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2011-05-14 Role Play, not Wish Fulfilment

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I recently read Character Roles Reflect Player Roles where the author argues that character classes imply different play styles that reflect the player’s preferences: fighters for the “strong and silent” player that is happy attacking the bad guys, cleric for the supportive player, thief for tactical player that takes initiative and coordinates actions with others, magic-user for the player who likes strategy – figuring out when to use spells and what to use them for.

I recommended the article on Google Buzz and remarked that this supports my point of view that players don’t have the right to play any class and personality they like—they have the privilege to play the classes and personalities that most suit their player abilities: tactics, strategy, imagination, courage, oratory, creativity, all of these are unlimited by the constraints of the physical world, unlike strength, dexterity and constitution, unlike most of our fighting abilities.

Adrian replied to that, saying “if I applied those criteria, at least from a tactical standpoint, I’d estimate that fully half the players I’ve played with probably shouldn’t be playing anything but an INT 8 raging barbarian.”

I laughed. :)

Adrian is right, of course. And yet, I feel that his point does not invalidate mine. If this is how his players act, so what? Nobody is going to fix their tactics for them, right? I think the real problem is thinking bad tactics is a sign of low intelligence and then looking at the character sheet and discovering the Intelligence score.

I think my point of view works a lot better if you rename the mental abilities to something that cannot apply to players, thereby reducing the confusion. Int could be “book learning”, Wis could be “yoga” or “fu”, Cha could be “leadership” or “magnetism”. What I’m trying to find is words that imply things we don’t want to act out at the table. Intelligence, tactics, strategy, wisdom, intuition, charm, oratory — these are things we can act out and therefore we don’t need an ability or skill for them.

Why is this? Why try and introduce this separation of things that we can act out at the table like oratory and the things we cannot like attacking with swords? Can’t we treat everything as something we cannot act out at the table?

We could, and many people do. If people think that shy players should be able to play bards just as peaceful players should be able to play fighters, then that’s what they’ll do. The reason I personally don’t like this is because I enjoy the acting aspect of role-playing.

I see the game as having two sides, fighting and talking:

If any of you read German, you might have read a previous blog post of mine a few days ago where I wrote about not liking social skills. I used the same argument: I like both aspects of the game.

Now, having established that I like the parts with no rules, no dice, no character sheets, my position hopefully makes more sense. I don’t like abilities and skills on the character sheet that stand in for something a player could act out at the table. These abilities and skills take away from my enjoyment.

Yes, my preferences will also take away from shy people’s enjoyment that want to play bards. But that’s just where I draw the line between wish fulfillment and role-playing. If it is wish fulfillment that you seek, I recommend reading a book instead. You’ll never get what you want at the table; the others will never be quite as entertained by your Diplomacy rolls as you are, alone in your mind’s theatre. Go play a fighter instead! It’s what I do.

Update: 2012-02-09 Social Skills Revisited

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Comments


Adrian
I think there are two things going on here. One is what activities should be adjudicated through talking in character and describing in-character actions, and what actions require rules and dice rolls. I am largely in agreement with you, though I tend to think that some amount of rules can be applied to most in-game activities without eliminating player skill. In particular, RPing high or low Intelligence and Charisma scores is very hard, as you say.

The second thing, the one I objected to, is the following statement: “players don’t have the right to play any class and personality they like—they have the privilege to play the classes and personalities that most suit their player abilities.” The phrase “most suit their player abilities” is really loaded. Who decides? The DM? The player in question? His or her fellow players? And then I feel like it is a slippery slope to telling players how to play their characters to meet our expectations of how such a character should be played – because the judgment of how a player’s qualities are suited to playing a certain class or personality are tied to our own prejudices about how a certain class or personality ought to be played at the table.

Adrian 2011-05-14 13:36 UTC


I agree with you in some essentials—in that I think it’s largely a good idea for player’s not to play particularly against their type, but this bit gets me:

“I don’t like abilities and skills on the character sheet that stand in for something a player could act out at the table.”

