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 Roleplay Theory 201: Assuming Competence and the Fog of War
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Denealus
 Sunday, February 26 2017 @ 03:24 PM UTC (Read 1027 times)  
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So I started a thread a while ago, started here a while back. I'd actually intended to make this a series. I still probably should. Kind of a 101, 102, etc. Theory kind of thing.

Life got in the way of course and I hadn't been on the Island much. Here and there I get busied. Or there are also times when I have more fun or less fun playing and I always wonder why.

What it comes down to is that Freeform Roleplaying is more of an art than a science and differs from tabletop in several ways. It's a weird hobby. It's not quite traditional roleplaying, because traditional roleplaying involves dice and character sheets and well defined "what you can and cannot" dos. It's not quite storytelling because storytelling usually involves a single author who has an internally consistant world that they know how all of the moving parts fit together. It really hits a weird nitch of more collaborative storytelling, where every individual contributes to a shared reality of story in several ways. Which comes with some fun things and some challenges and complications.

And like most things in freeform roleplaying, no one can tell you how to properly play your game. I'd hazard that the only proper way to play your game is to have fun with it (and who can define your definition of fun?) but roleplaying, like all social activities, comes with its own unspoken rules and standards that make one thing that is fun for one person potentially not fun for another person. And personally, I think one way to help with that is by following the Assuming Competence Theory of Free Form Roleplaying (Or ACTFR for short. That's a terrible acronym).

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING POST, LIKE MANY OF THESE, CONTAINS A LOT OF OPINION AND NAVAL GAZING, MEANDERING IDEAMONGERING, AND GENERAL PHILOSOPHIZING THAT HAS VARYING LEVELS OF FUN ACROSS INDIVIDUALS. THE OPINIONS CONTAINED WITHIN ARE THOSE OF A CROTCHETTY OLD MAN WHO WOULD LIKE NO BETTER THAN ALL THE YOUNG WHIPPERSNAPPERS TO GET OFF THEIR LAWN AND PLAY WITH THEIR BALL SOMEWHERE ELSE, YOU ARE SMASHING HIS TULIPS YOU HOOLIGANS. NONE OF THESE ARE INTENDED TO TELL ANYONE WHO IS HAVING FUN ALREADY HOW TO PROPERLY HAVE THEIR FUN! I LIKE PEOPLE TO HAVE THEIR FUN!

BUT FOR THOSE WHO FOLLOW THROUGH, IT MAY BRING UP SOME INTERESTING TALKING POINTS AND ALSO THERE ARE FRESH MUFFINS AT THE END OF IT. POSSIBLY FRESH MUFFINS. HOW LATE AFTER THE POST ARE YOU READING THIS?


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.....Phew! Disclaimer done! Okay!


Freeform Roleplaying

So anyone who has played in tabletop roleplaying game and all of its origins know that typically, character creation is pretty straight-forward. Well, not so straightforward. Usually it's from a massive rulebook which can sometimes be as meandering as this post. But it helps to think of it like this. A person defines a character, they build a character. They have a definition and a certain amount of points to establish "stats" based on the game, get to spend their points however they want, but there's some hard decisions to be made.

Now, this has some disadvantages. I can't just create whoever I want. I am constrained by the system. One-Punch Man, the Ultimate Invincible Hero is not immediately buildable in this system, because I have to balance it against other heroes and, sadly, Play Nice With Others, which really most people only got Satisfactory on in school lately and since when did my parents give me extra money for incentives to play nice anyway?

But it helps! Numbers do help. If my character has 4 strength and your character has 5 strength, that tells me something directly and mechanically! If I roll a die, I either succeed and fail! That means clear (well, mostly clear things) in the context of story! And you know that, for the most part, the things on my chart are the things I have. And the things not on the chart I don't have. If you want to call Shenanigans on my +5 Epic Bone Saw of Splattery Death, I can show you my sheet and see it's right there right next to the +6 Bludgeoning Helmet of Bludgeoning and no I wasn't scribbling things down for three seconds right as you asked me, why are you asking me that?

Freeform roleplaying (which is more what the Island is) is different. Some people do character sheets. This comes with a mix of its own issues and really seems less fun. If the game is collaborative storytelling, what fun is the story you already know the plot to? But this leads to probably the most important point of the post. So important, that I'm going to put it in that annoying all caps.

UNLESS YOU HAVE DISCUSSED IT WITH YOUR ROLEPLAYING PARTNER, YOU DO NOT KNOW THEIR INTENT.

This seems like a simple concept, you would think, but it gets complicated. You'll see in a moment how complicated. But it involves something I like to call, colloquially, the Fog of War.


Fog Of War in Freeform Roleplaying

Let's take our strength example. If I have a character with strength 5, I inherently know that my character is mechanically stronger than someone with strength 4. There's still a bell curve, but I succeed at more of the rolls they wouldn't. But with Freeform Roleplay, it's different.

Let's be honest. Each of us put different amount of thought into our characters. Most of us define by traits. I might define my character as "The Strongest Guy in the World" or "Pretty Strong" or "Kinda Strong, but can hold their own, whatnot."

