Role Playing “Characters”

03Mar09

There is the sneaky rogue, the awfully good paladin, the monosyllabic elf, the blunt orc – various races, paired with various classes create a myriad of roleplaying characters. Each player has a different approach to the character chosen to play, chosen to interpret, which makes every roleplaying round, every session and the participating characters truly unique. Depending on who is playing a character different facets of a stereotypical class can be experienced. Throw in a handful of interesting alignments and there is an endless supply of fun paired with fairy tale-magic.

Not always, though.

As I have said before, “depending on who is playing” a character is the crucial point. During my +/- 10 years of roleplaying experience I have encountered quite a handful of roleplayers and their real life character puts an interesting twist on any stereotypical character out there (completely independent on the role playing system or the game master).

My very first experiences in the field of roleplaying still makes me wonder why I am still playing and with such enthusiasm. I encountered the unfortunately not so rare species of the supermunchkin. Players, whose sole focus lies on beating the system. Beating the game. Beating the role master. On the head. With a stick (which lacks rhythm). Repeatedly. Then annoy the other players by pursuing the craziest of plans. Not wanting to see nor have it explained how this cannot work, how it makes no sense, how their character is not fit for attempting this, etc. Usually, they ruin the experience of other players by trying something that is not the point of the game.

Other player characters were more entertaining, though. The ones who are rather experienced, have played quite a few games, know how it all works and what to expect. Nothing can surprise them, nothing can throw them a curve – except themselves. Somehow they mix up their player knowledge with their character’s knowledge and make decisions that make sense to the omniscient part but not the character. Not being able to differentiate between the different sets of “knowledge” can get them into pretty tricky situations. A few of the ones I have experienced over the time were almost lethal – others very much so. Dramatically lethal.

A different set of players is also not able to differentiate – between real life and in-game. A seemingly stupid action that is consistent with the character, though, may result in hours of discussion, screaming, drama and more drama. Not understanding why an action was chosen the player is blamed for the outcome, not the character. I have to point out that my focus while roleplaying lies on playing a character, not beating the system. So a rather unfortunate action that perfectly fits the character is something I approve of. The fun part usually is to get out of the situation. It just makes me think harder how to get out. It is the more interesting challenge for me as a player. So when a player is accused by another to have made a wrong or stupid move that is perfectly consistent with the character in general – I wonder how thin the line between reality and play can become for some.

Another type of player character never seizes to amaze me – the ones who take certain skills for granted, no matter what character they play. Every school teacher is also a superbly skilled lockpick. The journalist who is writing for the church paper also has in depth knowledge about how to assemble a nuclear warhead. The challenge is to work with the skill set that fits the character chosen. If my character is a female librarian I will have to work with her skill set – she will be good at research, finding and gathering information, knowledge about filing, books in general, authors, etc. She will know how to use a pen, a pencil, a ruler, scissors and her glasses. What she probably won’t know is how to build a car from scratch, climb up a facade, break into a high security facility or train a monkey (except to read). True, depending on her background she might know all these things but usually the background does not fit the demanded skills.

Of course, there are also the experienced players who are able to create three-dimensional characters with flaws, character traits, a background, interests, fears, etc. and who are able to give this character life by acting upon this information. These players are a pleasure to play with. Stories are created and told by characters that seem more realistic because they are not superhuman (or super-halfling) but as realistic as they can be. Beating the system is never the main goal. In fact, number crunching and dice rolling only becomes relevant when chance and luck come in.

There are a lot more player characters out there and I would love to hear about your experiences with them.

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13 Responses to “Role Playing “Characters””

  1. The most fun I’ve had roleplaying was actually with a group that consisted of a mix of the mentioned ‘meta-roles’. Granted, they were all excellent players in their own field, but some of them tended towards munchkinism more often than not.

    I do miss those times. I still roleplay, but I’m having to ‘educate’ most of my players now.

    Oh, and ask Jurie about ‘Corpsegrinder Jones’

  2. (I put an ‘evil grin’ after that last sentence, but it got lost somehow…)

  3. I have to admit that not all of the meta-roles are annoying or spoil the fun. Some of the most hilarious stories come from sessions with a handful of those “stereotypes”. Won’t re-tell them here (too lengthy and mostly you-had-to-be-there-moments) but I can assure you that the tears of laughter and joy were overwhelming. I am quite glad that the current players are all experienced and require a different posting (a more positive one).

    *bwaha* When mentioning “Corpsegrinder Jones” a myriad of different facial expressions flew over Jurie’s face, he immediately demanded to know how I came across this term and so far, he has not told me the story of Corpsegrinder Jones. Tell me more.

  4. 4 Jurie

    All true. But I was able to counter by explaining to my dearest love that I had told her about the adventures of Corpsegrinder Jones ON THE NIGHT WE MET. I thought girls remembered all those little details.

  5. Oh wait, he just said he told me about Corpsegrinder Jones on August 14th. o_O

  6. I was so lost in your eyes that I cannot remember the words you have said. All I remember is how the angelic choir pumped up its volume a little too high. The harpist took the cake with the headbanging solo.

