Jul 9, 2009

Do you MAKE people roleplay, and should you?

Lets blow the dust off of this blog, shall we? Apologies for the absence, RPGBloggers is now blocked at work, and I have been swamped with home improvement projects. Excuses out of the way, lets chat, shall we?

I am not really sure what to talk about. Sorry, it's been a slow couple of weeks - gaming wise. Though this weekend I am DMing my Assault on the lightless depths game. Our other game, a Pathfinder alpha Age of Worms campaign has gone on hiatus pending the end of the school year.
The good news is that we will be able to make some real progress :) The bad news is that I will have to ramp up my "homework" in order to keep the good stuff rolling along. In fact, I am working specifically to incorporate a new character (the Kenku wizard from the previous story). After his first 4E game, he was a bit disappointed in how "shallow" it was. He enjoyed the combat immensely, but felt it was missing something that he couldn't put a finger on.
By now you should know that I wasn't about to take that one lying down :) So we conversed a bit, but were unable to nail down exactly what the problem was. After thinking about it a little more, I may have a little more insight into why this was. My sessions are usually divided into three to four pieces. Each of these are scenes built around an encounter.
Example: If you read the previously posted stories, you will see that one of them was a crypt, with a trashed campsite and cave complex attached. There was a small fight at the campsite, a larger one at the crypt, and a massive knock-down-drag-out at the caves. His complaint? There was little inter-personal interaction beyond what the powers that were used "allowed".
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that he was both right and wrong. Previously, the party had been in a smallish village named Hogshire. While there, they didn't really DO anything. Nobody questioned the townfolk. Nobody asked where to find the local magistrate. Nobody wandered off to the tavern. Nothing. I was in such a hurry to squeeze in the whiskerfish skill challenge, that I overlooked it at the time. As time passed, with little forward movement, I finally Deus Ex'ed them with some wanted posters and such on the wellhouse at the center of town. Still...
What am I doing wrong? Should I have some villagers approach them on their own volition? (Railroading) or should I just sit and stare at them until they actually DO something? (Sandboxing). Should I even care? I mean they have fun and keep coming back, right?
This next session, we are going to start with a short conversation about this very subject. It could be that they simply want to be led...as apalling as that is to some of you. I may also very well be that they are still unsure as to what their characters can actually do (outside of the whole poking folks with swords). These are folks that I have played with for going on 8 years now, so they arent newbies either...Perhaps I am just a piss-poor DM :)
I stand by my statements that 4E does not hamper role-playing. All THAT really requires is imagination, and a way to implement it. You'll notice all of the 3E RP skills are still present, with similar - if not identical uses, and yet they are rarely used - definitely less than they were in 3E. I wonder why?
Any other 4E DM's out there having similar issues? And grogs want to snark me up :) ? Open mike, lets just try to be productive, shall we?

To assist you in preparation for your scathing scorn or pompous praise (FTW!) I will also do something I haven't done in awhile - FUNNIES!

And now, from the darkest corners of the internets!


kingworks said...

Of all the things my PC's didn't know they could do (and I went way out of my way to give them all sorts of info on that), I figured getting the PCs to TALK TO NPCs was not going to be a concern. Alas, silly newb DM that I am . . .

Hopefully, the set of caravan skill challenges I whipped up and plan to drop on them in the next adventure will fix that.

Helmsman said...

Sounds like you're too concerned about the cut and thrust of the encounter to really account for the bigger picture of what's going on in your world setting. How is having a monster-infested dungeon in the town's back-40 effecting livestock? Is there a wizard running the place who's been reserching a new powerful potion in the bowls of his basement and the tailings from the potion production is leaking into the water supply? If you actually considered these things, then you wouldn't "forget" to do interactions in-town because it would all be integrated into the story, not simply downtime between the fun stuff.

It's been my experience that staring at your players waiting for them to RP is not going to amount to anything. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Chances are if you actually instigated things by having a beggar boy bump into one of the PC's, your PC would probably massively over-react possibly gutting the poor kid just because there's never been any precedent for such interactions in the past. But if you want your PC's to do stuff in town, you have to bring the town to life. Do guards at the gate challenge the PC's? Is there a town crier in the streets? Are there pickpockets in the shadows? Are prostitutes in the streets propositioning the PC's? Do shutters slam shut and doors lock at the sign of these "outsiders" or are people happy to see them? These small interactions will help to pull your players into things and before you know it they'll be role-playing.

Bonemaster said...

Yeah, work blocked it for me as well. Luckily, I have my ways to get around if I want. Although it is still a major pain in the rear.

At any rate, welcome back.

