Help Wanted: Being a good DM


Alright. I admit it. I love D&D. There's something magical about it that makes me like it. Maybe it's the fact that other than that, I've only bought Exalted (Which is fantastic), but I digress.

I've been a player for a few years, and a DM for even fewer. I've ran some campaigns that my groups have enjoyed, but I have not. The problem? Not enough immersion for my taste.
While my group seems to not mind the hack-and-slash "kick down the door" style of play they are currently pursuing, I have searched for greener pastures. But since finding a gaming group is for some reason difficult around my parts, I am stuck with my current group. Which to me doesn't seem like a problem, given enough time. But, I am at the end of my rope when it comes to this, as inexperience hinders me.

Thus, to the meat of the matter: As with all things, I'm sure practice and experience have much to do in this, but...
How can I become a better DM? Or more accurately, what can I do to encourage more roleplaying among my players? How can I make combat a more important and thrilling yet less-often thing in my sessions? How can I help my players become more immersed and better roleplayers?

As of this moment, I must admit that I'm a bit lost. I've read the impressively long debate over 4th ed. D&D, and it's made me a little wayward. I really love D&D, but the discussions there have really made me think. Equal parts loyalty and financial parts make me want to stick with D&D, so I've really started using a 3.5/4.0 hybrid. But the point is moot if I can't become a better DM and encourage my players to become more immersed in the worlds I create. Thus the questions above, as I have no idea how to proceed. I want to give my players a fun roleplaying experience, but at the same time I'm worried that they might pay too much attention to the rules to be creative.

Any advice is much appreciated and I thank every person who takes the time to read this.

Hi Eru, and well met.

This place is kind of quiet these days. Maybe you will spark off a lively discussion here that will bring some of the old 'greners out of the woodwork....

One thing I have found, as you have, with 3rd edition (and most likely 4th as well, though I don't play that flavour), is that having robust, comprehensive and balanced rules improves campaign sustainability, and hence immersion as the players become more emotionally invested in a long-term campaign. But at the same time, the number of options available to players, which should in principle be an aid to roleplay, in fact gets them bogged down in the more mechanical aspects of the game as they search tirelessly (or should that be tiresomely?) for ways to optimise their character's combat efficiency. I can't claim to have the answers, as I am still looking for them myself. But we can talk about it. Though it'll have to wait a little, as I have a game tonight to prepare for right now ;-)

Welcome, Eru!

The first thing I would say is to simply talk to your players. Most of us have a tendency to avoid conflict, to want to pretend problems aren't there so we can avoid the "big talks" that inevitably follow. I would say that 90% of the time, the "big talks" aren't nearly as difficult as we think they are. Get your group together, and explain that you want to try exploring a more story-based approach, and see if they're interested in that. If they are, go for it!

You may want to also consider trying out a different system, one that is totally new to all of you. Get the system, read up on it, and teach the group. I love D&D, but I love story-centric D&D, which in many places on the Internet is considered to be a myth. Whenever I introduce new players to the game, we spend a lot of time talking about campaign, setting, and character story details before ever pulling out the game rules or explaining the system. I've found that especially for people who are brand-new to tabletop roleplaying, opening up the Classes section of your Player's Handbook first thing sends the message, whether it's intentional or not, that the biggest focus of the game is going to be combat. Teaching your current group a new system from a story-focused perspective will help them start it on the right foot.

It's a whole lot easier to start with doing things the "right" way for you than to do the easy way first, get in the habit, and then try to change later.

If finances are an issue, I would suggest the FATE system. You can obtain the 2.0 edition for free via downloadabel pdf at FATE is an awesome, very cinematic system that uses character story details (called "Aspects") as a part of the rules mechanics.

I would also suggest that you not worry too much about the buzz on the Internet about D&D or any system. If you're playing D&D in your group and enjoying it, you don't have to answer to anyone else about it. If you're having fun, than it's a successful game. If you're looking for a system that will do things a little differently, read up on the options, pick some things you think sound cool, and don't judge a game until you've played it. But that's just my opinion.

Discussion would be very welcome Gherkin. I look forward to it!

Thanks for the suggestions, Lorthyne! I've browsed through the FATE system and it seems really interesting. Definitely something I'll have to read in depth later! I've also had the good fortune to be starting with a group of mostly new players, so this time I think I'll take a different approach to starting the campaign.

Now here's a dilemma. I've tried balancing a story with a certain degree of freedom for my players to do what they want. But this leads to a problem. While freedom is nice and leads to some fun stories if roleplay is put in, it also leads (in my games at least) to the campaign just dragging on. And in my mind, that's probably a problem as well.

Another thing I've found is that I have trouble explaining roleplaying elements to my players. Where should I start? I find that while I know what I want to explain to them in my head, it's harder to articulate these thoughts.

I'm not sure if I'm completely understanding what you mean, so let me know if I'm off the mark, but it sounds like you have a storyline picked out, and you're waiting for the PC's to decide to follow it.

I've found that when planning for a game session, it's a lot easier to think in terms of people and their goals instead of events. It's really easy to plan for a session and decide what you want to happen, and then map out a few role-play and combat encounters, and feel ready for the game. The problem you run into there is that if the train skips off the rail at any point during the session, you lose everything.

Try creating NPC's with sensible motives for their actions, and plan out what he would do without any interference. When you have a solid idea of an NPC's personality and motives, it's a lot easier to improvise when things go off track. If you really want to give the PC's options, try making two or three NPCs that have goals that come into conflict with each other, and have them all try to recruit the PC's for help. For example, you could create a small city in which the governor is trying to remove a wizard from his position and power in the area and asks the PC's for help, the city watch wants the PC's to solve the local orc problem somehow, and the wizard says that the orcs aren't all that bad and would be happy to negotiate if the orc-hating governor wasn't around anymore. The PC's have several solid points from which they can start, and you're prepared for all of them.

If things continue to drag, force decision points on the players. Combat is the easiest way to do that, but not the only one. Maybe the wizard's experiments with magic open a portal to hell and minor demons start ransacking the town. Or maybe the PC's accidentally intercept a message for the governor that hints of something more sinister going on. Basically, make sure that problems aggravate until the PC's do something about it. Don't let it sit around like a Final Fantasy game, where you can wander around for weeks doing minor side quests and the final magical armageddon will wait until you've won the Chocobo race.

"Another thing I've found is that I have trouble explaining roleplaying elements to my players. Where should I start? I find that while I know what I want to explain to them in my head, it's harder to articulate these thoughts."

I'm not quite sure what you mean by that. If you mean that you're having a hard time evoking the genre, setting, or feel that you want in the game, I would suggest immersing yourself in books, movies, tv shows, and even video games that are close to what you're after. I find that when I'm reading a lot of Terry Pratchett, my writing style reflects that noticably. Maybe what you mean is that you're struggling to teach your group how to be more focused on roleplaying and story elements. If that's the case, there's a lot of RPG podcasting and audio recording available on the Internet, including what sounds like a weird idea at first: Actual Play segments. People will record their game sessions and post them for download. For me, I have a hard time figuring out how a new game or system is supposed to ebb and flow unless I've seen or heard it done. Listening to other people play the game helps me to shortcut a lot of the learning curve and trial and error. It's not a perfect solution, but it helps. You may want to find an actual play recording that has the level of role-play you want, and ask your players to listen to it too. I recommend The Game Master Show podcast (, as they post recordings of game prep discussion, character creation, actual gameplay, and post-game evaluation.

I hope that helps.

Welcome, Eru! I really hope you do get some discussion going on here, because it always makes me sad when gamegrene is slow.

Beyond that, I have a couple of things to add. If you're campaign is dragging, it's your fault. I don't wanna lay it on thick, but as the DM, you should approach campaign problems as your fault (as long as you don't get all uber-guilty and kill yourself or something). The players take their cues from you, and if you have players that refuse to cooperate for the fun of everybody, take them aside and explain what you're going for. If they still won't work with you, dump them. They ruin the game, and it's not worth the sessions of rehab to get them to play along.

Most importantly, though, concerning choice, the problem is that you're giving your characters too many options. Letting them do whatever they want gets you nowhere. Did you ever play the video game Fallout 3? While quite a good game (it won game of the year a little while back), it had, in my opinion, one major flaw. There was no impetous to play the storyline. I've spent hours on that game, nearly advanced to the top level you can reach, with expansions, and haven't even touched that main storyline. I would just wander around the world shooting things. While this was fun at first, I soon tired of such repetitive play and just stopped playing the game. I'll probably return to it someday and actually play the story but that game, for all its virtues, was too open. Bouncing from kill to kill soon became boring. It seems to me your games as they stand suffer in a similar rut. I recommend talking to your players before the game, and creating it with them. Find a purpose, a goal, to the party group, beyond something like "get treasure." Maybe they're all fighting against an evil king, or trying to stop an orc invasion. It doesn't matter - as long as you and your players decide it together. During character creation, throw out ideas for what the campaign should be, help the players pick what they want to do, then help them mold their character concepts to the campaign plan. Then, when the evil king is finally deposed, you'll have enough world, character, and story material to craft another campaign plan from the story you just finished telling with your players. Give them freedom WITHIN the campaign parameters. Otherwise they just wander around killing stuff, and that always gets old.

Don't be afraid to tell small stories too. Not everything needs to be massive, epic storytelling spanning years of play. Small, tight, interesting adventures relieve boredom and can be tons of fun, so consider those.

Also, I would recommend following Lorthyne's advice. Roleplaying, at it's core, is storytelling, so study storytelling. It won't be boring. Watch classic films, read classic books, etc. Take ideas liberally from these sources. Try basing a character off something you found in Shakespeare, or an adventure off an idea you had watching Indiana Jones.

Finally, you could be suffering from burnout. From time to time, see if others will GM, maybe even for just one session. And, as Lorthyne says, try lots of different systems, even just running them for one session. Indie RPGs are cheap, and you can find them at Go ahead and have fun with those. The best way to be inspired is to cast your net as wide as possible and pull everything in. You'll have to sift through a lot of useless (for now) material, but what you're left with is gold.

