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That Thread in Which We Ruminate on the Confluence of Actor Stance, Immersion, and "Playing as if I Was My Character"

pemerton

Legend
I also continue to sense a strong sentiment, both here and in the "GM's Notes" thread, that proponents of "living world" play believe their agenda/playstyle is superior to achieve immersion. But I've still yet to hear a convincing argument how and why this is the case. What is so germane and important about the "living world" playstyle to achieve immersion?
I know you've had a response to this from @Emerikol.

From my point of view I wouldn't expect an argument, because the appeal seems to be entirely to experience. And many of those proponents are quite hostile to the sort of analysis that might support a more abstract argument.

For my part, as I've explained already in my post just upthread of this one, I don't find GM narration of everything my PC should already know given his/her connection to and enmeshment within the gameworld very conducive to immersion. That is one reason I find BW's Wises and Circles mechanics appealing; though I can also see the appeal of the PbtA technique of asking questions and building on the answers which lives in much the same functional space though without the same sort of connection to the action resolution mechanics.
 
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Good point! From what I remember of the 2002-4 era, we were playing D&D 3e but some players and DMs tried to bring GNS Narrativism into the game as a kind of Real Roleplaying ideal, which didn't work too well. I remember a GM who got sufficiently frustrated that she switched her D&D campaign to Heroquest (the Glorantha game not the boardgame), which then removed the tactical combat aspect most players enjoyed.

I think 4e D&D also ended up a bit of a mess as it tried to mix half-understood Forge theory into the game; ending up a lot more 'incoherent' than most prior iterations (2e AD&D excepted).
The thing about this is that in my experience the absolute worst part of Forge theory is its claim that purity is a good thing and incoherence a bad thing. There are about half a dozen people at any given table and they will all be looking at the very least for slightly different things. Purifying is an excellent design challenge to show you can but a good RPG will try to support people in a range of styles.
 

Campbell

Legend
The thing about this is that in my experience the absolute worst part of Forge theory is its claim that purity is a good thing and incoherence a bad thing. There are about half a dozen people at any given table and they will all be looking at the very least for slightly different things. Purifying is an excellent design challenge to show you can but a good RPG will try to support people in a range of styles.

I fundamentally disagree. That's just a dodge away from game design. The best thing about The Forge was the idea that we should have a shared purpose (creative agenda). That we should lean into whatever game we are playing rather than all trying to get our wildly different personal kinks satisfied. Enshrining the three particular creative agendas like did was thoroughly bad idea, but still an improvement over what we had before. 3 ways to play is better than 1 way to play. More ways to play is better still.

When I sit down to play or run a game I want to just focus on the game in front of me. I just want to play. I don't want to worry about working someone's particular kinks in. I just want to bring it. I'm also not bringing a particular energy other than what the game is about. I like that there are OSR games, Story Now games, games like Apocalypse World and Blades that have an agenda that does not fit as cleanly, etc. I like that I can select for particular play experiences. I like a lot of different sorts of games. Just not at the same time.

My personal experience of the before times was filled with a lot of disappointing play that comes from people not being on the same page. A lot of having to interrogate new players or groups to see if we might be a good fit. So much more work to get games off the ground. If I had to go back to that I probably would leave the hobby.
 


Doug McCrae

Legend
If (i) my thought as a player is supposed to be aligned with that of my character, and (ii) I don't know anything about the world I'm in and need to be told by someone else (ie the Gm), then (iii) it must follow that I'm a stranger to the world.
A suggested plot in Jonathan Tweet's rpg Over the Edge (1992) has the PCs gradually realising they are characters in a roleplaying game via this method (among others).

Someone confronts the PCs and says they are not real people. To prove it, she throws rapid-fire questions at them, such as “Where were you born?,” “How many siblings do you have?,” “What’s your mother’s maiden name?,” etc. The point is that normal people should be able to answer these questions immediately, while the players may well have to pause while they invent the background. Also, search for inconsistencies in the backgrounds the PCs have developed. In the role-playing universe, once the player has imagined something, it comes into existence, so once the PC says, “I have two brothers and a sister,” it is so and has been so in the past. But if pressed, a PC may well create inconsistencies. The GMC uses this interrogation session as proof that the PCs are not real people, or at least not normal ones.​

Ultimately the PCs meet their players.

