In our last Curse of the Crimson Throne episode, my character Annata had a surprise sexual proposition from her friend Laori. I was faced with the decision of whether or not to give in to the frenzied cries of “We want slashfic!” from my fellow party members. I made my decision, but as I reflected on the thought process I went through to arrive at it, I started to consider the nature of that process.
For some reason, there is very little talk out there about how people actually conduct character immersion in role-playing games. I suspect it’s the minority that do it at all; many people deliberately reject it and even those who talk about in-character play seem to equate it to things like “using funny voices” or other trivia that reveal that they don’t really understand what immersion, in my opinion, really is. I wanted to share the method behind how I run “in character” and hopefully get some insights from others out there who do the same.
Here’s some background on the situation in the game to provide a shared context. My character, Annata, is a priestess of Sarenrae, sun goddess of redemption. She grew up on the streets as part of a Fagin-style child crime group. She escaped to the church and grew up there. She was in the big city of Korvosa and worked as a physician, so she wasn’t cloistered and isn’t ignorant of the world, but her semi-isolation in living arrangements and total devotion to her duties kept her from “dating” per se. And long story short, now she’s an adventurer.
Our group met an odd woman, a “Forsaken” elf (Annata’s not 100% sure what that means) named Laori, and have adventured with her on and off. She’s a cleric of Zon-Kuthon (think the Cenobites from Hellraiser). Normally that would be “bad,” but her and her organization’s goals align with our heroes’. And more than that, she’s likable. She’s a happy, peppy, and perky (if evil) S&M Gothchick. Sarenrae’s faith is very ecumenical, and her personality is a lot like Annata’s, so they took to each other quickly and became friends. All the guys think (from a distance) that she’s hot; here’s the somewhat anime-looking artist’s conception of Laori in her spiked chainmail catsuit:
Anyway, last session Annata and Laori were chattering away and kinda out of nowhere, she lets me know that she wouldn’t mind getting more intimate with me. Annata does like Laori; she’s a peppy chirpy cleric too and she definitely saw her as (platonic) girl-friend material, but this was a surprise twist she didn’t see coming.
Interesting! So here’s a peek into how my thought process went. I admit it’s a mix of true immersion and metagame thinking about my character’s personality, but I find that necessary because you seldom have enough information about the fictional world to avoid the “meta” totally.
First, my immediate reaction was intuitive, a quick reaction based on my conceptualization of Annata’s personality. Is it completely out of the question? No. Is it a slam dunk? No. I could see it going either way.
I made a quick roll. I like to use dice in these kinds of situations. Some people object to this and think any kind of personality mechanic, even an informal appeal to fate like this one, is “roll-playing” and not immersion. But in my opinion, the only way to truly simulate real feelings in game is to add some randomization. In the real world, attraction and the like don’t follow any automatic rules. You don’t control who YOU are attracted to. You may have a “type” but the factors that go into it are too many to be deterministic. If she had been propositioned by some random person she didn’t know or didn’t like, then I wouldn’t make a roll. If it was some guy she was totally into, then probably I wouldn’t roll either – unless in my opinion the situation was off enough that she might react poorly. In this case, I did what I usually do – a d20 roll, higher means more positive, with vague modifiers applied mentally. Think of it as the other person making a Charisma check. She’s made a handful of checks like this over the course of the campaign, when she’s met someone and I want to know “is chemistry kicking in.” So I made the roll. My gut was “if this isn’t real high, there’s no way.” I don’t set hard thresholds and results (too much work! The whole intuition plus roll happens in 5 seconds total), but in this case my gut said 1-5: Disgust, rejection, breaking off friendship; 6-10: Rejection, no explicit breaking off of the friendship but she won’t trust her afterwards; 11-15: Rejection but with friendship not severely affected; 16-20 Maybe, intrigued – not “Yes,” but “She’d think about it.”
Roll result – 18. That’s pretty high. Certainly not high enough for a good girl who has always thought of herself as straight to drop trou on the spot, but enough that after politely extricating herself, she found the idea unexpectedly intriguing and churned over it in her mind afterward in traditional woman-hashing-over-a-relationship fashion.
Here’s the mental path I went through. Annata has been pretty staunchly straight so far; she was interested in two guys back in Korvosa (Grau, who was a bit of a project for her, and Vencarlo, a sophisticated older gentleman who ended up being the local equivalent of Zorro). Now, she is in love with Vencarlo, or thinks she is (it’s her first time in love). But he hasn’t reciprocated much, and since they both blew town she’s not sure if they’ll ever meet again. And she feels emotionally vulnerable, being away from Korvosa and all. She’s heard of such things (woman on woman) but never thought about it herself. What would Sarenrae do?
