Role-Playing: Gig or Game?


Read the rules, roam the boards, visit the games and it's all the same: Acting has replaced gaming in RPGs. Players are discouraged from studying the gamebooks; knowing about common monsters or enemies is disparaged under the derogatory term of "meta-gaming." Instead, characters should stare in wonder at the story and atmosphere that the Gamemaster creates, then blunder and stumble through the adventure. As long as they blunder and stumble using flowery language, Gamemasters reward them. I'm disgusted. I'm sick. How has it gotten this bad?

Read the rules, roam the boards, visit the games and it's all the same: Acting has replaced gaming in RPGs. Players are discouraged from studying the gamebooks; knowing about common monsters or enemies is disparaged under the derogatory term of "meta-gaming." Instead, characters should stare in wonder at the story and atmosphere that the Gamemaster creates, then blunder and stumble through the adventure. As long as they blunder and stumble using flowery language, Gamemasters reward them. I'm disgusted. I'm sick. How has it gotten this bad?

Even D&D 3rd Edition has gotten into the act by having a non-weapon proficiency called "Knowledge: Creatures". So, now, all the experienced players pretend not know what a troll is or how to kill it while some newbie makes a proficiency roll to find out if they know! If he fails his proficiency check, watch out because players now make dumb decisions so they can role-play not knowing!

And, Gamemasters! Gamemasters then reward the "good" role-playing with treasure and experience points, even if half the party gets wiped out and the Gamemaster fudges all his rolls. He rewards the players for pretending not know something. And everybody backslaps each other for being good actors and feeling oh-so-superior. That's crazy.

But, suppose that an experienced player speaks up (assuming that he has not been brainwashed into doing all this acting). He knows what a troll is and rallies the party to defeat it. If he's unlucky, he has a Nazi Gamemaster who punishes him for ruining the game for the newbie players. The newbie players don't know what a troll is and somehow it is better for the party to fail than for an experienced player's knowledge and strategy to influence it.

But, wait, that's just the beginning. Role-playing has become the new excuse for every gaming sin. Don't figure out the riddle. Don't defeat the monster. Don't win. Just say, "Oh, my character has a low intelligence. I'm just role-playing him." This instantly wipes away all blame. Do you betray the party? Or are you just lazy and sloppy? Do you have no strategy at all? It is all justifiable by saying that you are role-playing.

No, I do not suggest a return to powergaming, munchkinism and Monty Haul. Instead, players should role-play "in town" but play to win when "on adventure" and during combat. Role-playing should never be an excuse to sabotage or compromise the the party's opportunities. Role-playing is not an excuse to act cowardly, be lazy, be incompetent or to fail. Role-playing should be added on top. When you are succeeding and have figured out all the riddles and cleaned out the dungeon, then role-play. It's the icing, not the cake.

Gamemasters, you can change, too. Liberate your game. Throw out all those subjective role-playing rewards that encourage your players to focus microscopes on their characters; they are already brainwashed by the industry to role-play. Stop scripting all those stories. Start giving the players honest challenges and redeveloping their tactical and strategic skills (stories can still develop without all your artificial machinations). Stop handing out rewards to the players in your group who flub the adventure in spite of their virtuoso performances. Stop railing against meta-gaming. Let players enjoy the game by benefitting from their game knowledge and using it to strategize. Hey, you're the Gamemaster; you can invent new skills, creatures and traps to invalidate that knowledge if need be. Let the balance of power shift, from sissified actors back to competitive gamers.

Push the pendulum back. Don't abandon role-playing, just mix it with a big portion of gaming. It's not an acting gig; it's a game.

"Coilean: Such as always winning?

Nephandus: Straw man."


I asked a question, and then gave my answer to it. My answer would be: "I avoid the possibility of conflict."

It seems patently obvious to me that you are 1) overly impressed with the loose definitions of various debate terms you have found, and 2) looking for them everywhere. Well, surprise - what you look for, you find. Even when it isn't really there.

As for personal attacks, the question isn't disregarding them; it's what the cogent points of debate are. And, where Dhoward made any attacks, I [on occasion] responded in kind - but, I -did not take this as excuse to discontinue to debate-. In other words, I didn't take the cop-out which Dhoward did [it was a cop-out when he did it, and it's one when you're doing it now] of refusing to acknowledge a valid point because there are any offensive connotations in the same post. I suppose we should ignore everything [insert name of famous and well-respected person] said. S/he can't have been a perfect saint, must have insulted somebody. And YES, Dhoward has been greatly offensive. What's the matter, can't pick out those personal attacks as easily. Here's a clue:

Telling a gamer "All gamers are idiots.", is no less offensive than telling that gamer "You are an idiot.". In fact, it's more so, because it encourages anyone with an ounce of fairness, to defend the group against unfounded accusations and broad-sweeping generalizations. I used the term "gamer" and the insult "idiot" because they are generic enough, and apply to both of us - no wriggling out on a technicality of "irrelevancy; I agree". I do not purport this to be something Dhoward has written; I -do- purport it to be an excellent example of the point I was making at the end of the last paragraph.

