On Monday, I wrote a little bit about how class systems inform and/or limit rhetorical options in RPGs. As someone who loves to talk, I often find myself pushing against these limits in-game, in large part because I make arguments that the other players and the GM find compelling, whether I’m playing a persuasive PC or not. This opens a second can of worms in the world of interpersonal interaction in RPGs. Several folks who replied to Monday’s blog mentioned how they felt that such interactions should be a judgment call between the GM and the player, or how they would insist on quality roleplaying to back up any die roll. I used to be a member of that camp myself, until I had a very important fact fall on my head during a campaign and nearly cost me a friendship.
Shy people play RPGs too.
As I mentioned in an older blog, requiring eloquence or drama from a player when engaged in interaction is a blow to player agency. We don’t require our players to simulate the physical skills their characters have, so why do so many of us expect shy or hesitant players to suddenly flower if they choose to play an eloquent character? I think part of it comes from the aspects of the game we expect to be a simulation and those we don’t. Outside of some really strange LARPs, players will not be climbing walls. But around a table, players can speak or argue as they will (and do, sometimes in-game, sometimes out).
Relatedly, what are we allowing those players who are experienced speakers to get away with? How many of us have had a player take a character with an abysmal charisma rating, however that is measured in your game of choice, but then depend on their own natural talent for arguing and conversing to paper over that problem at the table? I’m probably one of the worst people to argue this from a hypocrisy perspective, but the reality is that allowing a player’s talent with words to create in-game effects without some in-game mechanics to back it up is just as unfair as it would be if players couldn’t have their characters wield weapons that they themselves could not lift and use with skill.
I think the answer has got to split the difference at some point. We want our shy friends to feel free to try new things and stretch outside of their comfort zone without feeling as though their lack of experience or confidence is going to hamstring their character. We also want the big talkers to be able to do their big talking, because that’s part of their fun and it generally helps with immersion. The big talkers, however, need to marry that eloquence up with an in-game stat or two, and our shy friends will still need to at least give a roadmap of how their argument might proceed. This is how, I think, we can protect both player agency and character integrity.