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D&D General The History of 'Immersion' in RPGs

D&D historian Jon Peterson has taken a look at the concept of 'immersion' as it related to tabletop roleplaying games, with references to the concept going back to The Wild Hunt (1977), D&D modules like In Search of the Unknown, games like Boot Hill, and Forgotten Realms creator Ed Greenwood speaking in Dragon Magazine.


twh#15-roos-immersion.jpg
 

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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
But there are a number of things that your character does that are based on intelligence that are not checks. Tactical acumen, for example. Being able to remember details. If you are playing a low Int character, do you forgo taking notes? Do you make bad tactical decisions? So on and so forth.

There are far more ways to demonstrate and illustrate a character than simply through random die checks.
This seems to assume that it's a priority of play for the player to "demonstrate and illustrate" their character at the table, which is what I've called characterization in this thread. This isn't necessary, or even in some cases desirable, for roleplaying, which is making your character's decisions. Through my roleplaying of my character at the table, the table finds out who my character is based on the decisions s/he makes. I'm not interested in simulating a person with a low level of intelligence by pretending I've forgotten things or making decisions I know to be unsound. To me, that seems like not engaging with the game and using your character as an excuse.
 

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Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
That's fine, but your rejection constitutes at the very least a home brew view of the game. Your home brew of what intelligence means in D&D doesn't invalidate what I've said here regarding how the game uses low stat numbers.
I disagree, obviously. I haven't changed the meaning of Intelligence as it's explained in the book. I also don't care if you think I've homebrewed something. What I'm rejecting is the idea that anything on the character sheet is defining of my character in a binding way, i.e. that it establishes fiction about my character. It does not. Only events that are acknowledged to have happened in the game-world by the group around the table have that power. My character exists only in my head and the heads of the other people at the table. The character sheet, on the other hand, is merely a tool for me to interact with the mechanics of the game.
 

I disagree, obviously. I haven't changed the meaning of Intelligence as it's explained in the book. I also don't care if you think I've homebrewed something. What I'm rejecting is the idea that anything on the character sheet is defining of my character in a binding way, i.e. that it establishes fiction about my character. It does not. Only events that are acknowledged to have happened in the game-world by the group around the table have that power. My character exists only in my head and the heads of the other people at the table. The character sheet, on the other hand, is merely a tool for me to interact with the mechanics of the game.
Very much this. There is no strict prescribed way to play an 8 intelligence in the rules in 5e. As already mentioned, the player determines what their character thinks, says, and does/tries to do.
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
This...

...is quite different from this:

The latter is very important.
Yup.

As for the former, and going back to the difference between stage acting and RPGing for a minute, just because the character's your own and doesn't have to follow scripted lines doesn't excuse you-as-its-portrayer from paying attention to the guidelines established (in the script notes///on the character sheet) for/around said character and having those guidelines inform your portrayal. Wilfully ignoring those guidelines falls, IMO, into pretty much the same bucket as wilfully ignoring the dice on those occasions when you don't like what they roll.
I don't think my character sheet is a set of guidelines for roleplaying my character. It defines a PC solely in mechanical game-terms. My character, on the other hand, is a fiction that exists in my mind. The character sheet refers to it but is not it. When roleplaying, I draw on my mental image of this fictional person, as much as possible experiencing what that person experiences. It has nothing to do with the character sheet. I don't see how there's anything on the sheet to ignore, and I'm not sure what you mean by ignoring the dice either. The dice, when they're used, determine what happens. Do you mean to suggest that someone could just decide for themselves that something else happened?

Put another way: honour what's on the character sheet as established fiction, because it is. It's backstory, in a way, and falls under the same aegis as the backstory the DM has established for the setting: that being a reflection of what was in place before play began. It's kind of a brute-force mechanical summation of the results of what you'd have got if you had long-form-roleplayed this character through all of the x-many years of its life before joining the adventuring crew.
No, I'll just go with the character as I imagine it, and if part of its backstory is relevant to what's going on in the game, I'll tell the rest of the participants about it, so it becomes part of the established fiction.
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
Patterns and precedent.

