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D&D General Styles of Roleplaying and Characters

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I recently came across a video from Matt Colville and wanted to talk about it. It's a longer D&D video at 45 minutes, but it's mostly worth the watch. I'll summarize the relevant points for those who want the TL;DR. It's important to note that Colville isn't judging or putting people down for their chosen style of roleplaying. He's simply noting there are easily distinguishable styles.


TL;DR...

First, there's roleplaying and Roleplaying.

According to Colville, roleplaying is "making decisions about your character in a game with a persistent world where your character improves based on the decisions you made." So this is more a definition of a category of games. D&D and Skyrim etc. And Roleplaying is: "the act of making decisions about what a character would do when that character would do something different than what you would do." I know what you would do, but what would your character do? He is quick to point out that players making decisions for their characters with no consideration of what the character would do is still roleplaying, it's simply a less complex style of roleplaying. Not wrong or bad, just simpler.

Second, there are basically three styles of characters in a RPGs.

Zero Dimensional. Your character has no depth and is simply a game piece for you to move around. You as a player make the decisions for your character.

One Dimensional. Your character is largely defined by one trait and possibly a catch phrase. You as a player make decisions for your character based on that trait. All surface, no depth.

Three Dimensional. Your character is defined by multiple overlapping traits and characteristics, experiences doubt, and has internal conflict. Self-reflection, a capacity for doubt, internal unspoken monologue, and internal conflict makes a three-dimensional character real. You as a player make decisions for your character based on what your character would do.

These interact with each other in that zero-dimensional characters are roleplaying, one-dimensional characters are the most basic type of Roleplaying, and three-dimensional characters are advanced Roleplaying.

Colville also makes a point of discussing how speaking in character and doing an accent are not the same thing. Speaking in character is inhabiting the character and speaking as they would, i.e. dialogue. Doing an accent is giving the character an accent or funny voice that's not your own. Also, neither speaking in character nor doing an accent are really required for Roleplaying.

To reiterate, at no point is Colville pointing fingers or saying anyone's having badwrongfun. Quite the opposite, he makes a point of saying it's all roleplaying and as long as everyone's having fun then great. He also admonishes DMs who say they wish their players would Roleplay more.

In all, I think it's an interesting video and worth talking about. I think he's basically right. I can see a few complaints and objections, like the stereotype of the disruptive player who says "but that's what my character would do" as a defense for being a jerk at the table. For the record, no, that's not what Colville is talking about here.
 

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Then we both agree with Matt's basic premise. Wonderful.
I'm not sure. I think Matt's basic premise is still that improv method-acting (three-dimensional) is more complex and sophisticated and artistic than improv without respect to motivation or psychology (one-dimensional), which is in turn more complex and sophisticated and artistic than the thing he's trying really, really hard not to dismiss as "rollplaying" (zero-dimension characters and small-r roleplaying). And I definitely don't agree.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I'm not sure. I think Matt's basic premise is still that improv method-acting (three-dimensional) is more complex and sophisticated and artistic than improv without respect to motivation or psychology (one-dimensional), which is in turn more complex and sophisticated and artistic than the thing he's trying really, really hard not to dismiss as "rollplaying" (zero-dimension characters and small-r roleplaying). And I definitely don't agree.
I think you're ascribing thoughts and feelings to Matt that he isn't expressing. He uses the term "roll-playing" in the video, acknowledging that some people derisively refer to 0-dimensional characters as "roll-playing", but he does not...at any point in the video...claim that roleplaying is wrong or bad nor that Roleplaying is right and good. They're on a continuum. How much depth do you want your character to have? And there's no wrong answers. Any answer to that means you're roleplaying. And whatever your preference, awesome. Have fun with it. The above TL;DR was my summation of the beginning, definitional part of the video. He goes on to talk about what to do if you want to add dimension to your characters. Again, at no point saying it's better than, good, or right to do so. Only more complex. And acknowledging that it is more complex is akin to acknowledging that water's wet. It shouldn't be controversial. It's a fact that having more complex characters is, in fact, more complex.
 
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I think you're ascribing thoughts and feelings to Matt that he isn't expressing. … He goes on to talk about what to do if you want to add dimension to your characters. Again, at no point saying it's better than, good, or right to do so. Only more complex. And acknowledging that it is more complex is akin to acknowledging that water's wet. It shouldn't be controversial. It's a fact that having more complex characters is, in fact, more complex.