@ Tzuriel

You know, now that you mention Fallout 3, that's an excellent example. Having played it numerous times, it's kind of silly that I hadn't noticed before. *facepalm*
@ Everybody

Here's something. Combat is something that I've wanted to change. While my players have had no problems with either the 3.5 combat system or the 4.0 combat system (which honestly, I'm uncomfortable with, as, while it is useful for introducing new players to combat, it reeks way too much of MMO combat for my taste. But! Digression.), but I want to change it to something a bit more fluid. But while I want to encourage my players to be more creative and colorful in their explanations of combat, I also want there to have some dice rolls too.

Hmm. I just read that and it's a bit confusing. Perhaps an example here might be best.

Usually, combat for our group involves a player saying something like, "I take a swing at x monster" or "I move to help such and such cover x monster." Which is adequate in terms of combat explanation, since EVERY explanation can't be dazzling, it's the only thing that goes on in battle. I've talked to my players, and they say that they would be open to taking more creative approaches to combat (i.e. Chandelier swinging) but they have also voiced their concerns that the dice rolls they'd have to make would be a tad excessive, and that they're uncomfortable with the potential failure.

So, it's up to me to find a combat system that works. I have considered eliminating dice rolls altogether, but I can't really find a way to make that work. I've also toyed with the idea of making them only roll to see if they hit the monster (i.e. Someone chandelier swings, they don't have to roll for the swinging action, just hitting the monster), but then that really takes the fun out of trying to succeed. So I'm a bit stuck. How should I approach combat in this sense?

Also, I would like to make combat a less frequent thing in my games. It's mostly my fault, as it was a crutch I used during my novice days as a DM. (Of course, I haven't gone far up the rung xD) And I suppose that it's just been a continual crutch ever since. It's also probably because I failed to encourage active interaction with with NPCs as well. So I guess the question is, how do I make roleplaying a bigger chunk of our session time, but still make it interesting for the players? Or should I just keep the same amount of combat I have now, since my players seem not to mind?

Your players might not mind, but you do. If you're not happy, the game suffers. Besides, why let something be so-so when it could be great?

As far as combat within D&D, I'd recommend that when someone tries something spectacular, like swinging off a chandelier, you do one check for it using the relevant skill. If they succeed, they get a nice bonus to the attack and maybe even damage roll, and perhaps even a slight boon in the game world itself. The attack bonus should be in the range from +2 to +5, the former for easy checks, the latter for harder tasks, and for something really cool, another thing of weapon damage in 4e, and something like a +3 damage in 3.5. Even for complicated tasks that would normally require multiple skill checks, reduce it to one with a higher DC, to keep combat flowing quickly. The slight boon might be something like swinging on the chandelier causes it, after the player has swung off it, to fall, perhaps landing on an enemy. You could even do something that wouldn't be totally beneficial to the PCs but would add more excitement to the encounter, such as having the fallen chandelier shatter, creating a walking hazard, and also setting fire to areas of the room. Beyond all that, though, the best way to encourage something in game is to make it cool. I have a knack for describing gory and cool combat, and whenever someone does something cool, especially if it involves roleplaying their character, I reward them with an extra cool description, in addition to the number benefits. What was, "Your sword slides past his defenses and opens a large gash on his arm," becomes, "Using the bench next to you as a boost, you leap into the air, kicking aside your opponents shield. As you land you take advantage of his imbalance to swing at his exposed flesh, cutting deeply into his arm, feeling a slight jolt as you hit bone and watching his tendons roll up his arm under the skin. He cries out, his arm going limp, and the shield clatters from numb fingers." While it takes time to say all that, the look of "Awesome!" in your players faces is worth every second.

Beyond D&D, you should check out Dogs in the Vineyard, one of my all time favorite games. Its combat system is incredibly fluid and really cool. It thrives on cool descriptions. Other games actually actively reward players describing their actions, like Risus, a free game with very simple rules you can find online.

And finally, as far as using violence in your game, I recommend you check out my article on this site entitle "Violence." I hate to plug myself, but I am rather proud of that article and think there are some good thoughts in it and the comments afterword, and would rather reference it than repeat it here.

As for as roleplaying being a big part of the game, step one is to reward it. Make it worthwhile. Maybe the gift they get from a father grateful they convinced his son not to be an adventurer is worth far more than treasure they could've gotten killing random monsters. Step two is to insist on it. When your players try to bluff, make them tell you what they say before they roll. Give a bonus (+2) for a good lie. When doing diplomacy, insist they actually talk to you, in character, and give bonuses for smart moves. Make it a requirement. Maybe there's someone who won't fight them, or someone who'll kick their ass if they do. Have someone hire them for a job but insist they do it without violence, or else she'll have her guards hunt them down (make sure those guards are a legitimate threat). Make sure you follow through on any of this stuff, not totally killing them but making life really difficult. Step three is find out what interests them. Tell them you're thinking you wanna have more roleplaying in the game, and then ask what would interest them in that. Maybe one player really wants to explore his characters family ties, another wants to be a political player, etc. By involving them actively, you help them feel like they have a say in what happens in game, and therefore they'll feel like they have a stake in it. When they have a stake in it, they become actively involved, because it now matters more, being partly theirs.

"I've talked to my players, and they say that they would be open to taking more creative approaches to combat (i.e. Chandelier swinging) but they have also voiced their concerns that the dice rolls they'd have to make would be a tad excessive, and that they're uncomfortable with the potential failure. "

Perhaps throw an encounter at them in which a group of swashbuckling enemies run circles around them using these types of stunts?

I like the approach that Ninja Burger takes on this idea. In Ninja Burger, which was written by one of our very own Gamegreners, you play a ninja fast food delivery team determined to make deliveries within a specific timeframe. Because you are all ninja, you can do anything that an average ninja can do, no questions asked, no rolls required. Something a little trickier requires a roll, but if it's significantly "cool," the GM can give you a bonus to that roll.

You may want to consider using a mechanic like that in your game. Decide where on the "realistic-to-cinematic" spectrum your campaign sits. If, as it sounds, you want your average hero (forgive the oxymoron there) in your world consistently uses chandelier-swinging and similar stunts in combat, then let PC's and bad guys do that without a combat roll. If you want to add "the fun . . . of trying to succeed," you could tell them that they are going to succeed regardless, but that they may get an extra bonus (chandelier falls on an enemy, kick an extra enemy on their way over, etc. ) if they succeed on a particular roll. If they fail, they still pull off the stunt, but it's not quite as cool. In history, I'm pretty sure that chandelier-swinging attacks were not all that common, because they would have been risky and mostly ineffective. That's just how the physics of our world works. You have the opportunity to change the rules upon which a world operates within your games.

To encourage roleplaying input from your players, ask them to pick what the extra bonus may be. When they succeed on the check, tell them that they earned an extra bonus for being particularly acrobatic, and ask them what their character does, perhaps providing a few examples.

One highlight of a recent session I played in was an opportunity when the GM let me dictate some of the combat manuvers that occur. A particular beastie leapt at my character, and while the GM was describing the creature's missed attack, I said something to the effect of, "No, I want the giant rat to leap at me, and I stop his bite attack by jamming my dagger through the roof of his mouth, killing him." The GM paused for a minute and said, "Sounds great. Roll." The roll succeeded, and things went exactly as I had wanted. Of course, that kind of GM-player comfortability comes from long experience of playing together, but those kinds of things will happen more and more often as you encourage your players to narrate story elements of the game. Similarly, those kinds of events will occur less and less often as you reject player ideas and do all of the storytelling for them.

Wow. Thanks for all the great advice everybody! The first session of the campaign is fast approaching and I'm very excited to use all the offered advice. I'm sure I'll have more questions after our first gathering...perhaps some amusing anecdotes as well.

All of what everyone else said. Plus this;

If the issue you're having is related to the act and art of roleplaying rather than the rules system then you need to stop worrying about the system and let it do it's job. Any rules system is essentially the same as any other...a set of paramters within which to accomplish actions. If the issue is that the actions the PCs are taking are boring, dull, or one dimensional then nothing you do with the rules will affect that as the rules don't come into play until *after* the players think of something to actually *do*. If they're bound up wondering "well...what will the rules *let* me do?" then they're doing it wrong. Plain and simple. Any rules set let's you do anything.

If you want to make combat more exciting but happen less often maybe you can try what I've done. I'll assume you're familiar with 3.0 d20 for this next bit.
-automatic second roll to confirm. It's lame and time consuming
-lower everythings hit die by 1 die type. Less HP means careful planning and more talking
-double all damage values. Yeah, I said it.
-kill someone. kill a few people. kill a whole town. make death real again; your setting should seem real, and in the real world people die. Build up bonds between the PCs and some NPCs that you've inserted in the campaign for no reason other than to kill them later. Make sure when the PCs kill someone they have to deal with his widow. Or the law.
-have laws and use them. When the major tension comes from "i have to kill this corrupt noble before he kills me", that tension is released when the PC lives and the noble dies. It can remain though if now the PCs are wanted for murder. it doesn't matter that the Count was corrupted by the Evil Lord of Plot Momentum, he was still a noble and the PCs still murdered him. They should be hung for that. Hunted down and hung...probably by other adventurers because who else would take that bounty?
-use the word "murdered", not "killed". murderers aren't very heroic (neither are killers, but you can see the subtle difference in emotional attachment to one word over the other, yes?). it allows the PCs to actually *be* heroes on the occasions where they really did have to kill some guy and everyone knew it

As Tzuriel mentioned, it doesn't sound to me like you want to be a better want to be a better storyteller. Though it feels at first like it's one thing with many parts it's actually just a bunch of really small things that happen all at once. The fundamentals of storytelling are completely independant from the fundamentals of gamemastering. If you have children, tell them verbal stories. Start making your anecdotes with friends and peers better stories in and of themselves. Practice this art always. Everytime you open your mouth use the fundamentals of storytelling. Become an orator rather than a speaker. Do not talk...vocalize. There is nothing in any "How To Run The Game" section in any RPG rulebook ever written by anyone that will teach you "How To Tell A Story". They try, but fail. It's that simple. The art of storytelling can't be capsulized into a few paragraphs in the GMs section of the books. I will warn you off of trying to learn how to be a storyteller by reading matter how old they are. All that does is teach you how to read stories (much the same way that a lot of writing classes will have you read a bunch of books...why? You already know how to read and having some literature major give you a reading list may show you how others write but it won't teach *you* how to do it). You will learn to tell stories by doing it. Start today.