My point is that after a certain time there comes a point where if something different starts happening it not so much new fiction as it is a violation of established pattern and precedent.
To paraphrase Hamlet, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Lanefan, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

I think this might just be a problem you have with the system. Dice can be swingy, but IMO that's why we use them, because of the surprises they might bring to the emergent story. When the dice determine that something happens that breaks precedent, I think it's best to honor that's what happened and deal with the implications. I'm not sure what the alternative even is.
 

Campbell

Legend
Screw precedent. Play a person, not a concept. When I play a roleplaying I just try to be present and base decisions on a generalized view of what feels true to the character in the moment. That stuff on the character sheet is just there if we need to engage with the mechanics. Having to double check decisions against ability scores is a detriment to the free flowing nature of the process (for me personally). In my experience if someone is playing in a way I would be tempted to verify their play against a character sheet we have much bigger problems.

I know one thing for certain : if we all treated high Wisdom the way some people want to treat Low Intelligence I would never be able to play a Cleric or Monk again.
 

Hussar

Legend
To me the most important part was always feeling you are there, interacting with the world through your character. Whether that character is you with the serial numbers filed off, or some person totally different from yourself, was never hugely important to us (though people often would do the latter)
But, there is also the issue of the other four (or so) people at the table. Just because you feel yourself to be immersed, if your presentation of the character is so bad, that can hurt the immersion of the other people at the table.
Hriston said:
This seems to assume that it's a priority of play for the player to "demonstrate and illustrate" their character at the table, which is what I've called characterization in this thread. This isn't necessary, or even in some cases desirable, for roleplaying, which is making your character's decisions. Through my roleplaying of my character at the table, the table finds out who my character is based on the decisions s/he makes. I'm not interested in simulating a person with a low level of intelligence by pretending I've forgotten things or making decisions I know to be unsound. To me, that seems like not engaging with the game and using your character as an excuse.

I strongly disagree. What you are calling characterization is the first priority of role play. It is ALWAYS necessary for roleplay. Otherwise, you aren't actually playing your character, you are simply playing a pawn that has nothing to do with the character you created for the table.

If you aren't characterizing your character, then you aren't roleplaying. Full stop. If your decisions are not based on the character you created, but rather on whatever you, the player feels like at the time, then you aren't roleplaying.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
Well, after about the third character, wouldn't this get really, really tired?

Sure, it's a character concept just like any other, but, when you have that player who plays Himself the Fighter, Himself the Wizard, Himself the Cleric, it gets REALLY REALLY stale, very quickly.
Not at all, it remains as fresh as the myriad of situations I find to immerse myself in. Me as eldritch knight swept down a rushing underground river to escape an enraged black dragon. Me as fiend pact warlock having made one deal too many. Me as arcane trickster escaping over winter rooftops. Immersion. In the world. For me it is the most immersive to imagine that I am really there.

For you it might become tired or @Thomas Shey feel narrow. I would say that happens only if you find yourself unable to imagine otherwise. And I would not make any similar criticism: I can well appreciate how some might enjoy pretending to be a different person - immersion in being someone else rather than somewhere else.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
But, there is also the issue of the other four (or so) people at the table. Just because you feel yourself to be immersed, if your presentation of the character is so bad, that can hurt the immersion of the other people at the table.
You've played with the average roleplaying group, right? Are you really saying they are all talented actors!?

I accept my fellow players level of interest and attempt at representations generously. I allow my imagination to do the work that often my fellow players can't or don't, because all our day jobs are not acting and at best we are amateur thespians.
 

But, there is also the issue of the other four (or so) people at the table. Just because you feel yourself to be immersed, if your presentation of the character is so bad, that can hurt the immersion of the other people at the table.

This has literally never come up in any group I've played with. And this is never something that has impacted my own immersion (I honestly don't see how a player not abiding by some personality trait listed on their character sheet, which I am probably not even aware of, is going to impact my immersion). My attitude with this stuff is you are going to have different styles of player at the table. So far that hasn't been a problem (some people deeply play a character unlike themselves, some basically play themselves).
 

