So what is Roleplaying?

Recently, I have been in a conversation with a GM, whose game I play in, who wants to incorporate more RP into his game – and that made me start thinking about what I have learned about the subject, over the years.  Which brought me to the point of ‘What is Roleplay’, along with thoughts of ‘As a DM, what do I do that encourages Roleplay’.  And, of course, which of those things actually work.  If you don’t know already, I have spent my working like swapping around between academic and analytical roles.  This is what happen to you.

Face to Face games

Back in the day, back when face-2-face AD&D 1 was king, we had very few Roleplaying tools – basically Class and Alignment.  Class gave you a very limited set of skills to work with, and Alignment gave you a behavioural perspective.  There was the chaotic hanging off the back of the party sulking because they hadn’t got their own way or going off on their own in the middle of a perfectly good team plan.  The fighter beating is sword against his shield to attract attention, the cleric preaching to the peasants, and sometimes the other characters as well. 

Add in the limited class abilities, everyone was a specialist, you had to learn how to perform your role in the group and play that out.  Fighters needed to understand combat tactics, Wizards needed to know their spells – did you know that the 1st ed rules suggests that aren’t allowed to check a spell’s description mid-game?    Unpopular with modern character classes and endless spell lists – but certainly an element of Role Playing that was available to (forced on) us back in the day.

That was complemented by bits of in-character banter, generally quite short, and taking place in the context of the adventure.  There was never any deep Role Play, interactions with shopkeepers and other NPCs were rarely played out in any depth – and for good reason.  If there are six people sitting around a table waiting to play, and one gets involved in a 15-minute negotiation with a shopkeeper, the others get bored.  That might be a tenth of their game time for the evening gone up in smoke.

Role play is simple, quick and often behavioural.  Even today, face to face sessions at my gaming table are like that.  Interspersed with a lot of banter, in jokes, bad smells, bad food and great fun.   My tabletop game is played by good friends who I have known for years – and who (now) have known each other for years.  They trust each other, don’t need to be the leader, don’t need to be the best … it is a communal game played by a bunch of RL friends for communal entertainment.  TBH, I could run any old crap (and I have) as it is the players who make the game.

I think of that as Behavioural Roleplay because it is exhibited in the character’s day-to-day behaviour. 

RPoL 

There is another type of behavioural roleplay on RPoL as well – descriptive writing.  Just recently, for example, I have seen a cleric trying to work out how badly he was affected by an ability drain.  He made a good entertaining IC post, as he tried to check out his mental faculties.  Then backed it up with an OOC comment.  Other examples include: priests explaining their deity’s ‘take’ on something (The religious forum comes in to its own, occasionally); a strong argument to defend the waterway south of Tusk; an habitual drunk being drunk; characters negotiating business deals and bards singing songs.

And that, for some people, is enough.  And that is absolutely fine.  It adds greatly to the game.  It is so important, in my view, that I give XP awards for good roleplay in adventure posts. It isn’t much, and it isn’t every time, but characters who have a lot of roleplay elements in their posts, advance a bit more quickly than those who don’t.

There is still in-character banter between characters,  as anyone who has seen the Roths playing, can confirm.  But that doesn’t always come easy –  I have gamed with the other players behind the Roths for 20 years or so (on and off) and even then it took a while to build a joint background we were all happy with.  But we finished up with characters who trust each other and players who trust each other …  almost the same as those friends sitting around the table, having fun. 

Why did I bring the Roths into it?  Because I wanted to tell you that we had to work on it.  For inter character banter to work properly, characters have to know each other and have some trust in the other player.  How does that happen on RPoL?  Well, more role play, of course.  And that is where the DM comes in – we have to make time and space for that roleplaying.

When do characters get the chance to just chat, in a way that doesn’t hold the rest of the party up?  Even on RPOL an IC chat,  between two characters in an adventure thread, holds the game up for the other players.  There certainly isn’t time, in adventure threads, for meaningful relationships, ‘get to know you’ chats, or even an extended conversation.  Somehow, the DM needs to make time for these conversations, if we want to encourage more extensive roleplay.

Fuzzy Time:  While there are other techniques, I use a concept called Fuzzy Time.  Some threads, and most PMs, are conducted in Fuzzy Time.  That means no one is quite sure when that conversation took place –  it happened sometime during the characters’ downtime –  although the precise time (and sometimes place) isn’t known.  The prime rule for Fuzzy Threads are that characters can talk about anything that happened before they left town last. Current adventures are off limits.  But this means that parties can be thrown, a duelling league can be played out, committees can meet, lovers can love – etc etc.  It lets us have conversations between parties, for friendships across groups, maintain relationships while characters are in different group.  It is, I think, the main enabler of intercharacter RP in the Stolen Lands game.

