No apologies for the long post. Lots and lots of ideas herein; thoughts I have been thinking for a while. I present them together, in full, as a way to stimulate discussion and see how it fares in the rest of the LFR world. I am an active LFR player and judge, and frequently attend conventions.
Most of you know that 4e is supposed to be a roleplaying game (see page 6 of the PHB for details). To an extent, LFR is supposed to be a roleplaying game...a continuation of the precedents set up in the PHB. However, I believe that LFR, as it is set up, is continually pushing players away from roleplaying and creating an environment where roleplaying is ever more difficult, where it is an rarity rather than the default.
My main thought is this: Since LFR debuted, there have been several big and small changes to the living campaign game that have served to incrementally decrease roleplaying. While none of these changes are, by themselves, solely at fault, the end effect of all them is an environment where roleplaying is neglected and discouraged.
I've been brainstorming as to what factors are a part of this and have the following list. Not a conclusive, nor necessarily correct list, but one that starts this discussion.
1) Regional Flavor. Man, I miss regional flavor. It's been stated by others on these boards the story lines and the regions are just a jumble of unconnected and uninteresting stories. It's getting better (the recent Spec2-1s & Battle Interactive, the Arts & Crafts lines, etc.), but NOTHING compares to the grand sweeping awesome of the previous Geoff storyline, for instance. Or the Theocracy of the Pale madness. I don't feel tied or invested in any of the regions the way I think players should feel if LFR is going to thrive.
2) MetaOrgs: I know these were hard to manage and difficult to approve...but they added something big and important to the game: a flavorful connection to places and things. There are groups that we can join currently (Flaming Fists, Luminous Society, etc.), but anyone can join and they add very little. MetaOrgs had players make decisions and trade resources (back in the day it was TUs and gold) for benefits and service. Those decisions make characters interesting. They were important.
3) Skill Challenges. Skill Challenges should be rare, rather than the norm. I believe they kill more roleplaying than they promote. Yeah, I know how SCs are supposed to be run and I think I know what they are supposed to accomplish. Sadly, all the system does now is promote metagaming of die rolls and entitlement towards promotion of rewards (XP, closer to milestone) rather than promotion of roleplaying. In addition, far too many SCs are inserted into modules in pointless and silly ways simply because they had to be there rather than serve a useful story vehicle in the module. This point deserves a post all to itself...but you'll have a hard time convincing me that the overall effect of SCs promotes roleplaying rather than die rolling.
4) No penalty for death. I am really not a big fan of killing characters. As a LFR judge, running over 50 mods, I have yet to kill anyone yet. However, I recognize that is pretty foolish...I've died and the penalty is absolutely minimal. It's nothing. While I think I understand why the system was set up as it was, it is hurting roleplaying. Players have no fear of death or failure...there are no real adverse effects. The new mentality is "Always play up. Get more gold and experience." This is creating an environment where character achievement means little.
5) Alignments mattered. I know many of you don't ever want to get back into the Lawful Stupid discussions...but alignments were important. Decisions your characters made should flow from your supposed alignment and understanding of how your chosen alignment affected your choices. In LFR, none of that matters. Sure, some players will play their class appropriately, but mostly it's a Chaotic Greedy world out there. Last night I literally had two paladins (Tempus and Amaunator) at my table discussing how best to sacrifice a surrendered, quasi-interrogated prisoner on his own demon altar. Really? REALLY? They wanted kill a helpless prisoner because they could not get the rest of their answers. And the sad thing about that was, as judge, what would I really do about it? (Don't answer this, plz. It's a rhetorical question. You may have experienced similar in your games.)
6) Free and Unlimited Retraining. Remember when your choices mattered? Remember when you wanted to build your character out in advance because you wanted your initial choices to matter? Remember how those choices used to form your character's personality and design? Gone now. Just change it whenever you want. Players need never commit to a character ever again. Just change to whatever new flavor you want to build to. Yep, whatever the hot new DPR build is, just switch to that. It's not that you are doing it...but those players less interested with roleplaying are.
