From WoD Gotham
The Dark Crystal, Jim Henson
Once upon a time we were all kids. As kids we all had vivid imaginations and most of us liked to pretend a lot. From the very earliest days of playing “Cops and Robbers”, “Cowboys and Indians”, “House”, “Tea Party”, “Dress Up”, “Barbies”, “Star Wars”, etc. we were role playing and didn’t know it. As we get older we grow out of those dress up games or maybe not (LARPers are a special breed after all), but we are all familiar with the concept of playing at pretend.
Role playing in WoDG is essentially acting. If you have ever taken a drama class in school, you should be familiar with acting out a character. If you’ve not had the fortune of acting, then another good place to draw from are those early days as a kid where you threw yourself into those pretend games. Creative writers also should be familiar with character studies and assuming roles as they weave their plots and consider their characters’ and their motivations.
If you’ve never had those creative experiences in your life, well then you’ve missed out a lot and will have a difficult time in World of Darkness: Gotham. In this game, we demand that players act their parts as they’ve written them which is distinctly different from what most players experience in pen and paper games around a table top.
Distinction from Table Top
Table top can be great fun. There’s nothing like getting together with a group of friends around a table with some pizza and beer, some cool mood music while setting off into a world of make believe and full of adventure. However, in most table top games, assuming a role comes secondary to everything else. There’s a tendency to remain out of character and move your character this way and that as if he were a miniature on the table or a vehicle that you get in and drive around. Sessions consist of players telling the ST and the players around them what they are doing with their character and then the ST spits back the results:
Player: “My guy is going to go to the door and test the lock.”
ST: “The door is unlocked.”
Player: “Ok. He goes in and looks around. What does he see?”
ST: “He’s in a small storage room and he sees two thugs guarding another door on the far side and they looked like they’re strapped. They see your character. What does he do?”
In the above example, acting and pretending are barely present. The player is remaining outside looking down at his character moving around. If you're a table top player you need to ditch this mindset while playing in World of Darkness: Gotham.
Player: *Gene glances around the darkened hall as he tries to evade his pursuers…beads of sweat dot his forehead as he nervously tests the lock.*
ST: *The doorknob turns and Gene feels a click in his grasp as the latch gives way.*
Player: *Gene slips in quickly, closing the door behind him and pressing his back against it. His eyes survey the room quickly as he looks for an escape route.*
ST: *Gene is in a small storage room with industrial hanging lamps above casting a dim warm glow over a maze of shelving and pallets. Down the aisle directly across from Gene are two thugs casually strapped with sub machine guns guarding a door. The thug on the right looks over at Gene and levels his gun…speaking out of the side of his mouth to his partner who is prompted to do the same.*
In this online format, players are asked to assume the roles of their characters. They are supposed to be thinking as their characters or at least trying to do so. As in the above example, the player acts as though he is his character. This is no different from drama class or pretend games from childhood. You create a role and act it out. Instead of having a script to go by, the actors engage in what is known as improvisation in drama. That’s what we’re doing. Improv.
For long time gamers, this may seem like a no-brainer, but really it’s not. We see self-proclaimed long time RPers mix up this distinction constantly. Usually they do so in subtle ways.
This article is for everyone seeking to get involved in WoDG and for people already active members of our community. It doesn’t matter if you’re an expert or a novice, we want you to read this article and understand it so that all community members are on the same page with staff and all our expectations are met.Below you’ll find some tips in the form of dos and don’ts of RP.
Dos of RP
- Research your role. Writers and actors alike do a fair amount of research to prepare for a role or over the course of creating the character studies for a piece of writing. There’s no excuse not to research your role and you should be able to pull it off with a little imagination. There’s tons of media out there to draw inspiration from. Books, television shows, movies, music, etc. can be great sources of inspiration and get you in the right frame of mind to connect with your character.
- Write what you know. Well how the fuck are you supposed to do that when you obviously have no idea what it’s like to be a supernatural creature? Exactly. Pretending to be a supernatural creature is enough of a challenge adding on top of it other things that are unfamiliar to you might be too much for some people.
- Recognize your limits and be pragmatic about them. If after your research you still have trouble getting it, then the concept isn’t right for you. We’re not saying that you have to play yourself or stick to your own narrow life experiences. Far from it. We don’t want you to play yourselves. That’s no fun and not the point of playing a pretend game. However, there are some people that have a difficult time connecting with certain character types no matter how much research they do. If you try to pull off something you just can't connect with, then no matter what you’re going to wind up frustrated and frustrating people around you as most of your social rolls are going to have to be backed up by RP. For example, if your English isn’t so great, don’t try to play a grammarian. It’s not going to work. If you’re some guy in the pristine fjords of Norway IRL, don’t try to play a person of color from the hood if you can’t get down with the slang you’ll need to pull it off. No matter your streetwise rating, if you’re RPing your character in an implausible fashion, your difficulties are going to skyrocket and your RP will come off as unnatural.
- Do exercises to connect to your character. Get into your character’s head and imagine yourself as him away from the game. Do mental exercises by self-talking as your character. Put items in your pockets you’d think he’d carry (Not illegal ones of course).
