Este é um texto que me foi enviado por Aaron Zirkelbach, um trabalho de pesquisa para a sua aula de Inglês 122 que lhe valeu um A+, classificação obviamente pela clareza da escrita, não pelo conteúdo, e que posto aqui na sua totalidade para vossa apreciação.
Professor Sarah Smith
13 December 2006
Evolving Roleplaying Games
Role playing games (RPGs) at their core are “Cops and Robbers”, only with rules to specify whether the kid who says, “Bang, you’re dead” or the kid who says, “No I’m not!” is correct. While most roleplayers wish this wasn’t the case, roleplaying games are no more than a structured version of “Let’s Pretend” that children play everyday. Strangely, the first accredited roleplaying game was produced in 1974 utilizing the wargame Chainmail (like chess, but with no board). Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) was written by Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax, and was almost instantly popular. The three little books were sold in boxes, and referred to Chainmail (a relatively obscure game) often for certain rules such as combat resolution. This is important now because due to these rules omissions the second generation of game designers were born; there were holes in the rules, so people decided to patch them. Ever since, people have been writing games, critiquing games, and questioning rules for new games in search of “the one they like”. This started the evolution in roleplaying games, one that has only proven to strengthen the play experience, and indeed the hobby, as a whole. Dungeons & Dragons has been through several editions itself with many mechanical rewrites and is, to date, the most popular RPG in existence.
The Standard Roleplaying Group involves a central person, the Game Moderator (GM) and several other participants called Players. The Players create imaginary avatars of themselves called Player Characters (PCs), which they use to negotiate an imaginary (often fantastical) world created by the GM. The first RPG to upset this standard setup occurred in 2001: Universalis crafted a system, which gave all Players an equal stake in the world, the Characters, and what happens in the story. The standard formula has been such a foundation stone that people question whether Universalis is a roleplaying game or not due to it’s extreme deviation from the norm. Breaking this norm establishes that the Players are equal when sitting at the table, and brings rivalries and power struggles down to a minimum, which makes a game more enjoyable.
Originally, roleplaying games were written with strict parameters in mind when characters were created. Each one was built with a strict set of guidelines. What came about was the Character Model. Most games use this model including the most popular game in the industry today, Dungeons & Dragons 3.5. The Character Model is: Primary Statistics, Secondary Statistics, Quirks, and Abilities. Primary Statistics are core abilities of a character, and can include physical strength, speed, perception, toughness, understanding, charisma, etc. Secondary Statistics are skills a character possesses, usually a specialty of a specific Primary Statistic. These can include investigation, computer use, lock picking, kung fu, etc. Quirks are a specific situation in which a character is benefited or hindered. Examples include night blindness, color blindness, and regular blindness. Lastly, Abilities usually encompass some power a character has that is set outside of the first three in the model. These include powers like flight, telekinesis, teleportation, and regeneration. The first game to break this trend after it began is debatable, but the most often accredited is Over the Edge, that built what could be called the first Trait system in 1997. Trait systems don’t codify every aspect of a character – only what the Player considers important for the character’s distinction. For example, if a Character is tough and witty, the Player might designate the traits “Tough as Nails” and “Scathing Sarcasm.” The benefit of this method is much quicker, more easily defined characters with less legwork and mental fatigue.
The Character Model originally used a random rolling method, placing “average” at the middle of the spread. “Prior to the character selection by players it is necessary for the referee to roll three six-sided dice in order to rate each as to various abilities, and thus aid them in selecting a role” (Dungeons & Dragons, 10). To translate the quote from Gygaxian to English, Dungeons & Dragons uses three six-sided dice for it’s Primary Statistics rolls, and has the average be 10 whereas the average roll of 3 six-sided dice (resulting in a roll of 3-18) is 10.5. This method usually disturbed character concepts, such as a Player wishing to play the “Strong Guy” rolling 5 (out of a possible 18) for his or her Strength score, so the writers decided that the concept should be chosen after the initial rolls to quantify Primary Statistics. So in 1977, one of the first copiers of D&D: Chivalry & Sorcery used what is today called a Point Buy system. Instead of rolling dice and letting luck determine a character’s effectiveness, Point Buy systems give a Player a pool of points to spend on a Character Model. A Player with the “Strong Guy” concept didn’t have to roll Strength, they could just assign points until he had the high Strength they wanted. This movement became so popular that it actually was incorporated in the last two editions of Dungeons & Dragons, and may have been a key component in the birth of the Trait system.