Now that the PCs know who they are, have them meet their makers. A door opens (or whatever), and in step several people (describe the role-playing group exactly as they are). Each walks to his individual PC and says, “I am your creator. Now you have an opportunity to ask me anything you want” (or something like that). Encourage the players to have their PCs confront their makers, demanding to know why they were put through such struggles, why they were made defectively, etc. Have each player talk out the conversation between himself and the PC with the other players looking on. Played properly, this could be extremely dramatic.​
 

pemerton

Legend
A suggested plot in Jonathan Tweet's rpg Over the Edge (1992) has the PCs gradually realising they are characters in a roleplaying game via this method (among others).
I've read this scenario but never tried to run it. Have you? Or do you know if anyone has?

I know it could just be a rhetorical device, but there's actually quite a bit of lead-up to the bit you describe (like discovering the Coke can - I think that's from the same scenario).
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
I've read this scenario but never tried to run it. Have you? Or do you know if anyone has?
No to both. To my knowledge no one in my gaming circle in Glasgow has ever done anything that broke the fourth wall in this way. I used to be into doing it in kind of a minor way with my PCs in the 90s and early noughties -- there was a lot of that kind of thing around at the time, like John Byrne's run on She-Hulk where she knows she's a comic book character. But I remember having quite a negative reaction to the Over the Edge version when I first read it, though I really liked most of the other ideas in the book. I just felt it wouldn't work, I think.

EDIT: It's interesting as an idea because it gets at the heart of a truth about roleplaying games, but there's no point in actually playing it.
 
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So some of the recent posts make me think of the comic “Die” by Kieron Gillen and Stefanie Hans, which also has a beta RPG. In the RPG, players create a fictional RPG character in the world of Die, and also create the player playing that character.

So there are two layers of fiction in the game, and it kind of allows for some real meta type commentary about why people RPG.

I haven’t yet had a chance to play the RPG, but I hope to at some point. I recommend the comic to anyone interested in RPG theory and history, and just fantasy in general. It’s brilliant.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
If (i) my thought as a player is supposed to be aligned with that of my character, and (ii) I don't know anything about the world I'm in and need to be told by someone else (ie the Gm), then (iii) it must follow that I'm a stranger to the world.

Gygax in his DMG says that the GM should tell the players they don't know anything about the gameworld. This is primarily a play device - the players have to learn the setting as part of the skill of play. But it's not actually consistent with immersing in a character who is an entrenched part of the gameworld.

Given that I prefer to play characters who are entrenched in the gameworld rather than strangers to it, I also prefer to approach the gameworld in ways that don't require dependence on GM narration.
This is why I have a long session 0 with players to establish their identity in the world. I admit I don't tend to have PCs play where they grew up mainly because it gives them a massive advantage over the other PCs unless they all grew up there together. I tend to give out information sufficient to what a PC would know in the world. That though is not in game session development. That is out of game session.


@Doug McCrae and @hawkeyefan
I think those questions would be a great starting point for session 0. I tend to let my players have a good bit of creativity on their background. Once they decide on the details, I try to mesh it into the world so that they have actual names of countries, towns, etc... where everything they describe happened. Organizations that helped or wronged them can be associated with existing organizations in the world. It's like they do a black and white sketch which is the true picture and then the DM just adds color.

A checklist of questions though would be a good idea. I tend to ask about family. A lot of my players tend to desire to be loners though in many cases.
 
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dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Norton's Quag Keep had the players of a D&D game sort of breaking the 4th wall with their characters, iirc.

