On You're Role-Playing Wrong

What exactly is the confusion about role-playing?

Early on in the hobby, there was a terrible mis-supposition. Because the game involved fictional people, people looked for ways to more accurately simulate the whole of their lives. It doesn't matter where your character sleeps for the night, or what his home life is like, or what he did for 3 hours on Tuesday night on Zeno Rising 4 (remind me to post my calendar sometime), because that is not what the game is about!

"What is every last thing Fred does in the 2 weeks till the next adventure"

A maxim of game design is, additional realism hardly ever equates to an equal addition of fun.

Somewhere along the line, people forgot that they were playing a game with certain well defined limits. First a dungeon, then a wilderness hex.

It's easy to understand how this happened. People took the term Role-playing and interpreted it literally, as in taking a role-as an actor would. Instead of what it actually meant.

What would you do in this dangerous dungeon situation? Run? Flee? Will you pull the lever or not?

The role you play is yourself - what choice would you make?

Now it is certainly possible to play from the other mindset, (i.e. "I am Throg of the mountain clans") but all too often, during play, we do not make decisions as Throg would. We end up just role-playing in the sense of the original term - as ourselves. And this is where the difficulty lies, and problems begin.

Do you have to justify the fact that you are a thimble staying in a hotel? Why not? Then why do you feel compelled to justify your reasoning for taking a feat, or a class level?

(Of course there is a lot of worth in the other style of play - but it is often inconsistent (i.e. I'm only Throg when it's convenient) or used as an excuse to disrupt play, because that specifically is what the player is looking to do.

My point is just, when you are having an out of character discussion on what to do next in the dungeon - that is role playing.)


  1. Well said. I've recently been involved in a few games where players seem not to want to actually have their characters participate in whatever scenario is going on. One player would just get bored when there was nothing for his character to do and would, on a whim, cast area of effect spells that would hinder, rather than help, the rest of the player characters. His explanation? His character was grumpy, impulsive and blind and he was just "playing his character." In retrospect, I think my character should have decided that his character was a liability that was going to get them all killed and casually slit the impulsive, grumpy and blind spellcaster's throat in the night and then joked about the blind character having a bad 'shaving accident'. I could have responded, "Hey! My character is ruthless, amoral and selfish!"

    I'm sick of the games where the goal is to have a special, unique character like a precious snowflake. I think I'd enjoy it a bit more if the goal of having your characters live long enough to see what was behind the next door was also considered 'worthy role play.' I'm not an actor. I'm a dude sitting in a chair eating chips and drinking beer and pretending to be an elf.

  2. Wow. This post of yours might go over like the proverbial fart in church for some folks, but it does accurately reflect the way I play my PC in the current campaign I'm in. I follow my own motivations, I shout obscenities at orcs (and not faux-medieval obscenities, my regular obscenities; the DM sends them back, often written in humanoid feces on our vandalized War Wagon), and I'm not trying to act "in character" all the time. I understand there are probably people that enjoy that, and very good for them, but that's not the appeal of RPGs for me.

    Of course this gets you into the space of do you roll stats 3d6 in order, and find the dimwit PC is being played as if it is as smart (and charming, etc) as the average player? Does that pose a problem?

  3. Personally, I'm kinda tired of players playing themselves. At least have an outline or some basic motivations for your character: is he lazy? is he bloodthirsty? what motivates him? Something!
    As far as the precious snowflake thing, I can agree with that. I've seen enough characters made that don't really "fit in" with the group. PC groups shouldn't be made in a vacuum. I usually spend the first part of the first session working with my players on character concepts that work to keep them together.
    I don't ask for Academy Award winning performances, but at the same time, have something other than "just me." Part of RPGs is the chance to escape from reality and enter a fantasy where you don't have ot be yourself.

  4. @ spawn, explicitly no.

    In spite of the fact that everyone considers themselves above average, the fact is, 100 IQ (for a shorthand reference to in game intelligence) is the *mean*.

    I routinely work with people who have an IQ ranging from 60-100. They do not often at first glance come off as mind-bendingly stupid - they've learned to cope with society in other ways.

    Unless you're running a PC with an Intelligence of 3 or 4, I can't see that it should really affect you (beyond the language / skill limitation) very much in regards to play.

    Have you never dropped your phone because you left it in a stupid place? Clicked on the wrong thing? Said the opposite of what you meant?

    For an abyssaly low intelligence, I would restrict vocabulary somewhat, and simply describe things to the player in simple, incorrect terms.

  5. "Have you never dropped your phone because you left it in a stupid place? Clicked on the wrong thing? Said the opposite of what you meant?"

    I once tripped in the field and had a machete I was carrying fall on the back my neck execution-style, but it was too dull to sever my spinal cord. So, yes, I guess I've done things like that. I like your approach with the very impaired characters. That's something very useful to think about. Jolly good.

  6. Sounds right to me. We've been playing in a campaign where we don't take on the roles of our PCs beyond the occasional joke or odd comment in character, but it's been the most fun RPG campaign I can recall being involved with. And the best part is... no stressing over realism, and no burn-out (DM or players.) It's a blast!

  7. I was gonna comment, but it quickly turned into a post, in my mind. I'll post that later and comment:

    Pretty much every player I've ever DMed has been a casual rp'er. I wouldn't want it any other way.

    (If you haven't read it, Zak has a wonderful post on this subject: Like Playing Monopoly with Squatters. You can find it linked in the "Greatest Hits" widget on his blog.)

  8. Yes, Mr. Smith is right on. For convenience:


  9. You're right. All that trivial out-of-action downtime bollocks doesn't actually matter, and additional realism is frequently extremely dull. That I agree with.

    I dispute that the armchair-theatre play-style is a 'mis-supposition' or a development of one, though. The problems you cite are problems with players using their role to disrupt play, not with the style as a whole.

    That said, I was fortunate (or perhaps wise beyond my years) in introducing a group of drama geeks to the act of roleplaying rather than introducing armchair theatre to a group of gameplayers, and in that group going on-and-off after two years, which helped mitigate burnout. Perhaps I've experienced the style at its best?

    I do know that I've had to learn how to roll old-school and intermittently-characterised, now that that group's gone its separate ways and I have a broader range of preferences to support: which might explain why I've suddenly taken an interest in the OSR blogs, as you folks describe a style of play that I've taken an extended break from.

  10. Also, D&D is not a roleplaying game.

    Actually ... your analysis lines up neatly with one theory of the self in psychology. The basic summary is that there is a reactive, self-protective self as opposed to a more advanced, narrative, self-conscious self. Most players in an RPG use themselves for the former but their character for the latter. More later on my blog.

  11. Even if you are playing a role as an actor would, and I don't, who freaking cares what Tony Stark (Robert Downy Jr), Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) or Captain Hilts (Steve McQueen) did for the last two weeks - CUT TO THE CHASE!


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