If you're familiar with physical magic (cards and such) then this will put this into sharp and clear focus for you; I have a whole entire book on how to do The Pass. I have another that is *only* about the subtle art of Swing Cut To Palm. Yet another that is devoted entirely to different Double Lifts. That's all the books discuss. They do not even mention how to use these moves in tricks. And yet, these moves are the fundamentals of physical card magic. Just telling you that much may get me hunted down by other physical magicians and sorted out in a bloody way. If you know those three moves you can do almost any trick you've ever seen.

What I'm getting at is that there is something far more important to the style of gamemastering you seem to be persuing. You will not learn it from the roleplaying industry. Planting an emotional cue and then triggering it many sessions later has far more to do with psychology than it has to do with anything in a rulebook. Evoking powerful imagery through visual description is not something you can learn from a game designer (no offence to the game designers out there...but they know it's true too). They can tell you how important it is, and let you know you should be doing it. But they just don't have the space (and in many case, the know-how) to tell you *how*.

I think I caught a hint of, "how do I make them see what I see" in your original post as well. This one is a subtle sleight that all GMs either know how to do or don't. There's no half way with this one. Are you ready for it? It's big, so don't sleep on this:

You don't.

You tell them what to see in vague terms and they do the rest of the work. When you drive on the highway and pass a mountain you glance at the mountain. In your minds eye you have a picture of that mountain but there's no way you could possibly have seen, analyzed, sorted, and realized all the details. You took a snaphot of an outline and your brain used it's imagination to develop the image into a mountain...complete with trees and crags and snow and maybe even a herd of mountain goats. You think of the cougars that could live in the woods. You wonder if anyone lives on that mountain...some cranky hermit fleeing society. All this from one glance.

Your players are capable of doing this too, and the more detail you give them about something the less it coincides with the image they already had. You tell them someone is sinister looking and wearing a cloak and they get an image, from their opinion, of what a sinister cloak adorned person looks like. You start explaining the hem of the cloak and it's color, they have to now change the details in their mind before they can replace them with the new ones you've given them. Include only what's important and their minds will supply the rest. "A dank stone stair, crooked from neglect and time, decends into the wet cellar".'ve got it. You could paint what you see in your mind right now and it would look perfect. Different from what I see...but still perfect. As GMs we get attached to how our world looks and we want everyone to see how cool it really is...but what we've essentially done is put the characters on the cover of book three in the series and pissed off all the readers who now will never see their favorite villain the same way again. ("What? This guy looks a proper fool doesn't he? I didn't picture him like this at all. I mean...I pictured a smallish orb of quartz, not this big f*$k off huge crystal ball around his neck!").

Accept that how you see things is not important to anyone but you.

The last advice I can give you on "being a good GM", whatever that means, is this. You already are. Anyone willing to put the time and passion into being a gamemaster is bang on awesome. The desire to improve is a testament to your emotional attachment to the art. Writers have to face the fact that whatever they're writing at this moment is the best work they've ever when it's over they have to get it out the door and start on the next and even better project. Don't pick it to pieces and try to make it perfect; you'll just murder it. Put down your ideas, use them next session, and move on. There are no "good GMs" and "bad GMs". Even after over 20 years behind the screen I'm still just a "GM in progress".

And oh last thing that took me a long time to learn; don't take any of what other gamemasters say to you too seriously at all. We don't play in your group. We don't know your players. Nothing you explain to us will be nearly as sharp for us as it is to you, and vice versa. Your experience with the hobby is singular, and despite similarities with other's experiences that may lead you to believe we might know what we're talking about...we don't. No one can be you but you, so how the hell could we know?

Yeah, I know what you mean, good role play is like, well its like cooperative story telling, when the players get hung up on the rules so much that they forget the "story" part of it, its like a cracker that's gone stale. You'll still eat it but man, what a stale cracker. "Kit BVashing" is always a good way to jazz up your system. What I mean is, import some rules from other systems that could be used to enhance your own campaign. Its OK to do that, its your game. A good friend and DM of mine had the same problem last year. He imported many of the rules from the Dark Fantasy of Sundrah by Scaldcrow Games. The use of skills, spells and personalities lends itself to much more cinematic, free form play. Exalted has a lot to offer to but I find DFoS offers the most. Make your own choice. You may even find some new directions. Remember, new friends are just old friends you have just met. The same goes with games.

d6danny, you've missed the point. If you're trying to enhance the storytelling aspect of your game through rules related tweaks and changes you are going to fail in the longrun. If the issue is a lack of storytelling ability, or the lack of players interested in the story, then nothing done with the rules will make a lick of difference as the problem is inherent in the people using the rules. It is the GM and the players that provide the cinematic impetus...the rules merely tell them what to roll and when. In fact, if you are aiming for a more cinematic feel, and your solution is *more* rules? You are going the wrong direction.

To wit; if I am having problems learning to play the flute because of my lack of fluting ability, a newer or different flute will simply not help me. It matters not what color the flute is, who manufactured it, etc. It is my inherent lack of fundamental flute playing skill. Or, to put it another way, "a skilled tradesman never blames his tools".

Scott Free is back! And let me say, with a vengeance while he's at it.

I'll simply say my feelings about this last post here as the rest I have no issues with. While I agree with you as far as fundamentals, Scott, I think the "tools" as you put them can be a part of that storytelling. They certainly are not the key to it, but meshing, building, using a system that promotes the thematic structure I'm trying to portray helps to tell that story. I'll compare it to film, because that's what I know best. Take a classic movie like The Third Man. An old English movie, it came out in 1950 and anyone that hasn't seen it should go see it now and then return to their computers. This movie is considered by many to be at the least one of the greatest films ever made. What makes it great? It has perfect acting, perfect directing, perfect writing, perfect pacing. At the core of it, it has a great story. But so much of what makes the story great is how it's told. A master musician uses an instrument up to his level, not because he needs it to make amazing music but because it enhances the amazing music already being created. The Third Man is a genuinely unnerving film, without ever stooping to showing you something truly disgusting. It's secret, an open secret, is in the way it's filmed. The camera is constantly tilted, so you're looking at the characters and strange, uncomfortable angles. You could be watching a sequence that isn't inherently tense, perhaps even funny, but you're still uncomfortable because of the prism through which you view the storytelling. It automatically sets your teeth on edge, and, unless you go looking for it, you don't even notice. It's true a skilled tradesman never blames his tools, but a skilled tradesman also pays attention to them, and uses the correct ones when he needs them.

I agree with all that you've said here. One point however is that you've explained that the camera is always on an angle...that is stylistic, not specific to what *type* camera is being used. You're correct that a skilled artist uses tools that suit their skill level; but they can also use shoddy cut-rate tools and accomplish things a lesser craftsman could not with those same cut-rate tools.

One could even go so far as to split the "game" in half. One half is the exposition and stylistic approach; the other, is the handleing of mechanical aspects of the game. The illusion of them mergeing into one thing is exactly what a good GM presents. The truth behind the illusion is that their is the story being told...and there is the rules handleing the actions. The two could not be more seperate. I'll compare again to physical magic: the skills used to perform a trick and the appearance of that trick are two very seperate things. Making them look like one thing, and indeed having the former vanish completely, is precisely the goal. Saying, "yes, but some cards are easier to do tricks with than others due to their quality" is a true statement. But I would liken the cards in this example to the players at the table. The actual rules being used are the basic moves that accomplish the trick.

Going further with the example, your statement of tradesmen using the correct tool for the job is true as well; if you're leaping, that's a Jump roll. If you're swinging a sword, that's an Attack roll. These things can be accomplished with any rules system though. In 22 years I have never ever seen evidence that one rules system is more beneficial to the *story* than any other. The *game*, yes. Not the story.

In 22 years I have never ever seen evidence that one rules system is more beneficial to the *story* than any other. The *game*, yes. Not the story.

Characters withdraw from battle because they are low on hit points.
They take treasure and kill monsters so they can get experience points.
They go into a dangerous swamp with little regard for drowning or natural hazards because they are high level.
They have no fear of a crossbow because they are high level. It can't hurt them.

These are examples of game rules interfering with the narrative. Not to mention all the implied scenarios built into most rule sets. In most rules a grizzly bear is little challenge for a character with a few months of battle experience. I've got a lot of years of martial arts behind me, and a bear would make pretty short work of me. How does that not effect the story? It effects the choices characters make. The choices make up the story.

If a rule set can create verisimilitude, it helps align the narrative framework of the game. Characters will imagine what they are doing and base their choices on how they imagine that they would respond. In a weak ruleset, the players interact through the game. If a rule/game works better there is a greater connection between the story and the action.

You argue that the storytelling survives the disconnected action. If we accept that premise, then we accept that we don't intend on storytelling any of the action sequences (combat, skill tests, travel). Thus we have two disconnected things. The story is everything that you do that isn't based on the rules. Once you are using the rules, you turn off your storytelling faculties; resolve the action, and then build a back-narrative to connect it to the story again.
There are two problems with this: the value of action, and decisions. First, the action sequences contain story details that can be pivotal -- in fact, much of the story can come from these details. Second, you still have a problem with decision making, because the bias of the rule set will still interfere with your decisions. The bias of the ruleset is all pervasive: How they structure actions; which opponenents are dangerous; when you should retreat. Characters will frame actions to fit within a round, leverage system bonuses, and ignore details of the narrative that don't have an impact on the rules. Decisions are still part of the story. I think you are stuck on this one Scott.

Okay Scott,
I'll give you that the skill of an artist like a "flute player" is not made by the instrument but rather by his skill, and no flute can give him skill that he may lack, but I'll also say that a skilled player of an instrument will go out and find an instrument that best suits his skill. A blues player like BB King, started out poor but did go out and buy a newer, better, different guitar once he could afford to do so. I don't mean to suggest that a different a game system is the only answer, but it can provide a different direction. Different approaches on rules can inspire the master storyteller. Or, hey just get the GM excited about his craft.

"In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium - that is, of any extension of ourselves - result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology." (McLuhan 7)

A game system is a medium. Choose one that doesn't fit your message and you will constantly be struggling against the dissonance -- the mixed message, the inferior instrument, whatever you call it. Few people would go to a rock concert to watch their favourite group peform on instruments made by their children. At some point the problem of the medium comes to the front.

