Apr 3, 2009

So many kings, but only one crown...What's a gamer to do?


All kidding aside, I have a few questions for you. Even if you decide not to comment, think about it.

A.) WHAT is role-playing, what is ROLL-playing.
B.) Which edition does each best, and why?
C.) Who decides which is which?

Last week, I asked how I could get my players to actually Role Play, that is spend the session in-character. Based on the feedback provided, fewer groups do this than I had thought. Those that did, tended towards closely knit groups that have known each other forever, or PbP games.

Is actual in-character RP the ideal or the norm? I would speculate that it is the ideal. It would follow that the term ROLL playing was coined by an elitist douchebag trying to fire someone up on a messageboard somewhere. I wonder if he played diceless too. Google ROLL playing, and it immediately asks if you really meant ROLE playing. While I feel that google is an evil blight on our beautiful intarnets, they have a point.

So is the stigma against ROLL playing due to tossing dice? I can only assume, as the rest of the google results show that this isn't a topic many folks get into. The exception being the flame wars on the messageboards, but I don't give a rat's tiny little pucker about them, so I need to bring in the experts...You guys!

So where does the line blur between the two?

Is it NOT okay to ROLL the dice when ROLE playing? If so, then why?

Should we all just be playing AMBER of WUXIA?

What says Role-playing more, proficiency slots or skills?

Can anyone pick out actual D&D RP rules in any edition that makes them superior to all others? Why are they superior?

Since being a ROLL player or a munchkin is so terrible, should I send my players so inclined packing? You know, for the good of the game?

While there is a little bit of snark in there, these are genuine questions. Personally, the only game that has actually encouraged me to ROLEplay was the various World of Darkness campaigns I have been party to. Why this is, and more importantly, why I am not still playing these is a question for which I have no answer, D&D just feels right : )

I am also curious about how much of this is simply "It's my team". Example: the Cubs are a terrible team. Folks who have been waiting for them to go all the way have been born, lived, and died waiting - and yet, there are still rabid fans made all the more hardcore...Is that what has happened to us, have we all made ourselves too hardcore to move beyond our comfort zones? Has geek cred become elitist douchebaggery in disguise?

I mention this as a slight aside, learn from my mistake!

I went to a (will remain unnamed) FLGS last Saturday to purchase the new Dungeon Delve. I hadn't been to this particular store before, so i wandered a bit and noticed a complete lack of 4E stuff. I asked the guy behind the counter, and got (I shit you not) a sneer, and said, "We don't carry that crap. If you are new to the game, and need training wheels, we have an in-house Pathfinder game 3 days a week." Then it dawned on me that the place was a 3.5/Pathfinder SHRINE! I won't sidetrack any farther that this: His reason for making the decision was his own, though he said he felt "betrayed" and all that noise we are all familiar with. He finished his rant with a beautiful, "I won't sell a product designed for idiots that should be playing video games anyway"...

I was floored. Yes, I got kicked out. No, I did not set a good example. Elitist Douchebaggery? Yes - X2 in this case. Welcome to rule number one, "people who throw stones make visible targets."

In any event, I am interested in YOUR opinions. I see this "assumption" a lot. Every one's team, err, I mean game is the bee's knees. The editions and games change, but all seem to have claim to the superior RP game. So which one is it and why?

17 comments:

Wimwick said...

My group is fairly good at role playing, that is we play our characters and make decisions that make sense given their backgrounds.

What we don't do is sit around and talk in character all night. Honestly, there are far too many jokes, stories, and other distractions to do that.

As to which king gets the crown, I think that's a decision that each player/group decides on their own. Play what works, have fun doing it.

Regarding the owner/employee of that gaming shop, I say his loss. I respect him for making a decision as a business owner, but I think he's cutting of a good source of income.

trollsmyth said...

A.) WHAT is role-playing, what is ROLL-playing.

At my table, which often is only virtual, role-playing is when you put character and style and tone first. Roll-playing is where you put numbers and mechanics and probabilities first. Most players do a bit of both. I've mixed both types of players into a single game successfully, but generally speaking, you're best off if you can lean a game in one direction or the other.

