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Role-playing is Hard

Some thoughts on the ease of good roleplaying indirectly provoked by discussion here on cross-gender roleplay:

I've read a lot of RPG books over the years, and thought about various worlds, but haven't played that many games. In college, for a short while, a Shadowrun game in which I played a super-generalist and a Vampire/Werewolf game in which I largely played me as a Gangrel vampire. Since I was strongly Libertarian at the time, I had some problems. neither game lasted long. Then a LARP of unremembered nature (any memories, fanw?) where I played Cain, the one from Genesis who doesn't have a death date listed. He didn't any powers except that damage done unto him was returned seven-fold, so he was pretty passive but got to protect a cute girl by interposing himself. Years later I was in the IU Changeling LARP for a bit, playing an intellectual aristocratic spymaster Sidhe, in a new faction which was so unpopular no one would talk to us unless they had to. I wandered off, but later played an evil nocker sorcerer in a special 1930s game of the LARP, and again for a time traveller's convention. Finally a physically lame comfort-oriented ex-peasant mage in Ars Magica, and a half-Sidhe bard in the same game who hasn't seen much action.

What I've found: it's easy to end up playing characters like myself, either by design or re-invention. It's even easier in a time-limited situation in a game. Where I've had the most development, and possibly the most fun, has been in written communication or background. Dmitri, the spymaster, didn't get far in game session but had lots of fun -- and gave fun -- defending aristocracy and the changing of the Un/Seelie courts on the game's communication list (which was in-game; little grogan creatures would act as message carriers, even broadcast style.) Designing Nigel Rogers, the sorcerer, was fun, starting from a vague e-mail to the storytellers and progressing through a flurry of e-mails into a music professor at IU with an early interest in jazz, and a taste for finding creative students and Rhapsodizing them (overstimulating them and sucking out their creativity, basically.) And in Ars Magica, Claudius's letters to his master, or the background for a couple of female grogs I designed, was something I got into.

In game, though... well, Claudius is like me anyway, and I haven't tried playing the girls much. But Nigel in a crunch -- well, given a few seconds (e.g. in a LARP round-by-round situation), it's very hard to not react as me, rather than some newly put-on character. And then my decisions get blocked by the fact that my reactions go from "don't be in this situation" to "don't be this character". One conrete example is the 1930s game. Nigel's GM-assigned plot to sabotage the summoning of the Phoenix by summoning the Deathbird instead failed, and in the next round I noticed that there'd been a hole made in the wall and I flicker flashed out to escape. About a minute later I realized that there'd actually been no hard evidence of Nigel's deliberately betraying anyone, vs. having the summoning go wrong, and he could probably have bluffed it out easily rather than looking guilty by running. Nigel should probably have seen this, but in danger I'm going to think of running, not lying, unless really cornered.

Incidentally, I think I got compliments afterwards from people saying they'd had no idea Nigel was going to turn on them. On reflection just now, I was thinking that might be because for most of the game I really was the helpful friendly character they thought I was; then at the climax I remembered I was supposed to kick in a betrayal plot and did so. Though I think I remember some low-level stress during the game of wondering when I should act, so it might not have been purely acting out a different character than I was supposed to. But if they expected little acts of malice and betrayal, well, those would have been stupid; clearly it was best to be on best behavior and then strike at the golden opportunity. Which is thinking like I would, without my moral restraints. No petty malice, just big selfish goals.

Oh right, a bit more RP experience: a doctor in anima's 7th Seas one-shot, an oddly designed fairy (not my design) in a Castle Falkenstein one-shot at GenCon, and a few Once Upon A Time games. All have shown in me a tendency to freeze under time pressure, and the two RPGs also showed the "lurk-and-see" tendency (partly as a way of getting out of decisions, partly as the most sensible-seeming thing for the character to do (along with "let someone better qualified do it"). Not obviously the most fun thing to do...)

I don't know what my final point is. Just that roleplaying is a lot less easy for me than it seems for others. As for playing female characters, I've got old rasfw discussions on whether male authors could write female characters in the back of my head. Anyone want to imagine Heinlein or Doc Smith doing female roleplay?

UPDATE: Obviously, I'm not the only one to think about such things.



( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Oct. 21st, 2006 09:43 am (UTC)
I guess this style of RP is just foreign to me.

When I'm playing an RPG, it's like writing a really fast story. It's not 'me pretending to be someone else', it's 'this character is doing things, supervised by me'. My major problem is that I'm not as quick or as charming as many of my characters...if they're slower than me (Lord Gill, for example), I have little trouble ignoring things I don't think they'll get, or charging in when I know I should probably run the fuck away.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


Damien Sullivan

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