Well, I don't think I can "misunderstanding-proof" my post any better than that. Let's see how it's taken ;)

-Coilean mac Caiside

Having read back through some posts in this forum, and the forum for GamerChick's latest article; I was confirmed in my memory of what lay there.

The problem, it would seem, lies with the -players- you each have [Dhoward, Nephandus], for which you have been offered condolences, and other remarks have been to the effect of "those players suck".

The problem, it would seem, lies with -your- players. While I can understand the passsion with which you might feel the sins of everyone you met, indicative of the sins of their entire group, this has been successfully argued against. I recommend you turn your vehemence to a different rant:

Communication between members of the group.

It seems absolutely essential, for preventing the types of difficulties you encountered [with the great misfortune of having several players whose natural idea of how to play was so different from your expectations], that not only do the players inform the GM of the type of game they wish, and the GM be open to feedback [and criticism], but that the GM be clear with what sort of game he or she wishes to run. And, furthermore, that detailed explanations be given of what each person feels this means. Making all criticisms open within the group, would not be a bad idea, for each player to have a chance to share their opinions with the others, and not only see if it is shared, but have a good chance of learning how to explain the problem, and how it is a problem, by interacting with the other players.

If they want roleplaying, what does that mean? Let them describe a sample game session. If you want a tactical campaign, YOU describe a sample game session.

You've explained the basis for your original rant, in detail. If you still feel enough of that original reason remains to justify not shifting your focus, feel free to list those below, refraining from gross assumptions about all roleplayers/etcetera. If you can do so, I will reply with any refutations I may have, in the same vein.

-Coilean mac Caiside

Well, we have had a very satisfying discussion. Nobody could say that there wasn't anything to talk about!

Hopefully, all this discussion will spur people to think critically about their games and where the enjoyment comes from. I hope that this will lead to some improvement in the games that I've seen and a reduction in the number of dysfunctional players and GMs that are around and, finally, lead to more overall enjoyable games.

Your mileage may vary but, like I said in my article, a wide variety of games could benefit by considering the things that I've talked about. Despite its current popularity, role-playing may not be the Holy Grail of RPGs for your game. You'd be wise to consider all the factors that can make a game fun and, for each factor, at what point it moves from being fun to being artificial and unenjoyable.

Thanks for your article DMhoward!

'and a reduction in the number of dysfunctional players and GMs that are around'

Do you mean that term in the conventional sense?

Yes, I mean "dysfunctional" in the conventional sense. There are always very knowledgeable players and groups that, for one reason or another, have trouble regularly getting enjoyment from their games. They aren't bad people or bad players but they have just got some misunderstanding or some combination that doesn't work.

I remember a post in a Yahoo! Group a few months ago where a GM was complaining that the PCs were always running to NPCs to solve their adventures for them. According to this GM, no matter what the situation, the PCs would immediately disperse in panic, shouting for the city guard and trying to run to the nearest station. The GM hated it; his presumably exciting adventures were aborted. The players (probably feeling that they were role-playing realistically) probably hated it because the GM's story never really went anywhere. For everybody involved, they sounded like intelligent and even sophisticated gamers but it was just dysfunctional. (It is unclear who the blame in this case. Sure, the GM could have just tried harder or more direct methods. And, true, the players could choose PCs who were more independent and adventurous. Or whatever. But it was just dysfunctional.)

Some really smart and artful players can be such that nobody wants to play with them. Some campaigns can be dull, despite the gaming experience and sophistication of all the participants.

Or maybe they just need to find a campaign in which they are appreciated. Gee, would be nice if they knew whether or not they were in such a campaign before several sessions elapsed. Maybe if everyone had a nice talk about it . . . ?

Yes, a player could find a campaign where he is appreciated. It can vary: a player could be "compatible" with many campaigns, only a few or be incompatible with everybody but himself. If it is the last case, the player might change his style, decide to play some choose-your-own-adventure rules or just not play. One of the points that came out in follow-up posts is that a player is entitled to choose his own style but that choice may limit how much enjoyment he gets from the game and how much others enjoy playing with him.

Talking would also help, as you said. Some players can be talked to and some cannot (a la Nephandus' friend).

'Talking would also help, as you said. Some players can be talked to and some cannot (a la Nephandus' friend).'

