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You are here: Home --> DragonBlog --> What are we playing for?

What are we playing for?

A few hours ago some friends of mine were sitting around discussing the merits/drawbacks of bards. I joined in the discussion by mentioning that I had played a ‘silent’ bard in a game here (Some Secrets are Best Left Buried, which unfortunately fizzled before it got too far along). As the discussion progressed it was mentioned that this game was played on the 2e rule set. As soon as ‘2e’ was mentioned a groan dissipated from my friends and the following comment was made:
“2e? Oh God… you could play a character in that for like four years and only get to level 10!”
It is now nearly three am, I am having a bout of insomnia and I keep chewing over this comment.
Levels? Is that the most important aspect to playing D&D, or any RPG for that matter?
To put things in a bit of perspective let me tell you a bit out my own gaming experiences. The first D&D game I participated in was with this same group of gentlemen about five or six years ago now. They graciously let me play a succubus in a campaign that lasted about six months. Since then I have played several other games with them (nearly always as the only female player, something which I might write about at a later date). Most campaigns, including that first one, we have not played to completion, and few last longer than 2 months. I actually became rather disillusioned with the whole thing about two years after that first game and stopped playing until they could prove to me that they would play something for more than 2 months. Only this past year have I really picked it back up with them and a few weeks ago we finally finished our first campaign! *gasp!*
In that I played a Hafling Favored Soul who began as a level 5 character and who worked her way all the way up to level 20 and saved the world with her companions in a mere 9 months. With that game completed we are working on starting up another, getting characters rolled and background stories written. I have been watching while my husband and the other gents in this endeavor build their characters. They have been spending hours hiking atop the 3.5 pdf mountain. They spelunk through the dark crevices of obscure books; search for perfectly placed combinations of stats, spells, modifiers, feats, and proficiencies as footholds to the summit, where apparently some awesomely supreme character awaits them. 
Most, however, will show up with a few paragraphs of a ‘background’ story and no real character development despite all this prior workup. Come to think of it the gent who made the comment about not reaching level 10 for years recently came to the first gaming session of a game with NO background story, the DM decided to go on anyway and decided that he had simply woken up with amnesia that morning and that they would work out the details later… I made no comment. 
Before I go on with that, let me go deeper into my history with gaming. While I have only been an active player in RPG for perhaps five or six years (I know I’m a baby compared to so many of you around here) that succubus was not my first experience with the gaming world. You see I am the product of a line of gamers. My parents were teenagers in the 70’s and my father played war games. Ah yes, the war game, the beautiful yet regimented system that would one day help birth the world of RPG that we so happily loose ourselves in today. He played these games well into my life and I can remember him meticulously rebuilding Gettysburg in our basement as a small child. The war games, of course, also led to the fascinating first editions of D&D, and living in Denver at the time he had the unique privilege of getting to play at conventions where the Demi-God himself, Gary Gygax, was DMing. My mother was even involved in this, although not with Gettysburg, and I have memories of that too. 
I can recall sitting around the basement listening to my parents play while I leafed through the Monster Manual. I don’t know what edition it was but I can still clearly see the red demon-like creature that snarled across its cover and the red ribbon it came with to use as a book mark. I played with the figurines, not cheap plastic figurines, but real metal ones that my father had carefully hand painted to look like the characters in the game. My mother played a rogue, with brunette hair and an outfit that had a pair of iridescent green pants. 
My mother played a rogue. She did not play a rogue for six months, and then a bard on the next go around, and a sorcerer for the next game. She played a rogue. She played that same rogue for years. If I asked her today she could tell me her character’s name and the adventures she went on. She could tell me the romances she had and the dragons she fought. What level she was when she fought that dragon at she could probably guess at, but the levels are not what she remembers, she remembers the role play. 
I find myself being nostalgic, over something I have the misfortune of only having had experienced as an outsider and a small child at that. 
I live in a world where video games fill the spaces between gaming sessions for most of my friends. Leveling your character quickly so it is not squished by some computerized villain or pulverized by some teenager half way across the world is the concern. They play the same games and compete with each other over these levels. These video games call themselves ‘RPG’s’ sometimes. Yes you can ‘create’ a character and have them make ‘choices’ that will determine their fate. They are not Mario bouncing across the screen eternally in search of Princess Peach. Your character ‘interacts’ with NPC’s and other players if it is an online game. But it is all within the confines of the game. 
Currently my husband, and seemingly everyone else, is addicted to the latest and greatest game ‘Dragon Age’. Compared to many I have had the ‘privilege’ of watching him play it appears to have more ‘interaction’ than most. Even so I have watched him drag the mouse up and down the list of provided responses his character can possibly make during a discussion with one of the computer NPC’s. He is searching for the response that is closest to what he would like his character to say. If he was capable of actually saying the response he wanted he likely would be out of the confines of the game. 
Which is what a real RPG is about in my opinion. There are rules and guidelines that have been set down in books which help to level the playing field, making it so no one character is being vastly under or over played. These things should be taken into consideration (see Eol’s Blog concerning character creation *end plug*) certainly. But the real fun begins when you sit down at the table and actually play, or in our case I suppose in front of the computer and type. 
It is the interaction between real people creating a world and an adventure that truly is only confined by the limits of our own imaginations that is the magical world of an RPG. 
If it takes ten years to reach level 2 does it really matter? Why must every game end with the players greedily demanding experience points to be ladled out and groans when it is just short of the next level? Why is a character’s race decided because it gets the best stat bonuses for a certain class? When did the mechanics of the game take over the game itself?
Don’t get me completely wrong here. I still will continue to play in my tabletop games. We have had some wonderful moments of real role play. However, I wonder at times what the motivation for those moments are, especially while wading through some of the more laborious mechanical discussions that occur between them. I wonder if the games were different for my parents, and I wonder what I have missed in that respect and I have begun to understand why they stopped playing. Beyond that I also recognize that I am grateful for having found this little haven for those of us who still play primarily for the adventure.