As a tired old example I've used on this board before: searching for something in D&D. How does it work? It went from something in the narrative to a roll. By degrees through the various editions the game shifted from the narrative to the build. More and more effort goes into building a character, so that less goes into playing the character. Maybe we should call D&D a RBG (Role Building Game). There seems to me more emphasis on the building than the playing. You see, the building needs books (often new ones) -- there is no financial transaction associated with the playing of the game. This building takes place out of the narrative. People level up outside of game (mostly..though I still force my players to RP their training and new skills). The skills they acquire during this time replace diplomacy, intimidation, searching, perceiving, bluffing, crafting, healing, knowing, remembering, feeling.

Where the levelling takes place and what causes it are functions of the rules. Rules that either reinforce or contradict your message.

Scott, I'm with d6danny on this.

Almost every rulebook I read starts with the RBG bias. The first chapters are about building a character. The narrative game isn't even introduced until very near the end, if at all.

Many conversations about system vs setting...and this comes up so often it's painful...happen in a vacuum. They look only at the sterilized and static effects of system on setting and vice versa. So much of this is in the hands of the people using it, however, that it's almost impossible to discuss in any way at all without also taking into account the people doing it. It's like discounting the effect of the observer on the instantly and obviously flaws the entire answer to the point where even raising the question in the first place begins to look like folly.

Nothing being said is inherently wrong. Or right. Merely one way of many. I can't be swayed to believe what is being argued because my results prove otherwise. As do yours, hence the impasse. I've seen this and similar conversations over and over, and the analysis of each others opinion loses sight of the main does the original poster improve his game? Between all of our opinions he will take a bit here and a bit there and hopefully find his path. If the question is "how do I tell a better story?" then I don't believe looking at the rules is important *until* the basic art of telling a story is present. Far too often, past and present, people go to the rules to improve their game...I've also seen many of those same people still stuck themselves at a point that can easily be leapt over by realizing that maybe the rules are not the problem. As I mentioned way up there ^ I realize that the two must appear one thing on the other side of the screen...which means that narrative ability must by necessity be as important as fluid rules that do what you want them to.

Let me go to the cards again; one of my friends, another physical magician, keeps buying expensive pro cards from websites on the internet. They are beautiful and the feel when you do moves using them is unparalleled. I've ordered some of my own because they are so kick ass. However, when *he* uses them his moves still suck and he can't perform tricks in public. It has always been like this for him. He's got good control thanks to the pro cards, but his manipulations are obvious because his presentation is shit and his patter is atrocious. Someone once thought he was doing comedy, it was that bad. It's his fundamentals that are lacking and he refuses to recognize that...

"Almost every rulebook I read starts with the RBG bias. The first chapters are about building a character. The narrative game isn't even introduced until very near the end, if at all."

In it's own slippery way this sort of proves my point. The books won't help.

encourage more roleplaying among my players?
Reward it.
Have roleplaying sequences lead to rewards. When they make an ally, have that ally turn up in a time of need. Have a character who they stop to speak with for no reason bring them a clue to the adventure. Deliver it to the character who was roleplaying.

How can I make combat a more important and thrilling yet less-often thing in my sessions?

Foreshadow it.
Find a scenario where they know that there will be a fight, but put it in the future. A vendetta, a curse, lawless brigands, a group of marauders -- anything, but pull it from the character's history and past actions. Have the players gather the tools to win the fight. They can spend a session or two searching for clues and answers that will help them. All the while they are thinking about the fight. They won't realize that they aren't actually fighting. Anticipation is half the battle.

Later, you can have a villain avoid a fight. Realizing that they are outmatched, the villain (s) retreat to attend to their schemes. The PC's have foiled their plot. Now the villain(s) are openly seeking aid against the PC's. Will the PC's seek aid of their own or try to undermine the villains attempts?

How can I help my players become more immersed and better roleplayers?

Enrich the environment.
Put rusty sewer grates on the battlefield that they can use to their advantage. Have adversaries show fear, emotion, rage, frustration, tenderness, and joy. Take care in the details. If you describe how a sword's hilt is wrapped you have drawn attention to something. Use it. Hint at knot magic.

Role-playing is imagining a character interacting with an environment. Make the environment more interesting and you get more roleplaying.

Scott is wrong to suggest that rules don't matter because he can overcome them. Yes, he probably can. But, imagine what he could do with a good system -- one that isn't working at cross-purposes to him.

There is a big difference between "the books won't help" and "those books won't help." A book with a Role-Building bias won't help role-playing. A book with a Role-playing bias will.

Building and optimization are a big part of games. We build on the Oranges before we build on Boardwalk and Park Place. And when we do build we aim for three houses, not two...always. RPG's have a large and growing build component. That is what 4th edition focused on. Make the builds more streamlined and easier for the novice, and make the combat round easier.. more systematic.

Just because you are pleased with the kind of game that you run, doesn't mean that you are operating at your best. Unless you are suggesting that your game couldn't be better. You imagine that role-playing and rules are disconnected. Every mechanism that you use to encourage role-playing is at its heart a "rule."

Let me fix that for you:
"Scott's opinion is different than mine because he suggests that rules don't matter because in his experience they haven't. Yes, he does things his way because it works with his style of gamemastering. But, imagine how much more like my style his style would be if he agreed with me and did things my way -- the way that I am emotionally attached to as opposed to the way that works very well for him."


"A book with a Role-Building bias won't help role-playing. A book with a Role-playing bias will."
-True, but it won't necessarily hurt it either. Not in the hands of a GM and players that don't worry about that kind of thing. All I'm asserting is that that only matters if you care.

"Just because you are pleased with the kind of game that you run, doesn't mean that you are operating at your best. Unless you are suggesting that your game couldn't be better. You imagine that role-playing and rules are disconnected. Every mechanism that you use to encourage role-playing is at its heart a "rule.""
-It sounds like you're suggesting I'd be a better GM if I did it more like you. Let me clarify on this. I have never assumed I can't improve the quality of my gamemastering. I don't, however, think that the quality of my gamemastering is directly related to the rules system that I use. Rather, I have found a more organic approach to the roleplaying hobby as a whole leads me down paths towards greener pastures with richer harvests...for me. You and I (and you and others) have had this system vs. setting conversation more than once on Gamegrene and it always ends with us agreeing to disagree. Many times because you insist on asserting a "right vs. wrong" approach, where the person that you are challenging would be better at gamemastering if only they would agree with you. If I tried to operate as you do when running and planning my campaigns I would fail miserably. I succeed, not in spite of, but *because* of my take on this hobby. Likewise for you and any other gamemaster in the world.

I do not *imagine* that roleplaying and rules are disconnected...I do however *know as fact* that the art of storytelling and RPG rules are disconnected. If there are rules more conducive to a storytelling environment then that is perfect for those that feel they need to go that way. I do not feel that way however; the rules have never been a hindrance for me or my players when it comes to co-create a good story together. By inserting meaning and slant to what I said in order to make it more like the direct opposite of what you are saying you draw away from the point I'm trying to make. I agree that "every mechanism that you use to encourage role-playing is at its heart a "rule."". The problem with your statement is that you've assumed I use mechanisms to encourage roleplaying.

I do not.

I either get it or I don't, and I base my choice of players on whether or not I receive back what I put into it. I gave up on encourageing my players to roleplay many years ago. We either co-create a story together or we do not. It's simple. As Tzuriel suggested a few posts back, the issue lies more with the GM and the players if the story is falling flat. No rule can be held accountable for someones lack of desire or ability to engage with a storyline. This is why I gave up on arguing about rules with people long ago...for *me*, they simply do not matter at all and don't enter *my* equation. You will, of course, have a completely different experience and that is why as gamers we're lucky that we are spoiled for choice.

"It sounds like you're suggesting I'd be a better GM if I did it more like you."

Not in the least. You were suggesting to someone who came looking for advice on gamemastering to ignore the medium. Ignore the ruleset because they want to run a narrative campaign. I just think that is bad advice. I gave you your props, because you are able to pull it off in spite of a rule set. That doesn't make your advice good. You are asking someone to ignore tools that may help them, and not to worry about problems that will be created because of the rules. You have learned the rules and have adaptations to allow you to avoid the pitfalls. All the things that can interfere with the narrative.

You don't have to play anything like me to accept some basic points of logic.

" *know as fact* that the art of storytelling and RPG rules are disconnected"

If you had two unrelated activities you would be correct. However, I think we are all operating under the premise that you are storytelling while you are playing the game. Is this true? That is like saying that horseback riding and archery are disconnected. If you do archery while you are riding, they are connected. Just because you can hit the target you suggest that beginners shouldn't bother with anything to do with the horse. You ignore the horse and still hit all the targets that you see. You want to pretend that the horse isn't there.

Are you storytelling when the action is happening?
If yes, then your storytelling is affected by the rules because that is the medium in which your operating.
If no, then you are not storytelling during action sequences. You are passing up opportunities to advance the narrative, and breaking up the narrative.

I'm not trying to further an agenda about a "way" of playing. Not paying attention to the rules doesn't make them go away any more than ignoring the horse doesn't make it disappear. If you are aware of when the rules will slant things and adjust accordingly you are NOT ignoring the rules. You are adapting to them. If you ignore them you will get less from the game than you might if you were aware of the impact that rules have on the game. Because if you truly ignore the rules then you are oblivious to how they change your game.

Choice and style are about how we adapt to the rules and how they play out at the table.

Let's take an example. How do you roleplay a stare-down between a PC and an NPC? How do you evaluate the result?

If you evaluate the result you are using some kind of mechanism. The mechanism may be highly complex and based on what the player says, but it likely includes information about the characters in question. Information derived from crunchy-little-bits-of-data lurking in your intuitive world.

Here's a better example. You make a crossbow deadly, yes? You have to have some way, some mechanism, for doing this. It could be as simple as randomly saying "and you die" after a character receives a wound, or it could be a % roll made with a die. In both cases you have recognized the influence of rules on your roleplaying and adjusted them.

You adjust them so that the world seems more real, visceral, and dangerous. So that players get scared when a crossbow comes out, you have changed the mechanism by which we evaluate the crossbow's damage. You change the rule to improve the story.

This is what you are asking us to ignore. You talk as if we should ignore what you do. You think that I am attacking your playing style by suggesting that you become aware of what you are already doing -- arguing that it will make you better. You can't say rules are not important when you recognize their importance by changing them to fit your narrative. You do what I am asking intuitively.

