Thursday, September 9, 2010

Do you have roleplaying in your game?

You might remember me talking about Diplomacy a while ago as the origins of roleplaying. Once again the question pop up about rules supporting roleplay. Today I read what Roger had to say about D&D being a role playing game or not. Naturally, it made me think of Diplomacy again.

When you look at the rules of diplomacy, they don't tell you to speka in funny voices. Neither do the rules of D&D, or T&T or any other first generation rpg. They are directions to facilitate play of the game by giving room for personal touches, while steering it along some common ground. Roleplaying just happens.

Roleplaying is an emerging quality of play. Those qualities are often the most valuable in a game. Some games have rules for X, which just happens to make most gamers do Y, since it's natural in that context. Sometimes you design for it, sometimes you don't.

I've realized one thing about those games which work really hard to facilitate a certain style of play. They often have a lot of space in them, like places of rest where you can find out what is natural in that context. Even there roleplaying is an emergent quality. Even when you have rules for social interactions and narrative control there's space in the rules. That's the rules that support roleplaying.

At least that's what my tired brain just found fascinating. Tell me about it.


  1. I remember the folks at Lumpley's blog and on the Forge coming up with the term "Fruitful Void." That's the thing that there are no rules for, which all the other rules lead you towards, so you have to deal with it.

    If I remember correctly, it was mentioned that in Dogs in the Vineyard, there are no rules for judging people. You don't roll to judge, or to make people obey your judgements, or to choose the correct judgement, or anything whatsoever like that. But passing judgement on what people have done is kind of what the game is all about.

    Often what a game is really "about" is the thing there aren't any rules for at all; it's what happens naturally when you follow the rules there are.

    So yeah. The open space in the rules. What you just said!

  2. Exactly!

    I have been thinking about what Ron Edwards has to say about "system" as well. I will probably post about that in connection with this.

  3. You know ... my point about safe spaces at the table for non-roleplayers holds for Diplomacy too. Can you imagine having to round up 7 cheesy accent mongers who are "always on" for the whole game in order to play?

  4. I have a lot of roleplaying in my sessions. Most of the time, my players like the "dysfunctional" dynamic of a team. They berate each other, criticize each other's faults, but they don't break apart, and continue to adventure.

    The other aspect is that when their characters are part of a bigger decision to be made that involves other factions, I will let them roleplay the other factions. For example, recently they were hired to seek an alliance with a destitute baron in a civil war. However, there was three other factions there, two from rival houses, and another from an outside nation. I had four players, so one of them represented their PC's, the others played a different house / nation. In order to create incentive for the players, I would award special boons for their actual characters if they "won" the negotiation.

    Overall, it made for a fun hour or so.

  5. I've always said that you start with a tactical game and add the role play later. Starting with role play and then adding tactical as an afterthought is doomed to failure. Most of the time I'm right.

  6. Different people may mean different things by "roleplaying" too.

    As Roger points out, cheesy accents and an amateur hour theater pose-fest are what a lot of people mean by it, and a lot of people are justifiably annoyed by overindulgence.

    Other people might just mean playing *for* your character, caring about what they care about and making choices based on what matters to them.

    Like, imagene if somebody is playing Obi-Wan Kenobi as a character.

    You've got one player who does an awesome Alec Guiness voice imitation and always speaks as Obi-Wan. But his Obi-Wan pretty much does what any other RPG character with his set of powers and abilities would do.

    You've got another player who only speaks in their normal voice, often talks about their character in the third person instead of "getting into character", but they make their character choose to come to the aid of someone in terrible trouble, and walk into the face of overwhelming, deadly opposition, knowing it's going to cost them their lives.

    Which one is doing an awesome job of "roleplaying" Obi-Wan?

    Depends who you ask.

    I know which dude I'd rather game with though.


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