Zzarchov said...

I lean to the sandboxing aspect myself, but that doesn't mean townfolk won't talk to you.

A guy with a sword and mail riding into town on a horse is the equivalent to someone driving down mainstreet in an armoured personel carrier. If the cops don't seem upset by this then people who need a hired gun are bound to walk up to these people.

"So you got a tank eh?"
"You lookin to make some easy money? Cause I got some goblin squatters..."

Anonymous said...

Meaningful social interaction demands a meaningful social environment. Investigation is fairly poor excuse, IMO. Go and make it personal: Where and who are the friends of the characters, their enemies, their loved ones, secret admirers or jealous bastards? If the player characters are completely disconnected from society, meaningful social encounters are much more difficult to engineer, because why would they give a shit?

In case of disconnected characters, just throw in some colourful personalities who demand or beg for help. Some local whore dissatisfied with her lot who wants the PCs to liberate her (and incidentally, give enough money so that she could survive on her own). Is she justified in her claim? Maybe, maybe not, that is up to the players and their characters. Two local peasants have a dispute about the division of farmland while great heroes pass by; of course they will ask the heroes to decide what is the right answer. All people will. Soon you will have meaningful social interaction. Just make sure that there is no right answer: If the players get involved, they must make a decision, not simply follow your lead. Tell this to them off-game if they are trying to follow a path of breadcrumbs.

One smart thing to do is to keep the player characters interacting with the same characters for a longer time. If they constantly travel far and wide, they won't have time to get invested in local trouble and people.

Wyatt said...

I do force people to roleplay because my sentiments on the player/DM relationship have always been as follows. Keep in mind that I mostly play over the internet because I don't really like tabletop meetings and such as the logistics of it disagree with me:

1. The DM (me) is the thrust of the game. I started the game and I run the game so I get to set the expectations.

2. The player (you) is obliged to follow the game as I choose to run it or leave. To the DM, the player is as disposable as he is disagreeable.

3. There are an infinitude of possible players and DMs, therefore, neither of us have to tolerate each other unless we genuinely enjoy the same play style.

Thus, I force players to roleplay in any game I'm in, because the expectation in the contract (the sign-up sheet) is that you will roleplay. In that sense, I suppose I do force people to roleplay, because I will kick them out if they don't.

If you don't want to roleplay, you go the hell away from me and find the 49th guy running Keep On The Shadowfell this month on Rpol.

It doesn't work this way on the tabletop, which is why I play online.

It's a fairly trial and error process, but via constantly throwing people out of my games, I have managed to build up a pretty good network of folks I can trust to play the game in a way satisfactory to everyone around. Therefore, I don't have the same issues spoken of previously.

Also, Donny, that post's formatting makes it really bloody awful to read. Where are the paragraphs?! Why did you murder them so?

MJ Harnish said...

I've going to parrot what thanuir said: Make the game about the characters (not the adventure) and the roleplaying will come naturally - one of the best best ways is to "hit them where it hurts" which boils down to finding something one or more of the characters values and targeting it. For example, rather than rescuing random townspeople, make it the characters' families. Or instead of having the orc king behead some random schmuck, make it one of their best friends.

In addition, you have to make the NPCs real people - too often they're just "quest delivery machines" or simply interactive scenery. In addition, in a game like 4E, which focuses on the action, they're not really essential to the actual mechanics of game play. Thus, you really need to make your NPCs larger than life in order for them to be noticeable. Try watching the show Deadwood - that town is full of people who are larger than life; even the bit players are all memorable.

Donny_the_DM said...

Thak you all for your valuable feedback :) Allow me to respond.

@Kingworks - I SO hear you. I had several NPC's in residence, notes, plotlines, the whole shebang - and it ended up being a 5 minute uncomfortable silence, followed by "lets ditch this shithole."

Granted, it WAS a shithole (being home to several piggeries and tanneries) but still..

@ Helmsman - careful with assumptions :) The encounters are "scripted" and well worked out, but there is ample time spent between them. Usually I spoon-feed hints and suggestions to them, but this time I was genuinely curious about what THEY wanted. I eventually chose to do exactly what you suggested - with a hysterical farmer approaching them about a monster stealing one of his hogs - and leaving a caustic pink slime trail in it's wake.

@Bonemaster - good to be back, thanks :)

@Zzarchov - Good call. The party (and others of their ilk) are in the VAST minority here. While there are militia (redshirts!) there are few actual "adventuring" types here.

