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Thread: Do you really need a game system to roleplay?

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    Do you really need a game system to roleplay?

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    Because this keeps arises in conversations about the drawbacks of D&D 4e, I would like to pose the above question, Do you REALLY need a game system to ROLE-play?

    Let's take D&D out of the equation as much as possible because I do not want this to turn into yet another 3.x vs. 4e war/debate.

    So, let's look at ROLE-playing. Playing the role of a character. Pretty plain and simple. The genre you choose to play in is going to define your archetype, to a point, afterall you are not going to play a space pirate in a fantasy game.

    So what tools do you need to play a character?

    My answer to this is very little. In fact I would argue that rolling up a character actually is going to limit what that character can do compared to what you can imagine or want that character to be able to do. I guess a question posed to that is, is that good or bad? Having those types of restrictions in place?

    I hope some of this got you thinking, now, let's discuss!
    "I'm afraid it is you who are mistaken. About a great, many things."

    "It is not the rules that make or break a game, it's the GM and the players."


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    To be perfectly honest, no one needs a "system" to rp. When I was five and playing "Army men" We didn't have a "system" and somehow it was pretty fun. Lots of cheating, but still fun.

    As for rolling up a character and putting all the stats on a piece of paper that too is not "necessary" either, but it does quantify your character's abilities.

    So no, one does not "need" a system or a character sheet, BUT, if you want to be fair to everyone including the monsters you will need a system with rules and a character sheet with abilities to play fair for everyone, or else you will hear the same old, "I got you. No you didn't. Yes I did! No you didn't." that we all got sick of when we were seven.

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    I guess if a group roleplay without any game system (should we say any rule ?) then it's a bit like improvisational theater. But even improv theater requires a certain correct acting in order to deliver a show. If a group of players roleplay without rules, is it still a game ? If it's a show then who's there audience ?
    Au gibet noir, manchot aimable, dansent, dansent les paladins
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    I think the rolling you charecter is good cause you don't start out to powerful or weak and most everyone start at about the same level.
    Chi-Halfling

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    this is a yes and No answer

    In theory we do not need a system to roleplay.
    However, we are all terrible people and need structure for the most part so that we can all play fairly. With that being said, if the game system does not have the structure that best reflects both realism and game balance that the players desire then this will cause some problems for the players. I have run into this problem- its a small one that nags at you slowly. D20 is one of those games. i had a friend who really go sessions but slowly i became more and more bothered by the system (D20) when ever the rules came into play. Since then i have sworn off said system and have been much more happy in my gaming- even if i miss out on a game run by the best GM in the world- it wouldn't be as much fun if run using a horrible system. This is because of the fact that no matter what you will have confrontations crop up in the game and the system is there to handle that. if it does not handle it well enough then the player will feel cheated or disenchanted some what.
    However, there is a group near where i live who have been playing the same game for 16 years at least who use no system at all. It is a straight up role playing game and from what i understand you would have to sit in on game sessions for a month before you actually play to get an understanding on how to play. As far as i know they do not have confrontations crop up in the game (as far as i know though.. The next time i see my friend i will have to ask him to be sure). However this type of game is not just for anyone and it is not for people who think about winning every time the sit down to play (D&Ders) and not about gaining power over others (white wolfers).
    I do not play them here or there, I do not play them anywhere, I do not play them with a fox. I do not mash that button box. I do not like MMO games. In the end ther're all the same.
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    To role play I don't think you need a system. Look at historical reenactors. they are role playing with out any kind of system. But when you are talking a bout a role playing game I feel you need the system since games are defined by some set of rules. Excluding Calvinball of course.

    "The score is Oogie to boogie"

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    Actually, even SCA have some set of rules.
    I do not play them here or there, I do not play them anywhere, I do not play them with a fox. I do not mash that button box. I do not like MMO games. In the end ther're all the same.
    -Tesral

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    Read a bad online RPG/fanfic. Then you will understand why rules are important.

    "I shoot you in the head!"
    'Oh yeah? Well my power of head invulnerability protects me from being shot there. I break off your leg!"
    "You can't do that cause you have no head! You can't be immune to my attacks cause it was given to me by [random stupid anime deity]!"
    "Na uh it's my main power, it's my whole character's point."
    "You said it was venom claws.."
    "That was yesterday; I changed it."

