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What is roleplaying?

JohnnFour

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Some great points were made by @ExileInParadise about roleplay in combat.
https://campaign-community.com/inde...les-improving-theater-of-the-mind-combat.989/

I'm curious to know what your definition of roleplay is.

When we speak of roleplay in combat, for example, what do we mean by that?

I do not think there is a single definition due to differing preferences, experiences, and approaches.

Therefore, I do not think any definition is right or wrong, if it works for you.

But I would love to hear your definition so I can keep it in mind as I think and write.
 
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Stephan Hornick

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Thank you Johnn! Could you please provide a link to the comments by Allen about roleplay in combat?

I love roleplay during combat. For me I can subsume it under: "communication during action scenes which create new opportunities".
Explanations:
Communication = Comments, discussions, pleas, etc. by PCs directed at other PCs or NPCs. It does not include mere descriptions.
During = With each action of the PCs in such scene comments etc. are exchanged with another, thus creating a new layer of experience.
Action scenes = Scenes which are not only combat, but also other thrilling skill-based scenes.
New opportunities = By opening up to a roleplay scene, an action scene (especially combat) may suddenly shift to a non-combat scene or provide additional information, background story, or funny contrast to life and death situations.

But beware: the combat will also shift to "pink mohawk" (funny entertaining) instead of "black trenchcoat" (grim realistic).

In case necessary, I will provide an example.
 

ExileInParadise

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Personally, my "definition" of roleplay is a nebulous, amorphous thing that is hard to define or communicate in standard language.
But, maybe I can frame it by example so that it makes enough sense to be workable.

When actors want to remind themselves to act more fully, they may say to themselves, or others, to "be here now".
That is the essence of roleplay to me.
A group of people gather.
They choose a "game" which is a contract of how to share storytelling.
One (or more) person will be the guide to the world.
The others will be the participants in exploring that world under assumed identies... their "characters" in the story.
Those characters, the physics, and the initial foundation of that story world are initially established by the chosen game system.
The players build their characters through that system to establish how they want to experience and explore that world.
And then we get to role-playing.
The game session starts and everyone is encouraged to "get into character" which is what actors mean by "be here now"
Frame the thinking and actions in the terms of being present in the world in the identity of the created story characters in the chosen story setting.

So, at its core, "roleplay" is being in that moment, but it requires a large external "out of character" amount of rules and content which the player translates into what they choose to do, and how they choose to do it, from the perspective of their character.

A player is not their character or their character sheet.
A character is not their player or their character sheet.
A character sheet is not the player or the character.

A player is the actor on the set.
The character sheet is like a part of the script that the actor uses to portray their character.
The character is the "fiction" or "story" you see on the stage/screen, created by the player/actor using their character sheet/script as resources to determine what they say or do "in character" in that moment.

So, what is roleplaying?
It's "being here now" - present as your character, in character, in the shared story created by the players and guide using system and character sheets at a table somewhere.
 

Stephan Hornick

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I believe, you talk about improv or stage roleplaying, Allen. How do you link that to „roleplay in combat“? Just that the players should be „more in the now“ / „more in-character“ and decide from the perspective of their PCs on what to do next, not from an outgame player’s and game tactician‘s point of view?
 

JohnnFour

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@Stephan Hornick Good call in providing the link. I've updated the original post above with it. Cheers.
 

ExileInParadise

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I believe, you talk about improv or stage roleplaying, Allen. How do you link that to „roleplay in combat“? Just that the players should be „more in the now“ / „more in-character“ and decide from the perspective of their PCs on what to do next, not from an outgame player’s and game tactician‘s point of view?
Roleplaying, in my opinion, is more about the mindset than the acting or voice, but it is similar to what I expect the more common or accepted view of improv or stage roleplaying that you mean.

Immersion in the character and the character's point of view within the world is part of that mindset.

If the player is actively imagining themselves as their character in the moment, imagining what they see and hear from their character's perspective, and make decisions and take actions from what their character would know, rather than the OOC / meta view of "what's best from the mechanics, or character sheet bonuses" view.

Playing with the mechanics and character sheet data as front and foremost concern is more "roll playing" in my feeling, than "role playing"
Are you fighting down to your last breath?
Or are you fighting down to your last hit point?
The character themselves only know how much their wounds hurt, and how they feel... not the numeric value.

The fighter swings their sword, knowing it will hit true and hit harder... not that its a +1 keen edge blah blah blah.

A character doesn't know their own strength on a 3-18 scale, they only know how much they can lift before their arms give out.

