Thursday, 27 June 2013

Know Your System

I came across this article ("11 ways to be a better role player") while clicking around rpg.net; I've not heard of the blog/website/whatever it is previously, but I think it's safe to say (on the basis of this post at least) that Look Robot is unerringly on the side of the angels.

I'm particularly interested in number 6 on his list, which is something that I've often thought but not often seen aired in online RPG-related discussion:

SIX. Know the system, don’t be a dick about it. If you know a system, you are easier to GM for, because you know your character’s limitations. You can calculate the rough odds of a particular action succeeding or failing, just like in real life. You can make prompt assessments of situations and act accordingly, because you understand the rules of the world. (New players, of course, get a free pass on this one. But do make an effort to learn the rules, obviously, if you’re keen on sticking around in the hobby.)

He puts it so elegantly and succinctly that I have little else to add, except: yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Players, know the system. You don't have to know it perfectly, but know it enough. Your GM will love you for it.

31 comments:

  1. When do you stop being a "new player"?

    I mean, players who sometimes GM: sure, learn the rules, you're into rules and you have that capability.

    But some of this just seems to be GMs saying "Hey players, be more like me!" Well if they were more like you, they'd be GMing to.

    The point is all kinds of people like to play, and not all of those people are into the numbers behind the actions. They should have a place at the table and a GM who understands that.

    The drummer has an important job, even if he doesn't write lyrics.

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  2. I don't think saying "Be more like me!" is the same as saying "Be exactly the same as me!"

    You don't have to so similar to the GM that you end up GMing too. You just have to be enough like the GM that you are speaking the same language in terms of the mechanics. The drummer doesn't write the lyrics but all the members of the band should understand rhythm and musical keys and what time signatures are.

    That said, I don't think the argument is that the GM should get all pissy and throw somebody out for not knowing the rules. It's just that, if you're a player, take into consideration the fact that GMing takes a lot of effort and it would therefore be nice of you to take the time to learn the basics of the rules.

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    1. Well I think everyone would agree with a version of that.

      I just think it's a matter of degree.

      A lot of these Advice To Players things seem like simply pleading from Ace Facilitating Nerd to Casual Player. And, in the end, Ace Facilitating Nerd has to remember Casual Player kind of rocks too, but isn't going to write a blog entry about it and discuss it with other Casual Players, because unlike Ace Facilitator Nerd, s/he doesn't have a blog.

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  3. I'm not sure most people care. I ran a game that was basically Chaosium Basic Fantasy Roleplaying, which has the success percentages written down on the character sheet. I thought that such a system would be more transparent to the players. But the players I know do not really care about such things. They love their d20 tradition, even if they don't internalize exactly how well something is going to succeed. What drives them to do a decision seems more to be along the lines of "does it seem reasonable to try". Hell, even sometimes they will do something completely ludicrous just because it seems cool.

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  4. I'd agree with #6. You don't have to know the system, but it's sure helpful if you do. A GM needs to know the system, but a player that knows the system without trying to wield it like a club against the GM is a great player to have at the table. When I get to play GURPS I do my best to be that guy.

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  5. I think it's a little bit of Ranom Wizard's "not caring" and a little of Zak's "just not being into the numbers" element.

    I gamed with a guy back in college who, after three years of playing AD&D for most of our games, was still asking which dice you roll for an attack. Memorably, one of the other players on that occasion picked up a d20 and slammed it down in front of him with an appropriate "how do you not know that by now!?" shriek of incredulity. I think the blogger is talking more about people at that end of the spectrum.

    On the other hand, some players are just in it for the narrative kicks and seem to have a really tough time grasping game mechanics. In my current tabletop group, I've got four players. The newbie player, who had never played an RPG before this year, has dived into the mechanical side of gaming with unwonted gusto. (We're all encouraging her to take a serious look at moving up to running games at some point.) Meanwhile, I've got a couple other players who I've been gaming with for years for whom Call of Cthulhu is about as maximally crunchy as they can handle (and even then certain edge cases and little-used rules elude them). We're 11 sessions into our Deadlands campaign and just this last session (for those of you who speak Savage Worlds) they both grasped the difference between an Ace and a Raise (or indeed the fact there was a difference!).

    None of this bothers me, because we all play for different reasons, and some people really are just shit with numbers and game jargon, but I have to admit that when I have a player at the table who knows the rules, my heart sings a bit. Part of it is the joy of having someone "like me" at the table, sure, but it can't be denied that it also makes my job of running the game easier if I know that Player A is going to be solid on the mechanics and I don't have to ride herd with them.

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    1. That's the thing, isn't it? There's no harsh pejorative statement here - just that it's nice when players know the rules, and if they're at all concerned about being a better player then learning the rules will probably be part of that.

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    1. Weird. I grew up in the day and age of all the players reading the rulebooks, monster manuals, and even the modules they were playing in. We called that "the early 80s." It was still fun though, golden age ruined play or not. Well, mostly fun, which in retrospect was enough.

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    2. Just to be clear, I don't think there's anything wrong with players knowing the game inside and out, if that does it for them. Nor is there anything wrong with playing to the meta aspect of character options or whatever. These things are just not necessary to fun or to the important parts of the game, and if you try to make them necessary then you make the interested pool of players smaller, and do not benefit from all the awesomeness that the non-rules-interested people can bring.

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    3. Dead on point. Couldn't be more true, ime. That's part of the reason why I'm an OSR guy; the rules(and the OSR in general) are more welcoming to potential players. Not to mention the systems are more GM friendly and simple to tinker with.