Forge stuff is funny, we were alternating between Rifts and Call of Cthulhu when I first read it. I do tend to agree that having a system made for the setting is good, then again the setting is important. Now people are advertising playing Traveller with Pbta, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
 

While any x.p. system is bound to have some downsides, I like x.p. == gold better than x.p. for monsters. I find PCs acting out of character as a motivation to gain x.p. to be far worse when killing monsters is the motive. Gold is worthwhile even if there were no x.p. So PCs chasing gold is realistic even without the x.p. motive. Killing that last fleeing goblin just because you don't want to lose the x.p. is not good I don't think.
But do you like the "skip the defensive guards, go to the village while they sleep, kill the non-fighters, and loot the now lifeless village" that it spawned in many players back in the day? As one friend of mine says, "no popuylation, no popular unrest." the dead villager poses no threat when looting.
 


Emerikol

Adventurer
But do you like the "skip the defensive guards, go to the village while they sleep, kill the non-fighters, and loot the now lifeless village" that it spawned in many players back in the day? As one friend of mine says, "no popuylation, no popular unrest." the dead villager poses no threat when looting.
I would consider that group an evil one. I tend to prefer playing with heroic characters.

I also think since I run a world full of NPCs with realistic motives etc... that the wholesale slaughter of innocents will bring more heat than it prevented.
 

The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that the concept of a "living world" by itself is a net neutral correlation to "immersion."

All of the "offscreen" gyrations/permutations/extrapolations of what NPC/faction does what, where, and why, is not really important for my ability as a player to be "immersed" moment to moment.

During the times when I was most "immersed", these were the common components:
  • I had a strongly-realized character. The character was easy to visualize within the fictional space, with strong, well-defined motivations.
  • The immediate scene being played out directly connected to the character's motivations.
  • As a player, I was open and willing to let the scene play out organically. I wasn't going to just "do this thing because that's what my character would do," I was actually trying to interpret the in-fiction results of the game loop into the frame of the scene. If something changed in the fiction that would have mattered to my character, I wanted that change to be accurately reflected. To be clear, this was only partially carried out in "actor" stance. There was significant bouncing between actor and author stances, interpreting the character within and the scene without.

As a player, nothing about the GM's conception of the "offscreen" world made any difference in the moment.

Conversely, some of the most anti-immersive things I've experienced were related to my inability to pursue my character's dramatic need. I'm specifically thinking of the Savage Worlds Shaintar game my friend ran three years ago. There were many, many moments where'd I'd try to get "in character," start to picture how my character would react in situations, how she would view/approach certain NPCs, etc., but would constantly get blocked when I realized that this character was being denied what she would have wanted.

The only way a "living world" construct makes any difference to me as a player being "immersed" is if it gives the GM the ability to create scenes with 1) stakes appropriate to my character, and 2) is willing to actually "play to find out what happens."

For example, @Bedrockgames has cited multiple times a quote from a module that talks about how "the goblins don't just stand still," or whatever; i.e., the dungeon/town/city/country evolves as time goes on. But the GM's background workings/methods/processes in regards to making those extrapolations ultimately have zero effect on how and when the next scene of play has the ability to "immerse" me as a player.

I think what I'm getting at is that "living world" sandbox play has a number of merits in and of itself, but there's nothing about the GM functions/machinations involved in generating a "living world" that would have any real impact on my "immersion."
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
During the times when I was most "immersed", these were the common components:
  • I had a strongly-realized character. The character was easy to visualize within the fictional space, with strong, well-defined motivations.
  • The immediate scene being played out directly connected to the character's motivations.
  • As a player, I was open and willing to let the scene play out organically. I wasn't going to just "do this thing because that's what my character would do," I was actually trying to interpret the in-fiction results of the game loop into the frame of the scene. If something changed in the fiction that would have mattered to my character, I wanted that change to be accurately reflected. To be clear, this was only partially carried out in "actor" stance. There was significant bouncing between actor and author stances, interpreting the character within and the scene without.

As a player, nothing about the GM's conception of the "offscreen" world made any difference in the moment.
This is a good post, but I specifically wanted to call out a couple of things in this.

First, I see an interpretation that immersion isn't entirely dependent on the GM's approach to the world, but that it's likely to be highly dependent on player-GM compatibility (and there might be synergies between specific GM approaches and specific playstyles).

Second, I find that my most-immersive play is very much into the story (not a specific character) and very much in a co-authorial mindset. That I find that authoring fiction requires more suspension of disbelief than reading it seems somehow relevant, here.
 

