Thursday, December 22, 2011


It's roleplaying not rolesaying.

RP can only exist when there are choices to make and they carry repercussions. Standing around spewing a lot of thees and thous is a different game altogether. Even if you can move past the high school drama club re-enactments to something a tad less ridiculous, it will still be improvisational acting. That's fine, in itself, but it is, unfortunately, in itself. You're making it into a minigame. In a game, RP can and should stem from gameplay. If you're doing something noble, act noble. If you're rampaging through the countryside, start talking like Conan. Whatever the case, melding action and style into an identity is roleplaying. Style by itself is empty.

In Planetside i was once in an outfit (a.k.a. 'guild') called S.P.L.A.T. and though i forget what the backronym stood for, we specialized in air drops. That was our thing, our schtick, our gimmick. Some of us came up with catchphrases to shout as we landed on some rooftop. We chose our characters' skills accordingly. More than any amount of faux-Shakespearean chatter, this was roleplaying. It meant having an identity as a group, and giving ourselves strong points and weak ones.
I was in another guild for a little bit in A Tale in the Desert. It was called the Casbah d'Nile. We cooked, and distributed food. Some raised sheep. Others farmed. Since my house was fairly far into the desert, my specialty was gathering mushrooms and herbs. We were the cooks of Egypt, regardless of whether this was more or less profitable or prestigious than mining or monument-building.
In EVE-Online, at its high point a year or three after release, there were guilds specializing in mining, piracy, manufacturing, transport, etc. and this meant making decisions to focus on one aspect of gameplay instead of another.
Your guild has no roleplaying value if you just randomly spout archaisms at each other, arrange weddings and gatherings that have no effect on your playing style and look down your nose at anyone actually playing the game. It should go without saying that the most worthless are the endless numbers of guilds whose only group identity is 'we're liek awesomer than everyone else dood' but, moving along.

I remember one of the expansions to Neverwinter Nights, Hordes of the Underdark. I decided to play an abjurer. This made it impossible for me to defeat the final boss, who used no spells. I regret nothing. In NWN2, i played a pure spellcaster halfling druid, no shapeshifting. My strength was so low that i couldn't wear my own armor without buffing myself. I used a slingshot the entire game. I wanted to be an equalizer without nuking, so i geared my spells towards buffs and helped my NPCs do the killing.
This sort of sacrifice is necessary in order to make roleplaying choices meaningful. This is one of the great flaws of EQ/WoW clones. Playing a fighter or mage is irrelevant if the choice is merely cosmetic, if tossing spears or fireballs has the same effect. It is meaningless to have 6 different stats for your character if min-maxing is built into the game and you buff your damage in exactly the same way whether you choose an intelligence or agility-based class. It is irrelevant that you have a low strength score if it doesn't limit your options in any way.

Roleplaying, ideally, arises from game situations. My favorite example of this comes (oddly enough, given my rabid ranting against Blizzard) from WoW. I speak of the great AIDS epidemic. When the instance Zul'Gurub was first put into the game, the boss used a disease-like attack which spread from player to player and could continue indefinitely if re-applied. The catch is that some code-monkey on blizzard's staff forgot to flag some string of bits somewhere and the disease would not automatically clear when players left the instance. It did enough damage that top-level players could easily survive it with a bit of healing, but it was rapidly deadly to lower-level players. Immediately, griefers started going into the instance to contract the disease then teleporting to capital cities to infect everyone they could. It grew into a pandemic within hours. From there on, every player's experience of the event was different.
Were you one of the griefers trying to kill others?
Were you one of the victims, fighting to survive long enough to get something done?
Were you a do-gooder trying to heal the sick?
Were you an opportunist preying on weakened enemies?
Were you (like me) simply overwhelmed by the situation and forced to retreat to remote wilderness areas to escape the pandemic?
Those are RP choices, real ones. Are you a sadist, do you want others to see you as a benefactor, or just a profiteer?
I remember running into another player in a low-traffic questing area, each approaching the other carefully for fear of being infected. We then shared a few lines to the tunes of "damn, it's getting crazy in the city, i just had to get out". I remember feeling the need to make excuses for myself for giving up on healing the sick (i was a druid). That entire situation, the divergence in player attitudes and perception provided a more immersive game experience than half the quests in WoW put together, and it arose simply, naturally, from game mechanics.

When the game mechanics do not allow for this, when everything is routine, when there are no meaningful choices to make, roleplaying is extraneous. You could do the same play-acting over the phone.

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