Things like inspiring an army or seducing a princess aren’t things that can really be acted out at the game table, except in an abstract sense. And if your wiling to “act out” these things in that way, why is combat given a privileged position of getting die rolls? (I know, its the games history, but why now?)

Having no rolls at all for social situations creates two problems, I think. One it greats the problem ever writer has when they have a character who’s suppose to be a great musician or a brilliant poet--how do they convey that if they are not? A player may be a fine public speaker, but he isn’t a bard.

Two, how do you adjudicate critical sorts of social situations if its just talking. Does the DM have to be seduced before the princess is, or is saying anything good enough? Doesn’t they leave a lot of room for DM abuse? How does one fairly--and not in a completely arbitary “GM fiat” sort of way--decide if his St. Crispin’s Day speech is really all that?

I think “no die rolls” is fine for most sorts of social interactions, but I think “mission critical” ones, or ones beyond the pale of reasonable player skill need a mechanic in the same way we don’t require a player to prove they can bend or bar or lift a gate just because they’re player wants to.

trey 2011-05-14 13:38 UTC



Lin
I utterly and completely disagree with you here. Perhaps thinking like this works for the groups you play in, but not in mine. Playing against your type AND being willing to learn opens up many possibilities no one has foreseen.

Take your ‘shy player shouldn’t play a bard’ example. Best bard I’ve ever played with is played by a very shy player who took the advice given by other players, looked up many information on bards, and made a brilliant character. Would she act like him in real life? No way in hell, but she can at the table.

Also, according to what you said about Fighters I should play ANYTHING BUT a Fighter, and I do play one. And it’s awesome.

Now, there are circumstances in which I think you are right though, you just can’t say no-one should ever, EVER play against his own type. But it takes a lot of effort and willingness to learn if you want to pull it off.

I’ve seen it go wrong too, with paladins in particular. Yet in every instance I notice an unwillingness to learn or adapt to the class. So if the person in question knows the difficulties of playing against his own type, give him a try. You might be surprised.

Also, when you think he won’t, do what you said and just say NO. XD

– Lin 2011-05-14 15:32 UTC



AlexSchroeder
You all have a point, of course. I would not want to deny others the opportunity to grow, nor would I want to presume to know what each one of us was capable of before seeing them at the table.

But sometimes, after the game, you can have an opinion on how other people played. At least I do. It happens all the time. When I hear a few dour words, a die being rolled, a Diplomacy check being made, I feel cheated out of a cool scene. “If only somebody more talkative had played the face man bard or paladin,” I think to myself. Similarly, if there’s a wizard and the player never knows what the spells actually do and keeps having to look them up, and read through them, and ask questions about the exact significance of it all, I think to myself that maybe this player should not be playing a wizard.

Thus, after the fact, I think it is possible to say that some players ought to play a different class, have characters with other special abilities or skills. Just because they’d like to be talkative or a spell slinger doesn’t mean they have the right to bore me and others at the table.

So yes, give everybody a fair chance. A fair chance to pick what they would like to do, to attempt new things, to prove others wrong. But let them learn from their experiences, too. Let them discover what they are best at, and let them do that.

Is there a right way to play a character? No. But there is a duty towards the other people at the table. They are here to be entertained, to have a good time. We all share the duty to make the magic happen, so I do think that for a particular table, in the eyes of every single and particular person sitting at the table, there are in fact better and worse ways to play. My loud and bawling ways, my impulsive urges to just storm in and break stuff are not to everybody’s taste. But neither is the cowardly fighter, the fumbling mage, or the treacherous thief to my taste.

Why is combat given a special place? Because we’re not a fight club, or a reenactment troupe. You can claim that my line is arbitrarily drawn and I’d have nothing to say in my favor except my expectations (which nobody else at the table necessarily shares) and the fragility of all the stuff in my living room, the inadequacy of my clothes, the lack of suitable arms and armor, and my stated preference that I want both kinds of gaming: I want dice rolling and I want talking at the table. I don’t want to replace my talking with a sentence or two and a roll of the die.

Incidentally, I think this also a drawback of the duel of wits in Burning Wheel – it replaces a lot of the talking with dice rolling.

