Stage and Company
newcomer and evolves through early game mastering. It’s a typical cycle inherent in the learning process and by the time you notice anything, the foreboding look from the outside the front window will have long since faded.
To associate with other like-minded people in small, purposeful groups is for the great majority of men and women a source of profound psychological satisfaction.
Exclusiveness will add to the pleasure of being several, but at one; and secrecy will intensify it almost to ecstasy.
Aldous Huxley (1934)
In The Beginning
Standing just outside the numbing din of an all too predictable daily schedule, role playing offers an interesting alternative to spectator entertainment. Gaming provides the means for people to share imagination and thought in a socially interactive setting. As interesting as that seems, it tends to be far off the beaten path of typical social circles. Most often, new gamers are friends of gamers who stumble into a session, joining in because they like what they see. Others are drawn in by the call of the nearest bookshelf, purchasing game books out of sheer curiosity. Either way, the first challenge of an RPG is knowing how to get involved. An individual’s foray into gaming can be somewhat confusing and the best way to start is to join an existing group rather than start one from scratch. If a chance to game comes along, be ready to either read the rules as you go along or fake your way through the first session, then go buy the source books and catch up by the time the next game session rolls around.
By joining an existing troupe, basic questions can be answered more succinctly and in "real time" while being immersed in the subtle nuances of a running campaign. Role playing is a game based on experiences - - character experiences involving tactical reaction and complex plot interplay based on a sense of game mechanics. Playing with an experienced troupe gives newcomers the chance to see how it works before they decide that experiential understanding is easier than reading several hundred pages of rules (rules that have almost no meaning without knowing how or when to apply them). In addition, an early understanding hinges on two simple details that are often overlooked. Gaming is socially intensive, so know who you are gaming with and keep an open mind in every new crowd - - politeness is free and it always pays off in the end. Also, know what genre the troupe plays. Just as people have favorite types of movies such as sci-fi or romance, there are different types of role playing games. Choose your crowd and choose your game. Give it a little forethought and then seek out an appropriate game troupe.
The best place to start linking up with a troupe is by asking friends. Quite often, someone in your own personal circle of acquaintances knows at least one gamer or two and gaming with friends is the most comfortable way to start. If not, check around in local schools for any informal groups or sanctioned clubs. Most high schools and colleges have gaming organizations that play regularly and many sponsor conventions that make it easy to mingle and learn. In either instance, just stop and look around for a boisterous crowd huddled around clusters of cafeteria tables. If you hear the sound of clicking dice or an excess of Monty Python sound bytes, you’ve probably found a gaming group. Hobby shops are another great way to find gamers. Talk to the clerk and find out if they have any information on any local gaming groups they might know of in the area. Often, these stores provide space for in-house gaming or can at least hook you up with any leads to contact various gaming groups. Some hobby shops cater to their local gaming community providing bulletin boards that are usually wallpapered with gamer want ad notices. Computer bulletin boards are also excellent for getting involved with other gamers for either traditional gaming or to try out RPG’s that can be played over the internet. Keep in mind that playing over the net tends to be drastically different than a round table troupe but all incarnations of RPG’s have strengths and weaknesses that should be considered. Try to start out by familiarizing yourself with standard gaming practices and then move on to different styles after you feel confident with what you have learned. Being part of any troupe is about learnind having fun is part of the journey.
A right rule for a club would be, Admit no man whose presence excludes any one topic. It requires people who are not surprised and shocked, who do and let do, and let be, who sink trifles, and know solid values, and who take a great deal for granted.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1870)
You’ve unwrapped this unusual candy bar, but you’re not quite sure what kind of theater the golden ticket has gotten you into. Knowing what to expect when the game is played can help prepare you for productions on a stage of “pure imagination.” By understanding the process, you will have had your first rehearsal for the game interactions that will accumulate into stories. Stories that you will not only be able to be part of, but also have a hand in bringing those stories to fictional life.
