#RPGaDay: Day 6 – Negotiating the Spotlight

We are basically these guys with a gruff family man as ranking officer.

We are basically these guys with a gruff family man as ranking officer. And a warforged.

I’m running very, very behind with this, so I’m going to try and catch up.

I’m lucky to be part of some really incredible campaigns at the moment. Tragically, this has meant some other fantastic campaigns have just petered out, though hopefully we can restart them at some point. However, we’ve just finished a season of Monsterhearts, I’m in a regular FATE game over the Internet called Agents of CROSSBOW (like Agents of SHIELD with more occult crime and tomb-raiding) and a 4th Edition Eberron game called The Chronicles of Cyre, run by the very talented GM who writes at Dice Tales. This last one was the ‘most recent RPG played’ for me, and the campaign is basically Sharpe in Cyre, a rough and ready unit of scouts with the Cyran army who go on hideously dangerous missions and have risen from skilled but undistinguished soldiers to the ‘heroes of Cyre’. Anyone familiar with the Eberron setting will know how this story goes: when we hit paragon tier, the Day of Mourning is going to happen, and our characters will have to deal with everything and everyone we love being taken away from us, defenders of a shattered nation that is now a magic-scarred wasteland. It’s going to be AWESOME. But we’re only just level 8, so we have a bit of time before that.

It’s also a game where I’ve had to reassess some of how I approach roleplaying. I’m a bit of an entitled player. Not to say that I’m not generous, but I’m only generous as long as I get what I want out of the game, which has caused tensions in a number of games and has especially caused issues for me in live games. I’m not always seeking the spotlight, but I’m a Fixer, and if I don’t get my Fixer fix, as it were, I’ll become disillusioned with the game very quickly. I really hate feeling ignored and devalued, as though I don’t deserve to be included or to have the story be about my character for a bit, and I can react badly if I perceive that to be the case (note that my perceptions can twist this waaaaay out of proportion).

I’m actually really grateful that I’ve been playing Monsterhearts and D&D at the same time. In one, I’ve had a lesson in listening to other players, generosity and understanding that even if the scene isn’t about you, you can still enjoy it. In the other, I’ve seen the fallout of two people (i.e. me and another person) who are good friends outside the game getting competitive for the spotlight, and I’m not proud to say that I could have been more generous about that.

I think the amount of live gaming I’ve been doing over the past few years has changed me a lot when it comes to roleplaying. In a tabletop game, where things are more intimate, it’s way easier to see if one person is dominating and another is getting left behind. In a livegame, it sometimes feels as though the only way to have your voice heard is to shout loudest and first, which can be really uncomfortable for someone who is anxious or who doesn’t like to dominate. I’ve realised that I’ve got so used to having to be decisive, to having to rush through scenes and make sure I’m heard, that I’ve lost the ability to think about how the scene as a whole fits together. I want to get ‘my bit in’, the one cool thing I do in a combat or the one moment in a scene where I feel like my character is an important part of the narrative.

There are lots of cool rpgs that give options for playing with narrative control: it’s a big trend in story gaming, which often removes the GM entirely. However, there needs to be a certain level of self-awareness and self-restraint to negotiating the spotlight that can’t be compensated for with system. That’s why there are relatively few people I’d play Monsterhearts with (as well as the potentially upsetting content and the trust required) – we all need to be in it together, or it doesn’t work.

I've not reached Mazes and Monsters levels of corruption yet, though

I’ve not reached Mazes and Monsters levels of corruption yet, though

I’ve been trying to be a more mindful player over the last couple of sessions, not jumping out in front of every development, not feeling like I needed to have input into every moment in a conversation. Interestingly, I left both of those sessions feeling slightly frustrated, as I hadn’t had that big damn hero moment and the rush of feeling like my character was important, but my mood across the whole game was more even – I hadn’t risen to potentially tactless comments and had interpreted them (as I am sure they were meant) as not intending to offend me. I managed to control my temper better for my really terrible rolls without diminishing the victory of my high rolls. I listened more to the other players and tried to see it as a narrative belonging to all of us.

That said, I’m starting to see why the rush a lot of roleplayers chase, where it’s all fitting well and the coolest possible thing happens right then, and it feels like your character is a hero, is getting scarcer and scarcer. When I started roleplaying, just being part of it, having powers that could do cool stuff, and learning more about this weird pastime was enough. Now the rush is part of feeling like my character is the hero of their own story. I hope that someday I can get that rush from playing as a group and really telling a communal story (Monsterhearts has shown some encouraging development in that direction, at least), but for now I’ll settle for just not offending and angering the other people in my group, and trying to make it a game we can all enjoy.

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