- Study your character sheet often and play what’s written. Your character’s sheet isn’t something you create only to forget. We don’t make you go through that grueling exercise which is the sanctioning process just for you to forget your character once it’s all over like passing a college entrance exam! Your dots aren’t just a collection of pretty patterns on a piece of paper or in this case a bunch of numbers in digital format. Merits aren’t convenient bonuses you get to play while you forget all about the Flaws that gave you those nifty freebies you wanted so badly. They actually translate to the STs and to you what your character is. You should study and contemplate your dots. How do they fit together? Just how do you act Arete 4 anyhow? If you’re Willpower is normally 6 and your Temporary Willpower is 2 how should that affect your character’s behavior? These are the types of things you should be asking yourself constantly.
- Understand your character's motivation. All characters are driven by a number of factors. You need to know what makes your character do the things that he does and why. This is an invaluable guide that helps you answer when you ask yourself, "What is my character doing here?" It serves as a starting point to get into character and drives the direction of your RP. Without it, you're a ship without a rudder.
- Keep your character sheet current. Characters grow, change, and evolve. As you’re studying your sheet, and as your character progresses in the game world, things will change. What you wrote when you first started with the character will no longer be valid. STs won’t know that automatically. We’re not mind readers. We’ll go by your sheet and hold you to it. So if something has happened to your character to have changed it, you need to put in a sheet change ticket and talk it over with your ST to see if the change is warranted or not. Sometimes players get tired of playing something about their character like taking a flaw that they don’t want anymore and decide to ignore. That’s not a valid reason for changing the character. If that was a standard, we’d have most players deciding they didn’t like something and just changing things that they found too inconvenient to play any longer. Sometimes these are meta-motives and sometimes they are just mood changes of the player. We won’t decide which is which. We’ll apply a rule evenly to everyone.
- Research the setting. Part of getting into your character requires that you also get into the world he inhabits. There’s so much source material for New York City out there that there’s no excuse to not become familiar with it. It’s one of the reasons we chose this location. It’s easy for everyone to get access to information about the city and there’s tons of media out there featuring the city. We’ve supplied a fair bit of material on it in the wiki, but there are also so many films and television set there that there’s no reason not to get a feel for it. Google Street View has just about every inch of it covered. What’s not covered in Street View, is in photographs.
- Take your time. The chat is not going away. It's going to be here for years to come. You can keep coming back night after night. Don't approach RP like you're in a race. Learn to savour your RP like you would a good meal or glass of wine. When you relax and let things flow, your acting will be more believable. When you rush things, your RP will seem forced, wooden, ridiculous or implausible. When you rush, you miss great opportunities for character development and growth, but you also make critical errors which will make your character lose credibility. You also run out of things to do real fast.
- Be an opportunist and be ready to adapt. A good actor knows how to improvise and draw from the material he’s surrounded with. Pay attention to the current conditions in a scene. This includes weather, time of day, day of the week, and above all the other characters in the setting. This includes both NPCs and PCs. Like any acting troupe, your fellow actors (players) are a huge source of material to draw from. As improvisational actors, you should all learn to share the spotlight and work with each other to drive scenes and create content for yourselves. You should also be prepared to allow other characters and events to impact your own character's development.
- Make sure that you’re in the right frame of mind to play your character. Let’s face it, many of us RP to get away from the drudgery of day to day life and exercise our imaginations to engage a fantasy world as a persona that is not ourselves. To get assume that role and act it out properly, you should avoid distractions where possible and focus. Also, be aware of stresses in your life and other OOC garbage that might intrude in the game. A lot of players use the fantasy world as a means of stress relief and that’s fine, but be careful not to let those stresses and other OOC crap going on IRL impact how you play your character. If you’re not able to filter out the IRL noise, log out. We’re not going anywhere. You can come back another day and find RP. We promise.
- Use your mind’s eye. We all have one. All those exercises I refer to in this article are designed to help you develop your mind’s eye and your character.
- BE your character. Shut out all your distractions and start thinking as your character. Talk as your character. Act as your character. Take pleasure in pretending you're someone else for a little while and nothing else.
Don’ts of RP
- Don’t approach your character with an OOC agenda. Your motivation is quite different from your character’s. The moment you let your OOC feelings into the character, your character becomes unplayable. You make your character ridiculous and he loses all credibility as a persona. There’s now nothing authentic about him and you may as well throw all your hard work away and start over. Why? Because no other character be it NPC or PC will be able to take him seriously anymore. We’ve had player characters stretch their necks out for other player characters simply because OOC the player didn’t want to hurt the feelings of another player by contributing to the death of their player character. In one situation a character risked alienating his entire clan and coming under the direct attention of his elder when his own writing described the character as an opportunistic snake in the grass. These types of situations come up a lot. Most not so extreme. A lot of players are subtle when engaging in this type of meta-gaming. Some people are out to win some OOC popularity contest of their own making. We’ve seen this in other games a lot. It’s not something you should be engaging in here. In WoDG, the character must be approached ICly.
