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 Roleplaying Theory: Character Types and Scene Tone
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Denealus
 Tuesday, November 19 2013 @ 12:08 AM UTC (Read 4951 times)  
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Now. I'm not sure if a thread like this already exists on the forums. It might. I'm late in the game on this whole forums thing, so I can't say I haven't missed things in the couple of years of stuff on this piece. However, I've been wanting to do this post for a while.

First of all, I have to explain what this post is not. This is not a post on how to RP properly. It is not a post on how not to godmode. It is not a post on how not to be an autoer, how to make a character people want to interact with, or even meant as a shunning for people's roleplaying styles. There's plenty of that elsewhere and I don't need to retread old ground. If you don't know what godmoding is, then me teaching you isn't going to help cause there's no reason for you to listen to me.

What this thread is meant to be is a discussion. Some of this is a discussion I've already had privately with people. It's just my observations on some of the things that I see in roleplaying; some of the different roles people take, some of the types of scenes that are out there. I feel that recognizing the different roles and tones helps you be a better roleplayer, but that's only my personal opinion. Other people may have other observations that...you know what?

Long-winded.

Ahem. Without further ado...

===Character Types/Roles in Story===

Would it shock you to realize that I tend to notice four character roles in Story? Yes, just four. There's different branches of the like, true, and some cross multiple lines. Maybe someone else notices a fifth or sixth type that I haven't seen but...

The four types are:

  • Instigator
  • Catalyst
  • Scene Kids
  • Wallflowers

...still looking for a better name for that third one. But anyhow, what are these and what do I mean?

* Instigators are the people who start action. Doesn't matter what the action is, they start it full cloth out of nowhere. No one really gave them that prompt. It may be something as simple as a tea ceremony. It may be something as complicated as being chased by the outpost guards, but something happens with the instigator. Something that begs some sort of reaction.

* Catalysts. Catalysts don't necessarily start much. What they do do is grab the ball that the Instigator is running and escalate it. That person being chased by the guards? Maybe they want the object too and make a grab for it. Maybe they go to trip the guard. They up the ante, hit the volley back, give the Instigator(s) something new to react to that's still within the confines of the scene. Maybe they pass the buck to someone else. But the main point is they keep the ball rolling in some way.

* Scene Kids? They react. Sure. But mostly observation. The main difference between Scene Kids and Catalysts is Catalysts get involved in some way. Scene Kids don't. Or their involvement is minimal. Instigator has a magical mac guffin on them? Okay. A Scene Kid will take it. But they won't do anything with it. They'll comment on it, shake their heads, walk on by. The scene is acknowledged, then moved on from. They're literally kids on the scene.

* Wallflowers take Scene Kids to another extreme. They don't interact. They're just there. They might be silent or uninterested in the scene entirely. They might write themselves out in the middle of another scene. Or just be off doing their own thing unrelated to the main action taking place. Scene Kids are "there," but Wallflowers are just present. Warm bodies who happen to occupy the same place at the same time.

The divide here is active action versus passive action. The first two are very active. They are very active voice and making things happen in the scene. They are trying to let the action continue to rise and spiral, perhaps out of control. The rising action matches the scene tone (which I'll get into in the next post) so it doesn't have to be all action-packed, but it is there. The second two are passive action. They let the scene happen to them. They're cogs in the wheel, but not keeping the thing going. Passive action slows down or stops the scene. There's no volley. There's definitely a time and place to run the scene down, certainly, but it does make interactions a little bit more difficult...

...now onto scene tone....


 
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Denealus
 Tuesday, November 19 2013 @ 12:38 AM UTC  
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===Scene Tone===

Just like with player types, every scene conveys a certain tone. Now for me, I try to read tone. There's some variability and some alternate rules to some tone arguments. And there's also the argument of "Well, if it's in an outpost, it's free game." While that's technically true, and something I agree with, matching the tone of a scene can go a long way towards whether you're adding to a scene or really more being a Wallflower. In my opinion, of course.

Again, some exceptions to this can be made. If you're comic relief, comic relief with proper timing can help break a serious scene. But a serious scene with too much comic relief can garner resentment at the people who are taking the whole ordeal seriously. And not in a "Breaking Rule 2" seriously, but a "this is an important thing to my character" seriously.

