Rollplaying Part 1
Once again, I get busy and my co-contributors demonstrate that I am the glue that holds this place together. Actually, that’s not accurate. I’m more the glue that keeps the wheels turning… except glue would have the opposite effect.
Let’s just say I’m the one that posts the most when he’s suppose to.
So yesterday was Thursday and meant to be our second day of Derek’s Ikan Light campaign. I was counting on these D&D sessions to give me plenty of material and ideas for blog posts. That was until Felicia got sick and the game was cancelled. Now, apparently, Derek is spending most of his day trying to extract his stomach out his mouth and my dreams of actually playing D&D have been only so much smoke and mirrors.
Well, God damn it all, I’ll write about it anyway!
In my brief experience with the genre, I’ve found that there are generally two types of players that join into tabletop RPGs. They go by many names but I’m going to affectionately term them roleplayers and rollplayers. I, myself, am the former. I got into RPGs way back in the day through play by post message boards and mIRC chat channels. These were free-form roleplaying communities where rules were light and the focus was more on a bunch of people interacting in a shared world. I have fond memories of this wild frontier. There was a game I played that was essentially Robin Hood. I say essentially because while the thread creator had the full intentions of making it about the classic woodland bandit, a bunch of us ended up taking the game wholly in another direction. Typically with free-form roleplaying, most groups or topics start as a sort of collaborative fanfiction. Generally, someone will begin with a call for fellows to join them in a popular world and the familiar characters will be doled out like a sloppy meal at a food kitchen to the first unwashed miscreants to get their hands on their childhood favourites.
Even at a young age, while I enjoyed the practice of joining these self-indulgent fantasies, I had a penchant for creating my own characters even if the world was not my own. Presumably, having this in a developed world created the necessary “accepted rules” which each of us as creators would play by but that is neither here nor there. The point is that when I joined the Robin Hood thread, I chose not only to ignore joining Robin’s merry band of nitwits but threw my lot in with the Sheriff of Nottingham. Of course, it didn’t feel right playing the eponymous character (especially since the Robin player had already written him in a few of his posts) so I started to develop the deputy. Because every good sheriff needs a deputy. Only, I was all too prepared to have mine play the role of the villain.
My first post was a despicable introduction of abuse of power and megalomania. He terrorized Maid Marian, extorted peasants, berated and whipped subordinates and smeared the good name of the sheriff at every possible turn. The introduction of this character had a rather unexpected effect on the game. Suddenly, the focus was immediately redirected from the sheriff and King John to trying to deal with this abhorrent individual. The characters and events began to drift away from the classic tale and many of us began to fight out this grand struggle between minor and imagined characters that was far more compelling and gripping than the one between Robin and the sheriff. This struggle was made all the more difficult and gripping beneath the one universal rule of free-form roleplaying – you may never write a fellow player’s character’s actions or do irrevocable harm or damage to them without their permission. I couldn’t, say, just march a contingent of soldiers into Robin’s lair and murder him in cold blood. Likewise, none of his band were capable of just hunting my deputy down and slitting his throat alone and unloved by his fellows.
Instead, the battleground played out between NPCs. I arrested and imprisoned loved ones and those closest to my enemies. They worked vigilantly to discredit my name with the sheriff and king as well as prepare the peasants to resist me whenever I showed up. I don’t remember how it ended but I think part of my final downfall came when a new player arrived to take the role of Maid Marian.
What’s important about this rambling tale, however, is that all of this was possible with only the barest of rules. Since every member of the group was focused on “playing their role” the entire crux of the game revolved around the interplay between player actions, decisions and goals. Nothing was scripted and there was no rewards for us other than developing a damn good yarn between all our meddling hands.
I’ve always approached RPGs with this sort of attitude. I spend a lot of time developing my character, understanding the world and imagining the desires and goals of the person I play. I don’t really care for the mechanical creation of a character. Stating, powers and abilities represent a tangled mess that interferes with the creation process. Instead of just creating a “despicable deputy” I’m forced to consider what skills he has four more ranks in than not, how many “agility points” he has for blocking damage, whether he has enough strength to lift his longsword or not and on and on it goes. And while these limitations can offer additional fleshing that you wouldn’t consider otherwise, more often than not it is almost entirely devoted to elements that don’t form a character but a mechanical automaton.
Which brings me to the rollplayer. My friend Jeremy is one of those other, alien players. They are most excited delving into the systems of the game, learning the intricacies of the combat and skill checks. They derive more pleasure from creating extensive leveling plans, stating out all the perks, feats, proficiencies, powers, spells, abilities and other goodies that they anticipate receiving. Their character isn’t the vengeful victim of the crimes committed by a rampaging deputy in his unswerving hunt for outlaws in the forest. Instead, they are playing the 4/5/1/3/6 Rogue/Shadow Dancer/Shapeshifter/Divine Matriarch/Gooblygook. They create killing machines meant to defeat whatever challenges will be thrown at them, delighting in the combination of powers delved from the obscurest supplement or magazine that can destroy even the god statelines themselves!
And don’t get me wrong, there isn’t any right or wrong way to play these games. They’re obviously designed for both styles. There are reams of comprehensive rules for managing combat and challenges between individuals. Whereas a duel between people from the Robin Hood adventure would essentially be a few days of colourful riposting and parrying, the conclusion of the combat will inevitably be a draw or well established before the two participants strike the first blow. The classic dungeon delve would fall completely apart in a free-form framework. And those challenges are the ones that rollplayers delight in the most.
Whereas, I am quite happy playing an entire session without throwing a single die. Obviously, not everyone is the same and it’s probably more accurate to say players fall on the spectrum of roll-role playing. And it is the duty of the DM to figure out the perfect balance for the players that she is running for. Sometimes, group dynamics make the games really difficult to balance if you have a collection of extremes. I’ll never truly enjoy combat in tabletop games. Likewise, some players will never enjoy social intrigue and politics. But if you can get a group together that share the same interests and have a DM that likes running and developing adventures in that style… well, then you will have a damn good evening that leaves your players eagerly anticipating each session and writing long, rambling complaints whenever they get canceled.