You've played with the average roleplaying group, right? Are you really saying they are all talented actors!?
Immersion isn't about acting. We have players in our group who act well as their charters and know how to perform a bit. That is very entertaining and fun to have in a group. I never see that as being identical, or even part of, immersion. Immersion can be quite deadpan even. It is all about the perception of the person who is immersed. Immersion isn't method acting or something
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
I see those as being pretty much the same thing, in that either way I'm making the decision the character would make even if it's not the decision I-as-player might want it to make. :)
The difference, as I see it, is that one is making decisions based on looking at my character from the outside and asking, "What would that person do?" and the other is making decisions from the imagined point of view of my character, i.e. looking out at the world from my character's eyes, as it were. I think both could reasonably be considered roleplaying in actor stance, with which immersion as a phenomenon is generally associated, but I think the former at least comes close to author stance roleplaying because the player's priority of doing what my character would do is taking precedence over perceptions that might arise from the organic inhabitation of the character, and then a motivation is being invented for the character to justify its actions based on what the player thinks it would do. I don't see how the resulting decision is any different from the one you, the player, wanted to make. Just because you, the player, might have had other priorities that you're ignoring in this case doesn't mean that this decision isn't being made based on one of your own priorities.

With one exception, I'd rather there be no reason to perceive a discrepancy in the first place. Play to what's on the sheet, more or less, and all is good.

The one exception is alignment. You can write whatever letters you want on your character sheet under 'alignment' but its your actions in play that'll determine what your alignment really is, should somebody or something detect for such.
I agree with you about alignment because I treat them as objective forces in the games I run. If I were to change a character's alignment, though, I'd inform the player, mostly because there are mechanical implications, in my games, in terms of reaction rolls for determining starting attitude and social interaction DC's. I would never change a character's ability scores based on the player's roleplaying, though, because I don't believe the two things can be in conflict.

Qualified yes. It's likely not a stated thing for a few reasons: one, to state it in writing would cause a tidal wave of arguments based on exactly how they wrote and defined what each number in each stat might represent; and two, because the designers probably feel like this using one's character sheet as a guide to role-play is so obvious a statement that it really doesn't need to be said.
It's funny. I asked if this was true in your personal game, and you answered as if you think it's true of the game in general. Consider the possibility that it's not stated as a rule because it isn't one.

It goes beyond simple intelligence, though. Charisma, persuasiveness, wisdom, bonds-traits-flaws, background - all of these things* inform one's roleplaying, and they're right there on the character sheet.

* - or, where such exist, equivalents in other non-D&D systems.
I assume we're talking about D&D because this thread is in the D&D forum. Of course these things on the character sheet can inform roleplaying, but only inasmuch as the player chooses that they do. A player is incentivized, for example, to choose actions that rely on the character's strong abilities in case the success of the action is in doubt and is tested with a check. A player is also incentivized to play to their character's personality traits, ideal, bond, and flaw by the Inspiration mechanic. There's nothing in the rules, though, that says they must inform roleplaying. It's just not the way the system works.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
The difference, as I see it, is that one is making decisions based on looking at my character from the outside and asking, "What would that person do?" and the other is making decisions from the imagined point of view of my character, i.e. looking out at the world from my character's eyes, as it were.
There might be at least two modes of looking out at the world from my character's eyes. There is a mode where the character is me - mutatis mutandis - and I am in that world: I look out at the world from my eyes. Another is where the character is not me, and I look out at the world through that filter instead. Both are immersive. Both are different from looking at your character from the outside.
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
I would say that the bolded sentence is the heart of roleplay. IOW, that is how I judge good roleplay all the time. If the player is simply playing him or herself, regardless of whatever character they are playing, they're pretty much not roleplaying at all.

To put it another way, how can you be considered to be roleplaying if you're not actually playing a role? And, a role is almost always someone who is not you. (Note, that there are RPG's where you play yourself, but, that's not what we're talking about here) If your decision making process for your character only takes into account your personal goals and whatnot, then, well, you're not roleplaying.