Meta-thinking comes in here. I’m not sure if Sarenrae is for or against that kind of thing. One of the problems with fantasy religions is that there’s usually a lot undefined in terms of expected behavior of parishioners. Is premarital sex OK at all? Is homosexuality? This is hard because these should be game “facts” and not subjective, which means I have to engage in metagame thinking. I decide that Sarenrae’s faith is probably not strictly against either, though general societal conservatism that would look down on both would be present.
Back to fully in-character. Annata has often meditated upon the beauty of the goddess as part of her religion, though (it was the beauty of a statue of the Dawnflower that drew her when she was a street urchin). Annata has gone through several emotional states in the campaign; when the group left Korvosa for the wilderness she transitioned from her current gig as somewhat strident wound-tight freedom fighter into a bit of a depressed martyr complex, but recently their time with the Shoanti barbarians ended up being kinda “Spring Break”-ey and she got to relax and party and open her mind, so she is in an experimental and confident kind of mood generally. Laori is clearly a little S&Mey, which isn’t something Annata conceives herself as into, but she is pretty submissive and I can see the dynamics of a top/bottom relationship working there. And finally, Annata is worried she might be embarrassed if the other guys found out – it might diminish her stature as a spirital leader in the party, generate jealousy, or just get her razzed more. In the end, a lot of mixed feelings that don’t call for clear action one way or the other.
She thought over it long enough that the sheer weight of the analysis took some of the edge off – she’s not going to act on it (and probably won’t mention it happened). But she took it well enough that it won’t affect her friendship with Laori, and that means she might try again, and if it does it’s got a chance of going farther. I’m pretty comfortable that this is a realistic reaction – I’ve known a couple people over time who have been tempted (sometimes successfully, sometimes unsuccessfully) by a daring and insistent gay friend.
I haven’t gone into my method for how I play female characters; that’s a big topic and only peripherally relevant. (Nor do I feel like I need to justify it; the people who are “against” crossgender play are wrestling with deep-seated emotional problems IMO.) But suffice it to say the thinking through the various pros and cons I go through above is my attempt at a female approach to analyzing relationship issues, as opposed to the more… elemental typical male response. (In this case, I am guessing the other two male PCs’ reaction would be “Hell yeah!” tempered only by explicit or implict fear that Laori would be the “top”.) I wish I could do it more completely “in character,” but I find myself having to pepper the thought process with little meta-thoughts a lot.
I’m interested in how other people work through in-character issues. (I know some of you don’t, and think this is all weird, and say D&D is just for combat-n-fun… Feel free to not respond then.) Do you use pure immersion (“I am Annata, and I think this…”), metagame evaluation of your character’s personality (“Annata has this in her background so she’d probably react this way…”) , randomization (“I roll d20 and… Annata likes it!”), something else I haven’t thought of, or a mix of these? And if a mix, in what proportions?
Probably one missing element is metagame group dynamics. “Would the other people at the table feel weird about this?” I almost totally omit that. Either I’m a role-playing purist, or I’m just a narcissist that doesn’t give a good goddamn what other people think, but there it is. Another is the narrativist approach, determining if this would make for a good story or not and deciding on those grounds. I do keep that in the back of my mind a little I guess… If I think it would generate a shit story I’d steer away from it out of fear of “ruining the game for everyone”. I also try to remove “What I the player think about this” as much as possible. Do I the player think Annata-on-Laori action would be hot; do I believe homosexuality is right, etc – I deliberately firewall that away (as much as is possible) in favor of my character’s personality and beliefs. Or worse, what someone else thinks – I have little tolerance for people who interject with “Well, a good character/cleric/woman/etc. would…” I politely encourage folks like that to close their filthy gobs. And lastly, “acting.” Immersion is akin to method acting, but in my mind the more commonly defined RPG actor stance – “using voices” and dramatic turns and flourishes – have jack crap to do with real in character play.
Thus after thinking about it, I’d have to say my pet “in character” thought process mix is:
- As much immersion as I can (50%)
- Metagame evaluation to fill in the gaps where I can’t fully immerse (35%)
- Randomness where I think that human feelings should not be deterministic (10%)
- A shade of “will this derail the story” in the back of my mind (5%)
I’m really interested in hearing other people’s method for “deep IC” play!