce house rules, and even says that a comprehensively written RPG would be undesirable because a game should be personalized by the individual game group.

Then comes "Remodeling the Rules," a section that makes my vision go blurry. He uses an extended house remodeling metaphor to make his point (I can imagine the 2009 version would have EXTREME GAME MAKEOVER!).

Gygax then warns that groups that play unique (as in, homemade) games "must display a rare sort of mastery indeed to bring their game choice into acceptance and their group into a position from which it can communicate with the general audience for role-playing game activity." Like people who do this are isolated tribes in the jungle with no contact with civilization, right? This chapter seems padded and I don't think it made much sense in 1987. Everyone I knew was always making a game, and we'd try it out, in between playing D&D or Marvel Super Heroes or whatever we were doing to each other game-wise.

One interesting bit is about changing the campaign from one game system to another while retaining characters and prior events and everything.

My own fantasy campaign has been changed three times. Once the Greyhawk campaign went from D&D to AD&D game rules. Then it was altered from a single-GM campaign to a dual-GM setup, in which another person assumed GM duties when I was unable to participate. Finally it was redeveloped to enable the management of diverse player groups over a long period of time and at erratic intervals while still allowing those members of the core player group to continue their various PCs within the whole. My reduced time for game mastering forced some of these changes, but time and change were also factors, for the campaign was initiated in 1973 and is still reasonably active to date.

Then Gygax discusses the difficulty of bringing a brand new rules set to the gaming community, discusses the advantages of popular games, and then says, "This does not mean that this work advocates basing campaigns on only those games that are popular. To put it bluntly, I of all people would never do so. When I introduced the D&D game in 1974, there were only a few campaigns going."

Greyhawk, Blackmoor... and what else?

Anyway, that's 12 pages of basically saying, "Consider carefully the current rules, the reasons for them, and what changes would do to your game before you change anything. Oh yeah, and the rest of the hobby might think you're a stinkin' freak if you go too far."

The next part of our journey will be Chapter 6: Searching and Researching, in which Gary will explain how to go about deciding which RPG is right for you.

1 comment:

  1. The role assumption section "Typically, the situations you find the character in are also prescribed by the game. Choices are limited, and game play will always be channeled and of relatively short duration."

    To me that was deriding and a fairly accurate description of "storypath" games of the type Grognardia believes ruined D&D. What Dragonlance wrought.

    A game buddy actually played a DL campaign were the characters they played were the ones from the book. Role assumption indeed.