Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Hey, I Know You

This is a long and varied cliche, but let's do it all at once (I've edited the below to suit my needs - the exact wording can be found here):

"Hey, I Know You!:" You will accumulate at least three of these obligatory party members:
And so, we're going to talk about 'roleplaying.'

What I want to say from the outset is that developing a worthy, interesting character, either as a player or as a DM, is a difficult proposition - difficult enough that it has stumped writers for generations, leading to the kind of cliches above that have been presented by everyone from bad 17th century playrights, right through cheesy Hollywood Serials writers and the sort of hacks now writing for video companies.  A good character takes time and it takes enormous effort.  Realistically, it takes the writer who is able to bend the events of unreality in order to make the character seem plausible and likeable.  When I am writing fiction, my chief concern is the motivation of my characters - to make those motivations clear, and to draw my reader into the mindset of the various players in the story, I twist and turn the story in just such a way as to provide the characters to show their bravery and chicanery, their strengths and their flaws, their altruism and their selfishness.

RPGs are shit for producing this sort of nuance.

And thus you are stuck with the sort of crap where Mighty Knight #1 talks in Bravado English ("I have come to rescue the FAIR princess") only to be answered in like manner by Posing Bad Guy #3.  Speaking for myself, I find the whole affair a little vomit inducing ... as do my players, who aren't interested in performing the equivalent of cheap street theatre.  None of them consider themselves to be actors; not a one has any ambitions in that direction.

I have at least had experience with the foolish process of standing in front of audiences and improvising; so I will throw it into my campaigns, delivering a speech by so-and-so or playing up an NPC so as to give the campaign some color.  But I don't demand this of my players for one simple reason.  They don't like doing it.

Quickly I've been covering two different things: it isn't easy to invent a good character, and often players have no interest in trying.  That is because, realistically, most self-aware people know their own limitations, and would feel like a fool playing either the gruff mercenary or the soft-spoken princess - the best they feel they are likely to invent, if pressed to do so.

Now, at this point some jack-hole is going to pipe up in the comments and say, "Hey!  It's fun to be foolish, and an RPG is there to give us the opportunity!  Hooray!"  He probably won't hear me here, now, when I say beforehand, fuck all that.  I know there's a hugely vocal contingent of RPGs who somehow think that D&D is really just a gateway drug to LARP or the Society for Creative Anachronism, but I and my players don't roll that way.  We're the sort of sardonic, cynical bastards who see fuckwits cavorting around in said manner and wonder what's happened with their medication.

'Roleplaying' - for us - does not accurately describe the game as we play it.  We do not view D&D as our great chance to shine the flashlight on our egos, but as a problem-solving game.  I do not think we are alone in this.  I suspect there are many thousands of players who would like to go to conventions without having to dress up like a freak.  I also feel there are many who feel the 'pretending' that has been incorporated as a must-have feature of the game smacks of infantile, childish regression.

You know, back to an age when cheesy characterizations looked fresh and noble.

I can't say I expect to make a lot of points with this argument among a lot of those I've seen; the internet tends to pull the reality-challenged to its warm and porny bosom.  But if the gentle reader does find that they're running in a world that seems to skirt over the issue of roleplaying in favor of straight gamesmanship, realize that you are not alone.

It is enough that we know what our characters can do.

It is enough that we puzzle out the world and gamble our character's talents to that solution.

It is enough to watch our characters grow in power and possibility.  It is enough that we achieve through our efforts and dream up greater goals as the game goes on.  It is enough that we love our characters for the time we've invested.

We need not bark like actors on the lighted stage if it doesn't interest us.  We need not fabricate pathos and angst, nor concern ourselves with motivation.  We can leave that to the playwrites if that is their thing.

We only need play D&D in the way it makes us happy.


Nick Crayon said...

Your prose makes me happy, sir. Also, I agree with you, as uninteresting as that makes this comment.

Quickly, I recover:

I and my players are in the same boat. They don't much like roleplaying, but they do like adventuring together and solving problems. They like the resource management and the combat and the tactics and the overarching goal. And sometimes, they like to roleplay. But that's probably around 10% of what we do, and there's nothing wrong with spending more time exploring and adventuring than pretending to be some silly elf-thing prancing around an underground house.

Oddbit said...

You know I think you summed up something I couldn't quite put my finger on. I can't say I'm amazingly into playing the character as building an interesting and somewhat cohesive character to start with then growing. It's all about picking a challenge or limit to overcome through effort, getting there then finding the next one.

You also pointed out why all my stories I start always seem to suck. I never establish a clear motivation...

Arkhein said...

My personality leans more towards the characters and overall story in a game. As a GM, I can indulge that to some degree, but most of the people I play with are tacticians and stone cold killers. I've tried playing with people more artsy-fartsy like myself, but oh my, how they suck the life out of a room. I like people who have a plan and then DO something about it.

So, I get to pretend to be a vast plethora of people and stand up and gesticulate like the NPCs would and do funny voices - and then the PCs unsheathe their swords and slaughter them all - so everyone ends up happy.

- Ark

bighara said...

I would say I fall somewhere in the middle on this. I shie away from goofy accents and soliloquy, but I do enjoy a game where the players give definite personalities to their PCs, making them different and taking these factors into account when they decide what or how the character does something.

Roger the GS said...

This really clarifies for me why I prefer the term "adventure game" to "role-playing game".

Adventure game = runnin' in the dungeon and great outdoors, fighting things, puzzle solving, cracking jokes.

Role-playing game = angst, drama, thespianism, misconceptions about life-role overlap, Mazes and Monsters, Dark Dungeons.

Matt Conlon said...

You summed up the article well with: "We only need play D&D in the way it makes us happy."

That is the who point of a game.

I personally enjoy the RP end of the game immensely, but not the point where I'm dressing up and talking like that. (Though, to each his own.)

I'm a little disappointed having just found out how much stuff you've written about in game cliches... I was just beginning to do the same thing on my D&D blog. Now I feel like it's been done already! lol

However, one of the things I posted in my last one was how I'm tired of the same old character back storys about how the character's parents were killed. Everyone seems to want to explain their motivation through dead parents and a hunger for revenge. /yawn.