D&D 5E Grey beard culture question about critical role

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
The end of the Old School and the dawn of Story-Focused play:
"
While it might seem highly unlikely to those who have not been involved in fantasy adventure gaming for an extended period of time, after the flush of excitement wears off - perhaps a few months or a year, depending on the intensity of play - some participants will become bored and move to other gaming forms, returning to your campaign only occasionally. Shortly thereafter even your most dedicated players will occasionally find that dungeon levels and wilderness castles grow stale, regardless of subtle differences and unusual challenges. It is possible, however, for you to devise a campaign which will have a very minimal amount of participant attrition and enthusiast ennui, and it is not particularly difficult to do so.

As has been mentioned already, the game must be neither too difficult to survive nor so easy as to offer little excitement or challenge. There must always be something desirable to gain, something important to lose, and the chance of having either happen. Furthermore, there must be some purpose to it all. There must be some backdrop against which adventures are carried out, and no matter how tenuous the strands, some web which connects the evil and good, the opposing powers, the rival states and various peoples. This need not be evident at first, but as play continues, hints should be given to players, and their characters should become involved in the interaction and struggle between these vaster entities. Thus, characters begin as less than pawns, but as they progress in expertise, each eventually realizes that he or she is a meaningful, if lowly, piece in the cosmic game being conducted. When this occurs, players then have a dual purpose to their play, for not only will their player characters and henchmen gain levels of experience, but their actions have meaning above and beyond that of personal aggrandizement."


-- Dungeon Master's Guide, Gary Gygax, 1979
While I disagree that this is the end of "old school" and the dawn of anything other than the official dnd core books explicitly encouraging narrative cohesion in play, this is probably the best advice I've ever seen quote from Gygax.
 

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South by Southwest

Incorrigible Daydreamer
The idea that you can reliably point out when they're "pretending" to be excited "for the camera".
Oh, I see. Well, that's entirely possible.

What I looked for were moments when it seemed clear to me they were not acting (it's a lot easier to catch the genuine smiles, frowns, excited eyes, and teary moments than to catch well-faked ones, especially when dealing with professional actors who just love them some juicy character studies). I definitely found a bunch of those. (There was a moment in Campaign 2 when Mercer sent something to Ray over her cell phone and her emotional agitation, which had nothing to do with the game, was immediately evident and very sharp; the entire crew's reaction to Pumat-Sol was unequivocal; Bailey's reaction to her character's death toward the end of Campaign 2 was unequivocal; etc.) Then I went back and compared them to the rest of each episode, and it seemed pretty clear to me when someone like Travis or Laura was actually open-mouthed surprised by something and when they were doing what I'd call some really good acting work.

Still, it certainly may be that I misread their postures and expressions. Because I'm in academia, I'm pretty good at catching a B.S.er, but in no way perfect.
 

Celebrim

Legend
the interchange with merchants is not not something I'm accustomed to - this seems to be a big part of the experience

I'm not a huge fan of shopping but it can be valuable time. This sort of play is what I call "low melodrama" play and it's about slice of life, character development, and chances to develop relationships between PCs and and between PCs and NPCs to get payoffs later on. I think the secret here is not to focus on the shopping and whether or not as a DM I do focus on the shopping or encourage players to handwave through it depends on whether or not I think there is a bigger goal than just getting tools to overcome challenges.

A lot of players can't lean into low melodrama. It's one of the rarer skills and rarer aesthetics of play, but CR does it really well. My advice to you as a player or GM is to think about what you want to accomplish in a scene at a meta level and figure out a way to start that using the GM as a sounding board and if possible bringing other PCs into the scene.

I'll give you an example of a low melodrama payoff in one of my games to show why I don't just ignore it as a process of play. In one campaign a PC priest had been charged to spread the cult into a new city. There was no temple in the city and he was living in a small apartment near the temple district where a lot of the other minor figures in the religious life of the city dwelled. And I made a point of introducing his neighbors - a seamstress that repaired and sowed ceremonial robes, one of the other PCs who was a lay brother at temple of the goddess of beauty who worked basically as a stagehand, and family that were undertakers responsible for burying the dead and assisting the priests so that you wouldn't get nasty accidental undead (or at least, that they'd stay buried if you did). We spent just a little time between adventures where he'd talk with his neighbors.

What he didn't know is that the neighbor who was an undertaker was actually the BBEG that they had spent the first two years of the campaign real time chasing and trying to discover. When they figured that out, pay off.

So instead of thinking of it as a shopping expedition, think of it as time you as PC are allowed to create exposition. Talk to an NPC about who your character is. Use that get to know the NPC time to define your character, bring up your backstory and create opportunity for the DM to get you involved in something. If the DM really is good, then he's going to recognize when the pacing is getting too slow and move things along.

the depth-of-character is really impressive, but again, I'm simply not accustomed to it - the group is "really in character" at the table

This is hard. And as used to doing it as a GM as I am, leaning into it and staying in character as a player is still a skill I have to cultivate. In fact, because I've been GMing so long, when I play I feel really rusty as a player and "out of shape" and like I'm not as good of a player as I used to be, which is disheartening and only makes it harder to play well.