Role playing interaction is nothing more than stimulus and response based conversation oriented toward a fictional goal. Game session interplay begins when the GM says, “Okay, let’s start” and lays out the game setting for the players. The setting is a series of descriptions and statements by the game master that will hopefully illustrate a mental image of story locations, key objects, and non-player characters to set the stage and in turn urge the actors to play their part. Each successive scene gathers creative steam as players take on their roles and explore the story landscape, taking on game conflict and resolution in the form of a plot.
Game sessions usually start out with a summary of the last session to maintain a tight integration of story details (from session to session) or a melodramatic description of the main characters status-quo to get things off and running. Deeper into the adventure after the first scene, or encounter, has been adequately defined, the game master will talk to each player so as to "frame" in a character’s actions within the scenario. This is accomplished with a barrage of questions and answers to more completely illustrate the character’s point of view for each player. Often, the GM will do this "in-character" and carry on the discussion from the point of view of another story character. This way, the telling of the story is more involved and interactive. Once a clear mental picture of what's going inside everyone's head is uniformly explained, the GM and players enact the scene in-character navigating their way through the prescribed environment in the mind set of their characters. Stories unfold as this round robin process continues through each scene until either the adventure is over or the troupe decides to end the session. It's less complicated than it sounds and along the way, you’ll find out while there aren’t any rehearsals, it’s okay to fumble through the curtain on your way to the spotlight.
Curiosity has swelled up to a point of Pandoric proportions and the call of dirty tee shirts, junk food, and the smell of graph paper has become irresistible: you’ve decided to join a role playing group. The only obstacle is that the ticket window selling "maps to the stars" is nowhere to be found. Such a search may occasionally reveal a subtle plaid-clad crowd of gamers but without an invitation, getting involved can be intimidating. The reality of the situation is that while gamers might look like a bunch of frightening miscreants, this seemingly exclusive club isn’t as elite as it is open. Role players usually don’t expect much and are generally tolerant of anyone who joins in with an open mind.
Stage and Company approaches troupe membership from the point of view of a
Deciding to Play
Buying all the books from one particular system is enough to sink the boat and leave a bad taste in your mouth. With most game systems, there are two or three books that really help and a wide variety of support material provided for different types of players and game masters. Deal with the book situation by spotting the core rules first, followed by game master and player handbooks with respect to the role you want to play. Flip through the first few pages as they usually indicate which books are necessary and which act only to enhance the basic rules. If you still have some trouble deciding, hobby shop clerks always have an opinion on which ones are helpful and which ones aren't (but if they say "buy them all", don't).
Books represent another reason why joining an existing troupe makes things easier. Most troupes have extra copies that float around the table as the session is played out making the option of a test-fish available. There is a wide variety of genre’s and gaming systems that all offer subtle differences in gaming so try to look at all the possibilities before getting entrenched in something that doesn't thrill you. Buying books is a curious task that takes both serious interest and careful expenditure; just remember to keep your head above the water.
All Good Things
You’ve joined a troupe and decided that the whole experience is worth your while and then it all comes to end. Life these days is hectic and quite often forces a troupe to disband for one obligation or another. Most groups fall prey to time and no matter the reason, it’s left you where you started; stuck outside the theater like an autograph hound at the Oscar’s.