posted by Merideth on 7/13/2020 at 03:30:29 PM Digg Technorati Blinklist Furlreddit


I play because I find role playing to be a very fun pairing of games. There's two games there, for me at least, that you alternate back and forth between over the course of a session. There's the character interaction, the role playing, and there's moving around in squares, the roll playing.

I'm a munchkin. I very freely admit and accept this about myself. When I create a character, the first thing I do is decide what class I want to try out this time around, then I roll up my stats and assign the highest two according to the class I'm playing and start to hunt for feats. The beginning of character creation for me is always about moving around in squares. Once i get the high INT and DEX for the wizard, then I'll look at the other four and start figuring out who these numbers are actually going to be. When initiative is called for, the object of the game is to crush the monster as swiftly as possible and experience points and gaining levels are a very key part of that game.

When we're not in initiative order, the game is about discovering who this other person I've dreamed up is and what he likes and how he's going to get along in the world. Very open ended kind of thing and very rarely do I ever think about how close he is to the next level while playing this half of the game. The only objectives are to have fun and keep the story going.

It's an odd pairing and one that I haven't really discovered the reason for yet. I made a non-combat character once just to see what that would do, and it did help shift the focus more from munchkin to story-telling, but I would still sit down and pour through the supplement books between sessions to find the "right" combination of feats to be the best not-fighter that I could possibly be.

posted by Deucalion on 11/29/2009 at 08:55:48 AM

More than just stats, more than just levels... :D ...That's the whole she-bang, isn't it?

I'm with you 100% here, Meri... Despite all the varied rules and regulations for RPGs that are out there, do any of them really matter if the "characters" that play in them are little more than lifeless cardboard cut-outs?

For me, RPGs have always been more about the role-play and the stories than they have ever been about the rules and level progression.

