Saturday, August 14, 2004

Get down in the trenches

As a lad I was greatly influenced by E. Gary Gygax. So was everybody else in the friggin' hobby, but in my case I went and read his books Role-Playing Mastery and Master of the Game. These are Uncle Gary's "how-to" manuals for the rpg hobby. I've tried re-reading them recently and they don't go down as smooth as when I was a kid: a little too much self-congratulation and a little too much busy-body know-it-allness. Of course this shouldn't be too surprising to anyone who has read his classic AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide or any of his various columns in old Dragon issues. It's all fine and good to endure that sort of attitude when he's talking about his game, but it's a bitter pill to swallow when he is pontificating on the hobby at large.

Still, I didn't know any better as a kid. I thought all the important questions in the world could be answered definitively by either Gary Gygax, Stan Lee, or Carl Sagan. One of the questions that Gygax answered was "What does it mean to be a good member of the role-playing community?" He does this by proposing a hierarchical model of ranks of mastery within the hobby. Each new level assumes complete mastery of the previous level's activities. In Role-Playing Mastery he offers the following hierarchy:
  1. Individual Effort and Player Mastery
  2. Play Group Excellence and Mastery of the Role of GM
  3. Contributions To and Mastery Of The Chosen Game System
  4. Contributions To and Activity Within The Greater Gaming Community

I took this model to heart as a kid. That's why I submitted an article to Dragon. That's why I organized games, volunteered at conventions, and generally tried to contribute to the greater hobby. However, I nowadays think that Gygax's model is flawed. A total newbie can volunteer at a convention. That's doesn't make him or her a "level 4" role-player. Similarly a brilliant gamer may choose to never GM or otherwise participate outside the scope of showing up for each session. That doesn't mean that person is a "level 1" rookie.

Aside from this obvious flaw, (Gee, level-based systems don't model the real world. Who'd a thunk it?) more and more I think sticking to fundamentals is important. That means the individual game group getting together and playing games. Everything else is secondary and should arise from actual play. I enjoy going to conventions and all that other ancillary activity. I'd like to do more with my website. I'd like to write some reviews for I'd love to be a published game author. But all that stuff has to come second to organizing, prepping, and running the regular ol' rpg sessions. Sometimes I wonder if some folks in the hobby still bother to play these darn things. Does Kevin Siembieda or Steve Jackson or Ryan Dancey still have a regular game?

After a comment like that, I think I'll stop blogging and go work on my Savage Worlds one-shot.

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