What games emphasise and support Role?

I see a lot of games being judged on how well they let us tell stories, or simulate an environment, or how satisfying their risk-reward mechanics are - but I don't see much being said about the roles we play in roleplaying games.

Although I find it hard to quantify exactly how it's achieved, I relish a game that really lets me get into a good role. To embody a character. Some of my best gaming experiences were all about being someone else, doing something else in a sustained and rewarding way, often regardless of whether a satisfying narrative was produced in the end. I think many of us have fond memories of that one character who it was fun to be despite the campaign's senselessness. Roleplaying can be it's own reward, surely, even if the G in RPG isn't functioning quite right.

Sometimes it's in the details. I find it easy to get into character when playing the Warhammer Fantasy RPG and being given colourful but fairly useless items in my pockets during character creation. It really helps me understand who this unlucky peasant is and how I could play that role.

Sometimes it's in the broader setting. Characters in Paranoia don't tend to be very complex but the richness of Alpha Complex presented in the right way makes getting into the headspace of a violent batch-clone in the service of a terrifying regime deeply rewarding.

Sometimes it's in the play-space. The rush to invent and position characters in relationship webs in collaboration with other players during the opening rounds of Fiasco seems to help solidify satisfying roles.

What RPGs give thought to helping players get into their roles? I feel many assume this is just a thing that happens: "You're X, now lets talk skills and abilities." Is getting into a role something that roleplaying games consider, or just a given? Is role-playing an end in its own right, or just colour?

What options are out there? What RPGs, or subsystems of RPGs, help you to be someone else and live out a role?

Comments

  • edited April 2016
    Many games out there are only fun because you play your role. I found Fiasco to be like that. I found getting into the role adds something extra to a railroaded adventure. Usually, this is how roleplaying games work. They just push it into the players' laps to do it themselves - to have them create their own reward.

    I can only think of one game that creates immersion in the role. One, of the 200+ I read and played, from traditional games to indie games to experimental games.

    There is a quite simple formula to get engaged in an activity, and I can find the similar pattern in Theory of Fun, flow, and even Freytag's dramatic triangle (theater). An article in the LARP book called Beyond Role and Play talks about this formula. I highly recommend reading it. It's written by Ari-Pekka Lappi, and is called The Character Interpretation: The Process Before the Immersion and the Game. The headline The Paradox of Interpretation (p. 101) is where the interesting part begins. It talks about how someone gets into the role by a) creating a mental image of the character, b) have it do things in the game world, c) get a response from it, a) so the player needs to update the mental image (take a stand in opinions), b) and do something new in the game world. This circle should be repeated until the player gets fully into character.

    Only one game does this: Montsegur 1244. I think it's a game designed by a LARPer, and it helps the players getting into character by constantly adding more and more, through pre-written pieces to be read between acts, to the game world and for the players to take into consideration. In the end, the players will understand the characters' perspective and therefor choose to burn for their faith.
  • For me, the most important thing about getting into the headspace of a character is a) learning (or deciding, or some combination thereof) what it is that the character really cares about - their passions, their fears, their emotional and intellectual stance - and then b) having that reflected in the events of play, whether reinforced or challenged. It's important that the other players understand what my character is all about enough to engage with those emotional priorities, creating this powerful feedback loop where the character is crystallized or shaken into a new form with proceeding events.

    I haven't played Montsegur 1244, but Rickard's description of what makes it work sounds right on the nose.
  • edited April 2016
    Many games out there are only fun because you play your role.
    Right? So why do I feel like designers aren't helping me to get into my role?

    Thanks for the Lappi article, Rickard, it's an interesting read. I'd agree that games where my character's choice is important (rather than my own) solidify that sensation of being "in role." I feel I'm roleplaying least when I'm making decisions based on what I would choose for me or the most pragmatic choice given the scenario (get the gold, get out). Perhaps too few games present a role that require a setting aside of the self.

    I'd been thinking about Montsegur 1244 but I've never played it. Is there something to be said for pre-defined characters that demand interpretation in play?

    Strangely (or maybe not), Lady Blackbird helps promote role-play in this way too. Maybe there's more room for interpretation in the characters themselves but players are forced to negotiate pre-existing relationships that enhances their role.

    So, role = restrictions = good?



    Montsegur is actually pretty apropos. I'd started this thread while reading a great deal of the Medieval social history and thinking how different Medieval conceptions of the world were from ours and how to get players to think Medievally.
    . It's important that the other players understand what my character is all about enough to engage with those emotional priorities, creating this powerful feedback loop where the character is crystallized or shaken into a new form with proceeding events.
    Any successes? And - if so - what accounted for that? Sometimes its hard to get another player to memorise my character's name, let alone have his or her (or its!) emotional priorities in mind.
  • For me, the most important thing about getting into the headspace of a character is a) learning (or deciding, or some combination thereof) what it is that the character really cares about - their passions, their fears, their emotional and intellectual stance.
    My best experiences of role have been all about experiencing dissonance and conflict about my character's goals and identity. Not in a sense of aimlessness, but of having actively conflicting ideas. The piece of game design that's most effectively gotten me there is Vincent's advice from In a Wicked Age to give characters competing or contradictory best interests. I want to see my brother hanged for his crimes, but I also love my brother and want to protect him from harm.

    It does make it more difficult to communicate your character to others, though, which makes that feedback loop you're describing harder to engage with.

  • Any successes? And - if so - what accounted for that? Sometimes its hard to get another player to memorise my character's name, let alone have his or her (or its!) emotional priorities in mind.
    [...] give characters competing or contradictory best interests. I want to see my brother hanged for his crimes, but I also love my brother and want to protect him from harm.