The point is, by and large, I probably want my character to appear competent at things I see them as good at! If they're a detective, I want them to detect! If they're bumbling, I want them to come across as appropriately bumbling! I probably have a good picture in my head what that looks like.

So what happens when my "Strongest Guy in the World" meets your "Strongest Guy in the Universe?" Simple, right? Strongest Guy in the Universe wins? Or we flip a coin?

....

I suspect people who believe that have never searched internet forums flame wars or talked to any die-hard comic book fan about which of their favorite superheroes would win a one-on-one matchup with each other....

....

Note: Never ask that second question. #Life_Advice.

The point is, I have an idea about what my character should be good at. You don't know my trump cards and what I have behind me and what my background story is. I may have had 3 years of backstory you aren't aware of setting up competence for my character, only to be taken down by your insistance that your character can't be hurt by that, much like little kids playing Cops and Robbers going "I shot you!" "No you didn't!" "Yes I did!" "Nuh. Uh. I Matrix Bullet Dodged away at the last second and the bullet bounced off me." "You can't do that! That's not in the rules!" "Yes it issss!" "No it isn't!" (etc. etc.). This happens in real life all the time, to be fair, but at least the universe, to my knowledge, has Stats to back it up [citation needed].

Really the point is: My definitions of strongest are different than yours. I'm sharing a story with you that is equally valid to yours. My definitions of smartest are limited to my imagination, true. Also, to expect I know all of your background off-hand is ludicrous. That comes with time and play for the shared story. There's a Fog of War there.

If you've never heard of the term Fog of War, it's a call back to real-time combat strategy games. At the start of the game, the whole world would be generated by the computer, but you would only be able to see a very small part of it. Enemy units would move behind this fog with the computer's processes, but you had no way of knowing that. You'd have to trust that the computer didn't just bullshit on the fly and do the electronic equivalent of "There's a unit there! There's always been a unit there!" "No there isn't!" "Yes there is!"

Everyone in freeform roleplaying games have their own personal Fog of War going on with every interaction we do with them. The author's intent, the author's knowledge of their own character, their author's knowledge of their own character's experiences, are all foreign to us. It takes a weird amount of trust and it feels jarring to us when we feel our character should be competent in a situation and the other player says "Nope! This action just fails. Cause of something you never knew about and don't know if I have a huge background story to or made up on the fly cause I wanted to." And really, how do you judge which is which?

The fact of the matter is: You don't. You almost can't. So there's some amount of trust there. But there also should be some amount of trust to make sure everyone has an equal chance of having fun.

So how do you even do that, given you can't read someone's intent? Well, I'll be honest, I can't tell anyone how to play. I can tell them what I try to do. Which is Communicate and Assume Competence.


Assuming Competence

Assuming Competence means that, unless I have evidence to the contrary, I'm going to assume that, so long as they do the same with my character, that they're going to do the things that they're able to do. I'm going to assume that there is some capability of taking the blow. That doesn't mean assuming the character can take everything unscathed. But I see so many roleplayers that just like to assume that punches should be ineffective, just because their character is Groxor the Invincible. And how do you know? Maybe the other character has their kryptonite. If someone intends to throw a punch, odds are they are probably expecting it to be at least somewhat effective. And I have to respect that.

When I no-sell a punch, when I act like everything is easy to dodge, when I act like everyone but me is incompetent, I don't build roleplaying relationships. I don't build friendships. I make people want to take their ball and go home. I may be the most invincible person in the world, but I'm an invincible person only in my own mind at that point. And really, in the end, what fun is that in a game that is focused on collaborative storytelling and shared world experience?

It's good to have a competent character. And you think it would be second nature to expect that everyone would show me the same courtesy. But you wouldn't believe the times that I see people failing to follow this very simple "rule." It's not a hard and fast one. But I do think it's one that generates more friendships than not.

As usual, thanks for reading and your considerations at the bottom. Here. Have a muffin. ~~~{]


 
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Diazenylium
 Friday, April 21 2017 @ 04:03 PM UTC  
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It sounds a bit like you don't want every character to act like they are the Mary Sue of Improbable Island, which is a fairly common restriction on creating characters and RPing in general. However, the idea of a 'fog of war' in an RPing scenario, especially RP battles, seems pretty interesting. I imagine the only good way to get around it is by Distracting the character's player, which could break immersion in the RP they are taking part in.


 
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Denealus
 Sunday, June 11 2017 @ 03:40 AM UTC  
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Mary Suedom is a common pet-peeve of roleplaying communities, it's true. But I'm an intellectual, so I like to go into the why it bothers people and it just went here.

You bring up a very good point and I think that's why a lot of people struggle with it: immersion breaking. It takes away some of the mystery of your character if you coordinate over distracts, but sometimes it's a necessity. We will only see the parts of the character that the narrator is willing and able to show themselves. Further restrictions come in outposts, where a certain brand of behavior is expected, which may hide certain characteristics or may make certain interactions ingenuine. I know with my characters, I try not to breed drama in outposts, which may lead to some people thinking my characters more boring or not have a "hook" because they don't see them outside of that role. A darker character is definitely going to feel more out of place in an outpost.

Overall, freeform roleplaying is a negotiation and some people are more adept with it than others.


 
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