That said, there's a few different scene tones that I can see. A lot of these aren't exclusive. There are cross-overs. And reading a crossover can be important. A Serious Action scene is a lot different in tone than a Humorous Action scene, for example:

Action - Action scenes have movement. That movement can be someone trying a dramatic fight against someone with cuts and bullets coming from every angle. Or it can be a character stealing a fresh pie for a window sill. Either way, there's chase. There's movement. There's action going on. Scene position changes a lot in action scenes, usually and they're dynamic.

Drama - Now Drama is different from DRAMA. Drama is less angst or suffering and more mystery. Intrigue. Something doesn't quite add up, something interesting, someone suspicious of someone else's actions or intentions. It's sometimes hard to be Dramatic without being DRAMATIC, and the main difference I would say is how other characters react to it. If other characters balk at the drama and move away, you're probably being over the top. If other players move towards it or play with it, then it's probably being done "right".

Humorous - Slapstick. Comedy. The players in this scene aren't meant to be taking this thing seriously. Jokes are being thrown out, action involves banana peels and rubber chickens, there may be some exaggeration, flanderization, or unrealism about some of the characters, but it plays with the Rule of Funny. Generally light hearted and good natured, though there can be a touch of seriousness in this too.

Serious - Characters are taking the scene with utmost seriousness. People could actually get hurt, feelings are important, the impact of the scene is close to the heart of the character or the character's motivation. Again, this is different from DRAMA. DRAMA makes it so you think people have to care about or sympathize with your character. Drama and Serious scenes just allow the characters and players to be felt for. It doesn't try to force an emotion, it just happens.

There are probably more, but again, there's a split here. The first two are somewhat opposites of each other. As are the last two. You may find a Humorous Drama, but you'll rarely find a Humorous Serious scene. If you do, it's a matter of degrees. The humor is small comic relief in a sea of seriousness. Matching Scene Tone helps keep you from being a Wallflower, because it means you're melding into the scene that's being presented before you and being a part of the interactive story, rather than sitting off on the sidelines.

Anyhow! I'm interested to hear other people's thoughts on this discussion. Or further bits of roleplaying theory others have experienced.


 
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Svergon
 Tuesday, November 19 2013 @ 01:09 AM UTC  
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Your lists of types seem to be reasonable generalizations, and offhand I don't have anything to add to them.

Except, I do have a name suggestion on your third character type (My character drifts between three and four much of the time, and so I would hate to be called a 'scene kid'). I think 'bystander' fits, as being a person with no real involvement, but which is present and likely to be paying attention.


 
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Denealus
 Tuesday, November 19 2013 @ 03:39 AM UTC  
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Bystander is a good term for it! Yeah, it was really me not being able to come up with a term for it.


 
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Denealus
 Thursday, November 21 2013 @ 06:02 PM UTC  
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===More Scene Tones===

Okay, it was brought to my attention that there was a scene tone missing from here and tried to figure out how to word it. I think I have it.

Everyday Life: This is a scene tone that encompasses normal everyday things. People chatting over coffee or tea, doing the laundry, hanging out with friends, being lovey-dovey with a loved one. Usually these scenes are lower effort than the other scenes, but not necessarily. You can have a serious everyday life scene or a humorous one. Mostly scenes that are only everyday life without having anything else attached aren't necessarily as engaging to people outside the scene, but everybody needs their down time.

Curious what other people feel leads to engaging scenes?


 
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Hairy Mary
 Thursday, November 21 2013 @ 10:14 PM UTC  
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Your character types (apart from the first) seem to me to belong on one continuous spectrum, let's call it...involvement? Interactivity? Whatever. The point being that you could divide that into discrete chunks however you wanted. It's entirely possible that people can slowly move up the scale, possibly as they gain in confidence.

Your original scene tones fall onto two axis, Physical/Verbal and Serious/Slapstick. The final - Everyday Life - differs in...what? Importance in some sense?

One thing about Everyday Life is that a lot of people consider it to be rather more transitory. When I write a scene I like to think that other people at least get a chance to read and enjoy it. I like it to stay on the front page for at least 24 hours. I'm pretty sure that a lot of people feel this way about what they write.

A lot of people don't however. They're socially interacting, and have no more interest in other people reading it than any conversation they might have with their mate in the street. These scenes are more likely to be EL ones, but not exclusively. So that's another axis that scenes can differ in.


 
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Denealus
 Friday, November 22 2013 @ 10:59 PM UTC  
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Woo! Discussion!

