Thursday, 13 May 2010

Text to Tabletop 5: Layers of Players

One more resurrection and recap of my old posts, adapted to roleplaying. In 1996 I wrote about the second-person narrative of the adventure game. Derived from the convention of a game master telling you what's going on, second-person leaves the question of who exactly you are open to three interpretations. I've rewritten these for the tabletop context. Just as the interface is different, so the interface between player and story protagonist is very different. In the roleplaying game, the interface character is a game puppet instead of the text adventure's game protagonist. If the game protagonist is built up of in-game motives and actions, the puppet adds a set of in-game characteristics to that mix.
The Player
This is you, the real human being sitting at the table playing the game. Your goal is to have fun. This means different things for different players. Adding on to your puppet, discovering new things, controlling a world full of risky surprises, gaining greater understanding of the meaning in the fictional world, and expressing yourself, are just some of the things you seek out. You are the basis for the other two characters; the game puppet's strategy is only as good as your smarts and knowledge, the story protagonist's actions are determined by your willingness to act in line with that story. And when you see a rust monster, you know that critter is going to damage your weapons, because you read about it in the Monster Manual.
The Game Puppet
This is you, a cipher of a figure with a class, race and level for a name. You are built up of stats, words and possessions on a sheet, embodied perhaps in 28mm of lead or plastic. You are limited, and this limits the player. You want to do something, but the rules or the GM's ruling won't let you. In spite of your limitations, you want to carry out the best strategy at all times, the one that will let you deal out more points, take less points, and collect more pieces and points. You know that critter is going to rust out your weapons ... never mind how, but you know you have to take a round to change weapons to your wooden club and hit it, even though the club only does 1d6 damage.
The Story Protagonist
This is you, Jhin-Dho, a half-elven sorcerer's apprentice who has an elaborate backstory involving the succession to a royal throne and a family intrigue and he also trained as a puma burglar and inherited this glassteel sword... Anyway, your goal is to stop the villains and find the true heir to the Kingdom of Regalia while staying alive. It's a bit odd that you keep listening at doors and tapping in front of you with a pole, but hey, being a seasoned adventurer is part of the story, right? And it's only because you have heard tales around the campfire of the wily rust monster that you put away your sword and reach for your shillelagh when you see the telltale tentacles and propeller tail.
I don't have much to say about these layers right now, but I present them as a vocabulary that might be useful in the future. Quite a lot of differences in the style of games can be traced to which of these layers takes precedence; but all three are always present and communicating with each other in some way.


  1. Sounds like it could go into an introduction section of an rpg. It's certainly more insightful than any such I can recall.

  2. Thanks. I may indeed put it into any rules I produce!