You can use Bartle's "Players Who Suite MUDs" article to describe this if you like. Role-players correspond roughly to socializers while roll-players tend to be achievers. Explorers can go either way, but are almost always really strongly one way or the other.

B.) Which edition does each best, and why?

Limiting our discussion to editions of D&D, which I assume was your aim, Moldvay/Cook Basic/Expert tends to do roll-play extremely poorly, because there are so few handles by which to manipulate the numbers. The rules offer the players very few chances to customize the mechanics of their character or adjust the probabilities of success on dice rolls. Played by the book, Moldvay/Cook can be extremely frustrating for roll-players since so much of the numbers is completely out of their hands. Role-players can greatly enjoy this game, but only if they're willing to get beyond such issues as race=class, hit points, armour making you harder to hit, and things like that. If the players and DM are on the same page, Moldvay/Cook can sing, but it requires trust and a willingness on everyone's part to "buy in" to the game's assumptions.

4e is a much better fit for roll-players because it gives them lots of toys to play with. The many different ways to mix-and-match race, class, powers and skills can make character creation a game in itself, and roll-players can have a great time just trying to create the perfect combo to accomplish certain goals (damage-per-turn, for instance, or a skill-challenge master). In the game itself, the numerous buffs and powers, and the limitations on when and where they can be used, offer all sorts of intriguing challenges for roll-players, who can fiddle with their character sheets and adjust their bonuses for optimal performance in shifting situations, sometimes just by changing the order in which rules are invoked.

Unfortunately for role-players, 4e carries through many of the challenges from older versions of the game (hit points and AC making you harder to hit being chief among them) and add on powers that can only be used once per day or per encounter, and a treasure system that is openly antithetical to versimilitude. Role-players have more challenges to overcome with 4e than any previous edition of the game, though the right group can absolutely do it.

The best edition for role-players is probably 2e, as it combines the simplicity of the older editions with a strong emphasis on setting and flavor in its support materials. The 2e Monsterous Manual is rich with biological and anthropological details which give players and DMs all sorts hooks to create fun interactions with. (I prefer Moldvay/Cook to 2e primarily because I'm a do-it-yourself kinda guy who has no trouble inventing my own classes and strange cultures. But if you prefer to play with ready-made goodies, 2e's are the most numerous, the most varied, and the most fun.)

3e is probably the best compromise between the two. It includes exceptional flexibility in character creation, a boon to both sorts of players. Role-players need no longer fret over why their wizard can't swing a sword while roll-players can tweak and optimize their characters with many options in race, class, skills, and feats. Since the same rules that govern character creation also apply to monsters, DMs can tailor the monsters to fit all sorts of varied social and cultural settings, while still incorporating a nearly endless mechanical diversity. This means new surprises and lots of chances for fun for both roll and role-players.

Unfortunately, the game falls apart for both at higher levels. The mechanics become horribly unwieldy for the role-players while the roll-players can end up shattering economies and building nearly untouchable combat-monsters that turn the game into a series of roll-miss-roll-miss-roll-miss... or utter slaughters at the hands of whichever side wins the initiative roll.

C.) Who decides which is which?
I do! And I have spoken! ;)

Seriously, these are just matters of personal taste. Matching the right players to the right campaign is a challenge, and sometimes you need to bend when things are close-but-not-quite.

- Brian

Donny said...

IT'S ART, BECAUSE I SAY IT IS!

lol, thank you vry much Ser Trollsmyth :)

I agree very much with your conclusions. In fact, I find little to disagree, having dealt with a diplomancer or two in my time.

I also agree with 2E being the best at actual roleplaying. I cut my teeth on 2E, and was as happy about it's RP options as I was disappointed with it's lame Chargen and combat.

In truth, I wasn't so much searching for an answer (MY ART!) as I was trying to inject some introspection into my readers.

Do they REALLY feel that way? Why? No reason? My wife is infamous in that regard :)

Thanks for sharing man!

trollsmyth said...

Heh... You're very welcome. I have a habit of answering rhetorical questions. I think it makes me a better DM and writer, but also insufferable at cocktail parties. ;)

Helmsman said...