7) Replaying. I know there is a lot of mixed feelings on this, however, replaying is determental to roleplaying. When I know you only get to play a mod once, I make every effort to learn as much as I can about the mod and truly enjoy the experience. As such, every module is more treasured for my character. I'm not there for XP or Gold, but for the experience of the module and playing my character in it. I know that the ideal is that you replay as if you know nothing and have never played it before...or keep quiet and stay out of things. I do not expect any of you to admit to anything like this, however, how many times have you been at a table with a replayer and you suspect or know that they are metagaming the heck out of things OR completely cut off because they are trying not to ruin things for people? Both hurt roleplaying.
8) Race and class over-proliferation. This game obviously has no connection to reality. We all know this and should not expect the game to function within reality (this game is meant to be fantastic), but, at some point the needed suspension of disbelief goes to far when your "heroic" party consists of a Revenant Warforged Spellplagued Paladin of Tempus. Wilders? Githzerai? At a certain point, the shark was jumped when it comes to available races and classes and trying to accomplish heroic deeds within the LFR world.
9) Emphasis on playing a "role" and "table balance" over playing a "character". This is probably my biggest bug and it's sadly perpetuated to newer players are the 'right' way to play. In no sense, in no way, should your classes supposed role (paladin = defender, wizard = controller, etc.) ever be more important than your character. As most of the erudite readers on this board know, you can build a defending wizard or melee warlock or controlling paladin...class transcends role. However, even more important than that is that your character's personality, habits, alignment, back history, tendencies transcend both class and role. That should be what is the most important aspect to your character...however, the emphasis is usually first put on "What role are you? We need a XXX." rather than, "Can you introduce yourself to me in character?" I wish the first pieces of advice new players received was "play your character and not your role or your class".
Re-stating my main point: Since LFR debuted, there have been several big and small changes to the game that have served to systematically erode and surpress roleplaying. While none of these changes are solely at fault, the end effect of all them is an environment where roleplaying is actively suppressed. Any one of the above things isn't a big dent into the overall roleplaying experience....however, as the effects stack, we have a LFR game that is greatly stacked against roleplaying and an environment where players are invested and tied to their characters. That cumulative effect is dampening LFR.
Questions for the Forum at Large:
1) If you prefer to roleplay, have you noticed a decrease in your active roleplaying?
2) Have you noticed the same in your gaming area or group?
3) What other factors do you think either help or hinder roleplaying within the LFR game?
p.s. For the strawgolem prone, things I *did not* say in my above comments include, but are not limited to: "There is no roleplaying in LFR", "You must roleplay to play LFR correctly/properly", "I've never heard anybody ever have fun roleplaying a skill challenge", "Roleplaying in LFR is dead", and "I demand everybody roleplay in LFR". Please don't make arguments for me.
p.p.s. I'm sure we all have different definitions of what roleplaying entails. To some, it's a full change into the personality of your character; to others, it's a funny voice and abstract mannerisms, and to others it may just mean something altogether different. To me, it's about creating a character that is tied to the LFR world and the other players in your game. It's a completely fabricated social bond between how your character interacts with the world and how you act as your character. I feel that one's character should have a connection and reason for existence above and beyond leveling and gold/loot (though that certainly has it's perks) and, as a player, I strive to create meaningful bonds between the LFR world and my fellow players.
My definition of a successful mod (this is important...yours may vary): having a fun time both roleplaying and engaging in good, well-played tactical combats. Both portions are equally important to me...and please note that "winning every skill challenge and fight" and "earning max gp/exp" are not on that list. They are significantly below "having fun". I have played mods that I've won every fight and challenge and earned max gp/exp and not had fun. I've rarely not had fun when I've been challenged within a group of tactical roleplayers...win or lose.
p.p.p.s. For me, roleplaying is becoming tougher and tougher to do. Have I changed? Definitely. Has the game changed? Even moreso. It seems like more and more players are trending toward less and less roleplaying. As I'm sure you know, it is tough to roleplay all alone. I think the current LFR does not do enough to promote those connections, nor will game thrive without them.
Roleplaying in Living campaigns has always been a dicey prospect because of the time contraints. Easier in a private game at a home since you and your friends can take your time. In a public setting where there's likely moultiple slots, you need to keep things moving. You just have to inject RP in it as appropriate without bogging down the mod to point where you can't finish it.
Personally I have seen an increase in role playing in my organized play group. I do not know each individual's reasons why but I have noticed that more and more of those in the group are coming to the table with more than just stats lately.
We have around 30 regulars in the group and numerous more who come occasionally.
