Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Tao of Year of the Phoenix

Years before there was an Internet on which Alexis could ply his blog, Martin Wixted employed the word “Tao” with regard to engaging a role-playing game.  Specifically, one of the sections of 'The Art of Gamemastering' chapter in Wixted's Year of the Phoenix Adventure Guide has the title of 'The Tao of Rule Writing.'  In this post, we will examine Wixted's thoughts about rules and how they represent his philosophy of gamemastering in general.  That philosophy can most succinctly be presented in the Plamondon quote with which he begins the 'Tao' section on page 41; a quote which bears repeating in large font.
Consistency and realism are subservient to enjoyment, since they are intended to enhance it, rather than being goals in their own rights.
Additionally, Wixted comments, “[T]he rules help you have fun.  If everyone's having fun, you're playing the game correctly.”  He also says that “the rules serve as a buffer between [the gamemaster] and [the] players, and between the players themselves.”

Wixted compares roleplaying to improvisational radio theatre and explains that  the gamemaster is the director.  Wixted then goes on to describe three 'stages' on which the action unfolds:  the Big Picture, the Immediate Situation, and the Inner Self.  The Big Picture is, in essence, the campaign setting.  The Big Picture encompasses all of the events and things that could potentially affect the player characters, especially the events and things of which the players characters (or the players) are aware.  The Immediate Situation is “the area of the world surrounding the players' characters – i.e., what they can detect with their five senses.”  Finally, the Inner Self represents an “individual character's interaction with the world.”  Each player, of course, is responsible for the Inner Self of his or her character, but the gamemaster is responsible for the Inner Self of all other characters.

In the 4-page Player Handout, Wixted compared the rules for a role-playing game to a dictionary, a comparison he expands upon in the Adventure Guide:
...[T]here are a few words in the dictionary that you never use.  They are either too esoteric, too large, don't fit into your way of speaking, or maybe you just don't like them.  This is the way you may find a few of the rules in these booklets.  And because of that, you may never use them.
Leaving behind the dictionary analogy, Wixted further states that “rules are a tool.  As with any tool, they should be used or ignored as needed.”  Also, “too many rules can rob a game of its possibilities, turning it into a strategy prison.”

With regard to adding rules, Wixted encourages gamemasters to consider the following questions.

Is This Rule Necessary?  “The environment, geography, culture, or local/personal authorities can all influence or limit characters without a rule being imposed.”

Can a Player be Allowed to Choose a Response?  “Try relying on your players to make a reasonable decision.”

What Natural Forces Can I Use as a Pattern?  “Strive to make the rule as inconspicuous and culture-oriented as possible.”

What Real-World Facts Can I Use?  “Learn how the situation would be handled in this world and use that as a base.”  Wixted, with his pre-Information Age paradigm, cites the utility of the public library.


  1. Very interesting. I think those are some pretty reasonable suggestions.

  2. Great post, perdustin! Plamondon was one of the best authors in Dragon when I started reading. This is a nice expansion on those words. Seems like Wixted was serious about everybody enjoying the game. Lots of people writing today, like Raggi with his "F You, that's why" philosophy could learn a lot from this.


    1. I was going to save this Wixted quote for a future post, but since you mentioned Jimmy:

      “…[I]t isn’t much fun walking through an adventure in which your character doesn’t…make any decisions…Give [the players] some feeling that they have control over their character’s [sic] destinies. This should always be encouraged because without that, the players feel that their characters are mere puppets to serve the gamemaster’s whim.”

      Raggi writes fiction and there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem arises when he presents his fiction as a playable adventure.