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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Gary Gygax's 17 Steps to Role Playing Mastery: 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 Bone Knot Hill)  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

Friday, February 24, 2012

Steelers - 2012 Free Agents/Part I

I've been working on a look at current Steelers who will be free agents in 2012, but with almost two dozen, it is taking awhile! So, I decided to break it down into three groups: Unrestricted, Restricted and Exclusive. We'll tackle the smallest group first.

This means that the player either takes the Steelers offer or he doesn't play. These guys have no power at all.
Jeremy Kapinos - The Steelers made an offer to Kapinos, who has supplanted the injury-prone Daniel Sepulveda as the team punter. He has no other option. He'll sign and do an adequate job with the punting duties in 2012. He's certainly better than Mitch Berger.
Steve McLendon - He'll be an unrestricted free agent next year. McClendon filled in well enough for the injured Casey Hampton in 2011, stepping up with Chris Hoke also going down with an injury. But I'm not sure he's a full time starter. Having said that, he has done well at times and may prove to be the guy with more experience and work with the coaches. With Hampton coming back from his ACL (and the Big Snack's age and weight..), I expect McClendon to be the starter on opening day. I hope he does well, as he could team with Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heywood to man the d-line for the next several years.
Isaac Redman - Pittsburgh made an offer of a bit under $600,000 to Redman, who showed some real ability in 2011. For a guy who is likely going to lead the team in rushing, and a guy who is pretty good, he's going to be quite a bargain. He will be an unrestricted free agent in 2013. If he has a successful 2012, I imagine that the Steelers will work out a deal with him after the season. I'm glad he's back.

Chris Hoke - The Steelers took Hoke as an undrafted free agent out of Brigham Young in 2001 and he didn't make it onto the field until 2004. Having finally arrived, he spent a chunk of the past decade backing up pro bowler Casey Hampton. And it's a testament to him that very rarely was his entry into the game a step down for the defense. Hoke played hard and got the most out of his talent. And he picked up two Super Bowl rings along the way. Coming off of season-ending neck surgery, he'll be thirty-six in April and he wasn't going to play ahead of the twenty-six year old McLendon. Hoke was one of those Steelers who showed up every day, didn't cause waves and played hard when he was on the field. We need more guys like him.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

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.
If you don't know what
this is about, you need
to do a little D&D
history research!

 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

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

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.