As for critical social situations: good point! I’m not sure. Perhaps they don’t show up in our games? Or perhaps I instinctively avoid situations where the future of the campaign hinges on a single die roll? For combat, at least, usually dozens of dies are rolled before anything is decided. Perhaps if I had a duel of wits mechanic, I’d feel more comfortable adjudicating a social situation based on dice rolling. As it stands, however, I much prefer the ebb and flow of fighting and talking, of rolling the dice, and doing away with the dice. When a critical social situation comes up, just have proof for your point available in game. Have your character show up with the traitor, the corpse, the letter, the witness, the love poem, whatever it takes to sway the situation one way or another.

Hopefully that addressed all the issues that got mentioned? This reply has certainly become longer than I intended it to! Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. :)

AlexSchroeder 2011-05-14 16:24 UTC



Rhetorical Gamer
I think – and this is just me talking here – that a lot of what’s going on in this set of ideas might be best solved by coming at the problem from both sides at once. My girlfriend is pretty shy, but in our 4E games, she more than once played a leader type. And in our current Pathfinder game she’s playing a sorcerer with an 18 Charisma and a great Bluff score. I encourage her (and all players in this situation) to take a stab at roleplaying it. “A few dour words and a dice roll” as you put it (and put it well), are not enough. But this isn’t necessarily always about a player taking on the wrong role, this could be about player investment overall. If the player is not “super-articulate” but they take a stab at getting to the salient points, try to convey a sense of excitement, and show me that they are “in to” what they are doing then this will translate the result of whatever die-roll they make better than if they just, you know, mumble and pitch a d20. At my table, players don’t have to be smooth-talkers to use bluff, but they do have to make an effort. For me, that’s the difference.

It’s honestly the same for combat. Combat scenes that consist of “I hit it with my sword, I rolled a 22. I do 8 damage” are super-boring. But that is often what combat turns into in games. I don’t know the first damn thing about how I’d really use a raygun built into a cybernetic arm that has a complicated-blink-activated targeting system, but I do know that the better I make it sound at the table when I fire that puppy, the more fun everyone is having.

So encouraging players to take a shot at playing beyond the edges of their comfort zones (at least a little) as well as stepping up description and narrative value in all scenes will make a longer-lasting impact (I think) than legislating which characters a player is allowed to play.

Rhetorical Gamer 2011-05-14 17:51 UTC


Rhetorical Gamer makes a good point about combat. Why should it be ok to have mechanical rolls without describing all the gritty details when in combat but not if you use the diplomacy skill? What about the bards perform skill? Should the player be a good singer if he wants to play a bard? Its certainly something that could be acted out in person…

Last but not least: What about the GM? If players dont have the right to play any class and personality they like, what should happen with the Gamemasters?

– Florian 2011-05-16 09:15 UTC



Harald
GMs are players too.

– Harald 2011-05-16 09:24 UTC



AlexSchroeder
@Florian: As I said in the original post: “Why is combat given a special place? Because we’re not a fight club, or a reenactment troupe.” And we’re also not a choir, or a band – the social expectation is that we’ll sit around a table and talk and roll dice. That means, diplomacy can be acted out, combat cannot.

Just because the line is blurry doesn’t mean that there is no line.

Incidentally, I am also not a big fan of epic descriptions for every roll of the die in combat, but my main point is just that: combat and talking can work differently, and because I like them both, I want them to play differently.

As for the GM, I absolutely stand by what I say: If the GM can’t role play a queen, a bard, or a sage, then maybe those characters shouldn’t make too often an appearance, because I’d rather enjoy a good conversation with a guard, a huntress, or a stable boy if those are the roles the GM can play well.

If the GM is good at crafting tactical combat, then let’s play that. If the GM is good at intrigue, then let’s do that. “So yes, give everybody a fair chance. A fair chance to pick what they would like to do, to attempt new things, to prove others wrong. But let them learn from their experiences, too. Let them discover what they are best at, and let them do that.” It’s as true for GMs as it for players.

