Tuesday, July 30, 2013

My Biggest Gaming Hate: Codified Roleplaying

I, like most other committed GMs, are on a constant search for The Perfect Game, that one game that has the perfect set of rules for our play style. Unfortunately, it seems that no such game exists. So while the hunt for the Perfect Game, seems to be ultimately fruitless, it does have the added benefit of honing our sense of what we like and what we don't like in a game.

Recently I have come to identify one common element that I hate above all others: codified roleplaying.

I hate games that tell you how to play a character and are built upon mechanisms that don't work unless someone plays the character "right."  The reason I think this sucks is that rather than naturally flowing with the story and reacting like a real person, the player must remove themselves from the scene to analysis how the character would best approach the situation. If she's playing a game in which there is a mechanical reward for "good" roleplaying, there is a potential for analysis paralysis as she considers the best way to game the system with her character's next action or dialogue.

There are a lot of games out there that are based around codified roleplaying, and there seems to be more and more every day as the story games become more popular. The earliest example of codified roleplaying is likely the nine alignments of AD&D, but now there are games like Fate Core that are almost nothing but rules on how to play a character "right."



I want very much to like Fate Core. It has a lot going for it and truth be told it's quite a brilliant game. If I were to every run a setting that is completely unlike anything published with concepts like superpowers or time travel that are hard to nail down, I'd probably turn to Fate. Since the character is composed of descriptive Aspects defined by the player, they would have a great idea of what a character can or can't do. The rules are also very simple, which is something I love as a GM.

But then I think about how a game of Fate Core would actually play out. Because the rules mimic conventions in fiction, it seems to me that Fate is more about playing a narrative device than a character. When you define a character with tropes, its just the tropes that you're going to be playing with. On the other hand, most traditional games have characters that are defined by characteristics directly related to actions. When the dice are thrown, it's in regard to how successful the character is in performing an action, not whether or not the invoked trope will work out in the narrative.

Savage Worlds probably has the most about of codified roleplaying that I can handle as most of the Hindrances offer no explicit mechanical benefit. The underlying mechanism is that when a Bloodthirsty character kills the already subdued enemy, he gets a benny. The problem I have with this as a GM is that I have a terrible time keeping track of roleplaying Hindrances and don't reward them when I should. A player would likely need to look me in the eye and say, "I am killing him because my character is Bloodthirsty." Talk about breaking the scene.

In my Perfect Game there would be no rules that dictate how a character should be played. Evil characters are such because of the actions the player takes, not because of what is on the character sheet. Likewise, charming characters are not so because they have that trait on their sheet, but because their players make them so at the table.

It can be argued that codifying character personality and social skills allows people to play characters that are dramatically different than they are in real life. The awkward loser can play a dashing knight and the shy wallflower can play an intimidating thug. My solution to this problem, rather than ruining fun with codified roleplaying, is for the GM to give the players a fucking break. If someone is trying to be smooth in my game, I let that play out, even if the truth is far from the fiction. If someone is trying to bully an NPC and that character has given them good reason to be afraid, that NPC will be shaking in his boots.

I believe that roleplaying is something that you just end up doing in an RPG. It doesn't need to be force onto a player, nor should the GM have to enforce "correct" roleplaying. When that dungeon door opens and a giant poisonous caterpillar spills out, the most natural reaction will always be the best.





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