Fuzzy Threads: If Fuzzy Time enables RP, then you have to have public threads that allow characters to meet and sets the scene for that Roleplay.  Characters are like people in RL, some make friends easily, other less so.  Some  people are happy walking up to complete strangers and saying ‘Hi, I want to talk to you’ – other people (and their characters) will never say anything like that, and are happy going through life with a series of casual acquaintances.  It is also a gender thing (don’t shout at me yet)  many more women have ‘best friends’ and hold deep meaningful conversations with them, than men do.  *shrug* That is as it is.  But many players and their characters are men – and in my experience, they don’t socialize as easily.  I rarely see private threads without at least one female character who (appears to be) played by a female.  I see quite a few threads where female characters form a personal bond and do stuff together.

However, I digress, almost all of those RP interactions have come from seed threads that I have started.  I start regular fuzzy threads all over the stolen lands game.  There have been parties, weddings, religious councils, development planning meetings, shopping trips, boat trips, duelling competitins, road trips huge meetings, small meetings – all sorts of Fuzzy Threads.  They serve two purposes – the first is to encourage a bit of non-adventure RP – while the second is to throw people together.

Religious Meetings, for example, encourage players of ‘divine’ characters to think about their deity’s position on a subject and put t forward.  Shopping trips, encourage players develop a ‘style’ for their character. I give players the chance to politic, cut deals, meet helpful NPCs etc.  Small scale, perhaps, but all different aspects of Roleplaying a character.  (What do you mean?  You didn’t know I was that devious?  I am a DM!  Of course I am that devious!)

In multi-group games,  the Fuzzy Threads have a second purpose as well.  Just as in RL, Characters have to meet and have a reason to spend time together –  ie RP in  any depth.  Those fuzzy threads are the bars, gyms and clubs of the real world.  Fuzzy Threads are where Characters first meet with characters from other adventuring parties.  If they don’t meet, there is no chance of any RP between them –  but if they do meet – sometimes there is a chemistry …  (But I’ll get to that later).

The fuzzy threads have a third use as well, I seed them with RP hooks for characters to follow.  Some fall by the wayside, but some bear fruit.  The last trip to East Rostland saw a couple dating, two women go out shopping (and deal with social inequality via a tipping quandary), a character make a declaration of political support, while another character negotiated a business deal.  That was a good thread for RP :]

One of the best I have seen was in Valarez, when the DM put on a whole ‘country fair’, with music, dancing, competitions and all sorts for a multi-party game.  That was fun to play.

Started by the DM, initial direction given by the DM – but then let the characters take over and respond to their actions.  Just normal DMing really, but in a context that highlights RP possibilities, rather than an ‘adventure’.

Spontaneous RP:  There are times when inter-character RP happens without much intervention from the DM, although it still needs enabling.  In the Stolen Lands, we have had people meeting it the inns, in the temple, and a couple of other laces, off their own back.  That led to short RP episodes – one of which caused a bit of a ‘falling out’ between characters.  But even then, the DM has to facilitate those meetings by creating places for them to happen.  There are any number of location threads scattered around the Stolen Lands.  It doesn’t take much to find one and resurrect it.  So long as characters use them according to the Fuzzy Time rules, that isn’t a problem.

In Valerez, the DM went about things a different way, by encouraging player to run NPC merchants using the Paizo Downtime rules.  We used the simpler system of cash values for rooms, buildings and developments – and it worked reasonably well.  However, it only ever led to sporadic  RP sessions.   That was fun, although there can be a lot of admin involved, keeping track of the gold you earn, seeing which extra rooms, or staff, you can buy.

I ran a low level magic shop.  It started off doing paper-based stuff, started off with scrolls, drawings, translations, scribing services etc.  Then added Potions and Alchemy, and finally Wands.  Scrolls are a pain in the butt.  As an Adept, Jahi could only make divine scrolls, and there aren’t all that many scrolls that are on both of the Adept and Cleric spell lists – They didn’t really take off until I got a wizard as an assistant.  Potions came from a L1 Witch assistant.

RP interaction came from three sources

  1. first was when PCs came in during downtime between adventures.  It tended to be short, and fairly concise –  but there was some RP involved.  Then it stopped until the next down time.
  2. Then there were the general RP sessions that the DM ran, and the down time sessions at the Inn, which formed the centrepiece of the player downtime experience.  So the Craft got to chat to the PCs for a while.
  3. Then there was some interaction between the crafter, townsfolk.  Mainly discussions on how we were going to arrange things between us, trading services and carving up new business opportunities.   