A lot of us play other RPGs as well. That may have something to do with it. Within our group we have White Wolf Camarilla organizers and LARPers as well as folks like me who just get around a lot when it comes to gaming.
We have a strong, "Play what you enjoy mentality." While some optimization is always good for the survivability of the party folks are mostly encouraged to just play what they enjoy. This goes a long way.
I don't know. Several of the things you mentioned above as negatives have been positives for our group. In fact, several of the things you listed above (things you would prefer) were reasons why I avoided previous Living campaigns but the new changes have encouraged me to get heavily involved in the current setup.
In summary, I see an opposite trend from yourself so every group is different and I don't agree with most of the points.
I mostly can't agree for myself. Just for an easy example, I think alignment injures roleplaying at least as much as it fosters it, because it makes many people not think past a single two-dimensional point. And I'd just as soon avoid the 'Well, Superman is LG, but is Batman?' arguments
I do suspect that every group has its own wants or needs, so if you find some people who do agree with your own desires you could easily have them run (with a bit of DME and group agreement) in a way that'll work out better for you.
Ie, you can all agree that you aren't going to retrain like crazy. That you'll all commit to alignment and stick with it. That skill challenges will be DMEd largely away and instead all of the monsters increased in difficulty to make up for the xp and make it harder to just always play up. That once a character is dead, you can't play that character for a month. That no one will replay. You can do all of these things, if you have like-minded friends.
If you find them, you'll get what you want.
1) Regional Flavor -- The regional construct used by LG is not related to role playing in any fashion. LC, LD, LF, etc. did just fine supporting role playing without such a construct. I think the point of extended story threads certainly is more interesting to me as a player, and it may give me more memory of NPCs to interact with. LFR has suffered due to limited extended story lines.
2) MetaOrgs -- They do add depth to character development which enhances role playing, but they introduce difficulties maintaining game balance and cost manpower. WotC so far has not approved any organization that adds game benefits, beyond the impact of Adventuring Companies. I am not sure why players have to have a game benefit to role play involvement in organizations, but it does seem to be the general sentiment (why bother?).
3) Skill Challenges -- I disagree, but how the DM and players perceive skill challenges obviously has an effect.
4) No penalty for death -- I agree on this, but it is the 4E rule, not an LFR campaign decision.
5) Alignments mattered. -- I agree, but I suspect I am in the minority. Great role playing opportunities & drama exist when you focus on moral choices IMHO.
6) Free and Unlimited Retraining -- I agree. However, LFR is a marketing tool of WotC.
7) Replaying - I don't see that replaying limits roleplaying, although some players can't resist making decisions with out of character knowledge. Replaying an adventure with the same PC would be a problem, but that is not allowed.
8) Race and class over-proliferation -- I don't see the number as a problem, but the inclusion of certain races does hamper role playing and the suspension of disbelief.
9) Emphasis on playing a "role" and "table balance" over playing a "character" -- I think most living campaigns did have some concern over table balance for choosing characters; I don't see how that is related to role playing.
I think a fair portion of 4E design was directed to appeal to the video game / World of Warcraft / younger gamers, to try to increase new gamers coming into D&D. Those changes have not, by in large, emphasized role playing, possibly leading to a general shift that you observe. The old RPGA that promoted role playing as a player skill, and ran competitions for who was the best role player is dead and gone. WPN D&D Organized Play is simply about playing D&D (your way) and having fun.
I disagree with most of this. I find LFR 4e a lot easier to roleplay in than LG 3.5e.
Regions/metaorgs were mostly bad for me - when they were interesting, it was usually because the mod itself was interesting, not because of the region or metaorg was involved(in fact, in most cases, you could have removed the regional reference and put it somewhere else. If you played a zombie LG mod in 2006, you realized this actually happened. A lot. You think Goblin Hexers were bad, I ran into Kaorti 3 times in the same year in mostly the same context)
I like the death penalty idea of 4e a lot better than the death penalty idea of 3.5. At low levels, 3.5 usually meant the permanent death of a character. At levels 5-7, it would be mostly negative, at 8-10, mostly positive, and at 11+, you could then break the gold curve. 4e's curve is consistent across the board. Yes, sometimes PCs will play up simply because they know they can't be permanently TPK'd. But that's a lot better than when you see a player deliberately trying to get their PC killed so they can get some more gold. One even disintegrated himself right before the mod concluded because his character would otherwise be retired.
