Freeform Roleplaying

Posted on July 11, 2011

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Wow. It’s been a long time since I’ve last posted. This is mainly due to the fact that my internet at home is out, and I didn’t really feel like typing a post on a cell phone. Once I realized I could use the computers at the library to post, it was just pure laziness.

But I digress.

Lately I’ve been fixated on the topic of Narrativism in roleplaying games. Here’s some food for thought: If the players are controlling protagonists moving through an actual plot, then why does a session report translated into prose feel so different than an actual story? My answer is that in traditional RPGs, everything is tailored to make the outcomes and actions and conflicts “realistic”. Stories aren’t realistic. They’re stories. They’re full of million-to-one chances that go right at just the right moment, rather than ten-to-one chances that go right when the dice feel like it. When something happens, it’s because it drives the story in the right direction, not because of randomness or shrewd resource management. In short, probability is art’s bitch when it comes to stories. In RPGs, the reverse is true.

Recently I learned that one of my favorite sites, TvTropes, has a very active PBP roleplaying section of their forum. I quickly learned that a majority of their threads are Freeform, meaning the roleplaying has zero or nearly zero rules. Usually, there are just a few guidelines mostly relating to play style. The traditional Game Master/Player relationship is kept (sometimes not even that), but nothing else. Success at actions is left up to the player to decide, and conflict resolution is usually either decided by the GM or resolved by one party simply accepting defeat for the sake of the story. Basically, playing a character in this instance means narrating the bits of the story relating to your character, and leaving the world and NPCs to the GM. This allows much more narrative control, making it more like a collaborative story than an RPG. The roleplaying is still there, but there’s more focus on writing a story than being a character.

I’ve realized some things with this. First, I am a die hard Narrativist (which, given my interest in storytelling, isn’t surprising; perhaps this has also led to my hatred of munchkins). Second, freeforming allows for a more compelling and entertaining narrative, and is just plain fun. I recommend it to gamers and writers alike. Third, be careful creating a half-wolf character in a silly campaign. It leads to very freaked-out catmen.

Stay smart, folks.

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Posted in: Thoughts/Rants