Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Old School games and thespians

I've been thinking about the conversations had following James Malisewski posts from OSR Con in Toronto, and him playing with Ed Greenwood. Many peoples seem to have an instant dislike of any would be thespians at the game table. It reminded me of a poll at Dragonsfoot way back, when the level of engagement in the game was the focus of the poll. The result was that most people there treated AD&D as if it was chess, or Monopoly.

From what I have gathered, the prevailing wind in these parts are kind of the opposite but with a healthy dose of simulationism as a side order. Way back the periodicals had articles espousing the values of acting, talking and being in character. Add to that an influential designer who seem to value realism really, really high and you have a bunch of kids who grow up to be either sim earthers or drama queens. Yeah, I am exaggerating.

But, what about me? Well. I have found that I becomes quite bored if all I do is roll the dice and have to treat my character like a chess piece. Outrageous accents just makes me more engaged. Now, if you are to treat the characters as game pieces, having many and detailed choices to make in the game makes it far more fun. Actually, I think this is where 3rd and 4th D&D really shines. You can happily play without any hint of "acting", and still have a game where you have a lot of things to do. On the other hand, a game like the older editions of D&D or T&T where combat rounds are minutes long and everything is abstract I think the game becomes boring unless I get to engage in a little extra like at least yell something in a funny voice when rolling to hit.

Now, with more abstract games, and more up to GM fiat and player inventiveness you would gather that those games should leave more opportunity for the players to express themselves by doing more thespians experiments. I mean, they do have less rules baggage to weight them down, and more freedom to interpret what abilities and limitations their characters suffer from, right?

Maybe I am off on a totally wrong track here. There's not like there's any strong causality involved or something like that. Somehow the world is not the way I expected it to be.

Let me also add that I think the level of pretentiousness is important. Even when I was quite enthusiastic about it (yes, I was!), Vampire: The Masquerade was a game I liked best when I never met the guys (and gals!) who played it. The same thing is true about things like freeform and "jeepform" which are way to game which makes my stomach turn. That's when I think the would be thespian ought to go to drama class and leave me to my roleplaying game. I just hate the combination of acting, pretentiousness and RPGs. When I act out a bit I goof off. It might be serious, but I am playing a game.

There's more to it than rules density.


  1. I think the problem is not so much acting and being in character, as bad over-acting and bizarre characters.

    A table full of people in outrageous and non-sensical accents with over the top quirks is irritating. I rarely see people complain about acting as "Joe Fanton the sell sword, no accent and normal medieval interests"

  2. Could be, could be. I only see the complaints about "would be thespians" and I complain about them myself! :)

  3. I think the problem is not so much acting and being in character, as bad over-acting and bizarre characters.


    I always try to adopt an accent or at least a slight change in voice or mannerism for my character. For one thing, it makes a clear delineation of in character/out of character. It's also fun besides. I don't think you should be trying to win an award or get cast in a play, but the game is most fun for me when all the characters have at least some semblance of personality and don't follow the party mutely like a generic party member in an old ass console rpg.

  4. You hit the nail on the peg there, Ryan. Some things face to face games can do which electronic games cannot. Those I think should be raised up and explored more fully.


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