Among other things, I'm working on a banner for the exhibition table - and for that I have this rather marvellous picture, which has been granted to me.
Unfortunately, I haven't figured out how to employ it. I've tried overlaying text and I've tried black space at the left and right of the image, and for the moment I'm baffled. This is certainly a compelling pic; and having seen the dearth of such pics at the event here in Calgary some weeks ago, I feel confident that this will drag people towards the table. The layout is stumping me, however. There's something I'm not seeing.
I want to give a shout out to those who have already purchased the short book, How to Play a Character & Other Essays. It certainly helps. I've made one deal with a vendor in Tacoma, Tacoma Games, and I have an associate pursuing a deal for me with a vendor here in Calgary. If anyone out there is friendly with or knows an open-minded games dealer, who would be willing to make a non-consignment deal with me, I would like to hear from you.
I don't want this post to just be about sales, however. The gentle reader can probably understand that such things are weighing heavily on my mind, along with the content I'm working on that I can't talk about because hey, I'm writing it in the bigger book. That binds my hands somewhat . . . but perhaps I can think of something substantial to talk about.
About three weeks ago I came across this video, which I'm not going to embed. I was looking for content on drama and immersion, and somehow this guy's effort came up.
His point is a common one: that dice 'spoils' role-play. In Joker's words, ". . . that's when RPG's really hit their apex. When role-play is so deep and immersive that the mechanics don't moderate anything, they're not the medium, they just get the hell out of the way." His example is right up front - it sucks pretending to be an NPC when you have to stop and make diplomacy rolls.
I have a few points, which I'll make without beating the guy up.
Up front in the video, he presents himself at the 'harbor master,' changing his facial expression to 'role-play' the part. Having established the character, then, he drops the presentation completely in order to roll diplomacy. Wow. That die sure ruined the moment, didn't it?
Um, why does he drop his presentation to roll the dice? Had it occurred to him that he could have rolled the diplomacy die before beginning his presentation? Or that he could have rolled the die without jumping in his chair and making a big deal of it?
Look. You're a harbour master. You're approaching a party. I have no idea what you're even rolling diplomacy for . . . you spend all day, every day walking down to ships, looking them over, recognizing what sort of people are running the ship, how competent they are, where the ship has come from, what the state of the maintenance is and so on. You've been around ships all your life, literally, probably from before your memories begin. You probably shipped out on your first vessel at the age of 7. You know ships, you know sailors, you know everything there is to know about the sort of people who land at quays. What the hell do you need a diplomacy roll for? You know exactly how to talk to this party.
But let's say you have to make a roll. Can you not make the roll the same way you might pat your belt to find your tobacco? Can you not glance down at the roll the way you would at a crate on the dock? Can you not think of another, more 'in character' manner of rolling that die and seeing the result without changing your facial expression, your tone or the rhythm of your speech?
The thinking here is that somehow a 'game movement' can't be incorporated right into role-play. That's just . . . wrong headed. Performance makes use of every kind of prop imaginable . . . and if you think that you have to break character just because you have to use a game prop, then you're really off the mark about what it means to retain character.
There is an old, vicious practical joke in the theatre that I'm sorry to say I never got to try. The trick goes like this.
At some point in the play, one of the actors picks up a phone and talks into it. This takes some mastery. In rehearsal, the actor trains themselves to pause for exact periods to convey the imaginary person at the other end of the phone, to make them real, and after doing this over and over, sometimes hundreds of times, the pacing of the 'phone conversation' becomes exact: "Hello, yes, this is Jim." (pause) "No, I wanted to -" (pause) "I wanted to just let you know that I'm . . . I'm not coming down this weekend." (pause) "Yeah. Yeah, I'm sorry too." (pause) "Don't." (pause) "Don't be like that. I love you." (pause) "Yes. Okay. I promise. But I've got to go now." (pause) "I said I promise. Yes. Okay, good-bye." Hangs up.
Now, the actor is very used to there being no sound on the phone . . . so on Opening Night, you have a technician hook the phone up to a live line. Then, while the actor is on stage, in front of the audience, and dials the phone, it actually connects: and the actor hears a gruff man's voice at the other end say, "Hello?"
That is the sort of thing that really shatters an actor's demeanor. The phone conversation is important to the play. The actor must follow through on the conversation. "Hello, yes, this is Jim."
"Jim? I don't know anyone named Jim."
The actor swallows, understands that he's a victim of a practical joke, but there's nothing he can do about it. Fighting now to keep his face straight and his voice level, he plunges forward. "No, I wanted to -"
"Wanted to what? Just who in the fuck is this?" The prankster has been practicing his lines, too, knowing just how much time he has to get each of his in.
"I wanted to just let you know that I'm . . . I'm not coming down this weekend."
"Well, I'll be really disappointed. Hey, you're not that loser my sister's dating, are you?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm sorry too."
"You ought to be sorry. She says you're the worst lover she ever had."
"Don't what? Don't make up my mind until I've had you too?"
"Don't be like that. I love you."
The prankster's voice deepens. "I hadn't realized." He lets out a sob. "Do you really love me?"
The actor on stage is pouring sweat at this point. He can feel the conversation pulling to a close. "Yes. Okay. I promise. But I've got to go now." At this point, the actor may even be realizing his giving a better performance, because now he really does want to get the hell off the phone.
"You'll call again, won't you?"
"And you'll let me put my cock in your mouth?"
"I said I promise. Yes. Okay, good-bye." The actor hangs up. And breathes a sigh of relief.
This is the sort of joke reserved for leading actors who get really tight-assed about their importance. There are a number of these sorts of things in the theatre. They are intentionally quite cruel. If you're a very good actor, however, you hold your shit together and retain your character.
If rolling a die is all that it takes to put you off, then you have a lot to learn. Don't get upset. Use that die. Make it feel like its part of the character.
Believe me, that is a much better solution, retaining both the qualities of the game AND the qualities of role-playing, then insisting somehow that not rolling dice is somehow the 'apex' of a die-driven game. Joker's opinion, while a common one, is really in the box thinking. Got to get the hell out of that box and realize that performing is a damn sight more adaptable than changing your facial expression.
And no, none of this was going to be included in the book.