A collection of rambling posts about gaming, running, and politics. (and, in 2009, photography.)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The "Role" in Role Playing

So I enjoy some Role in my tabletop RPG.

Maybe some gaming groups are blessed by such talented and motivated role players that no reward system or mechanics are required. Good for them. I don't play with Patrick Stewart or Quentin Tarantino though, despite that I do have the luxury of playing with a generally terrific bunch of people. I'm sure anyone who's sat at a table with D&D nerds has played with people who had little or no Role in their RPG. All metagamey, all mechanics. If that's fine for them, then cool.

The folks that I play with general do a good job about throwing some Role into their Playing. My dwarves stay dwarf-y, folks nibble at story driven bits ("That's the man that killed my father!"), and so on. But I like having a mechanism within the game that provides some reward for getting into it. I've played or looked at a couple of systems that do have good mechanics for this kind of thing. Shadow of Yesterday, Riddle of Steel, Burning Wheel, to name a few. But lately I've been scrounging around in the dark corners of my brain for a way to add some mechanical whumph to Role Playing in D&D. I've seen the "Sweet 20" Keys and stuff, which is cool, but I'm not really looking for an xp conversion. I'm also not really looking for generic stuff like "My dwarf is greedy, likes to gamble and drink booze." Or "my guy always protects the innocent". I think what I'm looking for is building solid stories around characters, and then having them *play* those characters. A lot of my D&D play in recent memory has been minimal on the background. Folks have character sheets? Great, then we're ready to go! I recall the Vampire days, having 8+ written pages of back ground, and well developed characters, but that's a whole different system. Almost a different sport.

I want to find ways to motivate the characters.

I considered, for my upcoming Tower of the Necromancer game, handing out pregenerated role playing bits, like "Necromancy is wicked. End of story.", and "Love conquers all." This applies to my Necromancer story in a very real way. Also in a very specific way. Those two would make the characters likely to lean one way or the other when it comes time for decisions, and that's good conflict.

Sometimes "Greedy" is just too broad, and "I love my family and would do anything to protect them" is way too narrow. "I'm afraid of water" is kindof a lame role playing schtick. Mostly, I think because its basically: I am afraid of this one physical thing. Sure - it can mean complications or changing plans, but its not as much fun as something which can force conflict, which has room for an opposing view...

I thought about a system where they take rp bits:
"Organized religion is a sham, and the practitioners are con artists", or "The forces of King Nychek killed my family and I am sworn to revenge", or "I swore to never let someone humiliate me again", or even "I always believe that my plan is the right one". And assign dice to them. For 1st level folks in D&D, each one has a value of 1d4. When a conflict comes into play - and I'm talking mostly about a skill check, maybe for combat, once per encounter - they get to roll that 1d4 in addition to their d20 for the check. As time goes on, or better - after they've used it, and it becomes a stronger motivation for their character, the dice change, in number or in size.
I've thought too about bastardizing TSOY's system, and letting them take keys, and giving an XP bonus to people who have x key points.
Maybe a way to give someone credit for being in character the ENTIRE game session.

Ridiculous afterthought: I almost titled this post "The role of 'role' in Role Playing"... because I'm so clever.

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