Saturday, February 14, 2015

Educate Yourself to Better Your Game

Today, we have the Internet. Self-education today is easier than it has every been. Time to talk about making use of this power.

All tabletop RPGs are dependent upon the quality of the individuals playing and running them- especially the quality of those running them. Just as works of fictions are better when the writer expands upon the base of knowledge employed in creating the artifacts of his craft, so it is that the hobbyist plays and runs better when he does that same expansion of knowledge and brings that to the table. We experience, first-hand, just how this manifests when someone who's too used to thinking in terms of manipulating the rules as if they were the controls of a car sits down as your table and begins to say and do things that no one with such training or knowledge would dare conceive.

Like it or not, this is an element of the medium that cannot be removed without killing it; it is as fundamental as breathing, and we see this in the discourse of forums such as The Gaming Den and its insistence upon making the playing of characters (and the running of games) no different in practice than coding and playing a console or PC RPG. What the regulars at that forum demonstrate by their behavior to be a flaw is, in fact, both a great strength and a limiting factor: tabletop RPGs are, quite frankly, limited in their potential only by the ignorance of their users. This is not so with competing RPG media.

So, how to fix this? Encourage one-another to seek out and rectify gaps in one's knowledge base as said stoppages become relevant.

Now, how many of you play characters that use firearms? How many of you have actually used one? I would be willing to suppose that a great many of you believe a number of wrong things regarding firearms--starting with the error that "clip" means "the detachable thing I use to load the gun" (Nope.)--simply because you don't know any better. Well, thanks to this thing you're using to read my blog, you too can rectify this error and many others.

"But my guy's using a laser rifle!"

That's nice. How about learning how the real ones work? Same goes for railguns; we have real ones now, and they are massive. Competent speculative fiction will extrapolate from real technologies or current developments; we can all do this now, and you are not exempt. Those mini-missiles? Been around for millenia in some form or another, starting with Chinese rockets using blackpowder to deliver arrowheads in massed volleys further than the bows of the day could reach.

"But my guy's using (unreal thing)!"

Your guy's fictional magic? Based upon, to some degree or another, real world systems of magic. You need not believe that the real world stuff is true; you just need to grok how it's supposed to work, and why, and that assumes that the magic system isn't actually (following Asimov) just the Sufficiently Advanced Technology sort of "magic" (as, alas, The Force turned out to be).

Your guy is illiterate? How illiterate? Functionally so, or totally so? This matters--something that even Uncle Kevin fails to recognize, and therefore follow through with--a great deal in how someone thinks, interacts with the world, relates to those with greater power, etc.; this is also true for those who are illnumerate.

Your guy knows multiple languages? Great. How similar are they? When and how did he learn these languages? These questions directly affect how your character perceives knowledge; languages are systematic symbol systems meant to make regular certain concepts that a culture needs to pass efficiently between its members, and different languages symbolize both different knowledges as well as use different schemes of symbolism. You likely has no idea that this is what's going on, did you? Linguists do, and they study the hell out of this now in conjunction with other specialists from other fields using an inter-disciplinary approach.

If you, the player, cannot conceive of something that your character would then you CANNOT play him properly. If you, the player, cannot comprehend why your character CANNOT conceive of a given thing, then you CANNOT play him properly. You are robbing yourself, your fellows, and the game of the fullest possible play experience by maintaining willful ignorance of things that rightly affect how your character thinks, feels, and acts. Embrace that challenge, embrace the suck that will come from realizing just how important what you're learning is to your man, and come out better on the other side for it.

Alone in gaming media, and matched by few others, the tabletop role-playing game offers such opportunities for life-long improvement and transformation by those willing and able to step up to the challenge. This is a medium of virtual experience, almost as powerful as life itself (and compensating for that by allowing you to experience things otherwise impossible), so seize that for yourself, and bring your A-game.

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