hit counter code Who's Acting
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Who's Acting
Author: Keith Haney

Over the years, I have used many metaphors to describe role-playing to people who have never played fantasy role-playing games. The explanation goes something like this. Role-playing is like acting without a script or preconceived dialogue. The players improvise their lines based on the scenario created by the Game Master (GM). The GM’s role is similar to a director of a play or movie. The job of the GM is to create the framework for the improvisation. Together the GM sets the scene and the players improvise. I then describe further that when we play, we gather around a table. The director provides maps and drawings of areas created for the adventure. The GM will usually begin with an introductory story or synopsis of the previous events then the session begins.

I’m not sure the metaphor works as well as I would like it to. It seems to entice and intimidate at the same time. For many, the thought of acting is too daunting. In truth there are good role–players and not-so-good role-players, but acting has little to do with it. Actors and role-players share many common traits, but role-playing differs in that the player is not performing like an actor on stage (in most cases). If one were to observe a role-playing session without benefit of the audio portion it might look like a corporate boardroom, sans suits.

I digress –- The point of my discussion is that a good actor may be a good role-player or not. It is about improvisation first and acting second.

Role-playing, like most activities has a learning curve. The length of the road depends on the skills of the player. An experienced player will be able to spot novice players with ease. Novice players tend to desire aspects of role-playing that experienced players eschew.

Novice Players
Several traits are common to beginner players. Beginning players tend to be slightly reluctant to make choices that would make them look stupid, which manifests itself as taciturn involvement. The problem with that is role-playing is an arena where you test out ideas and see potential outcomes.

Second they tend to act like themselves in voice and action. Here is an opportunity to really place ones psyche on the line. If you know you are playing yourself and make poor decisions the opportunity to feel like you had a successful foray into role-playing is diminished.

Further, beginners tend to select non-human characters and bring little to the table to express that they have an inkling of the culture they represent. For them it is about skill points, special attacks, and unique abilities.

Seasoned Players
Assuming the player is a mature well-adjusted person, you would soon start to see traits that indicate that the person is now experimenting with voice inflections, mannerism changes, and character acting. At this stage of development the player starts to make meaningful contributions to a good gaming session. Something more than just having lucky dice rolls.

Here too is where I would say that stars are born. Players who are rewarded with positive feedback from their GM and fellow players are poised to continue toward success. The rewards for good role-playing tend not to be getting acting jobs or a landing a role in a local play, but more substantially the person grows in confidence and self-assuredness.

Veteran Players
This category is the coveted prize of every GM. One veteran player is worth all the blood, sweat, and tears involved in creating an expansive compelling world.

Experienced players tend to spend more time defining the motivations of their character. They mold their character into the world in such a way that the world starts to reflect their influence. They spend their time role-playing and strategizing, delivering performances true to their character and creating moments of humor, passion, strife and all the other colors of human drama. Veteran players collect gold, magic, and prowess as a byproduct experience spent as a character in another place and time. Not as the sole reason to exist and adventure. For them the journey is more important than the destination.

The Game Masters Duty
Endeavor to create interesting worlds to explore. Provide situational milieus where real emotions can be acted out. Weave a framework in your campaign to promote emotional experiences as true to real life as possible in an imaginary scenario. The goal, after all, is to spend time with friends in fellowship. In the end it comes down to a room full of friends getting to know each other better and sharing some unique memories on the way.