RPG MUSINGS Play The Game You Want To Play

Go Ahead and Talk About Your Character

Let’s say that you, as your average tabletop RPG player, go somewhere online. Let’s further suppose that this place you go to is for fans of RPGs, a place they can hang out and chat. Let’s go one step further and suggest that while at this place, you start talking about the character or characters you play or maybe you bring up the campaign you run or are playing in. What will the reaction be? Well, most of the time it won’t be positive. Either people will ignore what you have to say about these things or they’ll actively deride you for them. That’s because there’s an unspoken rule with tabletop gamers: You don’t talk about your characters and you don’t talk about your games. Nobody wants to hear about your level 8 Fighter/Wizard with the +3 Flametongue Bastard sword. They don’t want to hear about your Essence 5 Dawn Caste Solar. People will yawn if you try to talk about the black necropolis you just designed for your campaign.

Okay, so why is that the case? I can think of a few reasons. First is that any anecdotes about your character or game are usually not quite as interesting, exciting, or funny as you think they are. After all, you were more directly involved than any of your audience. That time your character leaped over a gaping chasm full of lava so he could rescue the fallen princess might seem totally awesome to you, but the people hearing the story just may not care as much. The really nifty plot twist that you came up with as the DM might not be interesting at all without a 15 minute explanation to give people the context. The second reason is that anybody who ~isn’t~ a gamer is going to be even more bored, if not actively annoyed, when you talk about these things. The mundanes do not parse geek well, guys, or else they would probably be geeks themselves. I also think there’s a shame factor in not wanting to talk or hear people talk about their gaming. There’s an unfortunate and ridiculous stereotype that only hopeless social rejects who never get laid are the only kinds of people who actually want to talk about their gaming. So people avoid doing it to avoid the perception that they’re one of those people or that they associate with those sorts of people.

So, knowing all this, I’m going to encourage everybody to talk about these things anyway. Talk about your character. Did your Dragonborn Paladin singlehandedly turn the tide of battle against a horde of orcs? Did your street samurai make such a sweet sniper shot that your entire runner team got off clean? Was your Investigator the only one who survived the encounter with the Cult of the Black Goat with their insanity intact? Tell these stories. If you’re running games, talk about those too. Did you have a really awesome flashback session where players got to play how they all met up and started adventuring together? Did you come up with an incredible villain that your players really love to hate? Have you designed a temple ruin filled with unique puzzles and challenges? Don’t be ashamed of this gaming hobby you have. It’s no worse than what other people do with their free time for fun. Arguably it’s one to be proud of, because it encourages cooperation with other people, critical thinking, and creativity.

Why, if there’s such a stigma against them, am I suggesting that people discuss them anyway? Because there’s a wealth of knowledge and experience in those stories. In talking about your character, you’re telling people what you find fun and memorable. You’re talking about the things you enjoyed enough to have them stick in your memory after the game may be long gone. Maybe it was some cool combat maneuver that saved everybody, maybe your character was betrayed by another PC, maybe you did something so totally unexpected that the GM’s story took a wild turn.You’re telling people what kind of games you enjoy and what sort of characters you like to play. You may give people ideas for what they can do with their own character, inspire them to try something different, or look at a situation from a different point of view.

For GMs, telling your stories and ideas is arguably even more valuable to the community at large. It may help newer GMs learn some of what works and what doesn’t when running a game or give them a plot idea that they’d never even considered before. Even experienced GMs can benefit from hearing what you’ve done in your own home campaign by hearing of different monsters, traps, plotlines, complications, and NPCs. Maybe your GMing stories will help convince someone who hasn’t run a game before that they should give it a try. It might get a player or group of players to consider trying a different game entirely.

Now, for all that I’m encouraging people to ignore the taboo, you should still be aware of your audience when you’re doing so. People who don’t play games are going to need some damned amazing stories from you to be interested, so really question whether the anecdote you’ve got ready is so incredible that you’ll get past that barrier. Even with other gamers, you should put in a little thought first. If your story requires a lot of explanation and context to be understood, let alone appreciated, you might want to skip sharing it. If your audience is made up of hardcore World of Darkness fans, they’re not likely to enjoy talking about your D&D campaign. But although I think that there are some pitfalls along the way, the benefits to be gained by sharing more of our experiences and telling more of our personal stories while gaming far outstrip whatever boring or annoying situations might also arise from moving past this particular gaming taboo.