    It does make it more difficult to communicate your character to others, though, which makes that feedback loop you're describing harder to engage with.
    I think that the important factor here is an above-board, ongoing discussion between all the players. Take little breaks; make comments about the ongoing fiction as though you were an audience watching a show. It can be as simple as saying, "Ooh, that's cold!", and shaking your head, after a character does something heartless. The player now has a better idea of how their character is coming across, and vice-versa.

    Making your own emotional reactions to what's going on explicit allows you all to communicate with each other and then feed into this together. Much like how you might talk to your friends after watching a TV show together: "Oh, wow, I can't believe she did that! What do you think made her do it?"

    While some players really like to "stay in character" 100% of the time, I find that makes it much harder to engage with the game. A perfect example:

    I was playing In a Wicked Age... with a woman I'd only met a couple of times, and our characters were at odds. Mine pulled off a bit of an underhanded stunt and caused her some major problems. Now this woman is staring at me across the table, glaring angrily.

    Well, that makes for some awkward gaming. Is she trying to project her character, acting out a role? Or is she actually angry at me? Should I be playing further into this, or trying to stop the game to see if something's wrong?

    Since then, I've always tried to break character and wink at my fellow player, saying something like, "Ooh boy, my character sure is pissed at you! Watch out!" A little moment like that allows you all to be on the same page.



  • Interesting that you mention it Paul, I've been on the opposite side once, being angry at another player for something his character did, because of how he roleplayed it afterwards, like nothing had happened. At the moment I had a rough time tring to calm down, but later I got to know that player better and realized it was just a game.

    Now that I think of it, it kinda broke actor stance immersion for me forever, though it did it for good. I still play PCs and NPCs and try to somewhat characterize them, put myself in their shoes; but never do it too deep as I did when I started roleplaying. It has saved me a lot of emotional trouble, fictional arguments and toxic PvP.
  • edited April 2016
    Sweet. I get to talk about my game. Character embodiment is one of my goals with Delve. I've never 100% finished the game, so I haven't published it, but it's succeeded very well in abetting character embodiment over the years, including in what I consider very adverse conditions (i.e. one-shots with strangers at cons).

    Here are some thoughts on various approaches to embodiment, with how Delve supports them (or doesn't):

    Some people get into character specifically by distancing themselves from their real-world selves. "Some sort of alien hive mind creature who thinks love is a flavor of beverage or whatever is the perfect way to transport myself out of my default habits and behaviors and attitudes!" Delve is absolutely not that. (In some ways -- mainly mental skills -- you play yourself.) Plenty of other games support this, though: if being a Vampire or part of the Mouse Guard or living in Puppetland isn't alien enough for you, just play the weirdest optional races from grab-bag games like Rifts or GURPS or D&D.

    Some people get into character specifically by interfacing with an imagined world. "If it feels like a real place, I can imagine I'm really in it!" A lot of settings achieve this by blending just enough familiarity for orientation with lots of compelling weirdness. Depending on the audience, some medieval games qualify, and some games with mysterious magic qualify. You can sink into inhabiting 12th century Europe, with its different cultures and routines and attitudes, or you can delve into the secrets of why this fantasy world sees great pillars of ice arise from its desert every 13 years. Delve is a bit of both. The world is detailed in both the cosmic metaphysical level and the "this is what a village looks like" level. Character-specific tie-ins to the world includes names, religion, superstition, and knowledge of the map.

    Some people get into character by establishing backstory, thinking through their character's life up until now and using that to propel them into the present moment. Delve supports this primarily through descriptive class blurbs and by making time for personal history pondering and discussion during character creation. For campaign play, there's an optional char-gen system where you roll for the fate of your family for each year of your life, with the resulting arc determining your starting resources and position. Some of the "who am I" stuff (below) also inspires players for "how I got this way".

    Some people get into character by talking in character, by developing a voice for their character, whether it be an accent, cadence, tone, diction, or simply projected attitude. Delve supports this by asking players to consider it during character creation, and by mandating that players take one of two options: (a) your character doesn't sound like you, and the two are immediately distinguishable, or (b) your raise a hand or use some other signal when you speak out of character.

    Some people get into character naturally, but can get knocked out of character by a group that blurs player/character lines. Delve avoids this by using some ritual language for "dive in" and "come up for air" to create unmistakable boundaries between in-game and out-of-game. The speech rules reinforce this as well.

    Some people get into character by characterizing dramatic action. When I skewer the orc, do I do so with a look of desperation or one of glee? Delve sort of supports this by using a Pacing Dial which anyone at the table can use to speed things up, or slow them down, even going as far as bullet time. I say "sort of" because most players do bullet time very rarely, more often using the dial to speed past stuff instead. Still, "rarely" is better than "never"! Beyond the dial, Delve seems to be a natural match for action description, due to the game's general emphasis on color and immersion.

    Some people get into character by characterizing mundane action. Delve supports this in character creation with a a bunch of prompts for character habits, inclinations, tics, etc. This is one of my more successful innovations -- once a player has "bites nails when anxious" and "shares generously when content" on their sheet, the internal dynamics of a party really take off, with everyone expressing their characters to each other rather than just forging ahead as efficient pawns.

    Some people get into character by external reinforcement. If other characters (PCs or NPCs) know your character well, and treat them as their specific self, complete with any shared history between the two, that can be a great reinforcer of who your character is, and their solidity as a "real" person. Delve incidentally supports this via support for characterization, a campaign mode in which PCs stay together for a long time, and an adventure mode in which PCs work closely together throughout. Other games can also support character reinforcement with a very different approach, by priming every PC pairing with some revealing shared history. I first saw this in Misspent Youth but I think a lot of games includes this now, such as many PbtAs. Personally, I consider external reinforcement fairly trivial for players who already want to get into character. It can be great for dragging in that friend who's initially half-hearted about it, though.

