Check for Traps
The New Oral Tradition

Greg Tito | 1 Jun 2010 21:00
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While the 4th Edition DMG does a fine job of setting to paper many of the ideas about roleplaying that existed in the oral tradition, there was still a large hole in the written knowledge. How to be an effective player, one that is successful in his attacks, but also has the courage to try new and daring stunts, is not always apparent. It can be difficult for a new player to choose feats or traits that will give his or her character the talents to perform a truly adventurous task. In the past, this information was only learned over time. The more you played, the better you got at it as you absorbed the oral tradition.

The recently released Player's Strategy Guide for 4th Edition D&D wants to fill that hole. It has detailed guides on how to create a character within the 4th Edition system that excels at a particular task. If you want to be the fastest character in the party, the specific feat, race and class that you should take are all provided. The book was written like a Prima Strategy Guide for D&D.

But I think that's the book's greatest failing. I don't think that it's a good idea to further associate 4th Edition with videogames than its critics already do, but here Wizards of the Coast has essentially provided the Guide to Powergaming.

Powergaming is the term used to describe players who spend most of their time thinking about their D&D character like a puzzle that needs to be solved. If I choose X power with Y feat, then I have created an unstoppable force that my DM will never be able to beat. Powergaming isn't bad necessarily, and a perfunctory knowledge of what classes and powers will create an effective party is invaluable, but it's not the motivation that inspires every single roleplayer. Of the 8 types of players that Wizards outlined in the DMG, over 75 percent of the Player's Strategy Guide will only appeal to 1 or 2 of them (Powergamer and maybe Slayer).

That being said, the Guide does codify many things about creating a character that is not provided anywhere else, to my knowledge. In some ways, Wizards achieved its goal of cementing some of the oral tradition that surrounds roleplaying. Many gamers end up powergaming, and in the past they were forced to research on forums or other websites. Now there is a book that tells them how to do it, and I think that's a step in the right direction.

The Player's Strategy Guide offers a few tips on how to be a good roleplayer, but, in contrast to the DMG, there are just a few pages and they feel tacked on at the end of the book. There are brief guidelines provided about how to share treasure and how not to hog the spotlight, but I feel like these should be expanded and be the focus of such a guide. Because honestly, even veteran players need to be reminded that playing a paladin doesn't mean you can be a dick or that working together to find creative solutions to problems can be just as much fun, if not more, than being the best at killing monsters.

I just want someone to write a definitive Guide to Roleplaying, preferably one that doesn't have "dummy" in the title. Until that happens, I am content to continue the oral tradition.

Greg Tito wants to give a shoutout to former members of his roleplaying group in NYC who contributed to the Player's Strategy Guide. Despite my words here, nice work, Tavis and Eytan!

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