Or in short, “what Harald said.” :)

AlexSchroeder 2011-05-16 10:39 UTC



lior
Here is an old but IMO still relevant discussion on the subject, in stronger language: http://replay.web.archive.org/20060520212850/http://www.bobgoat.com/discussion/?p=39

Things I like:

@Alex: I cant “role”-play (as in “acting”) anything. Can I still play at your table? I guess me GMing is out of the question now…

– lior 2011-05-16 14:18 UTC



AlexSchroeder
Haha, nice rant. I don’t feel like he addresses my point, but I laughed. :)

“[…] how many of you have had to sit there while some asshole in the group role-played through buying shit or had to listen to someone’s long winded soliloquy while the rest of the group had to sit and watch.” — I agree, this is horrible.

“Acting is the taking on of a role, which you portray to an audience of some sort. Role-playing games are not however, a form of acting. Not even close.” — Again, I agree.

But my point remains. As far as I can tell, Keith feels that rules in this respect can reign in dicks. But the first rule is do not play with dicks, right?

AlexSchroeder 2011-05-16 16:08 UTC


I completely disagree, we might not be a fight club or a choir but we certainly aint Diplomats either.
I also wonder about the fighter part: Why should it be ok for a fighter to roll a few dice, push figures over a chessboard and be done with it while its not ok for a diplomancer to just say a few words and roll dice as well?
Dont you think that if you leave out the epic fighting move descriptions, people might feel cheated out of a cool fight too?

– Florian 2011-05-17 07:06 UTC



lior
Well yes, but if you define d i c k as “I would play your character better than you”, then you better prepare for some pretty lonely games…

I guess its a question of expectations. I do not expect a player of a bard to act out some Minnesang for me. If he says his character does so, thats fine. If I need more detail, I’ll ask. If I think some move would be cool, I’ll suggest. If I or somebody else wants to give an impression of what that would look like, thats fine too. Who says only the “owner” is allowed to make impressions of his character?

There is another thing I still don’t get but I think its central: When you act out a scene, how do you resolve conflicts? If my fat bastard character wants to have the accused beheaded and your abbess wants them to go free, how would we resolve that without mechanics?

– lior 2011-05-17 07:45 UTC



AlexSchroeder
@Florian: You ask for an explanation regarding my arbitrary decision to prefer diplomats and fighters to play differently. I don’t know what to say that I have not said before. I like fighting and diplomacy to be different. I like the rules to allow them to be different. I enjoy both aspects of the game. There is nothing more to that than personal preference.

You also point out an inconsistency in my argument: I like a lot of talking when doing diplomacy, I don’t like a lot of talking when fighting. What about the people that enjoy a lot of talking while fighting? I don’t know. I guess they are different. That’s ok. I don’t mind the occasional extra words while rolling the dice.

Just as it is ok for people to disagree with me in this, I feel that it’s ok for me to state my preferences. I think knowing our preferences and articulating them helps us find fellow players whose play style we appreciate. It also helps us adapt to other people’s preferences in order to make their game experience more enjoyable.

@Lior: I am not sure what you mean with your first paragraph. If one defines dick as ‘I would play your character better than you’—and if we’re saying ‘don’t play with dicks’—then we’re saying ‘don’t play with people that claim to know how you should play your character’? I guess if that were true under all circumstances, I’d agree.

But usually life is not like that. My experience in games—and in real life, too—is that situations come up where I think ‘wouldn’t it be cool if’ because games—and life—are not beautiful and perfect all the time. But that doesn’t invalidate the sentiment. Things could always be better. The imagining of a better world is part of what drives us forward. I can’t help but look around me and make value judgements all the time. Do I want to read this book? Do I want to eat this food? Do I want to play this game? Do I like this person? Was this thing I said funny enough? Was this action he described cool enough? I’m sure you agree that these thoughts exist, that opinions exist, and that preferences exist.

Maybe I totally misunderstood what you were trying to say?