I don't want you to change what you do. I want you to give someone coming and asking for advice the same opportunity to run a great game as you have.

You remind me of an elite athlete who has achieved a high level of success, but is un-coachable. You refuse to re-examine your form because of your past success. You rest on natural talent and years of practice. You ignore the science and the facts. Even Tiger Woods went back and changed his swing to improve it. I don't presume to coach you.
I don't even know how the swing should work. I just want to have a discussion about what the optimal swing would be. I am disagreeing with the advice that you are giving. Not because I think I am better, but because your advice doesn't make sense. You don't even follow your own advice. I think I'd have a blast at a gaming table with you -- on either side of the screen.

Yes, we have had this argument before. Normally, we put down the argument out of respect because so much other stuff gets dragged into it. If we stay focused, we may both learn something.

Just so we are clear about what we are "arguing" about.

1. Consider the rules and how they change the narrative perspective and the way you experience the game.
2. The rules have no influence on the narrative aspect of the game; you don't need to consider them.

1. is my opinion. 2. is what I am hearing yours to be.

Am I off base on #2? Do you want to re-state so that we can go forward.

Re-state it? I didn't state that to begin with. It's not like I can or want to go back and change what I said...perhaps you just need to adjust the lens through which you are reading it? I'm not and never have been discussing the narrative aspects of a *game*. I'm merely bringing to the table for consideration by the OP an equally, or in my opinion *more*, important set of skills that many GMs forget about in their rush to depend on the rules to make their *stories* (and their ability to tell them) better.

1. Consider the rules and how they change the narrative perspective and the way you experience the game.
-this is what *you* are talking about...most certainly. I seem to recall suggesting the original poster consider that perhaps the rules aren't his problem and to look in other areas to improve his GMing. What *I'm* talking about is best explained by going to your archery-on-horseback example. This person in your example is not going to learn archery-on-horseback as a skill. Not right away anyways. They must first learn the basic fundamentals of horseback and archery independantly before combining them. I've stated more than once that the ultimate goal is for the two to blend seemlessly into one thing from the point of view on the other side of the screen. That can't be argued, it's fact, and we both agree on that score. I am merely suggsting that if someone's horsebackriding is sound and their archery stinks that they should spend some time at the target range. Answering the question, "how do I improve my archery?", by stating "buy a different horse" is absurd.

2. The rules have no influence on the narrative aspect of the game; you don't need to consider them.
-as above, but let me focus it even more; if I see someone asking about their archery while riding very well on a fine horse, and I notice there are flaws in their grip and string release, I'm not going to offer advice on their riding. Taking it one step further, if they ask you and I (you being very well spoken about horses due to your passion for them, and I being excellent at archery for the same reason) "is it my riding or my archery here?" and I will both give different opinions based on what we *feel* to be the more important part of the equation. Logic only enters into it when considering your own point of view, because the other point of view will seem illogical given where we both stand on the subject. There is wisdom in listening to both of us, but at the end of the day it is the archer who is ahorse that must decide (and ultimately he will probably shake his head and say "well, thanks for that I guess...?" and ride off)

Taking that example out of the context of answering the posters question and laying it over the conversation you and I are having (because I have no illusions that this ever-more-complex string of examples and metaphors is that useful in regards to the original question) it gets even more interesting. You are asserting that the superior way to fire an arrow is from horseback, and make the assumption that I am doing so too but meanwhile trying to claim that the horse and riding skills are not important. I can see you on your horse telling me this while I stand on the ground with my bow trying to explain to you that I don't deny the efficacy of a mounted archer...I just don't like horses and don't shoot that way. I ahve a horse, but he's stabled until I need him. Someone else rides up and asks, "how can I be a better archer?" and I try to tell them to get off their horse and see how that feels. Perhaps they agree that maybe mounted archery is better, perhaps they do not. I'm not emotionally attached to that. As this person does what they do (dismounts or doesn't) you continue trying to tell me that I should get on a horse as well because that's the best way to fire off arrows. I smile and say, "Sure...for you. Me, I'm good on the ground. Horses screw up my aim and I don't like riding them."

Your key assumption that fuels your arguement is that you and I are talking about the same thing. "Rules affecting/not affecting the narrative experience". We're not. That's certainly where you've taken the conversation, making it impossible for me to argue the point without you being able to wave a hand and create the appearance that my arguement and indeed my initial advice are not valid. I'm not even talking about the rules and how they affect the narrative experience of any given session or campaign, friend. I'm talking about the basic art of telling a story to some people; pacing, phrasing, voices, verbal tension, emotional cues and triggers...etc. If you're trying to say that those things aren't important then you need to give your head a shake. If you're trying to say that my (or anyone's) ability to hold an audience's attention with my voice, face, and body language are in any way related to some numbers on a page somewhere then you can't shake your head because it's deep in the sand. I'm not talking about character to character interactions...I'm talking about the real human experience of some people sitting around a table telling a story, and looking back over everything I've written so far I think that's been made very clear. Our takes on this hobby seem, to me at least, to be so different (on our side of the screen...though maybe not from the other) as to render comparison of the level you are attempting a moot point. Some look through the system as a lens to see the setting. I look through the setting and hold the rules behind my back where they won't obstruct my view. Neither style is superior. Both work. Choice is an awesome thing.

As to whether or not my advice is "bad" or "wrong"; who can determine such a thing? Not me. Not you. Only the original poster can determine what suits his style best and the longer you and I split hairs over it the less likely any of this will make any sense to anyone but you and I. It honestly seems to me that you are not satisfied until your advice is seen as the best advice in the thread; when in fact it is merely one of many pieces of advice in the thread...

...oh, and by the way. The reason that I try to let this drop everytime we've had this conversation isn't due to other things being drawn into the conversation and the topic getting muddy. It's because every single time I have to realize at some point that we are having two seperate conversations and for some reason you are oblivious to that. Frank? Yes. Honest? Yes. Wrong? No, just different.

(for the record, and for anyone else reading this that isn't familiar with our sparring, Gil and I get along famously. This topic is our only bone of contention :))


"But while I want to encourage my players to be more creative and colorful in their explanations of combat, I also want there to have some dice rolls too." Eruantien

Sounds like he/she wants advice on the role playing Game . Not just advice on how to be cinematic. Feel free to give him any advice you want about archery, but don't tell him to get off the horse. He put himself on the horse, not me.

:) Yes, a good argument doesn't mean we don't get along.

The difference is that I'm not telling him to ignore archery. I think he should take your advice about archery. What he shouldn't do is take your advice to get off the horse or that the horse won't affect him. If you don't choose to focus on it, that's fine. Suggesting that the horse cannot have an impact on his archery is wrong. If he gets off the horse, it can't -- but, then he's not playing a game.

We have this hybrid thing called a role-playing game that has two, or more, elements to it. That is set up in the definition of the words "Role-playing" and "game." The value of those elements is determined by the group and is personal choice -- represented by a wide variety of styles. It is personal opinion as to what level of importance to place on these aspects. You can't be wrong about that.

You assert that there is no such thing as a better role-playing system. They are all equally good because you can story-tell through any system. If a rule interferes with your story, you can change it.

In this, you accept the premise that a rule can interfere with the story. This contradicts your first point.

This isn't opinion. Or my stubborn need to be right (even though I always am! :) ). It is just that I take exception to a series of statements that are not internally consistent.

If I wasn't so stubborn, I'd probably accept your statements as hyperbole. I could accept "rules are not as important as storytelling," or "don't focus on the rules yet, get the story first." That is good advice. In fact, reading through your posts again you give tons of great concrete advice. I'm calling you to task on a very few statements:

"The truth behind the illusion is that their is the story being told...and there is the rules handleing the actions. The two could not be more seperate."

"In 22 years I have never ever seen evidence that one rules system is more beneficial to the *story* than any other. The *game*, yes. Not the story."

That is how we got off on this whole thing. I disagree that a rule-system cannot be better or worse for story development. If I used "reductio ad absurdum" I would give an example of a role-playing game where all results were resolved with a single die roll where one side wins, the other loses. This would skew the story. Every time there is a conflict one entire side of the battlefield falls, while the other remains. The story is now changed. Changing it back to something more palatable requires changing the rule. Every rule effects the story in a subtle way. Whether we consider it important, or how we adapt to it is part of the craft of the GM.

This side-argument has gone on long enough. There was good advice in the thread until Scott and I took up arms and re-visited this old battle. Although it was fun, I think I am prone to being stubborn in the details and Scott is prone to hyperbole. One of the problems with email and forum is it tends to lack the facial queues and tone changes that a real conversation has. Otherwise you would have seen me nodding all the way through *most* of Scotts post. I agree with him 99%.

This is what 1% disagreement looks like. It hits a nerve, too, in truth. I have spent many years re-writing and fretting over an IAG (Immersive Adventure Game). If Scott is right and a system cannot make the narrative better, tighter, faster, and more versatile -- then I have a lot of x'plain'n to do to myself. :) To me, I just cannot accept that. I have looked at this question a lot and worked it from every angle. The critical thing is to look for evidence to disprove my theory (as you cannot prove a statement through induction). I believe that the system alters the narrative experience. There is no such thing as a narrative-neutral gaming system, although it may be the ideal.

Gilgamesh puts away his weapon and turns to Scott... "I will buy you a drink."

I read Scott's first post, I come back a few days later, and look at that fanciness. :D >.>

On a completely different note, how did you happen to find the players you have currently (assuming you're running a game - most likely)? I've just dumped my group again, after realizing none of them could role play their way out of an empty room *facepalm*.

"You assert that there is no such thing as a better role-playing system"
-not really. You could split hairs until it looks like that was what I meant...but I'm actually suggesting (and I'm only going to say this one more time) is that my assertion is merely that your ability to tell a good story is independant of any rules system you use to adjudicate actions withing the context of a roleplaying game. My nephew can attest to that as when I tell him tall tales we don't use a rules system to do so...and he is blown back by the stories.

"It is just that I take exception to a series of statements that are not internally consistent."
-maybe you should try not to become emotionally attached to things that don't affect your daily experience. Or try less coffee...or more, whatever it takes. LOL. I mean really Gil...we are truly having two completely different conversations, so consistency is going to be an absurity at best. :)

"This is what 1% disagreement looks like"
-favorite internet quote this week, right here. Everyone take a look. I've never heard it said more perfectly; now the internet will never look the same again Gil. Thanks for that. It can be proven across almost any conversation on the internet that the 1% disagreement creates 99% of the discourse. We, my friend, are what you see when you look up Signal To Noise Ratio on wikipedia.