The subtext certainly feels like it's there. (Appropriate, given how much he goes on about subtext.) He's trying hard to be inoffensive, but his criteria for deep characters—for "elevated" roleplaying that approaches "art"—is moments that feel real (in part because of the distance between player motivation and character motivation) and therefore have meaning.

I personally get more of that in spades from subjecting zero-dimensional characters to Gygaxian, challenge-based play. Which is not to be dismissed as "just" hack'n'slash, loot & leveling, or what Matt at one point calls "zombiecide."
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
The subtext certainly feels like it's there. (Appropriate, given how much he goes on about subtext.) He's trying hard to be inoffensive, but his criteria for deep characters—for "elevated" roleplaying that approaches "art"—is moments that feel real (in part because of the distance between player motivation and character motivation) and therefore have meaning.
It is a video about adding dimensions to characters. He goes out of his way to repeatedly say it’s all roleplaying and all good. If you insist he’s talking down about your preferred style when he’s explicitly not, I don’t know what to tell you.
I personally get more of that in spades from subjecting zero-dimensional characters to Gygaxian, challenge-based play.
I personally have not. I’ve never got more out of zero-dimensional Gygaxian D&D than the feeling of an ever so slightly tailored version of WoW. Not putting it down. I’ve played both for years. And had fun with them for a while. I just want more than that now. That old style simply isn’t fun anymore.
Which is not to be dismissed as "just" hack'n'slash, loot & leveling, or what Matt at one point calls "zombiecide."
Zombiecide is the name of a game. He was making a reference.
 
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zarionofarabel

Adventurer
I personally get more of that in spades from subjecting zero-dimensional characters to Gygaxian, challenge-based play. Which is not to be dismissed as "just" hack'n'slash, loot & leveling, or what Matt at one point calls "zombiecide."
I am the exact opposite. The zero-dimension playstyle is something I can't stand participating in, it's just about the most boring thing I have ever experienced. Whereas the three-dimensional playstyle offers so much more for me I can't ever consider it in the same realm as zero-dimension. For me, one is an amazing and engaging experience, the other is about as much fun as having a root canal.

Different strokes for different folks as they say, but I definitely agree with what Matt is saying.
 

I am the exact opposite. The zero-dimension playstyle is something I can't stand participating in, it's just about the most boring thing I have ever experienced. Whereas the three-dimensional playstyle offers so much more for me I can't ever consider it in the same realm as zero-dimension. For me, one is an amazing and engaging experience, the other is about as much fun as having a root canal.

Different strokes for different folks as they say, but I definitely agree with what Matt is saying.

That moment when players at the table make decisions based on what they know, rather than what their character knows, thinks and desires.

Drives me mad. I always approach stuff in character as 'what would my character do'
 

Minigiant

Legend
I think there's another dimension

2nd Dimensional: Your character is largely defined as you with one major trait on top of it.. You as a player make decisions for your character based on that trait heavily flavoring your own personality and goals.

You're not a basic dwarf fighter.
You're not just Dave.
You are Dave as a Dwarf Fighter. You are a dwarf so you like beer. But Dave's beer snobbishness and love for animals comes out hard .
 

Bardic Dave

Adventurer
I think there's another dimension

2nd Dimensional: Your character is largely defined as you with one major trait on top of it.. You as a player make decisions for your character based on that trait heavily flavoring your own personality and goals.

You're not a basic dwarf fighter.
You're not just Dave.
You are Dave as a Dwarf Fighter. You are a dwarf so you like beer. But Dave's beer snobbishness and love for animals comes out hard .
I find that people who go for 3D often start drifting into 2D as the night or campaign drags on. I know that I do, mostly because it takes less energy and because it’s more comfortable. My characters all start to look like exaggerated versions of myself (with a couple of quirks layered on top) over time.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
What Colville calls Roleplaying, I call "improvisational method-acting." Precisely because it's so annoyingly snobbish when certain gamers say stuff like, "my game is low on combat, high on roleplaying!"

