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The Culture Beneath The Stairs

The Gaming Contract: Part II - The RPGA

by Conan McKegg
Aug 13,2004


The Culture Beneath the Stairs

By Conan McKegg

The Gaming Contract: Part II - The RPGA.


Last column I began discussing the issues behind the concept of the Gaming Contract. In the last column I discussed the idea that the gaming contract does not exist. The primary reason was that it had no authority to uphold it - thereby failing to be a binding contract. Essentially what you end up with is an agreement. I briefly discussed social contract theory to show why this was the case.

This week I want to discuss the RPGA - for those not in the know, the RPGA stands for RolePlaying Games Association. The RPGA is the closest example of an authority overlooking a gaming contract and ensuring that the contract is upheld.

However, there are some inherent problems with the RPGA's structure that show the problem with contract theory...

How it works...

If you go to the RPGA General Rules Site you will see the following statement:

The RPGA General Rules help maintain a fair and consistent worldwide play for every game system the RPGA sanctions and supports. The RPGA General Rules apply to sanctioned play in addition to game system rules and campaign rules. In order to maintain a diverse and extensive event system, RPGA members are required to follow the RPGA General Rules and the spirit in which they were created.

What we see here is a statement of intent that leads to a longer document that describes a gaming contract. The point of RPGA is to provide worldwide gaming events that uphold a specific standard allowing players to travel anywhere in the world and join an RPGA game.

The General Rules also are intended to provide a standard of quality to the games that are run by officially recognised Gamemasters - who have to sit certain online tests to get a ranking.

It also helps provide games to the roleplaying community. If you are in a town and don't know any roleplayers, you can log onto RPGA and theoretically be given contacts to the latest RPGA events in your area.

This is effectively the prime example of an authority that helps to uphold an agreed to set of rules for gaming. By joining the association, you agree to their gaming contract - a formal agreement unlike the unspoken agreements of a standard group. You also are accepting that RPGA as a governing entity has the authority to adjudicate any conflicts. Because the GMs are not the RPGA themselves, you also have the ability to complain when the GM breaches the contract as well.

It sounds like a fairly decent system...

Some of the problems

Now for the "but" you have probably been waiting for. RPGA does have some limits. There is less room to diversify and experiment. RPGA provides all the scenarios that groups play. There is no room for a GM to run his own game with his individual group, and have it RPGA approved. While this allows RPGA to make sure that all scenarios meet a certain standard, it also prevents GMs from running a new idea with their RPGA group. This is because RPGA isn't about individual groups - it's about a larger community.

RPGA also has a very distinct bias. In standard social contract theory, the Authority cannot be biased. It needs to be a neutral third party that the people under the contract both agree to. RPGA has a bias - it is owned by Wizards of the Coast and therefore exists to promote the d20 game system. While some other games that were throwbacks from the old incarnation of RPGA are still affiliated, chances of new non-d20 RPGs being sanctioned are fairly minimal. In this sense, RPGA begins to fall into the same trap as the gaming group in my previous article.

Finally, there is a strong question about the quality of the scenarios. Often RPGA's scenarios seem to fall into a repetitive cycle. Because most scenarios are to be played in a single four-hour session, they must be completely self-contained. This in and of itself isn't bad. The problem arises with the concept of guidelines. Because of the guideline structure of RPGA and the need to keep making new scenarios - many writers seem to fall into patterns. An example is the Green Regent campaign - a great deal of the scenarios follow a "Party is hired, Party investigates, Party enters dungeon, Party fights Bad Guy at the end of map" structure.

While to some people this will appeal - to others it can become tiresome.

Not for everyone...

Which leads me to the counterclaim. RPGA is not for everyone. It's bias isn't really a negative - because members enter RPGA knowing that it runs d20 based campaigns. If enough members got together and made an application, I suspect that RPGA would be willing to support another gameline - but then certain copyright issues could possibly come into effect.

Because nobody is forcing the players to play, they can just leave at any time. So the question of poor scenario design isn't really that big an issue.

The Contract

Despite all this, RPGA is indeed a case of a true gaming contract, Possibly the only true gaming contract in the roleplaying community. Because it is an authority that is not directly involved with the gaming group it can act as an adjudicator when disputes arise. While this can only occur with RPGA sanctioned campaigns, that is part of the Gaming Contract that has been agreed to.

So what about other gaming groups? Well I feel that the RPGA model still holds true. If a neutral organisation was able to start up - then there could be an RPGA that ran worldwide campaigns for any number of games.

The problem that I see with this is that it risks becoming restrictive. To me, the solution isn't a gaming contract at all. It is something else. Something, simpler really... It is basically along the lines of what people already do - but they have been erroneously calling it a gaming contract.

And that will be the focus of the third part of this series of articles on the Gaming Contract. Until next time, take care.

Remember - you can always contact me at Culture Beneath The Stairs if you would like to discuss any of the ideas I mention, or have any other questions relating to this column. TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

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