One element of my personal style I've had players continually praise is the sense that there's a reason for everything, they feel like if they were to follow up on just about anything, there would be something there to learn about or understand why it works the way that it does.

I understand that piece of praise as my games having a sense of a living world, although I handle it differently than some would suggest that entails, specifically I make judgement calls about what needs to change over time, and what situations can be relatively static (read: where their status quo doesn't actually change in a meaningful way in universe, like, two countries won't just be at war forever, but its believable that they might be at a status quo stalemate for long time before a decisive battle would actually happen.)

What all those techniques being discussed here, and in the 'GM Notes' thread boil down to, is practices that enhance a sense of cause and effect at work in the world. Where 'Living World' techniques intersect with Immersion, is when the players uncover, or happen to hear about things happening in the world outside of the actions of the party and thereby imply movers and shakers beyond themselves.
 
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Campbell

Legend
For me personally the number one factor in my ability to experience bleed in a safe and fun way is the orientation of the other players (including the GM if I'm playing a PC) to the character I am currently playing. Are they curious about my character? Are they fans? Do they want to see what happens to them next? The reason that's important is I need to feel socially free to really play that character with integrity. If I feel that interest is not there I do not want to be a drain on other people's experiences. Nothing is less fun than if other people's eyes glaze over when it's your turn to talk or you pursue your character's personal agenda.
 

For me personally the number one factor in my ability to experience bleed in a safe and fun way is the orientation of the other players (including the GM if I'm playing a PC) to the character I am currently playing. Are they curious about my character? Are they fans? Do they want to see what happens to them next? The reason that's important is I need to feel socially free to really play that character with integrity. If I feel that interest is not there I do not want to be a drain on other people's experiences. Nothing is less fun than if other people's eyes glaze over when it's your turn to talk or you pursue your character's personal agenda.
Honestly, I've said it before and I'll say it again, this is the real magic of Critical Role, say what you want about them being professionals, what really makes that show is that every player is a fan of the other's characters. Everyone is stoked whenever something is happening to any one of them, everyone is excited to interact with the other personalities at the table, to buy into jokes or emotional scenes. Everyone is actively interested in squeezing the other characters for their secrets. I've GMed groups somewhat like this in the past (my university days) and its a real pleasure when everyone is invested in each other.

Whereas at my table, there are people who kind of shortsightedly have the viewpoint that they really don't care beyond their own character, it gives things this 'ok great, but I'm bored' vibe, its only just starting to change and I think it might be because I'm currently in a player slot while one of my regular player GMs, and I interact with everyone else using a character that has a strong personality.

That character is in an interesting position though, because they're kind of a massive jerk (albeit one with a good heart) the other players are fans of it provided it doesn't go too far (I've been asking to make sure everyone is comfortable on an ongoing basis, and playing in a way intentionally non-disruptive to party decision making), but the GM can't stand them, so I've been having to twist their personality in a way I'm honestly realizing I'm not enjoying as much, to keep them happy.

Which... I think I'm sympathizing with what you mean by "I need to feel socially free to really play that character with integrity" I might be feeling the loss of that integrity.

I'd be curious to play with you sometime, we seemingly have a lot of the same tastes and viewpoints.
 


I would consider that group an evil one. I tend to prefer playing with heroic characters.

I also think since I run a world full of NPCs with realistic motives etc... that the wholesale slaughter of innocents will bring more heat than it prevented.
Except that the standard D&D world is more racist than Delhi, Jo'berg, Sydney, or Atlanta in the mid 19th C. The thinking and feeling beings that are listed as monsters are non-people in the games, and, at least in AD&D, are inherently evil, irredeemably so it would appear, so killing them is merely preventing their spreading their evil ways...

... in the context of D&D as presented, Orcs not even good as slaves. Hence, slaughter is the order of the day, Given that the treasure in lair is where the bulk is, bypass the warriors, kill the orc village while the warriors are out, and get out with the treasure. If possible, tuckerize them before they tuckerize you. wait for one to be alone, and remote slay. If high enough level, cloudkill and a couple fireballs can end most villages. Maximum XP for minimum risk.
 

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