No. It's all roleplaying, and the stuff that certain gamers get snooty about is playacting.
I disagree. What Matt is calling roleplaying (or zero dimensional roleplaying) and what he’s calling Roleplaying (or one- and three-dimensional roleplaying) are both, fundamentally, imagining yourself as a fictional person and/or in a fictional scenario and making decisions as you imagine you or that character would in that scenario. The key difference is just in the complexity of character motivations that go into that decision making process.

Acting is a separate thing, yes, but it’s not really what he’s calling Roleplaying. When he talks about talking in character and doing an accent not necessarily being roleplaying or Roleplaying, he’s getting at the divide here. Acting is about portraying a character - typically in a believable way, though there are schools of thought that focus less on believability and more on other things). It doesn’t necessarily require the actor to imagine themselves as the character or make decisions as they imagine the character would - even when acting improvisationally. “Method acting” is such a broad term as to not be particularly useful, but what most people mean when they say it is an acting technique that essentially uses Roleplaying as a tool to help in making the actor’s portrayal more believable.

Now, I agree that it’s obnoxious when people try to treat acting as a “higher form” of Roleplaying, or when they try to treat Roleplaying characters with more complex motivations as superior to Roleplaying simple characters, or even roleplaying characters with no real distinction from the player. But I don’t think Matt is doing either of those things here.
 

bloodtide

Explorer
So, sigh, disclaimer: no way to play is wrong every way is fine, play the game however you want and have fun.

So, I think this video is dancing around ROLLplaying vs ROLEplaying. Sure "they" call playing any RPG "roleplaying", but that is not exactly accurate.

ROLLplaying is playing the straightforward mechanical game, exactly like a board game or video game. Your character is a "zero", just a player pawn to move about in the game world setting. And all actions are based only upon pure base game mechanics. If it has no mechnics, the player won't do it. So if a player wants their character to do "action A" and doing "skill A" gives a +1 bonus to "action A", then the player will say thier character does "Skill A" to get that bonus.

ROLEplaying is playing the role of a fictional character......acting. A player role playing acts on what the fictional character would do, iregardless of the game rules. Even, and often, to the point of suboptiomzation and even "unwise" game mechanical choices. But then this player does not "only just" care about the game mechanics, so it does not matter to them.

I don't really see a difference between zero and one dimensional:

One dimensional: "My character is just a set piece for me the player to have fun."

Two dimensional; "Um, my character hates orcs as they killed his family...and my character is greedy as that is fun for me the player to play out in the game"
 


Lyxen

Great Old One
For me, while there is a gradation of roleplaying about the depth of your character, and it’s hard to define precisely where limits are, there are two Clear distinctions that are fairly important for us at our tables:
  • Acting as a character or acting as a player. Are you taking your decisions because your character would, or are you taking your decisions because they are the best as you see them for you as a player?
  • Playing the Rules or Playing the World. 3e has created a way to play the game where the rules are more important than the world, and where people envision the fantasy world only through the rules, the RAW are all, possibly with homebrew, but they are defining the world and everything that you can see and do. Whereas some people try to project their character in a fantasy world where the rules are just the best approximations of the way the world works in most cases.
There is no right and wrong here, the game supports these two distinctions and combinations of them, but most of the discussions that I’m having here are around people who have only one way of playing, don’t envision the others and think that it’s the only “right way”.

I just think that it should be OK to have differences of preference, that they should just be recognised as such, and accepted.

And while I understand that some people are annoyed at ”roleplayers” sneering down their nose at them for not play acting, it’s just as right to be annoyed at some people treating other games as inferior because the rules there are not important and venerated, people make “mistakes” in not following them to the letter, the game is not “accurate”, people are not playing tactically or as a team, etc.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
And while I understand that some people are annoyed at ”roleplayers” sneering down their nose at them for not play acting, it’s just as right to be annoyed at some people treating other games as inferior because the rules there are not important and venerated, people make “mistakes” in not following them to the letter, the game is not “accurate”, people are not playing tactically or as a team, etc.
Speaking of which...



As Matt says at the top of this video... this one is much more of a "rant" than a purely instructional video... and probably gives off much more of a "badwrongfun" vibe than others he normally gives. And I imagine it will probably irritate more people and make them more vehemently disagree stronger than his videos normally would. Now of course that doesn't bother me one iota, because I happen agree with everything in this video 100% (as anyone who reads my stuff here on the boards will instantly be able to recognize.)