    Some people get into character through intensely emotional experience. The pathos of a tragic dilemma, the moral outrage of a crime against one's core beliefs, the adrenaline of a chase with life and death on the line. Some games prime this by highlighting character values and engineering crises, like Sorcerer and Dogs in the Vineyard. Delve is more OSR in this regard, letting most of the intensity emerge from the lack of safeguards for character survival and thus the looming specter of death when things get dangerous. There are also GM-side pacing mechanics which speed scenarios toward disastrous conclusions, and players will often start sweating as they race the (figurative) clock to save the village. Delve leaves character-personal crisis to emergence, though.

    Some people get into character through the senses. Being someone else means hearing what they hear, seeing what they see, etc. Delve supports this with GM advice to describe the world accordingly, and also with a "beginning of session" procedure in which every player describes what their character looks like right this second (plus any other relevant sensory details) and the GM describes their environment in detail.

    In one-shots, I also use a "what you have done as a party up until now" decision tree, so the start of the adventure is an organic beginning, rather than feeling like a bunch of individual PCs coalescing into a unit out of nowhere. "Out of nowhere" can stunt orientation in the fiction which can in turn inhibit character embodiment.

    Oh yeah, and I also put a lot of stuff on the character sheet that the character would know but the player wouldn't, to minimize the knowledge disconnect between player and character.
    Whew! That took longer than I'd thought.

    I'm not sure if your version of "embody a character" is the same as mine, but if it is, then I can vouch that this stuff works.
  • edited April 2016
    Thanks for sharing, David. I didn't know about Delve and now I do. What happened to publication? What I can find through Google looks promising!

    I'm only a little miffed as I'd been chewing over historical medieval people deal with The Weird. I like your take on it as an X-Files 1300 AD; I was thinking more along the lines of Caterbury Tales meets Roadside Picnic.

    Your list of embodiment strategies is pretty all-encompassing. Well done and thank you.
    Let's see if I can respond to some of these.

    There's a lot to be said of simulation mechanics and tools to help us embody a character. Interacting with the imagined world, the use of the senses in description, talking in character. I'm not sure if these strategies of embodiment are strictly the same as taking up and maintaining a role, although they certainly help. I feel a distinction between being in-role and embodiment but I'm not quite sure how to communicate that yet - I'll get back to you when I've given it more thought.

    Can we talk more - as a group - about ways to minimize the knowledge disconnect between player and character, external reinforcement and distancing themselves from their real-world selves? These categories seem to get closer to the heart of Role to me.

    Sorry for asking the community to play some weird guessing game of "When Mike talks about role, what does he mean?" I'll try get some more concrete thoughts back to you after digesting.


    edit.
    Damn, it hit me after pressing send.

    Role, for me, is about undertaking convincing activity as a character that is removed from my motivations as a player of a game. So D&D is terrible for getting into a role as the business of raiding a dungeon and getting out - while entertaining - is inextricably coupled with the wargamey business of obtaining points and achieving a game-victory state.

    No? Maybe? It seemed so golden as an idea but the expression of it crumbles to desert sand on sight.
  • Publication didn't happen because I've always hated RPG books that rely heavily on a GM but only support that GM with advice. I want concrete support for Delve GMs, and I haven't been able to cook that up yet. I know what I do when I GM it, but I'm having a hell of a time turning that into anything other than principles and best practices.

    There are spots in Lendrhald (Delve's setting) which are basically mini versions of The Zone! I call 'em "soft spots", probably inspired by the Sandman issue of that name. Totally with you on Roadside Picnic. Not so much on Canterbury Tales -- to me, that implies a very different sort of character arc. I'd be happy to chat about it, though!

    Agreed that embodiment, immersion, transportation, identification, "in character" and "in role" are all subtly different things, or at least can be. It's interesting that you see some appeal in both "minimize knowledge disconnect" on one hand but also "distance from player" and "motivation disconnect" on the other. I think that's nicely specific! You want a distinctly alternate self which you can inhabit completely on its own terms, without need for regular reference to real-world stuff like metagame rewards or reference books of setting knowledge. Right?

    For that I'd recommend freeform narrativism. :)
  • Publication didn't happen because I've always hated RPG books that rely heavily on a GM but only support that GM with advice. I want concrete support for Delve GMs, and I haven't been able to cook that up yet. I know what I do when I GM it, but I'm having a hell of a time turning that into anything other than principles and best practices.
    I've been telling this to people since The Forge: You Can Give rules to GMs.
    This ended up being my answer to the problem when I wrote Offline, which I'm selfpublishing here as an ashcan:

    -A procedure for brainstorming the setting/adventure in 8 questions; it takes a lot of load off the GM, everyone starts the game on the same page and cares more about the world that when the GM creates it alone.

    -A comic (You know I totally stole this idea from you, right?) explains how the game conversation goes along with the main conflict resolution mechanic, showing in parallel what's happening in the imagination of the players. Works better than just an AP written example.

    -All good GM practices are expressed as rules/procedures. It's a social psychology trick: express things as advice and people will disregard them and try to obtain results in their own way; do it as rules/procedures and people will follow them until they see the results you want them to experience. They can ditch the rules later if they don't like them, but at least you showed them what the game is meant to do. Also, expressing them as good advice gives the message that they may or may not work, which, while it's true, it doesn't give a new GM confidence enough to be sure about what she's doing.