It became obvious that we all needed something unique to distinguish us from the other NPC crafters.  In some ways it was almost archetypes/ caricature / melodrama level –  but it helped distinguish us and make us memorable from / during quick visits between long adventures.

Relationships

The longest running, and most intense RP threads have all be romantic.  Carried out in Private Messages (within the RPoL guidelines)  Romances can go on for a long long time.   I have seen them delve into house furnishings, where go for dinner, what to wear, whether to be seen together in public …  all the everyday dating /living together stuff :}  But fade to black before there is any Jiggy-Jiggy, because  the stolen lands is not an adult game.

Interestingly, they can continue working after marriage.  There are conversations about business, setting up a house, how to manage the holdings, how many babies to have …

Relationships are the RP source that just keep on giving.

Life goes on

It has been an interesting few weeks, that has thrown a couple of new challenges my way.

It started when government Covid restrictions relaxed enough permit large outdoor events, which meant that I could go re-enacting again.  The first thing I was able to attend was Military Odyssey in Detling, a multi-period military extravaganza, although WWII is very heavily represented.  I went down with the Wimborne Militia, to represent an opposition for the Pirates – so lots of cannons, musketry and sword fighting, all backed up by a Living History camp that lets us talk about the history of the time.  That was quickly followed by another event at Mount Edgcumbe, for a living history camp, with beautiful views across the River Tamar towards Plymouth and the sea. 

It is only in the last few years that I have moved away from re-enacting battles, towards the living history side (age catches up with all of us), but I have never really established a LH role for myself.  I have been re-enacting for a long time, I do a long of research –  but I am a bit of a butterfly, and I jump from subject to subject, which means I have a lot of interesting knowledge, but I am not a specialist or expert in any of them.  Certainly not knowledgeable enough to set out a stall and demonstrate.  However, I have worked out that I can play a ‘man in a pub’, with historic pub games, beer and conversation.  I have quite a lot of experience of the ‘Man in a Pub’ role, so I should be OK with that.  Sounds daft, but it will be a serious vehicle to get people to sit down and talk to me.

But then we (The Wimborne Militia) got invited to take part in a Games Convention, in February next year.  Apparently, they often invite Living History displays to set up inside the convention.  Possibly for LARPers, possible for the Cosplayers – possibly just to fill up space.  Who knows, but having been to a few conventions, I am used to seeing a wild and wacky range of stands, stalls and displays.

Long story, short –  it made me think about writing a board game.  So I did – well I have a prototype, anyway.  It might be rubbish, but I won’t know until people play it.  Militia Vs Pirates (Yeah, it needs a catchier name) that features …

Team and individual play. Twin boards (slightly different) one for Militia, one for Pirates. D6 to move (I guess about 20 rounds per game) collect coins as you go, with penalties and rewards on board squares. Cards to boost your game and disrupt the opponents. Game finishes as first player hits Home – but winner is the one with most coins.

…  Not one for serious board gamers, but while it has randomizers (Dice & Cards) there is plenty of room for strategies and tactics – and it could well be fun for half-an-hour.   Which left me printing off game boards and card fronts –  then sticking them to a second hand scrabble board, and a deck of card.  *grin*  I enjoyed the process, and we have something for the gamers to ‘play test for me’  when we are at the convention.  And, let’s face it, if it is any good, I will be in the right place to find a small games company to sell it to.


To make it worse, everything seems to have slowed right down.  Stolen Lands is slow, the games I play in are slow – one is so slow that I think it may well be dead in the water.  So I applied to join a new game.  It is a long story, but I finished up getting accepted into a game that I didn’t really apply for – which just happens to be set in a part of Varisa that I know well and enjoyed playing in.  Just as importantly, I had a ‘interesting’ character who was based in the region, and I thought it would be interesting to write up one of his children, and explore that background in a bit more detail.

Gagak helped settle a village, Skids Landing, on the very edges of the Sandpoint hinterland – but that grew when I used the village (later) as a base for some adventures that I DMed for that playing group.  So the first thing was to roll the village back to something that doesn’t impinge on the new DMs game.  So I finished up with a village based on Dwarf quarrymen, lumberjacks and hunter trappers – and a suitable rough and ready place it is too.  Just right for a semi-civilized barbarian and his three wives.

