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better gaming through chemistry

jim pinto

First Post
as a game designer, i've had hundreds of debates internally at AEG about what sorts of books would sell, etc.

i've had conversations with gamers at conventions, game stores, parks, and dark alleys where bootleg pdfs are sold and bartered for cheap knock off mountain dew.

in all this time, i've never seen a book for PLAYERS that gave advice on how to be a better PLAYER

there are dozens, nay hundreds, of books, essays, articles, and advice columns for being a better DM. the list is nauseating to look at. no one person's advice is entirely withour merit, but no one book ever challenges the PLAYERS to up their game

and when i say UP their game i'm not talking about looking for better cheats, buffs, or min-max combos.

i'm talking about adding to the enjoyment of the game, not detracting from it. helping the DM tell a better story, not make the DM an advesary.

knights of the dinner table exists not only as an satire of gaming, but also an allegory of those kinds of gamers who walk around saying... my DM is always trying to screw me... well... you might be right that your DM sucks and you might want to stop gaming with him until he gets better... but you might want to consider that ADVERISTY and CHALLENGES are at the root of all story and myth

without challenge, there's nothing to write about or do...

PCs that need to do max damage every round should go the way of the dinosaur and not be rewarded with book after book of broken feats and classes from mongoose and the pdf du jour.

there's a few more things to touch on here, in the vein of book publishing style, but i'll let someone else chime in before i suggest a new method of presenting information in books.

- jim pinto
(fluidsum.blogspot.com)
 

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Teflon Billy

Explorer
I have ni idea if I would buy such a book (I mostly DM), but your suggestion is--if nothing else--unique as far as I'm aware.

I am intrigued:)
 

Crothian

First Post
I think it is a good idea and you are right there are no books like this. The closest is mechanic books that just help the player make more effecient characters and do max damage. I'd love to see something like this
 


The idea is intriguing. However, I wonder if the skills needed to be a good player are as specialized as those needed to be a good DM? Playing is generally easier.

Looking to the creepy player thread on RPG.net, it seems like a lot of bad players are bad because of socialization problems or even mental illness... Otherwise, RPG players are a pretty tolerant lot.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I think the major problem you'll find is that defining "good player" wil be a bit more slippery than defining "good GM".

The GM's role in the game is highly service-oriented. The GM's job is to provide something for the players, and one canmeasure his or her success by how much the players like the offerings.

The player's role, traditionally, is not quite so service-oriented. While playing is a cooperative endeavor, the player's role is a bit more centered upon themselves, and that makes grading their performance a bit more difficult.

In addition - one of the things that marks a great GM is flexibility of playstyle. A really good GM can satisfy munchkin and dramatic angst-bunny alike. But right in your original post, you approach it like one of these styles is not as good as the other. Your bias is showing.

The number one thing you'll have to understand before you can write a successful book is the relative nature of "good". Until you can show that a good powergamer and a good dramatist are both good players in their own styles, you're doomed to fail.
 

jim pinto

First Post
Umbran said:
I think the major problem you'll find is that defining "good player" wil be a bit more slippery than defining "good GM".

The GM's role in the game is highly service-oriented. The GM's job is to provide something for the players, and one canmeasure his or her success by how much the players like the offerings.

The player's role, traditionally, is not quite so service-oriented. While playing is a cooperative endeavor, the player's role is a bit more centered upon themselves, and that makes grading their performance a bit more difficult.

In addition - one of the things that marks a great GM is flexibility of playstyle. A really good GM can satisfy munchkin and dramatic angst-bunny alike. But right in your original post, you approach it like one of these styles is not as good as the other. Your bias is showing.

The number one thing you'll have to understand before you can write a successful book is the relative nature of "good". Until you can show that a good powergamer and a good dramatist are both good players in their own styles, you're doomed to fail.

excellent point.

my bias is showing. but i don't believe munchkin players have anything to offer, and by default the DM is not obligated to offer him anything in return. he can go play zelda and be the antisocial power-gamer he wants to be against his xbox and not ruin anyone's fun... and here's where the problem lies...

the DM can't be expect to:

a) write a story
b) detail NPCs, maps, locations, etc.
c) administer the game (maintain the flow, know the rules, have everyone, involved)
d) make things interesting

AND

e) put up with everyone's nonsense

somewhere people have to bend to the DM. because if they're not bending to the DM, they need to start paying him for his time.

the DM should have an equal vote about the tone and quality of the game, especially if he's bound by all these rules about how to run things for the PCs.

and a good player, understands his role in this.... and if his role IS munchkin super power gamer, he needs to realize he doesn't get to be the center of attention all night. in fact, he's lucky if he gets to shine for longer than 5 rounds of the final fight of the evening.

at this point, i should list the SEVEN types of gamers... these are, by marketing standards, the people you have to focus your product on when selling.