Great stuff... and thanks for the plug.

posted by Eol Fefalas on 11/29/2009 at 12:02:33 PM

I agree, it should be more about the role play and not roll play. Too many times the fun of a game is ruined over people striving to beat the system somehow and make an unstoppable juggernaut of a character rather than making an interesting character that if fun to play and fun to be around. That in itself is a huge reason I pre-roll stats for all my players, everyone has the same base values to deal with, no one is going to be any more or less powerful than the others, and it weeds out the re-rolling munchkin types who will roll until they have at least 4 18s.

posted by Shield Wolf on 11/29/2009 at 01:40:24 PM

The open-endedness is what got me into RP-ing in the first place. I was always a huge fan of the choose-your-own adventure books, but they were too confining even then. That's why I turned to writing and my recent forays into RP-ing. It's a great way to escape from the day-to-day things in life. Because you may have had a bad day at work, but you can always take it out on some red dragon or a group of narsty goblins!

posted by Fletch on 11/29/2009 at 02:36:25 PM

I, like so many others already, agree with you, Meri, and with Deucalion. What I seek to get out of D&D is an amazing story littered with some epic battles--which is best done with well-thought out characters and enough experience to take on something exciting. Your level is only important as far as dictating what kinds of awesome things you can do in the fights that populate the action part of the story.

posted by Sibelius Eos Owm on 11/29/2009 at 06:40:35 PM

Excellent work, Meri! Very thought provoking!

Do you write for a living?

posted by Ayrn on 11/29/2009 at 10:45:38 PM

We're spoiled you know. Because we're online gaming we demand description and that description demands more than just 'I attack.' As a part of that demand we also have top notch writers who post publishable works of art and then refusing to be out done the roll players do everything they can to match the previous posts. We still have the roll players here (believe me I know theres 2 in forgotten kings) but because we force them to write their response in character we force them to begin thinking about their character and that forces the first beginnings of roleplaying. And for those who don't conform to our standards we deny them entrance in the game as DMs like Tek will proudly show they've done. It's easier to tell someone you'll never have to look at they suck and so can't play with you. The online forum has more role players than tabletops because we're like bullies who push the weaker writers and weaker role players aside in our lust for the newest and best games. The true lesson here is if you want a tabletop group hat roleplays DM a storyline so intriguing that they can't pass it up. As contradictory as it seems I think a gestalt game could convince even the most MMO of players to roleplay if the DM demands it.

posted by Ion Kired on 11/30/2009 at 12:15:23 AM

Well glad this got some positive responses... 3am rants are always nerve wracking... LOL

Yes we are a bit 'elitist' around here sometimes aren't we? Demanding role playing and three page posts of the deepest innermost thoughts of our characters... and not letting people get away with 'I attack' posts. Due to this format and our high standards we also forfeit fast advancement, leveling up every week does not work if it takes three weeks to complete a full combat scene. I sometimes go months without looking at a character sheet I built for a character here, unlike on a tabletop game where I'm constantly refering to it. huh... I'm rambling now aren't I?

Oh... and Aryn... no... I don't write for a living, which makes me very very sad. I audit invoices and spend my day wasting away in excel spreadsheets. *cries* But thanks for the compliment. Someday I hope to maybe write for a living. Know anyone who needs a writer!? *grin*


posted by Merideth on 12/01/2009 at 10:45:08 AM

Thank you, thank you so much. I think I can safely say I'm the only person to ever have roleplayed any strategy computer game, which possibly explains my point of view on the matter xD

posted by Darren on 12/04/2009 at 04:10:18 PM

Stats and levels are simply things written on a piece of paper called a character sheet. They are of little significance to me when I play. Sure they help define what chance of sucess my character has in situations I place it in but ultimately it is my thoughts and mannerisms that give it "life". I have too often seen folks with super-powerful characters who lack imagination and the game ends up boring. Heck where is the excitment of a bunch of level 20s wading through a hobgoblin den? Excitement/suspence (the reason I play) is seeing half the party out of action and knowing that teh only thing between pulling out dice to gen a new character and continued adventure is one roll based on a crazy idea of one player. Heck we watched one guy who needed only to roll anything other than a 1 to save vs spell and then vs pertification miss both rolls; then after a timely use of a spell to allow rerolls he missed them both again! The suspense in that room was incredible.

