Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Deactivating Characters

It may be that my particular technique of wringing emotions from a group of player characters may be disrupting to some player attempts at roleplaying ... and I'm not sure that's a bad thing.

I perceive that my principle role as DM is to elicit an emotional reaction with any part of the game that might be on the table at a particular time.  Things that are unknown should be concerning and even frightening.  Combat should be thrilling and definitely scary as the hit points flutter away.  Treasure and NPC recognition should be fruitful and promising, and should make a player's chest swell.  Treason should make a player angry.  Trickery should obtain disbelief ... and then more anger.  Conquest should bring pride and ambition.  And so on.

I like to believe I manage these emotions through the little events of the game, building them a bit here or there with a casual word at first, a few descriptive phrases, an NPC with an agenda and so on.  I like to believe that these things are crafted so that whatever the adopted roleplaying 'stance' of a player's character, it will be the PLAYER who responds to the taunting, the insult or the proposition that is put on the table.

If it can be understood:  as DM, I am not speaking to the characters.  I can't speak to the characters.  I have no idea how Boffo the Monk would respond to my manipulations ... but Boffo's puppeteer is going to hear whatever I say, and if I can get under the puppeteer's skin, Boffo will do what the puppeteer wants.

That is, even if the puppeteer thinks Boffo wouldn't.

And that is the thing.  The player enters the campaign with some idea in mind of what their character will be interested in, and what their character would want, or what the character wouldn't do ... but none of that really matters.  The character isn't real.  The character is a mutable thing that will change its spots just as fast as the player wants.  And if I dangle the right carrot in front of the player, those spots are gonna change.

I've made the point in the past (no idea where, sorry) that the characters I used to run as a player were fundamentally Me.  And I know there are a lot of players out there who feel that's not what roleplaying is ... but really, when you get right down to it, when a particular NPC keeps getting in your way, and spoiling everything you try, and the only way to move forward is to say to hell with the characterization you've invented - you're going to move forward.

Hasn't always been true.  I've been short-circuited.  I've had players accept even death before changing.  But I don't see that as a virtue of roleplaying.  I see it as me failing to really get the emotional response I was going for.

Performance arts are fraught with failure.  Sometimes the audience doesn't applaud.  Sometimes they don't laugh.  But you know you're on the right track when someone who came into the theatre certain that they'd do neither finds they can't help themselves.  When they aren't 'themselves,' you know you're taking names and kicking ass.


JDJarvis said...

One of my players just called and told me he feels "outside his element,out of his element and over his head" with his character who is the highest level PC in the campaign, the wealthiest and who has the largest number of followers and minions.
I can't help but think I'm doing something right. As DM I'm supposed to be presenting challenges that test the players not just matching one set of numbers agaisnt another set of numbers.

Arduin said...

It's interesting, I suppose, in this "Narrative" vs. "Simulationist" sort of...thing that's been floating about the blogosphere, how very little my personal style of DMing (and from the looks of it, yours) mesh up with what these 'styles' are presumed to mean.

It could hardly be said, for instance, that Alexis' emphasis on freedom of choice and personal ambition comes at the price of a "story", even an overarching plot. There very clearly and definitively is, it merely comes after the fact, comes upon reflection, etc.

To me, personally, that is what cinches the 'story vs. game' arguments. The tales players tell other players are never the ones I try and craft for them. It's been far more effective in my experience to just make a world that, as one player put it, doesn't break when prodded.

Slightly off-topic, yes, but I suppose what I'm getting at is that the spaces our characters inhabit is our minds, and being an effective world-builder, an effective DM, is to create and manipulate that mindspace effectively.

Well done.