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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Player's Handbook

In keeping with the other career articles I've been reposting, here's a favorite old piece from Game Developer about career arcs in games.   The illustrations are from the absolutely priceless Old School FRP Tumblr, which is a treasure trove of 1980's era RPG artwork that any gamer ought to check out. Know your history!

Congratulations!  By purchasing The Games Industry™ you’ve entered a universe of fantastic adventure! Players in The Games Industry™ collaborate to create exciting new worlds, a form of collaborative story-telling that combines the ancient arts of the bards with the most up-to-date developments in rules complexity, arcane technicalities, and perverse randomness.  Hopefully, your new purchase will keep you occupied for many years – growing in power, battling monsters, and accumulating treasure. You are guaranteed many a sleepless night in the company of your fellow players. Welcome!

The first step for new players in The Games Industry™ is to create a character. In The Games Industry,™  your character represents you – he or she forms your alter ego.  Some players choose a character exactly like themselves, while others prefer to play a very different role in The Games Industry™  than they do in real life. Whichever path you choose, be aware that picking a character is of the utmost importance to your career in The Games Industry™.   Other players and the many monsters you encounter in the game will react to you based on which character you play  -- or which one they believe you are playing. Be sure to choose one that works well with your instincts and goals. It’s critical to be aware of the strengths and limitations of the different types of characters you encounter if you want to succeed in the game.

New players create a character by choosing from one of several archetypes. The choice of archetype, in turn helps drive certain career paths. For example, a player who wants specialize in Game Design might choose to begin his career as an Obsessive Nintendo Fanboy – a choice which would make it difficult to, for example, meet members of the opposite sex but which gives him great advantages in areas like the pharmacological uses of mushrooms or reminiscing endlessly about Goldeneye.   

To show you how the choice of archetype can affect your career, we’ll take a look at some of the options available to the player who wants to pursue a career in the arts. In The Games Industry,™ artistic characters  have a variety of magical powers which can be used to amaze and enchant players, monsters, and reviewers. Although an artist character can come from any race, gender, or ethnic background , they tend to conform to one of the following archetypical character design patterns:

The Perfectionist

Perfectionists are a subclass of artists devoted, first and foremost, to the pursuit of their craft. In the game you will often find them toiling away in the wee hours on details which are all but invisible to the average passerby.  Though each pixel or polygon seems to be pure overkill, the cumulative effect is one of tremendous magical power. The creations of a true Perfectionist compel the most cynical monsters – even hardened Producers and inscrutable Marketroids -- to admiration and awe.


Dedication. Perfectionists gain +5 for all rolls against artistic skill thanks to their selfless devotion to craft.  To gain this bonuses, they practice obsessively –even when not being paid. For example, you’ll find them thronging the halls of your local art school with greasy sheaves of charcoal drawings tucked under their arms, or worshipfully studying at the feet of the local Animation Mentor.  Perfectionists earn double XP for works in traditional media.

Mystic Charm.  At higher levels, the true Perfectionist can hypnotize members of other classes, such as Programmers, into stunned admiration.  This power works better when the Perfectionist cultivates an otherworldly air and acts as if every decision were an inspiration from on high instead of a deliberate choice.

When the Mystic Charm is active the Perfectionist can operate with enormous creative freedom. However if the power is negated (by a Programmer using the Graphics Budget power, for example) the Perfectionist may find themselves is tricky spot.  It’s also important to remember that other artists are partially immune to this power, and they’ll be quick to complain if it’s overused.


Speed.  The heavy armor of dedication which most Perfectionists wear tends to reduce their agility.  Without careful attention, the Perfectionist can easily slide past the point of diminishing returns into an endless cycle of revisions and tweaks that are invisible to others.   Players nearing a milestone must roll a 12 or higher to break the cycle, or suffer 1D6 worth of delays.

Agility. The single minded focus which gives the Perfectionist power can also lead to tunnel-vision.  Unless carefully played, Perfectionists can endanger themselves by ignoring promising new spells , potions, and magic items later in the game.  Perfectionist players must cope with a -2 adjustment for learning  new technologies and techniques. if you’re playing as a Perfectionist, be sure to guard against this weakness with careful attention to new techniques as well as old standbys. 


Playing a Perfectionist is a difficult game. The dedication which defines this class can get in the way of mundane tasks like scheduling and budgeting, so Perfectionists often find it hard to learn management as leads. Perfectionists can thrive when they are recognized for their talents either as specialized craftspeople or creative visionaries. If parties where the route to power runs through spreadsheets and meetings, Perfectionists are often unhappy. Perfectionist players need to plan ahead with their colleagues to build a secure and rewarding creative niche.

The Tinkerer

Where the Perfectionist character pursues the most exalted forms of art, the Tinkerer archetype enjoys mixing the nitty-gritty of technology with the solemnities of aesthetics. What the Perfectionist hopes to achieve by sheer dedication and relentless practice, the Tinkerer strives to accomplish by mastering every trick and tool the game allows.   Tinkerers are a hybrid class, which shares some of the characteristics of both the Artist and the Programmer. This can make for a powerful combination in the hand of a skilled player – or an awkward compromise if played unwisely.