I like this. Definitely. And that's a good observation and a good point. There's definitely a continuum here. And it's true. Everyday Life scenes can be of personal importance of a character, but probably are more important to the characters involved and not quite as much to the others watching the scene. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Like I said, characters need downtime sometimes. They need a chance to unwind. They need a chance to chat with friends about what's been going on. Sometimes narrators like that too. But, as you said, they're more transitory and probably not scenes that will grab anyone outside of those directly involved. Everyday Life scenes can be spiced up a little too. A cooking scene in everyday life can turn humorous if the person is a horrendous cook. I had a scene about teaching someone pool which was awesome because it lead to pool balls flying everywhere because the other character just didn't understand the game. You can argue these aren't exactly everyday life, but it's kind of a grey area.

It's definitely not a set discrete margin like any means. I would agree with that. Scene tones and character types fall on the continuum. Knowing where your character falls and what builds rising action and not helps people, I think, but it's not a thing everybody can do right away. In fact, the Island and any RP community would probably go haywire if everyone were Instigators all the time, because everyone would be trying to do their own thing and their own instigation.


 
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Mr Geppetto
 Monday, December 02 2013 @ 03:17 PM UTC  
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Top of mind, I'd like to add another type of player/character/interaction: The Scene Crasher (or Breaker, if you prefer). Someone who enters a well established scene (something that's being going on for a while, with more than, lessay, two characters involved) and starts doing something else, totally unrelated, without interacting with what is going on at the time. Whatever the reason. Maybe it's a subcategory of Instigator, I dunno, but it's something I've seen quite a few times. (Disclaimer: I haven't played in quite sometime, I've been just lurking the forums from time to time, so this type might have gone the way of the dodo in the meantime).

Another type of player&circumstance kind of thing is a player/writer that uses e few different alts to create a scene/story with or without other player's input. Call it the Master Puppeteer? I've seen that done beautifully quite a few times as well, by different writers and thought worth mentioning.

How does that sound?


PS Funny thing is, once you have those categories down pat, it's useless to fight: I needed to see where me&my character(s) fit. And the answer is Instigator/Catalyst, with a propensity for slapstick/humor, almost to the exclusion of everything else.


 
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Hairless
 Wednesday, December 04 2013 @ 06:45 AM UTC  
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Hmm. When I'm not overtly trying to make plays on words . . . .
I usually try to set an inviting, non-threatening scene tone for improvisation - everyday life, if you will. I enter carrying a prop of some sort, and interact with the written environment of the place, in a way consistent with my character's personality. I light the stove, make tea, or soup, or salad - I set the table, and hope for visitors to add to the potluck improvisation with their own ideas and voices. The guests seldom, if ever, appear.
I suppose I try (mostly unsuccessfully) to be a low-key Instigator, but usually am more of a Stagehand, in an empty theater - setting the stage, arranging the props - for quiet scenes that other actors choose not to play in.


 
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Mr Geppetto
 Thursday, December 05 2013 @ 08:50 AM UTC  
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Quote by: Hairless


I suppose I try (mostly unsuccessfully) to be a low-key Instigator, but usually am more of a Stagehand, in an empty theater - setting the stage, arranging the props - for quiet scenes that other actors choose not to play in.



Why don't I ever happen upon one of those? I'd play the hell out of it. Oh, if I just had the time to play, once again... There's nothing more inviting mayhem (Unfairlady's brand thereof) than a quiet, peaceful scene setup. There's something about a proper tea party and hundreds of hissing-spitting furious and wet ammo cats (partially trained) that appeals to me. Irresistibly so.

That being said, I think Stagehand is a legit new type of player.


 
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Buddleia
 Thursday, December 05 2013 @ 08:02 PM UTC  
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I like this thread.

I'd also like to suggest another type of player: the one which I seem to have become. (I've gone through most of the ones described so far: catalyst, bystander, instigator, wallflower and stagehand.) I'll call them the soloist or perhaps the perfectionist.

This rather elusive person seems to spend all their time reading, thinking, and maybe even playing the game rather than interacting with people. Perhaps they Banter or chat, but hell if you can ever find them in Story. Once in a blue moon, they may write ... but they are acting out a one-person scene (plus or minus props or puppets), a carefully composed and choreographed soliloquy (bonus: they probably use long words like that too). These scenes may be scripted out in advance, sometimes over the course of months, and finally posted by copy-pasta in a frenzy of frantically trying to get everything down before anyone else can come along and "ruin" it by trying to play with them. (I posit that a better writer than me would be able to write solo scenes on the fly, and also be open to adapting if someone else arrived!) They are posted furtively in obscure places, left like graffiti - more for the writer than the reader, if any - and rarely found. Sometimes they are interesting, atmospheric, revealing, introspective, haunting ... sometimes they just end up as long-winded sentimental twaddle. Energies thus exhausted, the Perfectionist/Soloist then retreats into their shell for another few months.

