05 September 2010

Cardinal rules of role-playing

Leonard H. Kanterman, M.D. wrote Starships & Spacemen. This game has recently been revived by Goblinoid Games.

In an article in Different Worlds magazine, “My Life and Role-Playing”, Dr. Kanterman wrote of four cardinal rules of role-playing.

1. “Firstly, an enjoyable game requires an experienced and imaginative gamemaster;”

I’m going to disagree with this...though perhaps only slightly.

Is the game better with an experienced and imaginative gamemaster? Perhaps. To suggest that the game cannot be enjoyable without this, however, is overstating things, I think. A game that is full of clichés and borrowed ideas can be just as fun. Indeed, it can be more fun because the familiar elements can make the game more accessible.

One cannot become an experienced gamemaster without starting as an inexperienced gamemaster. And many people tend to underestimate their own imagination. So, this statement tends to discourage new gamemasters. We should encourage rather than discourage jumping into the role.

2. “and secondly, the key to interesting and challenging encounters is to fit the degree of hazard to the ability of the characters to deal with it.”

I think this rule is an overly simplistic solution to the problem that inspired it.

In my experience, the game is more fun when encounters vary in difficulty. One encounter goes very easily because the cleric turns the undead or the mage puts the enemies to sleep. The characters must flee from another because they have no direct means of harming the monster. They must now either figure a way around the monster or devise a way to indirectly defeat it. Others fall somewhere between.

Problems occur when the GM doesn’t give the players a choice in what encounters they face. When there isn’t variety in the encounters the players can chose. When the GM doesn’t allow the characters chances to escape encounters. When all monsters always fight to the death. When the GM doesn’t allow creative means of dealing with an encounter from succeeding.

Likewise, nerfing character abilities because the GM never wants the players to have an easy encounter can have a negative effect as much as all encounters being too difficult.

3. “The third rule: role-playing is best among friends, with the corollary to this rule being that, among friends, all should be allowed their chance to participate.”

This one I agree with. Although, at the North Texas RPG Con, I discovered that gaming with strangers can be more fun than I expected.

4. “When playing a character, one should play his role. That is, the best play results when a player fully understands his character, and tries to act as he thinks his character might in a given situation.”

This one I mostly agree with as well. I think, however, that the doctor and I are on the same page here.

“At its best, role-play offers a challenge to our wits and our wiles, while extending the potential for insight into ourselves.”

The cautionary note for me here is that I don’t want to take playing my role so far that I become removed from the equation. I want the game to be a challenge to my wits and wiles, not a simulated challenge of my character’s wits and wiles statistics.

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