Monday, July 15, 2013

On Role-Playing (Part 8 of 11)

Talking with an accent or having an emotional scene or impassioned outburst are not necessary to the act of role-playing. Role-playing is about the CHOICES you make as a player: Who do you fight? When do you run? What are you willing to offer in negotiation? Who are you willing to aid…or spare from the knife? Role-playing is about considering the feelings of the imaginary character and (for the duration of a gaming session) making them your own.

People make the mistake of thinking play-acting is the same as role-playing and then get upset and frustrated that their 18 charisma character isn’t a “smooth talker” (because the player isn’t a smooth talker in real life) or that their 18 intelligence character can’t hold his own in intelligent discourse (because the player can’t in real life). They get upset that they can’t “role-play the way they want to” and perhaps more upset that the people who DO play-act well are getting XP bonuses because of it (!) and then they want rules and systems for governing “role-playing” (like adding a “negotiation” type skill) and before you know it, you have 3rd edition (*sigh*).

Play-acting is superficial. Role-playing is not play-acting, even though it can incorporate play-acting. Play-acting is saying, “Have at thee, villain!” before attacking. If you have a (character driven or derived) reason for attacking said villain, then sure you are role-playing…regardless of whether you use a funny accent or not.

However, I’ve gamed with plenty of d-bags whose only real motivation was the player driven one of “kill-loot-level” and who paid only the barest of lip service to justify their in-game choices of action. Hey, D-Bag: if you don’t have a reason to kill-loot, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it. Get a World of Warcraft account already.

Really. We all understand that part of the fun of D&D is leveling up…hell, it’s a damn imperative since the game, as written, only allows full exploration of its content by increasing in power and status (i.e. level). But man-o-man, especially in free-form or “sandbox” type campaigns I’ve seen some behavior that just struck me as…well, as wrong. Not because players weren’t getting along (they were), but because…well, because I wanted some role-playing. Not a lot, just a little…just something. Watching players (mentally) salivate over imaginary points…especially when the DM’s trying to create a rich and diverse environment for players to engage and interact with…is just discomforting (and a little sad). But I guess I’m an elitist snob about a lot of things, not just role-playing.

[for the record, these folks were ones I played with, not ones in adventures or campaigns I ran as a DM. I tend not to be too easy on characters in my games, and these types of players seem to gravitate to a more…um…”forgiving” breed of DM than myself]

So anyway, where was I? I mean besides 22 pages and 10K+ words into this thing. Oh, yeah…3rd Edition.

Unlike AD&D 2E, I still own my core rulebooks for the 3rd edition of Dungeons & Dragons. I do this so that I’ll never again be tempted to buy them again. Well, that’s the main reason…they also have historic significance, some interesting design things, and a lot of nice, inspirational illustrations.

Hmmm…but before we delve into 3E, I’d like to anecdotally mention that I had the chance to talk with Tim Morgan down at Gary’s Games today. Tim runs the store and has decades of experience playing and running role-playing games. He’s also a designer himself and only last year published his magnum opus, Ellis: Kingdom in Turmoil…a 600 or so page RPG that I will probably never play because, you know, “too big.”

I put to Tim the same questions about role-playing, I’d previously asked of Kris, Kayce, etc. It took him a couple tries to grok what I was asking, as he’s used to parents (and others) coming into the store and asking “what’s a role-playing game” and he has some standard spiels he likes to rattle off. However, I finally got him to answer the question (describe the ACT of role-playing, etc.), and the gist of his answer was:

When you take actions that you normally wouldn’t and that are actually detrimental to your character.

Which is a little different from my own take, though it would still follow the self-sacrifice guidelines of Allston’s Rules Cyclopedia. However, it hashing it over with him, it turns out we were NOT quite on the same page, though only because of his preferred method of role-playing: he wants his characters to get into predicaments and suffer.  Now, that’s simply Tim’s preference if he likes playing characters that are always destined for doom…but he also seems to enjoy what the Forge-ites would call Pawn-Director stance (or Pawn-Author stance) in terms of his approach to RPG “play,” and for me this kind of breaks the idea of role-playing for me. Not because you can’t play that way in those imaginary fantasy games we lump under the umbrella term “role-playing games,” but because playing with a detached viewpoint is removing oneself from the vicarious fantasy play one experiences in the ACT of role-playing.

So that was interesting (that we disagreed)…I’m not sure I was able to turn him on the point, either, which leads me to wonder a bit how this series of posts are going to be received when I finally start putting them on the blog.
; )

The other interesting thing was when I asked him the part about how he learned to role-play, what his first experience was with the act of role-playing (not just with playing an RPG). Tim was VERY specific with his answer: he remembered being in a gaming group that was playing a post-apocalyptic RPG in high school and he wanted to engage in the act of role-playing, but didn’t feel it would be appropriate/acceptable with that particular group and so moved on to a different gaming group where it would be…however, nothing taught him, he simply wanted to “do something” that he couldn’t even articulate at the time.

He also said that he had played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons before, had started on D&D as a kid in fact, and had never before engaged in (or been interested in) “role-playing” or anything more than wargaming-type dungeon crawls.  As it turns out, his introduction to D&D was through 1st edition AD&D, with maybe the briefest of stints with Holmes Basic (a couple-few weeks before getting his first PHB)…so the form of D&D he grew up on was in that strange period prior to Moldvay when “role-playing” aspect of the game wasn’t emphasized.

So, so different from my own gaming origins.

