Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Role Playing, Roll Playing, and Can We Just Get Back to Monsters, Please?

  There is a debate going on about what is a 'real  role playing game and what isn't; whether light mechanics is better ot if crunchy is better; if narrative and story trump spontaneity; and about how important the Gm is and how much power he has or if you even need a GM. Or dice. Or rules.
  No, don't go look. This stuff was a hot topic in 1979, 1982, 1985, etc. and still will be next week, next month, and long after I am dead, may that day be far from me.
  Want to know my position? I have two of them, really.
  1) If you think it is role playing and enjoy it I won't say you're wrong, but I reserve the right to ignore you.
  2) If you think what other people are doing isn't role playing you have the right to ignore them but if you say they're wrong you deserve the arguments you get.

  There are tons of definitions of role playing game out there. I throw some of them around from time to time (my personal one is 'people play at being fake people and have fun') but the very idea of a role playing game is so broad....

  Indeed, let's talk about that for a minute. I have played in groups where people showed up in costume and spoke in character before, during, and after the game. The entire "I am in character until I record the DVD commentary" approach. And I've played in groups where the table talk was 'Frank's fighter will smash in the door and my thief will look for ambushes'.

  Both fun.

  And that huge range in between is the D&D sweet spot! You know what I mean - you refer to characters in the third person by name, the DM is in character for some, but not all, NPCs, and you speak 'in character' only at key junctures. Most of the campaigns I see are like that and you know what? It is role playing.
  Let me give you an example from my table.

  My oldest son, J., is a, well, a firebrand. He is tall, broad-shouldered, and looks like an Aryan poster child (blond hair, blue eyes, strong jaw, etc.). He has a strong voice, a hearty laugh, and a quick smile. He is a natural leader, loves meeting people, and is very charming and outgoing.
  My next oldest, A., is very similar in some ways, but not in others. He is younger so isn't as tall and broad, yet. He has black hair, hazel eyes, and a quiet demeanor with a sort of calm poise that makes even strangers very comfortable around him.  He is the master of the quiet quip and perfectly timed humorous pause. Where J. is bold and a touch reckless A. is more likely to be prepared for anything. Where people come to J. for a laugh they come to A. for advice.

  Now, in Blackstone I J. plays Mournglow, a magic-user, and A. plays Doomsman, a conan-esque barbarian swordmaster.

  At my table they very rarely speak in character but let me show you how a single event proved they were taking on the role ('role playing') of their character.

  A scouting party from an orcish army had established a hasty timber fortification on the near bank of a river ford in preparation for the arrival of the main body of troops. The party realized they had to either capture or destroy the small fort if they hoped to stop the army.
  J. announced that Mournglow had a plan - the party would slip forward through the chest-high grass until they were within 60 yards of the closest orcish guards then use coordinated spells and missiles to kill as many orcs as possible as quickly as possible, hoping the shock would cause them to flee. Doomsman would protect the casters and archer (a thief) by staying close.
  Pretty soon the party is on hands and knees, creeping through the grass. after about 5 rounds of this A. says,
  "Nah. Doomsman stands up, unsheathes his great sword, and runs towards the orcs."



  The orcs see him almost immediately and start firing bows at him. The rest of the party keeps hurrying along on hands and knees.But the orcs underestimate one man and Doomsman gets to the entrance to the fort and keeps the orcs from shutting the gate long enough for the party to arrive and wipe out the terrified survivors.

  But the take away is - my brash son came up with a cautious plan because his character, Mournglow, is cautious. My cautious son acted in a brash manner because his character, Doomsman, is brash.
  Did they speak with a faux accent?
  No.
  Did they speak in character?
  No.
  Did they spend 20 minutes discussing backstory, fake emotions, or 'off-screen' NPCs?
  No.
  Were their words and actions important to overarching plots, the narrative, etc?
  No.
  Were they role playing?
  Yes.
  Were they having fun?
  Hell, yeah.

  So, if you want to know my position on role playing, there it is.