• NOW LIVE! -- One-Page Adventures for D&D 5th Edition on Kickstarter! A booklet of colourful one-page adventures for D&D 5th Edition ranging from levels 1-9 and designed for a single session of play.
log in or register to remove this ad

 

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
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

If the players are so disinterested in playing characters as anything more than pawns, then why would I possibly bother putting any depth into the game?

They are not playing pawns. They are exploring the world through a character, but they just are not as interested in some other players as fleshing out that character beyond it essentially being themselves with a bit more strength or something (obviously it isn't literally them, it was clearly born in another world for example). But I have not really found it disruptive if a player basically plays themselves. If other players want to get deeper into characterizing their PC, sure that is fine. If anything, the "I am just playing my character" guy is more likely to be disruptive than someone who simply doesn't inject huge amounts of new personality into their character.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

If I'm trying my hardest, as the DM, to present a believable world to you so that you can immerse yourself in it, then the very least you can do is reciprocate and give the DM something to work with.

As a GM, I certainly give my NPCs personality. I don't use voices though, and I don't get heavy into acting. I still value a believable world. For me that is more in the effort I put into building that world and in allowing my players to explore it freely. I do think a lot about my NPCs actions, and treat them as living characters in the setting so they can react appropriately to what the PCs do. This character driven and open world style works well for me. But, and this is the really important thing here, this isn't the only style, and it isn't the best style, and gamers all have different tastes. One person's 'greatest gm ever' is another's 'most annoying GM of all time.
 

Just because you the player have a brilliant plan so cunning you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel, doesn't mean that your character does. Don't forward that plan to the group. Seems pretty simple to me.

But here is the problem with that for many people. For a lot of gamers, immersion is about feeling like you are there in your character' shoes. If you have a brilliant idea that you know would work, and your character is supposed to be not smart enough to come up with such an idea, that creates a real gulf between the player and the character for some types. This is one reason by the way to allow people to essentially play themselves, it is a more honest interaction with the setting in some ways. Some folks immerse by being in the world and by solving the puzzle with their minds (not by simulating the playing a particular personality trying to solve the puzzle). I don't think there is one answer here, but I do think this line emerges as a clear distinction in playstyle and taste, and its okay for there to be different approaches (people are at the table for different reasons).
 

If the players are so disinterested in playing characters as anything more than pawns, then why would I possibly bother putting any depth into the game?
Because characterization is only one of the ways players can engage with the game world. A player could enjoy the setting lore and political machinations without putting much effort into making their PC distinct. Some players get most of their enjoyment from immersion in the immediate game setting, like a movie playing in their imaginations. I've had players who devote most of the session to drawing illustrations of the locations and enemies they're encountering in play; they're deeply immersed and engaged with the game world. I find that very rewarding as a DM, because it means the effort I've put into creating evocative locales is being noticed and appreciated.
 

Because characterization is only one of the ways players can engage with the game world. A player could enjoy the setting lore and political machinations without putting much effort into making their PC distinct. Some players get most of their enjoyment from immersion in the immediate game setting, like a movie playing in their imaginations. I've had players who devote most of the session to drawing illustrations of the locations and enemies they're encountering in play; they're deeply immersed and engaged with the game world. I find that very rewarding as a DM, because it means the effort I've put into creating evocative locales is being noticed and appreciated.

Agree 100% with this. These people are all still invested in the role-playing side of the game (they are often speaking in character, engaging NPCs through dialogue and engaging the politics and contours of the setting). They just might not be as heavily invested in fleshing out a character who has strong personality traits. You even see this in many movies. Lots of films feature an everyman character that a wide range of audiences can identify with (whose personality doesn't pop). Some people do something similar when they play an RPG, and adopt a kind of neutral personality because they are focused on things like solving the mystery or playing politics. And there are even players who might develop a character but basically play the same type of character from game to game. I don't see any of that as a problem as long as they and the others at the table are having fun.
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
Sure, but if the fiction in my imagination is a brilliant self-assured nimble wizard who is now and then somewhat clumsy - and that's what I'm roleplaying - yet the sheet says St 16, In 9, Wi 8, Dx 16, Co 12, Ch 7, I'd say that anyone would be quite justified in telling me I'm outright doing it wrong and I'd have no defense whatsoever.

Before you inhabit the house you have to build it; and if the building materials you have are wood then you can't use them to make a brick house no matter how hard you try. The best you can do is carefully paint the wood so it looks like brick.

Well, the analogy here is that all those things on the character sheet are your building materials.
I just disagree with this. I think imagining a character and building a character on a character sheet are two separate activities. I think in most approaches the two things are mostly aligned, which is all fine and good, but that doesn't preclude or invalidate an approach in which what's on the sheet doesn't add up to what the player imagines. Maybe you could say there's a lack of system mastery in building a character that plays differently than what the player imagined, but that's about it. That's because what's on the sheet is not the character. It's just a reference for interacting with the game's mechanics. To go back to your analogy, I can build any house I want in my imagination because my building materials themselves are imaginary. The character sheet, on the other hand, is something in the real world, perhaps analogous to a deed or some other legal paperwork for an imaginary house.