- Don’t risk your character’s credibility. You shouldn’t risk your character’s credibility by engaging in scenes that don’t work for them. If you’re playing a vagrant and a scene is going on in some high society ballroom, it’s likely that your character wouldn’t be there (This probably doesn’t apply to Nosferatu crashing Toreador parties and ruining them. That’s fun.). Acting in a way that isn’t really IC just to make things interesting isn’t going to do anything but make your character a buffoon or worse. For example, jumping on the nearest mortal character and feeding on them in the middle of a crowded street is probably going to get your character killed. Turning into a wolf and rolling on your belly to be pet at the feet of a girl on a park bench is probably a good way to write your character into the annals of the truly moronic for good and you only have yourself to blame for it.
- Don't squash the conflict out of a character. Some people are bad at conflict IRL, some people are deathly afraid that if their character doesn't go along with things other players will hate him OOC. No character is without its flaws. Inner demons and personal obstacles provide some great character motivation and goals. Some characters just aren't good with other characters for whatever reason. A character who is perfect and a complete white hat is as dull as dishwater and will quickly put everyone around them to sleep.
- Don't force a square peg into a round hole. We have character sheets for a reason; so that we can know just how good someone is at something like how smart they are, or how quick their reflexes are. It is easy to forget when in the thick of RP that your characters also have to adhere to their dots. Don't try and play something that your character doesn't have. Just because a scene calls for someone to know how to fix a car doesn't mean your character has the skills for it. The dice play right into this with the rolls and a good roll or a bad roll can really turn a scene on its ear and make for some very interesting role play if you just let it happen.
- Don’t be impatient. This is especially the case for some of those sneaky spies out there. If you’re playing a character that relies on scrying or sneaking, you’ve chosen to play a character type that is quite challenging and takes a lot of discipline. You’ll have to resist getting into a lot of scenes, but then at the same time you need to set yourself up so that your character can engage others directly so as not to be totally a downtime driven character. This type of character is not for novice actors or players.
- Don’t write yourself into a corner. Conversely, there’s a balance to be had here with what’s stated above. You can’t become so inflexible and narrow focused that you write your character into irrelevance. That’s not helpful to you or to the rest of the players in the game as a source of material is otherwise killed. You should find and work out some plausible motivations that will allow your character to fit into most scenes.
- Don’t approach character development from an OOC point of view. There’s a tendency for players to look at their downtime and requirements for character development like table top players and we see it bleed over into the chat and that’s completely unacceptable. Like terrible actors, it translates into wooden performances. The staff can literally see where you’re taking a check box approach to things, “Got that scene in so that I can take more subterfuge. Check. Got that scene in so that I can seek within sixty days. Check. Got that crossover scene in so that I can get a downtime ticket in. Check.” All your IC conversations look forced and unnatural and it’s clear that you’re not putting yourself into the shoes of your character. Don’t do it. It won't get you your goodies any faster because it tends to annoy staff.
Giving our Antagonists a Little Love
In addition to these RP tips, we've created an article especially for our villains to help them survive the challenge of their very challenging vocation. Please see: Antagonists and PvP
Help! I’ve Been a Moron! Now What?
Everyone has been a moron at one time or another and messed up playing their character. Some have messed up more than others. In this game you’re expected to soldier on. We have policies in place that state that your character is ultimately your responsibility and that you’re required to be a good sport. If everyone ditched their character or got things retconned because they didn’t like how a story played out or how a scene went, nothing would happen and we don’t do that in WoDG.
We STs aren’t going to want to spend time having to delete scenes and try to patch things together just because someone was being an asshole with their character. We’ve got other things we want to spend our time on.
We’re not going to want to spend time working through yet another character sheet because a player failed to watch over their character and research it properly before delving IC and making a mess of things by acting like a table top player or ignoring the advise of STs.
We have an entire game world to bring to life and to keep straight. We do our homework and make sure that we’re in the proper headspace to assume a wide variety of roles. STs in WoDG give 110%. We feel that given our time investment in bringing a quality game to our community, players of that community can at least give back 100% when playing one character.
Don’t ever ask for do-overs and don’t ever ask to ditch a character.
Role Play vs. Roll Play
We’ve heard over and over again the pretentious saying, “I role play and don’t roll play.”
I seriously would like to kick every idiot in the crotch who types this or says this to someone else. Whomever coined the saying, is a complete and total jackass. We’ve found that these pretentious snowflakes that spout this like they are God’s gift to RP are usually the whiniest jerks, biggest hams, and most terrible actors on the face of the planet. They are usually the ones that freak out if anything they didn’t script happens to their characters. Anyone that doesn’t get that rolls of the dice are important plot devices for interjecting impartial randomness into scenes needs to go somewhere else. Playing complications are as much a valid RP content generator as playing out flawless planning. In fact, it's probably more rewarding and valid.
When you’re in a scene with someone, don't be afraid to ask for a roll. If your character is asking himself what another character might be thinking, then you should probably make an empathy check and have the other player elaborate. If you think someone is giving your character a line of bullshit, make a credibility check! Find out if your character actually picks up on it! Just because you can see what's going on doesn't mean your character will. It can be loads more fun too as you let scenes develop. In short, there is a time to throw the dice and a time to just RP. It's not going to offend other players if you ask for a roll or want to make a roll on anther character.