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!