Player writes LG on character sheet. Player has character consistently act neither L nor G at such times when it's advantageous to do so. When called on it either in the fiction or at the table, player's (somewhat meta) defense is "Go ahead, cast Know Alignment - I'm Lawful Good. It says so right here!"

I saw this once too often back in the day, and thenceforth have made it very clear that while you can write an alignment on the sheet it might not hold up if you don't then at least vaguely play to it.
Okay, but what's to prevent the DM from changing the alignment on the sheet right then and there, assuming the DM thinks that's warranted, and then applying whatever the mechanical effect of that new alignment is (e.g. then having an NPC cast know alignment)?

Where I make it very clear that the alignment those mechanics are going to see is what's arisen out of how the character has actually been played, unless the character is brand new and hasn't established any patterns yet.
I think we're on the same page here except that if it has gotten to the point that the character's actions have consistently demonstrated a different alignment than what's on the sheet, I'm going to change what's on the sheet before any mechanics interact with the alignment that arises from those actions.

They're not. They're just incapable of having more, no matter what incentives are put in front of them. And when you say stats don't matter it kinda comes across as a desire, in this example, to ignore or brush off this incapability and have the character instead be able to come up with all the ideas and insights it wants to (i.e. you're playing to your intelligence, not the character's).
I think in an RPG, which is a voluntary activity driven by players exercising their choice, mechanical incentives are a better way to align roleplaying with whatever has been established about the character rather than blocking certain action declarations.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Honestly I think you are overvaluing the acting and performance side of the game. Definitely it is good if the GM makes distinctions between NPCs (I don't expect the heroic knight we just helped to behave like a villain in the game). But, unless the GM is particularly skilled at it, I don't really care for GMs who get heavy into acting out their parts. Certainly I want them to speak in character. But I don't mind a bit of dryness and talking like themselves. I don't want a GM who acts like Matt Mercer for example. That kind of play just isn't for me. I've seen this when GMs try too hard to do what you are describing, rather than just relax and be themselves. I'd much rather play with a GM who is relaxed, and presents a clear, believable world in a natural way, than one using voices for NPCs (I actually find the latter really off-putting except with a couple of GMs who just happen to do that really well)
Where I would love all that! If all the NPCs sound (and look*) pretty much the same it quickly gets difficult to remember which one said what; and I don't want to have to be taking notes all the time.

* - a DM who doesn't do voices well can still make NPCs distinctive and memorable by tying specific physical actions or habits to them and, where possible, acting those out at the table. A classic example of such comes from what a player in my game once did for a Dwarf PC: every time this Dwarf said something - anything - the player would raise his fist to his mouth as if quaffing from a mug of beer. An otherwise short-lived nothing character became instantly unforgettable!
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
Well, with a low Int, there are a number of things you can do. Make mistakes from time to time. Maybe speak making grammatical errors. Deliberately, as a player, choose the less optimum choice. There are a thousand ways to portray this.
But those are mechanical choices the player is making. I get that doing things like this can help someone get into and feel like their character, and it occurs to me that the original advice to play within the scores on the sheet was probably aimed in that direction, so I think that can be good advice for someone who has trouble imagining a fictional character, as a sort of stepping stone to becoming immersed once those choices have been internalized. As I said up thread, this is very similar to how scripting and blocking operate in acting. It seems strange to me to import that sort of thing into a medium where what the character does is not pre-determined, but I can see how it can work as a foundation for immersion. Personally, however, I think it would be better advice to not underestimate players and simply tell them to play the character they imagine. That way, precious game-time can be spent on immersive experiences as that character rather than something more akin to an acting exercise, which is something I don't think most RPGers are down for.

But, that's not entirely true. Lots of players will overplay their character's abilities in order to bypass checks entirely. Roleplaying can most certainly have an affect on ability scores.
I don't understand this. I meant that how you roleplay your character literally will not change your ability scores. It won't, not in any edition of D&D I've ever played.

Just because you the player have a brilliant plan so cunning you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel, doesn't mean that your character does. Don't forward that plan to the group. Seems pretty simple to me.
This advice is to hold your tongue and not participate in the game. How is that immersive? I don't think it mirrors the experience of being an unintelligent person at all.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Hriston said:
I don't understand this. I meant that how you roleplay your character literally will not change your ability scores. It won't, not in any edition of D&D I've ever played.
Exactly, which makes it incumbent upon the player to reflect those ability scores (somehow) in roleplay, because those scores ain't going anywhere. Further, to not do so is IMO playing in bad faith even if unintentionally.

Put another way: the scores (etc.) on the sheet are what they are but the roleplay is malleable.

Contrast this with alignment: the patterns established during roleplay are what they are and the alignment on the sheet is malleable.

In both cases the malleable thing has to be what changes in order to reflect that which is locked in.
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
Exactly, which makes it incumbent upon the player to reflect those ability scores (somehow) in roleplay, because those scores ain't going anywhere. Further, to not do so is IMO playing in bad faith even if unintentionally.

Put another way: the scores (etc.) on the sheet are what they are but the roleplay is malleable.

