Saturday, April 3, 2010

Player Emotion vs. Character Emotion

While I've read a lot about player skill vs. character skill, I don't remember seeing anyone in the OSR blogs making the distinction between a player feeling something and their character. Until now. Over at Tao of D&D Alexis talks about starting a campaign off with the players village being destroyed and how it doesn't work. In his words:
My point is this. I am a character in your world, and you have just had my village decimated (though that doesn’t mean what people think it means), eradicated, eviscerated or expurgated ... why should I care? I didn’t grow up with any of these people as my parents, I don’t have memories of being picked up and soothed after stabbing myself in the foot with a sharp stick, none of them taught me anything about the Gods.
Makes sense to me. In the comments (which became unfortunately vitriolic) someone else strongly disagreed. This was surprising to me, not only because it seemed so alien to how I play, but I'd encountered this same idea just last night!

If you read my two Into the Maw posts you know that I had a party go into a dungeon resulting in a near TPK and a party going into the same dungeon the next day. The second party had a player from the first (who was rolling up a new character).

I was worried about this and told my friend the 3.5e player as much. "I wonder how that will work?" He said "He'll have to roleplay, that's what you do!"

In a sense I understand my friend's position. I think he was making such a strong statement because he was against the idea of metagaming-- like memorizing all the monsters in the Monster Manual and using that knowledge to have you first level peasant defeat black pudding or something. But he didn't seem to understand I was worried about player X feeling any sense of tension or discovery.

Even if player X roleplayed perfectly, he knew the exact layout of the monastery and would not have any sense of venturing into the unknown. How could that be fun?

Sure enough, player X gently led the second party to the last stand of his former ill-fated party. (How could you not? He knew there was 390 sp waiting in a backpack there). But I wanted to give him back that sense of the dungeon as an underworld and so . . . when the party got where he led them there was nothing but blood stains. He was thoroughly perplexed . . . where did 9 bodies disappear to!?

Two final thoughts:
  • Thinking in-character and making decisions based on what your character would do are only interesting to me if they cause tension in the game. I have no illusions that you'll really love your cleric's religion or feel strongly for her childhood dolphin.
  • Metagaming can not be avoided. That's one reason why I have never had any iconic D&D monsters appear in my sessions so far and probably won't ever. Hell, I called the Monastery of St. Eudo "Goblin Monastery" on my notes, but the creatures they encountered had stats based on kobolds and varied in size from 4 ft to 6 inches. I didn't tell them the creepy white dudes were just zombies. And they always seem to be off their feet, "What was that little dude riding the pug?" so I'll continue with that.
Oh, and this is sort of related to this old post I'd forgotten about: trying to make players feel wonder as well as fear.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I think you might be ascribing arguments to me that you've heard from others. I'm not saying enjoying being in character is bad and characters are just paper puppets for combats. I'm saying this:

    Player X's character was the first to survive two of my sessions alive. His hirelings were a mother and son pair. The mother had a great abundance of pride in her son. X rolled up another hireling and decided it was going to be the new bride of his warrior hireling. A story was emerging about these people he was paying to help him. A sense of who this mage was was emerging too. And then they all died in a fubarred combat in an abandoned monastery.

    And that was tragic. I felt bad that they died. X felt bad that they died. We felt real regret at that turn of events. We didn't have to act, we humanly felt.

    If I had started off the game saying: you are the father of a daughter who died in a dungeon with her new husband, mother-in-law and the magic-user they worked for. And you feel a great sense of sadness and want to go find her body . . . nah.

    You might have some great players that can emote, that can act, and produce dialogue that a person in that situation might say. But they won't feel anything but a sense of accomplishment at their skillful roleplaying. And that's fine. And there is room for that in the game I play and want to play in.

    But it isn't the same as real human regret, loss, or relief at escaping doom. And I will sacrifice the former if I can achieve the later.

    But I don't think they are necessarily mutually exclusive. My abstracted hireling traits have done wonders for players inventing their own backstories without me even having to prompt them. Just yesterday a female player rolled a hireling with no nose and abundance of loyalty. Her mage has a terribly low charisma and she decided it was because of body odor! And that her hireling was so loyal to her because he couldn't smell her. We all laughed at that and she kept weaving it into play decisions and dialogue.

    Now . . . luck willing they survive, because now that I have a sense of personality from those sets of 3d6s I would hate to see they disemboweled by giant beetles or something.

  3. I must have entirely mis-read that in the text.
    --My sincere apologies.

    I'll put my original in the circular file.

  4. It's cool. We can all feel put upon by these strong proclamations by bloggers sounding certain. But I appreciate your comment because it made me really pause and think about things.

    And I *am* interested in the archipelago of indie/more rp heavy games out there that are unexplored by me. I'm sure there are cool things I could learn from them and incorporate into my own games.

  5. Thanks.

    I don't count myself among the Indie-crowd's numbers, although I am pretty fascinated by their ideal-specific game-design methodologies.

    I am a *big* fan of A Dirty World, and I have recently picked up Dogs in the Vineyard, for research purposes.
    --I am attempting to blend a few Indie concepts (Duty, Glory, and Honour) into a more mainstream, OS-inspired rules set for the revised Urutsk: World of Mystery RPG.

  6. "What was that little dude riding the pug?" Sounds like a good question to me. What was it?

  7. Just a kobold.

    But trying to make it more creepy like the folktale type of bugaboo, and not the silly D&D trope that no one is scared of. The bridle he was using had hooks in the poor pug's mouth. I was trying for a weird mix of humorous-- he's prancing by on a pug like a show pony-- and creepy-- the dog was whimpering and, what is this . . .