Dive! Dive! Dive!

Forgive the patently false submarine reference, but I wanted to discuss immersive roleplay with all of you, and the titular phrase just popped in my head like so much flotsam after a successful torpedo attack.

I prefer immersive roleplay when given the choice. I have nothing against playing via avatar as we used to do as beginners, or somewhere in-between as we did before the so-called renaissance of gaming, but now – given my choice, I prefer to run as fully realized a character as I can, that is definitely not just me grafted onto my attribute scores and equipment list. My preference does not stem from being so enthralled by drama that I need to adopt the role of someone else, or from considering myself to be an ACK-torrrr denied my true place on the stage, or that I think that performance art in a small room with a bunch of other guys and the occasional girl is the height of cool. It stems rather, from the fact that it is a more mentally engaging way to play and adds extra dimension to the game beyond the challenges presented in a scenario itself. More than this, it also makes the game less competitive, by putting up an ‘ego barrier’ between the players and the GM. Some people are competitive by nature, and gaming with people who get upset because “Dave the GM” killed “them” is tedious for those of us who do not measure ourselves in terms of conquest. By giving both “Dave” and all of “them” a mask to wear so that the same event of character death can be perceived as the “Adventure” being too tough for “Darklord Death-Master,” rather than a blatant attack on one’s personal identity, more of us can leave a session with a sense of enjoyment.

 Look me in the “I”

In a game that offers mechanics for the physical traits of characters, and leaves knowledge-based skills to the mental arsenal of the players and GM, immersive roleplay does not have to necessarily be absent, and looking back on most of my D&D and Palladium characters from my early days, I find that more often than not, they had distinct personalities and drives. Had I lost more characters, I am sure I would have drifted from this pattern, but as it was, I had the time to enjoy the growth of characters in a fairly natural progression from suggestions encoded in the scores, and the vagaries of dice and play.

 If you cut off my head, what should I say? Me and my head, or me and my body?

-Skinny Puppy, paraphrased

In fact, in games built around the concept of using the character as a means to ferry the perspective of the player into the game world, the prevalence of the word “I” in connection with character action is somewhat higher than it often is in games which are ostensibly all about the roleplay. I think the use of the personal pronoun is very telling in roleplay, and I look for it specifically before I start to unleash my more tailored story threads and opportunities in a campaign. Saying “I will…” is the first step of real investment in the game, and I think it should be fostered.

Not all Merits and Flaws

These games rarely discourage roleplay, and this is something which detractors of the OSR often seem to forget or gloss over, but it is quite true that there is little there to encourage it either. With these games it is entirely up to the group how the game and its characters manifest. That freedom is laudable, but comes with the opposed prices of drifting toward stagnation, or never finding any real consistency or refinement of play. Immersive roleplay, by its nature, adds in a layer of focus on character and the world in which they journey which helps to enhance consistency. As always, though, it is up to the player to actively seek real skill development

I find it interesting that in a more immersive environment, it actually takes longer for the “I” to appear. The “I of convenience” drifts in and out as often as it does in any other game, but the real “Invested I” remains elusive until the character has been realized and made itself clear to the player.


About a month ago now, I had my latest character ‘click’ into place during play, and last week I did not feel that ‘he’ summoned a dragon, I felt that ‘I’ summoned it. I could have had this experience in either vein of roleplaying, but I tend to feel that the payoff of this exciting event was higher in the immersive environment in which we are playing as I wasn’t just enthused about a good die roll, or about upping the stakes, or about using a new (to me) power in a new (to me) game, but about all of those metagame considerations, and about the accomplishment of a personal in-character goal, as well as the simple joy the event itself would have fostered.

In the Mechwarrior game I am running, the divide between the wargamer and the roleplayer in each of the participants, is highlighting this divide for me, and that is why my blog post for this week has gone in this direction. Each of their inner wargamers is pressing itself against the cage of IC knowledge and ability, assured of its ability to dominate the map if it could just break free and claw its way up to a Godmode vantage point, free of the limitations of fog of war, sensor skills, perception checks, and tactical and leadership training. At the same time, the wheels of character development, roleplay, and intense interaction are grinding at high speed as their inner roleplayers work feverishly to mine the rich veins of potential the scenario is giving us. It is pretty heady stuff.