My apologies on behalf of the elitist douchbag community for that store-clerk's behavior. I'm an elitist douchbag myself but I wouldn't distain paying customers for anything. So you can feel superior in the fact that that guy is a fucking idiot, and deserves to have his store fail.

So now for the answers:
a) Role playing and Roll playing is ultimately irrelevant as long as you're having fun. If your players like munchkining it up and you're comfortable letting them then what's the problem? If your players are still coming to your game table every week and have fun then really who gives a crap whether or not they speak in-character and reveal their character's inner demons through long drawn-out monologues before they smite the goblins? But if everyone wants a change, then you should probably start with a drastic one. Go with a completely new system setting and playstyle, go from fantasy to contemporary and turn everything on it's head, maybe it'll work and maybe it won't but it'll get everyone out of the rut, and that might be enough to change the way people look at your games. If everyone is used to a particular style of play you won't get them to change that style just because you want them to, you have to change things first.

b) If by which "edition" you mean edition of D&D then I will tell you honestly NONE. D&D is a mechanism to kill things with dice, every edition is that way because there are certain core truths about the system that disconnect from reality and stops people from Role playing. I'm not saying that it's impossible to actually Role Play using D&D, because it's not, however a player group that knows D&D and doesn't role play will not start without switching things up. If you want some suggestions for good games to use that will change your player's perspectives I suggest the following:
Cyberpunk 2020
Vampire the Masquerade or Vampire the Requiem (Tabletop or LARP, though LARP needs a much bigger venue, LARP's don't get fun until you have around 15 to 20+ players.)
Exalted
These games have point based advancement systems and thus do not scale hit points by level. This is important because while character advancement is how you make a player *care* about his character, not having level-based hit points means that even though his character is powerful and kickass, he can still fall to the same lucky shots a starting character can, that concern for one's character translates into caution, and caution can be changed into fear and all of those things are role-playing. These games also have more functional social mechanics than D&D which means that Role Playing social encounters has clearer effects which translates into encouraging players to resolve issues in ways that don't involve violence because a) the game system accommodates that, and b) violence carries the actual possibility of character death.

c) In my case this question is irrelevant.

As for the question of ideal or norm, fun is the ideal, as long as people are having fun who gives a crap whether your games measure to someone's arbitrary standard of normalcy. I can tell you that all the games I run and play in use lots of role playing, but we also gloss over stuff during time jumps as appropriate. But I've not played an actual session of D&D in 5 years and that time I tried to resolve a situation with role-playing and was rebuked for it.

I don't think there's a stigma against roll playing in and of it's self. That's a term only a gamer would understand and gamers draw battle lines over much clearer terms that that one. There's D&D'ers, LARP'ers, Simulationists, Wargamers, Ren-Faire goers, Indy gamers, and Narritivists. Oh and Munchkins. Each faction has it's own individual opinions of the other but we all stand side by side against the outsider who views all Role Players as a freakier more shut-in version of a WoW addict because we actually come out of our basements to interact with others of our kind without the computer game medium. Crazy.

Dice rolling is an aspect of gaming, a good system will make the dice mechanic fluid and not impede RP but stimulate it.

I've never played Amber or WUXIA, but honestly I think broadening everyone's horizons by trying out some other systems is definitely not a bad thing.

Proficiency slots or skills? I have no idea. To me that's like asking what says Coffee more, donuts or croissants?

I'll refrain from answering which D&D has rules that makes it better from the other versions of D&D. You can probably guess why.

Why send them packing? If I want to run a game that I don't want certain players in I don't invite them. Booting players is burning bridges and that's a good way to have no players very fast. I honestly believe that at a certain point everyone should learn to exploit the rules, if a game can't handle rule exploitation then it's a bad game. I've seen Exalted forums where a player posts a build that he's convinced has just broke the game and is thus triumphant; then the regulars all look at it and go "Congrats on your first combat build. Good job. Here's how we counter it using basic rules." That is a good system. Munchkins are only bad if they abuse power by dominating and threatening players and GM with in-character violence. Everything else is up to the system, if the system can't handle a particular build then that system is unbalanced and bad.

WoD makes RP easier because you're playing a person or a vampire or a werewolf, not a level 8 Fighter/Mage. The difference is subtle but it amounts to this:
How do you pretend to be a vampire? What does a Vampire do and act like?
vs.
How do you pretend to be a level 8 Fighter/Mage? What does a level 8 Fighter/Mage do and act like?