      Note the comment about the potential new player freaked out by the 3.x character sheet. I just recently saw this happen with a friend who won 3.5 at a Con auction. The character creation took so long and was so abstruse to the newbz it totally turned them off and the campaign never even started. :-/

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    4. I think there's a misconception here. Nobody is saying everybody has to master the rules in a nerd-like fashion. The point is just that, if you are a player and presumably the friend of the person in charge, it would be jolly decent of you to learn the basics of the rules in order to make things easier for him, and it would also probably facilitate a better game. There's nothing more to it than that.

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  7. Wow. I can't believe anyone would argue the other side of this.

    "Casual gamer" my ass. If you're going to play a game you should learn the rules. That's just being a good participant instead of a selfish hanger-on. If you can't be bothered to learn hundreds of pages of rules (and I know *I* can't) you Should probably be playing a different game.

    But that's just me, I guess.

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    1. I basically agree, although I think there's a spectrum. The rules of Basic D&D are extremely simple, whereas the rules of Burning Empires are extremely complicated, so I think what "being a good participant" means in Basic D&D is different to what it means in Burning Empires.

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  8. I gotta go with the counter view.

    The players knowing the rules often makes them worry about or focus on the rules and not the story elements of the game. A player's goal for his or her character becomes meta - it's about building/making the most 'effective' or 'bad ass' PC and not one who is invested in the plots and subplots of the campaign.

    I get that with my current group and Champions. They are not min-maxing but they are trying to build the effect they are looking for 'correctly'. Meanwhile they're GM is me and they've known me and my play style for a while now. I don't need it to be worked out to the letter, I just need to know what you want it to do or what you think it's supposed to do. Instead of describing it though, one guys can't help but talk points, advantages and limitations.

    In high school I played Champions for a year and a half without even seeing my character sheet. The GM built the guy based on a story I pitched him.

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    1. Is that not just a problem with some types of game, though? Champions sort of lends itself to that, doesn't it? Unless the GM is willing to just build characters for the players, which seems like an awful lot of work.

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    2. I suppose certain kinds of systems attract certain kinds of players and a crunchy system is likely to be favored by a player who enjoys fiddling with crunch.

      I have noticed that rules light (or lighter) games often promote play where the players are less concerned about the rules and whether or not they know them to the tee or are following them "correctly".

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  9. Part of the appeal of RPGs is the players don't have to know the rules: you just tell the DM what you do and he tells you what happens. That's the old school approach.

    Just ask OG, or take the 1e core books for example. The PHB is basically just a primer, character creation and spells with most of the rules elsewhere and a warning not to read the MM or DMG.

    Not knowing the rules helps with immersion and a case could be made that knowing them is metagaming and thus cheating.

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    1. I don't think we want to get into the "old school approach", do we? I mean, the real old school approach was that everybody was a war gamer and hence an utter rules nerd. Moreover, there was no DMG or PHB: I see your 1e core books and raise you the White Box!

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    2. Actually, one of the major perks of the old school approach was that rules were not really the point. Immersion and roleplaying were how you broke the rules of wargaming as a kind of "cheat code." Sure, you had a roll to detect secret doors, but if you know the right section of wall to look at and which wall sconce to wiggle, you didn't even have to roll.

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    3. You're telling me that the early players in Gygax and Arneson's games didn't know what dice they had to roll, what AC was, how many XP they needed to get to the next level, etc.? Pull the other one.

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    4. Actually, I’ve read statements from multiple players in Arneson’s games that the players were often left in the dark about what the rules were.

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    5. They would have been better players if they'd known though. :D

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  10. I’m another voice in opposition. If somebody knows the system, fine. If somebody doesn’t know the system at all and doesn’t ever try to learn, equally fine.

    There are systems where players having some familiarity with the system is nice, but I tend to not play those systems as much.

    Which is completely different than my attitude in music. Musicians should always be trying to increase their knowledge of “theory” because it’s a lot easier to communicate with other musicians in the terminology that’s been developed over centuries that lots of people already know than to try to make it up ad hoc. (The word “theory” is unfortunate, though. There is theory to learn, but most of the stuff taught as theory is more nomenclature.)

    In an RPG, though, I much prefer we communicate in plain language (or jargon specific to the in-game activity) as much as possible rather than in game jargon.

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    1. I don't disagree that it's fine either way - like I said, I'm not being prescriptive here. The point is just, if you are a player and you are serious about being a better one, learning the rules of whatever game you are playing is good and nice.

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    2. I kind of feel like I’m saying I disagree with you, and you’re trying to say I don’t. ^_^ I wouldn’t put that on a list of 11 ways to become a better player. I read you saying that “a thousand times yes” it should be there. That’s a valid difference of opinion, but can we agree that it is a difference?

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    3. Sure, but it isn't a major one. What would be on your list?

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    4. @ Robert:

      See, I think the music analogy IS a good one for role-playing. It's cool to show up once and fuck around a bit, but if you're going to KEEP showing up, you ought to damn well know how to play your instrument (whether you know "music theory" or not depends on how snooty the musicians want to get).

      Just saying it's cool to come into my garage, and beat out random notes on my guitar because it's fun to hang out, drink beer, and make noise is pretty damn annoying, as well as inconsiderate to the people interested in making music (even if it's not super-great music). It's the same with people who just want to "show up" at the gaming table without bothering to learn the rules (or even attempting to learn!).

      Just because you communicate in "plain language" with RPGs doesn't make its art lesser, man.

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  11. Old school games had a caller which meant player pow-wows before action. As long as one player knew the rules youd get the same effect of helping the DM by outlawing illegal stuff before it came up.

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