    The procedures stated in Offline consistently produce a simple straightforward plot, something a new GM can trust and use again and again. Once she get's the gist of it, she will be free to ditch it and make plots of her own, but until that she can trust that following the procedures will be enough.


    A note to get a little bit back to the thread: Yesterday another idea hit me: what if each time the players answer a question about the setting, they relate it to one of their characters in some way? It happened by accident in one of the testings: one of the players got to draw the map and decide the name of the kingdom and king for the setting and because of an error on my side, he thought his character got to be a member of the royalty for such kingdom. When he told me so, I decided to let him do it because I felt bad to deny him something and it actually didn't broke the game. Then I found out It actually made things more interesting and it helped him get a better grasp of his character and give him the spotlight he didn't dare to steal, because he was new to RPGs in general and got shy.

    So now I'm adding this to the setting creating procedure so players not only get a place in the world they have created right from the start, but at the same time get a clear image of what kind of character they can create, an inspiration that is crucial to roleplay them good.

  • Agreed that embodiment, immersion, transportation, identification, "in character" and "in role" are all subtly different things, or at least can be. It's interesting that you see some appeal in both "minimize knowledge disconnect" on one hand but also "distance from player" and "motivation disconnect" on the other. I think that's nicely specific! You want a distinctly alternate self which you can inhabit completely on its own terms, without need for regular reference to real-world stuff like metagame rewards or reference books of setting knowledge. Right?

    For that I'd recommend freeform narrativism. :)
    Boo! Hiss! I came here to play RPGs not RP-s.

    The Game is important. Restrictions breed creativity. Rules and structure motivate and guide positive play experience. The museum without a curator is just a garage.

    That said, it's not about wanting a VR experience, that distinctly alternate self which I can inhabit completely on its own terms, it's about the exhilarating experience of acting out a role (and being aware of that, like putting on a mask) and having the game system enshrine and focus on that.

    I actually like metagame rewards. But I think most people mean game rewards when they say metagame rewards, really.


    A note to get a little bit back to the thread: Yesterday another idea hit me: what if each time the players answer a question about the setting, they relate it to one of their characters in some way?

    ...I'm adding this to the setting creating procedure so players not only get a place in the world they have created right from the start, but at the same time get a clear image of what kind of character they can create, an inspiration that is crucial to roleplay them good.
    I've been doing this since Lady Blackbird really introduced to me interrogating players for setting. It's usually hugely positive for generating setting mastery and role confidence. It can occasionally get too much in practice, especially if the GM is hitting up nervous players for huge volumes of detail.

  • I actually like metagame rewards. But I think most people mean game rewards when they say metagame rewards, really.
    Ain't that the truth! :)

  • edited April 2016
    Huh. I thought I understood where you were going with this:
    Role, for me, is about undertaking convincing activity as a character that is removed from my motivations as a player of a game. So D&D is terrible for getting into a role as the business of raiding a dungeon and getting out - while entertaining - is inextricably coupled with the wargamey business of obtaining points and achieving a game-victory state.
    But I guess I don't. If you like Game and rules and structure and formal rewards, then I'm not sure what it is exactly that you'd omit from D&D's pursuit of success and points.

    You certainly can't keep all those things but not have them coupled to what the characters do. If play doesn't invoke the system, then the system might as well not be there.

    Or, well, I guess you could Game about something other than character stuff -- who gets to GM next, or who gets to advance their character next, or who gets screen time next -- and then have a separate character-play phase. I'm guessing if you wanted that, though, you would have said so. :)
  • @WarriorMonk, I am all for rules for GMs! But I don't think taking advice and calling it a rule actually makes it a rule. Your talk about specific procedures sounds great, but I've found it difficult to create good ones!
  • Hmm. Well, so far I'm sure about a few things that might guide you:

    1- the game will lose efficiency at attaining whatever it's supposed to do consistently, if too much of it depends on one person.
    2- don't try to coerce or mislead the GM or the player into doing something with rewards. Present as Rules whatever should everyone do in order to play and you'll have more people following any kind of "advice". Later they can decide which "rules" they keep and which the'll skip, but at least they will read and try your advice (remember VtM, the "advice" part there was crucial to play the game correctly, but most people skipped it and played the game like D&D.)

    I'll give you that writing things like "roleplay your character to show the GM and the rest of players what it's like and how he does what you say he does" sounds silly. I thought the same when I readed Tenra Bansho rules, but after a laugh it made sense and I got more impressed by the game for stating the obvious in such a straightforward way.

    Try first to turn your good playing advice into procedures, see where it takes.
  • Huh. I thought I understood where you were going with this:
    Role, for me, is about undertaking convincing activity as a character that is removed from my motivations as a player of a game. So D&D is terrible for getting into a role as the business of raiding a dungeon and getting out - while entertaining - is inextricably coupled with the wargamey business of obtaining points and achieving a game-victory state.
    I'm going to take a guess:

    You want mechanics and rewards which help you dive deeper into the role of your character.

    D&D's XP rewards don't tell you anything about how your character is different from Jane's character, though the tie nicely into the general agenda of the game.

    Otherwise, I'm just as much at a loss as David!

  • edited April 2016
    Right? So why do I feel like designers aren't helping me to get into my role?
    Because of the heritage of roleplaying games. If this hobby were sprung from theater, instead of wargaming, we would ask questions like "Why aren't the designers helping us to improvise?".

    Getting engaged in character is something that came along from other sources than the original ones. However, that explanation doesn't answer why we shouldn't break that design pattern today. We should, for these types of games we want to play, and we can.