Task resolution systems (that is, mechanics used to resolve a Character’s actions) were by and large dice-ruled mechanisms for over a decade. Games use several die types besides the traditional six-sided dice one can find in most board games. Six-sided dice are called “d6s” by roleplayers. Other common dice are d4s, d8s, d10s, d12s, and d20s. Each indicates by its number how many sides the given die has. There are also less common dice, but the majority of roleplayers only knows of and uses these six types. Games only used dice until a big change occurred in 1991 with Amber, which uses arguments due to the various levels of ability a character had, tactics, outnumbering, etc. The GM then decides who wins a particular conflict. In this way, it dropped chance out of the equation, but also empowered the GM with outcomes for Player’s actions, which seemed to decrease the amount of power a Player had in the outcome to a minute amount. This primitive system evolved eight years later into the system of resource management in Nobilis, which empowers Player choices by dropping the random aspect in favor of Players choosing outcomes. “People raised to the rank of [Nobilis] lose doubt in their abilities. A [Character] can accomplish literally anything that their magic and skill make possible” (Nobilis, 11). This rather large step also paved the way and laid the groundwork for Universalis to overtake the Standard Roleplaying Group in 2001.
Mechanical consistency was one of the first recognized evolutions in roleplaying. It involves having every action a Character undertakes use the same game mechanics. For example: if a character is trying to leap a chasm, his or her Player rolls (for this example) a d20. If he competes in a pie-eating contest, his or her Player rolls a d20 again. Without mechanical consistency, resolutions systems wouldn’t have evolved, nor would most of the other mechanical evolutions (Trait systems, the dropping of the Standard Roleplaying Group, etc). Many games still use inconsistent mechanics throughout, denying this mass change, but most have given in including the two biggest games on the market: Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 and Vampire: The Requiem. The evolution came about because roleplayers got tired of looking up rules for every different action, as many game used several systems for different types of actions. This slowed game play to a crawl and destroyed any collective vision created by the Players. The first mechanical consistency came at 1981 in the form of Champions, which used three d6 for every roll. Since then, most reputable games have been built around consistent or near consistent mechanics, with the exception of Dungeons & Dragons, which finally came around in 2002 with it’s Third Edition.
Game mechanics aren’t all in dice and numbers, though. It’s been seen that these dice and numbers affect play, which is what game mechanics are all about. Game mechanics have been shown to set the course of play as well. A game with many tactical combat rules will include a large portion of tactical combat. Most RPGs were mostly about tactical combat, and even used maps and figurines to map out scaled-down battles. This enabled the philosophy that the Players are playing one side of a checkerboard, while the GM is playing the other. Players and GMs alike thought this true, resulting in a Player versus GM mentality that prevails to this day. In many roleplayer groups, the GM hides his notes and die rolls behind a screen used to deflect the gaze of the Players. For years game designers have been trying to correct this misconception, that RPGs are intended for everyone to get along and have a good time, and that nobody is really “the bad guy.” A few games glorified it and tried to make it part of the fun, including Amber, which was written with specific instructions that the GM try to harm the Characters. Mostly, Amber lost appeal due to this fact and its game line was then discontinued shortly after its release, but it’s errors would provide the groundwork of things to come.
As previously stated, Player empowerment came in a great big truckload with Nobilis, but roleplayers aren’t ready to dive right in. While Nobilis changed the way new games mechanics were built, its game line died as Amber’s did. This mindset has become the stereotype, which states roleplayers want something new and better, but don’t want to be standing on unfamiliar ground. Several other games followed in Nobilis’ footsteps, but tuned it down a few notches. One game designer decided not to, and started a revolution. Ron Edwards has some radical ideas about roleplaying, and game companies. He started his own company in 2001, Adept Press, and produced a low-cost game of his own design with the intention of better roleplaying, as many innovative game designers that came before. His big idea, though, was to sell the game online as a PDF file or POD (Print On Demand) book. His game is called Sorcerer, and he has become quite successful selling one game at a time over the medium that most RPG companies had forsaken: the Internet.
