Saturday, September 02, 2006

But I have to stay in character!

In the eternal principle of "meden agan (nothing too much)", we turn now to the question of whether a roleplayer must remain true to character, world, genre, and feel at all turns or not at all, or somewhere in between. Can you guess which answer I'll end up picking?

On the extreme right we have the metagamers. They come first because they came first in roleplaying, which evolved out of wargaming, and which routinely recruits people from the worlds of card and board and other tactical games, computer games, and other media which primarily focus on tactics, and offer a means to "win" (or at least keep score) which is paramount. Roleplayers constantly bemoan the abuses of metagamers. Those who admit they're only here to play to win are looked down on, but it's the ones that claim to be roleplaying, but who always bend to fit the tactical advantage, whose characters always somehow end up after the greatest gear or magic items or piles of gold or (most commonly) highest experience level, those are the ones "true roleplayers" really despise. Twinks, minmaxers, power-gamers, they're a stain on the hobby and a perpetual obstacle to those sincerely seeking character exploration and development.

So we've got an easy villain to rail against, and what does that mean? Sure enough, it means people overreacting and going too far the other way. And when they do, criticizing their excesses is an uphill battle, because they're defending their banner of True Roleplaying from the elitist stand of someone opposing an obviously villainous opponent, the Twink. But being opposed to a villain doesn't make you a hero.

Those who elevate character motivations, genre conventions, game feel, etc. to an Ideal, make them an end, not a means, are making almost as serious a mistake as the Twinks. Metagaming has its place; what matters is how it's used, not whether. The fact is, while you're pursuing your character's internal motivations wherever they lead, it still falls upon your shoulders to make sure that somehow, they lead in a direction which:
  • is fun for you
  • is fun for the other people in the game
  • is fun for the GM
  • doesn't screw anything up for anyone else
  • doesn't make anyone else waste a lot of effort and time unwillingly
  • doesn't make your fun come at the expense of others involved in the game
That means you have to metagame enough to help your character find a reason to go on the adventure the GM has prepared, and that obligation is just as important as the GM's obligation to prepare an adventure that your character could have a reason to go on; it's a two-way street. It means you can't screw up the fun of other players and then insist that you were only doing it because your character would; find a reason why your character would do something else, or arrange some event which will change your character's mind, or get a new character. It means you may even have to go so far as to twink your character's skills in order to fill a niche the party needs to be able to survive; if the group's going to die or fail, unless it has a face man or a healer or a fixer, someone had better be sure they fit that role, even if it means minmaxing to make it fit.

All in all, you have to remember that Not Metagaming is not some sacred trust. It's simply a means to an end. What you're really after is Not Sacrificing Roleplaying In Favor of Metagaming. When metagaming goes against roleplay and fun, eschew it. When it facilitates roleplay and fun, embrace it.

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