The comments on my recent Defence of H/P/E post got me thinking. ‘Roleplaying opportunities’ were mentioned twice, one saying there weren’t any, one saying how good they were. Can’t both be right surely? or can they! I think it depends on your viewpoint.
One of the many ways that 4e has changed my gaming perspective is in the way I now see roleplaying. I used to be quite the snob about it. If you weren’t adding in loads of description and being all extroverted at the table you weren’t a roleplayer in my book (I never went as far as using the term rollplayer, so give me some credit!) I was always wishing for more from my players, more colour, more energy, more engagement with the plots, more authorship of the plots, everything I called roleplaying frankly. You’d think that after 30 years of dissatisfaction I’d have wised up a while back, but no, it took 4e to show me what I’d been overlooking all that time. It’s this: people get their gaming fun in all kinds of ways, and all those ways are completely valid so long as they’re not cramping someone elses. Hell, even if it does cramp someone elses, it could still be worth it if the group benefits as a whole.
I know, I know, hardly a revelatory insight. Yet I’d gotten too caught up in what I thought was right. I’ve read all the GMing advice and I’ve always managed to make it fit my own theories and prejudices, thus making it a vicious circle (9th level Lurker). The 4e DMG finally put me on the right track, and my weekly gaming group really demonstrated the possibilities of just relaxing a little and letting the game run the way it really wanted to. Let me give you an example. I’ll use Julio, one of my oldest mates and I think we’ve been gaming together for about 20 years now. We definitely don’t play the same way. I like being all chatty and intrigue-y, Jules likes being dead hard and dominating battles. For years now I’ve always thought I was the better roleplayer, but nowadays I realise that’s just bollocks. We’re just getting our roleplaying jollies in different ways. Jules is a sublime roleplayer and I know he values his character and his gaming. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have shown up all these times. From the same vintage, Marky. He’s pretty quiet. I used to worry he was sitting bored, but again, he votes with his feet every single week. These guys are absolutely roleplayers, but they are taking their RP opportunities from slightly different places that I do.
Here’s what I don’t believe is the totality of roleplaying: standing up at the table, speaking in an outrageous accent, adding lengthy and hyper detailed descriptions to every sword swing, having a page long character background, refusing to fight, being a dark, edgy loner. As for roleplaying opportunities in scenarios? I don’t believe that always means enigmatic NPCs, labyrinthine plots, politics, factions, murder mysteries, masked balls or even skill challenges. Trouble is, I think that’s what a lot of people do mean when they talk about RP. Combat? unworthy of real roleplaying. Magic items? flavourless mechanical devices. NPCs? Now you’re talking!
And that’s rot. Talky bits in scenarios are not the only RP opportunities, they’re everywhere. I can see the opportunity in taking an extended rest: with enchantments, bedrolls, watches, disease worries, spell books, martial practice, breakfast, inspiring words. Jeez, you could very easily get a decent chapter in a fantasy novel out of just that. And here’s the important bit, it doesn’t need to be acted out in minutiae in order to count. As long as it’s got the potential to be a memory, it’s roleplaying. I love the day after a game, it’s where I rerun the cool scenes in my head, at my own pace. I remember the visuals, even tough they weren’t necessarily described that way on the night. I smell the blood, I feel the cloth, I taste the danger. Yet at the time, it might occasionally sound like we’re talking purely in numbers.
I do believe it is every person at the tables responsibility to ‘colour in’ their character wherever possible, to advertise the things that are on their character sheets. But you know what? I’m fine with ‘I attack with my longsword’, honestly I am. It actually annoys me now when players try to Stunt every single bloody thing. It’s like they’re competing for the experience points. Here’s another example. My missus likes to say that she is not a roleplayer. She likens it to cringe making Am Dram at it’s worst, all self conscious and me me me. She gets quite passionate about it! Thing is, she’s a great roleplayer. She adores her character, and fights her corner at every session. She’s written a novel for Gods sake, and her next is a fantasy story inspired by our game. She’s even thinking about DMing for the first time ever. She has two different colours of dice and tries one set out at the start of each session to see who’s running hot. Her character has a well deserved reputation for looking after number one. She taunts people who hang back from the action. She plays her character, and when she can’t be there all the others know exactly what she’d do in every situation. Yeah, she’s a roleplayer alright.
So, these modules for me are packed with roleplaying opportunities. They might not be obvious from a read through, but they definitely come out in play. When steve’s character yells ‘Come and Get It!’, he’s just provided an opportunity, and everyone else grabs it. These mods might not have many ‘conversations with the mayor about trade embargoes’ but they put a skeleton for adventure in front of your characters. The opportunities are there, you just need to grab them, and stop sweating about the ways people do.