  7. 7 Jurie

    Nice save.

  8. 8 Sathom

    There is another unpleasant, or at least annoying, experience one might encounter, too. Which is trying to play a character being non-stereotypical on different levels (like in my case, a dwarf gal with an attitude and quite different from how you would expect the usual, rolly-polly Tolkien dwarf to be), and run into the stereotypes the rest of the group (to be fair, a few of them) still think along. Especially if there are no female players in the group (there ain’t, which always seems to make some guys show their other side – the one they’d never show a woman), you can expect a lot of chauvinism and sexism which the other characters (or their players? of course them) suddenly develop and openly display, as well as problems to handle the character in general (which shows by lots of remarks which seem to aim to direct both player and charatcer back into usual “dwarf ways”). I was planning to write an own blog rant about this, maybe… however, this is an intereseting sociological field experience, I can tell you 😉

  9. The saga of Corpsgrinder Jones happened because we were doing one of those other ‘unusual’ roleplaying phenomena: playing Evil. Jurie joined us for a one-off session and at the end of this – after killing many a halfling (but that’s another story) – we knew that Jones would not be returning, so we did what any good evil party would do, which is turn upon itself and kill the b*stard. The fact that in the ‘old’ D&D rules that also caused us to gain XP was compleeetly beside the point (of course).

  10. 10 tryphina

    @sathom:
    in most groups i have played in, the whole sexism/chauvinism issue became a lot more interesting when players did not choose their characters gender after their own. of course, you need the right group for this. and my groups tend to have at least two girls in them. but i have tremendous fun to yell at a male player: “hey girlie, make with the beer or i’ll have your sweet pointed ears for toothpicks.”

  11. 11 Sathom

    @tryphina:
    What you describe sounds like real fun all right, but you’re right: it requires the right group. One in which you actually can make fun of, or parody the gender issues. With this group (I am *not* talking about each player, mind you, but just some) I rather feel they’re really stuck in the stereotypical thinking. Regrettably, there currently are no female players, as well. It’s a group of members summoned by the GM from several different groups which played in earlier years, the original groups being scattered to the four winds meanwhile (we’re all ‘first generation’ roleplayers, having started with this stuff in the 80ies when it came up in Germany, then being far from well-known, not to mention popular) and it just fits so-so. This doesn’t mean we don’t have fun – actually it’s pretty okay in some respects, and everybody’s an experienced player, but right now for me, it doesn’t feel like the 100% perfect thing when it comes to player personalities fitting together 😉

  12. @Alex: In the end, he gave in and re-told the story. Hilarious.
    I have to say that I like those experiments. Unfortunately, I could never participate in one where every character is plain evil. I do hear stories of a legendary CoC round with cultist characters, whose sole purpose was to spoil the hero’s day. Thinking of our “normal” CoC rounds where mayhem just happened… *shiver*.

    @Sathom: Speaking of…is it just me or do some rounds cling to char stereotypes than others? In some it became a running gag to exchange elf/dwarf stereotypes, simply because we could. In others, this just never occurred (making fun of each other always happens but not stereotype-exchanges of the endless kind).

  13. @berzerkraccoon: Same observation here about clinging to char stereotypes. I actually get the impression that some players even display some sort of determination to keep up char stereotypes – it not only never occurs to them to break them up, exchange or even slightly modify them, they even seem to get irritated when others do, and try – to a degree which can vary – to get those others who try back in line.

    There is another kind of players, too, now I come to think of it: the ones who always plays themselves (or rather, their ideal would-like-to-be selves) and usually pick the fitting class for that. Some guys I know, for instance, always seem to – at least whenever I play with them – be a warrior, a rogue-like char, etc. Besides from minor character knacks, their characters never seem to change except for the different names. Or, when playing games so different as DSA or CoC, which of course don’t offer the same classes/occupations, somehow their librarians or private eyes will always seem to have the same character traits their adventurers or dwarves have. (Or, if a game has stat requirements for certain classes, you’ll come to face bards behaving like those players’ usual warrior types etc.)

    I gotta admit that I sometimes did a similar thing when paying DSA adventurers – mine were rather often of the somewhat melancholic type; which I notice is due to a desire to continue the same character, once his previous incarnation died or otherwise became unusable (like, stuck in a never-finished adventure), now I come to think about it.

    What I currently try to do is actually play a character who not just exchanges gender stereotypes, but runs contrary to any such, and char/class stereotypes as well, and who also can’t be defined in terms of some simple, recognizable character traits (like, always grumpy, always cocky, always daring/timid etc.), but is sort of jumpy (for instance, she can get very aggressive and vulgar at an instant, and pipe down the next moment to be cool again after she burst out a momentary frustration). I notice especially the latter thing seems a bit difficult to deal with for one or two players, while I admit it of course makes it hard to quickly and easily get an idea of what kind of person you deal with – it seems to be perceived as inconistency by some.


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