But you can tell the skill of a group of players by how much interplay they do with each other in character. And I'm sincere about that, in that groups that are usually good at that are also usually really good at tactical problem solving, puzzle solving, and everything else because you don't cultivate that hardest of skills without doing a pretty good job of also cultivating the easier ones along the way. Everyone has different strengths and maybe you'll never be a great actor, but if you can throw out RP and entertain other people at the table, you are probably a pretty good play all-around.

[*]the killing move, "how do you want to do this" is something new to me

There is a proposition loop in gaming that runs something like this:

a) Propose to do something to change the game fiction.
b) If that something is doubtful, test your fortune.
c) Narrate how your success or failure altered the game fiction.
d) Repeat.

Steps 'a' and 'c' allow someone at the table to narrate what will happen or what has happened. The more skilled the player, the more they can partake in that narration. Most novices leave it up to the GM, and it can be difficult in some systems to delegate 'c' fully to a player because the player has limited information. What your GM is doing is trying to encourage you to take more control of the narrative, and having dropped a foe is a great time to do this because it's a moment when you have complete information. You know that the foe just died so you know the parameters you are allowed to narrate. You get a moment to narrate your awesomeness and add to the story. Essentially you get to wear the GM hat for a moment and tell the group what happened. Mercer doesn't always do that, and maybe your GM doesn't either, but it's cool thing. And as a GM, I like it when players can lean into that sort of thing because a lot of the times I feel uncomfortable as a GM telling a player what they do. So like when you do have full information, go ahead and narrate your success or failure and don't make the GM decide what your character does during their moment of success or failure. If you fall down the stairs, say how you do it. If you get the killing blow, say how you do that too.

the mechanics of the game seem to be less important than the story of the game

They always were. And the reasons for that are straight-foward. First, the mechanics exist for the sake of the story. And secondly, the mechanics are never complete and so you always have to bend them to cover situations that can come up outside the clear cut rules. You should never feel confined to making only rules propositions. It may be true that your character can't be awesome at everything - there is often a problem where the rule of cool gets misapplied to mean you can succeed at everything - but lean into whatever heroic things your character can do.
 

I don’t understand. It’s a show. They sometimes spend an episode in downtime. I can’t even fathom what is unusual about it, much less deserving of this reaction.

I tear my hair out during shopping sessions that I'm in, with stakes that theoretically matter to me. Watching other people try to turn the most boring part of any RPG (imo) into something entertaining? Like I said, please no. Hell, I don't even really like systems with detailed inventories anymore.
 

I've been playing D&D since the red box. I am now 52 and playing with a group who is heavily influenced by critical role. I've only watched snippets of critical role, but I'm happy it has brought younger folks to the table.

Any other long time players have any advice for adjusting into critical role dialect a bit better?
Based on your age and starting edition, you're used to the RPG emphasis being on game (same as me). Gaming styles have changed a lot over the decades, and the current emphasis is on role playing. CR takes this pretty far, with the mechanics taking a back seat to to the story if necessary. My suggestions:

  • Relax. The DM obviously knows what he's doing and everyone's having a great time. Don't worry about "fitting in."
  • Focus on who your character is. Think about their goals and motivations, and share them with the others.
  • Think about who the other character's are when interacting with them, because that persona is what's important to the other players.
  • Game play is going to be a lot slower than you're used to, so try not to get frustrated with it.
    • This is actually my issue. I really enjoy RP, but I struggle when it takes away from the adventure.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
It's like the language / cadence. Or maybe the things they "expect D&D to be". A few examples:

  1. the killing move, "how do you want to do this" is something new to me
do you mean "the blow that will bring down the opponent?"

Because by 5e rules, you can either kill or knock out your opponent. The GM asking is good GMing.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I tear my hair out during shopping sessions that I'm in, with stakes that theoretically matter to me. Watching other people try to turn the most boring part of any RPG (imo) into something entertaining? Like I said, please no. Hell, I don't even really like systems with detailed inventories anymore.
What I’m curious about is whether an episode of Buffy the vampire slayer or Supernatural or whatever that was just the heroes interacting socially (which is 99% of shopping sessions, otherwise they’d be 5 minutes with no in character speaking) with side characters would get the same reaction as the same amount of time spent on that in a show that happens to involve playing a TTRPG as part of the framework?
 