I am not my character. I take great pains to differentiate my character from me as much as I can. The degree of success is judged by how well I can portray that character at the table without the players engaging me, the other player, instead of the character that I am portraying.
I didn't post in this thread to get into a debate about what roleplaying is. My comments are about what techniques do and don't promote immersive roleplaying, specifically playing to your ability scores. As far as I can tell, you aren't interested in immersion except when it comes to having yours upset by what you see as other players' "bad" roleplaying. I find your comments here to be rather "one-true-way-ist" in nature. I have no idea, for example, why you are talking about players who are playing themselves. That isn't an idea I've talked about here, and yet I would disagree with your assertion that it's not roleplaying. It most certainly is according to my definition because roleplaying, as I see it, is simply making your character's decisions. I would also acknowledge that the approach to roleplaying for which you seem to advocate, in which players are expected to play their characters according to a preconceived notion of how their characters would behave with an emphasis on portrayal and in which the participants judge each other for how well they adhere to such preconceptions in their portrayal, qualifies as roleplaying, but it isn't one that sounds immersive to me or one that I would say engages with the roleplaying part of the activity much at all.
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
I strongly disagree. What you are calling characterization is the first priority of role play. It is ALWAYS necessary for roleplay. Otherwise, you aren't actually playing your character, you are simply playing a pawn that has nothing to do with the character you created for the table.

If you aren't characterizing your character, then you aren't roleplaying. Full stop. If your decisions are not based on the character you created, but rather on whatever you, the player feels like at the time, then you aren't roleplaying.
Again with the One True Way.
  1. I'm not talking about playing in pawn stance.
  2. Pawn stance is a legitimate way to roleplay, but I'm not talking about that.
What I'm saying is that, for me, roleplaying is not about putting on a performance for the other people at the table. It's not about showing them a representation of my character that creates the illusion of a separate person for them to interact with. That's all fine if it exists, but it isn't the focus of what I would call roleplaying, and it isn't necessary. I much prefer that characterization and portrayal of the character flow from the character's actions in the game, which I see as the focus, rather than any self-conscious attempts to represent the character. I think "Show, don't tell" is instructive in this respect.
 

But, there is also the issue of the other four (or so) people at the table. Just because you feel yourself to be immersed, if your presentation of the character is so bad, that can hurt the immersion of the other people at the table.

This pendulum swings both ways Hussar. Yes there are other people at the table, and what do you do if those other people don't want what you are describing and prefer to basically play themselves, or play with very thin characterization? I don't force people at my table to play a certain way. I let them play the game how they are comfortable. If that means talking in first person, fine. If it means avoiding talking in first person, fine. I am not there to enforce a playstyle or RPG philosophy. I am there to have a functioning group. And most functioning groups are made up of different kinds of players. Some immerse through heavy characterization. Some, I would say most that I've encountered, immerse primarily by seeing the world through the eyes of their character (not in the sense of adopting that character's personality traits, but simply feeling like they are there, in the shoes of the character, on the ground). Do what works for you, but I don't run games or play the way Hussar wants me to. I run and play games the way I want to, the way my players want to, and the way that works at my table.
 

I strongly disagree. What you are calling characterization is the first priority of role play. It is ALWAYS necessary for roleplay. Otherwise, you aren't actually playing your character, you are simply playing a pawn that has nothing to do with the character you created for the table.

If you aren't characterizing your character, then you aren't roleplaying. Full stop. If your decisions are not based on the character you created, but rather on whatever you, the player feels like at the time, then you aren't roleplaying.

