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Saturday, September 14, 2013

MIDlands take on the Big Model Theory

I read up on Ron Edwards' GNS and the Big Model theory of role-playing games, looking for something useful in the ways of practical applications to gaming. It is of limited utility and some of the terminology is actually misnamed.

The Big Model theory may be of use to Sociologists studying role-playing gaming, and has no use to me as a DM. It breaks down the Role playing process into Social Contract, Exploration, Techniques, Ephemera, Creative Agenda. Like Russian Matreshka dolls nesting inside each other, you have Social Contract holding [Exploration [Techniques [Ephemera]]] with the Creative Agenda like an arrow piercing all four circles. SOCIAL CONTRACT is the social environment in which the group of players and the GM interact and governs all the Sociology of the gaming process. EXPLORATION is the fantasy world that is being created by this group. TECHNIQUE cover all of the game mechanics covering the play. EPHEMERA represents the actual process, the Transcript of everything that is being said and done in the course of the game session. CREATIVE AGENDA represents the GM's style as well as the goals and values of the Campaign.

Off the top of my head, Most gaming groups have no, or a very rudimentary Creative Agenda. I've seen groups meander from one randomly rolled dungeon to another, or a DM, having assembled a group of 10+ people, trying to run them through a module. The Agenda may be no more than run the players through DM game run according to the White Box Rule. I HAD a strong agenda and goals for the Midlands campaign from the beginning: 1 - To run a historically realistic game of D&D that would be free of any racist and colonial tropes that was inherited in D&D from Tolkien. I.e. Superior to or equal to Human races, such as Elves, Dwarves and other "Demi-Humans", and Sub-human races such as Goblins, Orcs, and Hobgoblins, or the "Humanoids" in the D&D parlance, that is just too reminiscent of the Nazi "Herrenvolk" and "Untermenschen".  2 - Bring the players face to face with the truly alien and mystical. 3 - Have a coherent and continuous, genuinely two-dimensional Sandbox game.

With regards to EPHEMERA, at least with me, there is a conflict between the uninterrupted story telling with the input from the players and having to administer the game, which most of the time, means looking for the right table to interpret the die roll. I can narrate over the die rolling and looking at the map and drawing out the scene to players. Fumbling for tables interrupts that process. I have interrupted my current campaign to re-do the way information is laid out for me. My goal is to eventually DM from an Microsoft Excel workbook on my laptop. Also on my project board is a list of Smart Tables, that automatically figure out the modifiers and give the correct die roll and a set of Smart - self-configuring forms, which would change their layout in accordance with the character class selected. So, Ephemera concept is functionally useful, but unaddressed in most writing on role-playing. TECHNIQUE is the game rules used. It was self-evident to me, game rules being the tools of the DM to make for a more realistic narrative. EXPLORATION refers to the game world, and would mean the literary study of the different campaigns and adventure modules. There is something of a paradox with the literary study of the D&D influences. The literary study of the roots of D&D is limited to the Appendix N of the original Dungeon Master's Guide, and a lot of activity has been dedicated to the reading and review of the Appendix N sword and sorcery literature, but any kind of serious literary scholarship and literary criticism is missing from the discussion. There has been significant literary scholarship concerning Tolkien and Lovecraft, but it is not mentioned or commented on in the gaming circles. Finally, the SOCIAL CONTRACT; This is a valid venue of inquiry, but of little interest or concern to the gamers themselves. A DM should be aware of it, though, if s/he wants to run a tight and a lasting group. To begin with, most D&D campaigns last for about two years. You can continue the campaign beyond this period, but it will likely be a "Season TWO" with personnel and other changes. Second, D&D is a social ritual, and a lot more happens at the table, than mere rolling of dice and storytelling. I have seen a couple of cases, where the game itself was mediocre and lackluster, without a main storyline, other than the characters going into a recently discovered randomly rolled dungeon, but the experience became more detailed and elaborate, with a storyline in the RETELLING after the game. That was my first clue, that there is more going on at the table than the mere gaming and story-telling. Second, unless you are running a game with a group of friends, with whom you will be hanging out anyway, each player will bring with them their own social baggage and it will create tensions that will threaten to rip the gaming group apart. For instance, I had a very diverse group of players one, and to my surprise, I found that the Surgeon, the Lawyer and the Exec, were networking with each other to the exclusion of the Truck Driver, the Construction Dude and the Receptionist. The three were brilliant as players, and they systematically solved all of the challenges that I threw at them. I sort of knew that Social Class existed, but watching my group replicate it in front of my eyes... I had to take steps to make sure that the group stayed together and that no one was getting left out. I failed to keep everyone, but the group remained. Finally, if you are running an extended campaign, players have other activities competing for the gaming time - jobs, wives and church attendance, and unless you take care as a DM, these social and economic concerns will wipe out your game. I have lost a game to a divorce and two layoffs affecting players. So, the Social Contract is a bit of misnomer, as there are conservative thinkers, who think that the Social Contract does not exist, but this segment of the Big Model is very important for the DM to keep an eye on, if he wants to run a long term campaign and retain his players.

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