Monday, January 11, 2010

You can't say that!

Ok, so Orclord and Canon Puncture seem to be my Muse of late. The same post that set my mind down the path thinking (and posting) about character death has now got me thinking about Out Of Character (OOC) dialog. This also relates tangentially to my last post.

At some game tables it is frowned upon to speak out of character. I have played in one game where all OOC conversation was signified by placing you hand on your forehead in the 'loser L' symbol. Very degrading, but did little to stem the flow of OOC.

The thing about RPGs is that they are cooperative. Players work together (usually) to complete common story goals - empty the dungeon, save a bus full of school children from dropping off the bridge, slay all the vampire you can find. Nowhere is it written that a player cannot make a suggestion to another player. "You may want to back your fighter up a step to set your spear for that charge."

Rarely have I been at the table where everyone (players not characters) is at the same level of experience when it comes to a specific game. In my current Back 2 Basics campaign I have two adults, one that has extensive 3.5 gaming experience (remember, we're playing Basic D&D here), the other that has mostly played MMORPGs. Of the three kids playing, my two boys have been gaming for roughly 4 years, while my friend's son is just starting out.

I think it's important for experienced players to share their knowledge with the newer player. This takes many forms: rolling up a character, choice of spells, where to take position in the battle to make best use of the character's weapon. There is still a lot of room for in-character talk at the right moments, and while I don't like the 'loser L' approach it is nice if you can somehow differentiate which talk is in or out of character.

Now at tables that feature more role-play may want to keep non-character chatter to a minimum. I get this. Unfortunately this often happens when only certain players are involved in a scene. In fact, it may be very important to keep distractions down so that the players in the scene can give it their full attention. Be respectful of others when they are in-character. If at all possible, hold your OOC comments until after the scene.

But there are times you just have to speak up. For example, what if one of the characters is trying to get past a guard by bluffing his way through. Perhaps the player forgot an important piece of information that will improve his chances. If appropriate you should remind the player of this info. What I don't like when this happens is that you inevitably hear, "Your can't say that! You're not there!"

My personal response is that this is a game, and players help each other out. If you want to be completely immersive then find a LARP to join. It is one thing to speak in character and do a cool voice, but is another to get all thespian on it. Let me be clear, that I'm talking about MY style of play here, not any recommended procedures. Your mileage may vary.

Another case in point. Last night one player wanted to break formation so that he could take a bow shot at an orc that closed with him. The other players started telling him not to do that because he would potentially expose the magic-user to an attack. It started getting heated and I had to quite it down. I reminded everybody that every player is free to make a suggestion to any other player, but that it is up to each individual player to decide what their character is doing at a given moment. When asked what he wanted to do, the player continued with his action of taking the step back. (The magic-user did not get attacked because all the orcs were dispatched before they could attack).

What I'm trying to say is that OOC should never be used to bully another player into doing something. I saw a player who insisted on sticking his hand into a snake nest to grab an egg, even after all the players voiced opinons that this was not a good move. One failed saving throw later and the player learned a valuable lesson. No one forced him to keep his hand out and the player had complete control of his character all the way up to the very end.

Follow Your Bliss,


  1. OOC for tactical reasons and OOC for plot reasons are two different animals to me. As you rightly point out, not everyone is coming to the table with the same level of game knowledge, so I find it entirely appropriate for other players to offer each other advice with respect to mechanics, whether or not they are within shouting distance of one another on the battlemap. In fact, some of the finest "roleplaying" moments are when a night's adventure comes down to a single roll and the players work together as a group to stack the odds on that roll by drawing upon their collective knowledge of the rules.

    Character knowledge, however, is a completely different matter. If my wizard is about to hurl a fireball down a troll-infested section of a dungeon, unaware that some of my compatriots are sitting bound and gagged smack in the middle of the blast zone, it's not appropriate for me to act (or not act) on this knowledge, no matter how much the results will suck for the other players.

    Excellent post, btw!

  2. Good point. The character knowledge aspect is a slippery slope. There is a lot of unpacking that can go on with this topic with the potential to devolve into endless 'examples'.

    It might be a good subject to com back to or continue to add on to as I get more chance to think about it.

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. Another issue in favor of OOC tactical comments is the fact that the characters live in this world. The game rules are their physical laws and they've spent years honing their talents. The players experience this filtered through words without the intuitive feel. Helping people out makes up a little for the immediacy that the characters have. A group of people who work together would develop habits and styles to make sure they meshed well.

    Also, I like my games to feel like an epic novel or a blockbuster action movie or a world-class comic book. By helping people be heroic, the game is more fun for all of us.

    And for a final comment, gaming is a way to spend time with friends. We often stray beyond the game with our OOC talk. We may not get as much gaming done, but we enjoy the hell out of our time.