Saturday, March 7, 2009

Roles and roleplaying.

Jim at LotFP has a lot of good things to say. However today's post misses the point.

He makes the contention that the basic activity of RPG is playing a role. Where he stumble is giving this example and claiming everything is extra.

Fighting Man Level 1
ST 12, IN 8, WI 10, CN 9, DX 10, CH 9
That's your character and your role, right there.

Everything else is NOT extra. In fact if wasn't present people would have quickly get bored of D&D. As a hobby we are long past where the rule system alone is enough to sustain years of gaming. In fact it wasn't really true "Back in the day" either.

I am NOT advocating that creating a background, a personality, speaking in funny voices while creating a character is necessary. But in the best campaign there will come a point that your character does have a background, does have a personality (even it is a shadow of yours), and yes may even have acquired a funny voice.

This is a side effect of playing RPGs and arises out of the fact that character has continuity between sessions. Unlike a game of Dark Tower, Talisman and other boardgames a RPG character grows and develop.

You do have a choice of either front loading the process by making it a part of character creation or back loading it through play. There is also a problem where some advocates of front loaded characters sneer at those who just want to just roll and play.

Make no mistake, if you look at the classic long term campaigns from Blackmoor, Greyhawk to today. You will find that nearly all of them have a deep background arising out of what the players did. That the referee choose to build on the consequences of the player's actions and followed through to keep their interest engaged. Getting their interest and keeping it engaged is one of the primary keys to a fun long-term game.

I am keenly aware of the issue because I run sandbox games. While I feel this is important for just about any style of RPG play, it is critical to a successful sandbox game. The players come through the orc village in hex 1312 and kill everyone. Two game months later again they come through again.

As a referee you have to decide what were the consequences. Even if you decide there is none, your campaign now has a history and a background. The Orc Village in Hex 1312 is no more.

What makes OD&D good isn't the rules alone or the roles created by the classes. What make OD&D good is that that it gets out of the way when you need it out of the way. That you don't have to look up Rule 13.2.2 while trying to convince the Duke to give you more supplies for another go at the Majestic Fastness.


Welcome to Dungeon! said...

Well said. I rankle when I see the old-school style arguments that are creaking under the weight of "don't do this" and "can't have this" arguments that would have sounded preposterous in the days before RPG theory abounded.

Spike Page said...

"While the Fighter 1st Level example looks straight forward. It wrapped up assumptions of the OD&D rules. Eventually on the third, fourth, etc campaign players will get tired of starting out with those assumptions.

With OD&D one way to alter things is to start off with the character having a minimal background, a distinct personality, and yes a funny voice."
(end quote)

You hit the nail right on the head!

Being in several campaigns with characters that are statistically-speaking almost all alike, I have learned the value of starting out on day-one with at least an inkling of character personality already emerged. Leaving "room to grow" more character traits is always a sound idea, but without something to build on from the start, beginning a new character or campaign would eventually become quite boring and tedious.

Giving the referee and other PCs even a little to work with can really help a new campaign "click".

Anonymous said...

Being an old player of Rob's campaign one of the more interesting things I like to do is talk to Rob about the character I want to play. Example, the last time I played I was a warrior priest who was a leper. Before we player the next session I received a one page synopsis of the god I was honoring and a few important cultural facts. With that I created a one page background for my character. So when we started playing, my character was much more than just a bash'em with a mace and heal'em in between guy. He had a history and motivation that made him much more interesting than 1st level cleric.

Jack Badelaire said...

I brought into my C&C campaign yesterday a friend who had never played a RPG before. He rolled up his fighter, Lothar Schadenfreude, looked at the stats, and then began to get into it. His first weapon of choice was a mace - not the most damaging weapon, but he liked it. Then he picked a short sword as a backup, and a dagger "for fighting up close". He picked heavy mail because he wanted protection, but felt with his 13 dex he didn't want something that slowed him down too much, and didn't take a shield because he felt it would be likewise too clumsy.

This is a guy who's never played D&D in his life, and in 15 minutes he was already "role-playing" by deciding what Lothar would want, not with regards to mechanics, but with regards to the Character.

Role-playing is natural and players naturally try to wrap a personality around a set of numbers. In fact, the slimmer the character is on paper, the more driven a lot of players are to find ways to make their characters more diverse. To say your "role" is to be a 1st level fighting man with totally average stats is just being an asshat and I have no patience for it. But...go figure.

Chris Kutalik said...

Ironically for the topic on hand and the last post, the story of the Von Schadenfreude family is an ongoing in-joke in the character back stories of our C&C campaign (

The second irony is that I've found giving the players a small optional carrot ("style points" ala Dave Bowman's house rules) for developing a short back story has helped me as a DM avoid the new school pitfall of being over-deterministic with heavy-handed plot devices.

By putting the players back into the center from the get go, Ive found that it gives them some control over the shaping of my overall stripped-down sandbox setting--and gives me lots of little angles to improvise around as the game unfolds.

I think the trick is to not go to overboard and let them think that their characters are so unique and precious to some big story arc that they cannot die. I roll my dice in front of them and have refused to tailor down danger areas in our sandbox to fit their levels. They know that they can die at any moment and the relative uniqueness of their characters can pass as readily with a bad call.

And you know, I've found out that the tension between the two has added an enjoyable dramatic tension in the game.