"You can say what your character does in the first person or third person"

edited May 2019 in Make Stuff!

In my post Why does Hillfolk feel so backwards? I mentioned Svart av kval, vit av lust and re-reading it I came upon a question I’ve been wanting to discuss.

It has four examples of how people can refer to themselves or their characters.


Jenny: Jeanne slowly walks over to Lillian, stares at her, and asks “Did you kill Nikodemus?”Jenny: I slowly walk over to Lillian, stare at her, and ask “Did you kill Nikodemus?”Jenny: I slowly walk over to Lillian. [Jenny stares at Lisa, who plays Lillian] “Did you kill Nikodemus?”Jenny: Jeanne slowly walks over to Lillian, stares at her, and asks her if she killed Nikodemus.

It also does the thing that almost every game does, goes on to say that all four styles are OK and that you can mix & match.

1. Why don’t games commit to one of the four styles?

I think different games could use the different styles to great effect. Simon’s next game, Nerver av stål, does commit (to a very different style, not one of these four) and that is part of the uniqueness of that game that makes it work.

This isn’t about me saying that any of the four styles is strictly better than the other styles for all games.

I play D&D which as you might have guessed is similarly non-committal about this on PHB p 185-186. For my particular game, I want the players to only do style number 3. The occasional style 2 is fine but styles 1 and 4 are incredibly disruptive.

2. How do I tell players this?

At my home game obv everyone (by now) does style 3, LGI. But when running games at cons it can be difficult to talk about this topic and tell them that that style is mandatory. There’s not a good established vocab to talk about it & people get sensitive & it’s touchy.


  • I'd like to single out example number 4 as fundamentally different - a case of zooming out. Zooming in and out between, for example, 1 and 4 is an important skill in playing most non-larp RPGs. It is also what the MC/GM must do in 99% of designs which single out such a role, or whoever is playing "NPCs" at a particular time as well in most games that don't...

    Which is merely tangential to your thread, but not irrelevant I think. I hope I'll get back to this, provided my ADSL doesn't again crash for nearly a week, which is why I might have appeared to vanish from ongoing threads.
  • If you have time for it, could you explain us why style 1 and 4 are disruptive for your particular game? (Articulating it could also help you convince your players)
  • Welcome back @Rafu!

    The fact that this is zooming out is a brilliant observation; now that you refer to it as as zooming out, number 4 is much more likely to happen. Even I sometimes start doing it as NPCs when tired until I've caught myself, sat straight up in the chair and snapped back back into mode 3.

    As you know, we zoom in when clarity demands it and zoom out when clarity allows it.

    With the rules we use for conversations it's not possible to resolve them without zooming in to style 3. That's usually what wakes me up; the fact that I can't figure out what actually results from the conversation unless I go back to style 3. (That's also why styles 1 and 4 are disruptive to our game.)

    Interestingly, the two situations where we have other rules in place for finding out what the conversation led to (rumor table checks & carousing rolls) are also situations where I've found myself zooming out to 4! I had never made this connection before, thank you so much!

    @hamnacb posted while I was writing; I hit "save draft" so I could reload & check; hopefullly this post answers the question.
  • It's just due to the way I have to set my brain in order to be able to focus enough to do Petitioner/Granter
  • Puppetland by John Tynes does explicitly commit to first-person in-character dialogue as the way that PCs contribute--IIRC, you're not even supposed to narrate what you do, rather you'd figure out a way to say something your character would say as they're doing whatever they're doing--"A sock in the mouth will make you change your tune! Unh!--Now you won't be so smart-alecky!"
  • edited May 2019
    Zooming in and out between, for example, 1 and 4 is an important skill in playing most non-larp RPGs.
    A really good point!