Contrast this with alignment: the patterns established during roleplay are what they are and the alignment on the sheet is malleable.

In both cases the malleable thing has to be what changes in order to reflect that which is locked in.
I disagree. The scores on the sheet are just that. They produce a modifier and interact with various other mechanics of the game. The desire for the points on the character sheet, the character as imagined by the participants, and the character as it is roleplayed at the table to all correspond tightly to one another expresses a certain prority of play which isn't universal.
 

Where I would love all that! If all the NPCs sound (and look*) pretty much the same it quickly gets difficult to remember which one said what; and I don't want to have to be taking notes all the time.

* - a DM who doesn't do voices well can still make NPCs distinctive and memorable by tying specific physical actions or habits to them and, where possible, acting those out at the table. A classic example of such comes from what a player in my game once did for a Dwarf PC: every time this Dwarf said something - anything - the player would raise his fist to his mouth as if quaffing from a mug of beer. An otherwise short-lived nothing character became instantly unforgettable!

Different strokes. I tend to run NPCs pretty dry, and any real distinction is between their actions, the words they speak, and how I describe them (I just am not into acting, and don't really do things like adopt tics or mannerisms). I am told by most of my players, can can track the NPCs well enough, because I tend to make them pretty eccentric and give them pretty clear motives and personalities. But just not an actor GM, and I don't really respond that strongly to the style, except when the GM doing it is adding humor and fun. I guess for me, I don't typically take a lot of enjoyment in watching the performance aspect of RPGs. I do like the social interaction, but I get a bit bored when it feels like people are performing on a stage (again, handful of exceptions to that rule of course)
 

Hussar

Legend
Because characterization is only one of the ways players can engage with the game world. A player could enjoy the setting lore and political machinations without putting much effort into making their PC distinct. Some players get most of their enjoyment from immersion in the immediate game setting, like a movie playing in their imaginations. I've had players who devote most of the session to drawing illustrations of the locations and enemies they're encountering in play; they're deeply immersed and engaged with the game world. I find that very rewarding as a DM, because it means the effort I've put into creating evocative locales is being noticed and appreciated.
Totally agree with this.

At least the player is doing SOMETHING besides just passively sitting at the table, consuming whatever it happens to be that I'm serving up this week.

I'd be over the moon if the player was that engaged in the game. However, players who play characters like I see being advocated in this thread, generally won't even put in that much effort. They think that the simple fact that they have shown up this week, dice in hand, is enough. Playing a character shouldn't be easy. It should take some effort. ANY effort and I'm ecstatic. My bar is so low that it's practically lying on the ground. Moles bump their heads on it.

But, so many players over the years take the "Oh, well, I'm just playing a game. I'll show up every week, react to whatever the DM puts in front of me, put in zero effort into giving anything back to the DM, and that's okay." I'm so, so, sick of those players. I'm totally done. You folks can complain that I'm badwrongfunning all your like, but, those players? The ones that show up, put in zero effort into the game beyond the barest minimum? They are not welcome at my table anymore. Give me something, ANYTHING to work with as a DM and I'll move heaven and earth to include it in the game. But, passively sit there and expect me to do the DM Monkey Dance week after week after week? Bugger that. No thank you anymore. I'm so done with that.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
players who play characters like I see being advocated in this thread, generally won't even put in that much effort. They think that the simple fact that they have shown up this week, dice in hand, is enough. Playing a character shouldn't be easy. It should take some effort. ANY effort and I'm ecstatic. My bar is so low that it's practically lying on the ground. Moles bump their heads on it.
A few thoughts come to mind when analysing this claim. One possible doubt might be whether you are a reliable witness? Might your strong convictions affect your perceptions? Another doubt might be whether you have sufficient experience? Have you played with a sufficiently large sample of RPG players?

I raise those doubts not in order to say that you are an unreliable witness or lacking sufficient experience, but to point out that you would presumably need to be taken to be as a reliable witness with sufficient experience before accepting your claim. And there would need to be no other parties just as capable of meeting such criteria while reporting versions at odds with your own.

The latter points to another way of assessing your claim, which is to ask whether it chimes with one's own?

But, so many players over the years take the "Oh, well, I'm just playing a game. I'll show up every week, react to whatever the DM puts in front of me, put in zero effort into giving anything back to the DM, and that's okay."
My experience with such players is that they simply don't meet the terms of immersion that either of us is advocating. They're not construing their character's actions given the pantheon of gods is real and they have a direct line to one. They aren't responding in an immersed fashion to the terrifying or mysterious creatures around them. They're not considering their paladin oath and refusing to lie or cheat, or let their words be their promise. Some might be enjoying a non-immersive, pushing-pawns, mode of play... or possibly not even that, if they are truly putting in zero effort.

I believe your complaint has nothing to do with preferred mode of immersion. It can be addressed by players adopting any mode of immersion.
 

loverdrive

Makin' cool stuff
Publisher
I'm, as always, gonna be a rebel without a cause (just got myself a shotgun, so I guess that's fitting). I think that "full immersion" is not only not necessary, but actually detrimental to the game, since the most important tools on your toolbelt lie outside of the game world.
 

Visit Our Sponsor

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top