These kinds of prescriptive definition arguments around the term RPG, which focus on literal meanings of the words, rather than the kinds of games those words were invoked to describe, I think always kind of fails (and usually comes from a 'my style is better than yours' kind of place: it was even really common among people who preferred my sandbox style of immersion, and I always felt it was a weak way to argue about what RPGs are). The bottom line is there is a long tradition of people essentially just playing themselves, perhaps with a thin veneer of additional traits, but sometimes not, in D&D going back to the beginning). Obviously though these people are still playing a character to the extent that they are using a different name, have a different role in the party and society, but they are essentially just reaction as themselves to the situation. It is an entirely fine way to play. It doesn't mean you are not roleplaying, or that you are not playing a roleplaying game. The term roleplaying has a lot of different meanings depending on the context. We sometimes use it to refer to deep, first person interaction in RPGs, but sometimes it simply refers to rolling up a character and playing it at the table (whatever that means and however it is done)
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
The difference, as I see it, is that one is making decisions based on looking at my character from the outside and asking, "What would that person do?" and the other is making decisions from the imagined point of view of my character, i.e. looking out at the world from my character's eyes, as it were. I think both could reasonably be considered roleplaying in actor stance, with which immersion as a phenomenon is generally associated, but I think the former at least comes close to author stance roleplaying because the player's priority of doing what my character would do is taking precedence over perceptions that might arise from the organic inhabitation of the character, and then a motivation is being invented for the character to justify its actions based on what the player thinks it would do. I don't see how the resulting decision is any different from the one you, the player, wanted to make.
I get what you're saying here, though my take is that the difference is small enough to not matter in that the end result - the actions the character takes and the things it says during play - will turn out very much the same via either process.

Contrast this with someone playing in true pawn stance, where the in-play results will likely turn out more optimal on a consistent basis due to the player looking at things from a fully gamist perspective.
I agree with you about alignment because I treat them as objective forces in the games I run. If I were to change a character's alignment, though, I'd inform the player, mostly because there are mechanical implications, in my games, in terms of reaction rolls for determining starting attitude and social interaction DC's.
I rarely use reaction rolls and pretty much never use social interaction DCs (an advantage of playing in a system that eschews such things).

Further, if you write LG on your character sheet and then proceed to consistently play the character as CG I don't count that as an alignment change per se, as your in-play alignment was never LG in the first place. Unless someone casts a detection spell, I usually allow a few sessions to go by before trying to nail down a character's alignment, to give the player a chance to run the character out and sort it.
I would never change a character's ability scores based on the player's roleplaying, though, because I don't believe the two things can be in conflict.
I very much believe they can be in conflict, and if it gets too glaring I'll ask the player to change the role-playing to better suit the stats. That said, more often IME it's the other players that squawk long before the DM does.
I assume we're talking about D&D because this thread is in the D&D forum. Of course these things on the character sheet can inform roleplaying, but only inasmuch as the player chooses that they do. A player is incentivized, for example, to choose actions that rely on the character's strong abilities in case the success of the action is in doubt and is tested with a check. A player is also incentivized to play to their character's personality traits, ideal, bond, and flaw by the Inspiration mechanic. There's nothing in the rules, though, that says they must inform roleplaying. It's just not the way the system works.
Checks incentivize using one's stats to best advantage, sure. Inspiration or similar meta-mechanics are something I won't touch with a barge pole.
 

For you it might become tired or @Thomas Shey feel narrow. I would say that happens only if you find yourself unable to imagine otherwise. And I would not make any similar criticism: I can well appreciate how some might enjoy pretending to be a different person - immersion in being someone else rather than somewhere else.

I'm not sure "unable to imagine otherwise" is so much the issue as how much breadth you expect. I tend to find people who only play one general type of character playing a bit narrow too, but they enjoy what they enjoy, and its not for me to tell them they shouldn't.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
I'm not sure "unable to imagine otherwise" is so much the issue as how much breadth you expect. I tend to find people who only play one general type of character playing a bit narrow too, but they enjoy what they enjoy, and its not for me to tell them they shouldn't.
I am mooting that the detail and contrast in what can be imagined isn't constrained by the scale of subject. Only by the mind of the imaginer. Instead of putting effort into being a different person, effort is put into being in a different world.

EDIT Or better to say, just a different way of looking at it - different focus. To use "narrow" in this context feels - perhaps unintentionally - dismissive. The type of character turns out to be highly varied, because the concerns are what it is like - to be like that, in this world.
 

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