So, matching your mindset in the moment to only what the character would know, in the way they would know it, and then acting appropriately from THAT perspective, and minimizing the "OOC" as much as possible... that's "role-playing" to me, rather than "roll-playing" which is more war-gamey.

Disclaimer: Nothing wrong with a good wargame... just making the distinction for clarification here.
 
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JohnnFour

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Excellent @ExileInParadise.

Being present is a good life skill too.

"roleplay" is being in that moment, but it requires a large external "out of character" amount of rules and content which the player translates into what they choose to do, and how they choose to do it, from the perspective of their character.
I like this because it speaks to an aspect missed by most GM advice on the topic: the meta game.

A classic example is a character causing game issues because the players says "It's what my character would do."

Good roleplaying bounds a character with System thinking to perpetuate the Infinite Game for all the other players, imo.
 

knoppi

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@JohnnFour Could you paraphrase the post? I do not seem to have access to that forum but I'm still interested in the original issue. I might be totally off-point now.

Anyways, my definition of roleplaying is strongly influenced by life-action roleplaying - by that specific way that I got to know it which might not be standard. Some thoughts:

* Acting makes up a big portion of the roleplaying cake - for me both in LARP and PnP.
* The way how you act follows guidelines. Particularly in combat, this means having other goals besides winning: surviving, protecting someone dear or important, keeping peace, running away, ...
* Your guidelines should not appear as a surprise for your co-players. The displayed character should go hand in hand with what is written on your character sheet.
* Distinguish between player and character knowledge. This point might be a platitude but roleplaying is also about generating fun for everyone at the table.
* Players brawling about what they would do, but their character cannot do this is similar to the just mentioned issue of players insisting on "what their character would (not) do. This behaviour potentially prevents other players from having the joy of finding funny ideas. That said, I really like groups of players discussing how their characters can proceed (both in- and out-of-game).
 

Stephan Hornick

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@JohnnFour Could you paraphrase the post? I do not seem to have access to that forum but I'm still interested in the original issue. I might be totally off-point now.
Me too!
 

ExileInParadise

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While this may be Off Topic for the question posed in this thread, it seems to be something folks were interested in so I have tried to re-create the core of that other thread here.

Please do not derail the original thread idea - please post YOUR definition of "Role-playing" for Johnn's data gathering or writing research.

My comments about role-playing from the other thread collected together and lightly edited for context.

Please direct message me if you have questions or would like additional discussion or clarification on this.

Meanwhile, in another thread:
Johnn mentions that "theater of the mind" combat has "less fidelity" due to lack of distance and spatial awareness and such.

This is a topic near and dear to me because its a related to a key design decision I made for my personal tabletop rules system.

In simplistic terms, my opinion is that too many RPGs are far too heavily bound to a tabletop war game, which makes sense given the origins.

Breaking away from the tabletop war game by abstracting leads to the "lack of fidelity" that Johnn notes.

So here's some of my thinking and experience around this, and ways to possibly solve them, based on my personal game design.

The Problem with Wargames in RPGs:
When the combat starts, all too often, the role-playing stops.
This is the irritant that leads to people trying "other ways"

In many game implementations, the war game is "OOC" - the players have a "deity's eye view" of the situation - and that view colors their tactics and actions.
It breaks immersion in the combat in subtle yet powerful ways.

Second, the war game is heavily tied to and driven by specific mechanics which encourage "maximizing damage" and much meta or OOC consideration and trickery, which also serves to draw off role-playing and replacing it with "I roll to do damage"

If that is your fun - then by all means follow it.

In recent times I got interested in exploring the alternate space of role-playing combats without the war game core.

One part of that exploration comes from finding mechanics that support that view better - which I found means more abstraction.

Rather than a tactical combat "state" with lots of conditions, modifiers and such - each encouraging meta behaviors to optimize when to use them... what if you strip all of that back to things that the *character* - not the player - can influence "in character"

At the core, that comes down to some sort of skill they've learned and practiced, some choice of weapon, some choice of armor, and moves they make in the fight.

The first 3 are still fundamentally mechanics based, but the last leads to one possible way to improve the theater of the mind - changing the moves and more importantly HOW you make moves in the fight.

In a war game, how do you plan your moves? Looking down at the map, you calculate based on the state of the battlefield and your options, decide, then move.
This has no relation to how the character in the combat would move.
A fundamental blockage to role playing in combats is partly as simple as just the difference between third-person view to first-person view.