Do you see what I'm saying? One is based on a concept with an identity, the other is an abstraction based around game rules. The rules are your identity, as well as dictating what you can and can't do. But that identity is an abstraction, so in order to actually play the role of that character you have to shrug off the rules and their abstractions to do so. That's the disconnect. White Wolf has traits and numbers too but they don't factor into the character's identity and thus there's no roleplay disconnect.

Why do you still play D&D even though you have these frustrations? I can't answer that because everyone has their own preferences, but D&D is easy, and familiar. In a game without Levels learning a spell requires forethought and active pursuit, which might be difficult for some players. While in D&D getting that spell only requires you to beat up enough critters to achieve the appropriate level. It's that simplicity that draws people even though it has so many drawbacks.

So that's my opinion, hope it's coherent enough to be worth something.

Donny said...

@helmsman - Well said Sir! and thank you for taking the time to write a boo-er, comment on my humble blog :)

Between you and trollsmyth, we are getting somewhere!

JimLotFP said...

>>A.) WHAT is role-playing, what is ROLL-playing.

I consider role-playing to be the simple act of pretending to be someone else.

In gaming terms, "I am a cleric (or whatever) in a dungeon (or wherever). What would I do?"

I don't consider speaking in-character, or developing a unique personality for the character, are necessary requirements for role-play.

In that way, the tactical decisions of 4e combat is just as much role-playing as speaking in-character at an NPC's wedding.

I'd consider roll-playing to simply be self (both player and character) aggrandizement at the expense of both the other players and the setting.

Swordgleam said...

Last session, my most kick-in-the-door-y player asked if he could describe one of his attacks. This was shocking for both of the obvious reasons.

Most groups I've seen consider roleplaying "that stuff we do when we're not hitting stuff, that makes the fact that we're going to hit stuff more important."

Thasmodious said...

1. Role-playing is playing a character, simple really. You don't have to do voices, speak only IC, just play the game, in the game world, as if you were that character. Roll-playing is ignoring character and playing a numbers game.

2. 4e is a great role-players edition. The system both gets out of the way to let you roleplay and provides good mechanical backing so the in world results are the result of your character performing actions, not you the player. 3e was easily the best roll-players edition. An obscene amount of character options to make up for a lack of real flexibility in the class design, a rule for everything design paradigm leading to player entitlement and obsessive rules lawyering (but that NPC couldn't have that feat, he wouldn't meet the prereqs!), just a general rules and numbers heavy approach to the game.

3. It's your blog, we're just commenting on it. :)

Gwen Morse said...

I have a theory about this. I think it comes down to game mechanics. D&D requires you to do lots of math. Not just the recent math in 3/3.5/4, I'm including the earlier Basic, Advanced, and 2nd Edition. Your party wanders down the hallway, finds something to kill, and the players spend the next 20 minutes to hour going round the table making calculations to kill it. That's a system that encourages you to focus on numbers (and thus "rolling"). In order to accomplish your goals, you need good numbers.

Contrast that with the World of Darkness (which you also mentioned), where most types of characters can get away with _never_ getting into combat. If you don't "roleplay", there's not much else for you to do.

As others have said, it's all a matter of what you enjoy and are comfortable with.

Scott said...

Roleplaying focuses on character. It doesn't necessarily take speaking and acting in character -- many roleplayers "narrate" from a removed perspective, and that's still roleplaying. The key, IMO, is that you're focused within the game, rather than on the game.

If you're concentrating on something that might be mentioned in a literature class -- character, plot, setting, motivations -- you're roleplaying.

Roll-playing refers to a focus on the mechanics of the game -- the rules, the dice rolls. It's often a disparaging term, implying that this focus comes to the exclusion of the character, plot, etc. -- although this doesn't have to be the case. You can roleplay a character and still be concerned about getting the best bonuses, or whatever. But roll-playing is by its nature focused on the elements of the game.

In my view, the roleplay is the game, and the roll-play is the system. In order to have an engaging, long-lasting campaign, you need some of both. (And diceless systems have roll-play, too; they just use a different mechanic. Roleplay without mechanics would be something entirely freeform, and therefore outside of a system.)