Power Gamer. This is the guy who knows how to make the most with the least amount of rules. He knows that a gnome barbarian is the best combo for dealing maximum damage in a round, etc. He typically purchases books with more feats, equipment, etc.

Combat Monkey. Different than than the power gamer, the combat monkey's character has one schtick that the player is particularly proud of. All of his energy goes into making the perfect chain fighter, etc. The character is effective in combat, but the main purpose of the character is to kick ass.

Escapist. He's here to kill things, loot things, and generally just play. He wants to escape the rigors of the real world. His characters are one-dimensional and provide the game with nothing, but provide the player with the joy of killing stuff. He's just happy rolling dice.

Storyteller. Typically also a DM, the storyteller is concerned with making sure everything fits together. He doesn't care about rules and generally doesn't even care if he succeeds at all his actions.

Actor. Particularly devoted to character motivation, themes, mood, and drama. The actor creates characters that come alive at the table, but generally are less effective in combat. In battles, he tries to do things that the rules do not support. DMs have a hard time juggling this sort of player.

Hanger-On. A friend of a friend. This person shows up to game because someone he knows games. He generally doesn't buy books.

Casual Gamer. This is the guy who is inconsistent in showing up. He loves making characters, trying out new systems; playing asheron's call one week, and everquest another. He's buying pattern is unreliable.

and of course, some people are combinations, but generally one trait stands out.

the key, i think, is to make sure a book covers these elements and details how the PCs will get more OUT of the game, if they can adhere to these basic principles.

and "good" isn't as relative as you may think.
 

Agback

Explorer
I wrote a couple of essays on the subject for the newsletter of the RPG association at the university I was at at the time back in 1987. That's Entertainment and Leads and Excuses. I think some of them are floating around the 'Net somewhere.
 


silvereyes

First Post
I think I like the idea, but I must be missing something...

It sounds like you are thinking of writing a book that helps players work with the GM to tell better stories. This is a book that I would buy as a player. (I am of the useless escapist gamer classification, so learning what alot of people say is a good way to play interests me.)

But is it's target going to be all players? Or just those who have an interest in telling stories?
Will it help the beer and pretzel players enjoy the game more? How about the one upsmanship of power gamer groups?

Cause if so, you might just be able to give WOTC a run for their money.... :D
 

jdrakeh

Adventurer
If such a product existed, I would champion it. The vast majority of players (or, for that matter, gamers) that I know, both online and off...

  • Have zero understanding of what genre is, let alone what playing a 'playing a genre appropriate character' or 'acting in genre' might mean.

  • Draw no distinction between out of character knowledge and in-character knowledge, nor do many fully understand the difference between the two states of OOC and IC.

  • Have an all or nothing mind set when it comes to rules, charging that you must use all of the rules in a game (including those implicitly labeled as optional) or none of them.

If everybody involved in a game is ignorant of genre conventions, the separation of OOC and IC status, and similar things - great fun will be had. The problem is that many publishers have taken it upon themselves to inform the GM, but not other players. This upsets the balance.

I can directly trace most of my frustration with games, gaming, and gamers back to the point in time that I developed a firm grasp on genre, genre conventions, story continuity, pacing, etc - and my fellow players did not. At all.

All of a sudden, I saw the potential for dramtic mysteries, epic romance amongst the stars, pulp adventure in the vein of 1930s radio serials, and so on. My fellow players still couldn't see past their characters as simple stat blocks or conduits for wish fulfillment.

Me: "I've got a great idea for a game about masked avengers in 1930s New York!"

Them: "Cool! That means we get to kill gangsters!"

Me: "You can play heroes in the vein of The Shadow, Doc Savage, or even Batman!"

Them: "Sweet! We'll play a group of robotic ninja!"

And so on... pretty much every conversation about a game ended up like that. Of the fifty or so gamers that I spent a long time with in Topeka, only my friends Norm, Roger, and Lenny seemed to have a firm grasp on genre and stuff... and, unsurprisingly, they were the other 'go to guys' for GMing (and all shared my frustrations).

Save the sanity of myself and others like me. Please, please, please re-balance the scales. Teach players the importance of genre conventions, dispel the fallacy that the written rule is Gospel, explain the difference between assuming a role and moving a pawn on a game board. Do these things and I shall follow you to the ends of the Earth!
 

Henry

Autoexreginated
jim pinto said:
...i don't believe munchkin players have anything to offer, and by default the DM is not obligated to offer him anything in return. he can go play zelda and be the antisocial power-gamer he wants to be against his xbox and not ruin anyone's fun... and here's where the problem lies...

the DM can't be expect to:

a) write a story
b) detail NPCs, maps, locations, etc.
c) administer the game (maintain the flow, know the rules, have everyone, involved)
d) make things interesting

AND

e) put up with everyone's nonsense

I know where you're coming from, as from your comments I'm guessing I'm a DM similar in style to yourself. However, I'm also a firm believer in Robin Laws' ideas on "what makes gamers tick," and I recognize there's a bunch of different reasons people sit down at that table, power gamers ("munchkins") included.