Then it was onto family life – how d one half-orc barbarian, three wives and seven children get on with each other?  And what do you get when the kids grow up?

Find out at Raven’s wiki page.

The Green Friars

Sometimes, ideas come to me at the most inconvenient times, but if I don’t write something down, I have a habit of ‘moving on’, and perhaps don’t think of it again for a while – perhaps even a year or two …

This morning is earmarked for packing up the van ready for a weekend away, dressing up in 17th century clothes and giving a public display – that might (or might not) include a small battle. However, I got the Green Friars instead, when thoughts about old-fashioned ‘slang’ names (such as White Friars, Drey Friars, Black Friars) for different group of community monks coincided with thoughts about the game, religious developments and the Narlemarch. And who knows when that strange mix is going to happen again?

Even so, I DO need to get ready for the weekend – so just a brief overview.


The Green Friars

The Green Friars are the most influential political force in the Southern Region although they, as a group, would deny that they had any political motivation at all.  However, their philosophies are adhered to, and enforced almost all the way from the Brevoy Border (Bar-Z) right the way though the Narlemarch to Old Keep, and possibly beyond.

Composed of Druids, Clerics, Rangers and Adepts, dedicated to several deities, they all value the benefits of the natural world above the civilizing influences of large towns and cities.  Small towns and villages are OK …  But wilderness is important and should outnumber the small developments at the core.  They aren’t all about wilderness and wild animals –  but they are all about people living in harmony with their natural surroundings.  Hunters, Fishers, Foragers, Woodsmen, Loggers1, Farmers2 and Beekeepers are all welcome, as are many other trades, so long as they respect the local environment.

They all have a tendency to wear dark green cloaks when they are out an about, generally with the symbol of their deity on the left breast.  Influential members of this supposedly informal group include …

  • Zelona, March-Lord of Old Keep (Druid of Gozerah)
  • Loy Rezbin, Governor of Tatzleford (Ranger)
  • Laticia, Mayor of Tatzleford (Cleric of Erastil)
  • Aris’ta Devo, Commander of Hunters Rest (Ranger)
  • Rook Sanderson of Elkwall (Ranger and Cleric of Erastil)
  • Zorah of Bar-Z (Druid of the Green)
  • Maril of Grenal (Adept of the Green)

Notes

  1. Forest Friendly Loggers  take selected timbers in ways that do not damage the forest or the local ecology.
  2. Forest Friendly Farmers cultivate crops that don’t need clearance for fields and farm forest friendly stock animals, such as pigs and chickens

Fjord Orcs

Found in the Great Fjord, the local orc tribes are more organized than many others.  That doesn’t stop them bickering among themselves and raiding each other – but they are held (partially) in check by the Great Shaman, who trains their tribal witches, builds ships and makes weapons for them.  Technically, the Great Shaman doesn’t do all those things personally, but her ‘people’ do.

Tribal Villages

Each ‘tribe’ consists of between 60 and 90 bodies –  Made up mostly of Orcs, a few half-orcs and a few captives of other species.  About 20 of the Orcs are Marauders, males who are in their prime and the main raiding force of the tribe.  Another dozen, or so, are those male orcs who are passed their prime, and are no longer allowed to go marauding – they lead the hunting parties, guard the village and train the youngsters.  There are about the same number of Young Bloods, not allowed to go marauding yet,  but hunting and training under the elders.  Most of the rest is made up of Females and youngsters – who are responsible for the captives, gather seasonal food, repair gear etc.   There are a few fields and animals, mostly looked after by captives and youngsters, although they only add a small amount to the village’s stocks.

Every village has a witch, who has been trained by the great shaman.  The witch is always female and is leader of the women – she knows the secrets of brewing good grog, making healing potions and is the tribes main contact with The Great Shaman.  Hurt a witch, too much, and the Great Shaman will be angry with you, and the tribe.  You don’t want that.  Orcs who seriously upset the tribe’s witch are often half flayed and sent to the Great Shaman, before she comes for him.  Most witches have an ‘assistant’ already trained by the Great Shaman, who is preparing to take over when the old witch dies (Natural causes, or maybe the new witch is ready to ‘step up’)

There are always leaders.  A tribal chief (L7 elder), a War captain (L6 Marauder in charge of the marauding party and chief in waiting)  two or three lieutenants (L4/L5 Marauders), Chief Hunter (Elder, L5) to round out the numbers.

