Slanting Character Actions in Roleplaying Games
First published 11/3/2000; last edited 12/22/2004
Roleplaying games are games. They may be many other things as well, but they are still games. People play games to have fun. That doesn't mean happy-laughing fun necessarily, or silly fun. It means enjoyment-fun. People can enjoy dark, angsty roleplaying games, and light silly roleplaying games, and moody tortuous roleplaying games. But they're still there to have some sort of fun, to enjoy themselves.
This means that you, the players, need to take each other into account when you play. You aren't the only player in the game (unless, of course, it's a one-person game). You aren't the only person there to have fun.
There's often a certain perceived tension between "playing your character" and "playing a good game." Sometimes circumstances align such that in order to play your character realistically, you need to do something that doesn't necessarily make for a good game: you leave the other characters behind and bored, you don't involve them in a plot, etc.
Some solutions lie in the GM's hands; it's her job to come up with ways to involve everyone in the plots, and to make sure that the game suits the players. But there are a few things you can do to help her:
- Create your characters with party play in mind. You don't have to make them faceless and boring; you just need to ensure that they have reason to hang out together, involve each other in things, and share information.
- Always remember that everyone is there to have fun. Personal plots are fine; sticking to your character is worthwhile. Just try to consider whether your actions contribute to the fun of the group.
- If different players like different sorts of games, then try to compromise. Go for a little variety so that you all have your turn, or find a sort of game that suits you all well enough, even if it isn't your favorite game. If there are serious differences of opinion as to what kind of game is fun, then alternate weeks (one week you play one game, the next week you play a different one, and back and forth).
- Slant your actions.
Slanting Character Actions
There are a couple of parts to this recommendation. First, remember that in real life, people tend to find certain other people likable. Sometimes it has nothing to do with their personalities, or what they do for a living. So start off by making the assumption that your character finds the other characters at least a little likable, probably even marginally trustworthy. This means she's more likely to tell them things, spend time with them, and bring them in on odd plots. It doesn't, however, require you to ignore character conflicts and differences of opinion.
Second, take this one step further. At any given juncture you have decisions to make. Maybe one decision is, "do I tell them about this plot, or keep it to myself?" Another is, "do I share this piece of information, or do I not?" Yet another is, "do I take them along when I go to talk to this character, or do I go alone?"
It's probably clear that, in general, the better option for the party as a whole is to take them along, tell them about things, and cut them in on your plots. Occasionally you just want to have a dramatic solo conversation or keep a sensitive plot detail to yourself, and that's fine. But on the whole, people have more fun if they're all involved. Few players enjoy sitting back for an hour and a half while your character looks through an empty house alone and you query the GM, room by room, on every last thing you find.
So, when you find yourself in a position to make these choices, approach them a little differently. You're probably approaching them now by saying, "what would my character do?" In real life, after all, people go off on their own all the time. On the other hand, in real life the other people involved in a plot don't usually have to sit around doing nothing while you go off on your own. So instead of saying "what would my character do," ask yourself, "does my character have a particular reason for cutting the other characters out?"
If the answer is no, then consider bringing them along. Slant your actions to include the other players, without actually breaking character. If you don't have a good reason not to tell them about the plot, then tell them about the plot. If you don't have a good reason for going off on your own, then don't.
In addition, if you're off on your own, try not to drag it out. If you're doing something that's entertaining for all, like a dramatic, climactic conversation, then by all means entertain everyone. But if all you're doing is going through that empty house room-by-room and players are starting to fall asleep, then consider asking the GM to abstract some of the action. In other words, if you've gone through a few rooms and things seem fairly cut-and-dried, then try asking, "do I find anything interesting on the second floor?" instead of going room-by-room. You'll get the same results, but it'll take you a fraction of the time.
This means that when your character thinks it's important to go off alone, she still can. When she thinks it's important to leave other people out, that's still fine. When she's doing something that the entire gaming group finds entertaining, she can take as long as she likes. And there's certainly no problem with having periods of time when the party splits up. But on average, people will get left out less often. They'll get bored less often. They'll be involved in more of the plots.
In short, there'll be more enjoyment to be had for all.