    ETC.

    Rules are there to prevent morons from playing. Rules scare away morons.

    Quick Edit: Also read my new sig. ;p


    Supporters tend to argue with me that roleplaying is separate from the system and can be strongly supported in any game. I always encourage them to write a history for their iron token in monopoly and discuss the motivations for passing go.
    - Engar

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    By all accounts, I have had a very unique experience of being introduced to role playing games which I'm sure in some (perhaps even subconcious) ways has influenced my feng shui as a gamer.

    My very first experience with a role playing game was via a short series of D&D adventures that were run by a friend entirely without rules. In fact, to that point, I didn't even know there were rulebooks. I just knew that it was a fantasy game where you used your imagination to go on incredible adventures where you got to decide what your character does. There was never any arguement because I understood the role of the Dungeon Master to be the one to decide what the results of my actions were. It was very "stimulus-response". The DM would give me information. I would tell him what I wanted to do, he would narrate the result and the cycle would repeat.

    After that series of adventures ended and I was off to set about running my own adventures as a GM, I ran a (impossibly awesome) Star Wars campaign for a buddy of mine while I was waiting for my pre-ordered Star Wars RPG rulebook to come it. At that point, all I knew was that a Star Wars RPG existed and that I had to play it. I browsed a couple of the books blindly at the FLGS, but I couldn't have told you left from right as far as the rules were concerned. I ran a well-developed (ah, my very first campaign notes...still have them on a faded scrap of paper somewhere) campaign that ran steadily, several times a week for several months. There was heaping character development, personal struggles, epic battles and a climactic (and bitter-sweet) finale, all played without any rules whatsoever. There were no (and I mean zero) arguements because, once again, there was an understanding about the stimulus-response way that we played. The excitement for me came from waiting to see what he was going to do next, and for him, it was from wondering how his actions would change the story.

    Nowadays, my games aren't so much like that. Not in an entirely bad way, but they've become a little more "grounded". I play with rules, in fact, I have in every game since then. The rules have their own kind of value, more about creating a baseline for fairness and expectation for the players. Its creates equality, impartiality, reliability and surprise to feed the game.

    While I certainly don't think that role playing needs a "system" to work (as I've demonstrated to the contrary), role playing is unmistakably influenced by the system that encapsulates it. This (to me) really is mostly about how "intrusive" the system is on the game. The more "present" the system is in the minds of the players, the more attention will be payed to respecting the system and the less time will be spent engaging role play. Some systems actually manage to make parts of the system thrust role play into the forefront, and those games should be applauded. Some systems are explictily more "gamist" and can detract the attention from role play, making it more difficult to foster such activity. Even good role players can go bad depending of the system they have to deal with (and I've been guilty of this in the past as well).

    In short, you don't need rules to role play, but the rules should be able to enrich the experience. Some systems do and some don't. And that's about how much "role play" versus how much "game" you want in your RPG. Some systems favor one over the other and some try to balance the two.

    God, I miss my first Star Wars campaign. I wish I had it all on audio tape or something so I could actually go back and experience it again. I will probably never run a game that tops that one.
    HARRY DRESDEN WIZARD
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    The short answer is "no." Roleplay is character acting.

    The long answer is "sorta, yeah." Even in improv groups there are a few ground rules people stick to in order to have the improv work. Simple rules that are more or less agreements, but they exist.

    Which is why I never put much stock in people assessing any RPG system as "not roleplay friendly." That exposes their limits, not the systems.

    Before there was ever any Mechwarrior RPG rules, people were roleplaying in Battletech when the rules only covered tactical mech combat. Same with Warhammer, the battle system came first, people roleplayed their way through it on their own.