I believe that the book Robin's Laws to Good Gamemastering, for that reason, is a great book for ALL gamers, players and DM's alike. The best advice that I would give in any "better Player" book is:

COMMUNICATE.

COMMUNICATE.

FREAKIN' COMMUNICATE.

First of all, be sure your DM reads the same book (that or the first chapter of the DMG2). Then, tell your DM what you like. Tell him after-game that you're not strong on puzzles, or that combat gets your blood going, or that you love it when a plan comes together. :) Tell the DM if you love intricate stories, or love playing an effective character, or just plain love the feeling you get when you add that new level to your character sheet.

Make sure you know what style of DM you have. He's a player too! If the DM loves combat, and he puts in an encounter that begs to be solved by violence, oblige him. If he loves an intricate puzzle, let him know if it was just inscrutable to you after-game, so he can tone them down accordingly. Is he a story teller, as I partly am and Jim Pinto seems to be falling under too? Be sure to pick up on any hooks dropped, and try to supply a few of your own. Don't be afraid of a background as if it's some sort of noose, but use to give the DM a little less prep time, as a favor to him.

Just as Robin's Laws drives home like a piledriver that LISTENING is the #1 DM skill, if I wrote a player's book, Communication is the #1 lesson I'd sledgehammer home. :)
 

Zappo

Explorer
Damn. Reading the title, I thought this thread would advise me on what kind of drugs I should use to enjoy gaming more.
 

Janx

Hero
Some useful sections for your proposed book would be:
how to identify the GM's plot
Why you should find a reason to go along with the GM's plot
Making a character that fits in
Cause and Effect in an RPG
Goals for your PC
Anti-social gaming behaviors to avoid
Making the game better


Janx
 

jdrakeh

Adventurer
Janx said:
Cause and Effect in an RPG

Yes. This is a must - too many players disassociate actions from consequences (and contrary to popular belief, rigid rule enforcement doesn't discourage this any). This is a product of, not necessarily 'coddling' GMs as many ignorant people suggest, but a result of predictable GMs.
 

JoeGKushner

First Post
Have you started a similiar thread over at RPG.net? It'd be interesting to see what they, the gamers of many systems so to speak, take on it.

One thing that should be noted though, is that the GM has got to do a lot more work in terms of bringing his vision to the players. If one player hasn't seen any movies on the Shadow, the Phantom, etc... or read any of those books and the GM says he's going to run a Pulp genre and that player doesn't get it, whose fault is that?

A player shouldn't be expected to know every genre or every element of every game ever produced. It's one of the reasons why I think older gamers and younger gamers have some... interesting discussions as to what is "classic" fantasy. For older ones, it tends to be Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock, etc... For younger ones, it's Terry Brooks and David Eddings. And for their respective ages, they're probably both correct!

I agree that lots of communication is one of the key ingredients in making sure that the players and GM are on the same page.
 

jdrakeh

Adventurer
JoeGKushner said:
If one player hasn't seen any movies on the Shadow, the Phantom, etc... or read any of those books and the GM says he's going to run a Pulp genre and that player doesn't get it, whose fault is that?

Oddly, I never had that happen - my players were always familiar with examples of a given genre, but didn't understand what a genre was, what tropes were, or how either effected a game. The problem that I had was players who viewed genre in terms of setting, not character - genre was never a reason for their characters to act differently, so said characters ended up being the same ass-kicking, wish fulfillment, machines in period garb.
 

DamionW

First Post
I like the idea, but I imagine it'd be hard to design for the people who need it. As I see it "bad" players are either new to the hobby, emotionally immature, or firmly set in their bad play styles as what works for them. If they're new to the hobby, they have a lot of basic mechanics to learn in the first place. Unless you carefully write such a book to not be overwhelming at first glance, it might scare them off and feel like "home work" which I doubt many new gamers would enjoy when they've come to play a game. For the emotionally immature, that either will go away with age or not go away at all, but I'd be surprised if reading a book would suddenly show marked improvement. Then for the dreaded munchkins, that is what they play the game for. They want to min/max in ways that zelda or other games don't, and trash the boundaries of the virtual reality that computer RPGs confine them to. It'd be difficult to supress those instincts and the inherent fun factor in them just to develop a plotline which doesn't motivate them in the first place. That sucks to hear, but I still think it's fairly accurate. I do like the idea and I'd give a well written book on this subject a good read, but then I'm already a storyteller playstyle, and I like cooperating with a GM if it increases the game's fun. I think most of the people responding to this thread are already at the "good" to near-"good" state you desire. So how do you target this book to be picked up by the "bad" gamers, read, and utilized?
 



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