Okay, I’m going to call it a night and try to finish this up tomorrow with D&D3. I’ve been writing this “essay” for almost a week now, and even though I intend to break it into installments, it’s going to be a loooong slog for readers. I can only hope it’s at least a little helpful to folks.

[to be continued]


  1. This is in reference to your statements on players who only want to loot-and-level:

    You know what I would say to a DM that demanded I justify an act my player character made in his or her campaign? Who demanded that I explain my 'motivation'?

    Fuck you. That's my reason.

    I don't explain my actions to anyone in the real world. What makes you think being a DM entitles you to any explanation, ever?

    I think you'll find the D-bag in the mirror, JB.

    1. Yeah, I'm with Alexis in this matter. It's no one's business but my own what is going on inside my character's head - a head which only really exists within my own head - and I would have to paraphrase Jubal Early (in the Firefly episode "Objects in Space") and say "Don't ever go visiting my intentions".

      This is why I've become a strong advocate for objective reward/advancement systems, and an opponent of interpretive systems like "XP for Roleplaying" that always require Referee discretion.

  2. I think this installment is where you start to wander into territory that approaches "the way I like to play is roleplaying and the ways that I don't like to play aren't."

    Why is a detached stance not roleplaying? I'd say only the strictist idealist about stance doesn't wander into that territory from time to time. Also, you state that "play-acting" isn't something that you particularly enjoy, therefore you discount it as superficial and "not roleplaying"--even though I'd venture to guess that most RPG players would certainly call that an aspect of roleplaying (although not necessarily synonymous.)

    Also, Smolenski--I didn't read anything about GMs demanding that players surrender their motivations--merely that the theory of "proper" roleplaying assumes that the PLAYER'S actually do, in fact, have character motivations in mind that they make an effort to incorporate into the game.

    Jump to conclusions much?

  3. I think my tastes in roleplaying style is close to yours but I'd hesitate to call the play acting 'superficial'... it's a strong element of RPGs for a lot of folks I've met and as a player/GM I tend to be enjoy those players who at least attempt that sort of thing... vs. the guy who memorizes all the gains he'll get at each 'level'.
    I'm big on immersion for my own enjoyment, and while I might not want to play with the guys who just want to loot and play in a detached manner I don't think I'd be tempted to say they're doing it wrong.

  4. Um, Joshua, who cannot seem to notice my name hasn't an 'i' on the end of it, among other things ... the presumption is that kill-loot-level isn't a sufficient motivation, and that a better one is expected to be advanced, else the author of the post with think you are a douchebag.

    It's curiously funny that you and I said exactly the same thing, only I didn't feel the position deserved the namby-pamby mawkish tolerance in which you chose to couch your opinion.

    1. Yeah, I had a typo. Sue me.

      I don't think we said the same thing at all, though. Your comment was about the need for the player to tell the GM the character's motivation, which I didn't read in the original post at all.

      I'm saying that the analysis is starting to take a circular and rather useless turn wherein what JB likes is roleplaying and what JB isn't is disallowed on a technicality. I doubt if you asked most roleplayers if what he calls "play acting" is separate from roleplaying that they'd disagree. I also doubt that they'd say that the reconciliation that the player does between the needs of the game and the motivations of the character invalidates his roleplaying and is now no longer roleplaying either.

      I don't mind the definition JB posits for roleplaying, but I think that in true dictionary fashion, it needs to have a 1) before it, and there needs to be a correllary 2) the expression of bringing the character to life via using actual dialogue and other techniques.

      "Play-acting", as JB calls it, isn't separate from roleplaying. It's not roleplaying, or at least not the totality of roleplaying, but I doubt most players who use the word make the distinction that he does, and consider "play acting" to be an expression of roleplaying. Even those who don't feel comfortable doing it themselves usually tend to see it as a desirable goal to be striven for, or at least appreciate players who do it.

    2. Also, the opposite of namby-pamby mawkish coddling is not oh-so sensitive "help me I'm a victim and must take offense at everything, and respond in kind." That's a heck of a big false dichotomy.

      Most folks just disagree via polite discussion. That's still true, even on the Internet.

    3. Sorry--another typo. I doubt roleplayers would AGREE, not disagree, with the separation of "play acting" from roleplaying.

    4. The need to condemn everyone who promotes a flat-out condemnation of a poor behavior system as "I'm a victim" betrays you.

      You prefer to waffle in your disagreement. I feel no one, ever, period, has a right to tell how or when a player in any campaign should act in any particular manner or in any particular way. Roleplaying is not game playing. Ruling, as JB did, that playing the game (kill-loot-level) in a non-roleplaying manner (as JB defines roleplaying) defines a person as a "D-Bag."

      JB, author of the post, defined the level of the language in the response he received. He got that language in kind.

      You, Joshua, are a commenter ... and despite your willingness to be the thought police on someone else's blog, you're really no one of importance. I don't have an answer to your last position because, frankly, I failed to see how it was written in English. Nor do I really care.

      I suggest in future you allow JB to kick me around; he and I have gone around in the past and we respect each other. I don't know who the hell you are.

  5. JB, I think you've made a fine distinction between play-acting and making character decisions based on character motivations. Good analysis.

  6. Hahahaha! I'm "betrayed" by my waffling?

    Sorry, pal. You're betrayed by your obvious butt-hurt. Both at the original post and now at me. "Thought police" indeed.

    1. Don't worry too much. Alexis has an image to maintain. He's developed an online persona, and he has to keep up appearances. He's a human being like the rest of us: sometimes afraid, sometimes noble, always flawed. I think he means well...but he just has what some might call an "unusual" way of showing it.