@Thaniur - That will be difficult, as the PC's are "outers" from beyond the vale. I am trying to get them to care about the NPC's I throw out there, but with 3 unaligned, 1 LG, and and evil - there is definitely a bit of apathy going on. Though watching the LG and evil go at it is pretty damned funny :)

@Wyatt - Long time no see :) I understand. Sometimes I feel less like an impartial referee, and more like a kindergarten teacher. I WANT to give them the freedom to act, but it is so frustrating to give a hot plot hook, and then see them camp for a week and weave baskets :) Maybe I DO need to grab them all by the ear to establish some forward momentum...

@MJ Harnish - Loved deadwood, and Rome, and the Tudors. Just started Tru Blood. Great sources of inspiration all. The common thread here seems to be that my NPC's are too forgettable.

I think I may have a way to work that out - I'll report back next week.

Have a great weekend folks!

Helmsman said...

Donny I'm not making any assumptions. My general overall distain for D&D aside, I've got mad respect for your writing and the problems you present, and while I may come off as being a tad judgmental, rest assured I relate because I've been there, and my suggestions are the solutions I've come up with for the very same problems.

Your solution was excellent... now if only I could get the 90% of my brain that's perverted to stop making inappropriate jokes about a trail of pink slime we'd all be much better off.

Donny_the_DM said...

Great - now I'm having the same problem :)

If it helps, it was a pair of Ochre Jellies. I described a path in which the grass was simply gone down to the bare dirt. suspended in the slime were bits of...pig.

The looks on their faces were beyond priceless! They were terrified!

No worries, my friend. I'm a little thin-skinned today, I have a dentist appointment in 30 minutes :(

New BBEG class - Dentomancer, who's merest touch causes mouths to involuntarily sieze shut - ruining spellcasting.

His silvered drill will reduce the most stalwart warrior to a blubbering mass of "Please...no more..."

I am in the wrong profession :)

MJ Harnish said...

Let us know how it goes.

IMO, your biggest mistake is falling into the "nameless, mysterious adventurers wander into town" cliche. I know it's a standard D&D trope, but it too often leads IME to players feeling no connection to the area, its people, or its problems. 4E exacerbates the problem b/c now PCs start off very competent which makes the whole "we all grew up in this town and are nobodies" less plausible.

That said, if you can believe that hobgoblins are real, it's probably not too hard to imagine your 1st level character as just extremely luck or gifted. Either that or have them as a group returning to their hometown after being away on adventures (ala Dragonlance). Personally, I prefer campaign set-ups in which the characters are all connected; I typically use a group history creation process that connects everyone in one way or another. I then spin my connection of the group to the area using the hooks the players come up with. It worked great for the 4E game I ran for the after-school club.

Rob Iannacone said...

I don't think any grognard anywhere will tell you it's not okay to throw the characters a bone once in awhile. There's nothing wrong with throwing PCs, especially PCs that don't know anything yet, an obvious quest to get things moving. You just don't leave any money riding on how it turns out.

I just started a sandbox game two weeks ago. The PCs stepped right off the boat into a town none of them had ever been to, and got immediately assailed by a beggar who tried to hit them up for some charity. When they stopped, he explained he was another adventurer who was quitting the profession after a bad experience. He recommended a good inn, gave them directions to an NPC who sold maps, and offered to trade them information about the enchanted bronze skull he had been searching for, in exchange for a share of the profits so he could go home and take up goat farming.

But it's important not to rely on them accepting the quest (If you run a sandbox, anyway). Sure, they might be all over that - as it happened, this group was - but what if the characters in question are a band of religious pilgrims and ascetic hermits who aren't much for treasure hunting? What if they can't afford an inn? What if they object to the request and beat the crap out of the beggar?

In this case, whether or not they accepted his quest, the beggar gave the PCs a few very valuable tidbits of information. First, a place they could stay and base themselves, and meet other characters. Second, the address of a knowledgeable NPC that any character would probably do well to consult. And third, the knowledge that this expensive treasure is lying around somplace, and that someone around has probably seen it (Otherwise, how did the beggar find out about it?).

When they go to follow up on one of these things, they will meet other NPCs, who have their own stories and quests - Even in the case of kicking the tar out of the beggar, he might have friends, or the cops might come by. By the time they finally resolve things, if they ever do, enough other hooks will have popped up to provide them a full choice of goals.

What you are doing, really, is seeding the first few points in a a whole network of encounters - something like a very complex spider-web. In the course of asking around about the skull, some maps, or the inn, they'll meet other NPCs with problems, and learn about other things going on. Once they've visited a few points on the web, they have enough information to make some choices about what they want to do. It's iterative, and once the reaction gets going, it sustains itself.

倶楽部 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.