Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 14, 2013
This one may be a bit focused on dice & paper gaming today. But hey, for me, it’s all connected.
One of the few “rules” adopted for improvisational acting (and for round-robin story writing exercises) is the “do not negate” rule. That means you can only build on what those before you have said, not contradict them (at least not directly). Without this sort of rule, you could end up with players in an endless loop of “Is Too! / Is Not!” arguments. While that can be kind of entertaining by itself, the real fun comes from the different artists playing along and building upon each other’s contributions to the story.
When sitting around a table (or lounging around in the living room, which more accurately describes how we play) with dice and character sheets, a role-playing game has quite a bit in common with improvisational acting. While the game master is “in charge” and guides the adventure and has an outline to work from, it’s still an unscripted environment where everybody is trying to contribute to a story.
I believe the “do not negate” rule is not only applicable to RPGs (with some modifications), it’s pretty fundamental. What it really boils down to is that as a player, you cooperate with the shared storytelling efforts of the rest of your group. So long as they are playing within the rules and playing within the bounds of their control, you play along. It’s okay to stop and negotiate (or, at many tables, kibitz, depending upon house rules), but you don’t negate unless there’s an emergency – things are really about to go off the rails.
One example (which I’m guilty of violating) is when a player has their character say or do something stupid. Now, it’s one thing if the player just wasn’t paying attention, or otherwise didn’t realize what they were doing. That’s the “negotiate” element. As a game master, I may say something like, “You realize you have five highly trained marksmen covering you right now. Are you sure you want to try and kick the commander in the nuts?” If another player has the ability to interrupt the action, they can try. But otherwise — roll with it.
We had an amusing experience the other night where a player’s character was about to blurt out a fact that she shouldn’t have been privy to in front of people we were interrogating (er, sorry, I mean interviewing). My first reaction was to say, “Wait, don’t say that! You were supposed to tell me, not them!” Yeah, I’m a control freak that way sometimes. The player’s response was, “Hey, I’ve got 8 charisma, I’m gonna be blunt and say exactly that.” Negotiation was concluded, and she was right.
Hilarity ensued as my character desperately tried to smooth things over. It was awesome.
This also applies to players and the game master. Within reason, it’s the player’s responsibility to “roll with” the adventure, and to figure out their character’s motivation. The subtle differences in motivation can be a rich source of story and roleplaying – for example, why a thief and a holy paladin might be working together for a common goal. There are times that their motivations might come into conflict, and have to be resolved (hopefully non-violently), but this adds nuance. But ultimately, unless the GM has really screwed up badly (like making an adventure that requires a party full of Lawful Good characters to engage in high-seas piracy), the “do not negate” rule is maintained. The GM has a story to tell, and the players find a place in it and a way to make it their own. And, in their own story, they are all the main characters.
The flip side is a pet peeve that annoyed a lot of us when we were roleplaying in online persistent worlds (or, waaaaay back in the old days, LARPing). A player would create a character that was – in my mind at least – really an NPC. They were not built to be an active participant in a story. They were the kind of character who would sit brooding in the corner of the tavern for hours at a time wondering why adventure never came to them, or why the other players never responded to their angsty emotes. In some cases, they were effectively negating the game masters – they refused to take up the adventure hook unless it was completely tailor-made to their character.
If the GM says, “There’s a commotion in the town square,” a good player will find some way to arrange for their character to be in the town square. Even if it is to negotiate with another player and say, “Call me on your cell phone when you get there!” Most of the universe will not show up – but they are not characters in this story.
In the end, it’s about cooperating and building on whatever has been set in motion, rather than tearing things down and negating them.
There are probably some life lessons to be learned from this, too.
Filed Under: Dice & Paper, Geek Life - Comments: 7 Comments to Read