Inventiveness. Tinkerers refuse to accept the status quo. No underused engine feature, no obscure corner of an art package, is too esoteric for the Tinkerer to play with. Tinkerers gain extensive bonuses for any situation where a recalcitrant game engine or art tool needs to be manhandled into a job it wasn’t intended for – for example, if your party is trying to simulate cloth using only skeletal animations, you’ll need a Tinkerer on hand.

Buffing. Tinkerers are extremely valuable to the other members of their party when they learn to share the fruits of their curiosity.  They give nearby Artists a +1 to Productivity by sharing their technical knowledge.  They can also perform spells ranging from simple charms like Bobo’s Magical ScriptSpot to advanced magicks like home-brewed level editors.


Hypnotism. Like monkeys and some kinds of birds, Tinkerers are easily fascinated by shiny new toys. When confronted with a new piece of technology, a Tinkerer must roll a saving through against Focus or lose 1-20 hours of productivity to fiddling around.

Split Loyalties. As Tinkerers grow in level, it becomes harder for them to maintain their dual identities. Above level 10 the benefits of specializing either on the “artistic” or “technical” sides of the archetype become much clearer. If you’re planning a Tinkerer character, you should think several steps ahead to be sure you end up playing the role your really want – otherwise you may end up as a “Jack of All Trades, Master of None.”  Above level 10 Tinkerers must make a saving roll against Charisma or risk turning into Programmers once and for all.


Because the Tinkerer is a support class, it's important to make sure you don't get sucked in to doing only the work that other characters won't do. Getting stuck in a rut can lead to a career of virtual serfdom, grinding XP at monotonous and unrewarding tasks.

Effective tinkering requires a long term commitment to learning and experimentation: mastering new skills is what makes this class tick.  Seek out every scroll, grimoire and tome you can to learn the spells which will help you escape this hideous fate.

The Footsoldier

The stalwart Footsoldier can’t always generate the glamour of the Perfectionist or the wizardry of the Tinkerer. Nevertheless this archetype is the backbone of almost every party.  No victories can be won without their phenomenal powers of endurance and will to win.  Don’t make the mistake of defining the Footsoldiers in your group by negatives – they may not be aesthetic or technical superstars, but it is their steadfast dedication to getting things done that turns the tide of many a dire battle. Where the other archetypes define themselves by their skills, Footsldiers regard discipline as the highest virtue: give them a mission and they’ll see it through, on time and on spec.


Endurance. Footsoldiers start with a bonus of +6 to Endurance.  As hardened veterans, they excel at pacing themselves – they know when to put in that midnight effort and when to save themselves for tomorrows struggles.  Players, however, should beware of party leaders who use this bonus as an excuse for skimping on support – a Footsoldier may be willing to put in tedious hours of repetitive work to help the team, but that’s no excuse for not providing the magic items that would make handle the gruntwork and let them focus on the more artistic tasks they love.

Leadership. The experience that Footsoldiers accumulate on the front lines gives them important leadership bonuses as they rise in level.  Ruthless commitment to finishing the job means that it’s often the Footsoldiers who are tapped for commanding roles later in the game – other classes count on the Footsoldiers to keep Tinkerers and Perfectionists focused on the enemy, and train new recruits in the hard ways of discipline.  Footsoldiers gain +1 on rolls for promotions for every two levels they earn.


The Footsoldier archetype is well balanced. Lacking some of the flashy powers sported by other characters, they lack many of their weaknesses as well.  Apart from a small -1 deduction from Charisma, the Footsoldier is well defended on all sides.


The biggest risk that Footsoldier players run is that of being under-appreciated. Although they are the indispensible vanguard of any artistic clan, they are sometimes slighted when it’s time to pass out the booty. Magic items, like the +5 Killer Portfolio or Schlieffer’s Amazing Rig tend to wind up with the more attention-grabbing members of the party – the loyal Footsoldiers who do so much of the actual work are sometimes forgotten.  Footsoldier players need to be able to remind their leaders exactly how much value they bring to the party and to establish reputations as the indispensible, reliable pillars of the team if they want to compete with their flashier brerthren.

The most recent edition of the Games Industry™  ruleset introduces another important challenges for the Footsoldier. With the new Games Industry: Foreign Lands  expansion pack, many teams have tried to replace their Footsoldiers with non-player characters (NPCs) in order to keep more of the treasure and XP for themselves.  If you’re playing a Footsoldier you’ll need to find roles to play that are safe from NPCs.  You can’t always count on loyalty from your leaders in The Games Industry™ so you need to look out for yourself.  You’ll never be as cheap as an NPC, so your best defense is to concentrate on making yourself more valuable to your teammates instead.

This may seem like a lot of rules for a simple game, but this complexity simply reflects the many play styles you’ll encounter in The Games Industry™   Once you’ve entered the rich fantasy life of The Games Industry™ you’ll find it hard to go back to real life.

Particularly in the six months or so before shipping.

Disclaimer: New players should note this set does not include everything you need to play. You’ll also need the following: A copy of Photoshop, proof of citizenship or an H-1 B visa, the Employees Handbook (2d edition rules), Red Bull Energy Drink, a free Nvidia T-shirt, and internet access.  The Games Industry™ features an ever-expanding  list of accessories and expansion kits.  See your local game store for details.