RP Rambles: What I love about roleplaying

Telling Stories

I’ve been giving a lot of thought recently to my future and what I would like to be doing with my life, and however I look at it I keep returning to the idea of writing–and in particular storytelling–as something that I find both very gratifying and extremely important to me. Storytelling is one of the main reasons that I got into RP-ing and, no matter how my GM-ing abilities and gaming experience may have changed it’s that central desire to tell a story with other people that keeps bringing me back to the game time-after-time.

So why not just write a story?

A reasonable question, I actually do a fair bit of creative writing for my own enjoyment and have done every since I was old enough to hold a pencil, my first stories were written on lined sheets of paper, four lines of text followed by a simple drawing. The main thing that I remember about those early tales is that I drastically overused the word ‘suddenly’, something I’m pleased to report that I got over as my vocabulary expanded.

One of the things that sets RP-ing apart from sitting and writing this blog or creating a story is that it isn’t just me sat in a room feverishly typing one a laptop or scribbling in a notebook, when it comes to crafting a role-playing based story I’m part of team that includes the other players, we’re all creating a story together. Sure, the GM creates the framework and the world that the story takes place in, he or she also populates the world with a background cast of characters, but it’s when the PCs enter that world that it really comes to life.

You might have heard authors talk about how vividly they imagine their characters as they write novels, how sometimes the characters speak with their own voices and guide the story as though they were independent of the author; this sort of thing is the meat and potatoes of role-playing for me, the excitement comes when the PCs begin to interact with and change the campaign world. Before I turn the players loose on it, as a GM I have complete control over what is taking place in the world, but as soon as the PCs step into it, I have no way of knowing for sure what is going to happen. This isn’t something that you should be worried about, sure it can be a bit scary, but it’s the good scary like when you climb onto a roller-coaster.

Collaborative Storytelling

I’ve never subscribed to the idea that the GM should be sat above the players handing down nuggets of plot to eager and grateful players who clutch them to their bosom and scurry off with them like worshipful supplicants. It’s not for everyone, but one of the aspects of the role-playing that I take great joy in is getting the players as involved as possible in helping to tell the story.

Whether this is a player elaborating on a scene:

Player: “I need a distraction, are their any lanterns hanging in this barn?”
GM: “You better believe there are, what’s your plan?”

Or perhaps a scene entirely initiated by a player:

GM: “Why is your thief so worked up by what the trader is doing?”
Player: “My character had a bad experience with this trader, would we be okay to do a flashback scene and play it out?”
GM: “We sure would, explain the set-up for the scene.”

You might even play a game with narrative-based mechanics that build this sort of thing into the game:

GM: “Since your character is hunted by the Voidcaller Inquisition and you’ve not exactly been keeping your head down I’d like to compel your trouble aspect to have some inquisitorial agents show up on your trail.”
Player: “Sure I’ll take the fate point.”

So what’s the payoff?

Well in addition to telling an entertaining and often surprising story, role-playing can help you connect with people, it also expands your creativity; it can be very difficult to sit down in front of that daunting blank page and start writing the words of a story, you’ll be surprised how many ideas come to you when you’re riffing with your friends and bouncing off each other.

As an added bonus you get stories that you can laugh about and relive at a later time with your friends, war stories of ancient campaigns and brave deeds that you undertook when you were another person, in another time and place.

That’s why I love role-playing.

4 thoughts on “RP Rambles: What I love about roleplaying”

  1. In the beginning, and because TSR Inc. 32-page modules were written that way, I was of the Old-School Prussian Railroad school of GMing. You had a linear adventure and you took your players through it, achieving all the stops. There was some leeway for original things happening, the unexpected twists, but things were less open than today.

    Of course, you had players stretching the possible range of actions to do wild and stupid things. Not recommended. But plausible original twists were welcome. Players didn’t have to be expert actors, but at least should develop a sense of what their characters were likely to do from their psychological background and training.

    Now some games encourage a location-style play which is looser, where places or people don’t have to be visited in any set order, but players can gather clues and hopefully have enough to be properly equipped for some climactic show-down. Some duplication of clues across locations, or a helpful wandering bum who dumps the right local piece of information, may be necessary! This is more free-form. Even the sillier computer RP

    In the Powered by the Apocalypse games, the Game Master can flip settings questions back to a player or players, but only if it is something the character would reasonably know.

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