I don't personally like replaying and try to avoid it as much as possible.
But for me personally, I like Skill Challenges. I've generally focused on making them inclusionary so everyone gets involved - someone uses their favorite skill and roleplays in a way that makes it make sense, they can use that skill even if the challenge doesn't list it. They try to flat out roll it or make up something stupid, then they can't.
The RPGA used to vote for "best roleplayer" at each table and the winner got a cert that gave a one-time +1 to a dice roll. I think the loss of the winners certs hurt RPGA roleplaying more anything else.
I believe the change in roleplaying is due to the nature of 4e and the players, rather than the campaign itself.
When those winners were determined in good faith, the system worked out great and is better than no system at all.
When (in some circles, probably not very many but certainly enough to be noticed) the winners were determined in a meta-way, and factors other than actual gameplay began to overwhelm the determination, the system worked poorly and was worse than no system at all.
1) Regional Flavor and 2) MetaOrgs - I think these represent a larger concept, the idea being to get players invested in their characters and the game world. Roleplaying definately suffers if players aren't given personal reasons to care. I agree in that more still needs to be done.
Adventuring Companies have mostly turned out to be a joke, you barely see them used. I partly blame the "one character per player allowed" restriction as partly responsible. It prevents a player from having a number of level ranges he or she can play in the company, which coupled with the hyper-narrow adventure level ranges result in characters in the same company often not getting to play together as their levels grow apart. Perhaps it should be restricted to "one character per sub-tier", e.g. 1-4, 4-7, 7-10, etc.
3) Skill Challenges - While they were not designed to be 'substitutes' for roleplaying, they are often treated by players and DMs alike as such.
There does come a point where the INTENT of the design starts mattering less than how it actually turned out. You can say, "That's not what is intended." only so many times - if people continue to treat them that way, well, that is the new reality. Pretending it isn't a problem doesn't make the problem go away.
4) No penalty for death - I can see this impacting the player's investment in the game world, similar to 1) and 2), in that it can result in a cavalier 'gamist' attitude that really isn't how a character is likely to act. No matter how much a player might know that death is meaningless, few CHARACTERS should be so blasé about dying. At the very least, dying hurts, man!
5) Alignments mattered - Eh. I've often seen alignment as a straightjacket as much as it was a tool. Always seemed like an artificial constraint on personality to me. People just don't fit into 9 neat little personality boxes. Or 5, for that matter.
If a player keeps shifting his character's moral outlook, it usually means he's just not emotionally invested in his character enough to maintain an estalished personality. As above, this stems from not having reasons to care.
6) Free and Unlimited Retraining - I don't like this either. Would have preferred it to be once a year at most. I feel, like the lack of a real death penalty, it engenders another level of disconnect between players and their characters, encouraging the treatment of characters as mere collections of numbers.
7) Replaying - I don't like it. I can't enjoy playing an adventure I already know the ending to. SO far, though, folks seem to be making efforts not to spoil things for others.
8) Race and class over-proliferation - I do wish the LFR admins had more say in what gets allowed in the campaign. Some of the stuff that's been shoveled in really does not mesh well with the Realms. Again, you get that disconnect, where the Realms is now merely "generic fantasy world X".
9) Emphasis on playing a "role" and "table balance" over playing a "character" - There's always been role and table balance issues. Always. There were issues back in the 1990s with Living City, there are issues today. Just because roles are well defined does not mean it needs to impact how well characters are roleplayed.
How we define roleplaying has evolved in my club. I make absolutely no claims as to how other groups or clubs are playing.
(1) Regional Flavor. Well, I've never really played in living campaigns before LFR, so I don't have comparison material. I do note that regional flavor is mostly absent in the LFR campaigns. Between adventures, your character "warps" all over the map for no reason. In most adventures it's not noticeable or relevant what region you are in; and if it is, they feel like some simple stereotype as "that area with forest elves", "that dwarf place with dungeon crawls", "that genasi region with floating rocks", or "that big city" (even Waterdeep and Baldur's Gate tend to be indistinguishable).
(2) MetaOrgs. This sounds like something that would be nice, at least in theory. I have no idea how it worked in practice, of course. I do note that "guilds" or whatever they were called were a big flop, at least in my general area.