Were we just playing Battletech, what are the odds this heady mixture would be ours to enjoy? The game would still be a blast… but perhaps only a subatomic one.

11 Responses to “Dive! Dive! Dive!”
  1. BF Wolfe says:

    I think you’ve hit something that I’ve been trying to put to words for these battles. Its not a sense of the wargamer trying to get out, but the roleplayer trying to get in. When you you are trying to roleplay an elite tactician, its very difficult to achieve or maintain that roleplaying immersion when your actions feel clumsy and random. Most gaming systems abstract this divide between character and player knowledge with vague but simple roles. Your example of creating a dragon took a bit of time to interpret, but the implementation seemed fairly seamless. MechWarrior as a system has one of the most detailed combat systems of any game I’ve seen. And one of the most enjoyable aspects of the system is it allows the tactics of the player and the character to come together. The ‘godmode vantage’ you described was one way of meshing our personal, relatively feeble, tactical knowledge with the deeper tactics our characters would have. Realistic? no. functional? yes. The current fog of war solution seems to have the feel of the oposite. While more realistic in terms of flow of information, it has the functional results of elite pilots and tactical geniuses running around the battlefield like chickens with their heads cut off. The solution? If I had one, I would have suggested it by now. I am enjoying the characters and non-mech scenes too much to give up on it. The only thing that comes to mind is switch to the vagueries of other combat systems (and the battletech books) where we describe a brilliant tactical result we want to achieve and the result rides on a combination of the force of our description and a single roll of our tactics skill. It wouldn’t be battletech, but it could be fun and immersive.

    • Runeslinger says:

      I think once the battle is over it will be easier to see how much you have managed to accomplish despite all the obstacles stacked against you… the weather, the city, the patrol lance being right at the museum, the lack of ammunition, the distance you need to travel making every moment and fragment of armor count…

      Where you see a failure in the unit to control its actions, I see leaders responding quickly and effectively to a rapidly worsening set of conditions, and getting results in short order – despite the problems set before them – any one of which might forestall a lesser group of individuals.

      Having an unrealistic amount of information would not have made the unit’s tactics better by much, and would have cheapened the small amount of roleplay we’ve had during the tense few seconds of combat and pretty much denied us a lot of the opportunities for more meaty stuff in the coming scenes, and would not have addressed the issue of unit cohesion which is what is really fuelling the sense of being out of control.

      Because certain elements in the scene were crashing about like loose cannons on deck, and because the leadership team had chosen a ‘no man left behind’ policy over abandonment or a clash of wills, the chaos ensued until that same leadership saw a way to view the unit clearly and getting it moving forward as a group again, in his own shadowy and behind the scenes style; putting down the immediate opposition, driving off their support vehicles, and plotting an escape route to avoid the remaining enemy forces in the sector.

      All this in mere heartbeats of the initial surprise attack…

      Impressive, no? And kerosene for the scenes to come~

  2. BF Wolfe says:

    Yes, this battle will definitely spark some nice role playing scenes in the near future. 😉 Our success though? We outclassed our enemy in terms of skill, weight, range, number and technology, but we are left with the impression that we barely made it out by the skin of our teeth? Not what I’d call a tactical success. The unit cohesion may improve in future combats. The sense that each of my action choices improve my odds more than my enemies? Not sure how to get that. But I’ll wait till we get everyone on board this discussion to dig deeper. Others may have ideas and suggestions i have missed. 🙂

  3. BF Wolfe says:

    Your posts got me thinking about success, and how `i define success in a tactical situation like this. You know my appreciation for simulations – I see the baseline of any confrontation as the expected outcome as determined by a mostly non-intelligent simulation of the battle. These simulations are essentially without tactics or strategy, but they do include the relative strengths and movement and damage of the two sides. What I hope to add to the battle, and what I *enjoy* adding to the battle is the attempt to improve these simulation results. Do my actions and choices work better than what a random machine could pull of given these resources? If the answer is no, then ether I failed as a tactician, or I was unable to influence the outcome given ways I was able to interact with the scenario. Correction: If I did worse, but because someone else was able to influence the outcome better than I was? I still call that a success, and usually get immersed deeper in the character and story. the same type of charge i get when losing to a very skilled chess player. 🙂

    • Runeslinger says:

      I can’t really answer how to reach a sense of success at this stage of things without giving away too much, and causing our immersion submersible to surface.