They're not so much a roleplayer as a writer. They are not so much having fun, as obsessing over creativity and quality and standards (an excellent description: see Waverly's post here).


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Denealus
 Friday, December 06 2013 @ 01:25 AM UTC  
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So pleased to see the discussion! I definitely like all the additions.

Physical/Verbal and Serious/Slapstick for scene tone definitely seems to fit a little better. It does seem like a two-axis continuum. Especially since I was told that the Drama vs. Serious distinction is kind of confusing (which looking back, I agree with). To fit Everyday Life into this, the third axis would likely be High Intensity/Low Intensity. So "Everyday Life" scenes would seem to fit under Low Intensity Mostly Verbal Serious (or Slapstick, depending on the character). Since it's a continuum, it'd be less black and white for certain along this spectrum.

I also do like Stagehand and Soloist/Perfectionist as other types too, as I can definitely see this. Soloist....the only difficulty I'm having here is that soloist seems more a player type than a character type. It's kind of a weird deal where soloist is definitely a play/writing style, but doesn't necessarily describe a character. That said, it's definitely a type that I can see and definitely describes a type of scene. Which is more what this thread was meant for: describing scenes and how characters fit into scenes. So in that sense, Soloist/Perfectionist works perfectly.

I'm wondering if we do come to some consensus here if this would be a good addition to the wiki under Roleplaying Advice and such. I mainly wanted to get the discussion going first off and see what other people think about it.


 
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Wongo the Sane
 Sunday, December 08 2013 @ 01:23 PM UTC  
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I really like the idea of the scene tone axis - they seem to describe all scene tones reasonably well.

I agree with the character designations too for the most part.
However (there has to be a however, otherwise I would remain a bystander), I'm not convinced that the Stage Hand is a category in its own right; it feels more like a sub-category of Instigator who specializes in Low-Intensity scenes. I say this as someone who prefers this style of Instigation. When I was a regular I'd set up the tea table whenever I was in New Home and check back every so often around Jungling. Hairless, don't feel too bad if no-one shows up to this. I'd frequently get no guests. Once I had to wait over an hour for anybody to show up. No matter how unthreatening you make yourself look it still takes a lot of guts for rookies to step into a scene. Keep at it - you'll get people sometimes :-)


 
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Denealus
 Wednesday, December 11 2013 @ 08:06 AM UTC  
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Quote by: Wongo+the+Sane

. When I was a regular I'd set up the tea table whenever I was in New Home and check back every so often around Jungling. Hairless, don't feel too bad if no-one shows up to this. I'd frequently get no guests. Once I had to wait over an hour for anybody to show up. No matter how unthreatening you make yourself look it still takes a lot of guts for rookies to step into a scene. Keep at it - you'll get people sometimes :-)



This is very true. Instigation is more in the attempt and less on the result. You're putting something up there to interact with. I, personally, like the term Instigator, as it seems to fit Island terms very well. However, it's not meant to be synonymous with "trouble maker."

There may be something to be said though for a distinction between a character who tries to force or instill an interaction versus someone who sets a stage though. An Instigator, at least in my mind, will actively try to draw people into things. It could be as low key as asking someone a directed question or as high key as throwing an improbability bomb into the middle of things to see how people react. But an Instigator, typically in my mind, is more active in trying to draw people in. There may be another term for someone who presents a scene for people to interact with and takes people in as they may, but never singles people out unless they interact with the scene first.

That's not to say one way of drawing people into the scene is inherently better than the other. But there does seem a distinction between providing a backdrop for characters to interact with versus taking charge and saying "You. I want something to happen to you."


 
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Docenspiel
 Wednesday, December 11 2013 @ 07:34 PM UTC  
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I wouldn't say they're different types of character. I think the difference is actually in the writers. The Instigator of a high-intensity scene can leave several openings for others to join but never directly call out anyone while the low-intensity Instigator can greet every single other character with a cup of tea and a "How do you do".

How determined they are to write an enjoyable scene, how comfortable they are with the other players and how experienced they are at drawing people in can all vary widely between writers of an Instigator, but the character they're writing is still definitely the same type. An Instigator with an audience of brand-new players might not be comfortable with calling them out but wants to at least show them something fun, so makes a monster conga line that loops around the outpost. Another Instigator greeted with the same audience might create the same scene but would have the noobs dragged into the line.


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