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The Contract

Story Time

J.S. Majer
December 8, 2000

Alright, story time.

Plato spins a neat tale near the beginning of The Republic, the story of Gyges' Ring. See, this slave named Gyges ends up finding a ring that makes him invisible. And whoever just asked whether this story ends up in Mount Doom, consider yourself docked ten points. So Gyges goes off and uses this ring to kill the king and take his wife as his own, and generally lord over his little section of land like a nasty tyrant. The moral of the story? You never know about people. True morality is defined as what you do when no one is watching, what you do when you have the opportunity for evil.

What am I talking about? It is the argument, the ever-raging, pointless as sour cream & onion Jell-o argument, the argument that stands to tear apart our community. It is the argument concerning gaming versus real role-playing, or however you want to label the sides. And before I get into this argument I want to make it clear, that it is my number 16th least favorite thing in the whole world. In fact, I would like to answer the whole thing in two sentences.

Of course storytelling games are more sophisticated.
Of course that does not make them better.

It is a simple matter of development, of the way in which things came about. Games were more rules and less character before they were the other way round, before they could be the other way round. People had to first get used to the idea of "game" before they could get used to the idea of "experience," or whatever you want to call it. Rules heavy, both in content and more important in philosophy, came before flexible, call-it-as-it-comes systems. Or, to put it simply, Orcs before Angst.

So, as expressed as a system of evolution, it is clear that real role-playing games are superior than rule-playing games. But that's all just damnable western imperialist thinking, where newer is good and of course us highly developed and unique souls are better than all those other species, that all just look so much alike. I mean, two hundred and fifty different species of beetle? Copycats all.

However, not from the perspective of the beetle. They know they have found a good idea, and are running with it like no tomorrow. Besides, they are all different, each species custom tailored to a specific niche, so that damn human is not as unique as he thinks he is.

Then again, the beetles do not write the history books, which really is the point. Well, sort of the point, butnow I can't get over the idea of a scholarly scarab or erudite cockroach. If you only engage in rule playing you will be happy, but you will miss out on the possibility of greater glories to be found. If you have what is working for you in playing a role-playing games where the fanciful character elements are downplayed, good for you. Don't listen to the "real role-players" as they sneer and guffaw. Their hearts are in the right place. They just have some "white man's burden" feeling that they need to get rid of. On the other hand, don't let them frighten you away from something greater, something more meaningful than allowing character development to mean only XP. It is about getting to experience what it is like to be someone greater than yourself, more grandiose and heroic than you can be. And in aspiring to something greater and more purely adventitious, we discover that part of ourselves that is more wondrous than we imagine our bodies and souls to be.

There are things that just can't be captured without some serious role-playing, serious to a point that the game has to fall away and become something unimportant. The greater glory is capturing those things. But you don't have to go for the brass ring, not each time, not ever.

This, in fact, is my greatest bit with new school gamers, and I think it is one that White Wolf really fostered with the best of intentions. Hell, I would have done the same thing as them, given the opportunity that they had. They aimed to emphasize the esoteric aspects of the role-playing game, in an attempt to avoid dungeon crawls and the like. This did some good, and probably, mercifully killed a few really bad games of Vampire. Where they made their mistake was thinking that role-playing was a point instead of a spectrum.

Nobody just starts role-playing, it takes a while to get good. Okay, there are prodigies out there, but let us talk about the mainstay rather than the exceptions. Hell, the idea of "character" is foreign to most people. Make up someone? Create an alternate identity on demand? Not easy work, my friends, not as easy as it gets when you get used to the idea. Secondly, how sophisticated was your first character? Bob's a fighter? Are you remembering him or her as sophisticated because he or she became sophisticated with time and a good Referee? As I said, character is a spectrum. We start off pretty deep in the rule's end, in the real basic stereotypes section. Yet here is the kicker: it is still character. Maybe not good character, but character nonetheless. It is, in short, a good place to start. And slowly you become more adept, and your characters, or character, becomes more complex, more thoughtfully played as you begin to understand just what it means to play at all.

So here is the dangerous path of the Wolf. By taking away that critical phase of development, that period of just using the rules and generally getting tired of seeing how you are able to break all your personal taboos and just what sorts of personal power you can amass, leaves hobbled youth. These poor souls don't know that just being bitter does not constitute depth. They haven't been fed blood by the bucket load, hacking their way through countless wandering monsters, to really cherish how amazing it is to see someone break into tears because their fictional loved one betrayed them. No, they play Brujah.

Not to pick on people who play Brujah, or on Brujah for that matter.

So, to bring this around to the opening analogy, high role-playing is a good thing, a sophisticated and wonderful thing. It is power, amazing power that takes a considerable amount of responsibility, respect and wonder to really do right. When undertaken by those not prepared for the power, undertaken by those who haven't paid their dues by hacking at a gelatinous cube with a plus one hand axe (this is the quintessential dungeon crawl metaphor, don't ya think?), they'll ruin it and themselves.

So, if you have nothing to do with this "storyteller crap," as I've heard on so many occasions, take no fear. There is nothing wrong with not tempting fate, with just doing something simple and fun rather than allowing some friend of yours to go rattling around your subconscious. The ring will give you power, though, and for some that is too tempting to refuse. So, if you do put it on, remember the lessons that you should have learned while prodding around with a ten-foot pole.

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What do you think?

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