Mar 24, 2009

To be, or not to be, in character.

Being as D&D is a Role-Playing Game, there is a basic assumption that a player (that is you) will engage in that wondrous endeavor of playing the game - in character.

In reality, I have seen this one little assumption send more prospective players fleeing for the hills! What is it about role-playing that scares people so much? Think about it:

The rules? Can't be, Installing stereos is more difficult by far.

The math? Nope, your checkbook quivers in terror, awaiting it's next ruthless balancing.

The concept? Doubt it, You think Frodo did it wrong and can to prove it!

But for some reason folks seem to get all kinds of weird when you put them in a room with 6 others (there for the same reason) and ask them to pretend to be their piece of paper...Why is this? Tell a newbie gamer that they need to "act like their character" and immediately they begin to emit fear smell.

This is because, as much as some would reduce role-playing to a longer or shorter list of skills, we all know that there is more to it than that. The skills give an excellent MECHANICAL reference, but leave much to be desired in their implementation.

Should a bluff check be as simple as rolling high on a d20? Or should it require a complex interaction between the DM and all party members that wish to assist? On the other hand, does every single interaction require 20 minutes of grumble and banter before we finally chuck the dice and allow lady luck to make her preference known?

I'd like my group to grow towards that mythical point where everyone walks into the room, secures food and beverage, and then transforms from HARRY, THE WEAK-WILLED INSURANCE CLAIMS ADJUSTER, KEEPER OF THE BLOODY DENIAL STAMP, AND PROTECTOR (IN RESIDENCE) OF HIS MOTHER


I have been involved with several groups over the last 20 years. None of these has come anywhere near this lofty ideal. Which leads me to wonder, does ANYONE actually do this? I mean, I do voices. I do notes written in runes, I do NPCs, I do secret plot developments reacting to the path of destruction left behind by the heroes...But I have never seen anyone but a DM actually...Roleplay.

My current plan is to try out a RP night. Where the assumptions of In and out of character are flipped. Everything you say is truly issuing from you meat-puppets mouth. If the DM is sold on your performance, you get a 500XP bonus.

How does everyone else do it? Is it even okay to force people outside of their boxes? What is an "ideal" role-playing experience? All questions, and food for thought to my esteemed readers.


trollsmyth said...

I do this by playing online via chat programs. It's a lot easier to play your role and treat the others as their characters, when you have that nice internet wall and text between you. It makes it safe for people who otherwise would be far too uptight to play like that otherwise.

- Brian

Precocious Apprentice said...

I also RP online. I use forum posting. I get huge amounts of RP in my online games. I am a good writer. I am not a good actor. Many people say the same things. If I want to actually develope characters and plot, I play online. Otherwise, it is always just rollig dice and drinking beer. I have never actually seen good RP in face to face games.

Chgowiz said...

You might be surprised at this, but I love to RP. I'm just not playing in any games right now, as I'm DM'ing mostly. I do try to roleplay my characters when I play them. I wish I had more opportunities to do so, probably why I have an unashamed fondness of LARPs.

Mike Lee said...

Putting someone on the spot only works with people who are natural performers.

Just let it be "a game where your character can do whatever he wants". Some players will come out swinging, trying to do ANYTHING they want, and others will stick to the character sheet.

You can show the player the walls as he bumps into them. For example, the cleric in heavy armor is probably not going to jump the fire pit like the barbarian just did. Eventually the player gets a feel for what a "good" score for an attribute or skill is.

Inevitably the new player is going to say something like, "I want to use my diplomacy on him", and that's where you ask him what his character says. Ask him to say it like his character would. Pretty soon he's RPing. -As much as he's comfortable with anyway. Some people aren't big on m'lord this, and m'lady that. most people can manage some in-character trash talk, ala action movie.

I've also found asking a player to describe an awesome success really draws out the RP. -When the player's PC rolls a crit or crushes a skill roll.

Helmsman said...

You are describing what game critics call "lack of immersion" and judging from the basic descriptions of the way you run in this post I think I can identify what the problems are and what you might be able to do about them.

First off. Voices and runes written out on papers are nice, but every GM I've ever had that pre-wrote notes was always running a very linear and scripted game. Linear and scripted make it very hard to get immersed into the role-playing because the Players will often feel that there is no point to pursuing their character's desires or goals because to do so would deviate from the script which in turn would earn them retributions from their other players. "Are you gonna just come or are you gonna be difficult? How bout we just leave you behind?"

The other breaker of immersion is system/setting incongruity. Level based systems are often guilty of this. You know that a 15th Level Whatever is supposed to be a certain degree of power but in-character you can't say "Oh he's a 15th Level Fighter, he can help save the Princes..." or whatever, this means it's much easier to stay out of character and not make those silly faux-pas, that again will earn them cries of distain from their players.

Perhaps you can try this:
Do up a simple game with new characters. Don't give the characters a system and classes to choose from, instead ask them for a concept of something broad like "a criminal" or "a traveling merchant" do your best to avoid class keywords like "thief" or "magic user", instead stick to real-life concepts like street urchin or farmer. Then give them something that makes them exceptional in some way, usually with a skill they're exceptionally good at that will serve them well and they know it. Then drop them off in the middle of nowhere, with no bearing and let them decide their own path. You'll see role-playing.

Anonymous said...

So this is hard but possible. I had a great gaming group back in Memphis that conducted a five year long in character campaign. I had gamed for ten years and never done it, though I knew I wanted to. The others in experience (one of the best was a woman whose first RP experience was this game)

You need a couple things.

First, you need everyone to actually want to do it. We had a series of games going on, and I clearly declared that I wanted to run a serious, IC, roleplay campaign. Some people opted in and some opted out. And in fact, after a first little bit, a couple more who thought they were up for it opted out. After the shakeout we settled down to five serious players. (More than that is probably a bad idea).

Second, we did a couple things to help everyone stay in character. We were careful about always being IC when sitting at the table. No game rule talk, no "table talk" - all what you say and what do you do. We had a routine of 50 minutes of play, 10 minutes of break, to take care of the bathroom/snacking/chatting.

We also practiced strict information compartmentalization. No one knew what someone else's character sheet said. We used notes and take-asides, so that if only one person saw something, they were the only ones I told as the DM, and they could share as they saw fit. Under no circumstances would I use game terms or even monster names unless they'd learned the names in game. I never explained "secrets" afterwards - "Oh, that guy was really after X..."

There was other stuff, but that's the core of it. It worked out very well and the characters developed extremely realistic relationships with each other, NPCs, and the game world in general. Everyone agreed afterwards that it was the best RP experience they'd had.

I think the question is "what is in character." No one in this game used funny voices (well, I did as DM from time to time). For us, the goal was immersion - trying as much as possible to put yourself in the character's mindset and pretend the game world they're in is real, and acting accordingly.

Donny said...

Good morning everyone, and thank you for stopping by :)

I like what I am hearing so far, but must admit, I am a bit surprised. I always thought i was just doing it wrong, and that was why few of my players were really into getting immersed.

I think I will try between game in-character posting, so we can tease a little personality out of the characters. Once a set of behaviors and such are established, we can stop and see where we are with it.

For some reason, I had thought more people were into the whole role-playing thing. My group tends toward kick-in the door and annihilate everything that moves like a SWAT team or something.

4E works so well for them, because it really embraces that aspect of the game. Thanks for all the advice, I KNEW I kept y'all around for something ;)