Granted, you take these two videos together and it definitely colors how people will react to what they think is Matt's true opinion in the first video of 'zero-dimensional characters'... but so be it. I for one don't care at all if other tables choose to play D&D strictly as the "board game" with zero-dimensional characters and requiring ever rule to be perfectly balanced like they were playing Root or something at their own tables... you do you... but I always make darn well sure that their clarion call to anyone listening out there that the game needs to have this is not so loud and overpowering that other players (and/or any eventual game designers out there who read our stuff here on the boards) think that's the preferred method of D&D and have it give too much influence over design in the future. I never want the game to return to a more 3E-ish style of "Rules, Not Rulings", and will make sure to balance their "rules first" communiques with an equal and opposite "drama first" response. All so that hopefully... as we continue down the D&D path into the future... it continues to be a happy medium between them both, rather than either side getting too much traction. :)
 

Matt tries very hard not to show his bias, but everyone does. He's got a preference for high levels of acting and improv, and that's cool, but despite his attempt otherwise, his description of roll-playing (and even "one dimensional" roleplaying) can be easily construed as offensive to those who prefer that style. It's not quite as simple as he tries to make it out to be, but he's on the right track.

There are many levels of roleplaying, with most beginners focusing on the game part of RPG. Most move on to making more in-depth characters on a gradient scale. In general the more detailed the character, the more interactive the player is during roleplay, although this isn't always the case. Each player has their own comfort level of roleplaying, that can't be quantified with a simple 3 (or 4) point scale, because this doesn't take into consideration the personality of the player, let alone character.

IMO roll-playing is a different issue. Roll-playing is playing to the mechanics of the game, where you don't take any action that would require a check unless you're good at it. Roll-players most commonly check their character sheet before making a decision. They can still be roleplaying, but they bias their character by their mechanics, rather than in-game development. Technically there's nothing wrong with this, although I personally feel that not only is it distracting for the game, but that the player is limiting themselves from the full game experience.
 

payn

Hero
Im pretty sure the discussion is going to firmly remain rollplaying vs roleplaying, but I've always found my tables to be a mix of these levels. I usually have a zero, 1D, and 3D player(s) at the same table. It takes craft for the GM to manage sessions that dont bog down in one direction or the other to keep everyone happy.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I agree with Matt Colville here and with whoever said that after a while 3D players can slip back down to 1D (or 2D depending on the terms you want to use) because playing at the 3D level of "complexity" can be exhausting both for the person playing it and everyone else at the table. It seems like a spectrum that any one player character may be at different points on during a campaign based on DM, game style, adventure, setting, fellow players, time of day, mood, etc . .

Personally, I find the "that's what my character would do" defense for obnoxious or disruptive behavior to be annoying AF. I also find that playing in one of these three approaches can all be fun in different ways and work for different games. I have have played in games with the majority of approach being one of all three and have had fun. The problem is when expectations among players or btwn players and DM do not align enough and it causes friction.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
According to Colville, roleplaying is "making decisions about your character in a game with a persistent world where your character improves based on the decisions you made."

Problem: not all roleplaying games have "improvement" in the classic D&D sense.

What Colville calls Roleplaying, I call "improvisational method-acting."

So, this is a misuse of "method acting". Method acting is a technical approach to acting (called "the method"). It is when the actor literally works themselves into the emotional state their character has, in order to have a "true" performance. If the character is enraged, the actor is enraged. If the character is sobbing in misery, the actor is in misery. Typically, this is achieved by the actor reaching back into their own past for things that made them feel rage, or misery, and re-living them to re-induce the emotional state.*

Colville simply talks about doing something your character would that you wouldn't. Like, I am basically a law-abiding person, but my dwarf character may be a thieving jackhole who regularly and literally stabs innocent people in the back to get their valuables. If so, I am choosing actions for the character that I personally would not, but I'm not personally living the emotion behind that choice in the process.





*There's some evidence that, in the long term, method acting causes psychological damage to the actor. By repeatedly reliving their own traumas to act, they do not resolve those traumas, and instead deepen their psychological wounds. The practice isn't very common any more, for that reason.
 

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