(3) Skill challenges are a major design flaw in 4E and should be used as little as possible (and yes, I'm aware that WOTC mandates their inclusion in RPGA, unfortunately). They only work if the players are unaware of its mechanics, or intentionally ignore them, or if the DM plays them out as regular roleplaying while avoiding those mechanics like the very plague. They were a bad idea from day one, and they are still an awful idea after two years of "advice" on how to play them, and yes, ignoring a problem or saying "that wasn't our intent" doesn't make the problem go away. Wanna bet that the marketing campaign for 5E will spend a lot of time deriding SCs?
(4) No death penalty. As far as I've seen, most players and characters do treat death as significant, so the lack of a penalty doesn't seem problematic. That said, LFR is so extremely easy that character death is very, very rare: a handful per year over the entire 50+ player base in my area. And yes, people always play "up", not for the extra gold/xp, but for the hope that this might make it challenging (which it usually doesn't).
(5) Alignments are a huge can of worms. I've always houseruled them out of the game in earlier editions, and I'm glad they're (mechanically) gone now, because this avoids the perenial discussion that "you can't do that, you're neutral good!" and so forth. That said, most characters do tend towards Chaotic Greedy; in part this is because every single mission you will get gives you a huge cash award (and if your character doesn't care about gold, he will often not have much of an incentive IC to take the mission). This strikes me as a flaw in adventure writing: as they stand, almost all adventures reward greed, and almost none reward being good or heroic (or penalize being evil).
(6) Unlimited retraining. Yeah, I don't like that rule and I don't use it. I haven't seen anyone abuse it so far, though, so I don't consider it a big deal. It's only mechanics anyway: players shouldn't be penalized for having made poor build choices when they were inexperienced.
(7) Replaying. I don't see it as a big deal to replay an adventure with a different character; it'll usually turn out different anyway. It's not like there are many adventures out there that give you a meaningful choice that you would make differently if you had prior knowledge. I do have spotted some players playing adventure X because it has good loot, though.
(8) I agree that there are too many races and classes now, but of course this sells books for WOTC. That said, the overwhelming majority of players stick to PHB1 races and classes, and a few early-print iconics like Swordmages and Drow. Perhaps as a result of race proliferation, several races are practically indistinguishable. For instance, half-orcs and goliaths are both big hulking brutes, so it's not generally noticeable which of the two a character is.
(9) Table balance. It took a bit of convincing, but eventually people got around to the reality that you do not need Exaclty One Of Each Role in order to make a viable table. Every combination of roles is equally playable as long as it contains a healer. That said, characters that aren't strikers (and don't play as strikers, because many classes have a striker-like build) are somewhat rare.
(10) Regarding a decrease in roleplaying, I note that RP'ing pretty much stops whenever we're in a combat situation or in a skill challenge. This is because of the heavily mechanical nature of both; the rules get in the way of RP'ing. RP'ing between mechanical encounters is just fine, though. What I find hinders character development is the lack of group cohesion, and the almost total absence of verisimilitude in the rules.
(11) A player vote for best player? Yeah, that's a bad idea. I remember going to non-living convention adventures, and indeed my experience is that people vote for their friends, or for the cute girl at the table. In one case, we had an adventure where only the "best" players (by vote) could go to the next adventure; the result was that "good" players didn't want to vote for their competition, so many people ended up voting for the worst player on the table!
So in summary, I see a problem in (a) the lack of regional flavor, (b) skill challenges, (c) adventures rewarding greed but not rewarding heroism, and (d) the rules strongly getting into the way of RP'ing; and I don't see the big deal about metaorgs, lack of death penalties, unlimited retraining, replaying, racial proliferation, table balance, and lack of best-player votes.
I played classic and Living adventures frequently under the old* voting system, probably more than anyone still posting here, and also frequently judged the events. I just didn't see the widespread abuse that people seem to remember. Granted, voting was done almost completely based on role-playing. There wasn't much credit given to, say, coming up with the winning strategy in the battle, or answering a riddle, even if these were all mentioned on the voting form. But I didn't see people voting for friends, or voting for women players, or strategic voting. I normally saw people voting for the best role-players. And the Grand Masters and Paragon tables were the most fun.
I know that I felt more invested in a game when there was a tangible reward on the line for active participation.
*Not the oldest system; I don't think I ever played when you could still vote for yourself.
How many of all y'all (maybe you played LG) remember the "discretionary XP for roleplaying"?