As I said, BEFORE several sessions elapsed . . . as in the idea about nine posts back. It's easily translated, if you bother to read in the first place (thank goodness you didn't miss out on it entirely). In short, preemptive maintenance for a campaign.

Sure, if possible, talking before you start the campaign. But some players are not self-aware or maybe the GM does not have time. Sometimes, it is just not possible.

Well, obviously there would be no purpose for a rant if it WAS possible. But the very nature of your and Nephandus' belief that you can help others, assumes that other people's campaigns can turn out disastrously. If it CAN turn out disastrously, doesn't this make a session or two WORTH the time spent on talking?

A valid suggestion has been made. You said earlier in this forum that you would be willing to write a new rant as guided by the suggestions of others. What holds you back? Surely nothing so petty as the source.

I don't think that anyone has suggested that people should not have a fireside chat about the kind of game they want to play if it will benefit them. It is just a matter of most people not being self-aware enough to know the kind game they play, or the kind they want to play.

In my case, we twice wrapped a game short to discuss the problems we saw developing once we got going (who knew?). We also had a great chat in a real life bar with all the group to discuss the problem. In each case, the problematic player held to his guns, sure that everyone else was wrong in what they liked. Eventually, he agreed to try it "our way" each time. Each time he slipped back into his old habits as soon as anything interesting and stressful like a combat happened in the game.

Either the participants collaborate or there is no game. As another experienced player told me one day, "There is no such thing as a player or DM who grudgingly decides to collaborate." If collaborating isn't natural for them, they will slip back into what's natural for them, no matter what they tell you out of game. They will attempt to maneuver the other participants into passive witnesses to their construction.

At least, that's what I've seen.

I agree with Nephandus but add that the player does not necessarily have to be disruptive or difficult.

Some players don't have an explicit personal role-playing style. Many gamers, even good ones, only know a good game when they see one. They don't necessarily analyze a good game, break it into its component parts and then figure out how the enjoyable part is readily reproducible. So, you can discuss things with them but you cannot readily determine a recipe of a fun game for them. Not to mention that some people think that they really love role-playing but, when they actually role-play, they cannot pinpoint why they are reluctant to show up to future sessions.

Also, to be realistic, some players prefer to play rather than spend even one or two sessions talking about playing styles. They may have limited free time and want to make every session take advantage of it. I can readily empathize with these players; even a little analysis can be a drag, making a game feel like psychotherapy.

Why do some GM's ask for criticism, then? Or for feedback after any session? What's wrong with asking them what they want from a game, and allowing them to go into as much detail as they feel capable of? I'm sure enough meterial for an entire article could be found easily in describing why people wouldn't feel good about telling anything in much detail, but ways to ask them for more detail without presuming it's there.

Sure, you can and should ask for suggestions and criticisms if you are a GM. But they are not a panacea.

GMs have a heavy influence on the style of the game; they are expected to. Players can make suggestions here and there but, if they find a game dull, they often cannot suggest what will fix it up to a point where they want to continue coming. A GM may be perfectly willing to make any and all changes that the players suggest but most players figure that it is the GM's job to make final decisions and to ultimately make his game playable. Fair or not, players often blame the GM for a dull game even if the GM gives them exactly what they asked for.

So, is there anything there worth writing about or not?

After 317 comments (er, 318), maybe it has all been said.

I meant writing a new rant/article about . . . oh, just go look it up ;p

Scroll backwards until you come a signature of 'coilean mac caiside', and read that.

Administrative Full Disclosure: I've begun censoring and/or deleting new posts to this thread. I don't like to, nor do I want to take the breath and baby everyone with an explanation as to why. Thank you.

I cannot comment on FireCat's suggestion.

Well, if everyone is having fun playing angst-ridden morons, more power to them.

And if you don't like the game as a player, move on.

As the DM, I like to exercise the option of rewarding deliberate stupidity with pointless and anonymous death. A satire or two after a death like that, and people either tend to get in a snit and leave, or realize that if they play dumb, they'll still be a 2nd level simpleton while everyone else is 8th or ninth level. Let's face it, having the Wizard's familiar push you around isn't exactly most people's idea of heroic.

Real easy. Apply consequences to stupidity, and avoid the blue bolts from heaven syndrome. Makes a point real effectively.

People often play dumb because they think that it is more realistic and that the DM wants them to play that way.

Many players have gotten away from caring about levels. They don't care if their PC is pushed around. As the attitude becomes more popular, campaigns, regardless of any other factor (such as the GM's ability), become shorter-lived.