  • Marauder = Male Orc, Warrior-3 – fully armoured and armed with battle weapons
  • Elder = Male Orc, Warrior 3 – (Middle aged or old) with light armour & hunting weapons
  • Young Bloods = Male Orc, Warrior 2 with light armour & hunting weapons
  • Females / Youngsters – Orc, Warrior 1 – unarmoured, two-handed clubs
  • Witch = Orc, Female, Witch 3 (assistant witch 1 or 2)
  • Grog = Fermented honey and berry mix.  The type of berry changes throughout the year and is often supplemented by other things that you wouldn’t expect to be in an alcoholic beverage.  It is not to the taste of most races, but Orcs seem to enjoy it.

Village life

Everyone lives in one great longhouse.  One end is walled off for livestock and the less desirable captives, everyone else lives in the main part of the longhouse, leaders, marauders, witches, (some) captives – everyone. Along with half a dozen (guard) dogs. Life is hectic.

Young Bloods get to practice their seamanship in the village’s Faering  (Rowing boat) while the females fish. Elders and Young Bloods, hunt game, females cook, repair clothes, carry out basic crafts and supervise the captives as they work in the fields and with the animals.  Marauders hang around disrupting everything, unless they off on a raid –  either skirmishing with another village, or a ship-borne raid of a foreign town or village.

Raids are short and sweet and often directed at small towns and villages. The Orcs land, set fire to things, loot, steal food, drink, weapons (basically anything of value) and kidnap a few of the locals.  Then back home for a party.  Occasionally, they will send out a larger expedition,  under a Warchief, where boats from various villages work together to hit a larger town.  The large groups have been known to take whole ships and hold them for ransom. Once they have landed, it is mayhem, each Marauder doing their own thing until they are sated and have enough loot.  Smaller towns and villages are often left devastated, when the drunken orcs have finished their pillaging and plundering.

There are land raids as well, the hills around the Fjord are home to Cavemen clans (Neanderthal), and there are often clashes between Orc  hunting parties and parties of Cavemen.  Sometimes the cavemen are followed home and their caves raided for food and captives.

The Ship

The tribe’s ship, known as a Karvi, is the pride of every village – long sleek and powered through the water by twenty oars, although it has a square sail for when the wind is in the right direction.  A cross between a Viking Knarr and a Greek Galley, this open vessel is seaworthy, deals well with open water, and is fitted with a ram. It can deliver a band of about 20 marauders to the shores of any settlement, and is fast enough to make a decent get away, if they are outnumbered.

Karvis are made by the Great Shaman’s people, and each tribe must pay their ship off, and then pay extra for maintenance.  Fortunately, the Great Shaman likes payment in loot and captives – particularly young captives.  She doesn’t mind what race they are, humans or elves are best –  but any race will do, even cavemen.  But if you can’t get enough captives, you will pay her in Orc children …  She doesn’t mind.

And that is on top of the ones chosen by the witches to be sent for training!  Some of those come back as new witches, some stay with the Great Shaman –  but even some of those disappear.

The Great Shaman

The Great Shaman lives in a burned out tower close to the head of the Fjord, although the stone structure has stayed intact, the areas around the windows and doors are burned and blackened, and there is always the smell of stale smoke in the air.  She keeps half-a-dozen witches with her, as servants and assistants, and a number of others, who were not suitable for her special training.  These few have been trained as shipwrights and weapon smiths – and they make both the Karvi and the battle weapons that then tribes depend on.  A few try to run, or to sell their services elsewhere, but they are always brought back and punished –  before they disappear completely.  Just like any other captive that doesn’t live up to her standards.

No-one is really quite sure what the Great Shaman looks like – sometimes she is an elderly Orc Female, other times a well-muscled half-orc, and sometimes even a human or elf – what ever she really is, you don’t want to mess with her.

It is said that when the great Shaman is finished with them, she gorges herself on their flesh – but there are very few who know for certain.  In the past various tribes have risen up against her, while they might have appears to win a victory, the Great Shaman has always returned and taken her revenge  on the tribe’s leaders.  Leaderless tribes don’t stay leaderless for long, there is normally a fight between powerful orcs from other tribes.  Eventually, one will take over – those who can’t adjust to the new regime are killed and staked out as a warning to others.

The shipwrights work and live in a shipyard locally, while the smell of smoke comes from the weapon smiths.  The ‘normal’ weapons, taken as booty, are melted down to be refashioned as Falchions and Great Axes suitable for marauders, or even as boar spears suitable for Hunters.   At the same time, they ‘fix’ armour that is brought to them.   Payment by captive, food, booty …

  • The Great Shaman = Ash Hag + sorcerer 5  (orc bloodline)