Eruantien; I feel for you. Especially if you live somewhere where the gamer stock is limited. It's hard to teach your group to roleplay...really, you can't. They either do it the way that turns you on, or they don't. I've had the best luck with players when I haven't specifically looked for "roleplayers". Everytime I've looked for players (and this is my own experience, I don't know about anyone else's) I have got exactly that...gamers. People who want to play a roleplaying game. Very rarely have I also found storytellers who want to co-create something amazing with me. What I was alluding to in all the patter above is that there are gamers, there are storytellers, and then there are some who are both in various measure. I, myself, like to find the ones that are about a 80/20 split...and I can teach you the 20. I can't teach you the 80. So I look outside of the hobby itself to find players.

I have found all the players I enjoyed running for the most like so;
1) The drama club. In high school I got three players from the drama class. Two of them I consistently had in my group for over a decade after that. Amazing times. They learned the game part so that they could excercise the character part and I can't say enough good things about Tara and Leon. Every GM should have the pleasure of running with players like this. (on that note, Tara and I ended up in a relationship that lasted 11 years and when that ended the double edge of the sword was that I lost that player as sucked more than I can explain, on more levels than I knew existed. I retired a whole setting over it)

2) My friends that don't "game". They all know what I'm in to, and over a long enough timeline they've all gotten curious. Only two out of all of that ever stuck to it and found the same kind of joy in the hobby that I do. They weren't in every campaign and I've moved to another city now...but running for them was great as well. There's always an ease and comfort when the players are also your friends away from the table, because your friends want to help you do stuff (if they're good friends) and helping you tella story is no different.

3) The internet. Though finding good players out of the static of the web is almost as hard as finding the original topic in a thread where Gil and I spar over minutiae, sometimes you will get lucky. I only ever found one player this way that I would say was perfect for my group and play style...he was awesome. I wish he hadn't moved back to Australia.

4) And not in the gamer meetup groups. I recently found two players through a social club for geeks that meets to play boardgames, cards, and have pub nights where we revel in our geekiness (though I hate with a passion the term "geek" and don't self-identify as such). They were dismayed that the terrible Shadowrun campaign was the only thing the meet group seemed to ahve going as far as roleplaying, and at one of the pub nights we got trapped with each other in a deep conversation about "speculative fiction" in general, and when I asked "you guys ever played D&D?" the flood gates of scorn opened up for all the things I've always hated about the hobby, and two more like minds were thus added to the pool. I'm looking forward to having them in the new campaign I'm about to launch in the new setting no player has muddied up with their boots yet.

5) Not the game store. I've never ever found a player that meshes with me, the group, or our play style at any game store in any city I've ever lived in.

6) The bookstore. If there's a nice, cosy, warm, used bookstore near you that lets you sit around on the couches and read and hang out you will eventually find a player there. I did recently, simply because I was reading The Practical Guide to Ledgerdemain from 1885 and a bearded fellow started showing me coin tricks. I showed him some card stuff that blew his mind, and somehow the conversation got around to how "he had never gotten a chance to play a character that could this stuff well...". I asked "would you like to?" and things went from there.

Really, you can't rush a good group. If you do, there will be attrition. I once waited a year and a half to run a campaign because I wanted the right players for it. i ran another in the meantime, but that one had to sit and cure while I waited for just the right three. Also, the more you bring roleplaying up in conversation the more likely other people will too. I know many roleplayers that don't bring the subject up outside of their gaming related circles of acquintances for some reason, but that's how I've found half my players...just talking with people and seeing what they're into. Their nongaming interests have always been more important to me than their gaming related interests, because you can teach anyone how the rules's the rest of it that matters most to me.

Scott's back! Gil's back! Everyone pick a side, choose a weapon and...

Oh, fight's over. Damn. I guess we could all just drink together then.

Is it just me, or has anyone else ever come across a website referred to as a pub more often than gamegrene? Cause I haven't. Seems to me when we all finally meet we'd better be packing cause we've been promising each other drinks left and right.

So, yeah, since Gil and Scott put down their swords I won't say much concerning the debate I missed. I think both had excellent points, and there's a lot to be learned, even though I've never heard horseback archery get stretched so thin as a metaphor. Perhaps that's the chief lesson to be learned here - when in an argument, stretch your opponents metaphors to ridiculous places and you'll just tire the poor guy out.

Anyway, Scott's totally right about finding a group, Eru. Most times I've met someone as a "gamer" it didn't turn out well. All of the places Scott mentioned are great. I find it's best if looking for a new group and not finding one you can play in to get the feel, to recruit a whole new passel of players. This way, you can "breed" them into what you want them to play like by only presenting games that live up to those standards. Those who don't leave are golden. I can't say I've ever really done this as I lack the experience and every time I've played with a new group I've done so as a player or with a bad first session. But, my players were desperate (they'd heard about and experimented with roleplaying before and really wanted to actually do it full on) and so they stuck on and became the best group I've ever gamed with bar none. Regardless, my plan there seems to work in theory and I've seen significant evidence to back it up, though never a test case that turned out miraculous success. We had one player we tried to do this to who desperately valued and wanted to roleplay but never really had the personality for it. Sometimes that happens, and he certainly wasn't bad to play with. He was great fun, just not the very best roleplayer, because he was too focused on how cool his character was instead of how the character actually felt about the events he was participating in. But even with that hobble, he didn't sigh and groan when I roleplayed, so it was all good. Good luck with finding yourself a group! Hopefully we'll be doing Dark Vigil soon and you can at least have that to satisfy your gaming needs.

"when in an argument, stretch your opponents metaphors to ridiculous places and you'll just tire the poor guy out." Bravo, Tzuriel. I literally lol'ed at that snippet. I just joined the site earlier today, and its like this post was reading my mind. I have a good knack for storytelling, but my problem is that I can't quite mold the 3.5e D&D rule to my tastes. Of course working out of a player's handbook and a stinky ol' toolbox of miniatures like some poor merchant is a suicide mission in its own right. I had a group for a couple days, but they slowly lost interest and I knew I had nobody but myself to blame. I'm a fledgling DM/Gm at best, but i wanted to know if anybody knew of a book or ruleset that would allow me to run a good session or two without forking out dough for the standars books like the MM, DMG, etc. I was thinking of skipping over the miniatures and books, getting a couple old lounge chairs, and making something like a big in character pow-wow. Any advice would be greatly appreciated, even though this entire thread flipped my whole,how you say, "perception" of D&D. I'll be more than happy to buy a round of drinks for everyone in exchange for some well-used wisdom. think of me as the eager-to-please type. cheers all.

Hi Mattox! (May I call you Mattox?) Welcome to Gamegrene.

I'm gonna tell you a secret. It's pretty cool.

I only own the Player's Handbook 3.5ed of D&D. I own the 4th ed one too, but that's besides the point. Point is, I don't own any other manual for D&D.

I have found that, when I dislike the rules of a core system, I just toss the rule out and make my own house rule. 'S worked so far, even though I don't really have a group anymore. But that's a story for another day. When it comes right down to it, I hardly ever even refer to the manual I have at all. We use it to create characters (Well, the stats anyways.), and I barely ever even check it for any gameplay mechanics.

But if D&D isn't really your style, I believe either Tzuriel or Lorthyne recommended the FATE system to me. Their 2nd edition, I believe, is free for download on their site. I've perused it and I've found it to be quite interesting and simple. The only other RPG handbook I'm familiar with is Exalted. That's a one book deal - character creation, world lore, etc. Everything you need to start roleplaying in one book, essentially.

Honestly, if you've got a knack for storytelling, I think you're set. Make some characters, think up a setting, and don't worry about the mechanics. Toss the miniatures in the garbage (or put them on the mantelpiece) and have some fun. Look over the 3.5ed player's handbook and take what you like from it. Drop what you don't. I've looked in the Dungeon Master's Guide. Honestly, the Player's Handbook has most of what you need to have a fun roleplaying experience (at least, I think so. Others may dispute.) There's a lot you can find online too, but I'm a poor resource for that.

And depending on what you want you're sessions to be like, you might not even need rulebooks at all. From the sounds of it, it seems like you just want to have a gathering and just do some character roleplaying, sans game mechanics...?

Myself, I've never used miniatures. Doesn't suit my style as it puts the focus on all of the wrong things that I and my players don't really care about anyways. If you're looking for a more immersive and story/character oriented experience you may want to do as Eruantien said and put the minis on the shelf.

As to rules, if you like the feel of the d20 system but want to trim it up a bit and make it smaller and easier to manipulate you may want to give a look at the True20 system that Green Ronin put out. I'm a big fan. You only need the one book, everything else is just extra fluff and haberdashery. Interestingly enough, after reading your post I started to think about what I actually *use* when I'm using the d20 system...and that's the PHB. I reference my entire bookshelf when planning, but I don't touch them during play. I didn't realize it until now, but the book I use the very very *least* is the DMG...hands down. While I firmly believe that rules don't have any effect on one's storytelling *skills*, they absolutely can effect the implementation of your ideas as they rech the player's hands. This is one of teh reasons that I have been switching my three ongoing campaigns over to the True20 system; it does just what I need it to from behind the veil and then's doesn't go on to imply a setting or a "look-and-feel", and it doesn't set player's up with a bunch of preconceived notions about your "D&D" campaign. I've always loved the d20 system, but I've also always hated "D&D". If you're like me, then check out True20. Or one of a hundred other systems that can acheive the same ends.

In regards to diceless or even completely ruleless can be a lot of fun with the right group. However, if you have pure "gamers" as opposed to story/character focused actor types you're going to run into problems as both types try to get something different out of the experience. You will be trying to coax a square peg into a round hole. I've had good success with this a few times, but it never evolved into anything more than one nights diversion.

Sounds good, fellas. I'll look into True20 and the FATE system, see what I can come up with. And yes, you may call me Mattox, Eruantien. It makes me feel wanted, rofl. But yeah, I'm gonna go look into those later, right now I gotta pass the compy to my nephew. I like the community here, very helpful. I'll be sure to update my findings after i look into the new system. -hands pints around the table and leaves some gold on the table- have a meal on me, boys.

