Wednesday, December 13, 2017

What Might Improve Game Play?

I'm watching a lot of D&D advice videos, making myself sit through content, parsing it so I can write further posts on how the community thinks.  It has taken me nine years to step back from going bat-shit furious at seeing this stuff ... I think that the effort lately to view it calmly, coldly, from the point of view of the giver first before deconstructing its value, has been helpful.  Anything that cools down my passion until I can be rational is great.

I have seen some stuff, however, that doesn't fit the format ~ not what we could call "advice."  We could call it a belief system about how to play characters, or it could be fallout from many years of finding more and more justification for players to "role-play" characters with little understanding of how personality works, how it is constructed, or how it logically fits into the framework of believable motivation.

Here is a sort of pressure.  We are playing a character in a campaign, without any particular skill or training that make us great character designers.  Excellent writers spend their whole lives struggling to create a meaningful, memorable, positive character, whose place in a story will produce a strong resonance with an audience.  RPG players, however, have no understanding of this.  For them, a "great character" is defacto an "original character" ~ that is, one that is different from every other character that might be conceived.

To boot, we've massively expanded the number of races a player can play, in a wild attempt to superimpose a wider range of "unique" characters based, if on nothing else, the increased number of combinations between race, class and morality.  If that isn't enough, the game makers have been on a quest the last two decades to invent monsters whose only real purpose is that it enables yet one more monster race the player can have.

As a grognard, I find it all somewhat silly.  Whatever we call the character's race, we know that a rose is a rose, and that all character races are just different elements of being human.  The "uniqueness" is just empty gloss.

However, let's look at two examples where someone has painted, or imagined to paint, a character of tremendous richness and diversity, gleaned from two different RPGer videos.  First, this guy again.  He's popular, prolific in his efforts and consistently provocative.

"I had one player, a wonderful role player.  She had a paladin, and the paladin would only engage in combat if she was wearing her fighting leathers.  Such an impression it gave me, that she had fighting leathers, and she couldn't talk to you if she had her fighting leathers on.  So if she wanted to talk, she'd take her fighting leathers off, and put her talking leathers on.  Or her drinking leathers.  Or her sexing leathers.  She had different outfits for each of the incidents that she was about to participate in, and literally combat ground to a halt because this paladin was screaming, 'Wait, I'm not wearing my fighting leathers!  Don't anybody move, I'll come back!'  And she'd run off and change out of the one bodice and into the other piece of plate mail or whatever it was that she was wearing and she'd come in, 'All right, I've got 'em on, we can carry on fighting now!'  And she'd run in and launch into combat."

As a DM, I'd assess how long it took her to get out of sight, and how long it took her to change ... and I would carry on with the combat.  Frankly, I see my game world as a threatening, uncompromising place. Those willing to carry forward a combat, to kill, do so with the hope of taking any advantage they can in order that they will survive.  There might be some who, under special chivalrous circumstances, might be willing to establish rules for when fighting starts and when it stops, but most of the murderous sort of people one will meet on a road or in a wilderness in my world just want you dead.

As a fellow participant, this is the sort of humor that is 'funny-once.'  As it happens, the presenter here does admit that this particular role-playing does happen in a one-off game, over four hours, and not in a longer campaign.  I don't see it being very practical as a "character quirk," as suggested, simply because it would be the sort of annoyance that would hold up games and douse momentum overall.  It has too much "Me me, me me me, me me me me me" in it's construction, even apart from the time sensitiveness of not always being able to get the clothes off so a conversation can be held, or the clothes on so that a sword can be parried.

Finally, as a communicative mechanism, it's a struggle.  What if, in the midst of a battle, the paladin conceives of something the rest of the party ought to know?  Or wants to express a desire to heal someone; or have someone get out of the way.  Perhaps, however, that's not as much a hard rule as partially presented.  After all, right at the end, after she's put on her fighting levels, she's depicted as talking, which we've been told she won't do when her fighting leathers are on.

Seems confusing.

Let's pick up with the other video:

"And my favorite class?  Right now I'm playing a kenku cleric.  I specifically like playing kenkus, right now, 'cause kenkus are so interesting as a player character.  They don't communicate, they only do mimicry, and so communicating with your players, it's kind of for me, it's a new way to think about how to play.  Because instead of being like, 'Hey guys, we should go over there and ambush those goblins, instead I have to find a way to communicate ambushing goblins with sounds and mimicry.  So it could literally be like, you know, 'Aha' flies up to a tree and looks at the band of goblins and starts making small [bird noises] sounds as if flying arrows are going by.  And then, on the players' side of things, that's a whole 'nother level of interpretation that kind of creates camaraderie in a fun and interesting way, because now not only do they have to deal with the challenge, but they have to deal with the communication that comes.  And the ranger who is like my 'buddy-buddy' is like we've kind of got a secret code that allows the communication to be a little more streamlined if we're running into real problems."

Some of this is easy to explain.  Ivan Van Norman is an actor and producer associated with Matthew Mercer (who describes himself as a voice actor first and a dungeon master second) and Satine Phoenix. There are clearly multiple occasions in which these individuals self-identify as artists and film-makers, rather than role-players ... and I think to some degree the above passage from Van Norman is a strong example of an actor getting excited by an acting role.

However, all these people are technically representing the "official" game, so we have to assume that they are encouraging those audience members at home to run their characters with this same level of "interpretation."

Me, I'm confused.  The kenku has been around since the old Fiend Folio (1981), where they are described as having "the head of a hawk."  The repeated use of the word 'mimicry' would suggest that at some point kenku were restyled as parrots.  However, mimicry in parrots is an instinct, not an example of conscious thought.  Conscious mimicry occurs where people deliberately imitate what someone has just said, in order to entertain or ridicule.  I'm guessing, without reading the later edition rule, that the kenku/parrot has to use examples of previously spoken speech to communicate ... but wouldn't that include all speech?

When I write these words, I'm mimicking someone from my past.  Sooooo ... I'm hopelessly confused about this rule.

A brief bit of research doesn't indicate any particular limitations on what sounds a parrot can mimic.

This sounds, then, like a terrific difficulty to impose on others, for the sake of "fun."  I wouldn't find it much fun, not as a fellow player or as a DM.  I think I would tell the player to stop it.

These are both examples of play that seems, to me, a desperate attempt to make more out of a game that can traditionally be had with straight role-playing.  It seems, from watching examples of these people run games, and the interplay going on between voice actors, producers and such, that "role-playing" is a sort of generalized, clumsy, difficult to enhance improvisational experience, receiving much praise but without much demonstration of acumen or impresario.  Having spent hundreds of hours doing this on stage, and hundreds more watching others, I don't find the level of character creation or acting on WOTC videos to be, well, professional.  Certainly not as professional as an everyday improv group performing at a comedy club or a theater in a mid-sized city, such as Calgary is (about a million people).

So I am simply at a loss as to how any of this helps.  I hope that this does not sound like a rant.  I'm really trying to figure out how this approach and philosophy is improving anyone's game play.  I can't see it.