About

WolfSamurai (a.k.a. Aaron) has been a long time roleplaying geek, starting back with 2e Shadowrun almost 18 years ago. Through the years he’s played everything from D&D to Call of Cthulhu to Werewolf to Kult to Big Eyes, Small Mouth, and many other games. Recently he's branched into more indie fare with Technoir, Bulldogs!, Wu Xing, Dungeon World, and Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple. Aaron hopes to eventually be writing his own game products as well as fiction.

7 Responses to “Go Ahead and Talk About Your Character”

  • In my experience, the big reason one shouldn’t talk about his or her characters is that your character is the product of your game, and the listener–be they geek or non-geek–doesn’t play in that game. You can tell me about your +3 flametongue bastard sword, but I have no idea if your DM doesn’t hand them out like candy. Worst of all, it’s probably quite like the +3 lightning bastard sword I already have. Most any story you tell as a character will be either so similar to another player’s story as to be irrelevant, or so outlandish as to bring into question how this experience can relate to the common game you share. This is also why I absolutely can’t hear about your experience while using house rule X: The farther you deviate from the core rules of the game, the less I’ll be able to relate as a fellow player.

    DM stories are different for the very reasons you listed above, it becomes very much like talking shop among a group of writers or even craftsmen. But as a player, I’ll constantly be questioning how much treasure, how much xp, how much die-roll fudges your DM doled out to give you that level 30 godslayer Paladin/Battlemind who totally wiped out Demogorgon in two hits.

    I think 4e’s design has gone a long way to address this problem, with the prominent display of unique solos in most books and the design of class builds. Each goes a ways to establishing the common play experience among disparate groups that will have to be the basis of me giving a damn about your character in any given conversation.

  • A brave first post!

    I cautiously second your urging. There’s nothing wrong with discussing geek topics. The problem comes when you discuss them like a geek. Like any iffy subject, gamers should bring their gaming exploits up briefly. If – and only if – your companion shows interest, should the discussion continue.

  • […] honour of this post by Wolfsamurai over at rpgmusings, I’m going to tell a story about a spontaneous plan the […]

  • @Arcane
    I do think that a known baseline does make it easier to understand and enjoy a tabletop gaming story, but I don’t think that things should be limited to that. If it’s a genuinely fun or interesting story, the context of the mechanics shouldn’t matter as much. I’ve heard and enjoyed stories for games that I have never played and am entirely unfamiliar with. That being said, if the story is more about the mechanics than anything else, it’s probably already not a fun or interesting story to begin with.

    @Colmarr
    That’s why I had that caveat in the last paragraph. Although I think people should talk about their gaming more, I do think that they have to be aware of who they’re talking about it with. Not everybody is going to be interested and not everybody should. Even as a fellow gamer, I don’t want to hear every story being told. But I do think that there’s room for people to do it more.

  • I agree with the statement here. I have struggled with this myself, from time to time.

    The biggest pitfall is the extended narrative. It’e like you’re telling a joke, and the punchline is, “You had to be there.” Not only is the punchline not terribly effective, but those listening may become annoyed by the fact that there’s really no payoff or point of reference for them.

    I tend to be a little more stealthy with my anecdotes, and there are some I keep just for me. When I’m being stealthy, I tend to say, “This reminds me of a story I heard,” or something similar. It keeps people from thinking you’re roping them into *another ridiculous gaming story*.

  • I think the biggest problem is that for every interesting story with a strong narrative you would get 100 stories that go like this:

    “Man I used to have this half dragon-half drow who was a 10th level fighter / 14th level barbarian / 8th level monk / 35th level wizard who had 38 strength and a +13 insta-death mega sword which he got from killing Tiamat…”

  • I have to be honest, I don’t like to listen to someone talk about their characters. Even in my own D&D group I don’t really want to hear about the players’ old characters. Maybe it’s the lack of context, or the great enthusiasm that someone uses to relate the story of their great barbarian that sounds just like Conan or their twist on a Drow Ranger with two swords; but whatever it is, it just doesn’t hold my attention.

    I’d personally like to see people talk about gaming in general more, but I’m not sure I really want to hear about their specific characters.