It's Evolution, Baby!
Originally this column was going to be called 'Gallons of Blood' and was about how combat was over-emphasized in gaming, how it took to long for such a trivial part of the game, etc. I kept writing, and went beyond combat and started talking about puzzles, then missions, then campaigns, etc. Finally, I decided to scrap the five page document and start again, this time with a clearer frame of mind. After all, by now everyone who reads my column on even a semi-regular basis should know my viewpoint on combat, and for those who missed it, it's summed up in the first sentence anyway.
All the previous ranting that you won't get to see got me to thinking about how most gamers seem to evolve their gaming style, and how some gamers start to evolve but seem to stop, or sometimes even regress. The following does not necessarily imply a superiority of one style of gaming over another, but rather, a natural progression that gamers seem to go through in their gaming style. Do whatever brings you the most joy, although you probably didn't need my say-so on that.
Hack-n-SlashThis is what most gamers, especially male gamers, begin with. Find a dungeon (I use the term dungeon as a metaphor for any sort of environment that could contain nasties), find opponents, kill them, take their stuff, repeat. Usually little is done in the development of character, with the exception of them getting better at combat and growing in wealth. While the players objective is normally to kill and loot, the GM does his best to kill as many characters as possible, while still retaining the enjoyment of the players. After a while the GM will begin to map dungeons, and add traps. Eventually, the GM will have brought the player to the 'Next Level' of gaming.
Hack-n-SolveThe GM, tired of simply killing the PCs by overwhelming odds and secret traps, goes further in his enjoyment by putting his wits against the players. Puzzles and strange rooms assault the characters at every turn, with the occasional monster here or there to nock of a few hit points and spell points (or whatever). Each puzzle ideally is more and more challenging, as well as upping the chances for a fatality for every wrong answer. At the end of each dungeon is either an exceedingly difficult puzzle or an exceedingly challenging monster/monsters. Usually the level of role-play over roll-play is the same as hack-n-slash, with the exception of one or two players in the group who try to utilize the intelligence of their character to compensate for the inexperience of the game-world (i.e. What is the elvish word for fire?).
Missions and ObjectivesSomewhere along the line the GM puts a plot behind each 'adventure', this can happen at either previously mentioned style of gaming. The characters now have an objective or goal to fight the monsters or solve the puzzles. Since there is an objective, however, players may now begin to plot ways around monsters and puzzles and begin to think like their characters and use the character sheet for more than things like tables for bonuses, damage, and health. This is also the typical convention game, where multiple solutions are possible, and the GM is not necessarily out to kill all the characters.
CampaignsEssentially a campaign starts as a series of mission games all connected together to form some sort of grand plot. This type of play usually starts out with a lot of the previous elements, with the exception that by this point most players are more attached to their characters. Most of the changes from roll-play to role-play happen at this point. Players, who are more attached to their characters will begin to speak like their characters and give their characters unique actions to that character. Disadvantages (where applicable) will be considered into role-play and the players may begin to demand plots more centered around their characters goals. This style of gaming is, by far, the most popular.
Persona PlayHere, the games aren't so much as plots as they are ordinary adventures within the confines of everyday life for the characters. This includes a lot of 'soap opera' and drama. Rather than the GM creating 'villains' the GM concentrates on creating and successfully bringing the universe around the characters to life through the characters friends, acquaintances, and even antagonists. Often there will be a plot in the background, which may leak into the foreground from time to time, but the game centers around the characters more than the plot itself.
The Nth LevelIn this style of game there is no plot and the players become their characters, without straying from their characters. There are no plots to consider, and rarely do the characters interact with each other, unless they normally would in this situation. They are the bakers within a game of bakers. This type of situation is usually a campaign-style GMs worst nightmare.
There it is. My take on the evolution of gamers. Personally, I find myself Persona playing most of the time, while I usually run more Campaign style games.
What's my point here? It's good to know where you are and where the rest of your group is. Knowing what you look for in a game and what your group looks for in a game leads to better gaming. Obviously the Nth Level gamer will probably find themselves bored or unsatisfied with those happy in the Hack-n-Slash or Hack-n-Solve games just as a Mission or Campaign style GM will eventually get frustrated with Nth Level gamer who seems to keep ignoring the plot hooks presented. Knowing how expectations might differ allows more fruitful group role-play, which is always good gaming!
Roll Saving Throw Vs. Bad Gaming