As Eru said, welcome to gamegrene, Mattox. All of the stuff mentioned by Eru and Scott is good stuff. If you're looking for a place where you can find a whole bunch of cheaper, more experimental games, I'd recommend It's basically a massive site with all kinds of games put out by other gamers, many of whom are interested in the same thing you are. These mostly come with implied settings, though not all of them. Personally, I like to use different games when I play in different settings, because, for me at least, the mechanics emphasize different thematic concerns I wanna play around with. So I'd check that out. It's where all of my game purchases have come from recently.

i checked out IPR. looks pretty solid but they'll have to wait till i can further pad my wallet. i dont get all that much from my current job :/ but thanks for the advice all, its well appreciated.

It's a good place, and generally much cheaper than standard D&D or WoD. I totally understand needing to pad your wallet though. Mine's a little tight right now too...

SO how is all this going? Has Eruantien found a group that suits his needs? Have any of the cranky old advice geezers helped at all? Are the new comers to the conversation finding anything useful? If so, what?

Well, I'm still group searching, but your advice has opened my eyes to new possibilities, new outlets, and new adventures to be had. So in lieu of a long post, I will thank you. Thank you, and the rest of Gamegrene too, for making me strive for more.

Update update: I have now found a group that I believe indeed suits my needs. It's a mix of experienced and new players, but it hit off immediately and the group interaction was fantastic. Everyone behaved incredibly well in character and it culminated in an epic first combat encounter. For the first time in a while, I could feel the synergy working between the players and between me. And the advice I got from everyone really helped to pull everyone in, myself included. It's a great to get that special feeling back again.

Nice one Eruantien. Glad to hear it.

Congrats! Keep it going, man.

guess who's back? It is I the less feared and less worshiped of all evils. My group is slowly coming together, we found a new player just recently, and it appears he's had some experience in the fantastic realm that is D&D. Now there's the problem of putting my campaign setting into action. All of it is off the top of my head with most of the major choices mapped out, good for a session or two. But I worry now if it'll be any good. It kinda reminds me of those you-choose-the-scare Goosebumps books.and plays out like almost any other pirate movie. so maybe y'all can help me here, or will i have to go buy pre made adventures? anyhow im still alive, but with rare internet access. so i'll check back often as possible, and thank you again for welcoming me.

funny thing about my group is, i have two partly experienced players, one rookie player, and one kid who doesn't know a bastard sword from a chef's knife. then me, the wannabe DM. maybe i'll stick to being a PC. rofl. any advice on that front my friends?

When you say "putting my campaign setting into action" then mention that it's all off the top of your head.... are you actually referring more to the campaign itself as opposed to the setting?

I'm going to hazard a guess and assume that you mean getting the campaign started. Honestly, I'd just say...jump into it, and see what happens. Worrying if it'll be good is really besides the point. You've got it set up, you're ready to go, and it sounds like you have a plan, albeit an impromptu one. Just run it, see how it plays out, ask the more experienced players what they thought of it, what they think you need. Listen to what they say, and then make changes if you need to, and just keep going if you don't.

I know that I'm late to the fight and all, but I've read through these posts and without targeting anyone or picking sides, I would like to disagree and put in my own two bits worth.

1st The game system DOES matter. ESPECIALLY with novice GMs. If you are a new GM as the author of this original article seems to be, then it is MUCH easier to focus on the roleplaying aspect of gaming if you have a gaming system that coincides with your desires. Using a hack 'n' slash gaming system (one that rewards combat and little else) is like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. It's possible, even easy for people with eperience and "strength". Scott's been GMing for what? 20 years? He doesn't even notice how difficult it is any more. But a new GM? It's nearly impossible.

If you want to run a game that promotes roleplaying as opposed to rollplaying, try games like Song of Ice and Fire based on the fantasy series by George RR Martin, Serenity or Battlestar Galactica or you want Sci Fi or White Wolf if you want modern. Stay away from Palladium games, D&D (any version) or any other games that has classes or levels.

2nd Plan your campaign in adventures. Put things down on paper. Flesh things out. DO NOT GO WITH PRE-PUBLISHED ADVENTURES!!!! I have never read a published adventure that wasn't garbage. Even the "good" ones need a lot of tweaking before they fit my game. However,if you need a starting point, the D&D Challenge series (Fighter's Challenge 1 & 2, Theives Challenge, etc) are decent as are adventures written for GURPS by Steve jackson Games (with a few horrible exceptions).

If you're interested, I have a starter adventure that I've written out and would be willing to share with you. This is a series of 4 interlocked adventures designed to show the players the world and how the gaming system works. While this adventure is based on a gaming system that I wrote, is is easily transferable to D&D, GURPS or most other systems. By the end of it, the players will have made several fast friends and good enemies, gained some cool toys and money and are well set up to do whatever you want them to do next.

3rd I dont like sitting down and explaining things to players unless I have to. I'd rather show than tell. If you want more role in your roleplaying, talk in character, have the NPCs do tricks and immediatly, the PCs will follow suit. Have a merchant haggle with them, a bad guy throw melted candle wax into a PCs face during a fight, etc. SHOW them how you wanna play and they will follow your lead.

4th Being a GM in my opinion is equal parts storytelling and manipulation. You have the story and plot in hand and it's your job to get the PC's to go along with the story. You have to manipulate them, without them knowing it if possible, into going where you want them to. I hate railroading PC's both as a GM and as a Player, I also hate playing a game where I have no direction. I want a story! One with a beginning, middle and end.

Once you get started in an adventure, things tend to roll along rather smoothly. It's getting started that's hard. When you have an adventure, make sure that you have multiple plot hooks to get the party going in the right directions. I highly recommend tailoring the plothooks to the individual PCs within the party rather than generic ones for the group. It's way more fun to have a PC trying to convince the rest of the group to go along with an advanture than it is for the GM to do so.

I had more but can't remember what is was that I wanted to say. Hope this helps!


PS It's good to be back guys. Missed you.

Calamar "If you want to run a game that promotes roleplaying... ...Stay away from Palladium games, D&D (any version) or any other games that has classes or levels."
How do you see classes interfering with role-playing? How do you see levels interfering with role-playing? I may agree with you on both points (the first more strongly than the second) but I go so far as to say that the chapter order, font choice, illustrations, and skill descriptions can negatively impact role-playing and a related topic of implied setting/narrative license.

So we are clear on our terms I consider "Role-Playing" to encompass:

Ability to adopt an alternate personality.
Ability to interact with the narrative through the alternate personality in action, speech, an imagination.
Ability to maintain verisimilitude within a shared imaginary setting.

When I refer to "Implied Setting" I refer to the freedom of creative license to shape your own setting. A heavily implied setting would embed a number of assumptions into the ruleset that cannot be un-selected. To use an example from D&D, I don't think that classes contribute to the implied setting. It is easy for a DM to present a list of allowable classes. For example, if you are going to join my game and I tell you that the only allowable player classes are Fighter, Barbarian, Cavalier, and Rogue -- it tells you a lot about my setting. I can similarily "un-select" feats that I don't want, and remove races, etc. However, it is hard to remove "Alignment", "Attacks of Opportunity","Rounds", etc. from a D&D game. The problem is how deeply woven into the mechanics these assumptions are. They are part of the rules and are used in feats, items, classes, spells -- to change these things you would have to change the whole game. You cannot simply say...we don't play with Alignment (believe me..I have tried). If you change one of these things you will discover that forever-after you will be fighting the rules.

For the other points:

2. Plan. I agree -- although I don't think that pre-published material is all garbage. I'm blown away by some of the creative stuff that is out there. I do think that they suffer from a very old paradigm of presenting materials. The "boxed text" format is two-dimensional thinking and hasn't evolved in 30 years.

3. Show. Good advice.

4. Manipulate...(Gil smiles and gives Calamar the hush signal) I think that more planning can eliminate manipulation. Players will always take things in unexpected directions. If you have enough structure -- you can accomodate the change of focus.

(Gil leans in close and whispers...)
The trick is to have many ways to get them to the same point. If I want them in the cave of troubles which is at the end of the impossible maze that only one person has the key to create 5 people with the key to impossible maze. Give each one a reason for having it. The second one that they find is the real one. Give 5 people the map to the maze... you get the idea. Don't make one path. It is easy for players to get off your one path. Make 5. Whatever path they are on can lead to your essential elements. Don't be afraid to change your story to meet their game.
(Gil looks around to see if any players were listening; then returns to his normal voice.)

A sustained campaign is episodic. The episodes draw from one or more story arcs. If you want to make the campaign seem vast, then have many story arcs running at the same time. These arcs can have varying degrees of player interaction. If I make a story arc of the royal wedding I can choose to have almost no player involvement in the arc. The arc is introduced and used in an episode. Later, I can involve the players in the arc by having them involved in the first anniversary celebrations.

I would start by creating 2 or so major story arcs at the very beginning of the campaign. These are monumental events that will unfold over the course of the campaign. As you get close to resolving a major arc, add another one. Keep two or three going at all times.

Add two minor story arcs, that may-or-may-not relate to the major arcs.

Create an episode/adventure that uses the background from one arc, but is advancing the action in another arc. You can add flavour by dropping clues about other arcs. I guess I gave some similar advice in dismantling the GM screen, so I don't need to repeat it here.

Good to see you around Calamar. I have heard a lot of hollow footsteps around these parts, but haven't seen anyone here in a long time.

It's good to be back. Finally in a place in my life where I can drop in from time to time.
Now, onto my response! ;-)

"So we are clear on our terms I consider "Role-Playing" to encompass:
Ability to adopt an alternate personality.
Ability to interact with the narrative through the alternate personality in action, speech, an imagination.
Ability to maintain verisimilitude within a shared imaginary setting."

Your idea of what you consider Role-Playing is simply the definition of a gamer. That definition encompasses ALL roleplayers. The author stated that they want a game that promotes Role-play as opposed to ROLL-play.

Role-playing to me is more like character acting. You're in it for the story, for character growth. You want your character to learn and grow as a (fictional) person, like the characters in books and movies like Shawshank Redemption and the new Battlestar Galactica. GURPS, Exalted and Song of Ice and Fire are the best Role-playing games that I can think of.