Reynard

Legend
What I’m curious about is whether an episode of Buffy the vampire slayer or Supernatural or whatever that was just the heroes interacting socially (which is 99% of shopping sessions, otherwise they’d be 5 minutes with no in character speaking) with side characters would get the same reaction as the same amount of time spent on that in a show that happens to involve playing a TTRPG as part of the framework?
I would wager you would be hard pressed to find an example of that. Even the slice of life Buffy episodes included cuts to (low stakes) fight scenes. When X-Files went weird, it did it by changing tone and context, not NOT doing X-Files.

That said, CR and other streams are inherently different forms of entertainment and don't have to follow the same rules. But I think it is perfectly reasonable for someone to balk at an all shopping episode.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Oh, I see. Well, that's entirely possible.

What I looked for were moments when it seemed clear to me they were not acting (it's a lot easier to catch the genuine smiles, frowns, excited eyes, and teary moments than to catch well-faked ones, especially when dealing with professional actors who just love them some juicy character studies). I definitely found a bunch of those. (There was a moment in Campaign 2 when Mercer sent something to Ray over her cell phone and her emotional agitation, which had nothing to do with the game, was immediately evident and very sharp; the entire crew's reaction to Pumat-Sol was unequivocal; Bailey's reaction to her character's death toward the end of Campaign 2 was unequivocal; etc.) Then I went back and compared them to the rest of each episode, and it seemed pretty clear to me when someone like Travis or Laura was actually open-mouthed surprised by something and when they were doing what I'd call some really good acting work.

Still, it certainly may be that I misread their postures and expressions. Because I'm in academia, I'm pretty good at catching a B.S.er, but in no way perfect.
Yeah I’m probably excessively skeptical of any claim of being good at spotting genuine vs feigned emotion, simply due to having never met anyone who was observably actually any good at it, but many who are convinced they’re very good at it, and a few who fervently believe they are basically flawless at it lol.

So, sorry if I came across poorly with that.

I also just genuinely don’t think that they are playing to the camera, at least not consciously. They’re playing to eachother.
 

I may have a similar experience. OP: I think it’s related to game philosophy.

I think Crawford is smart and quite talented. But when I hear: “ways to tell your story” and it’s derivatives, it’s like nails on a chalkboard. The implication is that the YOUR story is going to win out and happen as designed.

I played as a little kid but then in earnest as a teen in the late 80s. We tried to tackle challenges and make a mark, meet goals. But we were never guaranteed “our story.” Sometimes we died.

Sometimes we won. Hey I want to take over this cave system as our hideout! Many dead orcs later, we did just that. Other times we ran like hell.

We skip over things that seem trivial to the adventure a lot. Yes, this small town has two sets of medium armor and lots of ammunition: book price. We don’t talk all of those occasions out unless I get the bright idea that we could pump the blacksmith for information….

I just don’t like the idea (me! Just an opinion!) of crafting a story and taking the DMs hand and showing him how it has to be. It might work and it might not. And we might die.

Very different than what I have seen a subset of newer players do. And we are very focused on the rules in combat..but the book as much as makes sense.

The philosophy of a character arc is unknown to my group. We play it until we are bored with it or another campaign idea grabs us.

That said, do we roleplay? Heck yeah. Sometimes funny accents and mannerisms along with behavior patterns in game.

I think the idea of “my story” as primary is not a fit with what we do. We take it by force or the world dictates but we don’t tell the dm how the story will go.
 

What I’m curious about is whether an episode of Buffy the vampire slayer or Supernatural or whatever that was just the heroes interacting socially (which is 99% of shopping sessions, otherwise they’d be 5 minutes with no in character speaking) with side characters would get the same reaction as the same amount of time spent on that in a show that happens to involve playing a TTRPG as part of the framework?
Does that happen, though? I'm hard-pressed to recall an episode of a show that slows down to that degree, other than the old bottle episodes that sitcoms used to do (often just frameworks for the dreaded clip show episode format). Maybe it still happens on some network shows, that need to pad out 24 episodes per season?

Anyway I wouldn't like it. Even so-called "hangout" movies like Once Upon A Time In Hollywood might have pretty shaggy stretches where characters are interacting without plot interactions, but then something big happens.

Back to RPGs, though, I'm not against downtime sessions at all. Sometimes they're amazing, especially when they wind up deepening relationships with NPCs. Doing that at Ye Olde Potion Shoppe just sounds excruciating to me. Then again, I'm about as far from CR's target audience as it gets.
 

South by Southwest

Incorrigible Daydreamer
Yeah I’m probably excessively skeptical of any claim of being good at spotting genuine vs feigned emotion, simply due to having never met anyone who was observably actually any good at it, but many who are convinced they’re very good at it, and a few who fervently believe they are basically flawless at it lol.
God protect us from the people who so fervently think they know so many things. I mean, that's straight outta Men in Black.
So, sorry if I came across poorly with that.
No, no--you didn't.
I also just genuinely don’t think that they are playing to the camera, at least not consciously. They’re playing to eachother.
That is a really good distinction and there I suspect you're largely right. They've all been friends and gaming partners for years, after all. There are clear instances where they're doing something for the cameras, but much of the time what they're really doing is riffing off of and feeding off of each other. I think that's right.
 

beancounter

(I/Me/Mine)
Yes, it's generational, but I think it's a sub culture.

