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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

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