    (I mean, to give a similar anecdote, I slayed tons of sacred cows in roleplaying games when I created a storytelling game where the participants got engaged in the fiction.)
    Strangely (or maybe not), Lady Blackbird helps promote role-play in this way too. Maybe there's more room for interpretation in the characters themselves but players are forced to negotiate pre-existing relationships that enhances their role.

    So, role = restrictions = good?
    It's like @Dirk said: "... all about experiencing dissonance and conflict about my character's goals and identity." It helps the player to take a stance, and that involvement - that kind of decision-making - will forge the player and character together.

    It doesn't have to be conflicting things; you can also sympathize with your character by getting a better understanding. You know why the Punisher does what he does because you know the background of why he declared war on the mafia.

    I think the important part is making the participant taking an active part to put the pieces in the fiction together, but from the character's stand point. Two ways have been suggested in this post in to to do that: by taking a stance, or by trying to understand.
  • Publication didn't happen because I've always hated RPG books that rely heavily on a GM but only support that GM with advice. I want concrete support for Delve GMs, and I haven't been able to cook that up yet. I know what I do when I GM it, but I'm having a hell of a time turning that into anything other than principles and best practices.
    I've been telling this to people since The Forge: You Can Give rules to GMs.
    Really off topic, but I think most roleplaying games out there would benefit to not think of the game master as something special, but as one of the players.

    And I also think that thinking in structures rather than rules (=game mechanics) is beneficial as well. "When the characters kick down a door, a bucket of water will always fall on their heads." is a structure for playing, and both a rule and a technique/advice.
  • edited April 2016
    @Potemkin, the sorts of games that help you focus on a role as a character are the same sorts of games that help character immersion (for a majority of immersively inclined players). Whether your goal is character immersion as such, or something else of a character-focused nature, many of the techniques and approaches will be the same. My work-in-progress Soul's Calling is meant to put immersion front and centre, but I'm in the process of revising/updating it, so it's not quite finished yet (and it's long past the target date). The potential weakness Soul's Calling has, with regard to immersion, is that it's quite heavy on the rules. With my GMing style that doesn't interfere with players' immersion because I handle all the rules stuff as GM. But I have had beautifully immersive experiences playing freeform games - specifically, Chris Loizou's freeform version of Cursed Empire, run in Slot 6 every year at Indiecon (in the UK). Mechanics can sometimes be helpful for immersion for various complex reasons, but they're certainly not essential, and as often as not they can be a hindrance. So my recommendation to you would be to go entirely freeform, with a GM-led game. You can follow advice along the lines David_Berg has given upthread, insofar as it's compatible with a freeform game and a strong GM. There is nothing wrong with having a deputy GM who runs the game for some of the players when the main GM is busy with other players, or sharing GMing between two or more people, but the people with GMing responsibilities by and large won't get the same degree of character immersion as the pure players. Approach the game as an entity entirely designed to give the pure players an immersive experience; everyone else is there to serve their enjoyment, so paradoxically the GM is both the Master and the servant at the same time. Don't worry about hierarchies or who has narrative control; instead, focus on efficiency, swift flow of play and keeping everyone focused on the game itself. Critically, each pure player should be limited to one single character (unless/until that character dies), and insofar as ever possible all character speech must be delivered as direct speech (not reported speech). I should also say that as a LARPer I generally find that LARP is more immersive than tabletop for me, but tastes differ, and some people (probably a minority) find many common features of LARPs offputting and counterimmersive.

    @Rickard, I have played Montsegur 1244, and whilst I quite enjoyed it, from a character immersive point of view I found it very jarring to be switching between my main character and minor characters. That disrupted my immersion in a way that was almost painful, psychologically. Whilst others' experiences may differ (another player at the table, also a LARPer, absolutely loved that game), I think that a key thing for maintaining focus on a character is not to distract yourself by also having to play other characters (or indeed by having to make dissociative calls, e.g. exercising author-style control over the game-world).
  • I've found that character headspace is largely a product of Priorities (what they value + what they focus on + what they feel able to do) and Interpretations (what they notice + what they see things as + what they believe about the situation), which I've boiled down in my own White Whale to Concerns.

    For example, a building explodes and the characters ponder their next action!
    • Bob: Well, there goes my deposit. Now I have no place to stay. I think I have enough money. Better check CraigsList tomorrow.
    • Alice: Those poor people. Someone is probably injured. I think I can lift the debris. Better go and help.
    And the trick is mapping this between the rules and the player's headspace.

    Most RPGs give you a list of what a character can do, but that tells you little about who they actually are. Other RPGs give you a list of what the character believes and values, but that tells you little about what they're actually capable of. Many treat one or the other as an afterthought, and even fewer synergize them effectively.
  • @AnonAdderlan, I have tended to find that it does help people to get into character if they can identify a single, strong core motivation for their character ("golden motive") - something along the lines of what Stanislavsky apparently taught for actors, though with rather less effort (!) than a professional actor would go to. But making personality part of the game mechanics in a direct way can have many counterimmersive consequences; by counterimmersive, I mean counterimmersive for many players (not all; everyone's experience of immersion is individual, but there seem to be common trends). This can happen because the rules dictate or incentivise behaviour that the player finds jarring for the character, or because optimal exploitation of the game-system to the benefit of the character requires the player to think about things in a way that has no parallel to the character's thought process, or simply because of the slowdown in the game process. But views differ. Some people wax lyrical about Pendragon (which I have never played) and how its subsystem of virtues and vices gets people to focus on their characters. What I understand about that subsystem is not to my tastes but there is merit in experimenting with different approaches and seeing what works best for your group.
  • edited April 2016
    Great point, @AnonAdderlan. It's interesting -- I've seen a lot of "how my guy thinks" stuff go by the wayside or turn into mere shtick if the group doesn't have some pattern in place for making it matter. But sometimes that pattern can be as simple as being good listeners! I had a White Wolf grab bag game which wound up highlighting clashing PC ideologies, so everyone had a good audience for, "Well here's my guy's take on that!" I think White Wolf is conducive to this in general, thanks to calling out Concept, Nature, Demeanor, and factions with distinctive attitudes. Whether that actually comes out in play probably depends on whether the group focuses on it or on something else (e.g. fighty mission stuff), I guess.