For example, I've played with people in their late 20's who had minimal interest in RP.

I have no proof or examples other than what I mentioned above, but I think there may be a difference between the preferences of 20 something "true geeks" and "general public" 20 somethings.

(The above labels are meant to be descriptive, not derogatory...).
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I’m extremely skeptical of this, tbh.


I don’t understand. It’s a show. They sometimes spend an episode in downtime. I can’t even fathom what is unusual about it, much less deserving of this reaction.
I’m with you on this, but I think what drives that reaction is that this particular kind of downtime activity tends to be very low-stakes. For many players, talking in-character with quirky NPCs might be mildly amusing for a few minutes, but quickly gets boring because there’s no challenge or dramatic conflict.
 

SakanaSensei

Adventurer
Yeah I’m probably excessively skeptical of any claim of being good at spotting genuine vs feigned emotion, simply due to having never met anyone who was observably actually any good at it, but many who are convinced they’re very good at it, and a few who fervently believe they are basically flawless at it lol.

So, sorry if I came across poorly with that.

I also just genuinely don’t think that they are playing to the camera, at least not consciously. They’re playing to eachother.
I think the easiest way to illustrate that they probably aren’t generally “playing to the camera” is to look at one of their con games when they have an actual live audience and most assuredly are.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I think the easiest way to illustrate that they probably aren’t generally “playing to the camera” is to look at one of their con games when they have an actual live audience and most assuredly are.
Absolutely, and the videos of the home game when there was no audience.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
I will tell you the truth as I see it, and hopefully I won't be too offensive. I have met tons of players of RPGs that have 20 or 30 years of experience and have never learned to play the game well. They stayed in a comfortable spot where they never had to develop skill as a role-player and they used minimal interaction over and over again.

The result is that I often find experienced players play the game less well than complete novices. I spend a lot of my time as a GM unlearning very experienced players of bad habits that limit the amount of fun they can have with the game, and prevent them from improving as players that are better able to increase everyone's fun.

The great thing about Critical Role is that it shows what really elevated and skillful play looks like so that younger players have a template for that. And it sounds like you've fallen into a group that has rolled with that and is playing at a very high skill level. And now you are out of your comfort zone and being challenged to stretch your wings and level up your game. And it's awkward at first. I was fortunate to have a really good DM take me under his wing at like age 13, and show me the real game and force me to play it. And it was hugely embarassing and awkward at first to be in character. And figuring out how to give RP hooks to other players and play a make believe game together takes practice.

Ultimately I can't tell you how to play at a particular table because every table has it's own procedures of play. I can tell to just lean into it and realize that somewhere you got stuck at the equivalent of 4th level fighting kobolds and rats and stayed there and that this is awesome, and you are 50 and you are leveling up and that is amazing. Because so many gamers I meet don't want to learn anything new.
You are rephrasing a very old & particularly abrasive position used for many years to justify all sorts of toxic & main character syndrome type behavior. "I'm a role player, not a dirty roll player" has been the shielding mantra of "It's what my character would do" for ages now. Everyone at the table is roleplaying within the confines of the game rules, some people just choose to ignore the confines & switch to freeform roleplay expecting the rules & the world itself to accommodate The Main Character's story.
 

Celebrim

Legend
You are rephrasing a very old & particularly abrasive position used for many years to justify all sorts of toxic & main character syndrome type behavior.

No, I'm not and if you'd followed my argument through the thread that would be obvious. In fact, I've very much talked about the opposite of that, things like deliberately sharing spotlight and throwing out RP hooks to other players as elements of skillful play.

Since you clearly aren't actually responding to what I said, there must be all sorts of horrors in your past that is what you are actually responding to. I don't know what they are, but they aren't really relevant to my conception of playing the game well, and we probably both agree that whatever burned you and hurt you was poor play.

But to use your own dysfunctional description and your own dysfunctional classifications, I've yet to meet a player that really knew how to to role-play that couldn't roll play, where as I've frequently met roll players that couldn't role-play. And the worst sorts of selfish and self-centered play, spot-light hogging, rules lawyering, argumentative, time wasting, bullying crap usually come from roll players who have never considered that the fundamental ethic of play is always to ensure everyone is having fun. Because I played just a few weeks ago with a guy that made an art of "it's what my character would do" but not once sacrificed the fun of anyone else at the table, where as I played a few hours before that with a guy literally incapable of making in character propositions who never once considered anyone else's enjoyment but his own. There is nothing inherently toxic about "it's what my character would do". The inherent toxicity lies at some level below the excuses.
 

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