Roll and Role

Welcome to the Gibbering Mouth article for April 9th, 2014. Today’s article is a Wednesday Rave; the topic is roleplaying and “rollplaying.”

Oh man, nothing burns me up more than this topic: that’s why it’s a rave post. Today we’re going to be talking about the community divide surrounding the “opposing” gamestyles of ‘roleplaying’ and ‘rollplaying’?

What is Roleplaying?

You’ve read the Core Rulebook’s full title, right? You’re playing the Pathfinder ROLEPLAYING Game, after all! In a nutshell, roleplaying is any activity in which players create or are given fictional characters to portray. Roleplaying games usually incorporate game rules so the roleplaying doesn’t devolve into people shouting about what their characters can do and why they can never fail at it.

Roleplaying comes in a wide variety with an equally large number of reasons for its existence. Sometimes roleplaying is used for therapeutic reasons (such as marriage counseling or emotional support) but more often then not, roleplaying is a recreational activity (as you are all likely aware). Roleplaying in the Pathfinder sense is any activity in which you portraying your Player Character.

What is Rollplaying?

Don’t bother searching a dictionary website for this term; you’re not likely to find it, as the term “rollplaying” tends to be an insult directed at players who optimize their Player Characters. Rollplaying is a slanderous homonym of roleplaying that combines the words “roll” and playing” together that means “playing the game to roll dice.” Rollplayers are typically portrayed as Player Characters who have little to no interest in the game’s story and are more interested in playing a tactical miniature game then divulge themselves in Pathfinder’s story.

The Argument

As I mentioned, there is a strong difference in connotation between these two words. Roleplaying tends to be a neutral word while ‘rollplaying’ refers to a behavior rather than an activity. Players and GMs who consider themselves story-focused players typically use the Rollplayer label as a scarlet letter, branding their fellow’s actions as something undesirable because of a stereotype that players who optimize their characters for success in combat do not care about the game’s roleplaying aspects.

The Myth

There are actually two myths in the above argument: 1) that roleplaying and “rollplaying exist on some kind of axis so that the more into combat you are the less into you are and vice versa and 2) that players who enjoy rolling dice do not enjoy roleplaying. Let’s take a look at each myth separately.

The Roleplay/Rollplay Axis

Maybe it’s because of our tendency as Pathfinder gamers to look at good and evil, law and chaos, right and wrong on an axis that many of us try to apply the axis logic to personal preference for combat or roleplaying. People in general are very binary in their tastes and tend to see anything that they personally agree with or enjoy as being ‘wrong.’ As mentioned before, the term ‘rollplayer’ is one that is typically plastered onto players who have a preference for combat over roleplaying and I don’t mean to make these so-called rollplayers look victimized; they often do their fair share of judging towards dedicated roleplayers but they simply don’t have a buzzword to describe the people whose interests they don’t share like the roleplayers do.

So why is this “axis” a myth? Using an “axis” for your argument denotes a state of either/or: either you’re a rollplayer or you’re a roleplayer. This type of logic is, however, a gross oversimplification of gamers in generation. In effect, the roleplay/rollplay axis creates a massive self-imposed stereotype for not only Pathfinder players, but players of roleplaying games in general.  And just so we’re clear here, this is the definition of stereotype: a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing. Pretty much hits the nail on the head for this one. This definition is also the perfect transition into our analysis on the second part of the “rollplaying” myth.

Oversimplification of Gamers

As mentioned, the Roleplaying/Rollplaying axis is a gross oversimplification of the people who play roleplaying games. Instead of admitting that people possess complex motivations, likes, and dislikes, this stereotype attempts to classify everyone into a binary system of classification: Roll or Role. The wonderful thing about stereotypes is, however, that they’re automatically incorrect the moment that you can prove them wrong once: it’s the Achilles’ heel of generalizations. And I can prove them wrong because I know someone personally who enjoys both “roll playing” and “role playing.” And of course, that person is me.

As you’ve no doubt seen throughout this blog, I’m someone who takes his flavor and crunch equally seriously. Combat is important to me: it’s the heart of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game after all, but strength in combat without strength in character is theorycrafting in my opinion: its not playing the game. So if you come to my table with a supped up synthesist summoner build, I’ll probably reject your character unless you can give me a cool, interesting character behind the build but if your character is just mathematics wrapped in a paper character, your beautiful build isn’t something I’m going to consider at my table. In addition to this being my philosophy as a GM, its also my philosophy as a player when creating my personal characters.

In short, I think gamers are a lot more complex then people who would cry “rollplayer” or insult fellows for taking subpar options for roleplaying reasons give them credit for.

Roll or Role, it’s the Same Game

As a final thought, consider this: its all the same game. In a strong Pathfinder adventure, the narrative drives the combat. Combat is, in a sense, a mechanic that exists only to resolve strife in a world. Dungeons & Dragons as well as Pathfinder in particular place heavy emphasis on combat compared to combat-light games like World of Darkness or Dark Heresy, but that doesn’t mean that both elements don’t exist in the game. When we try to sham people for building their characters to be good at the element of the game they enjoy most, we’re drawing unnecessary battle lines throughout our hobby: this also applies to battle lines between games and editions of those games. In short, it doesn’t matter whether you build your character to be mathematically amazing in combat or you take a more down-to-earth approach to your character design. What matters is that everyone at the table is having fun telling stories together.