I agree with your second paragraph. As for the question in the last paragraph: I think I gave Lin up above an answer that applies here as well. What about critical social situations, Lin asked. I said: “I’m not sure. Perhaps they don’t show up in our games? Or perhaps I instinctively avoid situations where the future of the campaign hinges on a single die roll? For combat, at least, usually dozens of dies are rolled before anything is decided. Perhaps if I had a duel of wits mechanic, I’d feel more comfortable adjudicating a social situation based on dice rolling. As it stands, however, I much prefer the ebb and flow of fighting and talking, of rolling the dice, and doing away with the dice. When a critical social situation comes up, just have proof for your point available in game. Have your character show up with the traitor, the corpse, the letter, the witness, the love poem, whatever it takes to sway the situation one way or another.”

In our recent Burning Wheel session at court, without social conflict rules, we would have shown the incriminating evidence and made our speech, we would have called upon a witness that would have betrayed us, we would have talked for a minute or two in order to entertain the table, and then the game master would have told us that while the crowd agrees with the abbess, the judge is obviously corrupt, decides against us, takes the money, and so on. The game would have not necessarily been any different. It would have worked for me.

AlexSchroeder 2011-05-17 09:46 UTC



lior
What I meant with my first para was: You say that players should be capable to play their role or not play at all. But whether a player plays the role “right” and what the “role” actually is, that is of course a subjective judgment (which I guess everyone of us makes in one way or another about the other players - I certainly do). But if you take this subjective view as a measure for who is a dick and who is not then lots of people will be, by your definition, dicks, at least every once in a while. And if you follow up with “don’t play with dicks” then you end up with much less possible companions. That may be OK for you (since I have the feeling you know a ton of players) and that may be what you are trying to tell us (or not).

As for your suggestion on how to play out the court scene: Would have worked for me too. But that is because we both like drama and accept failure as a source of story. In a way, what you suggest seems to be a meta-decision based on mechanically established facts (corpses and witnesses) and cloaked by acting. I think we totally agree that this can be a fun way of doing scenes. I think I wrote about that one should talk a lot about what is resolved and why in such scenes, so I will not repeat that.

I guess part of the confusion comes in because you say you do not want to resolve diplomacy with mechanics, and then people do not understand how you would resolve the “my will vs your will” situation (which as you say does not come up in your play) and therefore disagree. For me, the discussion is resolved once one recognizes that those are two different types of player interaction: one totally in-character with neither side ready to meta-talk about what should happen (mechanics needed) and the other with all involved players ready to come to an agreement in meta-discussion and then diving back into in-char to act that out (no mechanics needed).

In a way, the second type is the fortune-at-the-beginning resolution mentioned in the linked discussion: We as a group decide on a resolution based on interpretation of the facts (skills, corpses et al.) and on meta-considerations (what would be cool, what is important to single players). There are rules here too, but no dice.

– lior 2011-05-17 11:43 UTC



AlexSchroeder
Good point regarding the interpretation of facts and meta-considerations also being rules but with not dice. I also like your two types of player interaction. I agree. I’m not sure I’d want to resolve every situation as Matt suggested (“first we figure out that my character betrays you, and then we act out the scene with that in mind, and any other parameters we set beforehand”)—but I hope this is something I intuitively do at the table when I feel other players are tongue-tied or when I feel that we could up the ante or add more crazy.

You rephrasing of the point regarding dicks confuses me – there must be a misunderstanding somewhere because it’s not what I would want to say at all. First, I think that “dick” is an insult. I don’t want to insult people. At least, I usually don’t. I think there are two different issues, here:

  1. My blog post is about my gaming preferences and specifically about the difference in tempo and mode between fighting and talking
  2. Keith wrote a post arguing that we need rules for social conflict and the examples he cites all involve inconsiderate people (“some asshole in the group role-played through buying shit or had to listen to someone’s long winded soliloquy while the rest of the group had to sit and watch” or “prima donna fucker who was in drama club in high school”)—and my conclusion was that my answer to Keith’s hypothetical problem is not to have rules for social conflicts but to not play with dicks instead.

I don’t think that I implied that people who like social conflict rules, or people who don’t do a lot of talking, are in fact dicks. If I did, I’m sorry and I’d like to fix my comments to reflect that.

AlexSchroeder 2011-05-17 12:27 UTC



lior
OK, I misunderstood you. IMO: We are totally on the same page. oao

– lior 2011-05-17 12:36 UTC


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