    I actually do this both as a player and as a game master. Some dialogues aren't work having and can be summarized, and then I describe it as what happens in the scene, while other situations can have more details, and we focus on acting out the scene.
      :: Zoomed out
      Jenny: Jeanne slowly walks over to Lillian, stares at her, and asks her if she killed Nikodemus.
      Jenny: Jeanne slowly walks over to Lillian, stares at her, and asks “Did you kill Nikodemus?”
      Jenny: I slowly walk over to Lillian, stare at her, and ask “Did you kill Nikodemus?”
      Jenny: I slowly walk over to Lillian. [Jenny stares at Lisa, who plays Lillian] “Did you kill Nikodemus?”
      :: Zoomed in
    It's just like describing an environment or describing traveling. Some situations deserves more in-depth descriptions while others can be brushed over.
  • I also don't believing in describing everything in the same way, and how we're playing things out should probably follow that thinking as well.
  • I’ve been paying attention to this for the last few years of my gaming, and even intentionally trying to switch between these whenever the whim occurs to me. I found it remarkably flexible! People sometimes don’t even notice. It’s a very interesting thing to consider! Thanks for starting this thread.
  • It does annoy me, however, when people do the whole, “I tell him about the event that happened last week“ thing. I don’t mind whether it’s first person or third person, but I feel that the unnecessary summary id a missed opportunity to learn more about how a player sees the game and to colour past events, all of which play into how the scene resolves and where we go next, as well as informing us about how we remember events from the game. That seems important to me!
  • Games that state all styles are okay may be accommodating differing player communication styles. Imagine a player who is much more comfortable speaking in the third person.
  • edited May 2019
    My group and I do number 1, because outside of super-experimental fiction far beyond the level of experimental we typically work in, simultaneous first person narration from 2-3 characters at once isn't really a thing. In play, we write in third person limited with rotating POV between scenes. On occasion we slip onto third person omniscient in certain scenes, but typically third person limited is what we do.
  • Yeah, here's another common example of this zooming out: Someone hears/sees something (that the whole table hears/sees but their characters don't) and then they go say "I say that".

    OK, that's not disruptive. But the whole speaking of your character in 3rd person all the time can really bring me out of it. "Alice does X and then...." "You are Alice! You need to say 'I do X and then...'"

    The whole mixing&matching makes it super weird.

    I played another game this easter where it was all third person all the time; we didn't really have our own characters. That was fine ofc. It was more us telling a story about a shared pool of characters.
  • Mixing and matching sounds like it would be weird, yeah. We sometimes start to accidentally do that when things get super bleedy but we always catch ourselves and correct it before it becomes a problem.

    I find that "I" is very much what one naturally falls into when they're playing in Actor Stance. We avoid Actor Stance like the plague, so it's always something to be caught and avoided whenever possible. We have some rudimentary distancing techniques we use if it starts to go too far.

    We do direct dialogue, and only do the third person dialogue narration thing when a part of a scene is put on fast forward like it is sometimes in a book. Like for instance we do it a lot with things like characters ordering from a menu in a restaurant when the focus of the scene is the conversation going on while the characters are at the restaurant.
  • I get the Petitioner / Granter thing, at least in concept, but I think zooming out when there's *not* a conflict in the conversation can be helpful for moving the game along. I do this for interrogations in like 99% of games I run, for example. "OK, the NPC tells you x, y, and z." This is because I specifically do not want interrogation "scenes" in the usual sense. LMoP in 5E is pretty explicit that this is how it should work, which I <3.
  • I can definitely imagine that working well for conflict-based stuff. Maybe for creating a closer-to-universal framework, it could be "zooming out when the conversation isn't fulfilling a narrative purpose". In the context of a conflict-based game, that would be when there's not conflict, whereas like, in a non-conflict-based game, that would be something more like a section of the conversation that isn't working towards character development or thematic development and that's realistically just filler, you know?
  • "OK, we go back to the goat room" is fine compared to "OK, we lift up our right foot first, move it forward, then set it down. Then we do the same with our left foot." The latter comes out when the floor is trapped. Just like a convo that is charged demand more care.

    But ok, moving past the zoom-out thing, there's still the matter of third person thing. "Alice goes back to the goat room", no, please don't, that's not the style of game I'm going for here. You are being disruptive.

    I have some other games where that's the expected/corrected thing to say and in those it would be weird to say "I go back to the goat room" [wait what when did you become Alice?].
  • Aside from RAW themselves, there are nuances and outliers that make this question even deeper than it first might seem. For example: even Players who RP deeply might switch to third-person when describing something particularly cinematic, something that employs a visual trope from movies or TV, because some of us (and some games, or even some moments in game play) speak more clearly through "genre simulation" than "ontological simulation." And let's face it: some things just "look" better that way.

    But on a more serious note, other variables include "Bleed-in" and its freaky cousin "Bleed-out," both of which different people have different propensities for (or defenses against). While some people dive headfirst into persona projection, others are leery, for reasons that certainly have to do with their own egos, anxieties, and internal mechanisms.

