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Saturday, 4 October 2014

If you like chess, would you roleplay in order to play chess?

This is an answer to +John Wick 's post "Chess isn't an RPG". As such, I wrote it in second person... although I doubt he knows about my blog. Ah well. Sorry if the writing style bothers anyone.

Just in case +John Wick reads that: I had missed the original article, so couldn't be expected to express disagreement...I only noticed the follow-up. But hope that does count as a bit more than "UR wrong" with colourful language. Also please note, I'm not hiding behind Internet anonimity).

So, Mr. Wick, let me start by saying I disagree with your assessment of chess as an RPG. Well, at least I disagree partially.
I do think you're right that the way some games are played is unlike how roleplaying games are supposed to work.
I do agree that combat balance is only a part of it and is given too much spotlight in discussions. In fact, I think the best stories would have unbalanced combats.
There are things I disagree with, though, especially with the way you're presenting your arguments.
1) You can play CoC without roleplaying, as well as Vampire. I've seen it with Vampire. They're still roleplaying games. The criterion you're using about what isn't a roleplaying game isn't sound, IMO.
2) The definition of roleplaying games you're using doesn't cover the situation where the game isn't rewarding you for following your character's goals and motivations, but punishing you. Yet I'd tell you someting a character of mine said IC once (because what kind of a roleplaying post that would be if it didn't have some IC quote ;)?):
"You believe nonsense, kid, nonsense teachers have put in your head. The word doesn't turn around what you believe in. You can believe greatly in your righteousness, you can even be righteus - and still get killed by a ruffian who doesn't know right from wrong, nor cares about which one is on his side. You can be fighting to defend your love, and this not being a goddamn romance, you can still die and your love can perish along moments later. You can be a noble warrior, and get poisoned by your own country's leaders - history knows enough examples! Despite that, your heart is in the right place: you should act as you already do. Because that's how a man must act, in spite of the world trying to hurt you for not taking the easy way out. And now I'm going to teach you how to survive the spite of lesser men. The first truth of our school is to take the easiest approach: you've already made it hard enough for yourself coming to this moment."
Thing is, what he said was true in the system:- which wasn't giving any bonuses for pursuing what you believe in. He didn't even get any kind of Fate points out of being righteous. It wasn't mechanical, he just believed in it. Any fight he participated in had the possibility to kill him dead, too. Does it mean it wasn't a roleplaying game? In that case: I've had most of my best roleplaying sessions in non-roleplaying games, so what's the point of having roleplaying games?
3) You make it seem as if roleplaying is different from combat. Thing is, combat is part of roleplaying - you're just roleplaying the actions of an indicidual during a violent physical conflict (and before, and afrer-both of these being stuff some GMs forget, alas). The problem is the same as the problem you've got with the "Social" category in Vampire: when the players and GMs forget that it's not just an attack roll to cause pain, but getting into range, finding a moment for it and punching someone in the kidneys. It's not defence, it's grabbing someone by the ear and ripping it off before he gets the kidney shot.
Or, as stated in your post, it's not a defence, it's thumb-stabbing the big bruiser before he can get a hold of you. With your right thumb, of course. I mean, do you think that Presidio clip you published didn't involve playing a role? Because I'd disagree: it was very much playing a role, during a fight. That's why actors study stunt combat, and not because theatre goers are die-hard D&D fans who expect to see a fight for this session.
The solution to that, however, isn't to ban balanced combat systems. It's using a better combat system, one which makes it seem more real (or more whatever-it-is-supposed-to-be-like-in-the-genre). And if the system actually rewards roleplaying, my experience - especially from Exalted, Legends of the Wulin, DCC, Enemy gods, and Unknown Armies - says that players will roleplay.

So yeah, I guess my point is that you're idenytifying a problem right, but are mistaken about the reasons and your solution to the issue might suffer as a result. Personally, my approach lately has been to consider the rules, the reward system, the setting, the GM advice and the text itself in the book as more or less equal components. A great game aligns them all to do the same thing: to present a situation that's conductive to roleplaying.