Phase 1 – Initial Fascination:
Upon one’s first introduction to the game, a honeymoon ensues. You are happy to roll 3d6 for stats. You are happy with a fighter character with scores like: S:11 I:7 W:9 D:9 C:10 Ch:4. You name your characters names like Conan, Legolas, Hercules, Belgarath. You are happy the first time one dies fighting two kobolds in the Caves of Chaos. You roll a new mediocre character before the blood of your first one is dry. Plot? What Plot?
Phase 2 – Elementary Gaming (aka Hack n’ Slash):
You might discard a character that doesn’t have at least one 13. An element of plot comes in. You don’t mind meeting in a tavern. You don’t mind adventuring for treasure, fame, power and glory. You don’t mind random, illogical monster and dungeon placements. All that matters is that you meet, you swing swords, you cast spells, and you get stuff. You usually have your first wilderness encounter here, but you still think in 10′ squares. Your characters have names that end in “of (insert place here.)” i.e.: Conan of Minas Tirith.” When your character dies you have a twinge of regret before rolling up the new one.
Phase 3 – Adolescent Gaming (aka: Munchkinsim):
It is widely thought that this particular style of gaming was initiated with the creation of 2E, but it is now fairly well-known as a phase of gaming not unique to any one ruleset. Structure goes out the window. The as-yet unmapped game world is full of magical portals to other planes. All of your characters have ability scores of 18 or better. All your characters are level 24 or higher. They may have actually earned 2 or 3 of those levels, tops. More likely they are cut from whole cloth. They own at least 6 magic items and one or two artifacts. At least one party member will have the eye and hand of Vecna attached to his being and cowed to his will. A night of gaming is no more than a plane-hopping trip through the Dieties & Demigods Cyclopedia, picking off one god after another until the multiverse is empty. These characters never die. Forgotten Realms gamers rarely progress beyond this stage 🙂
Phase 4 – Post-Adolescent Gaming (aka: Slapstick Gaming):
The scenarios could have been drawn up by the writers at Laugh-In or Saturday Night Live. All of your characters have at least one score of 3. All characters have names like: Steve, Richard Cranium, Jerkwad the Buffinator, Gaylord, etc. Adventures consist of chasing giant rabid Energizer Bunnies through Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory only to be jettisoned to a plane called the Demi-plane of Custard to fight off Oompa-loompas and a throng of zombie clones of your 2nd-grade teacher. When these characters die much laughter ensues, followed by the resurrection of the PC as a sentient broccoli-stalk.
Phase 5 – ROLEplaying Phase:
The stats and the fighting have become too commonplace now. Every character has a pseudo-tragic, prophecy-filled 12 page biographical background. Each has a debilitating weakness, a dangerous enemy or three, and an impossible life goal. Each has lost at least two loved ones to one particular monster for which the character has an undending and berserk-inducing hatred. Each session begins with 3.5 hours of background material followed by hours of PC’s talking to NPC’s in semi-dramatic fashion. Your first encounter with an orc will usually be an orphan of some sort who is actually good at heart and can guide you through the political morass of the local orcdom without a single melee round, the roleplaying for which the DM will richly reward you with XP’s. The gaming session usually ends when combat should ensue, and everyone realizes they forgot their dice, not having needed them since they rolled up their characters eight sessions ago. The death of a PC, if it is permanent, is met with much wailing and gnashing of teeth, followed by a state funeral, 40 days of sackcloth and ashes, and many days of fasting.
Phase 5 – Mature Gaming (aka: Balanced Gaming):
A reasonable balance of roleplaying and combat. Characters are rolled up with 4d6 and accepted as is. Each PC has a one or two page bio, much of which has actually developed over the course of the campaign. The gamer enjoys both the intrigue of complicated roleplaying and the thrill of good orc-hewing. The death of a PC is something that sometimes happens.