Give me any piece of paper with any set of numbers on it and I will bring it to life. The sheet may have limitations but my own imagination and ingenuity does not.

posted by Keeper of Dragons on 12/06/2009 at 08:33:18 AM

I have mentioned that I :LOVE: you guys right? ;)


posted by Merideth on 12/07/2009 at 07:23:04 PM

We love you back, Meri! ;)

posted by Eol Fefalas on 12/09/2009 at 05:40:15 PM

I understand you completely. I myself have had many experiences with players (and DMs fo rthat matter) more concerned about the mechanics of the ultimate character than the story. I, for one, would rather have an amazing plot (sometimes numerous plot lines interwoven so as to be invisible to the PCs until a critical and pivotal moment) rooted in the cleverly conceived background stories of the characters and a fighter with a +5 Katana of Smite Everything that he is unbeatable while wielding simply because the player spent hours pouring over the right mechanics to reach that exact goal.
Roleplaying games should be about just that, roleplaying. The story is what is important, the mechanics of the game ar ethere to support the story, not vice versa.

Well spoken Meri.

posted by Steelight on 12/17/2009 at 02:07:46 AM

Kyle is standing in a hallway when he hears a rather lively discussion about why we play. He glances over his shoulder and asks should I go in…

In a well-lit room with a tool bag by the door with the words maintenance written on it sits a man at a laptop that is old but adequate for the job it does so the boss refuses to upgrade. ‘Do as you wish Kyle just do not let Malechi hear that Keeper of dragons.’

With an evil grin the good Kyle Westhelm War Cleric of the Sea Goddess runs to find Malechi the Ranger Lord of Tridonia.

It is but a few minutes later a tall slider human enters the room in a very find full Red Dragon leather armor, “Keeper you old fool have you been repeating stories again.” He then walks up and gives Keeper a very big hug, “Old friend it is good you still remember my finer moments and if it was not for your healing hand I would not be alive today.” Malechi then turns and bows low to the Lady Merideth, “Good Lady I am sorry for barging in to your council meeting but I was told it is called a blog and then all were welcome to share their own thoughts on the matter at hand. As I know not what it means to to play as stated in your opening statement I will simply thank you for the opportunity to see an old friend and worn you that not what he says it true.” Malechi’s hand was placed on his heart, “But it does sadden me to say what he says is true this time. Every time I tried to side step (roll that darn 20 sided spawn of satin himself) I seam to catch a rock or snag a rood. And as I recall the floor at that time was of the finest marble and there was not a loose stone or root to be seen for miles. But leave it up to me to find not two or three of them but four.”

Malechi then turned to Keeper, “Thank you for telling stories,” He turns to the Lady Merideth, “Thank you for such a council.” He walks to the door and turns to face the room, “Thank you all for your thoughts.” Malechi then gives a hearty pat on the back to the war cleric still standing in the door with a very big grin on his face, “And thank you.” And with that Malechi strode down the hall and out the front door of the Inn.

Kyle then looks at the Lady Merideth, “The one on the laptop thing told me to say, ‘That is why I play. They are all alive and they all are different.’ He also says, ‘That if one truly wishes to test themselves play a high level in a group of low levels and make it fun for all.’ What ever that means. Well once more thank you Lady Merideth, Keeper of Dragons, Keep you safe and to all others travel well until we meet again.”

posted by Kyle on 12/19/2009 at 12:51:12 PM

A character comes to life in a good game setting....personalities become defined and IN GAME EMOTION...adds meaning and vibrancy to the truly takes on a life of its own when each person, including the DM, offer a sincere desire to make it a positive experience for all. I think attention to player character and attitude will dictate the playability of a good campaign. I choose my players carefully as I desire a positive experience and memory for all. I am not an elitist but I am choosy.

posted by Teancum on 11/19/2011 at 09:59:08 PM

In this world, many games but most people are like silent games and most are don't like a game without noise. When I am joining the EduBirdie center here mostly playing the silent games with my colleges when work is finish so that’s why I like silent games.

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