Wednesday, June 10, 2009

On Roleplaying Stereotypes

I've been playing RPGs on the computer and console for many years, but only playing paper and pencil dungeons and dragons for oh maybe 6. Its been only recently, the past few campaigns or so, including those played at college where I've taken a more active interest in Roleplaying my character.

In the first campaign I ever dilligently roleplayed for the Dungeon Master asked me if I had rp'd before because I was pretty good at it (the dm was a big RP game runner, World of darkness and other such white wolf games). I honestly had not, but I replied, "I have a very good fantasy/sci-fi background which I use to build a characters personality"

now why would I start off this post about RP stereotypes whith such a story? Well it relates to an almost constant argument I have with a friend of mine down here that i play DND with almost every week. Since 4th edition DnD has come out, we've bickerd back and forth about the removal, reversal, and other such changes to the classic archetypes many of us learned the game with.

I personally dont take issue with the game mechanics changes. Hasbro/Wizards is trying to take a brand with bad connotations and a small player base and bring it to the mainstream. And to to that they've done things such as, remove negatives stat bonuses from character races, introduced more varied races and classes, and made precedent for almost any wacky/inane combination you can think of all in the name of increasing the player base by "upping the fun" As I said, this doesn't bother me. What does bother me is that such mechanics allow for people to go against what I will call the RP Stereotypes.

What is an RP stereotype by my definition? Its an idea, an archetype, widely held, usually inspired by fantasy writing or older versions of rpgs. Example: All drow can assumed to be evil. All undead can be assumed to be evil. Orcs are dumb, Elves are frail. And nowaday's new players dont have that sort of indoctrination into such archetypes, primarily because they aren't included in the game mechanics. All player races have no negative stat bonuses, so you have no idea what a races weakness is. There is an epic destiny (read, prestige class) where you become a lich (specifically an archlich) so as you may fight evil for eternity. I use that example specifically because I have a major problem with it. The process of becoming a lich is a process by which a wizard of the day would shed their humanity, literally and figuratively.

To rant about another problem I have in this vein, there are so many new wild and crazy character races, they just aren't feasible. The idea by my understanding is that the character races are supposed to be common enough that those cultures can raise "heros." Humans, elves dwarves, all make sense, but shifters, genasi, devas, and goliaths? They just dont fit into my (now admittedly antiquated) world view.

Dont get me wrong now friends, I'm not angry enough to stop playing. Its just that it kinda rubs me the wrong way. In the effort to essentially make more money, the publishers are contradicting the source material, going against the established narrative.

These are just my jumbled thoughts.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is Christopher Lauer, and this is my two copper pieces. I wish I've seen this blog post earlier. You put a lot of effort into your blogs.

I'll admit that my foundation towards fantasy literature are not as deeply rooted as your own. I also understand that if a consistent fantasy setting is not established, then the experience fall to the wayside. Our philosophies differ on handling certain topics pertaining to D&D in particular.

I try not to use the terms "never" or "always", because they are absolute terms. Exceptions do occur, and one of the concepts that 4th Edition D&D brings to the table is the concept of Player Characters being the "stars" of the show, and rise above their respective societies.

The wild and crazy Player Character races can get pretty wacky. I believe that one of the reasons D&D is churning out more races like this is to separate themselves from the "typical" fantasy genre. Another reason would be for money, obviously.

It is like comparing Star Wars to Battlestar Galactica in a Science Fiction genre. They are both of the Science Fiction genre, but have their own ways of expressing it.

Would you have any problems if new alien races were presented in a Sci-Fi RPG setting? Probably not, since it would be easy to explain away that the newfound race is "from another planet".

I have a peeve with certain raging nerds (you certainly aren't one of them). Those who refuse to purchase a product because of one aspect they don't like. If there are Drow in a Forgotten Realms publication, they won't buy it, instead of just omitting that part of the book.

I'm not sure where I am going with this. If you came up to me and asked "can I play a smart Orc", I would not see the problem in it. I'd rather give players the satisfaction to stick out of the crowd, then deny the opportunity. The Orc example could go in many directions: Being an outcast from the Orc tribes for being too smart, struggling for acceptance amongst those who view Orcs in a negative way.

In essence, the players along with the DM ultimately create the world setting by living it out together. Your particular thought process is required to live out a structured fantasy setting. Without an established norm, the uniqueness of wacky races or concepts would not be as intriguing.