Roll-playing rewards characters for killing things. Much like a Steven Seagall movie, there is no room for anything other than getting stronger, faster and meaner. You kill things, you get better, allowing you to kill bigger things. A tabletop version of WoW, in other words. Dungeons and Dragons, MERPS and Earthdawn are the best Roll-playing games that I know of.
If I remember right, Earthdawn, while a level based game, is fairly geared towards the Role-player as well as the ROLL-player. If you're on the fence as to gaming style, that's the one that I'd recommend.

It's funny that you didn't argue with the Palladium Games thing. I hate that system.

For the record, I am NOT picking on D&D here. That'd be too easy. What follows are generalizations of multiple gaming systems.

The problem with classes are that they are restrictive. They shoe-horn a character into a preconceived mold that is really hard to break out of.

When I wanted to play a merchant similar to Mathurin Kerbouchard from Louis L'Amour's "Walking Drum" (merchant, warrior, scholar, healer) I couldn't. Even multiclassing didn't really help (Fighter/Thief was the closest) as they didn't fit the character, especially things like Backstabbing and the like.

Another character that I couldn't play would be a Pilot, like John Blackthorne from the novel "Shogun" by James Clavell. Blackthorne is an English Pilot on a Dutch ship who speaks several languages and has a near photographic memory. Being a pilot on a ship took nearly a decade of intense training and includes training on designing and building a ship. Add another ten years of experience and Blackthorne is one of the best Pilots in the world. However, there is no class for someone who can navigate with or without the stars, design and build ships, command men, fight and everything else that Blackthorne can do at the beginning of the book.

Note: I am using examples from books as they are easy for you to research and understand. My own characters are similar in complexity, but not stolen from books.

Level based games are the bane of ROLE-playing. Characters are rewarded primarily for killing things. I understand that there are different ways to gain experience points and go up in levels, but anything besides killing and combat is by comparison a waste of time.

When did a level based game reward a character with experience points for haggling over the price of a sword, for going to a (non-combat) school or for winning a dance-off? They don't.
Kerbouchard, while down on his luck, got a job as a scribe, translating text and copying books. He got to choose what books to copy and used this job to study philosophy, medicine, geography, politics, and military strategy.

Imagine translating and copying Myamoto Musashi's "Book of Five Rings", Machiavelli's "Prince" and Sun Tzu's "Art of War".

In a point based system, translating and copying those books would give you a point or two towards the relevant skills (swordfighting, political scheming and tactics/strategy). In a level based system? Nothing. And if you did get some comparable skill, you would never be rewarded for using it. Killing an orc would give you a bigger pay off.

The original article that we are commenting on is written by someone who is obviously new to running games. So my advice to fledgling GMs is to pick a game that promotes the style of play that you want (ROLE vs ROLL-playing), is easy to learn and interesting enough to keep you going.

If the author wanted to run a hack 'n' slash campaign, then I'd recommend a level based game. But he (?) wanted a role-playing game, so I advised him to avoid the inherent pitfalls of those games.

Any game can be tweaked by someone who knows what they are doing to promote the style of play that they want.

As for manipulation... I tend to write 3 or 4 adventures ahead to start with. As I take a hand during character creation (making sure the character and background fits my world, offering suggestions, etc) I tend to have a good feel for the characters before we start playing and I usually manage to insert plot hooks and goals into each character's background during character creation. While running my start up adventures, I am learning the player and their character, planting more plot hooks, and testing them in every way that I can think of by putting them in a wide variety of situations that require skill rolls, different types of combat, problem solving, moral and ethical decisions, etc.

During the last adventure I start planning ahead to the kind of campaign that I want to run. I base the campaign off the people involved, taking their style of play, motivations and goals into consideration.

The resulting game is very personal, the players and characters are motivated, and everyone has a vested interest in the game.
Thus, no one sees the guy behind the curtain.

Does that clear things up?

I'm having flashbacks to email conversations with Calamar, in which I first heard all of these ideas expressed. I'm currently running a 4E D&D game, and so it's interesting to come at these ideas from that perspective. I'd like to preface everything I'm about to say by acknowledging that I pretty much agree with most of what has been said.

Let me explain some of the motivations I had behind choosing 4E D&D as a system. It's partially nostalgia. Mostly, it's a result of my imagination getting carried away. Having read heated debates (mostly here on Gamegrene) about the problems and paradoxes of D&D worlds, but still loving a great deal of the story ideas of the game, I tried to reconcile the two. Essentially, what I did was hang on to the story elements (or really, setting assumptions) of 4th Edition, and then ask the question, "What kind of a world would actually function this way?" What sort of foundation must a world have in order for a small minority of "heroic" individuals to have potential and power that far outstrips other members of society? What kind of a world has really pidgeonholed expectations of these heroic individuals? From this was born my fantasy world of Idumea.

Now, the ironic thing is that my conception of the world has grown far beyond D&D trappings, mostly as a result of running this, the first campaign in Idumea. We're still using 4th Edition to run the game, mostly because the world is built up from the assumptions the system has, but even so, we're only using the system very loosely. I've decided to forego the experience point system entirely, and to have PC's level-up at the end of every other session. I don't believe we've had enough combat encounters over the course of the campaign (which has been running biweekly-ish for about 4 months now) to gain a single level, according to the rules. Is there a better option? Probably. I'm not particularly concerned if there is. We're having fun.

I've been interrupted again, so I'll continue this commment later today. :)

First of all, it's great to see you again, Calamar! I'm in Lorthyne's game, so I can attest to how successful it is (being very), though I despise D&D, particularly 4th. But he has created such a world as he says, and it's really fun to play in it and has been quite a compelling story so far.

I only have one thing to say, really. I agree with just about everything that's been said so far, though I just wanted to add a slight caveat. I think you're being too divisive, Calamar. It can be useful to differentiate between roll and role-playing, but I think it's a gross over simplification of the medium, and is something I grow tired of, as it usually accompanies snobbish behavior about how I'm a much better roleplayer than you. I don't think you're using it in this way, Calamar, but I think it carries that baggage, and is of only limited use besides. I have similar feelings about the whole gamist-simulationist-narrativist theory as well. I feel like these things are limiting and pejorative far more often than they are of any use, especially as my experience with art theory is the old "if all you have is a hammer, everything is a nail," and I'm tired of being pounded into shape so fatbeard can label and insult me lol. What do you guys think of this type of gaming theory? Is there one of more use than disuse, or some benefit I'm missing that saves these things? I do see they have some use. I just think, like poor Freud, they've been horribly overused. What do you think?

I had a very interesting experience the other night that illustrates some of what I've been saying.

I sat down with two friends and we made Dragon Blood characters for White Wolf's Exalted, a very cinematic game. My friend Zach has only been gaming a year, almost exclusively in Shadowrun. Charles has been gaming even longer than I have, well over 20 years, and is one of the people who taught me how to play. I made a character along with my friends as we're planning on playtesting the game. Exalted is a point based system made by White Wolf, the same people who created Vampire the Masquerade and Werewolf the Apocolypse.

Zach is still somewhat of a newb. He's smart, geeky, and adds a layer to his character that most experienced gamers don't (he keeps an online journal, written in character, of his Shadowrun game). However, he is playing his second character ever and doesn't see the loopholes in rules that more experienced gamers will.

As experienced as I am, I do see those loopholes but I tend to ignore them. I make a character that speaks to me, that I wanna delve into and play.

Charles on the other hand, has a gift for finding and exploiting every game system that he plays. A power gaming munchkin of the worst sort, his gaming style really doesn't jibe with mine and we tend to argue a lot during character creation if I'm running the game. Once he's playing he's fine (difficult but manageable, plays well in a group), but it takes him a lot of effort not to squeeze every lastdrop of munchkinism out the game at character creation.

Zach built the type of character that the writers of Exalted meant us to make. His character was an average Dragon Blood, able to fit into any adventure and would be fun to play. He didn't stand out in any way, but that's ok. He didn't know anything about the game world before sitting down to make his character, but it wouldn't have changed much if he had. That's just the way he is.

I went in a different direction. I knew more about the gameworld than either of my friends and decided to make a character based loosely off of Indiana Jones. A Dragon Blood who goes exploring old ruins, especially those under the major cities. I built the character around that concept and ended with a character that is quick, nimble, interesting, with a built in plot hook for future adventures.

Exalted is a truly cinematic game and everyone starts off with rather powerful advantages. Dragon Bloods in particular start with a lot of magic, money and more. As such, all three of our characters started with magical items and other things.

Zach chose to focus more on things that would give him social contacts that he could exploit later, much like the contacts in Shadowrun. I envisioned my character as more of a loner and was forced to go in the direction of magical artifacts (which fits my background). Not wanting to overpower the game, I chose things like a medallion that lets me see in darkness, bracers which add a bonus to initiative and paired swords that add to speed.

The items, especially the swords, stuck in my craw a bit (I like earning things rather than starting with them) but this is a very dangerous world and my character in particular had a very dangerous job. So everything fit.

Then Charles made his character. Knowing a bit about the world, less than I do but a lot more than Zach, he decided to play an Immaculate Priest. Not because he's religious, wanted to play a religious character, or anything like that. He wanted to play an Immaculate because doing so granted him a level of respect and fear that a normal character wouldn't have as Immaculates are to him a mixture of Shaolin Priests and Spanish Inquisitor. According to him, anybody who attacked him should do so at a negative as the Immaculate Order has a fearsome reputation and everyone in this game world is religious.

Going through the advantages (called Backgrounds) he started by getting the most powerful (magical) Artifact that he could. However, he changed that once he discovered what a Manse Hearthstone could do. After reading up on those, he went back and changed his entire character to drum up the points to accomodate his getting the most powerful Heartstone listed in the book. One that heals injury, prevents illness and desease, and lets him survive underwater, extreme heat and cold, poison and more. The description of this item states that even if he is burned to ash he will eventually regenerate back to full health. As he put it, with this Hearthstone he is a God and cannot die.

Then he chose to get an Artifact, making one up that makes it so that he never gets tired, does not need to sleep or eat.

So now he never gets tired, cannot die and doesn't need sustenance to live. Lock him in a stone chamber for 10,000 years and he'll be fine.

Even though he used a lot of points for these items, his character is still just as powerful as either mine or Zach's as he is an Immaculate and gets special skills and powers.

So Charles is the definitive roll-player. I am a role-player. Zach is right in the middle. Did all that make sense?