The thing abut hobbies is that you do them for fun. It is fun to scrap book, paint, garden, play bridge, play sports, and play role playing games. And if something is fun, you don’t have to be good or great at it. Now some hobbies involve something competitive, so there is an urge to get better, if only so you can play more or longer. But that is if the hobby is competitive, and not all of them are. Role playing games by their nature are not inherently competitive, you can be competitive, but the measuring stick is so subjective that it is difficult to prove someone is the best. But that does not mean that someone who plays these games cannot strive to get better. This week I plan to write about some things that I work on or think about in my quest to be better at role playing games.
How would I know if I have become better at role playing games?
That is a good question. As I mentioned before, this is really a subjective question. It is not like there are ratings for Dungeon Masters. Or contests to see who can role play the best.
You can just proclaim you are so good that you claim to be the best, a la The Angry GM. And how can anyone argue with that? Unless you go play in one of his games, and then after a reasonable time then went and played in someone else’s game, and so on, there is really no way to compare. On top of that, who says that his style is better than someone else’s? I know players who might hate that style of play.
Of all the people that have run a game that I was in for any amount of time there was a big difference. My friend Stu writes amazing, very theatrical games, but he is by no means the biggest rules person, if anything his games completely de-emphasize the rules. My friend Forrest was great at telling stories, and constructing plots and puzzles, but again the rules were not completely his strong point. My GM in Denver, Mark, tells great stories, crafts amazing encounters, knows his rules down pat, but his games are probably way too combat oriented for some people.
Of the players a few stood out. Dale is excellent at coming with great back stories, and loves playing characters that are devious and outlandish. My friend Justin came from a theater background, and did an outstanding job of playing a character. One of the Denver guys, Chris, is widely recognized as being a master of optimizing his characters, picking the right skills, feats and equipment to make himself darn near unkillable.
So being better at role playing could mean different things. As a Game Master it could mean telling superior stories and challenging the players puzzle solving skills. Or it could mean challenging the players ability to handle multiple combat encounters, taking them to the edge every time. Or it could be about crafting a complex and deep setting, with a multitude of NPC’s and locations. If you could somehow master all of these than you could reasonably expect to be considered a great GM.
As a player it could mean that you have a great, complex character, with an incredible background and personality. It could mean that everyone at the table begins to think that the character is there in person. Or it could mean that you defeat every monster you come across single handed. Again if you could somehow do all of these things at once you might be considered the top role player.
But all of these elements are subjective. Just because you can challenge one group of players as a GM it does not mean you can handle another group. Just because you wow your group and rule the game as a player in one setting does not mean that the next group will be equally astounded.
Okay, how will I know I have become better? As a GM I will base it on reaching a point where the people playing for me begin to know the world they are playing in, and tell stories about what they did. As a player it will be when I finish a session knowing that the party profited by my presence, that I lifted up the level of role playing. Those are the tape measures I will use. And who knows when I will achieve them. But the journey to get there will be fun just the same.