    Separately, in terms of concerns-capabilities synergies, I've seen plenty of examples that hit this from different angles:
    - Smallville builds every single roll's dice pool to include a Relationship die, tying in who you care about and how (bigger dice for more important ones IIRC)
    - In a Wicked Age has stats for things like For Myself / For Others
    - Riddle of Steel gives big bonuses when you tie a roll into one of your spiritual beliefs and spend accordingly
    - Burning Wheel gives you XP for pursuing the stuff that you've called out on the sheet as your character's priorities

    My custom White Wolf character found a niche that was very satisfying, where my unique powers were a colorful expression of my clan's worldview. Part of a werevulture death cult? Okay, your beak attack leaves wounds that continue to rot! You can also loom above people and mark them for illness or death!

    I think a lot of RPGs enable this sort of thing with a character creation process that goes:
    Step 1. Here are some core templates with some "who I am" component.
    Step 2. Here are some skills and powers you can use to flesh out "what I do" and "how I do it" for your own spin on "who I am".


    It's funny, "what's my character's orientation -- attitudes, motives, etc." has been such an automatic and universal concern for me since as far back as I can remember, that I sped past it and went straight from backstory to bringing things out concretely in play in my Delve sampling above. But two of the first things on the character sheet are "Path" (Power, Renown, Humanity, etc.) and "I think the supernatural secrets I learn should ____." So yeah, I agree that mental orientation is key.
  • Ok, things are progressing Let's see if I can tackle this a bit at a time...
    If you like Game and rules and structure and formal rewards, then I'm not sure what it is exactly that you'd omit from D&D's pursuit of success and points.

    You certainly can't keep all those things but not have them coupled to what the characters do. If play doesn't invoke the system, then the system might as well not be there.
    Woah, woah, woah. Game and rules and structure, yes. Formal rewards? Eeeh. Depends what you mean. If we're talking about some literal Points system (Experience, fate, fanmail etc), then perhaps not. If we're talking about some structure of review and growth (...Mouseguard?) then perhaps we can talk. :)

    You want mechanics and rewards which help you dive deeper into the role of your character.

    D&D's XP rewards don't tell you anything about how your character is different from Jane's character, though the tie nicely into the general agenda of the game.
    Yes, and XP rewards don't tell me anything about my character's actions during play, or, indeed, even have any effect during play. Between sessions - out of the game -my character levels up, but this doesn't actually happen "in play" and has been deliberately omitted from the session for taking up too much time. Later RPGs have attempted to rehabilitate leveling-up into the structure of at-table playing, but I'm not sure if this is actually enabling my experience of a role or just giving me the illusion of progress.

    (There's a part of me that wants to run an instant-feedback D&D where XP is immediately rewarded in attribute scores and see - with some appropriate DC scaling - what sweet hell would be unleashed.)

    The Game as I see it - or rather "the structure/superstructure of play" - is what is preventing this from becoming some ungodly Seated-Improv "I'm the Narrator, what Character are you" theatre workshop. (Sorry, @omnifray) Some formal structure and sequencing is required to better define the characters, their interrelations and the scope of play.




  • Okay, so you'd omit, or at least significantly change, XP. Anything else from D&D you'd omit? If not, then I'd guess that supporting role for you is about additions on top of the familiar chassis. I think this thread offers a lot of good candidates!
  • I'd like to call your attention to this thread, perhaps something there can be used to achieve what you want.
  • The Game as I see it - or rather "the structure/superstructure of play" - is what is preventing this from becoming some ungodly Seated-Improv "I'm the Narrator, what Character are you" theatre workshop. (Sorry, @omnifray) Some formal structure and sequencing is required to better define the characters, their interrelations and the scope of play.
    An all-powerful GM provides comprehensive structure and sequencing for the game, and gives it a feeling of representing a real universe. A similar effect can be achieved for the pure players when GMing responsibilities are shared among numerous GMs (indeed, there could be just one pure player and six GMs / Deputy GMs). If the goal is immersion and GM-led, freeform play gets to the heart of that experience quicker than most alternatives, then what disqualifies it from being a legitimate form of play? But I will say from personal experience (do you have personal experience of this style of play?) that nothing about narrator-led freeform roleplay feels like a theatre workshop. It feels exactly like a roleplaying game... because that's what it is. A lot of quite crunchy RPGs can be run with the dice hardly getting a look-in; GM-led freeform RPGs feel basically the same as that, in play.
  • edited April 2016
    Then it's not about the system not letting us see the characters, but more about whatever causes interference between players and their Concerns. A GM more interested in telling his story in his own setting may provoke this interference if the story doesn't engage all players, which shows when the player starts "pushing the setting buttons madly" waiting for something interesting to happen because her concerns aren't being adressed, or maybe she didn't even formed ones and now her concern is more a real-world one, like being bored.

    A system too complex that distracts the player from her character concerns does the same. Then the player is more focused on playing with the numbers since she gets more reward from applying them to the shared fictional space than she gets from interacting with such space without using any of her character stats.