I personally can see ups and downs to dwhoward's view. Roleplaying can be taken too far... but how far is too far? I, myself, get tired of the soap opera dramatics around players with low wisdom scores who are "just roleplaying." But is wiping roleplaying rewards and roleplaying entirely (outside of town) really the best way to go? We are, after all, playing RPGs. I prefer to reward my players for their acting ability. No, this isn't an acting gig, but it is a Role-Playing Game. If I wanted to just 'play a game,' monopoly would come out. If I wanted to simply stick to the stats, I'd buy an X-box.

That said, there needs to be some moderation. Trolls, for example, are Trolls. They're pretty damned distinctive looking, they're fairly common as monsters go and, while some less knowledgable people than adventurers in general might have disparate ideas about them... everybody knows what a troll is (Knowledge: Monsters was introduced by Kalamar, a particular campaign setting, not by 3rd Edition's Core Rules, but even so... I use it, sure, just around more exotic creatures. I believe the specific example given is a rakshasha; I don't find it completely unbelievable that a beginning party of adventurers would be largely unfamiliar with the rakshasha. Everybody knows what a troll, an ogre, an orc, or a goblin is, and hell... Giants are hard to mistake. Dragons are pretty easy too. But, now... An aboleth. Those aren't everyday, and they're not so distinctively impressed upon the general person's mind (IC or OOC) as a Giant or a Dragon (both staples of fantasy for thousands of years, quite literally).

In closing... I intend to continue rewarding roleplaying. Roleplaying a bard well might just soothe the startled Orc bandits. On the other hand, getting cute with her low Wisdom score is going to result in a slaughtered party and a captive bard (peculiarities to my campaign world, Roleplay-wise, make killing bards a somewhat unpopular activity).

GMs who run a game that centers entirely around characters who roleplay out every flaw and strength to a sickening extent are far too 'out there' at one side of the pendulum, but I think dw's response, while it does get the pendulum swinging again, sends it a little too close to the other side. I do my best to keep a nice, smooth flow.

Nick's point is well reasoned and agreeable to me. I don't see it anything that he wrote that contradicts what I am saying.

Role-playing is fine as long as it doesn't interfere with (or become a substitute for) tactics and strategies inside the adventure. To wit, I wrote, "When you are succeeding and have figured out all the riddles and cleaned out the dungeon, then role-play. It's the icing, not the cake." By this, I mean that if the PCs are consistently blowing away monsters and achieving the adventure goal, then, sure, they should add role-playing on top, inside the "dungeon".

I'd give extra points for juggling an interesting personality while blowing away the dungeon. However, I would give no points for having an interesting personality while flubbing the dungeon. I'd encourage GMs to use role-playing as a bonus, only given if the adventure is a success tactically and strategically.

But, in my experience, most players cannot both think well and role-play at the same time. Often, players choose to either focus on tactics/strategy or playing a personality in the "dungeon". So, you have to choose. Is your game better served by a PC who displays an interesting personality but consistently fails to win combats and solve riddles? Or is your game better served by a PC who is somewhat drier and less dimensional but wins combats and "solves" your adventures satisfactorily?

If I must choose, the latter makes a better game. As I see it, role-playing games have been decimated by the former approach which still remains fashionable.

Thanks for suggesting the source of "Knowledge: Monsters". I mistakenly took a self-described expert at his word and have long regretted. I should have verified it myself. But, admittedly, I haven't verified this new information, either.

So, we must all take the role of tacticians and strategists? This makes little to no sense. If you would like such things, perhaps you should try a wargame or play with similarly minded gamers. I might add that the games are called Roleplaying Games. We play them to take the role of another person, not to simply run through dungeons. Otherwise, what is RPing but simply a war-game with small units and much more leveling up?

I wouldn't say we all need to play tacticians, but tactics and strategy help a party survive and prosper. They are especially useful in combat, or in a "dungeon", or a space station, military encampment, secret spy lair, whatever.

But a little role playing is always fun too. In the spy lair example, the witty banter with the evil maniac is a key genre trope, without which the game would be lacking something IMO. Also if the game is a detective type whodunnit, there will be lots of RP needed to interview witnesses and put together the clues.

Mostly I think it depends on the group, some really go for the acting, some for the wargaming, some for both, and our hobby can accomodate them all.

My guys go for tactics, but mix in a bit of roleplay when the circumstances permit (though the roles are pretty much "Tony as a dwarf" or "Pete as a barbarian"). My favorite had to be the pre-adventure meeting in the tavern scene (which I expected to play out in 10 minutes) that lasted 1.5 hrs real time, due to extensive IC introductions and conversations. Less action took place that session than I expected, but everybody loved the game.

And that is the point IMO, that everybody have fun, otherwise they won't keep coming back.


John (good post) nails the obvious, which the author clearly misses. The language used by the author is a bit too severe. It's almost as if dwhoward has forgotten that it's just a game.