The question is, do you go back in as an actor or a director? If you choose to game master, there is a couple of things to keep in mind. Approaching any game production is high maintenance. Depending on how much previous experience you’ve had can predetermine exactly how much work lies ahead. Game mastering almost requires that you’ve had a couple of years of playing experience, but if you still want to round up a troupe, it’s okay to bring everyone together and ask someone else to act as game master. Either way, organizing a role playing production will set a challenging change of pace, and the best place to start is by casting the parts. There are many ways to assemble a troupe and the simplest approach is looking to your peers. Beyond that, try to frequent the usual venues of schools, hobby shops, and bulletin boards and post your own gamer want-ad to put things in motion. (Can you tell how old this idea is? ;)
Never fear, gamers have permeated most levels of society (planning for our eventual coup), and locating them can be easier than you think. The social nature of gaming shows its face as like-minded individuals search each other out with a desire to play the game. Sometimes it is an interest in a particular genre such as high fantasy or gothic horror and sometimes it’s a group that just likes to role play. Most of the time, gaming groups grow by the close association of friends and acquaintances. Eventually, initiation into the larger gaming community occurs in game clubs and conventions, usually surprising newcomers with the numbers that we hide so well. However the task is accomplished, most gamers are just glad to be involved and will be more than happy to help someone get started. Having fun playing the game is what it’s all about and finding a friend or two along the way makes it that much more satisfying.
No human being is innocent, but there is a class off innocent human actions called games.
Bigger is Not Always Better
Deciding on the size of a gaming group can be the most hazardous task for a novice GM. At first impulse, game masters tend to include everyone who wants to play or only a couple of close friends. This is a typical approach, but there are pitfalls even in choosing the number of players in a troupe. Too many players can result in utter chaos as the novice GM discovers that there’s more to running a game than learning the rules. In contrast, too few players can result in a dull game from lack of player input or so much can occur that the GM is sorely taxed to constantly provide fresh material. One or two players in a campaign tend to make things preparation heavy in terms of the campaign setting and support information. The need to provide a cast of characters, locations, and plots can quickly overwhelm a beginner GM. More than four or five players in a troupe gets very preparation heavy and dramatically increases the complexity of necessary support material. Beyond raw game requirements, one of the most difficult responsibilities of running a game is managing the players. Optimally, three to four players and a game master is a good size to start with. Often, as a campaign progresses, it becomes easier to include new players and/or characters after a GM gets into the swing of things. Keep the gathering at a comfortable level and make sure wherever you play can accommodate the extra bodies.
A Clean Well-Lighted Place
After the troupe is assembled, you need a place to play. The basics of being clean and well-lit helps comfort and it makes things easier for everyone when the playing area promotes a relaxed atmosphere with minimal distractions. Scout out the facilities; make sure there is adequate access to a “cloak-room” and keep the phone number for pizza delivery handy. Make sure that wherever you play (especially when it’s in a public place or someone else’s house) that the proper permissions have been granted. Besides the assets of a location, a GM should consider travel time. Anything over 20-30 minutes becomes time consuming and costly. More importantly, many games last until the wee hours of the morning and the safety of the drive home should not be forgotten.
After you’ve covered the basics, take the focus of the game into consideration. If a game will be more role playing oriented, living rooms, kitchens, game rooms, parks and the like are good candidates. Make sure everyone will be welcome and comfortable. Unless many cumbersome props are involved all you really need to role play are the necessary books, some pads, paper, and pencils, and your ready to go. If the game is focused more tactical strategy, maps and counters are usually necessary and make more specific demands on the playing area such as large tables and play areas. Again, take a moment in the planning stage to consider the fundamental basics and skip the stupid mistakes.
Of Troupe and Company
Rather than starting your own troupe as a game master, new players should first learn how to play. Choose a group to play with and stick with it. Learn how to create game characters and the nature of RPG interaction. Creating a first character is the first step into a larger world of possibilities and progressions as troupe movements.
The stage is not merely the meeting place of all the arts, but is also the return of art to life.
Oscar Wilde 1885
Choosing a Script
After you’ve sat in on things for a session or two, the question of books will come up. Role playing source books are as close as you will come to any sort of script and without an “agent” to help you sift through all the alternatives, choosing which one is right for you can be a fishy situation. From the outside, the massive shelves that house game system rule books is like a printed aquarium - - there’s a lot of really neat things to look at, but they’re all kind of strange and it’s hard to decide which ones are worth eating. One thing you definitely don't want to do is use a fishnet approach.