    In a similar way, a space which doesn't feel safe enough to roleplay you character and care about its concerns blocks players from feeling and then they try to protect themselves and step away from the experience.

    And so on. I think we discussed these and other kind of blocks for ages, along with ways to overcome them. I'm just glad that more and more ways to overcome them still keep appearing everyday.
  • edited April 2016

    But I will say from personal experience (do you have personal experience of this style of play?) that nothing about narrator-led freeform roleplay feels like a theatre workshop. It feels exactly like a roleplaying game... because that's what it is. A lot of quite crunchy RPGs can be run with the dice hardly getting a look-in; GM-led freeform RPGs feel basically the same as that, in play.
    After some thought I'm going to try cut the gordian knot of this thread and simplify my problem down.

    I've played narrator-led freeform games and, while I'll agree that they're games, the problem I have a lack of formal input (workshopping..?) into who my character is and how I should portray him.
    RPGs, as per long tradition, are squeamish about telling me who I play and how I play her. And there are compelling reasons for awarding me liberty in this way, but what if I want to explore in opposite direction? What game techniques support this defined role and roleplaying?
  • I find Monsterhearts pretty interesting in that regard; the moves you have do a lot to define what kind of person your character is. Are they submissive or dominant? Direct or scheming? What kind of power balance exists in your relationship with your beloved?
  • You're right, it often requires diving into the setting, race or class related lore around the character you've built to find something inspiring. More often than not, the lore feels so generic that we end up roleplaying ourselves or our opposites, because there's no easy way to tell what would be our interests on any given day.

    Well, what you would need would be some guidelines for a conversation between GM and players that would help them build characters identity. I remember the only thing I liked from 13th Age, the Unique. As a part of character creation, you had to state what made your character unique. As a limit, It just didin't had to imply any mechanical leverage for your character, yet it made an important modification to it's looks and background, one that the GM had to include in the story.

    Some Fate-like Aspects also work this way, and that made me include them in homebrew systems that didn't used anything like the Fate engine at all. The right aspects worked better than any alignment mechanics. Whatever is related to principles, worldview, prejudices, experience works great there. As a GM I compelled those somewhat often, in the same way a D&D DM would call on players who aren't portraying their alignment, but better since there it's not like "you are breaking the rules and your character is going to change alignement and get somewhat penalized when that happens"; instead is more like "your character usually would think that way, so tell me how this situation is different for him now"

    Whatever the player chooses to be, act and think like, it's really important that the GM and the rest of the players respect it and engage it. In that sense, mechanics where other players get to say or add details to your character works wonders. From life and game experience, I've realized that whatever you create or help create, you're invested in. You actually need to make at least a slight effort to let it go when somebody else makes any change on it, that's the proof you were at least a bit invested on it. So, if everyone helps make characters and/or NPCs, the bond and caring grows, as the Flow whenever those characters do something or are affected by something.

    Story contributes to this, as long as the character has something we can relate to, and this bonding process can happen either from the start of the game or emerge in play, but it's necessary to create this connection at some point, otherwise it will always feel like we're alone in the fantasy, interacting with empty ghosts made of numbers. You will notice whenever a player feels like that, because in that state of mind, everyone goes murderhobo.

    In that sense, Tenra Bansho's Emotional matrix also does wonders. That game mechanic determines what's the emotional reaction of my character towards another and vice-versa. In games where that reaction is left to our own and not enough info is given to help us decide, meta-thinking activates by default and you get paranoid reactions or total confidence, because in the mind of the players that suits the game. The game, because by then they aren't thinking about their characters.

    Hmm, and now this is taking a turn I didn't expected. I'm just realizing how much of the games I've played have been wrong, different, and how roleplaying has changed for me in these last years, why some ways of playing "felt better" than others despite using the same systems or using them "wrong". I'm thinking about how my mind switches from roleplaying to metagaming while I play and how many mechanics could be that would help me fix this to have the fun I really want to have. Interesting!
  • Isn't that the nature of PbtA playbooks? But I guess MH is specifically geared to the emotional scope and motivation of moves. I've not played it but really should get around to it!
  • Yes, I find that the Monsterhearts moves, in particular, say a lot about the character (more so than AW or other games based on the same chassis). See the Mortal for a perfect example.
  • It probably is! some of the stuff I mentioned comes from there, though I still don't get the strings, Hx and other emotional mechanics from there, which probably already do much of what I'm looking for. But then again, Character Identity isn't only about the emotional part; that helps, but Identity is something more complex. It includes the character's role in the world, how others think of her, the reasons behind her words and actions, etc. And ultimately, how all that relates with you as a player, because if nothing in the character feels truly yours, it's impossible to wear it's shoes and live through it.

    I played a brute Half-Orc and totally got in the part even when I'm not strong at all and I like to think of me as somewhat smart. But I did wanted to act and feel strong, and I liked the challenge of doing smart things but doing them based on misunderstandings. Also, I could use the same excuse and do deep dialogue with a simple language.