Sorcerer has several mechanical innovations. The first is that it uses Kickers, a Player written snippet of something that has recently occurred to the Character, something that the Player wants to explore. Another is the book is written from the standpoint of what Players do, rather than what Characters do. It also introduces “System Does Matter,” the first mass-marketed essay that acknowledges all the great evolutions of roleplaying mechanics by validating that their changes in game mechanics are essential to the fun of a game session. The second was identified but unexplained Statistics. Characters were “Sorcerers” who summoned “Demons” that wanted to take the Sorcerer’s “Humanity” and in exchange grant power. While the Traits system was already around (even used and acknowledged by Sorcerer), nobody had thought of this before. “Sorcerers” were really just another name for a protagonist. “Demons” didn’t have to be actual summoned beings from hell, the phrase “he has to deal with his inner demons” could describe how Demons worked in Sorcerer. “Humanity” could be the soul, honor, life force, sanity, respect, beauty, or a number of other concepts and/or ideals. This approach did away with an old perception: That stories about different people in different places had to have different plotlines. The formula for Sorcerer was essentially all the same: “Sorcerer presents a metaphor for the utterly realistic, utterly relevant moral question: “What will you do to get what you want?” It’s purpose is to create fiction addressing this question” (Sorcerer, 10). So at this point we’ve come from barely more characterization than chess to complex moral decisions for fictional people. It becomes much less a game and much more a personally identifying experience, which engages the Player more.
The second aim at Player empowerment was the Principle of Narrative Truth in Wushu Open.
Everything the players describe happens exactly as they describe it, when they describe it… They don’t ask the GM if a course of action is alright, then roll to see how successful they were. Instead, they say what happens before they roll any dice. The roll doesn’t tell you how well you did, it says how effective your chosen course of action was in bringing the scene towards resolution. Because that is the key to Wushu - it doesn’t do task resolution, only the broader resolution of a scene. (qtd. in “Wushu Open”)
This broke the pattern of Character action resolution entirely, forcing new terms to be made: Concrete and Abstract task resolution. Concrete resolution is as it always was, if a character wants to drive a car in a high-speed chase, he rolls Primary and Secondary Statistics, adding any modifiers gained from Quirks or Abilities. Then the GM arbitrates the outcome. Abstract task resolution breaks apart an action into two separate halves: The details and the effectiveness. The details involve what is said, what goes on in the game. The effectiveness is how the physics of the universe play out the details. In Concrete resolution, these two were always locked together, with effectiveness leading details. In Abstract resolution, they don’t necessarily have to have anything in common. This allows more freedom in detail, less hampering the creativity of the player, and even free up the GM so they can concentrate on other things and have a good time.
A third game to go a different route toward Player empowerment was Dogs in the Vineyard, not by going against most traditional standards set by the industry, but by allowing players to take risks, set stakes, and escalate or even bail out of conflicts. This made conflicts more Character-centered and Player-controlled. Escalation boiled down to four tiers: talking, shoving, fist fighting, and drawing a gun. The game was set in the old west, hence those particular tiers. Arguments become shoving matches, etc. Each escalation raises the stakes, and what can be lost by the conflict. The power comes in that the Player can drop out (and concede) or escalate at any time, thereby choosing how much the Character effectively cares about the outcome.
The most recent and perhaps most enlightening evolution in gaming is the treatment of sex and relationships. Sex is currently taboo in roleplaying culture as it is in open discussion in United States culture, even though the original Dungeons & Dragons had a picture of a naked Amazon on page 27. For most of the existence of RPGs, sexuality and relationships have been either omitted from games, parodied, or very immaturely presented, perpetuating the taboo relationship sex has with RPGs. The first real talk of relationships in RPGs came in a supplement for the game Sorcerer, Sex & Sorcery. “Few role-playing games have addressed any of these issues. The usual option is to consider male and female protagonists to be complete and total equivalents, which seems to be a laudable goal (avoiding sexism) but a disastrous method (denial and removal of the “sexual energy” of play)” (Sex & Sorcery, 34). Bringing in relationship issues that strike true for roleplayers as human beings makes for more intense, emotionally driven games, and thus a more interesting time playing.
All this boils down to Roleplaying: the act of sitting around a table telling stories with friends, versus Game: A set of rules designed to entertain several people at once. These both involve entertainment, like movies, books, music, etc. All of these mediums evolve over time, with minute shifts or paradigm-breaking revolutions. In the case of Roleplaying Games, this evolution has been breaking it away from its wargaming roots and taking it further toward collaborative storytelling or improvisational theatre. These developments have only proven to strengthen the play experience and alleviate previous mechanical issues that hindered the most important part of roleplaying: fun.
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