As I have the time to examine certain moments that occur in my online games, because the game is in text, I'm able to see things in retrospect that I would probably miss in the moment. I might get a sense for it intuitively, but definitively enough to deconstruct those moments? Probably not.
Below is just such a moment. The characters are in a dark forest, at night, and they can't see anything. Foolishly, they have not brought a light source, and have only just discovered they have no way to light a fire. Then, I explained this:
DM: All three of you get a sudden sensation that something has approached you; it is nearby, perhaps ten or twenty feet away, and breathing regularly. But a quick scan around reveals nothing.Josef: I drop my pack off my shoulder, and take my mace in hand, while looking around more carefully. I look specifically in the direction from which we came.Delfig: I’m going to retreat quietly – as noiselessly as possible – away from the now-arming Josef and the noise, shaking my head.
Dark forests are scary. Without a light, you look into the forest and see even less than what's shown, because the above contains an unnatural light source ... but I chose this picture because at night, you do get a little ambient light from the sky. Not much.
When Josef (a cleric) senses a threat, he arms himself. And when Delfig (a bard) becomes aware of the same threat, he gets himself away from Josef and shakes his head. Why?
Were you and I to be in this situation, we might be overwhelmed; but remember, player characters are at least partially combat trained. They have weapon proficiencies, so they have been trained in the use of weapons. If you or I had a gun in this situation, or a club, or any dangerous tool, we would certainly raise it to defend ourselves. We would not shake our heads at others doing so ~ we'd think, "Damn, that's a good idea," and we'd follow it. The only reason we would not have protected ourselves automatically would be that we were too damn scared to move. As well, we would NOT move away from our friends! Our friends are our best chance of survival. But Delfig gets away from Josef immediately. So what's happening here?
Delfig feels safe. He has judged the situation, he knows that he is talking to a DM, and that the DM isn't just going to kill him randomly, so there's no need to defend himself. Josef, he thinks, is way over-reacting here ... and if whatever's out there has intelligence, they're going to take offense at Josef and Delfig doesn't want to seem aggressive; seeming aggressive, thinks Delfig, is only going to draw aggression. So long as he keeps his hands empty, he thinks, he's fine.
Here is the actual difference between "roll-players" and "role-players." Josef assumes he's in danger. It's a forest, at night, in 17th century Germany, full of wolves, brigands, D&D monsters and who knows what else. Most of these things don't care if the prey is acting aggressively or not; quite a lot of these things are damn malevolent and prepared to kill whether or not they're offended. They don't care if you've drawn your weapon. They only care that you're made of meat.
Delfig, however, knows there is only one thing in this forest: the Dungeon Master.
Continued elsewhere ...
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