    On another ocassion I greatly enjoyed playing a Malkavian, an insane psychiatrist turned into a vampire, and again, solving problems by looking out of the box and thinking in curves instead of straight lines as the books recommended. Some of the roleplaying felt hard to me that time, though most of the time not needing reasonable reasons to do things felt quite liberating and perfectly fit with the character. It helped us a lot that our GM then was an actor and enjoyed whenever we roleplayed the characters to the point of barely using the system here and there whenever we engaged actor stance. Sure there were some ritual phrases, signals and other techniques we used then that Ive half internalized and half forgot, but for sure actors have a way of making other people get in their roles, perhaps we could use something from their experience.
  • edited April 2016
    I've played narrator-led freeform games and, while I'll agree that they're games, the problem I have a lack of formal input (workshopping..?) into who my character is and how I should portray him.
    RPGs, as per long tradition, are squeamish about telling me who I play and how I play her. And there are compelling reasons for awarding me liberty in this way, but what if I want to explore in opposite direction? What game techniques support this defined role and roleplaying?
    Pendragon, with its vices and virtues system?
    Burning Wheel, with its beliefs system?
    Fate, with its compelled aspects?
    (None of the above are games that I have ever played though I have played Mouse Guard, but their reputations precede them.)
    In that sense, Tenra Bansho's Emotional matrix also does wonders. That game mechanic determines what's the emotional reaction of my character towards another and vice-versa. In games where that reaction is left to our own and not enough info is given to help us decide, meta-thinking activates by default and you get paranoid reactions or total confidence, because in the mind of the players that suits the game. The game, because by then they aren't thinking about their characters.

    Hmm, and now this is taking a turn I didn't expected. I'm just realizing how much of the games I've played have been wrong, different, and how roleplaying has changed for me in these last years, why some ways of playing "felt better" than others despite using the same systems or using them "wrong". I'm thinking about how my mind switches from roleplaying to metagaming while I play and how many mechanics could be that would help me fix this to have the fun I really want to have. Interesting!
    You might be tickled to know that the RPG Pundit once posted a lengthy blog entry in defence of fear mechanics on the basis that they promoted immersion because they dictated a character's fear reaction rather than forcing the player to think in metagame terms about their fear reaction.

    However away from phenomena such as fear, insanity and magical mind control I strongly prefer to have and allow freedom of choice to whoever is playing the character, on the footing that they are playing immersively or in a GMing role. The catch here, of course, is getting them to play immersively in the first place. (The "story" then tells itself.)

    The reason why people who are thinking by the numbers so quickly go murderhobo is that (while thinking by the numbers) they lack empathy for the NPCs in the gameworld. Once you think as your character you start to empathise with the NPCs so going murderhobo no longer feels acceptable. People in a GMing role (or people who are consciously playing to contribute to "story" without feeling attached to a single character) also avoid going murderhobo but for different reasons:- namely, that they have no axe to grind on behalf of a particular character, and are instead pursuing a good "story" or a good experience of play for the players. In other words, the reason why people playing by the numbers go murderhobo is that they have the fatal combination of (a) motive of self-advancement for their PC and (b) lack of empathic restraint. The GM in contrast (or anyone in a deputy GMing or co-GMing or purely story-contributing role), regardless of factor (b), has no motive of self-advancement requiring empathic brakes to be applied.
  • My bad, what I meant is that TBZ emotional matrix gives both sides (the GM and the player, or the other player, as there are usually lots of PvP in TBZ) a hint to improvise the scene, a motivation. The players can and actually must work to change those initial emotions, for better or worse. This works as an excellent incentive for dramatic turns and tragedy.
  • I'm not sure I understand the difference between that and what I originally thought you meant? Maybe an example would help?
  • I've played narrator-led freeform games and, while I'll agree that they're games, the problem I have a lack of formal input (workshopping..?) into who my character is and how I should portray him.
    RPGs, as per long tradition, are squeamish about telling me who I play and how I play her. And there are compelling reasons for awarding me liberty in this way, but what if I want to explore in opposite direction? What game techniques support this defined role and roleplaying?
    The solution to this is shockingly simple: pre-gens.

    I'm not joking. Let the sheet and the GM tell you who you are and what you care about and what you're here to do. Your challenge is to get into that headspace and make it your own.

    As far as enforcement in play, you could leave that to the GM or to a system that rewards you for acting on the motives on the sheet, like Burning Wheel or Smallville.

    If you're not into pre-gens, you could use the Delve techniques I mentioned for backstory where you roll for your past rather than choosing it. Actually, the Delve table is more about external stuff, so the player can intuit a response; the Cyberpunk 2020 table might be better for your purposes. It tells you all about what you got up to when.
  • David, this is an intervention. We love you and want to make you happier. You either have to stop saying Delve or publish the damn thing.

    Personally, I love pre-gens. But are there any good resources on designing them? Or constructing them as a group if that group has the patience.

    I've been rolling complex backstory tables since Traveller and there's still some trouble getting things out at table, in-play.
  • I guess I could just say "my homebrew", but I think a proper name connects the dots better. I actually may not have mentioned it online in a year or three or four until this thread seemed like a perfect fit. Sorry to have misread that! I have a much better idea now of what you want than I did when I made that super long post.

    It seems like pre-gen resources ought to exist, right? I don't know any, though. I think the makers of game products design pre-gens themselves. There should be a core book or source book for your favorite game that's full of them. I vaguely remember that Vampire had a small number of good ones, and then each clanbook had more, and each city book had more. Not positive, though.
  • I'm not sure I understand the difference between that and what I originally thought you meant? Maybe an example would help?
    Theres a bit of a better explanation here.
    It's not exactly like "you failed a roll now you're in fear" kind of imposition, it's a cue about everyones initial reaction to a situation and you can roleplay it from there or spend resources to change it. Works a lot like impro, when somebody states something at the start of the scene and the rest of the people follows adding their own reactions, or twists and turns with additional information; except that you get to change that initial roll with resources.

    About using Pre-gens or not, the best way to build those still goes through the advice we've been discussing here, like tying the characters to the setting in a significative way, giving them strong motivations and leave some open spots for player customization (Look at Ladybird pre-gens). You can add conflicting motivations if the players are familiar enough to PvP comfortably.
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