Imagine your combat first as a top down map system like Warcraft style battles - compared to the same battle in a first person shooter mode where you are looking through the eyes of the character IN the situation.

After all that wall of text, that's the first recommendation to improving the fidelity of "theater of the mind" combat is to imagine and describe it through the eyes of the character on the battlefield, rather than the eyes of the player over the battlefield.

I am sure many GMs do this instinctively, but new GMs may not have run into this idea yet and Johnns comment in the video reminded me of this.

If you are having a hard time picturing how to do this, the example I've used many times in my personal RPG design is to picture space combat in two ways:
If you see the ships - you're looking third-person or "top down" - Star Trek encounters between Enterprise and Romulans or Klingons are generally pictured this way - you see the ships in relation to each other and the battlefield.
But... Star Trek also shows the first-person view as the scene cuts to the bridge of the Enterprise where you see the battle situation from the crew's perspective within the ship.

Many tabletop games included detailed chapters on how to run combats "third person" - and less than a paragraph (if any at all) about how to do the same combats in first person. So which one will players choose? The one they read in the rules they paid for - and with so much there to assimilate... it easily can create the blind spot around translating that to first person view.

As time permits, a fun experiment with your current favorite game system would be to go through the war game rules provided and for each part, ask yourself if its third-person or first person - and if its not first person - ask yourself how you would do that first person from the character's point of view.

You may find, like I did, that the combat system can be stripped back to simply armor choice, weapon choice, and combat skill roles described entirely in first person - doing a single skill roll or an opposed skill roll also makes for super fast combats and with it all first person it can be very dynamic.

Space combat becomes reporting everything through sensors checks and communication/miscommunication and results of effects of attacks rather than "ship moves here and faces there"
 

ExileInParadise

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PART TWO of above - split for post length limits:


I've been looking at the lines between abstraction and simulation - and the combat war game is heavily on the simulation side.

Snappy turns win.

Nothing about simulation is "snappy". Each rule adds another step or a check you are tempted to use leading to huge sets of things to do each player move...

I've mentioned an open system called Myriad before - it uses a thing called "Stunts and Quotes" to encourage more in-character storytelling during the cold mechanistic "combat round".

If the player describes their character's action in some gloriously over the top way - they are pulling a grandiose stunt and you just throw them a +1 entertainment bonus on whether it succeeds or not.

If it's a social combat encounter, such as the famous "battle of wits" in The Princess Bride ... then a particularly pithy response might earn the player a +1 quote bonus.

Many other game systems have similar ideas and I find they work well after a bit of prompting to get the table used to it.

I like to think of it as encouraging the showoffs to show off more... and every player type has some way they will step up and show off with their character if you can set it up for them.

Something like D20 is not the place to go theater of the mind - the page count devoted to maps and minis and wargaming and turn orders and all that would basically be thrown out.

I've played a bit of D20 3.x+ and its tons of fun - but if you just want to war game, grab Munchkin. The power of D&D/D20 came from growing beyond the tabletop war game and the lack of support in the game for non-combat is pretty limiting for many kinds of other fun play.

Choice of system is the important thing here... play to the system's strengths is a note or comment Johnn made in one of the recent videos too.

Totally agree.

Why are there so bleeping many "universal" systems? One size truly fits none.

Now that I've wandered all over the map, maybe I can get to the X here:
I've no problem with the war game within the game either - them's the rules people agreed to play with as a social contract.

Where I was aiming, and may have missed, was that you can "re-frame" that mechanical "roll" playing -- without changing a thing about it -- from third person to first person and bring in "role" playing alongside, in parallel etc ... rather than instead of.

In the Traveller example - for the GM to adjudicate - the GM needs the top-down map view in order to implement and consistently/fairly apply the mechanics.
Do the players? optional - dealing with those same mechanics breaks immersion.

Does the GM need to describe it top down style only? no.

But - because that's the presentation mode of Traveller - it essentially leads players and GMs to using that system at face value and running their combats as a war game on the table top down/third person.

If that's fun for you and your table -- do it.
I have super-crunchy tabletop games like Attack Vector, Squadron Strike, and Full Thrust and those are fun.

But Traveller added the dimension of the Travellers "in the ships" being the focus and the tabletop ship game does those Travellers in the ship a disservice by abstracting them out of the playing *during the top down ship combat*.

That's how its written and its only natural that leads players and GMs by the hand into playing that way.

But that totally misses the possibility of the story / first person version of the same combat... for the players *and* the GM.

