Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Blog Response: A Character You Can Roleplay

Perusing through RPG Bloggers, I came across this post, which then led me to this post. One is a response to the other, and well, this post is a response to both of them. It is a subject I've talked about briefly before, and I felt this was as good a time as any to chime in and make my thoughts on this more completely known. For those who don't have the time to read the two posts, the basic gist of them is that both are fully in support that a player should have to say, word for word, what their character says, and then the social die roll determines how well it is taken in/goes over with the target. On this point, I respectfully disagree. Why? Well, read on.

My real reason for disagreeing with their view is because it is an unfair stance to take. I'll get back to this point in a bit, but first I want to address what is going on here in general. So, to be clear and honest, I prefer players to say what their character is actually saying. It helps everyone stay in character, get in character, be in character, or whatever it is they are doing in their character. It also can really talk a lot about who and what a character is, how they treat people, and so on and so forth. It is a powerful tool, and it is something I try to encourage players to do in my game, and that as a GM and a player I try to do in response. I fail more often than not, sure, but I try.

The big thing though, and this is where my disagreement starts, is that this should not be forced. Maybe the player is shy, maybe they are new to the game, maybe they feel awkward with requesting what their character is. When gender bending a straight character, it can be really awkward trying to flirt with someone of your own gender, especially if you're not 100% comfortable talking to the GM about that sort of thing. The same can be true even when not gender bending, just because the GM/player is who your eyes see, even if you are a character talking to someone else. Other times, it can just be nerves, not being comfortable in the world, or any number of things. The point is, there are so many factors that can get in the way and break a player's ability to say, word for word, what their character is actually saying that forcing the issue is only going to make things worse. Worst of all, if the player feels ostracized or handicapped due to their inability to speak properly in character, they may just leave the group all together.

Take a moment and think about that. I said a lot up there, and most of it deals with player comfort and familiarity. Now, think of the world we live in (yep, the real world), and now think of the world you play in (far from the real world). Can you honestly expect that someone who lives in our world to be completely comfortable, familiar with, and able to speak fluently the language in that world? No, not really. I mean, sure they both speak English, but hell, take your American English speaking self up to Scotland or London and see how much you understand, and that is in the same world.

Instead of forcing, I say encourage. This isn't hard either. Give out XP for role playing. Do it on the spot too, "Hey Sarah, that was well said. Have a 10 xp cookie". 10 xp isn't much in a system that handles XP in the hundreds, but it is something. Heck, you don't even have to do XP cookies. Give a slight bonus to the roll to people who try to role play it out. Encourage the players, cheer them on when they do it. A "Hey man, well said" or a "I think that moment was so awesome, and really says a lot about your character" at the end of the game. (Another reason RP discussion is so amazing btw) This is all it really takes to encourage players to say what they want to say most of the time, but can still feel comfortable falling back on their dice when they can't find the right words. It also goes a lot further than forcing a player to do something.

Now, for the last part. I said my real problem with forcing people to say what their characters say is because it is unfair, and it is. Speaking to another character is an action. Convincing a guard of something, haggling with a merchant, lying to your character's girlfriend, these are all actions. They have a dice roll to handle them, and the dice roll is the final arbiter of the results. So, why can't the player just state their intended action, roll some dice, and be done with it? I hear people say it breaks immersion and character, but character only breaks when the person does this badly. The blurb in the post "Playing a Character You Can Roleplay" isn't a bad example of play because the player doesn't want to say what he says, it is a bad example because the player breaks character with a joke to say what he says.

Think about it, is "I try to convince her to talk to us, explaining the direness of the situation and how we need to stop her father before he ends the world" or "I try to charm the princess into giving me what I want with some light flirtation and promises of romance to come" really breaking character? We see the approach used, we can picture what the character is doing, and the scene really isn't broken, now is it?

But I said unfair, and am rambling. Back on point. You have to say exactly what your character says is unfair because you are not held to the same standards elsewhere. I would be willing to bet money that that same GM is fine with "I attack the goblin" in combat. Only, if he is truly in favor of not breaking character, and feels you have to say exactly what you say, then you should also have to say exactly how you attack. I don't get a good image from "I attack", I mean, how do you attack? Do you shield bash? Do you come over the top with your long sword? Horizontally? Diagonally? Do you roar? Do you pivot? Are you circling the man and looking for an opening, or brute forcing your way through with hammering blows?

Ok, combat is a bad example. I mean, that would slow everything down right. So, how about picking locks. Bet money the thief says "I pick the lock" but how? Does he use a bump key? Does he grab his third pick? the second pick? The ridged pick? Does he wiggle them around wildly, or does he take his time and study the lock for a long time so he can do it in a flash?