    In all honesty, this is why I prefer games that don't put much effort into making rules for roleplay. It limits the limitless by giving it tangible grounding points, etc. I prefer rules systems that work fast and efficient and then get out of the way; so the roleplay can kick back in.
    --
    Grimwell

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    Quote Originally Posted by grimwell View Post
    ...In all honesty, this is why I prefer games that don't put much effort into making rules for roleplay. It limits the limitless by giving it tangible grounding points, etc. I prefer rules systems that work fast and efficient and then get out of the way; so the roleplay can kick back in.
    It may not be obvious from my above post, but this is really primarily my stance as well. The rules are for the "rulesy" part of the game which should get the heck outta the way when it's time to throw down some old-fashioned role play.
    HARRY DRESDEN WIZARD
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    Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates.
    No Love Potions, Endless Purses, or Other Entertainment.

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    At Gencon, I played in a systemless vaguely Call of Cthulhu-ish LARP called "A Time for Madness".

    No stats. No random elements. No system of any kind. Just roleplaying with the background "we were all mental patients locked up with a page of scattered, amnesiac memories." Only character creation decision -- pick an insanity.

    Great game. Very cool. Very edgy.

    Of course, what it didn't allow for was combat. A couple of times we tried to rush the doctor who was conducting brutal 1920s electroshock on patients pulled out of the population at random. It always failed because there was no system for combat. It was assumed the guards and orderlies beat us down.

    So to answer the Q, yes roleplaying is different, distinct and independent of system.

    But that said, various systems can encourage roleplaying.

    A game system that for example tried to simulate the speed of combat by giving you only a brief amount of time to declare your action encourages you not to make long-winded character based speeches. It encourages quick efficient fighting. The indie RPG "Riddle of Steel" did this.

    A game system where describing your actions in great detail actually makes your attacks more effective is encouraging rich player narration.

    A game system where social interactions are either completely systemless (thus it is impossible to play a character more persuasive than yourself) or where social interactions are very difficult encourages players (particularly those without the gift of gab) to find non-social (i.e. violent) solutions to their problems.

    So in brief, roleplay is not system but system does matter to roleplaying.

    Gary

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    I believe a system is not instrumental to roleplay. Any game whether classified as a "roleplaying" game or not may be used as such. However, a game may foster or stifle roleplay. I define roleplay like writing the lines for a character in a book only speaking them aloud so all might enjoy them immediately and uncensored. Some games and some books help players by explaining techniques or methods, some ignore it completely leaving all to thier own devices, others even implement some mechanics based on the concept, personality or other flavoring aspects.

    Some players do not have the benefit of experience. Some have the detriment of experience. The system does matter. It sets the expectations and assigns the mechanical value.
    Last edited by Engar; 08-24-2008 at 12:36 PM.
    "Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth." - JFK

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    Quote Originally Posted by grimwell View Post
    Which is why I never put much stock in people assessing any RPG system as "not roleplay friendly." That exposes their limits, not the systems.
    This is the reason why I brought this topic up. I REALLY do not understand this "argument" that a game system does not support roleplaying. So I wanted to get an assessment of people's ideas so I can understand their point of view.

    And so I would stop getting on their case for making this argument!
    "I'm afraid it is you who are mistaken. About a great, many things."

    "It is not the rules that make or break a game, it's the GM and the players."


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    Quote Originally Posted by gdmcbride View Post
    ...A game system where describing your actions in great detail actually makes your attacks more effective is encouraging rich player narration...
    ...An RPG called Wushu, for the uninitiated. That's actually almost verbatim out of the Wushu core rules...

    Quote Originally Posted by Inquisitor Tremayne View Post
    This is the reason why I brought this topic up. I REALLY do not understand this "argument" that a game system does not support roleplaying. So I wanted to get an assessment of people's ideas so I can understand their point of view...
    While I don't think that a game system can "not support" role play, I think game systems can "hinder" role play by giving the rules more of the center stage of the game. Let's face it, the more you're thinking about the rules implications of the game, the less you're thinking about the role playing implications.

    I don't think I could ever buy "role play is not supported here", but I could definately see a case of "role play is not the focus of this game".

    Ultimately, I think that's up to the players and GM. You can role play as much in World of Synnibarr () as you can in a game like Pace, but your mind is much more burdened with other considerations in Synnibarr, so it might require a little more effort to stay focused.
    Last edited by Webhead; 08-24-2008 at 10:25 AM.
    HARRY DRESDEN WIZARD
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    Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates.
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