How many of you liked it?
I used to love it as DM.
Edit: Post does not like me quoting Keith for some reason. Keith said "Regional Flavor -- The regional construct used by LG is not related to role playing in any fashion. LC, LD, LF, etc. did just fine supporting role playing without such a construct. I think the point of extended story threads certainly is more interesting to me as a player, and it may give me more memory of NPCs to interact with. LFR has suffered due to limited extended story lines".
I think in regions like Geoff the incredible quality of the experience and storyline, coupled with the ratio played in-region to out, plus the story arc releases, plus the low number of PCs all meant that you had an incredibly living experience. That living experience, furthered by meta-orgs, online IC lists, and so on, all helped to entice more players into RPing. I am very sure that a good number of the well known players in Geoff would not have RPd so strongly in a campaign having the LFR architecture. (This may explain, in part, why so few of those big names play LFR). A PC's personality could truly mean something, and thus had as much value as a magic item, a good feat, etc. There is no question that when my PC retired, what he received (Krelor Deepforge became the ruler of one of the counties of Geoff) was completely based on the extent to which I RPd him and how I RPd him. Your choices had real effects. Now, I do want to go back and answer the questions:
1) If you prefer to roleplay, have you noticed a decrease in your active roleplaying?
Not in my approach. I RP as much as I ever had and I work as carefully on crafting a backstory as I ever had. I try to bring it to the table as much as I ever did (a lot, often).
What has really changed is the way that the table and adventure reacts. Now, I played with some amazing players in the Geoff region, but the way the region played out really resonated across all players. You cared deeply, even emotionally, about the storyline. While I greatly enjoy the Waterdeep storyline (I'm picking on it because I truly do respect it, if that makes any sense), and I do have a Waterdeep PC, the disposable nature of regions means that I am unlikely to sit at a table of all Waterdeep PCs (3 is the most I had, once) and I am unlikely to play several Waterdeep mods in a row. The ratio of in-region to out-of-region play is horrible. Without that sense of purpose, why do I care more about plot 1 in region x when I spent more time in region y and my table is from regions a, b, c, d, and e?
So, to me, what has really changed is how the adventure and table react to me. They don't. Even in Waterdeep, there is barely any reason for me to take notes. I used to laboriously take notes in Geoff mods, poring over lore details, pondering the hints dropped, wondering at the way plot arcs were related to one another. Just about everyone at my tables was doing the same thing. It was like the Elturgard series, but with it being of visceral importance to your PC and the whole table. It wasn't a paladin kingdom doing x, it was YOUR kingdom, with YOUR king, and success or failure was everything. When the Grand Duke of Geoff sacrificed himself, players at my tables wept! And the mod was written for that and for them, making them the center of the story (and at all levels of play).
I found Amysrevenge's comments interesting. My RP with other PCs was much higher in LG/Geoff, and is probably now in LFR a little lower than in LG/DoU. My guess is the types of players are the biggest factor. I also recall a BK table (business trip game) where I introduced my PC and they all leaned back and one said "Wow, in-character voices, ok, it's gonna be like that!". Examining my current local scene further, I suspect a factor is that we never know what PC anyone will bring to a table. Even at Hx or Py, every one of us might bring a PC we have seldom seen at a table, despite having just played two mods in that tier. There are just a lot of PCs per player. I could have written books about my friends' PCs in Geoff, because I spent tons of hours with them. I could write no more than a paragraph about some of the PCs here, and only a few lines for most. Different player types, but also a campaign that doesn't pull out that RP and IC personality. Plus, no PCs earn anything meaningful. In LG your meta-orgs, IC deeds, IC list participation, etc. all defined your PC for others.
2) Have you noticed the same in your gaming area or group?
I think some of the better role-players in my gaming area hold back a bit, but would not in a different game. We have a mix of RP levels and the campaign doesn't really push for it to be there. Having said that, I am now in what was the Duchy of Urnst, and it was a pretty low-RP region. (There was a poll on how players felt about two factions. The most popular choices were "don't care" and "don't understand the options"). So, here very little has changed.
3) What other factors do you think either help or hinder roleplaying within the LFR game?
