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!
I fear that I don’t have a lot to contribute since your rationale is generally the same process that I go through and one that I suggest for my players when I’m GMing. You have made me think that it would make a lot of sense for me to write down some of those finicky details about religions, like same-sex issues, pre-marital sex, marriage of clergy, etc. My gut reaction is that the more lawful alignment religions would be more stringent in terms of rules in general, that chaotic alignment religions don’t give a damn and every other alignment type of deity would be a weird buffet of those issues.
Back to RP decisions: I generally try to fill in a fair amount of my character background and allow that to inform my immersion. Some of that is tempered by making meta-decisions based on many things, the foremost in my mind being that *I* would be a terrible adventurer since I’m very cautious and almost every adventurer in every setting and game system ISN’T. So sometimes I just roll with something in game that out-of-game I never would, putting much more introspection and consequence-weighing into it. In terms of sexual dynamics, my gaming group almost never delves into that, which is a little funny, since we’re all very open, fairly sexually-liberated people. One of the funny things about playing D&D is that in a multi-racial adventuring party, it’s less the sexual taboos that would stop people and more that people think far-side-of-porn imagery when they think about the halfing and the tiefling getting drunk and getting it on. Whether they’re both guys or girls wouldn’t make us cringe… it’s the little person and the horned-and-tailed person making out that makes us wince. The only other situation I can think about like that in-game was in a cross-over Mage-Vampire game in which my vampire got swirlies drinking mage blood while having sex with the shy, voyeuristic, Mind-magician librarian who needed some sort of release and thought that a friendly, can’t-get-you-pregnant vampire buddy would make a good f*#@-friend. No propositions were made, most of it was just agreed upon out-of-game, almost like blue-booking the relationship only nothing so formal. We just agreed that my character wouldn’t care and her character was only interested in becoming less insular than she was and thought regular sex would help with that. In-game it just made the rest of the group a little weirded out, in a curl-your-lip and ignore-that-aspect-of-THEIR-lives/unlives sort of way.
Good post, Mxyzplk. Great issue to bring up.
I haven’t had the issue come up. Of course in 30 years of gaming, I’ve played almost exclusively with guys. That said, only a few of those guys (myself included) have played female characters. Perhaps we’re all horribly repressed? (Well, most of us are happily married, so we’re not that repressed.)
Anytime I’m making decisions about my character’s motivations I go to background first (you described it as “metagame”, if I understood you correctly.) I’d put immersion second, trying to get a feel for the dynamics of the moment. Finally, I’d consider what you described as “derailment” of the overall story.
I’ve played with folks who rolled dice to help determine their character’s actions and I’ve always felt that was a little weird. I mean, for all intents and purposes, I (as my character) have free will, so I’ll decide how I act or feel. It may not be narratively perfect, or 100 percent in-character, but it’ll be my reaction. That’s just my opinion, and I respect the rationale you provided for yours.
Great food for thought!
Thanks for chiming in guys!
@steve – Yeah, one of the big disadvantages to the common D&D religious model is that it’s so much work to devise the actual “live by” ethos. (Assuming you want to take religion seriously; IMO in the real world religion, sex, family, etc. are the MOST motivating factors in people’s lives, and most games leave them out entirely). Monotheism – pretty easy. Single culture polytheism – also easy (think the Greeks). Most Greeks were just Greeks, most didn’t devote yourself to one god totally but instead worshipped the pantheon in general. D&D has always had this odd “there are many gods, but you pick one and are utterly devoted to them” model which requires the detail of monotheism but duplicated for each deity.
@Anarkeith – I can see this specific issue not coming up, but I’m sure you’ve worked through your share of moral dilemmas. I’ve been wanting to post this question for some time, and just thought that this particular recent example might inspire more folks to read the post 🙂
And I agree with taking a light hand on the dice… I still decide how I act, I really only use them in areas where I feel like people IRL arent’ totally in control of their feelings. (The point of a temptation is that you *want* to do something you know you shouldn’t do.)
Well cool, I was wondering if I was totally out there or not, but so far both of you describe a thought process consisting of the same general building blocks as what I use…
I tend to take a somewhat less analytical approach. I do sometimes let the dice guide my decision making in situations like that, along the lines of either your improvised d20 scale or a “Reaction Roll” for my PC if the system I’m playing supports it. Other times, I just go with whatever seems like the right choice for the situation. Character background considerations are important, but I rarely bring it to the level of a deep, conscious analysis. My questions usually boil down to “What would fit the character? What would fit the setting? What won’t creep out the rest of the table?” in order of decreasing priority. Sexual themes have come up often enough in the games I’ve been in that it’s usually something that I take into consideration when developing character back story these days. I know how my virginal paladin’s god treats sex among his followers, as well as how that character sees it – and they don’t quite share the same viewpoint.
I don’t always follow that pattern. One off-the-cuff decision I made has had wide-reaching ramifications. In the first session of a now long-running Shadowrun game, I had already managed to tweak the sensibilities of most of the other players a bit but I still hadn’t gotten one. I already knew the character had had male lovers in the past – her not-quite-ex-husband was a major element of her history – but when that one player’s character started expressing his appreciation for a female NPC, I decided to chime in in agreement just for the sake of bugging that player a little bit. Since then, my character’s bisexuality has become a major aspect of the character, but it all started as just a quick gag.
Incidentally, my character and the NPC in question are now happily married. (Shadowrun is silent on the question of whether gay marriage is legal in the UCAS, but the GM wound up having to make decisions on that and polygamy because of my character. Did I mention that this sort of thing comes up often in the games I’m in?)
