Monday, September 24, 2007

A History of a Roleplayer

I've been roleplaying for a while... Maybe not as long as _some_ people, but 16 years is still a long time. During that time I've gone through several of what I'll call stages for lack of a better term. At the end of each stage, my style of play / GMing changed in some significant way. Mainly because I want to and partially because I think it might be useful, I'm going to go through the stages that I've gone through.

I was introduced to roleplaying by a student teacher in the small, small town of Bethany, WV. See, in Bethany it was a regular thing for college students on the teaching track to mentor in some way a long kid. I was in fourth grade at the time, and had never heard of roleplaying, but Becky (I believe her name was) roleplayed with some other students at the college, and one day she brought me along. I can't really remember what the adventure was about, but I do remember playing a wizard and casting magic missile at least once. What I do remember is that the world they lived in seemed to be pretty cool. Everyone had an awesome character, and they got visions about the future, and where on some sort of holy quest of some sort. After playing with them (once and only once) I asked my parents for a DnD box set for Christmas. I remember being disappointed that I didn't get the monster manual (because monsters are what the game is about, right?!?), mainly because it was bigger and had cooler pictures, but I did actually manage to play a few times with my sister... I don't even consider this to be a stage in my gaming development, since so little was done, and I quickly lost most of my interest.

While I lived in Indianola, IA I did what I consider to be my first roleplaying. In many ways I consider this to be the most pure of my roleplaying... We had the Shadowrun rules, but only vaguely used them for anything (character generation mainly). Mainly this was pure far future fantasy, no rules. Our GM (Tony) would talk to us separately (this was a kind of PBeM where it was by phone instead of by eMail) and synthesize them into terns. And the scale was massive. Empires in space colliding, hundreds of years, etc. Rules did not bind us into a cramped pre-defined setting, and it was fun. That being said, it was little different from games of pretend, except that we kept developing the world and decisions had consequences.

After leaving Indianola, I entered into the second phase of my roleplaying career, the guns and grit stage. This was the most simulationist I ever played, and is the first time I ever used the real rules for a game. We were generally still playing shadowrun, and it was still fun, it was just a different kind of fun. Now it was more like playing a strategy game. You had to carefully balance points between equipment, stats, and skills. Your characters were more defined by their style of fighting and make of guns then they were by relationships or personality. This style of play is very seductive, and I know that some people prefer this style and never really leave it. Certainly, I think it is this aspect of roleplaying that causes me to enjoy Exalted, for the most part.

After high school, my roleplaying style changed yet again. I started concentrating more and more on the character and what it meant to play him/her. They became living people with thoughts, feelings motivations. While the external things where necessary for the rules of the game, it was mainly an internal thing for me. I longed for serious games where my characters would be challenged in their beliefs (I wasn't really ready to play these kinds of games, yet, but I knew I wanted to play them). I played a long time at this stage, and some of my favorite gaming moments come from college. For the most part, I still play at this level.

The final (so far!) stage of play for me was primarily a shift in my GM'ing style. My GM'ing had mainly followed in step with my playing style. Only recently have I come to the hard-hitting, fast paced style of game I'm running now. As I've discussed before, this style involves engaging the players at all times and making fast decisions. Also, concentration on the setting rather than plot. This basically happened post college, and it wasn't until then that I really felt like I was a worthwhile GM.

So where do I go from here? I'm always looking to improve my game, and I try to study the roleplayers I consider better than myself. Here are a few ideas:

  • Metagame. As a player, you need to share the responsibility with the GM of having everyone at the table have fun at the game. This means that sometimes you must compromise character to get someone involved or draw a shy player out of their shell. Of course, metagaming must be used sparingly, extremely sparingly, but I think it is also very important to recognize when to do it.

  • World Building. My worlds are almost always extremely simple (unless I've stolen it from a book or other source)... I primarily rely on making good decisions during play to flesh it out. This works for most things, but a really immersive, interesting and unique world can really engage players in a game.

  • Get Engaged yourself. I have this problem mainly in what I call theory games at cons. I don't normally feel like engaging myself in a game debating the theory of the universe. Also, if the GM doesn't specifically involve me, I tend to disengage, especially at cons. This is my top reason for disappointing con games, and is definitely something I need to figure out how to do smoothly.

I know there are other areas to work on, those are just the ones I'm concentrating on now.

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