      What I can do is look at what a simulator would have done… Quite simply, a simulation would have opted to get the largest number of mechs “off the map” to safety in the shortest amount of time. As you know now, by virture of your decision to allocate mechs for recon, and by virtue of your assigned ‘marching order’ the mechs were able to withstand the forces which were arrayed against them.

      Your force outweighed the enemy – this is true, and you are fielding twice the number of mechs as you have so far encountered, but half of those mechs are being piloted by unknowns, carry no ammunition, and at least 4 of them were outgunned by the light mechs that faced them.

      In a simulation intent on reaching the goal of the map edge at all costs, the mechs would have been strung out in a line and it is a sure thing that between the lights and the LRM carriers, that several of your precious prizes would not have made it very far from the museum. As it stands, the Lyrans have lost 3 mechs, lost a squad of irreplaceable jump troops, and have had one of their precious Sturmfeurs crippled or worse. All you have lost is some armour and 1 very replaceable foot actuator.

      According to your strategic assessment prior to the mission, you concluded that the Lyrans’ lacked resupply, were already short on mechs, and essentially had to take the world with a force barely large enough to garrison it.

      Your actions so far have potentially increased your own forces by two full lances, while reducing theirs by 1, but more importantly, giving them something to fear.

      As we are roleplaying using A Time of War, and working with some very deeply developed characters with a lot riding on the line, I think we can safely expand the idea of success beyond the hard, map-bound wins/losses and conquest of one set of tactics over another, and include the softer, but no less far-reaching and potent victories of the mind. Think of the effect your appearance, and disappearance will have on the Lyran commanders you faced, and the troops who have seen them beaten.

  4. Ask the DM says:

    Great post! And thanks for linking up to my DMing.com post! For me, it’s strange that we even have to label “immersive” roleplaying with a special adjective. All roleplaying SHOULD be immersive, that’s how the “role” gets into “playing”. Having been a roleplayer and dungeon master going on close to 20 years now I have to say, I’m slightly disheartended (and little bit a offended) by the road some roleplaying systems have taken (*cough cough* D&D *cough*). It seems to me that the only remnant they’re trying to preserve is leveling. Short of that, I find them to be moving much closer to a warhammer wargame. Sure, roleplaying was born from wargaming, but it took a whole different, unique spin on the genre, and to lose it would be terrible. I think part of the problem (but also a good thing) is that rpgs are becoming more and more popular, and the easiest way to appeal to a more mainstream audience is to lose the more immersive, theatrical aspects of the game. A lot of people just feel kind of silly roleplaying. They take themselves seriously, and don’t like to be caught pretending to be someone else. I can understand their perspective, but they lose the depth and excitement of the roleplaying experience that comes along with it. Fortunately there will always be those of us that love getting deep into our characters and the story, and for those of us who aren’t quite there yet, I always recommend alcohol.

    • Runeslinger says:

      Well, I like to let people have fun in their own ways (as long as they do likewise for me and mine), but one of the reasons why I started this blog, and why it features topics like this one is to add my voice to the surprisingly few whose posts share insight into this link in the chain of rpg development. No one really showed me or served as a model for the sort of immersive play that I favor, my groups just grew into it, but in those days contact with other groups was harder to come by, and less… strident. Now, I think it is important to share other expressions of the hobby, and offer tips on how to go about it, so that the options remain open – not drowned out by the mainstream.

      Thanks for dropping by, leaving a comment, and for your post. It seems this topic is spreading in a lot of different directions at the moment.

  5. Ask the DM says:

    Of course, everyone should have their own fun. I’m just a crotchety old man pining for the bygone days of old-school roleplaying.

  6. mxyzplk says:

    I’m always down with the immersion; good article man.

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