On Playing the Role and Not Just the Stats

This thief looks lost.

This thief looks lost.

I’ve been getting deeper and deeper into tabletop RPGs again after some time away from the hobby. As I’m also writing bit more, it’s natural that I’m going to tackle it as a topic more from time to time. Lately I’ve been thinking about role-playing styles, and one thing I sometimes see that drives me a little nuts about other players.

They don’t role-play enough.

Okay, before I get deeper into this, you should know that I’m probably not talking about you. That is, no one I currently play with. This is more something I’ve witnessed in watching other groups play online, or in reading about various game session stories shared here and there. In online discussions with some other folk, missed opportunities for role-playing is not an uncommon issue.

What do I mean by not role-play enough?

Well, it’s this approach some players take where they choose a race or class more for the perceived benefits in playing those races or classes than for any intention of role-playing in that character. I’m talking about elven rangers who want the benefits of speed or dexterity, some spell casting, and an animal friend when–but if you were to meet them in game and didn’t see their character sheet–you’d think they were just another human fighter with some added skills they conned the DM into letting them have.

Figure… an elven ranger belongs in the forest, not in the city. They are traditionally uneasy in dungeons, but more at home in wilderness adventures. Yet we often see these guys running a blacksmith shop or tavern in a city. What up with that? Or how about the thief character with stats put into pick-pocketing and burglary spending all of his or her time in the forest? Squirrels don’t have pockets to pick.

Don’t even get me started on Drow walking around like they don’t stick out in a crowd.

[Scenario suggestion: An elven druid goes to a big city for the first time to recruit a city-born-and-bred rogue with burglary skills in order to help her break into a seemingly impenetrable tower deep in the forest.]

Yeah, elves blend in city settings.

Yeah, elves blend in city settings.

Yes, our player characters in RPGs are adventurers who often go outside their comfort zones… but do they have to be so comfortable there? Maybe when the party visits town, the dwarven druid decides she’s going to break away and spend the night in the forest? Or maybe instead of the cleric bunking with the others in the rowdy tavern, he heads off to the local chapter house or chapel for the night?

It’s a lack of playing the role that bothers me, and I think this does a disservice to the player. When playing a role, play with some imagination, and also with some verisimilitude.

Example: I recall a minotaur player I gamed with once who was very aware of how large he was and how wide his horns were… and the trouble that could be in close quarters. It make for a more interesting experience when dungeon delving with him and navigating through tight spaces. I also know of a rather mischievous (but very useful to have in a fight) pixie who annoys the hell out of my character (a human cleric) because that’s just the sort of thing he’d do in character, and he does it well. He gives me something to play off of, and I can give him something in return. That’s interesting role-play for everyone. Our party’s monk mediates often, is a vegetarian, and likes to travel by rooftop. That’s a monk. Our rangers tend to stick to the outskirts of town. There is a “farmer” in our group who is hiding the secret of his actual class. He plays mysterious quite well. He maintains his cover as a farmer outside of town, but we all know he’s hiding something, and I expect that whatever he is hiding is perfectly in character.

My point is… play the role, don’t just play the stats. It’s neat to have an elf or dwarf character who can see in the dark. My human can’t do that. But read up on how elves or dwarves behave, what their desires and dislikes are, then play them. Better yet–identify the weakness of your character class or race and use that. One reason why I like to play humans is because they’re often at a disadvantage with other races. Humans can’t see in the dark, can’t go without sleep, are susceptible to sleep and charm spells… you get the idea. I think you’d be pleasantly surprised how well working in a weakness can make for a richer story with your DM and other players.

Have fun!

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