No? Another bad example. I mean, we can't expect people to know all the details of combat and lock picking (yet, we are expecting them to be word smiths as canny as their bard is apparently), so lets keep it in the social realm. "I sing a song". What song? What are the lyrics? Sing it for me right now. What, you can't sing? Well, don't worry the dice will tell us how it goes over. But you have to sing the whole song (play the instrument too, while we're at it) how your character would sing it.

I'm sure you get the point by now, and most GMs (and players) would never do that, but that is what is fair if you are making people say exactly what their characters say. It is also why I disagree with forcing people to do so. You can get the character across just fine with summation and a bit of narrative prose on the player's part, even if you can't get exact word choice. You can encourage the player to come out of their shell and say what they mean too. With luck, and time, you'll even foster an amazing role player out of it. But you won't do any fostering if you force them out of the shell.

As a final note, I apologize if some of what I said above came across as catty or attacking the original posters. I mean them no disrespect, but I do disagree with some of what they are saying. Especially when there is a better way around it. However, I'm curious to hear what you all think on this matter. Do you agree with what I said? What they said? Somewhere in the middle? Any particularly bad examples of either style? How about particularly good? Let me know!


  1. I'm mulling this over, everyone agrees that you should be role playing and that means acting (playing the role). I agree that there should be some attempt to act out a character. I also think that by their definition the PCs are able to do things that the Players cannot or should not (if not then why not go out and do them instead of simulating them?).

    The same is true of a movie actor, they need a lot of help to do the things they are expected to do on screen. Special effects and editing are, in a way, like dice rolls, they make up for what the actor can't do. Acting takes preparation and study. Some people do this well and easily and others hate prep and study. Do you want people that don't like prep and study to play? On the one hand yes and on the other, at their worst they're a warm body at the table.

    In the end this isn't a law of role play, this is a principle of role play. With a law, most westerners will try to get as close as they can to breaking the law without crossing the line. A principle is different, there is no line. The more you can do it the better. There is no way that you can completely accomplish the principle. There is only what is accepted as good enough, some people can do better than good enough but no one can complete it in it's absolute sense.

    The problem that humans have with principles is there is no mechanism for enforcing them. They are subjective to the one judging (what is the judge's 'good enough'?). The idea here is to establish a baseline 'good enough' which is then a law and people will try to get as close as they can to the law without crossing it. The results end up being unsatisfying even if they are technically valid according to the law.

    The other principle at stake is 'the GM should be reasonable'. How do you measure that? The players are the judge there, if they don't like the GM's style, they choose another (or just stop playing).

    These two principles come to a balance point the GM needs to be reasonable how much they expect a player to be able to role play. If they aren't, choose one that will be. This will vary by every group. It may mean that some players just won't be able to play in certain groups but you can be sure that the play in that group is pretty immersive.

  2. You have a good point, and a strong middle ground there Emmet. There is a lot to go on with play style and group play. All I know is that in my experience, I've seen people play a lot of very fun and awesome characters that a rule like this would have simply stopped them from playing. Maybe this is because I have a lot more experience playing Legend of the Five Rings, where the culture is so alien that a lot of people have issues with very basic concepts (i.e. evidence doesn't matter, testimony does. It doesn't matter you found him red handed, he out ranks you and says that you did it. Therefore, you did).

    I also see big differences between movies, TV, and role playing in that with movies and TV, for one the script is written out for you, and by a team of people who can express the character. That script is written at leisure where everything can be weighed and felt out. Finally, the actors have multiple takes to get the delivery just right. All of these things you don't have in a game.

    In the game Atraties is running right now, there are two players playing very fun characters to have around, that would just not be able to be there without a method like what I described. There are just too many times where the foreignness of the 40k universe gets in the way and they're forced to "I want to say something like this, only properly coached as only a high level noble would. So can I tell you what I want, how I'm trying to play it and roll fellowship?"

    Now, immersion is broken a tiny bit there, but we still get a sense of the character in the play. It also lets those players try and expand, and as the game has gone on both are doing that summarization less and less.

  3. That's the thing, this isn't a rule. It's a judgement. And I'm not saying that your mechanism for arriving at your judgement is wrong, as long as your players agree.

    The GM exerts pressure for more role play and the players exert pressure on the GM to accept the limits of what they can or are willing to do to role play. If a GM says "To get experience for this game you're going to have to larp" and the players say "No." then the GM can either accept that and play the game without larping or not have the game. If the players say "That sounds cool!" then the social requirement is valid.

    In the end if the GM is complaining that his players don't role play enough and the players are saying as a group "We don't want to role play more." Then the GM does not have recourse to force them.

    Would the play improve if the players role played more? Yes.

    BTW, I would include the idea of multiple takes in the realm of editing, which I liken to dice rolls. Even so, I'm just trying to use it as a mental milestone to compare what one kind of actor is understood to be required to do. Their performance is not expected to be perfect the first time. Jokes, inappropriate to the setting being acted in often prove hilarious outtakes and often serve as such while playing but are not considered part of the game.