I'd say that Cyclopedia D&D does roleplay best, with 4e, 2e, and 1e not far behind. These are all editions in which mechanics for roleplaying are limited, and I consider that a good thing. Roleplaying doesn't need system, aside from a basic conflict-resolution mechanic (like skill checks or a "X% chance") in case the outcome of an action is in doubt.

The best system for roll-playing is 3.5e. The interaction of race, class, feats, skills, magic items, spells, many different types of bonuses... all of it provides for a lot of character optimization potential. Figuring out which 5 prestige classes to take single-level dips into in order to create the most powerful character is a roll-playing experience that's not possible in any other edition.

4e would be next-best, since it's still very flexible and offers a lot of options. It doesn't have the kinds of insane stacking that the dipping in 3.5e allowed for, though.

(Some GMs would consider 4e better for roll-playing, though, because it's easier to create new monsters and other challenges and accurately judge their threat level than it is in 3.5e. But from a player perspective, 3.5e is undoubtedly king.)

Who decides? The GM, usually. And if he doesn't like what he sees, he might roll-play a bolt of lightning from out of nowhere. :p

faustusnotes said...

What a hilarious "F"LGS. I suppose it's no different to PC stores only selling PCs, or vice versa, but still... some kids could grow up.

I agree with wimwick, role-playing is contributing to the atmosphere and the sense of the game, playing to your character, and doesn't require anyone to take a role. I privilege good descriptions and coherent playing over acting, which anyway isn't everyone's cup of tea.

As for editions - I think a good DM makes for good role-playing. I don't like 4e but I bet I could get good role-playing going if I ran a session with it. Good role-playing comes from an enthusiastic and careful DM who prepares well and gets his players into it, and players who want to do it. A d6 and a bottle of vodka would be sufficient if everyone's up for fun...

faustusnotes said...

btw, I agree with your picture of 1st edition D&D. I might add, the illustrations in those old skool books look like that, too...

Donny said...

Thank you all for the comments.

I was hoping to hear about the percieved positives of each in this arena. We tend to dwell too much on the negatives.

That, and I have never experienced OD&D or 1E (samething?) having started around revised 2E.

I'll be coming back to this, at ome point :)

Graham said...

First off, FUCK that game store. If they can't see that they lost a sale, and are losing potential sales, then they deserve whatever lost money or reputation they get.

You're a store. You are there to sell gaming products to customers. You are NOT there to make value judgements about what they want to buy.

On that note, however, what did you do to get kicked out? I'm not sure whether to shake my head or cheer you on. :P

.

2) Roll-playing is a derogatory term that I fucking hate, used to disparage those who like to actually roleplay the character the system has given them.

For instance, I'm a horrible liar, but my Rogue has a +20 in Bluff. I can "roleplay" it, or I can do as well as I can and then roll my dice to see how I did.

If I do it the first way, my super-bluff-y rogue will fail. If I do it the second way, I am called a "roll-player" and mocked.

Roll-playing is what enables most of us to actually roleplay in the first place. I'm not an expert swordsman, but using dice I pretend to be. I'm not a diplomat, but using dice I pretend to be.

I'm not a Gnome Bard, but using the game and the dice I can pretend to be.

And fuck anyone who thinks that's somehow "wrong"!

Graham said...

And I should note, to quote Scott:

The best system for roll-playing is 3.5e. The interaction of race, class, feats, skills, magic items, spells, many different types of bonuses... all of it provides for a lot of character optimization potential. Figuring out which 5 prestige classes to take single-level dips into in order to create the most powerful character is a roll-playing experience that's not possible in any other edition.

Don't confuse the role/roll conversation with powergaming and munchkin-ing. That's a whole other topic.

Sigh. I promised myself I wouldn't rant...

Siskoid said...

You mean RULE-playing? ;-)

Who decides? The GM, the players... not the system. No amount of rules crunch will prevent a player from role-playing. The reverse is just as true.

And yet, dice are an important element. NARRATIVE element. I made the case here, if you'll allow the link. In any case, I don't think they're mutually exclusive.