other. Masks for work and school help us cope with the pace and the demands and others help us grow into new stages of life - - masks of all types for all sorts of reasons. The masks we wear make us feel comfortable and give us hope and more importantly, they help us to communicate and understand each other. They give us a way to start communicating and a place for perception to be grounded. By understanding others, we can learn a little more about the world in which we live, and in the end, hopefully, we can understand ourselves a little better. Each mask we choose to wear allows us to deal with a situation by mentally outlining the parameters of perception to increase our confidence level of reaction and interface. Until telepathy is perfected, humans only have speech, writing and body language with which to communicate. Communicative expression working similarly to the way lighthouses prevent ships from crashing against rocky shores. Communication is the guiding light working on the assumption that the speaker and listener both understand the method of communication and its purpose of drawing attention to the rocky shoreline. This need to precisely correlate and comprehend different types of communication is the need to be understood. It is interpretively juxtaposing the same thought and emotion against the correct words and gestures by the "communicator" and the "communicatee" and is as vital to successful communication as a ship captain's need to know where a shore is on a dark and stormy night. This is where perception and interpretation effecting action and reaction against correct or incorrect ideas creating an ambiguous gray area. A gray area that doubles as a twilight zone of intellectual opportunity where ship captains fear phantom lighthouses and the Flying Dutchman. This gray area of human interpretation and interaction is the pulse of a role playing game. RPG's offer players a chance to create their own unique collection of lighthouse masks and captains uniforms to wear on a variety of fictional stages that has never before been available. Available in a stimulating setting that is as innocuous as it is entertaining.
In this vein, role playing games offer a gamut of masks to choose from, giving players an opportunity to vicariously enjoy characters in uniquely social and interactive environs. Players may act out (verbally or live-action) characters from the unusually mundane to the dramatically surreal and impossibly fantastic. They are at our fingertips to try out as we please and discard as we see fit. The advantage of gaming is that each mask is not real or connected to the real world yet offers us conclusions to experiences never before realized. As players continue to create new characters and run through cooperative story lines run by the game master, characters develop by maturing in the mental terrarium of the player group. Experiences that can contribute to a greater personal understanding of social interaction.
Heroes in Glass Bottles
Characters and their developments are at the heart of role playing games and each character is nothing more than a mask designed in a logical fashion for an imaginative purpose. The result is a mathematically and semantically organized representation of a character that can interact in a cooperative story with a capacity for expression instilled by the imagination of the player. Gamers build character masks for the sole purpose of gaming. It is a challenging form of entertainment and the characters themselves are as exciting as our favorite fictional characters. Each character is an important expression of the imagination because it represents an irresistible urge of humankind: to conceive the impossible and achieve it. In a role playing game, that urge is an embodiment of human expression yet it remains a bit of curiosity and wonder that can be pulled off the shelf, experienced and put back on the shelf when the game is over. End of story. No evil demons, no curvature of the spine, no Mr. Hyde, and no self-inflicted lobotomies.
Man is least himself when he talks in his own person.
Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.
Oscar Wilde (1891)
Deeper Approaches to Method
Everybody wears masks of one sort or another. Not the masks worn by those who harbor malicious deceit, but the ones that reflect who we are. Masks embody the cognitive constructs of the mind that allow people to communicate and interact with each other for a variety of purposes to insure a degree of success. External expressions of what lies inside the mind, they are the conduit in which we, as human beings, need to be perceived. People wear different masks for different occasions, none less important than the other and each equal to the whole of the
individual. Masks worn for play can be funny and scary to spoof and frighten each
returns. RPG's give those expressions the structure they need to survive and thrive, shunting imagination and daydreams into a positive outlet. A pattern of structuring random thought toward a productive end. The next time you get an idea, scribble it down and save it for the next game.
As the fledgling muse grows into a player character, the novice gamer is thrust into a volume of paper that will quickly quell inspiration without helpful guidance. By the time an individual chooses to be game master, they have most likely experienced enough games to understand the complexities of building campaigns and characters that will adequately function in an adventure. Players, on the other hand, have two distinct hurdles to overcome when designing a character and much of the learning process can be a frustrating path of trial and error. The first obstacle to overcome is a lack of design experience due either to unfamiliarity of the game system or no exposure to RPG's at all. When facing this complication, the translation from mental construct to game character is strained as a result of processing too much information. The second obstacle is directly related to the role of the player within the game. A player character is in the limelight on a constant basis. A PC (Player Character) must therefore be interesting enough to survive the course of many stories to stay satisfying. NPC's appear only as needed and in many cases are designed for a specific scene or adventure which pigeonholes them and relegates their development to the needs of the game master and the plot twist of the day. A player however, must deal with the long term consequences of character actions and development. From creating a first character to campaign building, a little forethought and preparation can last a "lifetime".
First character creation is always the longest yard. The magnitude of defining a fictional character represents a large chunk of unfamiliar ground that must be quickly traversed in order to join in a game session even on a rudimentary level. A player must absorb and understand the idea of RPG's as well as the basics of character design, game mechanics, skills and a plethora of other technical game terms that will govern play (although most other players will be more than happy to present their opinions of said terms). This is why preparation for a game session is just as important for players as it is for game masters. Preparation time will decrease with experience as the routine becomes a habit and memory becomes familiar. A good way to get into the habit is by making an effort to prepare a character in concert with the GM. The result will always be a more focused story for the GM and a player character that can be called a hero.
The theater, bringing impersonal masks to life, is only for those who are virile enough to create new life: either as a conflict of passions subtler than those we already know, or as a complete new character.
Alfred Jarry (French Playwright)
A natural process of cerebral evolution occurs when someone enters the gaming milieu. Borne from curiosity and mixed with a desire to join in the experience of a new form of entertainment, the suspected wonderer looks at the story experience and mentally conjures his first character concept. A concept that is an internal expression of the mind. Wisps and daydreams that seem to thicken and congeal during the bland parts of a long day. Expressions of a wandering mind that crave attention. Unfortunately, without structure those wisps fade as attentiveness