I agree with you on alignment. I think it is one of the most subtle shifts and surprises me with how important it was to the game. Players in LFR have no idea what alignment their PCs are. It just is so unimportant as to have completely lost meaning/value. In LG there was a struggle between following and not following what a PC's alignment was - but at least this meant there was some awareness. The lack of application at any mechanical level has just stripped the presence of moral arguments from the game, as well as a nice sense of "other" when it came to your own PC's worldview.
I don't think the strange combinations of races and so on have been a factor. In my area there is no more or less RP as a result of it, and it was never an issue in prior editions either.
I similarly don't find the issue of class role to be a huge impact.
I think Adventuring Companies are a huge failure. Mine is practically dead. It once fostered good RP and then just had no roll to play - there are better forums for mechanical benefits and there is little reason for IC discussion. I can't ever get a game at a table with the right PCs, due to the rule that you can only have one PC per player... and I started the AdvCo with people that game in this area!!!!! I can't begin to contrast this with the excellent meta-org experiences I had (both being a member and running some as a volunteer).
A lot of factors are subtle. Replaying... as Keith wrote, nothing technically should stop you from RPing. But, at the same time, a big part of my excitement to play an East Rift is only present if I am playing it with my Dwarf and have not played it before. Replaying just doesn't have that sense of mystery and this does diminish RP. Retraining can also be completely IC. In the 3.5 days a lot of players wrote cool IC posts each time a big revision hit about how their PCs had some major catharsis that changed them. But, it is very easy (even an incentive) to just begin treating what you do and your mechanics as different than your personality and to not burden your choices/optimization with personality. But, that is one of the coolest parts about making a character. Sure, feat X would be awesome, but it isn't me. Yeah, we should let the prisoner go, but it isn't me. Right, this is the lever we should push for maximum reward, but I'm pushing this one instead. At the end of the day, you were making choices for the personality, not wrapping the personality as some separate shell over the separately designed (Char Op blessed) inner core. It is rapidly becoming more common to have an introduction say "I play a (insert CharOp or role/build term here)" rather than an actual description of what a person looks like, their mannerisms, etc.
Kurald_Galain mentioned that RP stops in encounters, but it shouldn't be the case. If you look at powers, they are incredibly cool visual things that should really then be colored by your PC. I mean, when a rogue uses Handspring Assault that is a huge opportunity for RP. I do agree that there is a timing issue... you work hard to finish your turn quickly, and then forget to add the color. That is a shame. Still, I do often RP what I do. To be honest, I had the same problem RPing my spellcasters. Choose spell, choose target, review rules, roll dice... oh, I forgot to mention that my PC does this with a disembodied shriveled eye he crushes in one hand! Doh!
Discretionary XP: It was always awarded. My RP-high groups would always start any mod with discussions about whatever happened last, about things we had posted on our adventuring group or regional IC boards, etc. We would be laughing and having a good time. Eventually one of use would notice the DM was trying to figure out how to start the module. The running joke was that when you spotted this you said something like "Just tell them they get their 25XP and they will shut up". Or, another time, I was judging and tried to get us on track. The player said, "Oh, like what you have there in that module is any better than what we are doing here. Really?" I had to laugh and agree.
Voting: It was ok. On the one hand, it placed front and center that RP was valued. I'm a big believer in the subtle role of incentives. For enough, that prize was a reward and also a blessing to come out with a strong character and to RP it well. At the same time, I did see that it made some players not try (I won't win, why bother) or created some competition amongst friends (year one die bumps were a big deal... you saved them and spent them carefully), or were gained disproportionately by the attractive women in our area. I'm ok with seeing them go, but I do wish we at least rated the adventure and the DM all the time. That provided me with good feedback.
I think the problem is that most events can't be completed reasonably within the conventional timeslots of 4 hours so players have to rush through them. A DM has the responsibility of managing the pace of the game and too often when players are roleplaying they are pushed into the next combat encounter because the DM knows that after this one there are still 2 more to go. The modules need to be set up to run leaner in order to allow time for a table to interact. I often play in games where we are not limited to a strict time block and in those game roleplaying increases considerably.
The combat mechanics are so, well, mechanical that using them for in-character descriptions would quickly get either tedious or just plain silly. That's the result of writing mechanics based on game balance, rather than verisimilitude; but this is also why every player I know simply states "I use (power name) so the monster takes (amount) damage and is now (condition)".
I have no idea what happened to my post up above. Something is stripping out all the carriage returns. I think I fixed it...