    I speak to my Players using their character names, and I try to encourage them to mirror me in that regard. I even codify this as praxis in the DayTrippers GameMasters Guide, but I don't press it too hard IRL. Different people have different thresholds, and different reasons for those thresholds to exist.
  • Well, the fact that this isn't a meaningless or easy decision is also why I think it matters.
  • edited May 2019
    My group and I always address each other by player names. It's one of those distancing techniques to prevent Actor Stance like I talked about earlier but didn't really detail. There's also the fact that when we're addressing each other, it's always OOC craftsmanship stuff. It's always about our structure and plans for the fiction, and what we need each other to do in a scene.
  • That's spot on; since I want actor stance, that means I don't want distancing techniques used.
  • Yeah, that makes total sense! Most groups want at least a little bit of Actor Stance, or are at least somewhat accepting of it. In a big way, my group is anomalous by disallowing it.
  • What I like is when these grammatical hints of zooming in or out are well perceived and the group adapts to each other. This creates sort of phases, like preparation/action/aftermath/... As much as I like RAW, I'd rather follow the table bio and psych cycles than a written framework. Always.
  • I don't groove when one person's approach is out-of-sync to the other people's needs. "Inay orderay otay oleplayray, Iway eednay otay eakspay onlyway inay igpay atinlay" no that's not ok.

    If it's a special needs issue… we can have that discussion with that person (in private)… we are here at this table to challenge ourselves and to grow.
    There are a lot of people that are like "Oh but Alice just rolls a Charisma check to see if she can convince the guard and then rolls a find traps check to see if she can find the trap" I'm like, no, what do you say? Where do you look?

    Here's a kinda brutal analogy:

    Let's say a group is doing a trust falls exercise. "OUCH! Why didn't you catch me! I got seriously hurt!" "Well, I have mysophobia so I can't touch other people." Well, I have 100% respect for how difficult it is to go through that stage of mysophobia before you've been through desensitization training. But please don't let other people fall. If you're not ready to participate in the exercise, my ♥ goes out to you. I've been there! But in this game, here is how you roleplay. We can teach you, we can help you, it can be gradual, there can be the occasional slip-up, but here's what we're going for. Are you ready to align yourself with that goal?

    This came up because of a YouTube game I was watching where one of the players were doing 3rd person. Everyone else at that table played along but it made me remember being in similar situations and it being very disruptive. Similarly I can't stand when player characters and NPCs are being misgendered. ← OK I'm not ready for that whole can of worms, if people want to reply to that please other thread.

    So back to the 3rd vs 1st person thing. If I'm seeing someone at the grocery store and they're Alice and they say "Alice would like a pack of gum please" I would lose my train of thought. Aren't you Alice…?

    From TPK City (intro theme) plays to Thrift Shop (outro theme) plays let's portray our characters♥

    [Again, all that from the perspective of a game where that's what's appropriate, there are freaking awesome games set up around other perspectives being constantly used.]
  • edited May 2019

    Why is it important to avoid actor stance for your group? Is it aesthetics or is it something that makes the game work less well when it happens? How did you settle on this idea?

    Also what is “third person limited”?


    I’m surprised to hear that you feel this strongly about how people will describe their role play at the table. I also like “first person” narration most of the time, but (as AsIf says) I find many/most players will switch in and out pretty regularly and it’s never hurt a game as far as I can see.

    This kind of thing is common in most roleplaying circles I’ve seen:

    A - “I walk into the room confidently, and look my father straight in the eye!”
    B - “Oh, nice. A brave move! Is this hard for you, after everything that happened, or is it a moment of clarity?”
    A - [thinks for a second] “Oh, I think he’s terrified inside, but he’s not letting anyone see that. He’s got a glass in one hand and it’s not even trembling a bit. You can see the light reflecting off his jacket, almost angelic.”
    B - “Wow, I didn’t expect Charles to recover so fast from the ordeal.”
    A - “Yeah, I think he’s growing up fast. Anyway, [slipping back into character] I look him in the eye and I say, ‘this is going to be different this time, father!’” (Then, leaning over to the player beside him, “man, I hope my character makes it through this without losing it again!”)


    What’s the difference between bleed “in” and “out”?
  • Bleeding game things to normal life vs vice versa.

    Paul, it's the whole dungeon for ants thing I guess
  • Actor Stance leads to making decisions in-character instead of making decisions as the authors, and also it leads to unnecessarily meandering scenes because we get caught up in the character's mindset too much. Actor Stance is just generally very bad etiquette by our standards.

