A mature approach to roleplaying.
I’ve been pondering this topic for a little while, and have discussed it with a few people, but it’s taken a while to get to something that I can attempt to articulate in a coherent fashion.
I played a LRP game a few weeks ago which had a some rather fun game mechanics. In order to control players heading off to explore a new area, they set up a few conceits to manage how many people could go out, and how often. The game was set in a moon base, and to go outside the main base you had to use breathing apparatus, of which there were only a few sets (enough for about a quarter of the player party). In order to go very far, you had to use the moon bus, which needed a pilot and could only carry five people. It’s not a bad mechanism for restricting the number of people on a linear, and for controlling how often the external area can be accessed.
(Many years ago, at Dick Britton, we used a similar mechanic with a minibus dressed up as an aircraft to split the players into groups so that they could go off to a new ‘set’, leaving one planeload dumped in a different location in the middle of a desert. But I digress.)
What set me wondering was that there were a bunch of characters who left the moon base on several occasions and some characters who never got to go anywhere. Was that fair? And if it wasn’t fair, was it the fault of the game design or the fault of the players that caused this to happen? Or should we just accept that things are no more fair in LRP than life?
Certain characters insisted that they had to go out repeatedly because of their skills or interests. There were undoubtedly other characters with similar skills who could have gone, but they didn’t get the chance. Should they have argued louder or more vociferously about the reasons they should go? Perhaps. LRP isn’t really a hobby where shrinking violets get the breaks, in my experience.
Were those players who took up the restricted resources over and over again guilty only of playing their character to the hilt? This could easily be argued: “My character is the foremost moon scientist in the gameworld, it is only natural that he should want to go on every excursion out to the moon in order to gather information.” Which is fine, in character.
There is certainly an argument that the only way to play such characters is to take them to an extreme and I know I’ve followed this roleplaying path in the past.
However, it’s also easy to argue against your character going: “Oh, I can’t go this time Dr Jones, I’m afraid my war wound is playing up. I wouldn’t be able to cope with the lack of gravity out there. Be a good boy and collect some samples for me, would you? And take young Percy. He deserves a chance to look around” This keeps you in control, but also gives another player and character the chance to experience whatever fun stuff is out there.
I think this is related to the phenomenon of players who hoard all the plot, for example collecting all the pieces of paper which have been scattered about by the plot team and stuffing them up their sleeves (literally in some cases!). The information has been created and left in play by the event organisers to allow characters to find out about the background, history or plot, but some characters or players want to control it and keep it for themselves.
This puts them in a position of power, but I would argue makes the game weaker overall. External threats can work well to ensure players work together, but not every event has these.
My argument would be that a player who is good for the game may control information but ultimately allows it out there for everyone to enjoy. I think, in roleplaying terms, secrets are best shared. Maybe not every secret, but most; and perhaps not with everybody, but a few other people. You wouldn’t stand up at a faction muster and announce you’d been having an affair (usually, anyway), but you might share the information with some of your closest friends in a tent. After all, how much fun is a deep dark secret to play with if no-one ever finds it out?
I think it’s a question of maturity. As a starting LRPer, everyone wants to ‘win’. You want your character to be the best/the most famous/ the most notorious (some people never leave this phase)*. Then you go through the phase of angsty drama-filled roleplay where you deliberately make things difficult for your character in order to have the most emo character or the largest dose of pathos during your weekend (again some people never leave this stage)**. Eventually some players come to a point where the shared story is the most important part of the game for them and I would argue that they are the most fun people to play with.
Those periods of secret sharing or reveals may cause your character huge inconvenience, but overcoming these difficulties can add to your game. Actions should have consequences, but wriggling your way out of these can be the best bit of a weekend.
As an example of this, I would cite a player who could easily have kept his secret identity papers hidden until the end of the game and gone home with a warm glow, the feeling of knowing something that no one else did. Instead, I watched him drop them in a place where he knew they would be found, knowing that this would make game for others, even if it caused his character difficulty. Or another apparently very upper-class establishment figure who late at night over a drink admitted his humble origins.
So I think my conclusion is that you should never be afraid to play hard, but if you can make game for others on the way, then that’s a better outcome than just ‘winning’. It may be your ball, but if there’s no one else to play with you, then that makes for a dull game of football.
This article was originally published in 2014.
* Also see: special snowflake backgrounds that attempt to set up your character as the most famous before you even arrive.
**Also see: special snowflake backgrounds that attempt to give your character massive amounts of pre-game trauma.