But you could add it - the Traveller ship has sensors and plotting tables/displays that can present the exact same battle map information you get from the table top down view ... just presented within the context of the in-character first person view.

Plus - if the sensors or computers take damage you can then take away that map and it makes sense in context.

Another example, in a Star Trek game sessions of Enterprise vs. Klingons.

You either set up minis and blow up boxes on stat sheets (Star Fleet Battles anyone?)

Or you are the bridge crew of the Enterprise, and the GM is the bridge crew of the Klingons and all of the stat boxes and rules are "off stage" - still being used, but "reframed" by changing the narrative description.

In Wrath of Khan, you see exactly this: "his behavior indicates two dimension thinking" and Kirk immediately snaps to what to do. We see ALL of that tabletop map stuff happen - through that first person AHA! moment.

Or something like that.

Now having gone back through all of this on paper - and it occurs that shifting from third person to first person and back MIGHT be a player-by-player GM move.

The third person view may be the appeal for some players and the turn off for others - storytellers / in character actors likely thrive in the first person and feel marginalized during the third person scenes where strategicians and tacticians thrive.
 

knoppi

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Thank @ExileInParadise - I think I share your concerns about RPGs containing too much of a tabletop wargame although I can understand that people like it that way. A player in my group just told me that they, recently, in another group finished a battle after three sessions. They fought a dragon that sent waves after waves of minions after the players. They however had an army of dwarfs or so. Eventually this is more a game of miniatures and stats and I would not know how to turn such a situation into roleplaying as a game master.

I found out that it helps - particularly in action scenes - to regularly "zoom out". Like at the beginning of each round give a bird's view description but include "roleplaying" aspects. That brings us back to what is role playing. I usually gather facts that might or should influence the characters' behaviour like facial expressions of their foes, the status of hostages, independent threats like engine at the edge of blowing up. My impression is that this enriches the available options for players. Or in my words from some posts before keep the guidelines visible. So players (and the GM of course) can stick to their "roles".
As a side effect decision making becomes also faster - though that might differ in other groups.
 

Stephan Hornick

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Roleplaying, in my opinion, is more about the mindset than the acting or voice, but it is similar to what I expect the more common or accepted view of improv or stage roleplaying that you mean.

Immersion in the character and the character's point of view within the world is part of that mindset.

If the player is actively imagining themselves as their character in the moment, imagining what they see and hear from their character's perspective, and make decisions and take actions from what their character would know, rather than the OOC / meta view of "what's best from the mechanics, or character sheet bonuses" view.

Playing with the mechanics and character sheet data as front and foremost concern is more "roll playing" in my feeling, than "role playing"
Are you fighting down to your last breath?
Or are you fighting down to your last hit point?
The character themselves only know how much their wounds hurt, and how they feel... not the numeric value.

The fighter swings their sword, knowing it will hit true and hit harder... not that its a +1 keen edge blah blah blah.

A character doesn't know their own strength on a 3-18 scale, they only know how much they can lift before their arms give out.

So, matching your mindset in the moment to only what the character would know, in the way they would know it, and then acting appropriately from THAT perspective, and minimizing the "OOC" as much as possible... that's "role-playing" to me, rather than "roll-playing" which is more war-gamey.

Disclaimer: Nothing wrong with a good wargame... just making the distinction for clarification here.
I seem to have misunderstood the intention of this post. I focused my above comment on "how to include roleplaying in an action scene (like combat) as an additional layer". You seem to be looking for a general definition of "roleplaying".
Our goal is the same, though, namely to prevent players from using the PCs as miniatures in a board game while maintaining their own point of views and mindsets (out of character playing).
Rather, roleplaying IS immersion into the setting by switching to a mindset of a PC in that setting, taking on all their quirks, manners, opinions, and their emotional background.

I like your differentiation between "roll playing" (OOC mindset) and "role playing" (IC mindset)! ;)
Also, your indication that PCs don't know their hp, reverberates well with me. A PC who is acting as if nothing is wrong if he/she is down to 2hp out of 18 is no role playing, I believe.
I totally confirm your definition. My one above was specifically on how to include this kind of roleplaying within a typically non-roleplaying scene, in which there is the tendency to shift to OOC planning, wargaming and metagaming.
 

JohnnFour

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@Stephan Hornick You are correct. This thread was triggered by the post on roleplaying in combat.

I wanted to get an idea of how GMs define roleplaying so I could better assess my notions of roleplaying in combat.
 
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