That said, none of my “peace and love” rant applies to munchkins. But we’ll talk about THOSE folk later!

 And that about wraps up my rant on rollplaying and roleplaying. What do you think? Do you agree with me, or is my rant a hate-fuelled tirade of a rollplayer? When you design your characters, is the build or the background more important to you and where do you start your planning? Does it bother you when other people at your table are more combat-oriented or more social-oriented? Why? Leave your comments and answers here, folks, and I’ll see you next week for another Wednesday Rant where you’ll get to see me rage about the only bad “rollplayers”! Don’t miss it.

 Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long over 90% of his colleagues. Affectionately called a “budding game designer” by his partner at Radiance House, Alexander is the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series (Radiance House) and a handful of other Third-Party Products. Before founding the Everyman Gaming blog, Alexander gained notoriety for writing the GM’s Guide to Challenging Encounters, which remains accessible to this day. His favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune barbarian, and his favorite pastime is SQUASHING PUNY MUNCHKINS!  

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5 thoughts on “Roll and Role

  1. Personally, I’m a rolleplayer and a rules lawyer. Last Sunday, during my gaming session, some of my players half-jokingly mentioned they don’t need to know the rules of the game, because I’ll tell people the rules they need. Fact is, I know a lot of the rules, and therefore, can be relied upon for on-the-spot rulings or clarifications. Even my GMs turn to me for advice on rulings because I know more.

    This means I tend to have good combat characters as a side-effect of it. But I also make sure to build combat characters with tons of flavor. For example, my current Monk player is a mobile tank/skirmisher, but he’s also an exceedingly amazing acrobat. He’s a level 12 Monk of the Four Winds and a Tier 4 Mythic Champion with +72 on jump checks and jumps twice as far as normal, meaning if he takes 10, he can make an 82 foot long jump, or jump 41 feet high. I plan on him taking Seven League Leap at 6th tier because the power is just so awesome (make a jump check, half that number is the number of miles you jump). He’s also taken Divine Source and Crusader along with Leadership and is the Grandmaster of a martial arts school he teaches and his signature move is the Comet Kick (jumps up high and uses Elemental Fist in conjunction with falling damage to harm foes; looks like this http://fc09.deviantart.net/fs70/f/2012/222/2/d/sub_zero_heel_drop_ice_kick_by_ryuzo-d57n4rq.jpg).

    I think the roll vs. role debate needs to be eradicated as it is horribly inaccurate. Every one is a gamer, and every one plays a game differently. As long as every one is having fun, then no one is doing it wrong.

  2. I think the combat system makes or brakes a system. I love pathfinder, don’t enjoy 4e and hate 13th age for this reason. This doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the role-play aspect it’s just not the main reason I play the game. Lately I’ve been at a table that is very role-play internally in the group (Member A talking to Member B; not Members A,B,C and D talking to NPC R) heavy and tends to take a long time between combats. This is the opposite of how I really enjoy the games. I prefer games that are dungeon-y or combat focused with RP built into it. At the same time, no matter if I’m playing/running a zero-combat game or something along the lines of World’s Largest Dungeon I will always have a backstory and a planned personality for my character creations.

  3. Your comparison to alignment is apt. Roll and role exist on separate axis and a player who leans too far on either axis can be disruptive to a game. Players who have combat characters that contribute nothing outside combat tent to get bored with Role play and detract from that part if the game while characters who are poorly built or saddled with obnoxious personalities or players who’s Role comes before all else can be equally detrimental to the game.

  4. I think it is a false dichotomy. I have seen people build these amazing combat machines, and then play them as absolute jerks looking for a fight, because they know they will win. There is an obvious reason this person is an adventurer, and the in-game roleplaying of that character drives parts of the story. I have seen people work so hard to create an elaborate backstory for a character and then never speak in character, and rarely speak at all during the game, but trap people and talk to them for hours about how awesome their character is after the game is over. The person who makes a character that is a librarian with few non-dewey decimal system related skills has no business being an adventurer. Stay home, If you can’t do that, you are not an adventurer, you are a refuge.

  5. Good article Alex I don’t think I share your opinion of what a rollplayer actually is and that’s the other problem with the rollplayer vs. role player debate. We all have different opinions on what those terms actually mean to us.

    Rollplaying, power gaming, munchkinism they are all very similar, but not quite the same. Here is my problem, a specific type of rollplayer. This player always dumps stats, he/she may or may not have a name written down on their character sheet, never has a backstory, and violence is pretty much their solution to every situation.

    I understand why players tend to focus on combat so much now compared to when I first started gaming 27+ years ago. The game has gotten a whole lot more tactical in an attempt to simulate realistic fantasy combat, which is a bit of an oxymoron to begin with. The real truth is you can be a power gamer/ optimization specialist without being a rollplayer or munchkin. Look if you examine most heroes they are more than just killing machines. Sure maybe they excel at it, but they are driven by more than the need for blood and looting the dead.

    If you show up at my table with a super optimized character that’s fine, but I’d like you to put in at least half as much effort into concept, back story, and character goals as you did into the math.

    All that being said at the end of the day it is a game amongst friends or at least it should be. So I honestly believe there is ways for everyone to get enjoyment from gaming together and if not you are playing with the wrong group of people.

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