1st versus 3rd


How many of you people play (or have players in your group play) characters in the third person? how many in first?

Think about the changes this element of playing style causes to player immersion and POV (as pointed by lurkinggherkin)

As I've already said a bit about this on other threads I've been waiting for others to post here, but so far a defeaning silence. But it is an interesting subject and it cuts right to the heart of many problems in roleplay that have been discussed on this board, such as rape in RPGs, inter-character romance, inter-character disputes, and the problems with MMORPGs.

Now this is just what I find, and others may not agree with my experience. But characters that are role-played in 1st person tend to be more like extensions of the player than personalities 'in their own right'. Now of course, even a 3rd person-played character isn't really a personality in their own right; they are reliant on the player to pull the strings. But having that extra layer of detachment makes it easier, I think, to develop a distinct personality for that character. You tend to think, not, 'What should I do in this situation?', but rather, 'What would my character do in this situation?'

Some players are very good at 1st person roleplaying - the kind of people that would, in fact, be good at acting if they turned their hand to it. But I think that in truth this represents a minority of roleplayers (though in their minds perhaps more roleplayers imagine themselves to be great actors than there are in reality!)

In my gaming group, we tend to play in 3rd person as a preference, although we do drop down to 1st person occasionally for a bit of 'direct roleplaying'. An example - in last night's session, the party had arrived at an inn frequented by travellers / mercenaries / adventurer types. One of the characters took a shine to a rather attractive NPC and started to make with the chat. The player initially addressed me and I responded (doing my best to act somewhat feminine!). After we exchanged a few initial pleasantries I cut to 'Well, she sits and chats with you for a while. You discover that she is en route from wherever to wherever. She came in on a merchant caravan from the south. She is an inexperienced mage, having recently completed her apprenticeship in such-and-such town.'

He responded with, 'well, Hendrick sits with her and buys her drinks, and...er...well, basically, he'll try and seduce her.'

Yes, we have some rules to handle these situations - which don't happen very frequently, but they do happen often enough for me to have written some rules to handle them, having gotten fed up with irritating over-simplifications like 'roll under your charisma' or whatever. And when a player says 'seduce' they're not necessarily expecting to go 'all the way' - success might mean nothing more than getting them to agree to another date. Just like in real life, it can be a gradual process, and ladies in my campaign are not free and easy with their favours either (well, except there is one player character I could mention - but I won't go there....!)

To cut a long story, Hendrick lucked out and didn't get very far with the object of his attentions. I guess she made an excuse and slipped away. But actually running that in 1st person would have been kind of awkward.

Judicious use of 3rd person playing can also take the sting out of arguments between player characters and stop them spilling over into player vs player disputes. See my post on this on the 'Thieves Rant' thread.

I also mentioned 3rd person playing as the element that's missing from MMORPGs - and the reason that tabletop is still a superior medium for roleplay and character development. I think this is likely to remain so until AI advances to the point that player characters in MMORPGs are able to act semi-autonomously and speak 'in character' based on the player's raw input. See my posts on the 'To Play or not to Play: Electronic RPGs' board.

One more thought on this.

My group always, ALWAYS, plays with miniatures. Has done for years.

Maybe this encourages 3rd person play. I don't know.

Just a thought.

There are two issues here.

  1. Speaking in Character vs. Saying What Your Character Says. I encourage my players to speak in character wherever possible. It's uncomfortable for a lot of people, but I stress it anyway. Good roleplayers can slip into character voice pretty easily. Whenever a PC asks one of my NPCs a question, I try to speak in the NPC's "voice," and I try to say what the NPC would say verbatim. It annoys me when a player says: "My guy walks up to the barmaid and asks where she's from." I'd much rather hear what the character has to say verbatim, because the PC's choice of words may color the NPC's reaction. Consider: "So, where're you from, sweetheart?" is a very different opening line from "Tell me of your homeland, stranger."
  2. Identifying with the character vs. Objectifying the character.
  3. This, I believe, is what Gherkin is talking about. I have noticed that most of my players tend to identify with their characters: "I open the door," or "I heal the injured goblin." However, as Gherkin notes, this approach can make things uncomfortable in the numerous romantic and interpersonal threads that run through my current campaign. So I'll put things in the third person deliberately: instead of saying "The white-haired elf maid kisses you," I say, "The white-haired elf maid wraps her arms around Azaf and gives him a slow, lingering kiss on the lips." This approach keeps people from being too weirded out. The event being described is understood not to have taken place between me and the player, but between two characters who are NOT the same people as we, those who portray them.

You've pretty much hit the nail on the head.

In years past it was common practise for players in our group to say 'I do this...I do that....'. But these days, we've gotten into the habit of describing the actions of our characters in 3rd person. Another thing that can encourage this is if players are controlling more than one character at a time - which does happen in some of our adventures, though by no means all.

I don't discourage players from speaking for their characters in 1st person. I find that people are usually very willing to do so. However I also acknowledge the limitations that people have in speaking 'authentically'. Not everyone is a wonderful actor, nor do they have the ability to modify their vocal range at will. Linguistic considerations aside people in a (quasi) medieval setting would actually speak in a very different way, because their cultural frame of reference is entirely different to our own, and with very different protocol and etiquette. Bards of course can speak very poetically, whereas their players cannot necessarily. Finally, of course, there's the issue of character intelligence, wisdom and charisma vs the player's own.

I think there's a difference between being able to roleplay, in an acting sense, and roleplay in a character development sense. I've known some players who were fantastic at putting on funny voices and acting out personalities that were superficially very different - but when you examine their characters' actual behaviour and motivations they all look very much alike. And I've also known players who were hopeless at speaking for their characters in an interesting and exciting way, yet their characters are all very different individuals with different behaviour. Of course, there are a lucky few that can embrace both of these kinds of roleplay. And then of course there are players that can do neither and simply play the same character all the time, in various incarnations.

So, whilst I'm happy for players to speak for their characters, I don't make too many demands in this respect. I take the flavour of what they have to say on board but I also give consideration for the player's limitations vs their characters' capabilities and background. And if I'm giving out rewards for roleplay, I tend to focus on actions rather than words.

I've known some players who were fantastic at putting on funny voices and acting out personalities that were superficially very different - but when you examine their characters' actual behaviour and motivations they all look very much alike. And I've also known players who were hopeless at speaking for their characters in an interesting and exciting way, yet their characters are all very different individuals with different behaviour.

Good point.

I tend to do conversations and combat in the 1st person and everything else is the 3rd. I like people to stay in 1st person for the way that it draws them into the game. Unfortunately all my players and I are married with young kids. I have to use every trick that I can think of to keep them somewhat focused on the game.

With combat, describing things in the 1st person almost entirely eliminates the "I hit him". The players get much more descriptive and will actually act things out to get their point across.

I like a lot of description and interaction in my games. Fortunately, I have good, like-minded people to play with.

"When the GM smiles, it's already too late."