It doesn’t even come up for me. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been roleplaying for so long, or if my characters aren’t different enough from myself, but almost every situation I encounter I can immediately say, “he/she would do X.”
I tend to start with “will this ruin everything” when building characters (with one memorable exception), so normally they have goals that will steer the story in the direction the potential party seems like it will be headed in. Then, once I have the character, I can just play them without having to meta-game about it. Unlike you, I include “will everyone else flip out” in with “will this derail the story” for evaluating where character attributes fall on the “will this ruin everything” scale.
I also generally know a lot about a character before I start. I consider a person’s sexuality to be a pretty basic feature, so that’s definitely something I’d already have worked out.
Rereading that, the “unlike you” makes my comment sound critical – that wasn’t the intent. I just wanted to point out the difference.
@mxyzplk: Putting this in a separate comment so as to derail things slightly less, I’ve always assumed D&D characters were supposed to be henotheistic, just like ancient Greek heroes were. Odysseus might make sacrifices to Ares before a battle or to Zeus on certain holidays, but he was above all devoted to Athena, his patron goddess. Similarly, a D&D character might be a Cleric of the Raven Queen, but she would still offer a sacrifice to Melora before a sea voyage or stop in at the temple of Pelor if that were the patron god of the city she was visiting.
It’s not really narrativist as such, because I think more about what would be fun for the character, rather than the “plot”, but that’s my general approach.
To go a little bit deeper into my general role-playing style, I’m fairly good at doublethink. I can be conscious of the out-of-character implications of my character decisions while still thinking in character. Often, when I come up with an OOC reason to do something, I’m almost simultaneously justifying it in character. In that Shadowrun game, I may have chosen my actions based on an out of character desire to see my fellow players (momentarily) squirm, but I created an in-character reason for it before I even said anything, and I started assimilating the implications into how I played my character almost immediately.
I personally only had the sex question come up a few times. The closest to what you’re talking about for me was in a random encounter style ‘who are you sharing a cell with?’ that came up when we were thrown in separate cells and had to deal with the situation.
One was attacked by ‘big gay bubba’ a half-orc barbarian ( he rolled a natural one) the bard got a natural 20 (and got hot elf double mint twins as a result) the other two got cells by themselves but my paladin had an interesting encounter with a woman he was sharing a cell with. They did up ‘getting it on’ eventually, but there was an interesting little scene that played out of the Paladin questioning what he should do (the woman was sad and wanted the comfort of a partner for the night, he didn’t want to feel like he was taking advantage of her).
Good discussion all!
@MrTim – yeah, I don’t necessarily do an in depth analysis either – but this is something that my character would do an in depth analysis on…
@Swordgleam – sure, no worries.
It’s a rather interesting conundrum.
Personally, while I have no problem with playing a female character, I would probably shy away from entering that character into a same-sex relationship in game.
I think it would be too easy to fall into the Hollywood/Porno view of lesbianism where it’s all abut something strange and kinky or butch and dykey, as opposed to the reality which is, well, the same as a hetro relationship.
Of course, I might just be being too PC or worrying about offending people or appearing sleazy with my characters.
Conversely, I’d have absolutely no problem having a male character enter a same sex relationship. But then I’m coming from a male GLBT standpoint, so it would be a case of RP’ing something I’m more familiar with.
Very interesting post.
I DM a lot more than I play, and I tend to play as if my character was an NPC in one of my games. The first level I consider is the culture the character comes from. This tends to be broad, covering everything from what the character eats to how they worship the gods, but also shallow, because there’s rarely a strong justification for this sort of thing or those justifications are based on local conditions. My character might have been raised believing that velvet doublet and silk hose are proper evening wear, but if he’s in a tropical location, that linen pah kao mah is going to look really tempting.
The next thing I tend to consider is the character’s history. Has the character dealt with something like this before? What was the outcome? What did the character learn from this?
Then I consider the character’s profession. Yes, the importance of such a thing is heavily influenced by culture, but when all you have is a hammer… And it’s not the simple “warmonger fighter assumes everything is an attack that must be met with unrelenting violence” either. But the swordsman is going to have a tendency to frame issues as a series of advances and retreats, parries, ripostes, feints and strikes. Put in the situation you described in the post, my swordswoman’s first response would be to extricate herself from the situation and create “space” for her to think and react. She might do this by a hasty but polite retreat, or an aggressive move that “pushed” the priestess back, something the fighter might regret later. A wizard, on the other hand, might frame the issue as an array of forces, some hidden and other overt, vectors of force pushing and pulling in all directions. My wizardess would have dived into the issue, questioning the priestess, attempting to discern the social and personal “vectors” of the situation before arriving at a conclusion.
Finally, but most importantly, there are the goals of the character. How does the situation impact those? I keep in mind that many people say they have goal x, but live as if their goal is y. And yeah, if you can figure out my character’s real and professed goals, and how they intersect, you can probably manipulate my character fairly easily. But he might kill you for it later. 😉
I don’t worry about plot issues. Moments like this create plots, and even if the game is pretty plot heavy, this sort of thing makes a really good B-plot.
As for the other folks at the table, I do consider them and their reactions. I try very hard not to be a spotlight-hog. However, I’m also the sort to find your boundaries and then lean against them a bit, just to test ’em. I find that this makes for more interesting gaming, though it requires everyone be open, honest, and brave enough to say, “Hey, you’re crossing the line, stop or I’ll rip off your arm and beat you to death with it.”
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I hope you don’t mind I borrowed your pic with a link to the site of Course 🙂 https://www.facebook.com/pages/From-The-Dice-of-The-Dungeon-Mistress/150442988465062
Oh, that’s not my pic – sorry, when I get a minute I’ll link that to the real original.