Back on Come and Get It, I always picture the first Shrek movie, when he is working the crowd and gets all the knights to come after him and then beats them all up. I've seen Come and Get It RPd as a series of witty boasts and insults that cause everyone to want to take advantage of the PC, only to have the tables turned on them.
Regardless, it is true that you will usually not see powers RPd. A shame, since they are incredibly more evocative than what we did in 3.5 (swing weapon, swing weapon, swing weapon... hey, you know what? I'm gonna swing my weapon).
Just to counter the chorus of "me too"s out there, for my own medium-sized (30-40 active players) group the current atmosphere in LFR is just about right, and, given actual new mods, would be perfect for us.
There are a few mods where you can become a knight or similarly entrusted/recognized by a land.
But, this pales to the connection players and their PCs had with their lands in LG. How often does a Tiefling and a Dragonborn play out their tensions? In Akanul? (I've seen it, but very infrequently). In Geoff, put a Gran March PC at the table and even the players were taking the RP-fictional struggles too seriously. I mean, players wore insulting T-shirts to each other's cons ("Got Hochoch?" being the funniest I saw, based on the Gran March having "liberated" the only town Geoff had and always claiming to own it... to the resentment of both sides).
Similarly, the battle in-region between the Old Faith and PC-driven efforts to bring other faiths (notably We Jas) were legendary. Players even staged mock battles at midnight madness slots at cons just to have some PvP action and try to claim superiority (Old Faith won...Yes!).
Then there was the way players reacted to events, which actually mattered. When Keoland withdrew troops, players talked about it. It really mattered. When a random PC from Ulek showed up in Hochoch on the online list, Geoff PCs turned it into diplomatic efforts to gain support. Player actions mattered and the setting and PCs interacted.
Now, some of that was exclusionary. A player like me, in it from the beginning, enjoyed the game more than a new player. That was unfair. The playing field needs to be fair. But, fairness can be had and RP and story-PC interaction still had.
The key is this:
The reason many of us liked meta-orgs is that they cemented who you were. Geoff had lots of archers, but a Longbowman of Geoff or a Olwythi of Geoff were very different and respected organizations. You were proud to be a part of them. With membership came a number of responsibilities that impacted your RP. Some doors would open in adventures, some NPCs favored you, but mostly it was about belonging and understanding your place in the region. You could be very low in level and join or be working on joining. And, unlike LFR, you were doing important things from the beginning. In Lord of the Rings, the hobbits don't deliver packages for a month, then sign on to guard caravans, then go talk down some bandits, then... No. They jump right in on a meaningful quest that matters. Their sense of purpose and belonging is established at every sense of they way. Their meta-org, the Fellowship, defines them and brings them both weal and woe.
The thing is, there are a lot of good story arcs. The DRAG one I played was excellent. I like to think that the Radiance Against Thay arc is good. The Waterdeep necromancer one. The Elturgard series are cool when played at one place. There are some cool ones out there. They are just wattered down, on a PC basis, by all the other non-arc things you play. The erratic mercenary worldhopper role just gets in the way of the hero who wants to relate to one or two regions.
On the starting at higher level thing, I don't even know what to say. I just hope there is a living campaign to replace what will become a fun LFR delve program.
I think the "new" WATE series (Gilding a Noble) could be good as well. The Arts & Crafts -> Pain & Suffering could be interesting. CORM 1-6 is supposed to have started a new quest - that was a promising start.
There are some meaningful choices to make in some Dalelands adventures. Not all of them are big: the choice you made in DALE1-1 (who gets the deed) had only a minor effect (though the political implication was actually fairly significant). The choice you make in DALE1-6 is more significant.
The Restoring Splendor quest (WATE2-1, WATE2-2 and WATE2-3) is both specifically about House Moonstar, an old, famous noble house that was the pillar of Waterdeep, AND a representative example of the flavor and challenges of Waterdeep today. The players have the chance to impact not just the future of House Moonstar but perhaps help Waterdeep turn the corner on a century of troubles and ancient enemies.
Yes, Claire and I want to do more on presenting choices with clearly different paths/outcomes due to those choices. That does make individual adventures more complicated for DMs, but satisfying for players. As we get past the introduction phase of the campaign and LFR evolves, we hope to see the options grow. It is hard to pack everything into one 4-hour adventure.
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