    Third person limited as in the narration style. Third person narration, but focused on the POV of the character who the scene is about. Descriptions are based on what the character would notice and how they think. The emotional states and thoughts of other characters in the scene are implied through actions but not directly stated unless the POV character has some way of perceiving it (for instance, an extremely perceptive character, or a mind reader).
    Most fiction is written in third person limited these days.
  • edited May 2019
    What’s the difference between bleed “in” and “out”?
    Bleeding game things to normal life vs vice versa.
    That's right. From the aforementioned DT GMG...
    Bleed can move in either direction. Character-to-Player bleed is called Bleed-Out. For example: your character gets scared, so you begin to find yourself feeling scared. Player-to character bleed, predictably, is called Bleed-In. For example: "I’m feeling angry today, so my character is getting into a lot of arguments."

    Bleed-Out is stronger and more frequent when there’s a high degree of identification with the character, and when the Player is in a deep state of immersion. It both affects and is affected by the Player’s subjective experience of the game, which includes such factors as performance and atmosphere, and therefore you can modulate it up and down. Practice that. Bleed-In tends to be held in less regard, as it may actually indicate a failure or unwillingness to immerse, and often has more to do with “acting out” than roleplaying. But not always.
  • Interestingly enough, I feel way more Bleed-Out in intentionally anti-ActorStance styles like mine than I ever felt playing stuff that's much more traditionally immersive. I think that's a product of that a big part of my emotional attachment and emotional reactions to a piece are highly dependent on the quality of the writing, and on my intense understanding of the technique involved in the writing. There's no piece where you understand the technique and intent better than the one you're consciously writing yourself.
    Whereas like, from my experience, Actor Stance based stuff typically produces low quality fiction as far as literary quality, so I can't really get involved in the emotions of its characters.
    I'm weird and approach characters and fiction in a weird way.
  • It's not a hard and fast rule. There's room for lots of personal variance here, based mostly on individual psychology, and that's why it doesn't really help to be entirely categorical about this stuff.

    For one example (and in line with Emma's observation above), the most Bleeding-Out Player in my current DayTrippers campaign is also the only Player who always speaks in third person. Seems counter-intuitive, right? Sure. But to a degree, I feel his propensity for third person functions as part of a defense mechanism against the Bleed to which he knows he is particularly susceptible, and with which he has a highly charged approach/avoidance dynamic going on. This conflicted energy, like Lacan's "surplus enjoyment," actually ends up adding more than it takes.
  • Great answers! All that makes sense to me. I think those are solid reasons to avoid actor stance. I like a lot of things about actor stance but I find players who are rigidly in actor stance much harder to play games with.

    That thing AsIf just mentioned is one reason I’ve experimented a bit with first person versus third person narration, and generally don’t dictate how others play - it can be used as a gauge to affect how you experience the game, and sometimes that’s really useful. (For instance, there is something you really want to play through, but you need that third person narration to make it feel “ok” for you to narrate.)

    Either way, though, I don’t like when people summarize or use out of character conversation to explain important fictional moments or information. I don’t mind someone saying, “he walks over, smirking, and punches him in the shoulder, right where the scar from the wound should be” (after all, it’s a necessity any time you’re not playing a single character the whole night - like as the GM, for example) but I’d be disappointed if they said, “I make him let me in, kind of like Klaus did two sessions ago”. The latter is first person but doesn’t give us as much (or sometimes, anything!) to imagine, build on, or react to.

  • edited May 2019
    I roleplay in forums pretty much exclusively and adopt kind of a weird compromise when I GM-- players post in 3rd person limited, and I post in second person most of the time. I think I got this from Apocalypse World and it's sometimes awkward but it seems to work well, and the loose narrative style lets me get a lot across without writing pages and pages. Of course, forum gaming has strong elements of collective authorship, no matter what rules you use for how you talk or how you divide roles between GM and players.

    Like so:

    Alice's Player: Alice hesitates for a minute outside the bar, then squares her shoulders and goes in and goes to the bar.

    Me: Alice, this place looks really rough, like some kind of biker bar. People are playing pool and drinking Pabst and a lot of them are staring at you like you don't belong. The bartender is a big dude who looks at you suspiciously.

    Alice's Player:
    When the bartender makes eye contact, she says, "I'll have a scotch and soda. Have you seen Big Bill come in yet tonight?"
    And all the time we've got an OOC thread where the other players are making fun of Alice and making helpful speculations on what's really going on.
Sign In or Register to comment.