With Gareth still swanning about the UK and struck down by bird flu, Ivan, Mike and I instead sat about discussing various topics of roleplaying. Like most in-person discussions the topics were fluid and interwoven and very information-dense. I have only a slight hope of really digesting everything we talked about without re-visiting the issues. Below I attempt to summarize the main gist of the main topics, really for my own benefit.
It’s relatively clear that our gaming experiences have not been convergent on one central way of roleplaying. We didn’t really get too much into the evolution of approach that we’ve each experienced, but it’s clear there are major differences. Principally, there is a narrative/character dichotomy between Ivan and myself. I generally approach both my characters and my games with a view to telling a story, so while I try to bring life to the characters, I am often more interested in a sense of story completion. Ivan’s approach is more about exploration of character, an altogether more nebulous goal. The point was made that with character exploration as a focus you have two undefined variables: a measure of achievement and a story motivator. That is, in a traditional mission-style game, you have a measure of achievement both on a character and a story level because you either succeed at the mission or fail, and either way your character learns something. You have a clear story generator in terms of: do the mission. More on that later.
Generally my approach is also structured, Ivan and Mike play it a bit looser. Mike’s games seem to be driven by story considerations but his approach to building the story is more fluid and adaptive than mine.
We got a little embroiled in discussions of structure about just how artistic compared to craft-like roleplaying is. Ivan argued more for a more artistic approach, more about inspiration/gut feel. I argued for an almost wholly constructed craft, subject to design-by-rule to a large extent with polishing via artistry. Doubtless the truth is some combination of both, as it is in all artistic endeavours. The challenge is for someone like myself who normally has heavily meta-plotted games to break my habit and try to get a more organic story.
For my own up-coming game, which will be in a SF system, most of the constraints on player action that I’ve utilized in the past are not available. In the infinity of space if something is going wrong you can just get into your ship and fuck off. Modern games have the same potential outcome via aeroplanes, but I’ve generally anchored the group to the city by various character means. The supers-in-space game would be intended to utilize travel as a plot feature… So I am very interested in learning about the less-plotted approaches of others. Mike, in contrast, is looking at adopting a more structured plot mechanism in his new campaigns, and it sounds like they might end up being more structured than even I’ve been in the past. He’s also planning some interesting things in terms of game management, but I’ll leave him to explain himself to potential players in due course.
This was a major point of interest for me, because I don’t feel like I always build immensely compelling and complex characters. Ivan’s NPC characterisation is very good as a GM, and I hear the occasional nice word about it as a player too. Mike is able to very quickly and seamlessly shift between in-character and out-of-character which I find very hard. I feel certain I have things to learn from each of the others.
My approach to characters has been to build a chasis of personality, then flesh a background as much as possible. For my moderns characters I generally work out all the real-life biographical info that I know about myself down to which schools they attended (etc). My fantasy characters are by necessity more schematic.
Mike’s approach seems more surface-based. What kind of presentation-to-the-world does the character have? Mannerisms, habits, etc. There is, I think, a much more robust character to inhabit here. Essentially, while there may be a gap between the character’s motivations/personality and his public aspect, the resultant character feels more real to those who actually talk to it.
Ivan didn’t have an easily articulated approach. 🙂
I plan to run a super heroes game “later”, and it’s something Ivan has been contemplating for some time. I’ve played in various one-shot supers games and I’ve found them universally dissapointing. We had a reasonably long discussion about the genre generally, and some highlights from the genre. The roleplaying-relevant bit which came up right at the end was a suggestion from Ivan to use a conflict-resolution rather than task-resolution system. I’ll see how With Great Power goes on Saturday. 🙂
I was thinking about this briefly last night, and I’m not sure that a conflict-resolution mechanism would have fixed the problems in the various games I’ve played. While I find the punch/block/soak mechanism that seems dominate the supers games to be very tedious, I think there is a more generalised problem in the kind of stories that are being told. I am not really experienced enough in the supers genre to be more specific, but I have an intuition that what I’m finding annoying is a buy-in to the need for conflict as an integral part of the story. I find this hard to articulate, but I’ll think about it some more and get back to interested parties. 🙂
Yeah, I’ve forgotten stuff. I’ve also probably mis-understood or mis-interpreted other stuff.